Shena’s E3 Highlights

All the big press conferences and interesting events of E3 2015 are now over, and I’m still sorting in my head which games I’ll be scrambling to find the time to play next year! This year there were some announcements that excited me more than I care to admit, while others I sort of shrugged off, and some that made me happy for fans of franchises that I don’t necessarily follow.

Let me start by saying that I think Nintendo totally bombed their pre-recorded show. The puppets coming out at the beginning was cute and all, but they failed in using that Muppet-esque distraction as a decoy from their shoddy presentation. It started out with a new StarFox game. I’m glad for the people who have been begging for a new StarFox game for years, though it isn’t something that interests me. The gameplay will have to be amazing to win people over, because the graphics certainly aren’t doing it. Seriously, how embarrassing. After playing Bayonetta 2 and experiencing what the Wii U can put out graphically, it looks terrible. At least during SquareEnix’s conference they came out and said, “This demo was only in 30 FPS but the game will be 60,” to let the audience know if something is indeed downgraded because it’s a work in progress.

Nintendo had a super terrible 3DS multiplayer Metroid title… thing. I don’t even know, because they didn’t bother to go into detail on that even though fans have been BEGGING for a Metroid game for years. They did delve into the 3DS multiplayer/co-op Legend of Zelda game that NOBODY WANTS. But, you know, couldn’t go out of their way to show what they’ve been doing with the Zelda Wii U game they showcased a year ago.

With Fire Emblem off of my personal radar, Nintendo still had a few titles that I am looking forward to: Xenoblade Chronicles X, “Super” Mario Maker, and that 3DS Paper Mario meets Mario RPG game looks fun too.

e32015xenobladechroniclesx

I honestly don’t usually get excited about mech games!

Xenoblade Chronicles and Mario Maker got dates which makes me really happy…. December 4 and September 11, respectively. So that’s two E3 games from Nintendo being released before Christmas. I loved Xenoblade Chronicles, and really wish I had spent more time with the side quests and other optional content. Mario Maker looks like a great dose of fun creativity. I can’t wait to see the levels my fellow gamers develop that I will undoubtedly die 1,000 times on.

e32015supermariomaker

A goomba pyramid…. genius.

I also watched most of Sony’s press conference. The new IPs like Horizon and No Man’s Sky look pretty awesome. The Last Guardian made a lot of people happy, but I’ve gotten “Meh” about it after all of these years. The Final Fantasy VII reveal made me shed fangirl tears… Although now I’ve got my cynical glasses on, just waiting to see if SquareEnix is going to screw it up like they have everything else in the last decade. (Okay, except FF:RK. Srsly, it’s the best F2P game ever.) I know I’ll be playing it either way… whether they totally eff up the battle system and shoehorn in all the stupid FFVII compilation crap.

e32015ffviiremake

If nothing else, it will at least be pretty.

Unsurprisingly, there was also fun gameplay footage from the new Uncharted game. My hubby and I are looking forward to playing A Thief’s End, so the vehicle driving sequence with all the Drake/Sully banter kept us at the edge of our seats.

I’m shocked there was nothing God of War related at Sony’s event, but I suppose it is for the best.

Going back to SquareEnix. First E3 press conference ever. And it shows. Well, as a fan of JRPGs (growing up, anyway) some of what they showed did intrigue me. Especially that Kingdom Hearts mobile game that I’m positive NOBODY asked for. In all seriousness, I really liked what we saw of KH3 (still no release date time frame.. no kidding). The battle system looks as fun as the story is convoluted. At this point I don’t even know if I should recognize the characters playing chess in the trailer… Someone help me out here!

e32015kingdomhearts3

Seriously, who is this Rikku look-alike?

I haven’t played Just Cause games yet, but the third game looks like a lot of fun. I’ll have to do some research on them. Judging from the footage from Just Cause 3, I think I could get sucked into the sandbox carnage on display. There was also more FFVII (including an IOS port alongside the PC port), more Final Fantasy World or whatever the hell it is called, a new Nier project, more Deus Ex Machina, and the rather secretive Tokyo RPG project. Tokyo RPG project seems to exist to solidify their dedication to creating JRPGs.

I’ll admit my focus has shifted to Western RPGs in recent years. In the last year, the RPGs I enjoyed the most were probably South Park: The Stick of Truth and the Mass Effect trilogy (I didn’t start playing them until last year). And, I’m happy to announce… there were new games announced for both series! The new South Park game is titled “The Fractured But Whole.” Let that sink in.

While I am disappointed that no new details for Mass Effect were divulged outside of the title and release time frame, I’m still excited. While many might harp on my for wishing this… I was really hoping for a Mass Effect trilogy remaster. I need an excuse to play the trilogy again. The thought of slogging through the first Mass Effect in its current state pains me, but I can’t picture just picking up Mass Effect 2 from the start. I’m weird like that.

e32015andromeda

Bioware swears this is not Spiderman wearing N7 armor.

And those are pretty much all the games that I’m personally excited for. I’m jealous about Tomb Raider, but seeing as how it is a timed exclusive I suppose I’ll get over it. Hopefully Uncharted won’t come out too late and will scratch that itch for me.

What were your E3 highlights?

Advertisements

Dragon Age: Inquisition Rant

dragon_age_inquisition1

Fear my glowing green palm of death!

Steve-O and I finally wrapped up our Dragon Age: Inquisition run a couple of weeks ago. It’s taken me longer than usual to sit down and write this because A.) I had two shorter posts to write, and B.) I wasn’t entirely sure how to properly convey my feelings towards this game. I think the best way to come out with my feelings is to say that I did not completely fall in love with this game like the rest of the internet appeared to have. Aside from complaints about the glitches we come to expect from Bioware games (more on that later), everything I read sang praises about Inquisition. Good story, great characters, excellent battle system, lots to do… So what’s not to love?

Part of me feels like Bioware went overboard with their response to gamer complaints about how limited the setting in DA2 was. Yes, it was a lot of repeated maps and having Kirkwall as the only city was cheap and snooze-worthy. But you know what else is snooze-worthy? Spending 5 hours wandering the same map collecting mats and shards, especially after taking a half-hour detour to get from point A to point B. Between the pointless map wandering and real-time war table quests, you can’t tell me Inquisition isn’t chock full of padded game play hours. I love sandbox games, don’t get me wrong, but make all my wandering at least somewhat engaging. I was bored to tears after an hour of exploring maps to gain Influence that I didn’t really need every time I sat down to play. After suffering through the first couple of maps we committed to doing what we had to do to kill all the dragons and be on our way.

Speaking of the dragons, aside from their elemental weaknesses, the fights are all very samey. For a game titled Dragon Age, you’d think some more work would’ve gone into making the dragon fights feel more varied and exciting. Basically, you fight them to get the loot and that’s it. No epicness is truly felt here.

There’s no epic feelings with the dragons or with the story. Having played DA:O and DA:II I can safely say that the story falls somewhere in the middle between how awesome Origins was and how bland II was. The writers didn’t do themselves any favors by incorporating half-assed time travel crap and a completely cliche main villain. A baddie who wants to be the newest all-powerful god in town? Join the club, buddy.

I think one of the things about Inquisition that irks me the most is the supporting cast. I’ve come to play Bioware games for the characters more than the overall narrative. Sadly, I didn’t like ANY of the new characters. Not a one. Hell, I liked the cast of DA:II better! At least in DA:II the characters I disliked fell into a “Love to Hate” relationship status with me (Aveline) and there was none of that here. The only characters I was interested in were from previous entries: Leliana, Varric, and Cassandra… all, coincidentally, characters we didn’t have the option of romancing either due to our gender or because Bioware says so. We flirted with the idea of romancing a couple different people, like Sera or Josephine, but they eventually turned us off so we decided to fly the game solo.

Plus, we were pro-mage and basically no one else is. Even the mages themselves were against my actions when I expressed favor for freeing the mages. Yeah, makes total sense. Bunch of self-loathing assholes. Vivien can piss up a rope. I can’t stand her.

That’s right: Inquisition is the only Bioware game I’ve played where I did not partake in romancing a character. Compare that with Origins, where I romanced everyone, or Mass Effect, where I was fiercely loyal to Liara (to the point of obsession) throughout the entirely trilogy.

Compounding these complaints with the horrific experience we had the last two nights we played the game really soured our taste buds. The second-to-last evening we spent with Inquisition we partook in the drawn out, fancy-schmancy ball, where our Inquisition rubbed noses with royalty and tried acting like the upstanding citizens we weren’t. Anyway, we had a glitched door that would not load the next room which was, you know, required to proceed with the game. Thinking it was an issue with switching to the digital version from the disc, we deleted the digital version, re-installed the game disc, and played. We researched the issue online (evidently the geniuses at Bioware screwed their game up even further with one of the patches). Realizing our issue was due to a patch and not the way we were playing, we switched back to digital, only to be met with our game refusing to load, period. It wouldn’t work the rest of the night.

We never found out what happened, but the following morning after my PS4 updated it worked fine. Scared that we would lose over 60 hours of progress to more bugs, and getting bored with the game, we decided to plow through the main story mission and move on with our lives.

For this, we were rewarded with two slaps to the face.

First, we made the mistake of trying to bring Cole with us. News flash: If you don’t do his personal quest, you don’t get to use in the final battle. Ugh. Okay, fair enough. But, and here’s where I thought my head would combust, THEY DON’T ALLOW YOU TO GO BACK TO THE INVENTORY AND TAKE HIS GEAR OFF!

In what world does that make any sense?!?!

And because we had no one besides our actively party appropriately geared, we ended up bringing a naked Sera into the FINAL BOSS FIGHT.

And guess what?!

We STILL had the glitch where the final boss fight–ya know, the part of the game that’s supposed to be all super climactic and shit– became broken because we damaged it too quickly.

Yes, you read that correctly. We did too much damage to the final boss before some invisible time frame with a NAKED ROGUE. I’m sorry Bioware, was I not supposed to explore your large, boring maps and do your countless, boring side quests to get better gear and level my characters? I kinda thought that was the point of open-world games.

In the end, we had to reload the game and I picked my nose while the rest of my team whittled away at it because I was too scared to break it again.

Google it, it’s a real glitch. Along with the previous one I mentioned. That’ my friends, is Triple A, Game of the Year material.

I am dumbfounded, to be honest. And I’m also reliving the tragic experience I had with Skyrim when I literally couldn’t beat the game until a patch came out to fix my terrible luck with broken games. Know how I responded to Bethesda for releasing a broken game? I boycotted them.

Now I’m terrified the new Mass Effect with be a broken, glitchy, padded game with boring characters and a lackluster story. And that makes me a sad panda.

Because I really want to play Mass Effect, and I really want it to be good. Like I wanted this game to be as good as everyone said it was.

Plus, if I boycotted every developer that released a broken game I’d be playing nothing but retros and indies. But I guess that’s a tale for another blog post.

Dragon Age II

Dragon Age 2 Cover Art

 

Just like with the Mass Effect video game covers… I have no idea who this well-dressed bloke is.

I absolutely adored Dragon Age: Origins when I played it on the PC a few years ago. Actually, it was the first Bioware game I’d ever played. I fell in love with the characters, battle system, and world. I was completely engrossed in it’s stylish storytelling and relationship building. I hadn’t played a game anything like it before, and I fell in love with it. Under normal circumstances, I’d be the first in line for a sequel to one of my favorite games. Gaming Gods know I’ve forked over my hard earned money to play BAD sequels too many times over. For some reason I listened to the fanbase’s concern this time around and refrained from playing it until Steve bought it used from Gamestop. We decided it was time to get up to speed before Inquisition is released later this year.

All I can say is, I’m glad I didn’t buy this game. And I’m glad my friend didn’t pay full price for it. I wouldn’t necessarily come out and say it is a bad game, per se… I mean, I did enjoy the hack-and-slash approach it took to battle. And the leveling system was solid, mainly because it imitated Origins. Despite my boredom or straight out hatred of some of the characters, their banter was edgy and hilarious most of the time. Unfortunately, it is a shallow and rushed game, evident from beginning to end.

I completely agree with the general sentiment that Dragon Age II has no real feeling of accomplishment. Or, you know, plot. The experience is akin to playing about 30-40 hours of side quests. The first act is, quite literally, doing enough side quests to earn 50 gold. I’m being 100% serious here. And it sets the tone for the entire game, as DAII feels like a string of forgettable side quests with no real purpose. Some of the character-specific quests are interesting, I’ll admit.

After you do a bunch of seemingly unrelated quests, BAM! You’re at the end of the game. The grand climax with no climax at all.  In fact, the only reason I knew we were at the end of the game was because they did a similar “point of no return” room with one-on-one conversations with each party member, akin to Origins and Mass Effect. We were sort of like, “Wait… we’re at the end of the game already?” It wasn’t “already” as in the game was too short (It is shorter than Origins, but long enough for me) but because there were no significant events that felt remotely close to major end game revelations. I don’t know about you, but when I’m getting to the last couple of hours of a really good game, I can feel it in my bones.

As Dragon Age II is sorely lacking in anything else for me to discuss, and Bioware’s main selling point for me is usually the great cast of characters they write, I’m going to talk about all of the cast members and what I hate about them:

Bethany

Here’s Bethany. The main character, Hawke’s, sister, and the reason you can’t side with the Templars in the Mages vs. Templars battle if you have any family values whatsoever. Don’t get too attached to her or start relying on her as your healer. The developers figured you didn’t need a third mage, so they take her away from you for the vast majority of the game. I’m convinced it’s because she was one of the only characters I actually liked. And just to be jerks about it, during the 2/3 of the game you don’t have access to her, they kept her image on the character select screen. Jerks.

Fenris

Here’s Fenris. This game’s version of Zevran, with funky markings and an uncharacteristically deep voice. Most of his dialogue and character background revolves around him whining about his time in servitude and being on the run (even though he’s all settled in Kirkland with his own house and everything. At least Isabela hangs out in the bar). Due to our group dynamics and preferences, we never really used him so I can’t attest to whether he’s useful in battle or not. All I can say is that when he got pissy with me for siding with the Mages and stood against me, I didn’t miss him in the least. Go whine about your crappy life to the Templars. Don’t hold your breath waiting for them to give a crap.

Varric

Behold Varric. I know you can’t tell he’s a dwarf for lack of an abnormally large and/or braided beard, but he is. I wasn’t aware there was such a thing as dwarves without beards until Dragon Age. Anyway, I did actually like him. He’s a sarcastic, opportunistic smart-mouth who also happens to be a bard. As I chose the snarky conversation options 95% of the time, he and I got along smashingly. A lot of his dialogue is funny and interesting. He has a unique equipment trait as well. Unlike the other characters whose weapons you will change out periodically throughout the game, Varric never loses sight of Bianca, his beloved crossbow. His unique skill tree is dedicated to abilities for it/her, and Bianca levels as he does. You can also count on him having something to say every. single. time. you enter The Hanged Man bar.

Merrill

This is Merrill, another pointy-eared, pointy-nosed elf with facial markings who insists on talking funny and using blood magic. She’s so… mousy and naive, despite the fact that she uses BLOOD MAGIC. As cute as it was when Isabela made fun of her, the whole naivety act got old real quick. “Gee, I don’t know why the Dalish hate and fear me. I’m so sweet and innocent and, look, a rainbow!” … “Because you’re using black magic and trying to use a demon to put a cursed mirror back together, you idiot!”

Andersedited

Ugh. Okay. This is Anders. He’s one of the characters I absolutely loathe. First of all, we were barely into act one and he was assuming our female Hawke had the hots for him. Um, no. Not even close. Seeing as how you’re possessed by a demon and in total denial about it, “He’s not bad! His name is Justice for cryin’ out loud!” Then Anders basically blackmails you into accidentally assisting him with doing something completely off-the-wall and “What the hell were you thinking?!” stupid… All for “Justice.” It’s actually revenge, but it’s how he justifies the dumb, uber-violent thing he does. Which, supposedly, the spirit-demon thing didn’t make him do (Yeah, right). As another complete annoyance, because Bethany is taken away from you as a party member for most of the game and Merrill is a Blood Mage, Anders is your only choice for a healer unless you decide to play as a Mage. We played as a Rogue, for the record. And we decided to go without Anders most of the time. That’s how much we disliked him.

Isabella

In case you couldn’t tell from this image, here is our resident T&A for the game. If you care about something silly like her name, it’s Isabela. She’s received a major makeover from Origins. You may not recognize her, but she was the skill teaching pirate you could engage in a threesome with if you played your cards right. Her character hasn’t changed much at all. She really exists just to set the feminist movement back about 100 years. Isabela is a walking stereotype. A hyper-sexualized town bicycle. Or whatever the pirate equivalent would be. I’m not going to pretend I didn’t laugh at her jokes and banter (most of which were quite funny.) After all, we chose her as our romance partner. She’s not the type to get all jealous over us visiting the local harem from time to time. And I didn’t particularly like any of our other options. She’s a great partner in and out of battle, to be sure. I’m still wondering how her assets can be that perky without wearing a Victoria’s Secret Bombshell bra.

Aveline

Here we go. Prepare yourselves for a super rant. This is Aveline. In direct contrast to Isabela, she’s your total Girl Power character. A female TANK, who leads Kirkwall’s Knight Guard. She literally commands respect from dozens of soldiers and works to keep the city (and your party if you didn’t decide to play a tanky warrior) safe. Normally this is the archetype I root for. There should definitely be more woman in roles like this in video games. But there’s a slight problem here… She is an insufferable, holier-than-thou know-it-all. I can’t stand her! And, like Anders, we were basically stuck with her because she’s the only tanking character you get. I’m also convinced the writers either gave her a multiple personality disorder or they were just messing with the players, because she just doesn’t make sense. As in Origins, the decisions you make affect your party member’s opinion of you. Nothing I did ever made her happy, even when I thought it would. Then, when I thought I had her all figured out and started making decisions just to spite her, I’d get friendship points! WTF? At one point in time I gave Aveline a shield as a gift and she even managed to turn that into a negative! Finally, my Hawke was like, “Look bitch, it’s just a gift. Take it or leave it.”

There you have it. This time around, Bioware managed to create an entire cast of characters that I either tolerated  because they were funny or I completely loathed. Well, there’s Bethany, but she hardly counts. They even managed to screw up the cameo appearances from Origins. Alistair, Zevran, and Leliana (My previous flame) all have short, meaningless cameo appearances that left me scratching my head asking “What was the point of that?” Except for Zevran… His cameo appearance existed so he, Isabela and Hawke could partake in a little naughty time together.

This game is so descaled and rushed compared to Origins, I actually don’t blame the fanbase for being disappointed in it. Instead of adding onto the great character customization options and gearing, you barely get to choose what they’re wearing. Weapons and accessories only. The side quests all blend together with the main quests. I only knew what was what when I bothered to check my quest menu. The maps were recycled over and over again, with cheap fake walls put up to cut certain areas off. Overall, the game was bland.

Now that Dragon Age 2 is cheap to purchase, it might be a good idea to pick it up and get caught up before Inquisition comes out. Don’t expect a grand, epic game like Origins or you’ll be disappointed. Instead, look at it as a decent medieval fantasy action/RPG game that thinks it belongs in the Dragon Age universe, and you should be okay.

Mass Effect Revelation

MER Cover

Remember this guy?

 I enjoy playing video games. I also enjoy reading and writing in my spare time. So why is it I’ve never read a novel based on a video game until now?

There are a couple of reasons. I’ve heard many of them are poorly written. Hopefully not like, 50 Shades of Grey bad writing, but with lots of grammatical issues and sometimes the events actually conflict with the story established in the video games they’re supposed to be aligned with. And until now, none of the video games I’ve been passionate about had books I could purchase to read. In English, anyway. I’d even get Xenogears: Perfect Works if it was in English.

While browsing online, I discovered there was not one, but 3 novels set in the Mass Effect universe. All of which are written by Drew Karpyshyn, lead writer for the video games. He’s also written other geek-centric novels too, and is apparently a New York Times bestselling author.

Mass Effect: Revelations is a prequel to the very first Mass Effect game. Throughout the trilogy, you learn that Anderson had “previous encounters” with Saren, but of course the games never explain what that meant. In Mass Effect 2 you briefly meet Kahleen Sanders, and Anderson does hint at having feelings for her in the games, but again, none of their background is fleshed out. The Revelations novel reveals (hardy har) the circumstances under which Anderson meets Saren, Sanders, and the conditions under which he was a Spectre candidate and why he wasn’t selected.

The not-so-spoiler ending of the novel shows how Saren evolved into the rogue Spectre who we all know as the final boss fight in Mass Effect 1.

When writing the novel, Karpyshyn made the assumption that readers like myself were reading this book because we, you know, played the game. Therefore, the novel is much smoother, easier reading than a typical science fiction or fantasy novel that has to dedicate a ton of pages to world building. We already know the world, so the author is able to cut right to the chase and focus on telling the story. It makes the book easy to pick up and read for 10 minutes at a time, or put down for a week and not forget what is going on. I didn’t need to spend time reading 100-200 pages describing a world when I already know what it looks like and how it functions.

With that being said, there’s a lot of supplemental background information and tidbits describing humanity venturing into the galactic community and other alien species that either weren’t described in the games or I didn’t bother reading in the codex. I absorb information better when it is presented to me through the lens of a story, not when it reads like an Encyclopedia. Plus, when playing a video game, I want to play, not read.

 I didn’t find the book poorly written, but there were some editing oversights. And even though the introduced characters mainly fit overused niches and I was able to guess how many of them were going to be shot in the face by Spectre Saren or Anderson before they met their ends, I still enjoyed the book. I primarily enjoyed watching Anderson react to situations before the games, actually seeing some batarian characters, and picturing Saren acting like a “normal” Spectre.

I think any fans of the game series will appreciate this book, as it explains events leading up to the first Mass Effect. Even if you don’t like to read, I promise, it is an easy and quick book to get through: plenty of action scenes, not a lot of boring exposition. The book was certainly worth the teeny sum I paid for it. I’ve also already purchased the next novel, Mass Effect Ascension. Be prepared for an onslaught of Mass Effect posts!

Mass Effect 3

Again, I’m not sure who this scowling man is.

Well, it’s time. The bittersweet moment where I come to this blog to post some of my thoughts about a game I’ve recently completed. Except this isn’t just any game. This is the conclusion to the critically-acclaimed sci-fi trilogy released by Bioware; a company that I’ve come to really respect after playing the Mass Effects and Dragon Age: Origins. I’m having a hard time collecting my thoughts for this entry, despite the fact that we went camping for a week after I binged on ME3 until I saw the end credits roll. I was determined to finish it before being unplugged for a week. I sacrificed a lot of sleep, which I NEVER do after having a baby and sticking to a strict workout regimen. Basically, this was a big deal for me.

What I’m saying is, I became a bit obsessed.

After seeing the credits roll, a familiar sort of depression sank in. The journey was over. I saved the galaxy from the Reapers. The characters I fell in love with were nestling into the closure that Bioware and my FemShep brought to them, and didn’t need my input any longer. I didn’t know what to do with myself. I’ve only felt this way after completing two other games that currently top my Top 10 list: Final Fantasy X and Xenosaga Episode III. After finishing these games, I just sort of existed in a lull for a week or so, taking my sweet time transitioning back to reality, unable to divorce my mind from the amazing experiences these games offered. Thankfully, I had a camping trip with friends and family to keep me occupied this time.

Okay, I promise I’m done gushing now. I find my posts more interesting to read when I’ve got a mile-long list of complaints to vent out. While Mass Effect 3 is now one of my favorite games EVER, that doesn’t mean it is perfect. There are a few things I’d like to address that really irked me.

1.) YOU DON’T GET A KROGAN IN YOUR SQUAD. Seriously, when did ANY fans say they thought having Wrex and Grunt as squad members was a sucky idea and they’d rather have more boring humans in their group? If they exist, send me their addresses so I can hunt them down because I found this to be completely inexcusable. I love my meatshield krogans. Something tells me Bioware heard fan complaints, because in The Citadel DLC they let you have Wrex if you don’t get him killed beforehand.

2.) Controls suck less, but they still suck. My main gripe is using X for running (and taking cover, and the wannabe parkour jumping). This makes your right thumb occupied with sprinting so you can’t use it to move the camera around and search for loot. Loot is a big deal to me.

3.) ALL THE DLC. And the $$$. Sure, I will never drop a penny on extra multiplayer map packs. But I downloaded and paid money for FOUR different DLC bundles, priced at at least $9.99 a piece. This game is two years old, for crying out loud, you’d think they’d be cheaper. While the DLC is technically optional, I suppose, I can’t imagine my ME3 experience without it. From Ashes gives an extra party member with important background information and Leviathan discloses more important historical facts about the Reapers (As in: where the hell did they come from?). Omega, which I’m in the middle of playing now, may not be mandatory for garnering helpful information, but it should have been included in the game because when you see Aria in The Citadel she tells you about the mission! Little did I know, I had to PAY extra to actually help her with her pet project. And, The Citadel, while being completely optional, is something no Mass Effect fan will want to miss. It is the writers letting loose and letting the characters just have fun. I laughed a lot. And, of course, there’s Extended Cut (The infamous backpedaling). Which is free… but still. Getting DLCed to death has become a major gripe of mine in the last few years… and I just majorly supported it with ME3.

4.) Multiplayer in a single player campaign. Single player for two installments. Huge hit game series. Hmm, let’s incorporate multiplayer missions that directly affect how well the galaxy can defend itself against the Reapers and make that affect end game events! Great idea! … NOT.

Now that I’ve got those off of my chest, I have to say, Mass Effect 3 was phenomenal. I said I’d stop gushing, but I need to say this: While the Xenosaga trilogy blew me away with its character development, story, and universe, I think the Mass Effect trilogy might top it for me. When playing video game series, as a gamer you’re always nervous when you pick up the next installment. Are my favorite character still here? Did they screw up the battle system? Is this one going to suck compared to the last one? I will defend Xenosaga until the day I die, but I can’t really stand up for Episode II. The second entry stripped all fun out of the battle system and they lost a lot of fans trying to fix something that wasn’t broken. If I weren’t so obsessed with the characters and driven to see the events unfold (and didn’t have a strategy guide), I would have given up. And maybe nowadays I’d quit in exasperation. While Episode III redeemed the series for me, I think they’d already lost too many fans. But in the case of Mass Effect, each game is better than the last. Sure, I was disappointed with some of the character interactions in ME2, but other than that each game vastly improved upon the last. After playing Mass Effect 2 I wondered how it could get any better. 

Oh, did it get better.

Character leveling and skill upgrades remain largely unchanged. They did add mini skill trees for each ability so you can see the progress and choose between two options in the later tiers.

ME3 Skill Tree

                   This should give you a general idea.

 Not a huge difference, but I liked seeing the advancement and choosing options for 3 tiers instead of only the final tier like in ME2.

After the significant overhaul (though I think “removal” would be more accurate) of the equipment menus in ME2, they sort of backtracked a little bit. Not in a bad way, but to give the player at least some sense of customization that was missing from the middle game. You can change Shepard’s equipment but still can’t change the squad mates. Sorry, but deciding which purple helmet you want Tali to wear or whether Liara looks better in black or white doesn’t count. But weapon modifications are back! Each weapon has two mods you can add to it. These mods are either purchased from stores or picked up while exploring. And trust me, there’s basically no inventory management to worry about.

Speaking of stores... Does anyone buy these ship models?

Speaking of stores… Does anyone really spend their hard earned credits on ship models?

Another improvement that I didn’t think could get any better is the way they handled scanning planets for resources. There is no more element mining for upgrades! Big cheer from this gamer! Instead, you scan items and wreckage for war assets, intel, fuel, or credits. Once you start scanning in a cluster or galaxy, you’re given a percentage so you know when you can move on. This streamlining comes with a price: scanning alerts Reapers. If you scan, they’ll come after you, and give you an automatic game over if you let them catch up to the Normandy. I wasn’t crazy about this new feature. Especially since I waited to do 90% of my planet scanning at the same time. It got tedious and frustrating. I felt like I was wasting time darting in and out of a galaxy to rush and pick up something or do some scanning before the Reapers caught me. If you’ve alerted them, they won’t go away until you move on and do something else first! I was irritable after half an hour of playing cat and mouse.

Unsurprisingly, my main praise goes to Bioware for their ability to write great characters and stories. Each of the main characters you’ve known since the beginning have pretty satisfying character arcs and interactions. You’ll get to visit their homeworlds on the premise of uniting their race to your Reaper Killing cause, but along the way they’ll grow and make you love them even more. Unless you don’t have enough Reputation, then things will go south. Since I forgot to mention this earlier: Do side quests ASAP! 

Now I’m going to take a low jab at Ubisoft: In case you haven’t heard, they’ve been under a lot of flack recently because they claimed they “Don’t have the resources,” (Loosely interpreted as “Can’t be bothered”) to incorporate female models in the next installment of their annual cash cow, Assassin’s Creed. Well. All I can say is that I find it interesting Bioware could, and successfully gave characters the option to be a female in a vast story that expands 3 games with hundreds of interactions with NPCs. Many of which are tailored by the sex you selected when creating Shepard. As per the cover art, it’s assumed you’ll be the brooding man with the close shave. Not only did Bioware give you the option, they also created unique situations and dialogue for FemShep. In the third game, they took it up a notch by drawing very specific attention to it. One of the more subtle, but most satisfying moments, in ME3 were the conversations with a certain female Krogan. If you’re a female, she not only confides in you, but also expresses admiration at the great responsibility humanity has placed on a female. It tickled my fancy to not just be given a different character model (that Ubosift can’t be bothered with) but to also change dialogue and outfit the experience so that it didn’t feel at all like I was playing a subpar role. Never, in the entire trilogy, did I find the conversation nuances inappropriate or with that “This is definitely meant for a male” vibe.

I do have some story complaints, but they seem to just whimper in the shadows of Mass Effect 3’s generally great presentation. I knew about the ending’s big controversy, so I barreled towards it with anticipation. After experiencing my ending, taking advantage of Youtube to watch the others (there’s 4 altogether depending on what your ultimate decision is) and then speaking with a friend who got the original crappy ending… I can say I’m glad I got the Extended Cut. It actually, you know, explains the aftermath of your choice. I can honestly say I liked the ending(s)… Mine, at least, was bittersweet, with enough disclosure to satisfy me but some open ends to let me interpret a couple of things as I see fit. With all this hubbub about a Mass Effect 4, I’m sort of confused. The four endings have vastly different implications about the future of the universe. It’d have to be either a prequel or be an alternate universe/spiritual successor sort of deal. Which I’d be okay with, I just don’t want them to mess with my Shepard and my story.

I know I’m obsessed with this game because even though I already watched the credits roll, I’ve gone back and decided to wrap up some side quests I didn’t complete and play through the Omega DLC which I got kind of late. My gaming time is crunched thanks to adulthood, so I don’t usually do anything extra with games… Especially after I beat them. As of right now, Mass Effect 3 has killed other video games for me. I truly have no desire to play anything else yet.

In closing, here is a picture of my newest video game girl crush and one true love to my FemShep: Liara T’Soni. She’s intelligent, blue, and has a nice rack. What more could a human ask for? Oh I know, how about a lover that could literally mindf*ck you? Sold!

Liara

 

 

Mass Effect 2

Mass Effect 2

I have no idea who this strapping young human man is.

It is finally time for Part 2 of my first Mass Effect trilogy playthrough!  For those of you who missed Part 1,  I am a renegade FemShep. So I’m not sure who this strange guy on the cover is, but oh well. I’m thoroughly enjoying being a badass chick traversing deep space with a ragtag group of aliens, (sort of) doing the bidding of Cerberus.

I vaguely recalled mention of the Cerberus group’s going-ons in the first game but didn’t think much of it. Well, they’re in full swing this installment. Why? Well, they spent billions of credits to bring Shepard back to life, that’s why. Wait, you might say, I don’t remember dying at the end of ME1. That’s right. There was no Shepard death in ME1’s conclusion. It’s a cut-scene thrown into the game’s opening to give you a reason to be in Cerberus’ debt. And to have gnarly, glowing red scars on your face if you’re a renegade character.

When approaching a sequel, I’m sure the main question going through our minds is, “How have they changed or expanded upon the first game?”

The most noticeable change after playing for a couple of hours is the complete dismissal of the RPG elements of the first game. And hey, they did suck. Instead of trying to fix the complete equipment and inventory mess, they basically got rid of it. In ME2, there is VERY minuscule amounts of equipping you have to worry about. Shepard’s gear is really all you mess with (of which there are only a few options). And the squad members only have 2 different side arms to equip. Again, not a lot of options here either. But I’m totally cool with it. Ain’t nobody got time to spend half an hour putting enhancements on everyone’s gear.

Spending less time in menus encouraged me to swap active squad members in and out. A lot. In ME1 I almost always stuck with the same group. Wrex and Tali, usually. Sometimes I’d swap in Liara, since she’s my main squeeze and all. But in ME2 I was swapping squad members more often than my underwear. Because, look at this huge roster!

Mass_Effect_2_Team_of_12_by_BlackSheep64

To be fair, the characters on the far opposite ends are DLC, but still! Much more diverse than the original cast. Speaking of the original cast, if you look closely you’ll see a couple of familiar faces.

To answer my second most common sequel question, “Do the characters from the first game come back?”… As per the above image, two of them actually return as permanent squad members! Garrus (yawn) and Tali! Garrus’ personality is what I expected, but Tali’s grown some teeth and that pleasantly surprised me. Liara, the love of my Shepard’s life, has an interesting quest line with an even more interesting conclusion. I was given the option to continue our romance after she put me off for quite a  bit. I decided to be loyal, and not sleep around like my Dragon Age character. About halfway through the quest line I was anticipating what ultimately ended up happening, and I actually thought it was quite satisfying while opening up a lot of room for events later on. I was a bit disappointed, though, with the lack of conversation AFTER all is said and done. There aren’t any follow-up conversations to have with her, despite the fact that there’s plenty of reasons to repeatedly visit her before the game is over.

I’m glad I chose Liara over Kaiden Alenko, who I was originally flirting with the idea of romancing. When I met up with him during the events of this game, he was a complete dick! Why? Because I was with Cerberus. Not that he gave me any time to explain what was going on. So screw him. My old battle buddy Wrex makes an appearance as well, if you do the right optional quest. Trust me, you’ll know it when you see it.

They also ditched the Mako. Which is all well and good, I guess, because riding around on planets looking for elements and things to do was time consuming and got boring quickly. The new method of scanning planets for events and elements gets to the point much quicker. Zipping around on the Hammerhead (Or whatever the rover-du-jour is called) was a little more satisfying, but still frustrating at times. There are some moments where you’ll battle geth and such with it. But, unlike the Mako, I didn’t see any sort of repair option. So fighting guys that can take it out in a few hits requires a lot of evasive maneuvers.

Want to know what wasn’t changed from the first Mass Effect? One of my biggest complaints, of course… assigning the X button to sprint! This time around, it’s annoying beyond words because it is the same button used for crouching. This means that after every battle scene I had to scour for loot at a deathly slow pace because if I wanted to run, god forbid, I’d hide behind every corner and crate. Even after every enemy was dead! Seriously, WTF? And in order to vault over something that looks like nothing more than a step up, you have to crouch first. The game never comes out and says so, of course, so imagine how much time I spent trying to figure that out myself. I guess I spend too much time playing games like Assassin’s Creed that do the jumping and climbing for me.

me2skillscreen

This is a much more accurate representation of MY Shepard… Not quite enough Renegade points though. 

As per the above image, the skill point allocation is different, but didn’t receive a drastic makeover. Maxing any skill gives you a specialization option. Usually it’s choosing offensive vs. defensive, or more concentrated damage vs. spread damage. Either way, I appreciated having an extra buffing option at the end.

Each character has a grayed out ability listed on the bottom. This can only be accessible after doing their loyalty quest. Then, for a mere 5,000 Element Zero, Shepard can also learn the same ability! Not the only reason to do their loyalty quests, mind you. Completing them also alters how certain events play out at the end of the game. Not since Valkyrie Profile have I been so anxious about doing everything “right.” Way more with ME2 since I actually care about the characters, story, and having my file the way I want it when I load up Me3. Here’s hoping importing my save file won’t be the convoluted mess it was the first time. Epic fail, Bioware.

Overall, I’m quite pleased with the direction this trilogy has taken me so far. My list of gripes is significantly smaller than the first installment. I’m not sure how long it will take me to play and finish the conclusion, but I’m more than ready to witness this super controversial ending!

Mass Effect Talking Points

 MassEffect

My Shepard had nicer thighs.

I’ve done it! I’ve finally finished a play through of Mass Effect after restarting it a couple times over the last five years or so. First I started playing it on our 360. I stopped, for whatever reason. Then Hubby and I started playing it together but stopped somewhere along the way due to time constraints (and me not having the patience to sit there while he explored every. single. planet.)

This game is new enough to still be fresh in the minds of those who played it upon release, and not old enough to need a thorough reminding of why I think you should or shouldn’t dedicate the time to play it. So I’m just going to highlight the pros and cons that stuck with me after the credits rolled.

The Mass Effect trilogy is a critically-acclaimed science fiction RPG/shooter hybrid. Yes, I liked the first installment. Yes, so far I believe it deserves a lot of the positive buzz it received. And, yes, there are flaws. The inventory management system is a mess. If you don’t routinely flesh out all of the armor upgrades and such you aren’t using, you’ll hit the 150 item max capacity pretty quickly. As punishmentfor your negligence, the next 20 minutes of your life will be dedicated to turning everything into omni-gel. Especially if you’re a loot whore like me and almost always keep a squad member with Decryption in your active party. The reason it takes an unreasonable amount of time to turn worthless items into omni-gel (Which can be used to repair the Mako) is because during the development process, apparently no one had the foresight to find grouping multiples of the same item into one inventory slot a good idea. You know how, in most smart RPGs, your inventory menu looks like “Potion x5” instead of sifting through “Potion, Potion, Potion, Potion, Potion,” separately? In case you’re a sadist who was thinking the latter system might be preferably, it isn’t. It takes forever to individually turn everything into omni-gel (I guess it’d be the equivalent of individually selling 20 of the same item to a vendor instead of all at once). AND you can’t hit Up on the D-pad or stick at the top of the list to quickly get to the bottom where the weaker crap you want to get rid of is. Tedious and annoying.

Mass Effect’s exploration spreads across the entire galaxy, allowing the player to explore uncharted planets on an all-terrain vehicle called the Mako. Seems like lots of people disliked the Mako. I’m kind of on the fence about it. Its controls are pretty crappy, I agree there. And traversing with it did get old after an hour or so at a time. But that’s usually voluntary time spent with side quests and scouring for goodies. I did heave a couple of sighs when I took a break from exploring uncharted planets on the Mako to do a main story quest only to be put back in the damn thing. When I was ready for main mission quests, it was because I wanted to shoot humanoid lifeforms, not drive a crappy car. As soon as I found out you get more experience for killing enemies on foot than in the Mako I got out of it at every opportunity to shoot everything– even the over-sized enemies that clearly wanted to be killed with the Mako’s superior fire power.

The Playstation 3 port I played was also glitchy. Granted, I can blame some of the system crashing (It happened three times, total) on my fat, backwards-compatible 60-gig PS3. But after browsing forums online it looks like I wasn’t the only one with this problem. Even with auto-save on I had to do more backtracking than expected when it happened to me. I actually had to do the final boss fight over because during the predictable cut-scene-between-final-boss-transformations the game froze up. Not cool. I’m legitimately worried my used and abused PS3 won’t survive the entire trilogy.

Shooters aren’t typically my game style of choice, so I tend to shy away from making too many comments about their design or difficulty. (Did I mention I played this game on Casual mode?) But Mass Effect’s style did come across as clunky and annoying. Usually when trying to implement the duck and cover routine. I knew I wanted to snipe, it’s my thing, even when a game’s style makes it less than ideal. In ME, that means your proficiencies are Assaults and Snipers. I like shotties too, but I shrugged it off because I used Wrex. He was a great compliment and the AI was probably better at it than me. Wrex could certainly take more hits than my Soldier Shepard. Most of the game’s combat takes place in narrow corridors so when I couldn’t manage to snipe I went all balls-to-the-walls with my Assault Rifle. I still managed to have a lot of fun during battles, even when Shepard wouldn’t cooperate when I wanted  her to use certain barriers as cover.

The RPG leveling system is standard fare. Killing enemies, performing side quests, and exploring the Mass Effect universe award the party with experience. Get enough EXP, you level. When you level you get skill points to assign to abilities. Advancing certain abilities unlocks other ones (Hence having to level Assault Rifles to unlock the Sniper Rifle proficiency). ME is one of those jerk games that makes you spend skill points to unlock dialogue options and to get the best loot. I’m a loot whore, so naturally that was the first thing I did. Thankfully, levels and skill points go to non-active party members as well. I love it when games do that. I find it encourages the player to experiment with different comrades. BUT certain characters don’t have the proper skills to open, um, “treasure chests.” And I refused to take Wrex out of the party. So I was still limiting myself. In the beginning of the game my main party included Wrex and Garrus. Garrus got boring, and when he suggested I trade in Liara for plot purposes I did. I enjoyed her Lift and Warp abilities, but I COULDN’T OPEN STUFF. To keep magicky stuff and get all the loot I didn’t need, I settled with a party of Shepard, Wrex and Tali.

Seriously, you don’t need all the loot the game throws at you. Okay, in Casual mode you don’t. But really… the inventory management system is so tedious I probably should have shrugged off the unnecessary loot and saved myself the time. However… I just can’t. I have a gaming loot complex or something.

Now. Mass Effect’s real shine comes in the universe Bioware created. When it comes to story, worlds and characters, I’ve become jaded. Final Fantasy X set the bar so high that I found myself constantly disappointed with video game writing and worlds to the point where I stopped caring. In fact, games that take themselves too seriously tend to be a turn off for me nowadays. Last/current gen had a few exceptions to the rule (The Last of Us, Heavy Rain, and The Walking Dead are examples at the forefront of my mind). I’m happy to add Mass Effect to the list. If Cultural Anthropology has ever peaked your interest, Mass Effect will completely tickle your anthropological fancies. All of the alien races hail from fascinating cultures if you care to learn about them. In terms of playing a video game it does lead to pretty poor pacing in the beginning. As soon as you get to the Citadel you can completely envelope yourself in hours worth of side questing and educating yourself on the universe’s other races. And though I vowed to bulldoze through this game as quickly as possible, I couldn’t stop myself from talking to the aliens to learn more about them. Free experience and loot notwithstanding.

With two more games in the series to go (and all the drama surrounding the grand finale) I’m really excited to see where the journey takes me. I’ve heard they stripped a lot of the RPG elements from the successors. While the RPG elements weren’t, like, good, it’d be nice if they decided to improve them instead of eliminating them. Unfortunately, because of the piss-poor inventory system, I don’t see this as a game that will age well with late-coming newbies to the trilogy. The incredible world-building and colorful cast of supporting characters were a suitable counter-balance to the negatives for me.

In case anyone is wondering, I created a badass (Renegade, if we’re being politically correct here) female Shepard. I planned on romancing Kaidan, the dark-haired human who I thought was a pretty sweet guy. But stupid Liara had to come onag and make me feel guilty when she asked if there was, y’know, chemistry. I couldn’t say no. I rationalized my decision with escapism. After all, I have a dark-haired human male at home I can romance whenever. But I’ll NEVER be able to romance a blue-skinned alien, will I?