What We Did Over Our Winter Vacations
After a nice two-week break, we’re all back in the office. After dusting off our keyboards, replacing all the burnt-out lightbulbs, and scaring off the wildlife that had nestled in during our absence, we spent the morning catching up with one another. In an effort to avoid having to recreate the same conversations with ourselves time and time again, we decided to compile our recaps in one handy place. What did we do on our winter vacations? Read on and find out.
With all the holidays and family stuff going on over the break, I didn't get a ton of time to chill out. But I did manage to squeeze in a little Destiny, some Kingdom Rush Frontiers (with Origins out, it finally pushed me to get to part two), Lara Croft and the Temple of Osiris co-op, and more Far Cry 4 co-op.
As far as non-gaming stuff goes, I read Unbroken (still need to check out the movie), caught the back half of UFC 182, and the front half of Wrestle Kingdom 9 (my first dose of Japanese wrestling). I've still gotta get to The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies. Is there anyone who hasn't seen it yet?
My break was mostly consumed with taking care of my newborn child, but when I had downtime I spent it making my mark on Thedas in Dragon Age Inquisition. All other games were ignored as I immersed myself in the role of the Inquisitor (Team Mage for Life!). I also started two books. The Slow Regard of Silent Things by Patrick Rothfuss was an interesting aside to the Kingkiller Chronicle, and Donald Ray Pollack's The Devil All the Time is a bloody romp I've been looking forward to reading a while. I also checked out the excellent ITV mystery Broadchurch on Netflix, which I strongly recommend.
I had big ambitions for my time out of the office. I was planning to get back into World of Warcraft, start Assassin's Creed Unity, and finally give Destiny a fair shot. Instead, I got sucked back into Dragon Age: Inquisition. I completed quests and explored areas that I missed the first time around, and still had a great time. By the time I finished, I put over 90 hours into the playthrough…but then I was in the mood for something a little smaller in scope. That's why I started Prison Architect, which completely hooked me; I build cells and terrorize people when I play the Sims, so it's great to have that behavior recognized and rewarded.
My non-gaming activities were basically provided by Netflix. I burned through all 12 episodes of Peaky Blinders, which is worth watching for Cillian Murphy's character alone. I finished what was available of It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, and then watched the first 10 minutes of several movies before deciding I should take a nap instead.
I spent my break catching up on sleep, watching hockey, and playing with babies. Thankfully, I was able to get in some game time here and there. I always go back home to Chicago to visit my family, so I basically spent the break catching up with them and making sure my three little nephews know they have a cool aunt. My highlight? Introducing my two-year-old nephew to Amiibos. He loves to collect things (currently he’s addicted to Mash ‘Ems), but it was fun seeing him pick out his favorite characters. Since then, all he’s been doing is asking my brother about Amiibos. I’ve put the kid on the right path.
I was all over the place with games this break. I started Assassin’s Creed: Rogue, but it was too much of the same to keep me invested. I sank a bunch of time into Pokémon Alpha Sapphire, just don’t tell Ben Hanson. It will make him too happy and we can’t have that. Plus, I’ve been addicted to this iOS game called Kitty Powers’ Matchmaker, where you set people up on dates. I finally reached the highest level that gives you the toughest challenge: setting up Kitty on a date. Successful break? I think so.
I think I wasted my break. There was plenty of The Jackbox Party Pack's Drawful and Fibbage with the family, which are still some of the best party games ever. The rest of the break was devoted to Scott Aukerman's and Adam Scott's U Talkin' U2 To Me podcast. It's basically The Twilight Highlight Zone but for the band U2, which I knew little to nothing about and had very little love for. It's one of the most obnoxious podcasts I've ever heard, but the comedic tangents make me giggle like a maniac. While devouring that podcast, I started playing Super Mario RPG. The Paper Mario RPGs are some of my favorite games of all time, and I've always felt guilty for never finishing the Super Nintendo genesis for the series. I'm enjoying it so far, but I still think the art hasn't aged well. I just played Paper Mario on the N64 last year and so far it completely blows Super Mario RPG out of the water.
Over the break I also played a lot of Age of Mythology on Steam with some old friends. It's such a blast to get back into that game and we can all pretend that it's 2003 again, don't get me started on this controversial Iraq War. Blood for oil, much? If you enjoy slower-paced RTS games and you've never given Age of Mythology a shot, it should be pretty cheap on Steam so dive in and let's play together! Alright, now I have to get back to work.
I finished Assassin's Creed Unity, which I really enjoyed. In every Assassin's Creed game I've played, there is that moment when I decide to stop doing side quests, etc. and just finish out the story. However, by this time, I've forgotten the finer details of the main story because I've been messing around with other stuff in the world for long stretches. Thankfully, the final beats of the story – particularly in relation to Arno and Elise – are satisfying, reaffirming the game as another enjoyable experience.
Like everyone else, I was pretty pissed by the PSN/Xbox Live hacks, as I was looking forward to playing FIFA with a friend as well as playing Madden Ultimate Team/Online franchise. Thankfully, I was still able to play these once the situation was resolved.
On other media fronts, I continued to watch Ricky Gervais' Derek series, which is overly sentimental, but still powerful at times. On a different kind of wallowing, I also watched a bunch of Alan Partridge-related stuff, from the Alan Partridge movie to his time on North Norwich Digital in Mid Morning Matters.
Thanks to the usual holiday shenanigans I didn’t get nearly as much gaming in during the break as I wanted to, but I did manage to play a boatload of Far Cry 4. I’ve crafted most of the upgrades and liberated a good portion of Kyrat, but still have plenty of work to do. I expected Far Cry 4 to be a huge time sink, and I’m glad it’s living up to my expectations.
Outside of gaming, I’ve been watching the first season of Helix on Netflix (it’s not great, but enough like The Thing to keep me interested), and the girlfriend and I watched Into the Woods (her choice), Guardians of the Galaxy (my choice), and The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (both agreed on) over break. We also watched Total Recall as part of her crash course in classic action movies – up next is the Die Hard trilogy!
Santa brought a new PC to our house this year. Presumably it was so the kids would have a desktop setup to do their homework on, but without any homework they had to make due with Minecraft. Before, their experience was mostly limited to watching me play on console. Now they’re both pros at digging holes, building crafting tables, and getting woefully lost. They learned the importance of torch trails and creating monuments, so hopefully I won’t have to jump in and help them navigate their way back home as much in the future.
I also watched a few movies, including the last of the Hobbit trilogy (woof) and Guardians of the Galaxy (what took me so long?!). Mostly, I killed a lot of time and honey badgers in Far Cry 4 while listening to podcasts. I binged on the true-crime series Sword and Scale, which is incredibly grim but fascinating and well-produced. And I also ran through a bunch of the always entertaining Comedy Bang! Bang! and WTF with Marc Maron. It took me a long time to get into WTF, but it finally clicked earlier in the year. Maron’s a great interviewer, and you can always skip past his updates at the beginning of the show if you don’t want to hear about his psychological maladies and cats.
Growing up, winter break has always been about binging on video games. This holiday break started out with a trip to out of state, which though it was fun it did shave a few precious days off my play time. When I returned, I decided that after 30+ hours of Dragon Age: Inquisition I just wasn’t feeling it. So I shelved the game and picked up Super Paper Mario for the Wii – a game I had been hoping to get around to for years. I adore the first two Paper Mario games and the Mario & Luigi series, and I just needed a bigger dose of that goofy sense of humor. The jokes and characters (especially Bowser) didn’t disappoint. However, though the 2D/3D perspective flipping was a cute novelty, I felt the exploration and combat was a big step back for the series. Speaking of Nintendo classics I meant to get back to, I also partnered up with Ben Reeves to knock out several stages in the delightfully challenged Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze.
I also dived deeper in to the wonder world of Far Cry 4. Just as with Far Cry 3, I’ve been meticulously liberating enemy outposts and climbing tours, all the while hunting down deadly animals like honey badgers to upgrade my gear. I also played several hours of co-op, which is a blast despite not being able to play story missions. I highly recommend it.
While I was busy with holiday festivities and activities for much of the break, I finally played P.T. and I’m super excited for Silent Hills as a result. I also put in the legwork to get my Thorn in Destiny so I should have that soon, and I played a ton of stuff on my iPad, including an unhealthy amount of Hearthstone. Goblins and Gnomes, Goblins and Gnomes – it’s the perfect holiday tune!
As I was on the go quite a bit I also had a chance to play some Etrian Odyssey IV, a series I’m really enthusiastic about getting into now that I’m in a post Persona Q world. I also watched a bunch of horror films that I was missing from my comprehensive 2014 horror list, including As Above, So Below, The Babadook, and V/H/S Viral. As Above, So Below was your standard shaky-cam found-footage style glop, but I appreciated some cooler concepts being integrated into the now-familiar template. The Babadook had a killer first act and is probably worth watching on that merit, but it does fall off considerably as you get toward the end. V/H/S Viral was just unbelievably bad so I would recommended never even considering watching it. I also read Ready Player One, a book I would highly recommend to anyone who loves games, and especially those of us that grew up on the classic consoles.
My winter holiday was split into two parts. For the first half, I was out of the country, laying by the pool, drinking fruity drinks and reading books. Oh, and I finished Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc (you should play that).
For the second half, I was back at work and writing. But once the sun went down, it was time for Destiny After Dark. This is pretty much like regular Destiny, except it’s dark outside.
Every time I sat down to play something else (Dragon Age, GTA V, Sunset Overdrive, or any of the other games I still want to dive into), I ended up signing into Destiny, clearing out bounties, doing the daily mission, and getting some pretty awesome gear.
You might say I have a Destiny problem. You’d be wrong. It’s not a problem. I can quit any time I want.
Your turn! What did you do during your break? Let us know in the comments.