PC

Guild Wars 2

What follows is a little background on my MMO playing experiences, you can skip direct to the Guild Wars 2 review below if you want 😀

Early in 2005 I remember seeing a game being covered a lot in the gaming magazine press of the time, how it was going to be a multiplayer game of unprecedented scale, giving rebirth to a term that had been used before, but by comparison most assuredly inappropriately until this game’s release; MMORPG.  Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game.  The game – ofcourse – was World of Warcraft.  Now, the game itself and coverage thereof had not been enough to twitch the interest-o-meter for me by much, as whilst I like the fantasy genre, I was not au-fait with the Warcraft universe, so I felt no immediate compulsion to investigate further.  However, a friend had already been playing it for quite a while, and offered a 10-day free trial.. so I gave it a go.

This first foray into the (the fortunately now abbreviated) MMO genre proved to be of mixed value.  Certainly at the time WoW was gorgeous to behold.. and so startlingly BIG. The players at this time were mostly the typically serious RPG types, which made for a very atmospheric experience, but.. it really wasn’t grabbing me that much.

WoW nostalgia

I felt I needed to join a guild, or better yet my have my gaming friends get on board too, and a couple of them did so (like some sort of tri-pledge.. we shall three buy this game *cackle*) and lo, we began playing proper.   Well, suffice to say that the fun really began then, as the three of us played our way through the game solidly for 3-4 months – or I did anyway, my compatriots would continue to play on and off for many years beyond – and it was great.  Working together, we ploughed our way through the first 30 levels or so, enjoying the exploration, discovery, and unlocking of various treats.  However,  my available time to play the game was considerably less than my friends, and I soon fell behind their inexorable levelling-up, though even this didn’t diminish my enjoyment;  but my interest did begin to wane, and the £6 per month subscription fee was feeling unjustified and I eventually retired from play.  I would return to WoW twice more between then and now, the most recent attempt proved to be quite depressing as the game had changed quite drastically due to spammers, and seemingly illiterate, disinterested brats flocking to its now free-to-play early levels.

Over the course of the intervening years I would try to recapture that exciting feeling of collaborative exploration and story with several would-be WoW usurpers.  Lord of the Rings Online, Star Trek Online, Dungeons & Dragons Online, and more than a few Korean sourced free-to-play games. Early on in the investigations, Guild Wars emerged.  It was at the time unique since it operated on a subscription-fee free system.  You bought the game, you played the game.  Sounded like a no-brainer, and I even got the chance to borrow a friend’s copy of the game and try it.  It certainly looked lovely, with a less cartoony look than WoW graphically, but a less fluid feeling of movement.  Being unable to leave a path because of obstructive grass(!) was a bit of an immersion breaker, so after only a bit of levelling.. I abandoned it.

Much later the first real WoW challenger came along as far as I was concerned; Age of Conan.  I really enjoyed my time spent playing it, it looked SOOO nice, and that makes all the difference in terms of wanting to explore a fantasy landscape.  However there were some problems, one of the game’s making, the other more of my own.  First, the game relied heavily on instancing (essentially a zoning-off of various sections of the map to minimize both server and end-user hardware taxing) with multiple instances per zone, which could have the very odd effect of you and your friends occupying the same zone at the same spot… but not seeing each other because you were in different instances.  The other problem was simply that my WoW-cronies weren’t really enamoured with the game, so I didn’t have the camaraderie that I had enjoyed previously, but also somewhat crucially I was no longer a bachelorette, no longer gleefully playing games until 4am – work be damned! – no longer having nor desiring the time to become involved with an MMO so much again, and so…

I abandoned it.

So.  That monstrous pre-amble brings me to Guild Wars 2.

“Aren’t you a little short for a… er.. Necromancer?”

I was fairly put off MMO’s by now (a dalliance with a beta of “The Secret World” recently seemed to cement this opinion), but I was keeping a hopeful optimistic eye on GW2’s development.  It looked beautiful, it was going to retain the no-subscription-fee model – though that is less noteworthy in this day and age of F2P – and it was making a real pitch at offering something familiar, yet different.

I had been drumming up interest with two of my friends – one was the former WoW alumni, the other a WoW-despiser, but fan of Dungeons & Dragons Online, and toe-dipper of Star Trek:Online.. and lo, once again I had a triumvirate of new-game pioneers.  Launch Day MMO play is… an Interesting Time.  You either can’t get on in the first place, or you get on and suffer lag, bugs, and all sorts of quirks, not to mention the sheer bedlam of having a massive number of new players all starting in the various start zones all at the same time!

The map of Tyria – World of Guild Wars – WoGW, if you will…

At the time of writing this tome, it has been 11 days since we installed the game.  I will describe that period in succinct style, using the world-famous “Facial Expression Mood Modifier Encapsulation System – FEMMES, a homage to the classic 8-bit game review magazine Zzap! 64)

Days 1-3: Installation, updating, and initial impressions:

Longest install ever. 2 disks, followed by a 2.2gb update = “Bored, thinking about stuff I could be doing, should go off to make coffee” face.

Slightly frowny face: Limited body-shape customization options for player avatars.

More frowny face: A Couple of the default female player character outfits:

FEMALE FANTASY ARMOUR CLICHE

Ha! My mighty… armour… will save me from your deadly attacks…?

Positive face at standard intuitive MMO (read: WoW) interface and controls.

Slightly disappointed sadface at graphics on highest settings.

Nonplussed, concentrating face at interchangeable weapon/powers interface and use.

So many things… *icons spin to the music of “Vertigo”*

Days 4-7: Settling in.

Zoned-out, nobody home face regarding crafting/skills (by contrast my former DDO chum loves it)

Pondering hopeful face: Create another character of different race and class.

Confused face caused by hearing what I know to be Jennifer “Commander Shepard” Hale’s voice, but not recognizing it in the slightest.  That must be ACTING! 😀

Bored-face.  Not enough collaboration or teaming with friends… feels like the most Minimally Multiplayer Online Game ever. Lots of people doing things, often the same things as you, but separately.

Days 8-11: Do I really like the game, or is it just not working for me?

New character, new class: Raised-hopeful-eyebrow face, this seems to be better!

Smiley face: New class is much more my thing,  and my friends and I are working together again, much more cohesively.

My Bro’s and I, looking Awesome.

RAWR-face! This is great!

There you go.  11 days in, and I’m really enjoying it, and for a multitude of reasons:

1: So far I’ve discovered I only like one (of eight possible) player classes, the other two I tried felt tedious in the extreme to me – when you find the shoe that fits.. its all good.

2: Once you understand the game’s mechanics – which are similar enough yet different to WoW’s to leave you slightly on an off-footing – you can get together with your friends to explore and progress through the game and its landscape very enjoyably.

3: Friends not around? Progress the character class specific single-player storyline which also gains you experience and levels you up, there seems to be less obvious “grinding” in GW2 – its still there, but not as blatant or boring as “kill 20 rats/goblins/thingmabobs” – there are usually multiple ways to complete a given quest.

4: No subscription-fee means no “must get my money’s worth” requirement to play… your friends may level ahead of you (mine are already 10-20 levels ahead of me) but this is less of an annoyance because of the game’s “level playing field” system, which reduces a high player level to the maximum for the area they’re in at the time, though admittedly this is at the expense of the fun-factor of returning to a low-level area when you are a high-level swaggering Goddess, gleefully swatting formerly troublesome wretches that get in your way.  Let them eat cake… and noobs.

5: Combat!  Its fun!  Its a good mix of WoW’s style of gained powers/skills assigned to hotkeys (usually the number keys and clickable on-screen icons) but also featuring Age of Conan style evasive maneuvering.  If you don’t move, you’ll soon be clobbered by higher-level beasties.

Have at you, foul Murloc-impersonator!

6: Quests! They’re.. a bit different.  By which I mean how they’re implemented.  WoW is famous for its bright yellow “!” over quest givers.  GW2 operates something similar yet different.  First, they’re heart icons.  Empty outlines for incomplete quests, solid for complete.  What makes them different is the fact that you don’t have to approach and “talk” to the quest givers in order to participate…  merely being in the zone where the quest is relevant is enough to have you participate.  Want to help that other player fighting the mob?  Do so.  Your contribution helps them without compromising how much XP they gain, as well as gaining you the XP and adding to the fulfilment of the given quest in the zone you happen to be standing, regardless of whether or not you are interested in participating!  Initially I found this to be a little odd, and distancing from the “story” – but it actually works really well.

Better yet are the dynamic events that occur randomly but regularly throughout the different regions.  For example:

You’re ambling around a locale when an “event nearby” notification appears.  It could be that bands of marauding centaurs are assaulting an outpost nearby.  You can involve yourself to help fight them off, gaining generous XP subject to how much you actually contribute to the battle.  Merely being in the place where the event is happening if it’s completed will still gain you XP nonetheless!  Where it gets clever is if players fail to fight off the marauders, and the outpost then becomes *their* outpost!

Me. Ambling. Yesterday.

Things I still don’t like:

1: Instancing. Yes, the game has instanced zones.  Not Age of Conan style, but not quite WoW style either.  Its still a bit of an immersion breaker to have to “portal” between areas beside each other on the map.  Something WoW did that was just so fabulous was the ability to pick a direction to walk in, and just walk.  Loading was seamless aside from specific crossing areas (e.g. by boat) – alas, not so in GW2, but the areas are still pretty large, and with multiple exits/entrances.

2: Graphics. I admit to being a little disappointed with GW2’s looks.  We’ve been seeing lovely videos promising beautiful, atmospheric locales and the like over the last few years, but the actual in-game graphics are a mix of lush, pretty design… on slightly angular polygonal landscapes, with not a huge amount of Bells or Whistles.  Don’t get me wrong – graphics do not a great game make – but they certainly help build an atmosphere, and I felt that the final product was not quite what the marketing was promising. Shocker, I know!  The design ethic, however, is beautiful.  To be fair, I suspect that most attention is spent on key locales, rather than outback wildernesses.

Beautiful artwork on the instance loading screens

3: Maybe its my getting old, or maybe I’m too accustomed to simplistic control systems, but I found GW2’s interchangeable abilities, weapons, and items quite complex and mind-boggling at first.  I *am* getting the hang of it, and enjoy the variety.  It’s also nice that you don’t *have* to meddle in the ways of crafting/skills/etc if you don’t want to, for I am unsubtle and quick to boredom…

4: There are less pleasing MMO staples in this game; emotes are a lot of fun (e.g.  /laugh /cry ) etc even if you’re not doing the whole serious Role-playing thing.  Guild Wars seems to have less than other MMOs I’ve played…

5: Speaking of Role-playing: GW2 seems determined to break atmospheric  immersion with lots of bizarre quirks.  The Human emote /dance results in a very cheesy pseudo-line dancing affair (though admittedly, I’m somewhat a hypocrite, as I *loved* Guild Wars original moves!)  The Trading post (GW2’s both real and virtual money ebay emporium) has amidst its items… Aviator sunglasses?  Baseball caps?

6: I miss Murlocs 😦

“grolgrlgrlgrglrglr” – A Murloc, earlier.

As for The Trading Post – the jury is still out on it.  Something that allows for game items to be bought and sold for game Gold or real £$money has much potential for abuse and game-breaking.  Time will tell… but game-servers cost money, and GW2 is not using the traditional F2P game model, and is therefore likely looking to bolster perpetual revenue however possible.

Verdict:

Guild Wars 2 is an enjoyable game, and a fun MMO, that for me at least has brought back almost all the positive vibe I enjoyed in the heyday of my WoW play, largely through allowing me to enjoy the game with my friends *and* with a clear conscience of no monthly cost to absorb.

Its a game that can be played as solo or grouped with friends as you like, though I suspect you are better off going into the game with known comrades, as in-game interactions with other players seem to be a little limited at present.  Mostly people complaining of lag, but then hasn’t every online game since the dawn of The Internet had those individuals whose purpose in life seem to be to inform us of this?

Ok, I may have been a bit harsh on the graphics…

My gripes about the graphics should be offset by the fact that a less demanding game means less need for super-powerful PC to play it on, which was always WoW’s greatest strength – it was playable on some of the lowliest laptops, assisting WoW to become one of the biggest selling games for the longest time.

It is likely that GW2’s publishers hope to achieve something similar, and I wish them every success, as it appears to me that – finally – there is a new MMO Queen on the throne, long may she reign.

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The Sims Go Supernatural

I’ll apologise for not writing so much. There are plenty of reasons why I couldn’t, such as sorting out university stuff. But rather than waste time explaining everything, I’m going to get right to it and talk about the recent expansion to The Sims 3.

Finally, EA and Maxis have re-introduced the supernatural beings into the game. It’s only taken them about 7 expansion packs to do it, but I suppose good things come to those who wait… or perhaps I’m being unfair as vampires did appear in the second expansion Late Night? Either way, I’m glad to finally have a few more options in terms of supernatural beings.

New Character Creation

Customise your fairy’s wings to match your outfit

By this, I mean of course the ability to create the supernatural Sims. One thing didn’t strike me until I was reading up about the next expansion, Seasons. Where are the aliens? Much to my dismay aliens won’t make an appearance until the next expansion in November. I thought Aliens were Supernatural too*. But I likely didn’t notice this as my favourite Supernatural was there to occupy me; Werewolves! Naturally I messed about with most of the creation tools, and found the werewolves and fairies creation to be the most fun, as you can alter the appearance of the fairy’s wings, and could customise your sim’s werewolf form. Genies didn’t offer much, only the preset blue skin and themed outfits, vampires were similar with their preset skin-tone and bite-mark. I haven’t created a witch through CAS yet, or a Ghost, but I’m under the impression that creating them will be similar to Genies, in that there won’t be much to play around with that is completely unique to them.

Proper Sims do everything in formal wear

However, there’s the addition of new traits and lifetime wishes which is evident with most main expansion packs, by that I mean anything that doesn’t have “Stuff” in it’s name, and as expected they are completely fitting with a few less-obvious but brilliant traits such as Night-Owl and Proper. Each new character gets their own unique lifetime Happiness perks too, so Fairies can become King/Queen of the Fae, but Werewolves can become the Alpha Wolf instead. This is where Witches begin to redeem themselves as they have a perk that allows them to cast magic without a wand.

Supernatural Gameplay

The gameplay has received a couple of new features and a few that enhance current elements, like the collection journal. Finally the game keeps track of everything I’ve collected! The lunar cycle is great but I have a tendency to forget about it and throw parties on a full moon, resulting in werewolf chaos! But I enjoy that the fairies are also affected by the moon too, and it’s not just there for werewolves.

Fortune Tellers are fun within the game too, with the option to pursue that career with the intent of being fake and scamming people, or if you want to be a legitimate fortune teller. I also love how if you get your fortune told, the amount they tell you is depending on how many “donations” you give them throughout the session. Then there’s the ridiculous fortune at the end, no matter how much you give, as that’s the way TS3 does it!

Zombies are fun. Yes, you can’t create them per-say. You can’t through CAS but you can by developing a Zombification potion and either drinking it or throwing it on a Sim. All of their interactions are to do with brains, they have the zombie walk, and they are good sports when playing Plants vs Zombies with my on my front lawn (Limitied Edition extra). The annoying part is when they torment your horses, attack you on your doorstep, essentially leaving you housebound for the night. Goodbye fun, Hello early night!

You can transform into werewolves at any time you want which is cool! It may not have been a full moon but when my dog died, my Sim was so upset I sent him on a werewolf hunt. It just means that you have no choice on a full moon, which is fair enough. I quite enjoy the whole concept. Fairies also benefit from a full moon, making it easier for them to cast fairy magic. They do however suffer from a new moon, so are a bit like werewolves in reverse. They also have the ability to enter fairy houses and treat them like a normal house. You know what that means? Fairy House Parties!

Blue Harry Potter demonstrates broom-riding

Infact I even enjoyed playing as a witch. You get a wide selection of wands to use, broomsticks as transportation or just to mess about on and, as mentioned earlier, you can even learn to use magic without a wand! The only downside I found to witches was I found it very hard to learn how to increase the Spellcasting skill which doesn’t appear in the Skill journal unlike most other skills. Even the in-game tutorials didn’t help out much!

The biggest disappointment was possibly the Genies. Everyone knows what Genies are famous for! Jumping out of lamps, granting wishes, Aladdin. Under this image I excitedly created a genie only to be let down by what the Genie could actually do. Cool, he’s blue, and can float about! All he really can do are one of three things; Summon Food (perfect food every time though), clean either the house or a Sim, eliminating the needs for Maids or Showers, and Banish Sim. I haven’t tried out that last one yet, because I do not yet have a Sim I wish to Banish but next time I want a Sim killed I’ll send ’em to the Genie! I then searched for a tutorial only to find there wasn’t one, meaning there wasn’t much else to them. There wasn’t even a flying carpet which would have made up for everything in my eyes!

I can’t comment on Ghosts yet either for I haven’t really created one yet, but I reckon I’ll have great fun possessing stuff and scaring other Sims. It would also be unfair to criticise vampires under this expansion as they were introduced in the Late Night expansion pack, but the cool thing is you can now create them in CAS rather than run around begging vampires to bite you. There’s also the ability to learn skills ridiculously fast but I’m still unsure if that was already in the game or not.

There’s one last little extra they added to the gameplay which I am hoping to exploit a little with an unknowing friend. Showtime, the previous expansions, added the ability to communicate with friends within the game, allowing you to access your Origin/EA account in-game. This also allowed you to access the Store, link/share memories and unlock achievements. It also enabled a function called SimPort, allowing you to send one of your Sims to another friends game as an Acrobat/Magician/Singer and perform in their world, or “go on tour”. In Supernatural they added the ability to send gifts to your friends through the mailbox. You can send potions if you want, or you can send in-game items. I once sent a teddy bear to my friend. Not only do you send your friends something they need, but you also gain Lifetime Happiness points for your Sims! Quick and easy lifetime Happiness, but there is a limit of 5 items a day and some items can only be sent if your friend has registered their game.

Overall I’m enjoying TS3 Supernatural. It has its ups and downs like all games do, and it must be alright if I can sit for 12 hours straight playing it. Hopefully I can grow to like Genies and Ghosts will be as fun as I expect them to be.

*I’ve now realised that Aliens are more Extra-terrestrial than Supernatural, which explains why they weren’t included.


Assassin’s Creed 3 – Some Tempting Videos

I’ve never been one to hide my obsession with the Assassin’s Creed games. Every year I’ve bought the new AC game, although I got Brotherhood a bit later due to misconception of its gameplay. AC is one of those October/November games that rapes my bank account for all its worth too and this year it’s twice as bad. This year there are 2 games.

The first is Liberation, which is the Vita game, and we get our very first female assassin. I think you might not know just how happy and excited this makes me. I loved Altaïr and Ezio to bits and I’m sure to love Connor just as much, but it’s not the same. Aveline will be different though and yes some of that has to do with her being female. The sheer amount of FemSheps out there should be a testament to how much women like to play kick ass women in games. Given AC thus far, I think Aveline will deliver on the kick ass part at least.

Liberation is out on October 30th. Now if you’re in North America you’re going to get AC3 the same day. I will at least have a 1 day breather, not that this helps much, as it appears in the EU on the 31st. Know what makes it even worse? October 30/31 is in the middle of the fucking week. It’s enough to make a girl scream. Guess I should book my days off now…

Got two great videos for AC3 for you. Both of these show off the new game very nicely.

First the AnvilNext engine trailer, then a nice little walkthrough of some of the newness of AC3 and Connor.

 


The Late, Mass Effect Trilogy review

*note that I do not review the multiplayer element of ME3, as I’ve barely played it, hopefully someone else can cover it – I did find it mildly enjoyable, however!
*also note that whilst this review is as spoilerfree as is humanely possible, links to videos and the like will not be!  The key reason of this review is to convince the 6 remaining people in the world who havent played any of the series – especially women – to play it!

Now, let me be clear.. up until recently it was not entirely certain where that comma in the title would be placed… because it was only very recently that Mass Effect 3 (and by association the entire trilogy) was truly finished. Also because prior to the “little” addition of the Extended Ending brought about due to fan outcry it could be classed as “late” as in dead.. dead to me and dead to many of its fans.  The addition of the extended ending (in my opinion) saves the series and makes replaying it viable. It is frankly baffling that they thought the original ending was satisfactory in any way.  However, I get ahead of myself, lets talk about the games first, and then after we’ll talk a little about the debacle that was the conclusion to the series.

The *real* Commander Shepard, looking badass.

Mass Effect was launched in 2007 exclusively on the Xbox, though it was later – thankfully – also released on the PC, and the subsequent sequels on PS3, PC, and Xbox.  It has to be said that PS3 players have got a bit of a raw deal with Mass Effect. No first game, 2nd game delayed by a year, third game’s extended cut released nearly 2 weeks after everyone else got it.   The game was a departure from Bioware’s staple of RPG style gaming, aiming as it were to introduce shooter elements, along with squad management and resource/weapon modifications.  It was also a brave new move for the gamestudio, as here was a completely new setting featuring original characters in a wholly new created sci-fi story world.I picked up the first game cheaply in 2009 on the Xbox (not my preferred gaming platform) and after initially grumpily grumping about the controls quickly warmed to it, though I largely ignored the whole weapon upgrading and squad special power management thing.  I was hooked on the whole RPG element of the game, especially due to the option of playing as a female protagonist in a world where the gender of the lead character was completely irrelevant = equality, feminist fans 😀

There is something just so cool about wandering the corridors of a military starship that you are the Executive Officer of and seeing the crew salute you as they encounter you.

BAD REAPER! BAD!

The story was an interesting one; in some ways it reminded me of Halo, in that it almost felt like you were being plunged into an already started storyline, and you have to pad out your knowledge of the world you’re exploring.. well.. by exploring it.   2183: The Human race struggles to find its place in a vast galaxy governed by a stern and suspicious multi-cultural Alien council at the apparent onset of war with an invading ancient force known as “Reapers”.  Characters are well defined, superbly animated with lots of emotive behavior complimented by superb voice acting.  Later on in the game there are some pivotal choices to be made that cause genuine pause when the player is confronted with them.

So… about those head tentacles…?

The repercussions of those decisions are felt not just within the game itself, but ultimately in the sequels too; hence the importance really of playing all three.  It is because of these decisions shaping branching personalized elements of the plot, that so endears the games and their characters to its fanbase – making some events so desperately affecting later on.  This level or attachment to game characters was something very new to me I have to admit.

Is it still a big fall if it’s in zero-gravity?

Mass Effect 1 ends on a cliffhanger of sorts, but most satisfactorily so, in a way that meant that even if it never got a sequel, it had a definite feeling of self-contained closure.

ME1 Gameplay summary:
RPG, lots of shooty, lots of pickingup/buying resource management, lots of squad power management,  some puzzles (mostly doors)

WooHoo! Mass Effect 2 begins and everything’s hunky dory!

The sequel was released in 2010 (which I bought on day one this time!) and introduced a few changes to the game dynamic.  Many of the micromanagement elements of the squad and special power/weapons were simplified; good for me, but perhaps less so for others.

Another feature that was dropped: the “Mako” sections from the first game, essentially an awkwardly controlled vehicle used to explore and travel between areas.  I for one missed this, as I thought it added a larger open exploratory element to the game. Though ME2 had a much more linear plot direction.  The game has an incredibly dramatic start that re-introduces you comfortably to your familiar setting and characters from the first game before violently taking them away from you (and vice versa).

THIS kick-ass girl band’s gigs are worth seeing..

What follows is essentially a “magnificent seven” style building of a new squad/crew that may or may not feature characters from the first game.  One interesting plot device element is the removal of your love interest (if you developed one) from the first game, leaving you to either develop something new with someone new or remain faithful to your original love interest, in the hope of reuniting later.

This second iteration of the series introduces many new characters and elements, now all very well established in the narrative’s universe, with even better performances from the leads. Martin Sheen puts in a fantastic performance as the shadowy puppet master “The Illusive Man”.

The second game also introduces much heavier repercussions to decisions and/or lack of development of resource finding. The latter being quite an unnecessary nuisance I thought, but again, I was never one for the whole resource management/finding/buying stuff… I would go on to quite painfully regret this at the conclusion of my first run of the game!

Some of the characters introduced new in the 2nd game are somewhat two dimensional, others prove to be very interesting. Jack, the fierce biotic jailbird being one and Miranda the seemingly cold, perfected human being another.  Characters met in the first game returning get much better fleshed out, BessyMate Garrus, I’m looking at you 😀

Miranda’s bum was unavailable for comment at the time of this review.

Some new elements introduced this time around prove to be a little annoying, I was often very concerned that Miranda seemed to be talking out of her improbable arse a lot of the time, as in literally,  simply due to the amount of camera-time aforementioned derriere got.

ME2 proves to be quite the successful sequel, with a gripping conclusion that has multiple branches (including one where you – the lead character – die!) albeit giving a portent of what was to come with a sort of colour coded finale.  Another welcome new introduction are the “loyalty” missions that you do or don’t, these determine how close a relationship you develop with your crew members, which may or may not affect the conclusion of the game, and its final chapter.

I’m sorry, did I break your concentration?

One thing I will confess is that I found the shooty element of the 2nd game quite fatiguing… so much so that 2/3rds into the game I took a several month break from playing it, as I was genuinely tired of some of the relentless sections in the lead up to the final “suicide run”.

ME2 Gameplay summary:
Lots of RPG, too much shooty, less weapon/resource pickup, but mining/planet searching element added and tied heavily to ship upgrades, more puzzley bits.

You lookin’ at me, Punk?

…which brings me to 2012 and this finale of the series which introduced a “Story Mode” to a joyous me.  Story mode removes the reliance on shooty bit proficiency in order to progress the story, and features much more story development *during* those sections, as opposed to the previous game’s “talkalot,shootstuff, talkmore,findstuff,shootstuff,talkalot” apparent structure.  What Story mode effectively offers the player is a heavily dialog involved version of events that means you don’t have to be so good at shooter style games in order to get through the game, a real welcome option for players like myself.  The other two options available hopefully fulfil other player’s desire for full-on action with little dialog, or a “normal” mix of the two.

I’m going to need a bigger gun…

Mass Effect 3 starts ominously, darkly, pulling no punches, and featuring a sequence of events before even the title appears that had me having to be consoled by one’s otherhalf, as I was a blubbing mess!  Once the preamble of the story is set in motion, the game falls back into fairly comfortable shoes treading the path defined in the previous game – exploring, team building, plot development.  The linearity of the plot is tightened further than the previous game, but still allows for going off the beaten path.. though this is problematic due to the overall plot-spine being so strong – you feel that sidemission “fetch” quests and the like are stupidly unimportant in the grand scheme of the things, so I felt that there should be a talk option along the lines of “What?! Are you mad? There’s a war on! Find your own damn <object> !” – however, at least this time around they have the conceit that doing these wee tasks contributes a small part towards the greater war effort by adding to your “Effective Military Strength” or “War Assets”

This… cant be good…

It is ME3’s action setpieces where some truly awesome plot development occurs and how these events play out is often highly influenced by decisions in the previous games.  There are some parts of this final chapter that present some squeamishly difficult choices to make, and it is a testament to the quality of the writing and story that they are so difficult to make at times.  At one point such a dramatic moment occurred that I could not bear the thought of continuing with that decision/event made canon, that I went back a whole series of saves to try and “correct” it – only to learn that the game was effectively giving me – to throw a Star Trek reference in – a “Kobyashi Maru” – a no-win scenario… how ever I played it, there was going to be some form of terrible repercussion.

You’d be upset too if you couldn’t get your hair colour to stay the same between games!

For me, this is why Mass Effect 3 is the strongest of the trilogy, as by now you are familiar with the characters, the environment and the illusion of your choices creating a unique and personal story to you creates a player/game involvement that I have never before encountered.  I found it very difficult to objectively review this game, as to me it seemed to transcend the definition of “game” into something beyond the kind of emotional investment that a really good movie might engender in its audience.  You might say that the Mass Effect Trilogy as a whole was a synthesis of the medium of cinema and videogames. Ha!

I’ve got a bad feeling about this…

ME3 gameplay summary:
Player tailored, but as it pertained to me: Lots RPG, perfect level of shooty, zero *required* resource /squad management, minimal puzzles. 90% plot/character interaction driven.

One of the game series’s other controversial (at least if you happen to be FOX news) features was the Love Interest.  In the first game it was possible to romance one of 3 characters, this was expanded in the 2nd and 3rd game, allowing for faithfulness to the first game’s LI or not.  The first two games featured the option of lesbian relationships which were nice enough, though likely mainly for male titillation, as it would not be until ME3 that gay male relationships would be an option.  I’ve watched how these unfold via youtube (does this count as watching porn?!) and think they are lovely, though the option of recently bereaved shuttle pilot Steve as a potential Male-Shepard conquest annoys me!  I’m amused at some player’s love triangles they have created themselves throughout the course of the games.  The actual lovemaking scenes themselves are (I think) very tastefully done and, certainly in the case of the third game (I can’t speak for ME2 – Monogamous Kate Shepard, see), add to the emotional gravitas of the story.

Star Wars eat your heart out…

It was therefore a tragedy to me (and a large number of ME fans) that the last 10 minutes of the trilogy finale seemed to throw a leftfield turn of direction with a seemingly abrupt nonsensical ending filled with more questions than answers, which was very much the opposite of what was promised by Bioware in the very high profile marketing campaign leading up to the release of the game.

I think even Bioware underestimated how invested in the story their fanbase was and how actually emotionally hurt they were by the game abrupt ending.  This feeling of loss spawned some great things though, with enterprising players dealing with the very real feeling of grief they were experiencing by advancing the story through art and storytelling; there are some absolutely stunning fanmade works out there, I’ll put some links at the end of this article.

Hmmm. Must be injured more than I thought, my arm seems to have shrunk.

Now, there’s no doubt that either through a bizarre overinflated sense of “artistic integrity” Bioware decided to create a very ambiguous set of endings that leave story threads blowing in the wind,or they rushed the game out in the end to meet deadlines.

I for one believe it to be the latter, as there were many other little inconsistent failures in quality assurance in this final chapter at launch.  Throughout the trilogy one of the most important and awesome features is the ability to import your save from the previous game, continuing your “universe” based on your choices previously in the series, as well as your own custom appearance.  The import worked in ME3, but not the appearance part; forcing you to redefine your appearance as best as you could.  This was not fixed until well after a month following the game’s release,  by which time the majority of players had finished the game and were probably suffering PME3TSD.  There were also other glitches that affected gameplay and player story immersion.  Getting stuck on bits of scenery, terrible terrible character animation clipping and an increase of “uncanny valley” factor in NPC performances with some very notable exceptions (love interest characters in particular are so emotive in their face animations it hurts! – though aforementioned bugs caused my love interest to disappear mid-snog at one point!)  If there was one thing that was definitely a mistake on Bioware’s part it was that the last words you essentially see at the end of the game are “PURCHASE DLC”  – it was like after wooing you with 100’s of hours time invested in an involving story… ABRUPT ENDING! Hahahah! Buy more DLC!

On the subject of DLC; ME1 had a few bits and bobs of DLC, nothing particularly earth shattering (so to speak).  ME2 had some very notable packs; most especially “Lair of the Shadowbroker” and “Arrival”, but ME3 caused controversy by having day one, on the disk DLC that arguably should have been core content in the first place.

Who’s the bloke in the middle?

So it seemed that Bioware were so taken off guard by the subsequent huge outcry (most of which was valid, though there were a few that really were hurt and wanted a genuine 100% happy ending) that they relented and announced a forthcoming “Extended Cut” version of the ending would be released for free.  This unprecedented announcement was treated with hope by many of us and disdain by others. I would hazard a guess that the disdain mostly came from those who played the game as shooters first and foremost with little emotional investment in the story.  Around this time talk of the fan-based “Indoctrination Theory” was at its most intense and whilst I admit to being disappointed that in the final analysis it was rendered nullified by the EC, I think that what we got restored my love of the series and made the thought of replaying it genuinely viable. Whereas without the EC it felt as no choice in the entire series ultimately mattered, so why bother to replay?

*no caption due to author bawling*

With the EC DLC in place the 3 original endings that were 95% similar in content have been replaced with a possible 5 key iterations with subtle further variations within each based on player’s choices throughout the entire series, as well as some small other additions to the story in the run up to the finale, including a beautiful if improbably set farewell to your love interest.  Also, very importantly each of the choices becomes an actually viable choice with “lots of speculation” as to its repercussions beyond what is now fully expanded in the new endings – a previous choice that was largely written-off as “BAD” seems to now have captured fan’s attention for its possibilities beyond what the game actually shows.

So, I can now say unreservedly say that the Mass Effect trilogy is to me,  the finest, most involving, emotional gaming experience I have ever had, and that description is a disservice to it.  As I’ve already mentioned I feel it transcends interactive media as we know it, it is more than game, more than a film.  The combination of solid writing, a good sci-fi story, stellar performances, cinematic sound and music design elevates it to a level beyond anything I’ve seen before, as long as you get “into” the story and those characters, which both my partner and I did through the associated audiobooks, and comics.

Oh, the music… ME1 and 2 had some fantastic music, memorable themes, but by the third game the ante had been upped to such an epic level, the involvement of cinematic composer Clint Mansell working with the existing composers raised the bar highest of all.  Even now, listening to the soundtrack as I write this, I feel myself welling up when certain tracks play.  When it comes time to vote for Game of the Year, I might find myself umming and aaahing about ME3 the game, but the music+sound  will wholeheartedly get my vote.  This is the year that a Reaper’s “HwAAAAAAAAAAAM!” may match R2-D2’s warbles for zeitgeist familiarity!  That was something I wrote about in my own blog, in that Mass Effect may have become a new generation’s Star Wars, but I feared it might have been similarly struck down by its original ending as Star Wars was by a director with CGI OCD!

Before the EC DLC, the idea of playing pay DLC set during the story arc leading up to the end was unthinkable “Whats the point?” being a common reaction amongst players, but now it seems like a much more viable option. Rumour of elements from a forthcoming DLC being stealthily delivered as part of the EC DLC only fuels interest.

Across the stars

And thats the important difference, we are now left wanting more, as opposed to sitting in baffled, hurt silence needing more, in terms of an explanation.  Mass Effect was never meant to be a bleak 70’s style sci-fi with an atonal soundtrack and a huge “?” final frame.  Bittersweet, emotional – yes.  Twin Peaks or LOST – no.  Its also worth noting that even with the EC, several of fans’ complaints still won’t have been addressed; and by that I mean collected War Assets – only the key biggest ones feature in the end game, when likely some will want to see them all, but these are minor complaints given what they have fixed.

I now outwardly firmly place myself in the “battleworn, sad, but content” camp now its over.. but secretly I’m a very upset geeky fangirl that I wont be witness to any new adventures of Commander Shepard (I will miss Jennifer Hale’s voice performance in particular), and not be around to raise any little blue children with Dr. Liara T’Soni :*(

Fan-made content of note:

Koobismo – maker of the fantastic alternative timeline ending comic: Marauder Shields – his Audiobook version is a thing of awesomeness.

Neehs – maker of animations and stills that fulfilled many a player’s emotional needs post-game! Linked picture is still my wallpaper across all my devices! His Alternative-ending video was a truer bittersweet end before the EC was released!

#femshep on Deviant art and femshep.com – for all your fabulous Ms. Shepard artistic and narrative needs!

My own mass effect music playlist on youtube


E3 Ubisoft Conference

Okay so the Ubisoft conference has just ended at E3 and we’ve got some awesome things coming. The highlights for me are Assassin’s Creed 3 and the new game, Watch Dogs.  Also, new Spinter Cell and Farcry 3 to come, plus some new shiny stuff for the Wii-U.

Assassin’s Creed 3 looks super sexy. Timeframe-wise we’re in the American Civil War era, so lots of wilderness and snow and wild animals, plus you get to run through the tree tops. How kool is that. Have a look at the video.

[youtube http://youtu.be/gZrklEy9ohQ?hd=1]

Then we have a completely new IP called Watch Dogs. Personally I think the name is a bit lack lustre, but I’m willing to forgive if it’s as awesome all the way through as what they’ve just shown us. Have a look.

[youtube http://youtu.be/0dTOnyp58NM?hd=1]

Now I’m waiting for the Sony conference, but have a look at the whole of the Ubisoft presentation for yourself. (Jump to the 18min mark for the beginning)

[youtube http://youtu.be/aKRWubusKBU?t=18m]

Saints Row the Third – Addendum!

When I was prepping for the review I *knew* I had made a video showing me “strutting” the town to that oh so notable BeeGees song…  of all days today on the day that Robin Gibb passed away, I find it again.

So here I present to you my little tribute to both Robin Gibb, Saints Row, and totally awesome fashion sense that I would so very much rock in real-life if I could afford the LouBoutin’s 😀


What fools these mortals be (Loc – PC/Mac)

Loc is a 3d puzzle game from Birnam wood games released earlier this month, this is the studios first game.

The games plot is really simple to understand; Humanity has caused so much damage to the earth that the last queen of the faeries has taken you prisoner and plans to keep you trapped in her realm as punishment for man kinds crime (Lucky you) ; In order to escape you must solve ‘Loc’ puzzles in order to make your way through the queens desolate realm and find your way out.

The game play is a bit more complex; using your mouse you need to drag a series of tiles across a face of a cube to create a path between the start and end tiles. As you progress the game’s difficulty will increase, adding tiles that you must use in order to continue; it gets even harder when you have to start building the path across more than one of the cubes faces, whilst making sure that your using the right tiles to create a working path. There is also a list of achievements that you can earn if you complete the level under certain conditions which is a nice little addition.

Overall Loc is a wonderful game,The art style is beautiful , the atmospheric music helps the player become more immersed in this intriguing setting that birnam wood games created. But why not try it out yourself, the game is available from their studios website Here for just over £3 ($5) and if your completely broke they even have a free demo.

~HeadphoneGirlZ