pc games

How I Got to Elite: Dangerous

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Steam informed me recently that a game on my wish list was on sale. I don’t add items to that list often, but there are a few I forget are there. I checked it out and found that it was Elite: Dangerous.

I didn’t know much about it off the top of my head, but investigating the store page reminded me of the appeal. Open world. Milky Way galaxy recreation. Massive scale. MMO. Flight simulator.

So I bought it…

But first, let’s start in the mid-90s. For the record I was unaware until recently that Elite: Dangerous had previous installments during this time period. Had I known this the story would be different.

Anyway, I happened to pick up Lucasarts’ space combat simulator X-Wing when I was a kid. The box art and screenshots entranced me. I too would get to experience the ultimate freedom of space travel and get to blast Tie fighters into sparking fragments along the way.

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After several disks worth of installation (this was the original DOS version), I was ready to play and within minutes I was in the cockpit of the X-Wing, adjusting shield levels, engine speeds, and aiming at various vessels. This was what I was waiting for. True freedom.

This sense was quickly dashed, if only momentarily, when I noticed that those stars and galaxies and planets far off in the background were merely that, background. There would be no interstellar travel for me. Just intense space combat, and the promise of thrills like the films.

This series was quite popular as it turns out, spanning into the next decade with its sequel Tie Fighter offering the best experience in my opinion.

Still, there was that desire to fly among the stars that gnawed at me.

Let’s flashforward several years to the late 2000s. This is when I first tried EVE Online. This, I thought, was it. This was what I had always wanted. An entire galaxy to explore replete with space stations and starships, enemies and allies, and everything in between. Yes, it truly offers all these things.

Here I had my chance to be a renowned star fighter, but I could also be a pilot, a space miner (and perhaps have a daughter who would wrote a song about such things), an industrialist, or even a scheming CEO of a corporation filled with other real people to manipulate and command.

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The options were endless, but so was the path to progress it seemed. Now don’t get me wrong, EVE Online is great at what it offers, but it’s also demanding. And slow. And cutthroat. Eventually everything becomes a point and click affair, even space travel, which is more about navigating menus rather than space itself.

It’s not hard to admit that I enjoyed the game, generally but it is hard to admit that perhaps it’s a little more daunting than I would like for something that I want to truly enjoy.

At the end of the day, EVE Online offered quite a bit, more than I imagined in fact, but it still missed that certain something.

There were other games that came close, like Star Trek Online, with its arcade-ish space combat and the ability to lead away teams on planets. If you’ve wanted to be a Starfleet captain, or even a Romulan or Klingon, this is your chance. It’s a lighter version of EVE Online, to be sure, but its content is still entertaining and the fantastic setting is a bonus.

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After years of playing games, it’s safe to say that some of my earliest wishes have been buried under layers of reality and disappointment, but fortunately they have also been augmented by gaming experiences that have truly been enjoyable in unexpected ways.

So there I was the other day, loading up Elite: Dangerous. I tried the training missions, thinking that this really is a very similar game to EVE. Except that I was sitting in a cockpit. And that I could fly to any available star. And fight. And dock with space stations.

Then it hit me.

No, not that asteroid I collided with because I was still calibrating my controls.

No, it was something else: the realization that this is the game I had been wanting to play for almost twenty years!

Even better is the fact that Elite: Dangerous’ developers have already declared (not speculated as in the case of EVE) the kind of content they will roll out, like planetary landings and such. This is more than thrilling, and I feel like I’ve finally come full circle with those expectations born from the back of the X-Wing box all those years ago.  

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So, if you’ll excuse me, I need to prep my ship for travel to see either the Sol system in way I’ve never been able to or what lies beyond the other side of the galaxy’s core.

From Out of Nowhere: Seven Kingdoms 2 HD

sk2hd I had just mentioned in a previous post how every game from the last twenty years was getting a remake of some kind. I just happened upon this one when I noticed that GOG.com was giving me a free update to a game. Little did I know that one of my favorite strategy games of all time was getting an HD remake with some new features, new support (a new patch has just been released), and the music finally works (the previous version offered by GOG.com had some problems there).

But what is this Seven Kingdoms 2, and why are their more than seven kingdoms you can play?

The first Seven Kingdoms was released in 1997, when RTS games were entering their heyday. Command & Conquer, Warcraft, Starcraft, and Age of Empires ruled the scene and featured fast-paced base building, direct control over villager/peon/constructor units to gather multiple resources, and, aside from a smattering of diplomacy and “trade” in some cases, you sent your assortment of units into the fray and hoped they came out of battle victoriously.

Seven Kingdoms was one of the first RTS games to feature elements more common to turn-based strategy games, like a more robust diplomacy system, enhanced and functional trade for resources, and even espionage. Combat was straight forward with just a few types of units and you made critical decisions in real time.

Seven Kingdoms 2: The Fryhtan Wars is the sequel and features a 3D terrain engine, several more human cultures, and the ability to play the evil Fryhtans, which appeared in the first game as monsters who hoarded treasure. In the sequel, they boast one of the most notable new features. The Fryhtan cultures each have their own distinct feel and abilities, but otherwise they are more combat oriented, so they provide a nice change of pace from the more involved gameplay of the human cultures.

Human gameplay revolves around trade, combat, research, and espionage, most which have received upgrades from the previous game. Trade for resources is essentially the same. Build a mine to gather raw materials. Build a factory to make refined products. Sell them at a market to your own people or to other kingdoms via trade caravans. This trade opens up more diplomacy where you can make friends, allies, or enemies, and even make some money selling excess food, or pay tribute to keep an aggressive neighbor at bay. sk2gameplay Combat has been revamped significantly. You train soldiers at forts, which also can serve as defenses with their missile towers, and as you keep soldiers in forts they gain more skill in combat to become better fighters, or even in leadership to become good generals or even kings if your current one dies. Each kingdom also has a unique unit that represents its cultural heritage such as Egyptian chariots or Celtic druids, and a unique deity to summon occasionally whose temple also provides a unique bonus. Combat is relatively simple, with no rock-paper-scissor mechanics worry about. However, a mix of ranged attacks and melee allows for some tactical variations and other machines of war like catapults, cannons, and more can be researched and built to augment your forces. Hero units and carry-able artifact that provide bonuses and abilities also provide a unique way to specialize your units.

Research also leads to other things besides new war machines, unlike its predecessor, like improved unit tactics and better espionage skills. Espionage is one of this series’ most notable features, and few other games, if any, have developed anything similar that can even compare. In this game you train spies that can infiltrate other kingdoms and towns where they can create unrest, steal technology, sabotage buildings, or even become soldiers and generals. From there they can bribe other units into your web of spies, or attempt to assassinate enemy generals or even kings. The most prestigious achievement in this game’s espionage is to have your spy become promoted to an enemy general. With that general/spy or any other you can assassinate the enemy king, and have your own spy become the new king. With that you can turn over control of an entire kingdom to your own, all without having to fight a single battle.

There are a couple of drawbacks. First of all, there are no oceans and seas like in the previous game which means no new continents to discover full of untapped resources or undiscovered kingdoms to befriend or fight. I will say that once you get fully involved in the gameplay, you won’t even notice a lack of water since things keep moving pretty briskly. New towns emerge, as well as new kingdoms, and you’ll be zig zagging across the map in pursuit of new acquisitions and resources. There are also impassible mountain ranges that can alter the composition of the random maps, but there is still nothing like sending a fleet of ships across an ocean to engage in battle or carry villagers to new lands.

Secondly, the included campaign mode is mostly just random maps with some occasional objectives and the story it follows is not memorable. Still, it offers something like Rise of Nation’s world domination campaign, so it’s worth one or two play throughs.

Overall, this game is a jack of all trades and truly a master of none (except espionage, where it excels!!!). It is, though, a master of being a jack of all trades. Very few games have succeeded in providing this much gameplay. Rise of Nations and Sins of a Solar Empire come to mind as the only other games that have had success with this type of gameplay. Still, Seven Kingdoms 2 carves out its own niche that neither one of those games can claim. It’s great to see one of my favorite strategy games from the past get a glorious HD makeover (well… makeover is a little strong, but it still looks good). Maybe there is more in store for the future of this series, but even if not, there is a lot here that I have been missing. You can find this gem either at GOG.com, or on Steam. sk2title

Mass Effect: Things That Didn’t Make the Short List

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There was just so much I had to cover in reviewing Mass Effect that I resisted geeking out on every single thing I liked. So here’s a list of other parts of Mass Effect I liked in no particular order.

1. Marina Sirtis as Matriarch Benezia! Marina effing Sirtis! Okay, so she still sounded like Troi, but it was still awesome.

2. Driving the Mako was more fun that I’d like to admit.

3. I kind of regretted playing an engineer because the biotic abilities look like a lot of fun.

4. The music that played aboard the SSV Normandy was just incredible.

5. The weird montages that played when the Prothean beacon transmitted stuff into Shepard’s mind were really kind of disturbing.

6. I wanted to see a Prothean.

7. I couldn’t stop thinking of Kaidan Alenko as Carth Onasi from KOTOR once I figured out the same voice actor did both.

8. I used the rocket launcher thing maybe about 10 times.

So there are some random things I liked or that occured to me while playing. List some of your own, if you like.

Mass Effect Review: Pouty-Lips Jane’s Regrets and My Satisfaction

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I finished Mass Effect the other day. I usually need some time after a good book, TV series, or good game to ruminate on my thoughts and feelings. Depending on the extent of said feelings, sometimes I have a bit more to sift through. Video games can be complex sometimes, with Mass Effect combining experiences of a great novel, an engaging TV series, and cramming those together into a video game.

At the end of the day, I almost regret not playing Mass Effect earlier. It has two sequels now that are practically begging to be played (in fact, I’ve already started Mass Effect 2 at the time of writing this since Pouty-Lips just wouldn’t shut up about it). Had I played it earlier, I may have had much more time to replay, and re-replay the game, exhausting all options of stories, then replaying others to remind myself of their conclusions.

Released in 2007, it’s hard to believe so much time has passed since then. Until I saw some of the textures. It’s true the graphics are not up to par, but I was surprised that some of the textures seemed a bit muddy, mostly clothing. It was easy to get distracted by the rather beautiful graphics shown by the characters faces. I can tell Bioware spent a fair effort in making sure the faces, even the most alien ones like Wrex, were “alive” enough to warrant some kind of engagement.

Otherwise, the graphics did their job quite well in most other ways, and I can certainly see myself booting up this game again and not being turned off by the older graphics engine, and part of me can’t wait. While I consider myself a junkie for PC RPGs, I rather enjoyed the fast-paced gameplay presented here. The 3rd-person running and gunning kept me on my toes and didn’t get too cumbersome, even if it flatlined in terms of complexity about half way through.

Mixing in the vehicular combat via the Mako, turned out to be a welcome change of pace in many of the missions, even if its controls were often a bit wonky. Learning the controls was all part of the fun, and we “older” gamers did our fair share of making due with terrible controls all through the 90’s in some cases.

The gameplay was well suited for experiencing the story and giving me a tour around the galaxy and the setting constructed for this experience. If there’s one thing Bioware does exceedingly well, it is that they know how to integrate the setting and gameplay so that you definitely feel like the game you’re playing is a “natural” way to experience the setting. Whether it’s an adapted setting (like D&D or the KOTOR games) or more original fare like Mass Effect, they rarely have left me feeling like my gameplay experience and the story or setting were disjointed in a game-breaking way.

The most attractive features to this game, for me, turned out to be the ones I was most skeptical about, and those are the setting and its story. I’m wary of sci-fi and fantasy settings in my games nowadays, because its been done so many times that they some times fail to feel exotic or fantastic as such settings should feel. Mass Effect did not fail here.
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Almost immediately (even character creation was immersive!) I enjoyed the setting, and all throughout I always anticipated “resuming my career” from my previous save to see what was next. Characters, mostly, really popped but this time Bioware outdid itself with its characters. Very few of them veer too far into the extremes of stock characters like the cutesy innocent type, or the clumsy but heart-warming type. No, in Mass Effect I felt like I was among like-minded professionals and felt they deserved some respect.

Perhaps it was the militaristic feel and backdrop, but the entire setting had a professional sense to it, and some may find this to be a bit stuffy or drab, but I quite enjoyed it. It reminds me of the professionalism seen in the crew of Star Trek: The Next Generation compared to the swashbuckling style of Kirk & Kids from the Original Series. Again, some may be bored by it, but it was right up my alley.

There were a few points that didn’t quite sit well with me though, but nothing tragic. First of all, the inventory system was a mess. I actually felt anxiety when I got warnings that I was approaching some arbitrary maximum capacity. While the action based gameplay allowed for a bit more skill-based gameplay, it was nice to have some stat-juggling with the inventory and items. I just felt like I was acquiring gear for the entire crew of the Normandy, not just my squad mates, and having to take five or so minutes to sort through was distracting.
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In fact, despite the presence of numerous merchants, I never shopped in my play through. Not once. Maybe I missed some pretty good gear, but I wasn’t really hurting for it, and beat the game with what I picked up as loot.

Another minor off-key note was that the planetary exploration missions. I liked the whole concept and it really made me feel like I had some leeway to roam the galaxy. The side-quests issued by Admiral Whatshisname also feel inline with my character’s role in the fleet so that I didn’t feel like the objectives were too trivial compared to the main quest. However, the missions got a bit grindy and I’m glad they lasted only about 10 minutes or so.

Finally, the character customization was a bit underwhelming and I wound up with Jane having a nearly permanent duckface (and that’s not a type of alien I’m talking about) after I unwittingly boosted her lip size with space collagen or something. Just standing around, she reminded me of a sorority girl roaming around space stations looking for places to pose for a selfie.

#duckface #livindaspacelife #imaspectrebitchez
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Accompanying the setting were other great productions values like dazzling effects (though the mood lighting seemed a bit crazy sometimes, shining right though peoples’ heads), superb voice acting, and a wondrous soundtrack. The song that played over the ending credits (M4 by Faunts) chilled my spine and provided the adequate eargasm climax to this experience.

Aside from her sometimes humorous disfigurement, the story that Pouty-Lips Jane starred in was a rather good one. One of Bioware’s best perhaps, at least among its more recent games. There were no big surprises here, but it’s how it was done that impressed me so. Ancient foes returning from outside the galaxy, mind control, the greater good, it all came together in such a way that mixing in some character development and romance had me hooked liked some kind of TV show on Netflix. I just wanted to shotgun the whole thing, which I nearly did and had to force myself to slog through some of the side quests.

The branching storylines (Kaidan or Williams? How can I choose?!), Paragon/Renegade paths, and even multiple endings left me wanting to replay just to explore other options, and even regretting how I handled things at the end. The show must go on, however, and the ability to import Pouty Lips Jane Shepard into Mass Effect 2 means she has to deal with her regrets as well as whatever other galaxy-threatening problems pop up.  The structure was the tried and true 3-main locations for main quest/good or evil choices/romance chats/sidequests Bioware has perfected over the years, but it’s wheel that worked just fine on this road and needed no reinventing.

Quite early on, I realized that this was a more entertaining game that many TV shows I’ve tried to watch. I’m glad there are sequels to play, excited that I can replay it, and even surprised that gameplay elements I don’t normally associate with RPGs succeeded wildly in keeping me engaged while other typical RPG elements fell by the wayside. It’s modern classic to be sure.

If you’ve played this game, share some of your favorite memories or experiences from the game in the comments below. I’d love to hear about them!

And here’s some of that end credits goodness for you:

Now Playing: Mass Effect, First Impressions and Pouty-Lips Jane

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After my previous post which highlighted the history of Bioware’s RPGs, I finally broke down and got myself a copy of space opera Mass Effect. It had been the only series I hadn’t played, so I’m getting my chance to see what I was missing.

After a few adjustments to the graphics (the default settings were too low), I jumped into creating my first character. Having played plenty of Bioware games before, the process was familiar. I chose a female and used the default name Jane, and picked a class.

This is where my unfamiliarity with this series showed up. I had no idea what these classes were, but I guessed that tech, biotic, and combat were at least similar to soldier/rogue/wizard classes in other games. My only hang up was not being aware of how future party members’ skills would balance out with my own, but then I stopped thinking so much about it and chose an Engineer.

My final step was to customize the look of Jane Shepard (not Shepherd?) from assorted body types and facial structures. The mannequin provided during this process didn’t seem to accurately portray the adjustments made with my sliders, and as soon as I started the game, I was surprised to see Jane had quite a big kisser on her face. Seriously, her lips looked like they had some space age collagen. I think drag queens would be jealous of them. Overall, I could tell that the game was from 2007 since the options in customization weren’t as, ahem… fleshed out as newer titles.

I didn’t really have time to think about her huge lips much more because the story picks up right off the bat. I listened to some introductory dialogue, made my way through the first mission which also served as a tutorial, and saw a couple characters meet an early death.

By now I’m at least part way through the story, have all of the available party members, but have only used a few, and I’ve explored a few of the side quest planets.

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Overall, I’m enjoying the game. The setting is pretty slick so far, and I like that humans aren’t depicted as the primary species of the galaxy, but instead are newcomers (the rather arrogant aliens of the galaxy seen to have learned English rather quickly though).

Inventory and skill points are a simple affair, simpler than in KOTOR, and leave me plenty of time to experience the story. Perhaps, though, these features don’t seem inviting enough for me to care too much about them, but if I don’t see numbers and statistics out in the open to crunch on, then I won’t go looking for them.

The planetary explorations are pretty different and remind me of the Mechwarrior games from the 90’s, but only in superficial presentation. That’s not a bad thing, but I laugh constantly at the implausibility of the vehicle’s ability to traverse jagged terrain and, like a cat, always land on its feet, or wheels, or whatever.

Streamlined gameplay is the theme here, and I’m ready to see Pouty-Lips Jane save the galaxy. Stay tuned for any further updates about my play through, and the review when I finish.

Bioware Games: A Retrospective

I’ve been a fan (more or less) of Bioware since the dawn of the millennium. Okay, that makes it sound much longer than it really is, but it’s true. Now know as a powerhouse game developer, it’s easy to sit and wonder if Bioware can continue to hold up its reputation as a mastersmith of RPGs.

Some may say that since the founders Ray Muzyka and Greg Zeschuk have retired that perhaps the studio has lost its spirit. Perhaps this is true. We don’t know what future holds for Bioware, but I certainly remember its past. So let’s take a look. It’s easy to divide this history into the three parts, which I’ll call: The Beginning, The Rise, and Success.

  • The Beginning

Baldur’s Gate Series (1998-2001)

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Baldur’s Gate is just one of those great gaming phenomenons that should never be forgotten. It not only resurrected an ailing RPG genre on PC (RPGs in the late 90s were dominated by consoles and were especially popular if they began with “F” and ended with “-antasy”), it introduced us to Bioware.

The series features gameplay based on Dungeons & Dragons rule sets, stellar character development, interactive party based tactical combat, epic plots, and overall awesomeness.  I still play these games to this day (which are currently experiencing a renaissance being released as the Enhanced Edition for PC, Android, and Mac).

Almost every RPG released is explicitly or implicitly compared to this series.

Neverwinter Nights (2002-2003)

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Following up on the heels of Baldur’s Gate and its Icewind Dale spinoffs was Neverwinter Nights. It featured a brand new 3D game engine and adopted D&D’s Third Edition rule set. The game also included developer tools for player-made content. This was supposed to provide a “modern” and flexible gameplay experience.

Unfortunately, things didn’t quite come together for this game. The storyline included in this game was bland, trite even, the graphics were never pretty, and everything lacked cohesiveness, so unfortunately lightning didn’t strike twice for Bioware on this one.

At least in those ways. Remember those development tools? They are still popular today, and the past decade has seen countless player-made campaigns and mods released. So in this way Neverwinter Nights is remarkable because few games after included such things.

Neverwinter Nights did spawn a sequel but its developer Obsidian Entertainment is different than Bioware, and likely deserves its own post.

Thus were Bioware’s beginnings established, and the farewell to this era was a hard one.

  • The Rise

Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic (2003)

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So what’s the difference between a beginning and a rise? About nine years and a switch to console. 2003 saw the release of one of the biggest RPGs of all time in scope, ambition, success, and popularity. Bioware crafted a unique period of Star Wars history all to suit its purposes of providing us with an engaging story and to help dissolve the bitterness that George Lucas’ prequel films left on Star Wars fans’ palates.

Well, it worked. Even though it was eventually released to PC, I was playing more console games at the time, and let me tell you, this game was just incredible. It made Star Wars enjoyable again. It had a bit more complexity than NWN and had that essence of epicness that made Baldur’s Gate so good. It stood on its own confidently.

Baldur’s Gate may have been Bioware’s claim as masters of RPG development, but KOTOR was the confirmation.

Even today, KOTOR is seen as the new standard for RPGs much as Baldur’s Gate had been previously. Its new cinematic style, instead of isometric, is still favored today.

Jade Empire (2005)

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Surprisingly, Bioware didn’t pursue development of a KOTOR sequel (leaving that once again to Obsidian Entertainment) and instead focused its efforts on something different. That turned out to be Jade Empire, a martial arts themed action RPG. Almost mirroring NWN before it, Jade Empire features some differences from KOTOR that individually were superior, but failed to coalesce.

Superior graphics, a more open-ended storyline, and a martial arts combat system really set this game apart from its predecessors. I found it to be immensely enjoyable, even if it wasn’t quite as immersive as either Baldur’s Gate or KOTOR. Another stand-out feature that is even a controversial thing today is that same-sex romances were available for both genders.

That’s right. You could shack up with a dude or a chick as a dude or a chick. At the time, I wasn’t aware of these options, mostly because they weren’t broadcasted loudly, maybe to avoid negative press, but as a gaymer myself, I find this fact especially endearing. Even now, this romance feature is still met with a lot of resistance in current games because of stupid reasons, but that is material for another post.

Jade Empire proved to be more of a sidestep for Bioware, but it did provide a chance to flex its creative muscle when creating entirely unique settings instead of using D&D or Star Wars elements.

  • Success(?)

You’ll understand the question mark is a bit. After Jade Empire, Bioware embarked on it’s most profitable and controversial chapter yet.

Mass Effect (2007-2012)

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I haven’t played Mass Effect, to be honest, and I know that I should. In fact, it’s been on my short list for several weeks now. If only Steam would put it on sale…

Still, Mass Effect has three entries by now (rumors of a fourth abound, I bet), and this series has been both lauded and criticized for its features. A Sci-Fi action RPG, the game also included lots of mature character development.

It’s hard to be objective about a game I haven’t played, so let’s just say: I really want to play this game before I die. I am afraid of being letdown, though, since player complaints with latter installments of this series have been widely publicized.

Dragon Age Series (2009-2014)

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Truth: I only played the first one, Dragon Age: Origins. It was more my style than Mass Effect. It was labeled the spiritual successor to Baldur’s Gate. It featured another unique setting and rule set from Bioware, and promised to be the beginning of an exciting new RPG franchise.

I gave this game a chance. I really did. It had a lot of great elements. The story (as much as I saw of it) seemed pretty good. I liked the characters even if they seemed more generic and filled general roles within the plot instead of having their own unique identities. The game even featured same-sex romances! (I was single at the time, so any kind of gay romance would have eased my lonliness).

DA:O kind of dropped the ball though. I didn’t really care for the combat system. The setting was a bit bleh. And the gay romance was with a minor character whom I thought was extremely annoying. Why couldn’t it have been one of the main character NPC’s?

I also heard the sequel was disappointing, which removed any desire to finish the first game. There is a sequel coming out this year, though, so I bet people are lining up in hopes it will be a good one. Not this guy. I appreciate what Bioware was trying to do here, but I feel like they lost their touch on this one. That may be why I’ve been hesitant to pick up the Mass Effect series.

Star Wars: The Old Republic (2011-present)

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Bioware finally went to the darkside and released an MMO. One of the biggest MMOs ever, in fact. And one of the biggest let downs. It went free-to-play relatively quickly, and they couldn’t quite convince me that they were doing so nonchalantly. It’s a copy and paste affair of MMO gameplay elements (i.e. a Star Wars skin for World of Warcraft), which a whole bunch of single player quests that really disrupt the flow of how MMOs play.

They even said they were including same gender romances, but back pedaled on that. So if you want to be out of the closet to the community around you in TOR, then you either have to be a chaste loner, or play a your opposite gender to snag a boyfriend or girlfriend.

No it’s not as big a deal as other failed aspects of the game, but it would have been nice to have a welcome home within a community that the gameplay itself provides. But it’s the game’s overall blandness and its arbitrarily derived development that gave a pretty but neutered MMO experience. There are other MMOs that do things better, even if they aren’t Star Wars.

  • The Future

By now you may begin to understand that question mark. With Bioware’s success also developed an unfortunate tendency for things to slip through the cracks, as it were. Gone are the days where the studio produces tightly wound and efficient products, and instead they put out massively produced sagas that are vulnerable to the occasional iceberg.

I’m still a fan, but is it fair to say as an older fan of theirs, I fear that they may alienate me if they veer too far from where they came? I don’t want them to release Baldur’s Gate year after year and call it something new, but whether it’s called Mass Effect or Dragon Age, aren’t they just releasing KOTOR year after year?

Maybe it’s time for some intrepid young adventurers to take up arms within in the gaming industry and show the big boys some new ideas for RPGs. It’s what Bioware did not too long ago…

 

 

 

Diablo 3: What A Difference A Day Makes…

Dinah Washington’s crooning version of this song comes to mind when I think of Diablo 3. What a difference a day does make. Or a year. Or indeed a decade. You see, I remember when the first Diablo released, and I played the dark and gothic first few levels in a shareware version (remember shareware?). I remember the collective joy at Diablo 2’s release that allowed us to traverse a vast and diverse landscape rather than just deep and dark dungeons, and the confusing finale in Lord of Destruction. I also remember Diablo 3’s seemingly troubled release.
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I’ve given the game a break and have just recently returned to it, so let me first detail some of my initial impressions of this new game from Blizzard. I noticed the game lacked a great deal of substance compared to its predecessors, and its style departed from the gothic/horror feel to a more cinematic World of Warcraft-y feel.  There were also some things that stood out glaringly to me that I couldn’t ignore.

  • The Story

I found myself cringing, scoffing at the story. It seemed so corny, so reductive, so cliche that I felt torn from the game like someone waking me from a dream and thrusting me into bad television. What happened to the epic feel that the previous games had? Where was that horrific mystery, and the enticement to overcome my revulsion to the enemy and dark setting and forge ahead into darkness? And what of my character? He (or she) seems more like a henchman than a hero, making no decisions except which jewelry to wear while pwning undead faces.
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It’s true that none of the Diablo games will ever be elected as the next great American novel, and my heroes in previous games were no less secondary to the story. Heck, in Diablo 2 my hero spent the majority of the game chasing the real main characters Marius, Diablo, and Baal, while I watched the true metastory play out in FMVs. So, there’s nothing novel about Diablo 3’s powerful characters being little more than hired muscle for the NPCs.

  • The Soundtrack

Yes, and I know it’s a nitpicky thing to have beef with. I never knew how integral the soundtracks were to the overall experience until I played Diablo 3 and barely noticed there was a soundtrack. I have distinct and specific memories from the previous games such as entering Tristram’s dungeon for the first time hearing the shrill chorus wail in holy terror while foreboding percussion echoed the footsteps of the undead legions below. My young mind was petrified by the distant sounds of painful moaning and crying babies.  Then there was when I entered the Harem beneath Lut Gholein to fight of demonic invaders while listening to a woman singing hauntingly beautiful Sanskrit lyrics with an industrial instrumental accompaniment. I have no memories such as this in Diablo 3, yet anyway.

In fact, having a strong soundtrack could probably have distracted me from the sometimes frustrating story. The previous games’ music could make a story about teddy bears fighting unicorns seem darkly interesting.

  • Always Online

This aspect bothers me in principle.  Diablo 3 at heart is a single player game with a multiplayer option (even though the multiplayer option is what really skyrocketed the previous games). Being forced into an internet connection is heavy-handed and unfair, and those who wish to play this game off the grid will be disappointed. However, I have played MMOs for years and am desensitized to this a bit. Even though I only play multiplayer only part of the time, I barely notice the online component, except for signing in. Again, the principle bothers me, but practically I don’t have much else to say.
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So now, over a year after its release I’ve come back on the eve of its first expansion “Reaper of Souls”. It promises a few new features that somewhat excite me to explore, and there is even some possibility of more expansions. The Auction House feature, which utilizes in game and real world currency, is on its last couple days of existence as I write this. I never used it but I’m glad to see that the game itself will become the primary source of gear. And we have some new patches that are paving the way for the expansion.

Gameplay is smoother across the board now, in all ways. My hiatus has softened my negative opinions a bit, either because of better perspective or overall jadedness. I’m cringing less at the story, and I’m actually intrigued more now by all the little bits of reference to previous games that make the whole series seem more interconnected that just episodic.

As always, the skill system is just as satisfying as ever, and this is perhaps Diablo 3’s most notable feature. Gone are the days of regret and apprehension that came with spending your precious skill points irrevocably. Now you can switch out builds on the fly for that tricky fight, adjust your skills to fit your multiplayer party, or just shake things up when your skills get a bit stale. I’m even using Youtube less and less to play older Diablo music in an attempt to get used to the current soundtrack more (but that will be a long struggle).

Perhaps I needed a day or so, but I think I can take Diablo 3 for what it is, and with a new expansion coming, maybe my faith in this series will be restored.