Bioware

MEA : So Long, For Now

I finished Mass Effect Andromeda before going on vacation (yes, another one) last week.

I can say I am fully and wholly satisfied with the entire experience it provided. I know that is not much of a surprise to people who have visited here often but I went in expecting not-so-good based on pre-reviews and walked out questioning the way games are reviewed and the impact of “me too” journalism. Heck, I actually support a Donald Trump-esque “Fake News” claim here. [omg what is wrong with me!]

It is a pretty bad sign when many people who actually played the full game are giving it glowing reviews, and professional review sites who need to look for holes in the product while rushing through a quick play through to write their 2000 words for pay missed much of what was good about it. I suspect that is more of a mark on what is going on in the review industry anyway, and I far prefer reading bloggers who I know are professional gamers over people who I know are professional writers.  It feels a lot like the movie review sites who give blockbuster movies bad ratings for not being Cannes-esque enough while actual movie-goers give it glowing reviews.  The audience must (should) be considered.

All that being said, of course there were things that could have been better. The larger plot wasn’t the strongest part of the game. Too many unanswered questions about the galaxy were left hanging. Bioware clearly took the approach of taking care of the you, the protagonist and your squad’s stories over what was going on overall. And because you feel closer to your team instead of the 100k in cryosleep it works better that way anyway. Still – it feels like they could have given more but will flesh that out in sequels and/or paid DLC.

one happy customer

I could spend several posts worth talking about the things that could make this game better but when you take the experience on the whole, the close to one hundred hours of enjoyable game play, the establishment of the people, the galaxy, the game play.. the sheer size and scope of the project is amazing. It deserves game of the year nominations, and should get them. It gets my vote. I mentioned it in a previous post but I don’t remember the last time I enjoyed myself in a game this much. It has been years.

So, goodbye for now Andromeda. Please bring DLC soon. The good news is that with a new galaxy the possibilities are endless. My Scott Ryder ended the chapter of this game with three simple words to his team:

“Let’s go exploring”

Yes. Let’s.

SAD-romeda

This is another one of those posts that I can’t share too much information without entering into spoiler territory. But I can share with you how a certain mission made me feel and that it elicited true emotions – happiness and sadness – and at the same time cemented my feelings that this is the best game I have played in recent memory.

There is a quest chain that starts early from Liam that he wants to start a movie night so the crew can unwind a bit. This is an ongoing mission full of small tasks including finding the right movies, snacks, drinks, (etc. etc.) – it spans several planets and several hours of the game is spread out between other missions where new options keep popping up as different squad mates learn of the plan and want to add their twist to it. Each has preferences and needs.

As I near the ending of the game this event starts building in my mind. With each quest I know it is leading to a “buddy” moment – of course what a great time to hang out with all of the characters I have spent sixty plus hours getting to know and enjoy their company. Like most BioWare games there’s some that you connect with right away (Peebee) and some that take more time (Liam). Some of this is due to certain companion missions not opening up until later in the game where I really built an affinity with them. I wish they came earlier so the naysayers of this game might have enjoyed it more. I also think that reviewers and people rushed through the main missions to complete the game so they can do a “proper” review would and missed out on so much of the non-essential missions (such as the movie night) which is where the characters are more fully fleshed out. The point is if you weren’t engaged in the universe to begin with they probably wouldn’t have had as much meaning anyway.

The culmination of the movie night was everything I had hoped it would be. It felt like I was watching a movie with my roommates in University and/or family members, and/or friends from the neighborhood. It had clever, character appropriate and fun banter between characters and ending with a tongue in cheek scene that made me laugh out loud.

When it was over I felt sad. Sad because I knew that my time in Andromeda was coming to an end. Sad because I felt very close to these characters in game. At the end of it all the best way to describe the feeling was when it was my last year of University and knowing many of my classmates would be moving back home, or going to work in a different city after graduation and I would not see them for a long time as I too head back to my real life. As such I am eagerly awaiting a sequel and some quality interim DLC – while the crew and people of the Andromeda galaxy continue to lead their digital lives without me.

Mass Effect Andromeda has not been a perfect experience. The culmination of this mission came pretty close.

Planets of Mass Effect

As I travel to new systems I can’t help but to explore all of the planets that are there. Part of this is due to the progression percentage at the top of the page (completionist, damn me!) the other part is the fact that I am so invested in this galaxy that I want to learn everything I can about it.

Part way through my play through I started taking photos of the planets. You can see someone – or better yet (most likely) some people had a fun time designing beautiful planets and creating short back stories for each. What can you see from space? What can you find there? What bits of history from  miles out are apparent through scans? This leaves the explorer in me curious if some day some of these may become playable through expansions and DLC. If not I still fully and wholly appreciate the time put into this small part of the game. It is nice universe-building.

There are no spoilers here so feel free to have a look. It won’t give away anything in the main game but will spoil the flavor text for you if this is something you would rather investigate on your own. This is not an exhaustive list, just some of the ones I have snapped during my adventures.

My personal favorite so far is Letapho, which moves a few inches closer to a black hole each year, and will eventually be consumed.

Happy exploring.

I installed a gallery plugin to test –  if you click on a picture down below it will open the gallery for easy viewing of larger images. I’d appreciate any feedback on responsiveness, etc of the plugin!

Mass Improvement Andromeda – Pacing

Mass Effect Andromeda is the best RPG I have played in the last decade. Now, to be fair, I have always had a soft spot for Sci Fi over Fantasy, and I didn’t even play others such as The Witcher Series (couldn’t get comfortable with the combat, turned me off of it right away). I also put barely 20 hours into Skyrim. That is why I am being clear that that is a strong “in my opinion” and from “my enjoyment” standpoints. Regardless – many people find a game that just clicks for them, and ME:A is one of those for me..

This doesn’t mean that I can’t wax poetically about things that I believe would have made the game better. This is a hopeless wishlist series because these things definitely will NOT change in the existing title – but I still think that they are good things to discuss to maybe introduce in sequels (please, gaming gods, let there be sequels) and perhaps even good lessons for future RPG designers. The Mass Improvement Andromeda (MIA) series is when I look at things that I feel could have been done in a better way, on all sorts of scales. First thing that could have improved was the introduction to the game.

pfft. pure voodoo yourself, non-white NPC made ugly by transgender feminist designer . (Sorry, been reading too much Metacritic lately).

Much has been discussed about the hectic MEA tutorial planet and first planetary exploration in the game, where humankind travels 600 years in cryo-sleep to start shooting at the first aliens they see on the first planet they crash on. This is a hectic, intense tutorial scene, where you are quickly introduced to the varied systems you will be playing for the next 50-200 hours – from movement, to scanning, to shooting and everything in between (but mostly shooting and scanning). No doubt the designers were trying to show what the game had to offer and felt that introducing the main enemy (the kett), the main mystery (revenant technology) and killing off your dad (making you the pathfinder) all had to happen in the first 30 minutes. It didn’t. Well, except the “kill the dad” part.

After that hectic-ness things slow down and the gameplay hits a strong exploratory and discovery pace. I believe this pace should have been in from the get go and alluding to the main enemy in a more nuanced and satisfying way. For example, when you crash land on the planet maybe find charred bodies, or find evidence of an alien race that looks militarized. Maybe some datapads with language you don’t understand that you can start investigating. Breadcrumbs that there is something out there and they may not be so nice, building suspense, until you finally get an encounter. The revenant technology discovery would have been plenty enough content on the first planet and allow you time to absorb what is going on, before introducing the second threat and major plot point. There was plenty of time to do so.

I suspect the counter argument is that today’s gamer would be entirely bored with that – that a payoff has to happen quick. I think it sets an unrealistic pacing expectation and throws too much to fully appreciate too fast and is part of the initial turnoff for many people who did not enjoy the entry into MEA. What is done is done, but hopefully in future iterations they pay closer attention to better, more suspenseful methods of introducing the plot.

For complete clarity – my sarcastic caption on the photo above is based on reading Metacritic reviews as I wanted to see why the game is scoring lower than I believe it should. Sadly, the review section is taken over by agendists and I was disappointed to read the types of comments attached to the low user scores that had nothing to do with the game parts of the game. I suppose this is the new normal now.

“When a company forgets why people play games, and instead pushes social agendas, they make games like Mass Effect Andromeda….”
“But what we don’t need are 20th/21st century earth social issues shoe-horned into a futuristic space fantasy…”
“This is what happens when Bioware hires based on ethnicity (so they can pat themselves on the back for their diversity) instead of actual talent”
“..it’s that bad, and that is without even mentioning the horrible radical feminist BS they just had to drop on this game.”
“Ugly characters and facial expressions”
“Everyone seems to be black, there’s no way to have a white or asian skin for your character ”

That’s a whole other discussion, and one I know I’ll never be able to reconcile with here on this blog or on the internet in general. It is a shame (for humanity reasons) that this is what the pain points of the game are being reduced to.

The Ties That Bind

ME:A is turning out to be one of the best games this year. When you cut out the bullshit complaints and rose tinted glasses (I went back and played ME 1-3 again – MEA is far superior in pretty much every way, except the mystery. More on that later.) it is a very well done game. The pacing for completionists works well – periods of intense action, followed by periods of conversation / relaxation – and you can jump in and out of each part at your own leisure. I prefer to do big sweeps of each (finish colonizing a planet, check in with my entire team, check in on the Nexus, back to my team, go to next planet) but I could easily do all of that in a short one hour play through  in much smaller chunks. The game gives you the freedom to enjoy and explore at your own pace. There is no imminent or pending threat that would cause you to do otherwise, like in previous ME titles. Something happened on the weekend in game that made me love it even more. I am going to reveal it without revealing any plot twists, but there may be tiny spoilers if you can read between the lines and it could impact your decision making if you have this top of mind on this specific planet. That is my gentle spoiler alert, and I will have a nice picture next before explaining the gaming event.

Tron-esque

Something happened on Kadara – well, two things, that made me nod my head in appreciation of great storytelling AND forced me to make unclear choices. First – heading into a conversation I finally had an “a-ha” moment where I was able to tie in a couple major plot arcs before it was fully revealed to me. I had sorted out a mystery that was, in many ways, right in front of me many times before that I didn’t quite connect with. Having that moment where it became clear made me smile and enjoy that this game has that much more to offer. I was finally getting ahead of the game, thinking about it, sorting through the mysteries before they were presented to me. When it was revealed in game I wasn’t surprised (and had a dialog option to indicate so, so it felt good doing that) but then I was forced to make two decisions quickly without having time to think them through. There are some “quick-time” moments where it gives you an option to do something with a fast timer – it is a yes/no option.  I didn’t have time to fully think through the decision but i went with my gut. Before I had the chance to really reflect on that decision ANOTHER quick-time game play option came up and I quickly made a second choice.  After they happened and the resulting effect of my choices were clear (which also would have been clear if I had had time to pause and think through) I felt guilt about the first and uncertainty about the second – I felt I had made two mistakes. They were mistakes I couldn’t go back on though, and my choices were mine – I would have to live with them. Maybe for years, if ME:A spawns sequels.

Down the rabbit hole

Of course, I COULD have loaded a previously saved game and made the other choice(s). I actually sat there and thought about it. I even went into spoiler territory to read on google what choice others made, but in the end I appreciated that I made those decisions and I should live with them and see what happens – preserve the game experience for myself. Not many times in many games do your choices matter. In Mass Effect Andromeda they do, and that is what makes it wonderful. The downside is that I am 60 hours into the game, and this really is the first time I was fully caught off guard. A few more of these moments would really enshrine the game as a RPG masterpiece. Perhaps if they had a few more of these kinds of moments earlier on in the game more people would have appreciated them before their reviews. I am being hard on it though, I didn’t get a single moment like this in Fallout 4, or other massive RPGs I have played. The expectation is just much higher, I suspect.

For every complaint I have read about the game there is such an easy counterpoint. I think the game is worse for people who were in love with ME 1-3 (which I was) because you are carrying the weight of 10 years of connecting to a title with 10 hours of a new launch. Yes, Garrus was my bestie too. In ME1 he was bland and mostly forgettable. In ME2 he got a cool scar and was a familiar face, and by ME3, after five years, two expansions, and 27 DLC packs with the Turian all I wanted was for him to have a safe and happy life in the Milky Way. It took years to forge that digital relationship, over hours of gaming, small talk, loyalty missions and what not. There is no way you can achieve this with new characters on a quick play though race to the end. I know I will have my ME fan card pulled for this, but the companion characters in ME:A are fantastic – better than the original ones in many ways, except the familiarity. That will come with playing through a trilogy. Vetra ME:A outshines Garrus ME1 in every way on a one to one, game to game, Turian to Turian comparison.

There are/were some problems with Andromeda, specifically the pacing – I think they could have introduced the Kett and the action in a far more suspenseful, memorable way, but compared to the amazing galaxy there is to explore and the story elements starting to shine through we have an RPG that is the tops in the series to date. I thought I was a fanboy before, but this game is just an entirely better experience than what came before.

Mass Improvement Andromeda

I haven’t had a chance to play for five days due to travel and responsibilities and I am missing the game in a pretty bad way. I have put some thought to what could make ME:A even better and the list is pretty short and also (one would think) pretty simple. These potential improvements keep coming to mind as I play. This will be a multi-part series.The screenshots are just for screenshots sake!

Hey! That’s not Garrus…

New dialog opportunities – quest/non quest highlight

When things happen in ME:A this often opens up a dialog opportunity(ies) with your crew. The challenge is that these events can be as big as a  major event on a world, or as little as being unlocked by a preceeding conversation. This leads to frequent “walk-arounds” to check in with each of your crew members to make sure you aren’t missing something. Normally, this isn’t so bad in itself as the new dialog happens automatically when you engage the conversation. There are two little quirks that you need to be aware of.

One, is that sometimes when that engagement is over it ends the conversation. That doesn’t mean that there isn’t another conversation to engage with that crew member, and you have to re-engage. Sometimes you can do this multiple times depending on what has been going on in the world. A little more natural flow from one conversation to the next would be better here, instead of start, they turn their back to you, then you engage again, they turn their back to you when it’s done, to re-engage. It would have been far more natural to talk about each.

The in game museum is a nice piece of Roleplaying potential

The second, and much more problematic (that I discovered quite by accident) is that in the menu system if there is a new conversation topic on the highest level it will be in white text. Once you use that option it turns grey. This is good and lets you know if  you have had a conversation with that person. The issue is if it is part of a sub-menu the main option stays grey but the sub menu has white text. You would not ahve a clue about this unless you check all sub-menus. Which, over several characters, is a pain in the ass. This is especially apparent during the “Crew” sub-menu where you can ask them for their opinions on other crew members. This changes based on in game events. I have missed many of these updates.

The best way to do this is an alert or menu option to show when these new conversation items are available, and whether they are mission based or just flavor/world building. I hate missing both, where others may be more interested on not missing out on new and/or additional missions in game.

Bare minimum, they have to at least highlight top menus in white if a new sub-menu dialog option is available.

Savoring Andromeda

I am thirty one hours into Mass Effect: Andromeda and have barely scratched the surface. Yet all 31 hours has been interesting and exciting for me. Discovery, unexpected encounters, learning about alien life forms – I am fully engaged in the universe. As far as game completion goes I have the first planet, Habitat 7 (Eos) at 98% viability (you completionists cringing at that?) and the second, Habitat 6 (Voeld) at 42(ish)%. Games like these I always start out slow and really pay attention to the little details. This game rewards that mindset in spades.

Lovely view of the mountains

Besides the rewards of lore, and personalization, it really fleshes out the world. I was in a Kett base (above) and when I walked by the window one of my squadmates said “Check out that view”. And I did. Right next to here was a terminal that had notices and emails to the Kett from their home world and it was interesting reading them to better understand their society and how it works. Heck, when I scan a new mushroom or mineral in the wilderness I find myself reading the description of what the scan found out. There is just so much to see and do, and all of it makes me feel like I am doing it in the name of helping humanity find their place and expand their knowledge in this new galaxy.

A lot of the gems you have to actively seek. I have been talking to anyone who is interested in a conversation. Many of them have the option for you to ask why they made the trip and joined the initiataive.  Hainly here, on Podromos (our first settlement/camp on Eos) used to be Stephen and used the 600 year trip to get a true, fresh start on life. This is the first transgender character that I had  ever met in any video game and I felt it was done very nicely by Bioware. Hainly doesn’t even give a quest, there is no giant star over her head, she is just one of 20,000 humans who came on the Ark in start of a new life, and she has her own story. I wouldn’t have learned who she was if I didn’t stop and take the time.  Taking the time to talk to the colonists really humanizes the entire project. I am not just shooting hundreds of bad guys, I am helping people build a new home. Hooked, I tell you.

I mentioned the onboard message boards on the Tempest (your smaller away vessel) and thought it would be fun to show a small piece of that. Angaran’s are a new species you meet fairly early, and one joins you in your efforts. Here, Jaal is giving the Angaran word of the Day and the individual squad mates respond in a tone and way that fits what i have learned of them so far. On the left you see other posts and most of them are light-hearted and fairly mundane but these posts are the types of things that make the characters come alive. It is a very nice touch.

Dramatic concerned look. Or Blue Steel?

I am playing mostly as an Infiltrator (Sniper/Tech) and the customization is great.  I sometimes think I would have responded even more favorably to this game if I didn’t have the expectations of the prior Mass Effect games. Unfortunately I think that you need to spend at least 10 hours to really get into the world, there is so much going on and so much to sort out that it is overwhelming (and confusing) at the beginning. Sure, it’s not perfect – but I know if there is to be a sequel it is probably years away, so I am going to savor every conversation, every container, every datapad write up, every nook and cranny to explore. Mass Effect Andromeda has earned that attention.

Exotic life forms are a bit too few and far betweem

I have been down this road before where a game grips me at first (Pillars of Eternity) only to find myself losing interest at some part and racing to the finish to get it done. I think I spent a total of 30 hours in PoE so already this has me at a different level. I loved the first zone of Dragon Age Inquisition only to lose all interest soon as I met the villain and when I kept ketting lost trying to find my squadmates to talk at the keep. This may not be a popular opinion but Andromeda really is a step up from the other Mass Effect games in terms of graphics, controls, world size, and exploration and even the story is starting to take shape. One small afear I have is that they will make this plot too big which does not leave much room for a sequel. The other trilogy was paced quite well escalating from stopping a villain, to discovering the true threat, to saving the galaxy. I hope we aren’t just jumping into saving the galaxy in the first installment.

I’ll find out, in my own sweet time.

Skeptics Guide to Mass Effect Andromeda’s Plot

While the “on the box” story line presented for Mass Effect Andromeda does seem trope-ish and unimaginative I wanted to present a- “I have actually played the game and there is some promise…” post – there is more going on beneath the surface.  While I personally do not expect there to be a huge depth or surprise to the fourth edition of the space opera series known as Mass Effect, far too many smart people are taking far too much at face value without exploring deeper into the game or knowing enough about the ME universe.

Part of this is the way the Mass Effect series was built. There is a TON of backstory, history, intrigue, etc. in the first three installments but most of it was not easily accessible. The game was built so players could zoom through the main plot line plus DLC in 20-30 hours per installment. Others who more fully explored the world and side quests could spend 40-60 per. That is a lot of content differential. There are also 4 pre-Andromeda novels and a printed Galactic Codex plus the in game codex (which sometimes differed from the print version, but hey, that is why they stopped printing game manuals a decade ago, right?).

The plot lines that people are misinterpreting or not critically examining (often writing off as cliche) have a lot of interest. I am going to make this as spoiler free as possible (after the picture) but keep in mind, much of what I have here is speculation from what I know, and what I have experienced up until finishing off the main story plot line on Eos. (10 hours for me, doing everything, reading every datapad, etc. Guessing some could finish it in 3-5 hours). Also important to note here that I haven’t finished all of the side quests on Eos yet, but did do some.

Mild Spoilers after the pic. Again, if you have played more than 5 hours they won’t be spoilers, and they are things you may have actually missed out on if you sped through the game.

Don’t Ask

Travel 600 years away, for what, really?

People need to start appreciating that the PR based Andromeda Initiative is a front. For what, we don’t know yet – but even the  recruiting website is very fluffy and explorer based. While the Andromeda galaxy may be “resource rich”, we haven’t even discovered 1% of the Milky Way galaxy (as per the Codex on council space):

Citadel space is an unofficial term referring to any region of space controlled by a species that acknowledge the authority of the Citadel Council. At first glance, it appears this territory encompasses most of the galaxy. In reality, however, less than 1% of the stars have been explored. Even mass-effect-FTL drive is slow relative to the volume of the galaxy. Empty space and systems without suitable drive discharge sites are barriers to exploration. Only the mass relays allow ships to jump hundreds of light years in an instant, the key to expanding across an otherwise impassable galaxy.

Whenever a new relay is activated, the destination system is rapidly developed. From that hub, FTL drive is used to expand to nearby star clusters. The result is a number of densely-developed clusters thinly spread across the vast expanse of space, connected by the mass relay network.

Really, there is a LOT of closer galaxy to explore which may also have some nice rich resources. Clearly there is a bigger reason to go to the Andromeda galaxy, yet discovered by our protagonist. One theory is the Cerberus theory who believed in the Reaper threat early on as a way to ensure that human kind lived on if the Milky Way was cleansed of all life. Cora Harper, Alec Ryder’s (your dad) second in command does share the last name as Jack Harper, the last known identy of “The Illusive Man” who runs the pro-human shadow group Cerberus. Quite the coincidence to write in if it wasn’t meaningful. It will be interesting to see how the Initiative’s true motives play out.

what is that thing in the middle, hrm?

You become the hero with little explanation

It really isn’t that much of a stretch when you dig into it. You are already a part of the exclusive Pathfinder team. Your dad is the Pathfinder. Cora Harper is the Operations Specialist. Liam Kosta is the Crisis Specialist. You play one of the Ryder kids, Scott who is a Recon Specialist, and Sara who is a Scientist (both served in the military). When the mantle of Pathfinder (the leader of the expedition team) skips Cora and goes to you by Alec (dad) there is that moment where you wonder why – although Cora does accept it because she accepts Alec’s judgement. It quickly becomes obvious that Dad is hiding something and left breadcrumbs for you to discover what that is. Perhaps he doesn’t want Cora or other Andromeda Initiative members to know and that is why he chose his son/daughter to be the next Pathfinder.  Alec Ryder was dabbling in advanced AI, which was banned in Citadel space. He has locked away information in the AI that you have to push forward to unlock and discover. What Mr Ryder did for the Andromeda Initiative and the human race will be a major story arc, and I believe that is part of why you were thrust into a leadership role early on. Look, without needing rocket science, the Andromeda Initiative short form is AI. Could it really be that simple after all?

Why hasn’t technology advanced in 600 years?

From Mass Effect 1:

“Your civilization is based on the technology of the mass relays. Our technology. By using it, your civilization develops along the paths we desire.” – Sovereign (Reaper)

The gist of the argument is that the Reapers pushed the tech to a place where current Milky Way sentient beings could only grow so far, so fast. Humans caught up to races who had access to the technology hundreds of years prior. There is a tech plateau of sorts, with the next, logical step being the formation of AI. Which is banned.  The Reapers left the technology there to be exploited and used, and around every 50,000 years or so they would do a full cleanse of the Milky Way. You are almost at that 50,000 year apex (Andromeda ships leave just as the attack is about to begin) so yeah, things are pretty tight. A Reaper is essentially “billions of organic minds, uploaded and conjoined within immortal machine bodies.” – so yeah, we aren’t going to be updating that technology anytime soon. At least, not in the Milky Way galaxy.

I love taking screenshots in MEA

Why is there always a mysterious all powerful race? (Remnants)

Because in all worlds and societies in, all life forms there is a top of the food chain.  Until there is a new one. In Mass effect it was the Leviathans who, after years of universal dominance, made the Reapers to help manage artificial intelligence that organic life would eventually create (and in turn would wipe them out). The irony is that that is exactly what the Reapers did to the Leviathans, which is what started them on their cleaning cycle to begin with. It isn’t that hard to imagine either, considering that on modern day earth Humans are the apex predator –  from the view of any other mammal on the planet. If humans were wiped out someday, and an alien species landed on earth and found our buildings and technology there would be little doubt who was top of the food chain on earth. It’s something we can all relate to. Sure, it doesn’t mean it is treading on new ground but it isn’t exactly unbelievable either. By the time you identified probable hospitable planets and arrived to find them all changed by mysterious technology during your 600 year journey there is an easy investigation to put into the story – but doesn’t make it any less interesting.

The big plot points – the Andromeda Initiative, the Pathfinder, the Missing Remnants, your father, the true purpose of the mission – none of these things are clear 10 hours in – but there are hints that something much bigger is afoot. I do not expect the writing in MEA to win a pulitzer. I do expect it to have some interesting twists and turns and give us some surprises along the way – a big step up from the simplicity expressed by some reviewers. Is Bioware showing an obvious and simple premise so they can pull a sleight of hand? Early indications say yes. Maybe though, that is just a part of big optimism by me. If you look hard enough for something you will find it, right?

Smaller is still better

Outside of the big themes, I am really enjoying getting to know my squad mates. They are a balance of personalities and one of my favourite is Drack, who is a Krogan. I used Wrex a lot in my away teams in Mass Effect so had a natural affinity with the Krogan in the new series. ME:A has an email terminal (and a slack-esque based one too, which is pretty amusing) and this gives a bit of a chance for small personality quirks to shine through. Here is an email from my good Krogan buddy.

Look ma, no typos!

For those who don’t want to click on the image and can’t read it scaled down:

“To Ryder

From Drack

Vetra told me what happened to your dad. I’ve lost a lot of people over the years. Figured you could use some cheering up. Or at least a distraction.

This usually helps me:

[Drack has attached 37 images of various rifles and shotguns. Two are duplicate images. Many are low-res or watermarked]

Drack

That seems like something your high school jock-buddy would send if you were having a bad day. The other emails were also very personality specific. It was a nice touch to add some flavor to the personal side of your team. In the end the ties to your character and your team will be the thing that keeps me playing. Hopefully the deeper themes exist and reveal themselves through game play. Even if they don’t I feel like the team itself might be enough to build a solid game around.

I have barely scratched the surface of Andromeda but the itch is getting intense. The way the game is designed after all the hectic missions on Eos I spent almost two hours just conversing with people on the Tempest (my ship) and the Nexus (the Andromeda Initiative’s outpost) learning about people, running small side missions, checking in on my sister… so much to do and experience. The longer I play Andromeda the better it gets. Shame to think many won’t give it that chance based on surface reviews but there is a rich experience to be had for those willing to explore.

Mass Affect

Typo, for once, was purposeful.

I subscribed to Origin for $4.99 for a month to get a 10% discount on my $79.99 pre-order special edition of Mass Effect: Andromeda. For you non math savants out there it was a net ~$3 savings but that is only a cursory amount compared to how much this game is going to hurt my time and productivity. Also, as an Origin subscriber, you get  to pre-play the game for 10 hours prior to the launch tomorrow. Best $4.99 I have spent in a while.

The short synopsis is: great for Mass Effect fans. Like best game in five years great for ME fans (ME3 came out around 5 years ago for you non-players). Of course, that is only after five and a half hours of play, and barely scratching the surface of the game. I have read that there is easily 150 hours of content in this game for big fans to play through and that is how I plan on playing through it. Every little side quest, explore everything and talk to everyone – fully immerse and experience myself in the Andromeda galaxy. And holy $h*t are the graphics awesome. (Click on pictures to enlarge in a new window throughout this whole post)

I am playing on a gaming laptop but the play is smooth. The graphics this time around make the models almost too human, with smile lines, sweat on brows, it’s a bit crazy. I am not going to show any pictures that spoil the story line but I have been thoroughly impressed with the graphics.

It is a lot to take in. Even how imperfect his teeth are, for example. And while I have been impressed with the graphics, the game play is also a huge improvement from older Mass Effect titles. They added a Z axis with the jump pack which adds a whole new dimension to combat and fighting, including a jump / hover / scope in and shoot move. It’s a step up. In my short time, I have also enjoyed the scanning feature in which you use your Omni-tool to collect information on plant, mineral, and alien life. It’s interesting to see the thought and focus behind this new part of exploration.

Magic Mushrooms

It makes sense when you are exploring new worlds to use a tool like this and to learn more about the environments. My initial hours into Mass Effect: Andromeda has been a huge, amazing fun success and I fully expect to enjoy my time there over the next several weeks as I further explore the mysteries of this galaxy.

As far as story goes there are some potentially amazing plots already hinted at and while I don’t want to guess “out loud” at anything specifically (to ruin / spoil it for people planning on playing), especially this early on, let’s just say that I expect there to be no less than four or five major story arcs all intertwining. The initial stages of them that I have so far discovered have me believing they will be fun to more fully explore and experience.

What I haven’t been enjoying is the media coverage for ME:A so far. My google feed has been populating a lot of stories surrounding it and the more I read the more I shake my head and lose faith in the internet generation. Let’s cover some of the joyous topics I have read, shall we?

Animations are terrible: Not on PC, at least, nothing major I have noticed. A few weird eyeball angles here and there, but general movement has been smooth. I know a lot of these arguments stem from mouth movements and I believe this is a byproduct from how realistic the models look – causing the “uncanny valley” effect. While it is easy to make things look like people / uh, aliens, than it is to make them move and/or fidget like them. No one really stands perfectly still in any state, and building in those mannerisms would be extremely difficult. So while I have noticed a few things here and there, not once has it pulled me from immersion to the point that it stood out as a negative. Everyone jumping on the hate bandwagon is a reminder of another great game, Lemmings!

You can’t make your character white enough: This is a hilarious argument, and I actually came across several articles about this. Assuming this is Gamergate inspired but supposedly (again, guessing consoles?) the lightest you can make your skin is Hispanic / Asian, according to some. Really? Check out Mr. Whitey McWhiterton:

Casper-itis

Really, he is so white not only does he have less rhythm than the table he is sitting on, but he also can’t jump. This is my character in ME and I wanted to see how white I could make him after reading the articles complaining how diverse programmers excluded white as an option. I spent very little time customizing him, but he is absolutely, very white. Almost unhealthily so. Time to go out and find a planet with multiple suns – white. But really, is complaining about skin color really a thing any more? I am more impressed at the wrinkles, dimples and skin bumps and holes than the color. Such great detail. Terrible haircut, sure, but I chose that to be a snowflake.

The game isn’t a proper reflection on the dangers of colonialism as it pertained to historical USA: (ie: Christopher Columbus is a racist murderer, and this game should give lessons in how evil of a past that was, not celebrate colonization by playing a game a couple hundred years in the fictional future that is also about colonization.) Although I do think ME:A2 could be nifty if it was all about scholars and politicians sitting around working on how much reparations humans will be providing to the displaced and killed Kett during the events of this game.

On a more serious note, and not attempting to minimize legitimate discussion about the historical significance of Columbus, discourse is great to have but it also needs to be placed properly. Mass Effect is the equivalent of the Avenger movies in terms of depth and critical thinking. It’s not meant to be Shakespeare. If you are a true fan and look deeper at things you will learn quickly that humankind has not done a great job integrating into the new universe: considered brash, pushy, and impatient. There is a lot more to it on deeper levels – there are fair and interesting critiques on humans and their place in the galaxy that goes beyond killing and getting it on with aliens. All of that is core game play though. The average player will rush 40 hours to the end without exploring things on a more nuanced level. That is okay, and I have done that in the past as well.

If you are going to use this series to discuss historical events and reference certain plot points in prior Mass Effect titles please do a little research. One piece I read discussed how the Geth were an unfair example of evil because they attacked a human colony in the immediate events of ME:1. Anyone who knows the history of the Geth know that is is much more complex there – that they were servant robots who developed a collective mind, and then slaughtered their Quarian masters to gain their freedom, conquering Rannoch (planet of their former masters) and forcing the Quarians to a nomad life upon the Migrant Fleet (also known as The Flotilla) It’s an interesting twist on emergent AI and far deeper than the characterization they used based on a syndicated blog post they may have read and tried to force it to represent their personal agenda. Many have not even played the game (or it’s predecessors) – it’s clear in their writing that they have a rudimentary knowledge of the series and pushing critical, modern day themes onto that rudimentary knowledge can make you sound smart when your audience doesn’t know any better either.

Hey, I am all for expecting more of games, but at least do the research. It is readily available with a bit of Google-Fu.

Timely grumpy Krogan

At this point people are just hopping on the bandwagon of negative reviews for the sake of fitting in and or getting a laugh at the fabricated gifs out there. Some ARE funny, but they aren’t representative of the game as a whole.  I also suspect there is a bit of Bioware / EA bashing (“The Man”) which is not always unfounded (I also make fun of EA on this blog for their many awards of Worst Company in the USA, etc.).

Either way, let a game stand on its merit for what it is. And currently that is an amazing, engaging space RPG with promise. Will the game continue to stand on the fifth planet of scanning and quest running? Only time will tell. It definitely has that new car smell right now and I will be giving it a go. And while my voice here may sound like rabid fanboy-ism I’ll be quick to point out if the game doesn’t last, or if things don’t stick/stop sticking.  Right now most of the negatives brought up about the game feel like a reach, or maybe platform specific but that hasn’t been my experience. It is a bit frustrating to read others using the game as a platform for their personal/political agendas without much evidence or demonstrated knowledge of playing or understanding it – and i think that is where the difference is. If it was critically done as a gaming piece that could be interesting.

Playing Clash Royale?

Mass Effect will have big shoes to fill and I fully suspect that some people will be let down by the hype. My personal experiences early in the game are overwhelmingly positive and if anything, I wish they went backwards with the title and did a prequel of how Earth found the first Prothean base and how they integrated into galactic life originally. Much of this is in book and wiki form already but that would have been a great backdrop to show human’s first steps into an existing galactic community and the challenges that would create, and some interesting writing and dilemmic choices.

Instead we have a civilian lead, cross species Andromeda Initiative convincing 100,000 explorers to cross galaxies and resettle 600 years away. I am certain the exact reasons why will grow more than “just because” and that in itself may be one of the grander plot arcs, but until that all sorts itself out I’ll be focusing on searching for a new planet to call home.

Without any pretext.

Change of Plans

I am going on vacation (again, yes, lucky me) someplace warm again (Cuba)  to escape the cold, Canadian winter. Well, it’s mostly been mild here this winter for the most part but supposed to get a deep freeze next week which coincides with my escape that much better.

My plan was to finish off the Mass Effect series before the 20th which won’t happen now – I had to travel overseas on an emergency and just got back in time to go on vacation.

Trains, Planes, Automobiles, no Mass Effect. When I get back the new Mass Effect will be out and I am very much looking forward to that.

I am sure you missed me this past week and I know you will this week.  Have no fear, I will return and start posting again. With a tan.

Enjoy the week!

Changing Gears

Fixing I HAS PC

My web site has been loading like crap after I replaced my broken social blogroll links. I love that feature – it is one of my favorite things about having this blog, the quick, easy view of when my favorite blogs have been updated.  I have disabled it for now, and will start looking for a replacement. WP Social Blogroll was broken with a WP core update, and the RSS Blogroll Updater was crashing the quick loading of my site, plummeting my readers over the past two weeks by 50%. (I am certain that had nothing to do with the compelling content I share here…) So, here I am again, without a working “latest post” blog feeder widget. I will continue to scour the interwebs for one that works and doesn’t slow my site down to 1999 levels.

SWTOR out

I bought 60 days of sub in SWTOR when I realized how much fun I was having playing the game. It cost me $29.99 and had some other goodies, including both expansions and some level help items. Chapters 1-3 of the Jedi Knight story line was great – I really enjoyed it. I did the Interlude chapter (Ilum) and moved on to Chapter 4) (Makeb) and that is when the fatigue hit in. Spoiler free, I have saved the entire galaxy 4 or 5 times already (really, who is counting?) and not only is that exhausting but I can’t imagine doing it again. And again. My main goal was to get to max level and complete all of the story chapters but that was when I was really loving logging in. Once saving the galaxy (yet again) started feeling like a chore, I did the assessment. I am level 67 (of a possible 70). I have nine +25% XP boosters left (which last for 3 hours each), and judging by Google in order of what is left, I have the following:

  • Conflict with the Hutt Cartel
  • The Fall of Czerka
  • The Dread War Ends
  • Forged Alliances
  • Shadow of Revan
  • Rise of The Emperor
  • Knights of the Fallen Empire

Really… another Emperor? Won’t they just stay dead? Anyway – that is a lot of content and I don’t feel like they paced out the story very well. Too much, too big, too soon.  With my being so close to the cap and with so many +xp consumables I can easily walk away and take a break and return later with a lot of content to complete and no rushed timeline to complete it in. It was definitely worth the foray and I know I will go back to finish the adventure in time. I wish they spent more time focusing on fleshing out your team of characters and their relationships, rather than galaxy saving as the primary game mode. Where can you go from there to up the ante?

MASS EFFECT in

Mass Effect is my favorite gaming trilogy of all time. Mass Effect: Andromeda is but a few short weeks away and I am very excited for the title – heck, “pre-order” excited – which is something I don’t do often. Sure, I am not “take off days of work” excited, but to me that is just a bit crazy to begin with. In the spirit of reliving my joy in the game I decided to go back and play the original three. I do not have my copy of Mass Effect 1 anymore, my ME2 is on my bullshit banned EA account, but my ME3 is on my clean EA account. It is a mess. I decided to take a quick look at Origin to see if they had a three pack, or whatnot, for a reasonable price. It was a nice surprise.

First off, paying Origin $4.95 (per month, no month minimum) gets you 10% off any game you buy in Origin. The Mass Effect Andromeda pre-order that I want is $80 – right off the bat I saved money. Mass Effect 2 is free right now (that’s right, free on Origin – you don’t even have to be a paying member!) so go grab it. Arguably one of the best RPGs of all time. You just need a free Origin account.  Click on the digital deluxe version for some more free add-ons, because that is also free if you choose the option.( Did I mention free?) Lucky me as well, that Mass Effect 1 is in the EA Vault right now meaning you can play it for free (ahem) as a paid subscriber.

Things lined up nicely, I got the trilogy back, in one place, for $4.95.

All of my screenshots were corrupted (unfortunately!) something to do with the .bmp based format ME1 uses not storing the .raw data. I will try a better way to capture next play through. For 10 years old, I am quite impressed with how well it is holding up.  I do recall some of my old choices, and I am saddened to already know the outcome AND know that these choices have zero impact on the new installment – but I am enjoying revisiting my old friends and crew mates aboard the Normandy.

If you haven’t played the series, I highly recommend it.

Timely Coincidence

I finished chapters 2 and  3 of the Jedi Knight story arc in Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic and from what I can tell is the “original” content that launched in 2011. First impressions is that it was very Star Wars-y. No huge surprises but it fit the general tone and theme of what I have come to expect from the Star Wars universe. I have been playing the game completely as it should have been made (single player RPG) and as noted in a previous entry here it took me almost exactly 12 hours to finish Chapter 1 of the galactic saga. Oddly enough, to complete chapters 2 and 3 it took almost exactly an additional 12 hours. My character has played 23 hours, 49 minutes through the single player story line. This includes no side missions but does include the story mode flash points which further expand on the main story line.

Is that a beautiful co-incidence? Semi attractive one? A coincidence having nothing doing  with looks at all?? 12 and 24 hours are just such nice, sensible targets for a developer to strive towards that I find it really interesting wondering if that was on purpose or not. Only time will tell, as I push on to the next series of content. I had to google it to ensure I had the order right but looks like it goes Chapters 1-3, then Ilum, Makeb, Riven, Ziost.

Also, a throwback to last post, I did find my Wampa finally. No awesome cave though, just wandering around the frosty regions of Hoth.

And it was interesting to note, on the next planet, yet another familiar creature from the Star Wars movies used as a roaming mob in game. Clearly they have it easy with so much visual material to pull from. One of these almost ate Anakin on that planet when tied to the pole thing with all those bug people before a bunch of good Jedi show up. My power of recollection is amazing.

The visuals are on point and the gameplay and lightsaber fighting options feels great. The MMO aspects of this game keep getting in the way of making it spectacular but you learn to ignore those. In case you were wondering what those are, in no particular order:

  • Seeing 5 Kira Carsens attached to 5 other Jedis in the same area, is immersive ruining. Hey, she is  a romance interest and *your* companion. No one said anything about cloning. That doesn’t happen until what, Episode 2?
  • Any human being that can take a dozen slashes from a lightsaber is more powerful than the emperor himself.  “Imperial Medic _002” can take that.
  • Running past mobs inside a star ship, in full view, outside of an “aggro” range while alarms go off due to the full attack.  If this was single player there wouldn’t need to be a certain mob density and all mobs could be on high alert. “Oh listen, alarms. Oh look at that non-imperial with a lightsaber cutting down those guys over there. Well, he’s not in our guard area, so let’s just watch…”

A lot of the game feels like “must add this because MMOs have this” instead of “let’s make an awesome Star Wars game and let it stand on its own”. That view of this game is hardly surprising to anyone who has criticized it in the past (or present), but I will continue to argue that it would have been a far bigger success (both commercially and critically) if they went the Mass Effect route with it.

Speaking of Mass Effect, I think I am going to play through the trilogy again once I am done the SWTOR expansions. It was one of the best ever made, if you ignore the ending.

Familiar Territory

Hoth.

I love Hoth. The starting planet of The Empire Strikes Back, Han wielding a lightsaber (to gut a Tauntaun), AT-ATs, Snowspeeders, Probe Droids.. LOVE that (fictional) planet. It was with much enthusiasm that I traveled to Hoth for some missions for my Jedi Knight in Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic. Would they give homage to the films? (of course). Would there be Tauntauns? (yes, and you can buy one as a mount). In fact, they put the Tauntauns and respective vendor right where you get off the shuttle. Clever commercialism.

Why hello, you marvelous meat blanket

Being Canadian and growing up in a rural snow belt I have strong and positive memories of 8′ high snow banks, driving a snowmobile to school, making snow forts and the like. Outside of Star Wars nostalgia I also have a personal affinity for the crisp white snow. Stepping out of the base (during the day of course, I mean, you freeze really fast at night on Hoth) did not disappoint.

the cold, crisp air

The mountains, snow, short and fat AT-AT (ok, stretch there) but there I was, on Hoth. Amazing. I didn’t expect to see any Snowspeeders (it was a different era after all, that tech is WAY in the future) but there was something so familiar, comfortable and exciting about having adventures on this planet if only by knowing what was to come a few thousand years in the future. Seeing how it is in the present timeline versus the desolation in 3600 years was enjoyable from a lore and personal joy perspective.

Would there be any other familiarities? I haven’t found a Wampa yet, but I am early in the story line. I did take a look around on my speeder to see what I could find of of course, Ion cannons! They were an important escape tool in The Empire Strikes Back and nice to see that the Republic used them on this planet way back when as well.

There are few other MMO worlds that can get me excited about an environment like SWTOR.  Do you have any favorite places in your MMO that just gets you feeling all good and excited to visit? Where does that stem from for you?

24.9% More Important

Well, I caught up to my F2P Jedi as a full subscribing Jedi (completing chapter one of the Knight story line) and I shaved 3 hours off of it. That is a decrease of time of 24.9%. This was completely non scientific but most of that time was saved by being able to use quick travel, and having a better land mount to zip past mobs to quest completions. That number is too close to 25% to not assume that the masters of the galaxy decided that a subscriber should have a 25% more efficient time of playing. I know it is anecdotal and such but still, so close to what would seem like a logical conclusion that it is hard not to draw.

Screenshot of my riding my speeder (on my old Jedi, with the non-toggle-able hat unless you pay $10 option).

SWTOR does a good job of immersing you in the Star Wars Universe and the single player campaign is fun. I typically don’t play many games with sound but hard not to do it in SWTOR for the light-saber sounds alone, not to mention familiar riffs in the background as they set the mood as you transition to different story arcs. I am a big fan.

The sudden drop of World of Warcraft was “just because”. I still praise it as the best WoW expansion since Wrath of the Lich King but I was in that rut of nothing really to do but grind out the daily quests in hopes of yet another legendary. My sub dropped at the same time I dipped my toe in SWTOR  and the amazing XP gains are too hard to ignore. I have long waited for the opportunity to zip through the single player stories there.  I will most likely go back to WoW in a future patch (or two) as I want to play out the story campaign there as well as getting that cool new druid form. It looks as though the Token is settling in around the 80k mark for the next little while and I am remiss that I didn’t buy the tokens at 25k (or 60k). I don’t see what sort of other announcement can make the token price jump further (free pizza with a WoW token?) and I am curious if it will drop if/when subscriptions start dropping. With the rate of content being pumped out and planned I know there is plenty to keep most WoW players subscribed.

I’ll be back when the whim hits me. I have the next 60 days to play in a galaxy far, far away

I Would Walk 500 Light Years

Being a big fan of Bioware games in general and also of Star Wars it may come as a surprise that I haven’t played much of SWTOR. When it was sub based only I didn’t have much time to game, so lacked investing in it. When I played the FTP version it was in it’s early and horrendous version – at one point, I couldn’t get an item upgrade from a low level quest unless I was a subscriber. That, and a punishing XP penalty for non subscribers made the game an unfun crawl. You couldn’t even sprint unless you paid. That scared me off. Besides  – the game always would have been better suited as a single player game to begin with.

I just checked and I have 7 old posts under the SWKOTORMMORPG category (the tag was to make fun of MMO acronyms) from 2008 and 2014. I’ll do a quick recap of each to review where my mind was about the game at any specific time (in order) before revisiting my foray into the title over the weekend.

KOTOR – A New Hope (December 2008): This was pre much anything out there about KOTOR and having picked up the Mass Effect Franchise I was cautiously optimistic about how an MMO in the Bioware style would work. The post covered off gameplay elements in ME, and how they may better translate over into MMO land. None of them did, of course.

Pre Marketing Hype Gone Wild (July 2009): One of my favourite short posts here, really. In it I dissected an exclusive interview where the devs basically declined to say anything at all while participating in a 4 page interview which had me questioning why in the heck they would agree to do an interviewin the first place. Bare minimum pre-screen questions, at least – or actually answering something players were interested in is not a bad idea. It was a joke, and a sad state of affairs to how companies hype games.

Lambs to the Slaughter (December 2010): After reading players expectations for the game during a SWTOR QA I realized that player expectations for this title cannot possibly be met as people were hoping for unique experiences and individualism in an “on rails” MMO world.

Star Wars the Old Republic: Hopes and Dreams (September 2010): Two years into the hype cycle I review the things I loved about Mass Effect and Dragon’s Age: Origins and allow myself a brief moment of optimism for the future of SWTOR. Yes, yes, pie in face, laugh at me, whatever you want to do. Hey, they had the building blocks to make something special!

Feast or Famine (July 2011): With the game nearing release but many playing beta I quick hit a note about having less interest in buying the game at release due to reviews from trusted and respected bloggers in BlogNation

Fun Police for Jedi (August 2011): This quote captures my angst in this article:

“… they are releasing a PVP warzone based on a neutral planet where the good guys and the bad guys pause their intergalactic conflict (oh, that silly thing?) to partake in something loosely resembling football set in a fantasy world“.

Yeah. Nothing screams end of the galaxy like copying the NFL.

Against My Better Judgement (October 2013): I tried to get into SWOTOR but the F2P issues were completely rediculous coming from a long stint in League of Legends (who does F2P extremely well)

How to Lose a MMO Gamer in 10 Ways (September 2014) was probably my most commented on article here (at a whopping 25) but I listed the things that make me not care about MMO games and the companies that make them. This wasn’t specific to SWTOR except they were tagged in it, probably because they hit 6 of the 10 items listed at some point in their development cycle.

I ran the emotional gamut on Star Wars: The Old Republic. Hope, to absurdity, to bitter sarcasm, to more hope, to disappointment, to more absurdity, to resignation, to frustration. All of that and I don’t think I put more than 20 hours into the game over that 6 year period. I did do a beta phase and remember playing the Agent story line and getting to mid 20s but I didn’t ever write about that (which is weird for me). I had to triple check that I didn’t mis-tag a post or two.

 

Nevertheless, I decided to give it the old college try. Here are the weekend bullet points as I experienced it over the weekend

  • Zones are gigantic. Need speeder to move around. Non subs get at 20, subs at 10. With 250% xp boost you get a speeder by the second planet which makes it not a gigantic deal, but it would really suck to ahve to walk it all on your own. I do like the zone size (when proper travel options are available) as it really gives a grand scale in game. This inspired the title. I was on autorun most of the time to get around, slowly. Painfully slowly.
  • $10 to toggle helmet off/on. Choice between looking stupid (ranger helmet) or Jedi cool (hood). I chose stupid for the stats, but wish I could toggle for in free, or in game credits, or something. Another basic QoL smashed by bad F2P
  • Weapon stuck at 50% power because weapon quest rewards require an expansion to use. I can’t really die, but I kill really slow. I don’t remember Jedi sucking so bad in the SW universe. Don’t give expansion rewards in base game. SMH.
  • You get 2 quick slot bars. You fill those up by level 30. You have to pay to get anymore. The rumours were true.
  • Jedi Knight story is well done. I am enjoying that aspect.
  • NPCs you help may email you later on. This was well done and a nice surprise. they pace it out from when you actually helped them so you kind of forget about it, until you get the in game mail notification. Nice follow up. I can’t delete the email from my first (ex) girlfriend even though we can’t see each other ever again. Jedi code BS.
  • You could cut game time in half with reasonable travel modes. Giant zones and lack of speed travel stretches this out. Feels like 50%+ is just getting place to place. I have mastered how to avoid mobs to get there faster. Fun mini game. Maybe not that fun, but making the most of it.
  • Quick travel on 26 minute timer. Subscriber it is on a 6 minute timer.
  • How many airports look the same in the world? Why does every spaceport look exactly the same? Missed opportunity to rationalize differences and cool spaceports based on the planets. These could be omitted completely without missing a beat, but would by default increase travel time. SWTOR loves slow travel.
  • Chapter 1 took me 11 hours, 21 minutes as a full F2P player to complete, and I ended up at level 35.
  • I had a fun 11 hours. SWTOR, despite their F2P Fu@kery, deserve some money. I don’t mind paying for my entertainment.
  • Confusing as hell. Buy expansion? Subscribe a month? Buy coins? So many options, no clear path to what makes sense. Research time.
  • Turns out if you buy anything, you get “Preferred” status for life which means you can just sub one month and get F2P benefits for evah!
  • Bought 60 days plus goodies by buying the expansion pack. Good value for the enjoyment.
  • It still should be a single player game. Many MMO things ruin the single player experience. It’s weird, because you can’t group for the story missions, which is 90% of the low level game.

Now that I am subbed, for research, I am going to do the same Chapter 1 story and see how much faster it is as a subscriber. Will be interesting to see the difference! If you ever wanted to experience the single player story lines of this game now is the time, the XP gains mean you far out level the story even just doing the main story line. I know I am missing out on some good content but can always go back and experience side quests when I am done the main one. The game levels you down to make content playable.

Stay in the Hinterlands!

Google DA:I and read the reviews and a lot of them look like this link. Everyone is recommending to get out of the Hinterlands fast. The game gets way better afterwards. Some even suggest you are doing it wrong if you don’t, and should just stay there for the whole game and be a farmer. Funny how people want to push their values and ideas onto others.

No.

Thank you.

I am loving the Hinterlands.

Not only is there a lot of flavor there and a lot of history and stories to learn (if you look!) it’s a great way to learn more about your first party members, get a great feel for the game, combat, and capabilities, and generally just fun. I am 6 hours into the Hinterlands and still haven’t turned over all the stones, and kind of like it there. I think after I shut down the rift for good I’ll take a summer home there. In the meantime, there is a lot of work to be done. There is sufficient challenge and I still haven’t sorted out some of the more major story lines that seem to be unfolding. I am still learning as I go.

The argument that as leader of the Inquisition shouldn’t be doing menial tasks I respectfully disagree with. The best way to get the will of the people is to be present and show that you aren’t above any effort for the end result. I recruited my first Agent and was proud that I made the effort to help him with the task that mattered most to him (lost love one). Sure, I could have passed that off to one of my team members but they may not have recruited that tAgent as I was able to. It’s all about being present.

The best part is since I am enjoying this part so much, and by all accounts it only gets better, I am setting myself up for a good 100 hour+ journey. This is the right kind of game for my personal issues.

Anyone else loving the Hinterlands?

Nitpicking

When I was in grade 8 my teacher brought in local professions to talk to our class. It was kind of like “bring a parent” day but just not anyone’s parents. One time he brought in a local artist and the artist brought in pieces of his completed work but also works in progress. Part of the way he worked was painting over the painting – so if he didn’t like something he just painted over the section and rebuilt it. The artist was particularly proud of a certain piece that he was paid to create for a Jazz Festival. The picture was a semi-abstract portrait of a man playing a saxophone. The body was very clear that it was a person playing a saxophone and holding it in front of him.

“What do you think?” the artist asked. I put my hand up.

“It’s wrong” I said.

“What do you mean it’s wrong? It’s art! As an artist you can create anything you want. Please explain.” He said, smiling genuinely at me.

“His hands are in the wrong place. They are reversed”. I knew this because I played saxophone in the school band.

My teacher told me I was nitpicking, but the artist was really thankful because that would have been pretty embarrassing to miss an obvious detail like that. So, with that childhood story of mine top of mind my son pointed this out to me this weekend when we launched Dragon Age for the first time. Box cover:

What happens in game:

From what I can tell you can only have the mark on your left hand, yet the box cover shows the hero having the mark on the right hand. Before you say to me “settle down, that is totally nitpicking!” I just want to emphasize that I didn’t even notice it, my nine year old son pointed it out. And as he pointed it out, he told me it was “wrong”.

I wonder if anyone is getting slack for that at Bioware or if that is just too nitpicky.

(Side note – I totally failed my gaming goals I set out on Friday – sure, I got 10% further in Batman: AA and a couple hours further in TLOU, but I didn’t play TSW or MH. I saw the final installment of The Hobbit (acronym break) and of course had to fire up LOTRO (back at it) again and The War in The North (no one would have figured that one out) and ended up really needed an epic storyline quest so DA:I it was. Wrong hand and everything.) [sorry].

Completionism

My wife went away for the weekend, meaning a couple great things.

  1. I get a lot of one on one time with the kid
  2. I get a lot of video game time.

I mean, I will miss her dearly, but sometimes you just have to fight through the loneliness. (sound convincing enough? *grin*) Truth is I haven’t gamed in weeks due to our Christmas trip to Europe (which was awesome) so i am chomping at the bit a bit. For a bit. Fitbit?

Thankfully school was cancelled today due to huge snowfalls, so after I clear off the driveway there isn’t a lot of outdoor activities for us to do. A couple errands this weekend but otherwise free to game! I already have 4 (maybe 5?) titles on tap. That seems crazy to me in some ways – in the “good old days” ™ I would have my MMO du jour queued up and log into that endlessly and advance away. Now I have a hodge podge of titles that I am either trying to complete, get further into, and/or if time permits – start! Here is what the weekend should look like barring any sort of catastrophe.

The Last Of Us (PS4)

I seem to care about as much as she looks like she does

This game came bundled with my wife-suggested purchase of the PS4 (I actually have a draft necromancy post coming up where I swear off buying one of the new consoles – but why argue with the wife!) I am a completionist and this is a good example of a title that I really want to see the ending of but am not entirely enjoying the game-play. I am at the Philadelphia level and the entire game-play part of The Last Of Us seems to consist of a not-so-convincing cut scene, followed by get from A to Z movement puzzles (where there is only one (and often tedious) path), followed by a fight sequence where you can try to stealth through it but ultimately end up shooting a gun and the entire level aggros. Rinse, repeat. Rinse, repeat. I wish I could say they have done a good job of fleshing out the characters and  whatnot but I really didn’t care about my life long partner in crime Tess (when she sacrificed herself) because I had a total of 8 lines of dialog with her before embarking on the somewhat tedious gameplay mentioned above. I know I should care deeply about Elly (that is her name, right?) but I am not feeling it. Not enough character development so far, and I feel as though they are making parts of the game long enough just to stretch out the time to completion needlessly. The other thing I am disliking about it is that when you die all the resources you used before you die are gone BUT they reset the entire encounter. So I can kill 20 guys and use 40 bullets but if I die and they reset, those 20 guys are back but my bullets aren’t. Seems unfair and unnecessary. Still, I can’t just quit. There is a DLC component that I have heard is from her (Elly) perspective but I don’t even know if I want to start when I finish the main part because if I do I won’t be able to stop until it’s over. This game is holding up my next PS4 title, Dragon Age Inquisition.

Batman: Arkham Asylum (PC, Steam)

I got this (and Arkham City) in a Humble Bundle and am 30% through it. This is an enjoyable (but a bit dated) game but again, I want to see how the game ends. The combat is smooth and quick and the Bat-tricks are interesting. Even the storyline has been fun. I’d like to get this moved over to my “Steam completed” folder, because my Steam to play folder is getting really small. I haven’t put in much time lately and think I can fly through this one pretty quick. I still believe that the combat style in this game would translate into a MMO Combat Innovation especially now that telegraphs aren’t the be all and end all developers hoped they would be (right WildStar?). Dare to dream. Bats isn’t even one of my top 10 superheroes but the Chris Nolan movies certainly won me over, and one of my favourite graphic novels of all time is The Killing Joke from back in my comic collecting days. What I wouldn’t give to have a Marvel Hero based game like B:AA.

The Secret World (PC, Steam)

photo credit: stitchessecretworld.blogspot.net

It’s a nice place to visit….

Hoping to get through Kingsmouth (yes, I am still only there) although I have no clue how long that will take. I have only done 15 or so missions in the area and can’t even recall what level I am. I have enjoyed TSW to jump in, do a quest, log off. It hasn’t grabbed me for longer playing sessions yet and part of the skill wheel (even the assisted one) makes me uncomfortable. I don’t have the gaming time to spend hours researching how to level – I want simple and fun. Thankfully the lower levels seem to be just that and I’m focusing on just my main weapon skills for now and the odd update to talismans to wear an item upgrade. I love the setting and wish the gameplay matched for me. Still, it’s a worthy place for me to spend my time and looking forward to sorting out the zombification of this once quiet New England town. Syp at Bio Break keeps me very interested in progressing in this game with his write ups of experiences there. Many levels to go!

Marvel Heroes 2015 (PC)

As mentioned in my Mobile Gaming piece I have a superhero itch lately. I haven’t tried DCUO (although it’s free on Playstation, isn’t it?) and with City of Heroes gone I updated the patcher and launcher and it is ready to go. This is a long shot to really dig into with the aforementioned titles sitting to be finished but it is intriguing and hard to not hit “Play”. I haven’t played Marvel in a long time and read it was semi-rebooted. What I love about their store is that if you click on a costume you are thinking of buying it shows the cover of the specific comic book that inspired the look. I think that is clever and as an old comic collector I was having fun just seeing which ones were available to buy.

Dragon Age Inquisition (PS4)

I mentioned this earlier in the Last Of US paragraph because I own this game and there are only a few things stopping me from taking the shrink wrap off.

  1. Dragon Age Keep is having tech issues with loading in my Dragon Age Origins history and Dragon Age 2 history. the DA:2 I am not so concerned about but I put in 100+ hours into Origins – I LOVED that game. Sadly, I don’t remember my own choices it has been so long! I really want that saved state to be there before I start DA:I as I am looking forward to connecting with those old characters. I actually emailed EA about it after getting good help from DAK via twitter (good, but unresolved)
  2. I still have two games to finish right now and would like to do that before embarking on the journey.
  3. 100 hours! I am a side quester kind of person and I like to do the whole thing. 100 hours of game-play for me right now is around two months of gaming time. I need to clear off some of my dance card before committing to a game that is this involved.

I tend to categorize games into ones you can complete and ones that are ongoing and it is never really a good thing to have too many of each at any time. I am already screwing up controller buttons between Batman and The Last OF Us so it can be challenging to have many control specific games on the go (which they all have.) Add in stories, objectives, maps, quests (etc.) and a portion of your gaming time at any time is spent re familiarizing. Especially after a long break like I just had.

Isn’t it crazy that I feel like I need to manage my gaming time and titles? Those good old days where I just played WoW, DAOC, or LoL where that was the game and that was the focus it seemed so much simpler. When I had time to game there was always one main one waiting. It is kind of like I am in gaming title limbo as I am not entirely immersed or compelled to really game the titles on my docket. Sometimes it feels like I am just playing to get some completed. My completionistic nature works against me here as why shouldn’t I just stop playing The Last Of Us? The levels feel like a chore sometimes. Still, I believe that is part of gaming nature to want to see things through to the end. I am even worse when it comes to bad movies – I still watch the whole thing waiting for that one scene, message, or redeeming quality to show itself for the time and artistic investment that went into the film.

Warlords Of Draenor is also weighing heavily on me – my desire to take my main character through the adventure of the next 10 levels if only to finish his/her journey in Azeroth, but that is a whole other post.

Still, much to look forward to this weekend. I hope it goes as planned.

Death, Taxes, Gaming.

“The only guarantees in life are Death and Taxes” is one of those old quotes that stand the test of time. Having been playing a lot of X-Com lately I caught myself doing something that I regretted afterwards which made me think about death in gaming a lot closer – and I realized I didn’t like what I found (with my own behavior). The stage is set.

X-Com is a tactical game where the goal is to defend the Earth from alien invaders. As you play you encounter new aliens and start learning why the invaders are there in the first place. Slowly but surely I have been piecing together the puzzle and while doing so, doing a pretty good job of keeping Earth away from panic. I have lost Mexico as a supporting state of the X-Com program but the rest are pretty safe and secure. (Sorry, Mexico). One of the great parts about X-Com is that the soldiers you use on field missions can improve with experience, and gain ranks and access new skills and strengths. They also die – permanently. All that being said they are generally devoid of any personality and the skill trees are standard – so you can have the exact same soldier where the only difference is name and nationality, plus some stats that influence how they behave in game. My favourite squaddie (short form for squad mate, I’m not sure if that’s standard terminology but that is what I use!) is “Pitbull”. She is an American support specialist. I don’t even know her real name (if squaddies live long enough, they are granted a nickname). Pitbull has saved my other squaddies and often has single handedly changed full outcomes. She is max rank now and never, ever misses a shot. She is amazing. I love seeing her lead missions and is the closest thing I have to a “super soldier”.  She has helped me advance so far in this game. She died yesterday, and I did something I never thought I would.

I reloaded the earliest saved game so I had her again.

This was perplexing to me. Reiterating here – I don’t even know her in game name, she is a “tool” in my toolbox to stop the alien invasion. She has no personality outside of her shared and easily copied skill set. The reason why this perplexes me is I was reminded of death in other mediums and comics, for example, I HATE when people are killed off and they are always brought back. It sours the experience. With that long winded intro I am going to look at a few games where I have experienced death, and some observations (and questions).

Comics

Thalen’s post “On Retcons” popped up on Anook this morning and it reminded me of my own views on death in the comics medium. I hate it. When Superman “died” the first time it was made out to be a HUGE event in the DC universe. I was a Marvel comics guy through and through but I still bought that edition so I had it preserved – a moment in history! It was in 1992 and I thought it was a brave, bold move and that the comic world would be shaken up forever. Think of the stories they could build off of this! The other heroes picking up the slack, how the DC Universe would change without Superman.. wait – what?

The death of death having meaning, you mean.

Superman taught me one thing. Death is temporary. Death lasts exactly three months in the DC Universe. That tainted comic deaths for me forever. Of course, Marvel is equally (if not more) guilty of this – my favorite comic book character is Colossus, from the X-Men. He has always been my favorite since I was a kid. Sure enough, read through his “life” here at the Marvel Wiki and its a disgusting ruin of an amazing base character. Deaths, rebirths, alternate realities, blah blah blah. I’ll never buy another comic. To me, there is nothing wrong if you run out of content and much like Thalen’s article (where Nick Fury was sun-setted quite nicely for his character and then brought back in a poor way) just let the stories end. Harry Potter ended. The world is fine with that. If you tinker too much with your assets they aren’t assets anymore.

Gaming

I have four instances in gaming that stand out to me with gaming and death. The first is the aforementioned X-Com and “Pitbull” eating a Muton sandwich. The second is going a bit further back but very similar – to Blood Bowl, another turn based game that you can improve your characters and I had a whole post based around the antics of my Wardancer. I ended up losing her to randomization eventually – but she had to stay dead because it was a live game vs another human being.

The third instance  is in the Walking Dead – when the protagonist died (we all saw it coming) It clearly felt like a part of the narrative and the introduction of the true protagonist all along (the little girl). It felt satisfying how he died, and how he kept her safe for so long.

The fourth is in Mass Effect 2 – at the ending attack on the Collectors depending on what actions you took your squad mates would live or die. I cheated on this one too (shame on me) because I was emotionally invested in the characters I had spent so long developing with.

Inconsistent behaviors to me considering my comics stance? At the same time since they are different mediums, can I be excused? The Comics rant is pretty consistent with my Walking Dead experience – the narrative. At the end of it all I react to death in games on different motivators and in the above examples of X-Com and Blood Bowl I had ties with my characters through achievement. They weren’t fleshed out or personal but they helped me achieve things in gaming and because of that I wanted to protect them.

In Mass Effect 2 I wanted to protect them because I had developed a relationship with the characters and wanted to preserve that. Like protecting your little brother from harm.

In the Walking Dead I accepted the death as part of the overall narrative and that death actually improved the experience overall. Great story, great sacrifice.

So I ask you – do you go out of your way to save your protagonists or let the dice fall where they may? Is it different depending on game or genre? We all know MMOs care nothing of death or penalties, but what about other games when those deaths are more permanent?

 

Dragon Age : The Birdcage

Sorry, that was the most sensationalist title I could muster.

Can you spot the gay party member in this picture?

News this week, on the heels of Canada’s Pride Week in Toronto, is that Dragon Age: Inquisition will have the first openly gay party member for the series – Dorian. The events aren’t even close to being linked, just a happenstance coincidence (no doubt.)

I’m sure some hardcore gamer boys will be upset and it is somehow “in their faces” but I still say good job to Bioware. It takes some courage – not like the real courage it takes for gay people to come out to their friends, families, and communities – but courage nonetheless. Bioware has always been more open about same sex relationships in their games anyway. Time it was brought out of the closet (did they have closets in Dragon Age?)

My take is pretty consistent here when it comes to community. Look around you – do we all look, talk, think or love the same? Of course not. I want that diversity in any community I am a part of mostly because it is reflective of the real word. I support the human rights regardless of how they view themselves or how the world views them. Video games are growing up as both an entertainment and artistic medium and it makes sense to have diversity in our fictional worlds. I know it is offensive to some on “religious” or “moral” grounds, and gamers (in general) get a bad rap for their intolerance towards sexuality (and maturity..) but that is ok – they have the option to not use Dorian and I’m sure Dorian isn’t going to spend battles hitting on the protagonist. He’ll probably just fight, kill and maim like most other Dragon Age party members, while putting in a genuine effort to save the world from some menacing threat. Only with more style. (I had to say that – I mean, I barely used ANY stereotyping in these 500 words…). Sure, its a single player game so the sense of community isn’t the same as say, an MMO, but it will continue the conversation and just maybe it will give an MMO developer the guts to try it next.

I’m curious what style of personality Dorian ends up having and looking forward to DA:3. On the heels of all the gender diversity in Warlords of Draenor discussion and even WildStar lacking strong female character develpment let’s see how this conversation unfolds.  The video game industry does such a great job representing women to begin with that I can’t possibly see any issues building out a believable and supportable gay character experience. (Do I need to note <mild yet obvious sarcasm> for that last line?)

Against My Better Judgement

I went back into SWTOR.

I love the Star Wars Universe. I was in early Beta Tests for SWTOR and like many others, believed if the game was launched as a single player experience it would have done amazing. Really, it is just a better, shinier KOTOR.  Dragon Age in the Star Wars Universe. Mass Effect-esque gameplay in a Star Wars backdrop. It could have been a perennial giant seller as a single player game such as the COD series or even Assasin’s Creed. I went back knowing that it really isn’t an MMO but the storylines I did in beta were pretty well done – and I wanted to see some of them through and maybe experience a couple new ones. I was willing to invest my time (and depending on the experience, money)

Wow, they have really messed it up. During my three hour play experience last night:

1) You can’t get certain quest rewards without being a subscriber. Major quest rewards are unattainable. Really? PRE-LEVEL 10? The starter experience?

2) The restrictions on chat make group very, very difficult (and there are heroic quests that require you to have a group as early as level 6-7)

3) XP gains have really been throttled (not surprisingly though)

So after spending a lot of time (and money) in League of Legends, someone who does Free To Play exceptionally well, it was a letdown. I want to spend time in EA’s Star Wars Universe, I want to give them my money – but I want to feel like I am rewarding them for good programming and business decisions. If I gave them a dime right now it would be the exact opposite.

Tuesday Ramblings.

I don’t post nearly as much when I am playing. One of those funny things – when I play a lot, I don’t post. When I’m not playing a lot, I post. With limited gaming/personal time, it just works out that way.

I am in, and there is, a SWTOR beta. That’s all I am allowed to say (NDA wise). No no, not sharing any impressions either way, just sharing what I am allowwed to share. And that’s it.

I have done a lot of beta tests at various stages, and the amusing part always is the disconnect between customer expectations based on released information, and what you see know when you are ‘in the know’ – hands on, so to speak. This observation is completely unrelated to my sentence prior, but is a pretty consistent and common theme in the beta tests (in general) I have participated in.

On a side note, I am somewhat shocked at the lack of World of Pandas/Pokemon rage. When I read the announcement I started going to some of my favourite blogging sites to enjoy reading pages upon pages of hate and anger. Perhaps it was because Blizz’s next step down wasn’t a surprise to anyone (anymore), or that bloggers just tend not to care about WoW anymore. If I missed any good posts on it, please link them.

I actually like the idea of the monk class (a personal favourite in EQ) but everything else is both unsurprising and uninspiring. I will tip my hat to Blizzard for fighting to the end, trying to break the standard-ish MMO growth curve and climb then slow decline. On a somewhat unrelated note, Zynga’s IPO is due soon. Not sure why that popped into my head when writing this section.

Best blogging post I read this week goes to the BBB, and it’s not even game related. JP sure has a way of tackling a polarizing topic in such a way to encourage thoughtfulness on the subject. While many may not agree with him, he hits the nail on the head, and it’s a brave post considering his normal subject matter. (It’s also a sad statement to qualify a post about human rights as being courageous – but you know what I mean. Right?)

Have a few posts I have been plugging away on in the background that I’ll get to this week. Time permitting, of course =)

I did say ramblings, after all.

Fun Police for Jedi

EA and Bioware are wrapping everything into their ‘hail mary pass’ launch of SWTOR (pardon the pun) to do everything imaginable (and then some) to recoup their eleventy billion dollar investment.

For those of you who don’t clicky links on blogs, they are releasing a PVP warzone based on a neutral planet where the good guys and the bad guys pause their intergalactic conflict (oh, that silly thing?) to partake in something loosely resembling football set in a fantasy world. Immersion breaking? Yes. Misguided? Probably. Downright silly? Uh-huh – if you are one of those Star Wars geeks who endear the IP.

But the real question is: will it be fun? Yes, probably. It sure looks that way. I just don’t think it belongs there, and is an aspect that totally negates the whole point of having a story based (brand new pillar, amirite?) MMO in the first place.

Next PVP warzone being released is on hoth and  involves both ice skates and a small round disk made from compressed wampa fat. DLC price of $10.

My hype meter is at an all time low for SWTOR.

 

Feast or Famine

Going to a new blogging style. The exciting ‘when I can/feel like it’. When I blogged regularly I blogged pretty hard, 3+ posts a week, keeping on top of current events and all the “excitement”. I took an extended break once, and in the same breadth kept lurking and reading my favorites without posting. I haven’t posted since December and plan on making it more regular (without any firm commitments!)

Now I’ll just have the odd meal, enjoy the writing part, and keep blogging for no ulterior purpose but to enjoy myself on much needed breaks.

So, what have I been up to gaming wise?

a) I broke my EA holdout 10 months after it started while in a gaming funk, and bought Dragons Age 2 on sale. As reviewed by others I was a bit dissappointed when compared to the first.

b) Long after Cataclysm was released, I did my WoW dance once again, enjoyed it for what it is, then left when all I could do was done. Un-subbed prior to 4.1 with little interest returning. Maybe next expansion for a 3 month ride to remind myself why I unsubbed in the first place =)

c) Played more of Minecraft – although given up on creating something completely awesome, I am strip mining to hollow out under the world but making all resources renewable – anything I take from the ground I have to reuse above ground. Will someday end up with a rediculous cavern underground and floating islands in the sky. It’s definitely Zen grinding down blocks then finding uses for them elsewhere

d) Played Rift until level 15, quit, much for the same uninspiring reasons the current-gen MMO mechanics I often lament

e) Trialed AION for the free 20 levels, enjoyed myself a bit, not buying.

f) Less excited than ever about SWTOR and their marketing giganticnous of the title, and looking forward to not buying it on release while waiting for the reviews to pour in from trusted like minded bloggers. I still expect to play it someday as I am a fan of the DA/ME conversation wheel choices, but everything I have read about it from the CE backward has me in pure holdout mode.

Work wise we are expanding into Asian and South American countries, so that has been interesting and exciting. My family and I (odd to make the distinction, heh) are moving this week to a new home 7 hours away for work.

How have you been? =)