Monthly Archive: April 2017

Where to Next?

With Andromeda fresh in the books as the most satisfying gaming experience I have had to date I have 3-5 years to kill before the sequel. Plenty of time to try other games. I’m just torn on where to go so I thought I would reach out to Blognation to see what hidden opportunities may be out there. The shortlist I had in mind (and open to a longer list) is the following

  • HORIZON ZERO DOWN – I have a PS4 and know this is a pretty darling game right now, and well reviewed by Blognation.
  • SWTOR – I only finished the main campaign and unsubbed at the first expansion due to ME:A coming out
  • LOTRO – I have had several stops and starts in this game, and I don’t think I’d want to sub it until I built up enough comfort level that I may actually stick around – is it playable if you aren’t subbed to it?
  • SQUAD – the spiritual successor to Project Reality and I havent played a FPS in quite some time (Destiny was the last, which is now unplayable due to impending-exansion-itis)
  • FFXIV – free to play until level 35 makes me feel like this may be my best chance to give this eastern MMO another try.
  • THE DIVISION – I have heard there have been a swathe of improvements – I only got to level 25
  • STEAM BACKLOG – Because apparently that is always a thing
  • EQ – I have been logging in and poking around here and there… not sure why.. but there is an itch!
  • OTHER – I am totally open to trying something new. Most of those ideas are going back somewhere.

If you have a suggestion, and it’s an MMO/Online game you are playing please leave the server name and/or your ID in the comments (or my email if you want to keep it private) so I can has friends in game too. I am a lost explorer looking for somewhere to find right now. My serial nature of gaming really only gives me space to focus on one at a time, and I just don’t have a clear cut number one right now. All seem like an OK idea.

And oh, just for fun, this popped up on my “you posted this 4 years ago” Facebook memories, and figured it would be worth a share for Friday giggles.

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.

I Uninstalled Hearthstone Today

Hearthstone is a card game that I have had some great enjoyment with. The pace of the expansion packs has felt really rushed and clearly in the past three months they have been pumping out “I win” cards with each. This is somewhat understandable in a free to play format where they want to get paid. I do believe that you need breathing room for the playerbase to earn these cards “the old fashioned way” so they feel they can still play and be competitive with the whales.

Historically, the expansions have came out (in average) every 241 days – but not the new one. Pushed by declining revenues (my guess) they released the latest in half the timeframe – 126 days. I was just starting to feel good about competing with Gadgetzan decks. Now a whole new expansion is out, with new win conditions. I played a game last night that finally made me decide to stop playing. I was playing my C’thun Priest, a not very popular deck but a fun one if you can keep the game going a long time. With this deck I have been as high as rank 16 (the top 25% of Hearthstone players are rank 15 or above) so on that bubble of not being entirely terrible not really great either. I don’t play the meta-decks, I don’t play “competitively”, but I was having fun.

Last night I hit a warrior – I normally don’t like warriors to begin with – their “hero” power works (+2 armor) even if there is nothing on the board, where a priest needs damage against to effectively use the hero power. Turn 1, he plays this:

I have never even heard of that card, but it rewards this:

And that card is basically an “I win” card. I am also playing an “I win” card deck (C’Thun), but really, I need to get to the 15th round or later for the most part to make it happen – and I have to dig it out of a deck of 30, so it’s a late play. How many rounds could it take for them to get to their “I win” condition?

Six. Six rounds. There are so many taunt cards, and even more low taunt cards that he was able to play 7 taunt minions in 6 rounds.  IF it was possible to do enough damage (with an aggro deck, or whatnot) then maybe there would be an effective counter. Except they are all taunt cards, which means you have to clear them before doing damage to the player. You have to have a specific deck able to clear faster than he can play taunt cards before hitting his I win condition. In six rounds.

(Granted, six rounds is probably not normal, but it was still my experience so others are probably having it as well). Soon as he hit it, that early, and seeing what I had in my hand I knew the game was over. I just looked at the board and my hand, saw what was going on and realized there wasn’t a possible way for me to win. Not even if I was completely lucky. The kinds of cards that could help me in that situation (Reno, Brann, Sylvanus) were “retired” from standard play with the new expansion. I realized that this game is pushing too hard on revenue and not hard enough on preserving the experience or value of existing decks. This was somewhat obvious on the Gadgetzan expansion, but completely clear with Un’Goro.

It’s a shame – I paid over $60 for the game this year as I was having that much fun, so now they lose my long term, steady stream of revenue for the short term big sprints. I would have paid more if I had felt they were focused on improving the game. I like paying and supporting companies who earn my gaming dollars.

Seems I am not the only one.

Can anyone recommend a good, other card game to play on my phone when I drink port and smoke cigars in my garage? Hearthstone expanded itself right into an uninstall.

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.