The Game Jar Files: The problem with RPGs

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Originally published on The Game Jar – February 10th 2014

With the amount of cross-pollination going on in the games industry, it’s no surprise that genre boundaries are softening. First person shooters are borrowing elements from RPGs, RPGs are borrowing elements from FPS’, and all sorts of other genres are borrowing from both. Whilst the sharing of ideas is nearly always a good thing in my opinion, I do wonder if this process has some unwanted side effects to it, particularly in the case of RPGs. You see, to my mind, RPGs seem to have forgotten how to do the role-playing bit of their name over the years, and I’d like to know why.

Before I go any further, I’d like to set out what the term RPG means to me. Many many years ago, before video games were as ubiquitous as they are now, gaming meant something entirely different to me. Now and again, it meant moving little metal soldiers about on a table, but mostly it involved sitting down with a group of friends, with a sheet of paper and a pencil, and rolling dice. Advance Dungeons & Dragons was my first proper taste of a role-playing game, and ever since then I’ve been hooked. Thanks to the way it’s played, AD&D gives you access to a world that allows the player a tremendous amount of freedom to become their character, thanks largely to the fact that a human being is running the game, and not developer code. This freedom is at the heart of what a true RPG is to me, and it’s also what’s missing from a lot of games.

The Mass Effect series of games is a prime example of what a watered down RPG looks like. Because despite all of it’s choices, Mass Effect is a game that allows the player very little freedom. Instead of being free to take your character in any direction you wish, you’re constantly funnelled in the direction the game wants you to go in. Even the skill system rigidly binds you to the path set by the developer. Of course, being free to simply ignore the story unfolding around you has massive implications, but forcing you to pay attention to it also has its consequences. Knowing that there’s always a hand on your shoulder, constantly guiding you, means that Shepard never completely feels like your character. He or she will always partly belong to someone else, and I don’t think that’s what an RPG is about.

The reason developers are slowly watering down player freedom, is that they have far more control over the quality of our experience. In theory, that sounds like a good thing, but along with that control comes the restriction to fully role-play your character. Going back to AD&D, the very best Dungeon Masters know that part of creating a great gaming session means being brave enough to allow players the freedom to fuck things up by being stupid or reckless. If my Rogue is the kind of guy willing to risk his life by smuggling a dagger into a tavern that doesn’t allow weapons, the DM needs to have the flexibility to allow me to play him that way. The moment he tells me my character wouldn’t do that, he’s not wholly my character. If developers want their players to fully immerse themselves in the character they’re playing, failure – intentional or otherwise – has to be an available option.

Whether we’ve ever had an RPG game that truly offers the same freedom as AD&D, I don’t know, but I do think some have gotten close. The Elder Scrolls: Oblivion was the last video game I played that came closest to emulating the freedom of a pen-and-paper role-playing game, mainly because of the things I’ve already talked about. Apart from a small section at the very beginning of the game, the story left you alone to get on with things. The moment you left that sewer, you could be anyone you wanted –  a hero, or a villain,  or even a drunkard and a wastrel. And yes, I could even fuck things up by murdering key characters, or intentionally being bad at wielding a sword. I know it sounds counter-productive to suggest developers should allow their players enough scope to go astray and miss out the story they want to tell, but to me that freedom is essential to great role-playing.

To be fair to developers, they have gotten much better at telling us awesome stories, and I thoroughly enjoyed games like Mass Effect and Dragon Age, but at the same time they do seem to have lost the ability to tell them without holding our hands all the damn time. They’ve become far too obsessed with the concept of every player being the chosen one with a carefully scripted special destiny. One of my favourite P&P RPG’s of all time is a game called Call of Cthulhu. In that game there are no special snowflakes, only ordinary human beings – human beings likely to wind up either dead or mad. How quickly the player ends up there is entirely in the hands of the player. The creators of the game aren’t obsessed with ensuring players get to see the entirety of everything they’ve created, and the game is better for it.

If we’re to go back to having meaningful role-playing experiences, developers need to be braver, and set us free. They need to accept the fact that abject failure is also a viable option. They need to come to terms with the idea that creating a truly unique character also includes the possibility of making mistakes when creating it. When they narrow the choices down to ‘Correct’ and ‘Slightly less Correct’, when they refuse to allow us to create an average and flawed Commander Shepard, they place an unwelcome limit on how much we the players can develope our characters. In their relentless pursuit of the ‘great gameplay experience’ they’ve taken away our freedom, and that dear readers, is the problem with RPGs today.

The Game Jar Files: Fallout 3’s 5th Birthday!

Originally published on The Game Jar.com – 31/10/2013

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As game announcements go, being greeted with fan reservations probably wasn’t the kind of reception Bethesda might have anticipated when revealing Fallout 3 for the first time, but it was what they got. Having bought the rights to make the game from the ailing Interplay Entertainment, the Elder Scrolls developer soon found out just what the game meant to its fans, who began to express their doubts as to whether the new owner could do the series justice. Whether that minority would go on to be reassured, only time would tell, but Bethesda didn’t have to worry too much. Fans of the Elder Scrolls series were incredibly excited about the studio branching out into to another universe, and were eager to know more.

Despite using the Oblivion engine, Fallout 3 was more than just an Elder Scrolls game dressed up in a post-apocalyptic outfit. The game had a new levelling system that was far less convoluted, weaponry and equipment would degrade over time, and supplies could be scare. In short, Fallout 3 was about as far away from Oblivion’s rolling hills as it was possible to get, which was a relief, because Fallout’s universe demanded it. From the start, Fallout’s world has been one of decay and destruction, and Bethesda respected that, whilst at the same time making their own game. What the diehard fans of old ended up thinking of Fallout 3 I don’t know, but I think they would’ve had to try really hard not to like it as Bethesda’s Fallout turned out to be a sympathetic update to the franchise.

Unlike the Elder Scrolls games, Fallout 3’s main storyline had a very definite end for players. Where previously players could expect to wrap up the main and move on to other things, in Fallout 3 the game ended, and left players to reload an earlier save if they wished to continue playing. This finality was typical of the games main theme – the end days of humanity, and the desire to survive. The tone may have been dark, but it wasn’t without its levity. All manner of twisted characters could be found right across the wasteland, from super villains commanding mutant ants to elderly rich men wanting their apartment view improved with a spot of mass murder. There was always just enough comedic relief to ensure the game never overwhelmed you with its bleak subject matter.

As post-apocalyptic wastelands go, Fallout 3’s world is a pretty interesting place. Megaton, the very first town you visit, is a glorious hodgepodge of scrap metal and vehicles, all built around a still live nuclear bomb. Tenpenny Tower is a run down high-rise block of luxury apartments, inhabited by people desperately clinging to some semblance of the high life they once lived. The star location in my opinion though, is Rivet City. The broken-in-half aircraft carrier is a wonderfully realised microcosm of human interaction within confined quarters, and the air is thick with the quiet resignation that they’re all stuck there, together. It’s a common theme in Fallout 3 in fact, and one you immediately become familiar with as you witness your character growing up within the confines of the vault.

But to me, nothing exemplified the overarching theme of mankind’s fight to survive more than the buildable weapons. These Heath Robinson contraptions, made from all kinds of scrap and salvage, really evoked a sense of having to make do, and using whatever you could lay your hands on. My particular favourite was the Railway Gun. Made from a steam pipe and various other items, and loaded with railway spikes, this little beauty made a delightful “Whoo-whoo” sound as it pinned your enemies body parts to the wall. Bethesda have always brought their own brand of black humour to their games (just ask anyone familiar with the Elder Scrolls dark Brotherhood quests), only this time they applied it to weaponry.

It’s game engine may have been a bit creaky, but Fallout 3 was every bit the epic RPG Bethesda fans have come to expect. The vast open world was begging to be explored, your character was as malleable as ever, and absolutely nobody helped you out of the goodness of their own hearts. Being a Bethesda game, Fallout 3 wasn’t without its bugs, and on more than one occasion, DLC was released in a broken state. Despite that, it still had enough charm to be counted among the best games of this generation, and today, on its fifth birthday, fans of the game will be hoping there’s news of Fallout 4 some time soon.

The Game Jar Files: The Next Gen Games I Want to see Happen.

Originally published on The Game Jar.com – 06/09/2013

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The older gaming gets, the less original it feels. Almost every genre has been done a dozen different ways already, and it’s getting increasingly harder to find some new way of entertaining the masses. This state of affairs is only exacerbated by the big publishers unwillingness to take risks on new and unproven IP’s, instead relying on yet another sequel to keep them going. But with a new generation comes the hope of fresh thinking. The old, jaded gamer me is replaced by a cherubic, fresh-faced optimist. In this article, I let my imagination run riot. I pretend that the accountants are no longer in charge, and game developers make all my dreams come true. Here are the games I want to see on my next-gen console.

Spelljammer. If you were to ask me which role-playing game I recall the fondest, the answer wouldn’t be a video game. I’d go all the way back to 1989, and tell you about an Advanced Dungeons & Dragons campaign setting called Spelljammer, and I’d probably get all misty eyed whilst doing it. Introducing the concept of fantasy astrophysics to AD&D, Spelljammer allowed players to explore the stars on special galleons, equipped with “spelljammer helms”. These ships had their own atmosphere and gravity, and could travel between Crystal Spheres and visit other worlds. I loved playing this game. There was a certain kind of romanticism in sailing the stars, finding adventure wherever you went, and I’d love to do it again. Only once has Spelljammer been converted into a video game, and that was in 1992, so I think a new title is well overdue. Please game developers out there, make my dream come true – make me a Spelljammer MMO. Please?

Discworld. Unsurprisingly, the wildly popular Discworld universe has made the transition to video games several times already, but none of them, in my opinion, have ever done the obvious thing, and gone down the open-world RPG path. Think about it; a fully realised, open world Ankh-Morpork that you can wander through with your own Discworld character. You could join the City Watch and hang out with Commander Vimes. Or enrol in the Unseen University and visit the library to meet The Librarian. Or join the Assassin Guild… There are so many iconic places to visit in Ankh-Morpork and the larger Discworld itself, that an open world makes perfect sense. Discworld is a massive franchise that’s been mechanised in almost every conceivable way. All that’s left is to let the fans create their own virtual character, and explore the world they love.

Band of Brothers. Lets face it, a decent story is not something most FPS developers bother with these days. Single player mode has been reduced down to twelve hours of Hollywood cheese, and is much more likely to be the last part to the game a gamer plays. But why can’t we an FPS with a decent story? I realise making a game based on historical events involving real people would need a sensitive touch, but haven’t certain developers already proved their capable of doing so? Naughty Dog demonstrated with The Last of Us, that it is possible to tell a gritty, realistic story with emotional weight via the medium of video games, so I think it could be done with the FPS. In the right hands, the story of Easy Company could be sensitively told, without glorifying real human loss. Hopefully, in the future, a developer will come along with the courage to do so.

Knightmare. A bit of a tap in, this one, as the TV series was practically a video game to begin with, but it still surprises me that no-one has had a proper crack at bringing it to our consoles. With today’s internet technology, four-player co-op gaming is a walk in the park. Three players could view the dungeon, and via party chat, guide the fourth player safely through each room. We also have fairly decent camera technology now, so projecting the player into the dungeon wouldn’t be a problem. Obviously, it goes without saying that the hardware is powerful enough to render an environment better looking than the actual show, so why don’t we have this game yet? I guess the answer is that, outside of the indies, gaming isn’t really doing new and original IP any more. That doesn’t stop me dreaming though, and I’d rather have this than all that Kinect/Move shovelware.

The reality is, these IP’s are probably never going to transition to the world of video games, but a bit of dreaming never hurt anybody, did it? The eve of a new generation of hardware is all about optimism in my opinion, and if you can’t dream big now, when can you? All of my above suggestions are perfectly suited to becoming a video game, and I can only hope that somewhere, a developer is secretly working away on one of them. Preferably Spelljammer.

Tales from the Mass Effect Universe: Entry 3

WARNING! I will be talking candidly about the three Mass Effect games in this series. If you want to avoid spoilers, do not read any further!

Entry 3: The truncated report on Mass Effect 2

MassEffect2_coverAs this series has been on hold of late, I’ll begin with a brief recap. Having played all three Mass Effect games multiple times, and completing them virtually every way possible, I began a new journey and took the only un-travelled path left to me; full on female Renegade. I resolved to be as bad as possible, and get as many people killed as possible. How much difference would it make? That’s where this series comes in, as I attempt to keep track of my latest journey through three huge games.

Having begun my Fem Shep Renegade in style with Mass effect 1, I was looking forward to getting stuck into the second game, so I began it with enthusiasm. You probably know how the game begins; Shepard dies, Cerberus rebuilds her, and then sends her off to investigate some settlement or other. At this point, being a Renegade is fairly simple. Take the red conversation options, and kick ass. So far so good. The trouble is, after the opening is done, the game changes and makes things little more cloudy.

Mass Effect 2 introduces a loyalty mechanic which ties in to the final suicide mission, and influences survival rates. I’ve already stated my aim is to get as many team mates killed as possible, so this would mean avoiding the loyalty missions. The trouble is, loyalty missions are a fairly large chunk of the game, and I wanted to import a max level character with a full renegade bar in to Mass Effect 3, so where was I going to get that experience from?

ME2-Grunt_in_his_tank

But I don’t wanna get up and go to school

I played through the game normally, recruiting team mates, fighting the collectors, and hovering up all the side quests I could lay my hands on. Things were going OK, but not for long. You see, I hit the very wall that delayed this whole series. Everyone was recruited (Grunt was still frozen, but he was aboard the Normandy), I was close to wrapping up the story, but I was nowhere near having a max level character with a full renegade bar. I needed to do more missions.

Having already cleared up all the available DLC, the only thing left open two me was to do some loyalty missions. If I’m honest, it wasn’t a total disaster. After doing some research, I’d discovered that if I wanted Shepard to survive the final mission, I’d have to have some loyal team mates after all, so I picked the missions most likely to fill up my Renegade bar. Zaeed’s loyalty quest immediately sprung to mind – lots of innocent refinery workers to let die there – but the others were tougher to choose. Samara’s quest was the only other obvious Renegade choice. Naturally I chose to betray her, and take Morinth, although I forgot to try to romance her.

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Kiss your ass goodbye, Sidonis

With an internet-sourced flow chart of all the possible choices in my hands, I entered the Omega relay. First to die was Kasumi. For some bizarre reason, she was hanging around the engine bay, and died in an explosion. That’ll teach her for being in a part of the ship she’d never previously been in! Next was Thane, thrown up against the wall in his quarters after the Normandy takes a hit. Who knew shelving could be so deadly. Two team mates down, the ship crashes on the side of the Collector base.

Please don't send me down the vent shaft...

Please don’t send me down the vent shaft…

Next up to meet their space-maker is Tali, as we enter the base. With legion in the hands of Cerberus, and her loyalty mission uncompleted, she was sent to her doom down the vent pipe. Hacking the door goes wrong, and before it closes, she’s blown away by a Collector. My Fem Shep sheds no tear. I proceed through the rest of the mission trying to get both Jacob and bitch-face Miranda killed, but both of them stubbornly cling on to life. With just the boss fight to go, I have one last chance to kill one of them, but who? Jacob or Miranda?

Obviously it would be Miranda. So after killing the Human Reaper, and saving the Collector base for the Illusive Man to gain some last-minute Renegade points, we begin our escape. The cut scene begins, we’re running away, but oh no! An explosion occurs! Shepard gets up, and Zaeed pulls himself to his feet, but Miranda… she’s gone! After celebrating her death, I leap into the Normandy and head for home, safe in the knowledge that Illusive Man won’t use the base for nefarious means…

Can't believe you got me killed AND gave the base to the Illusive Man.

Can’t believe you got me killed AND gave the base to the Illusive Man.

The Game Jar Files: ArenaNet introduces politics to the world of Guild Wars 2

Originally published on The Game Jar.com – 19/07/2013

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In an effort to make their game world feel more alive, ArenaNet introduced a series of temporary content updates a few months ago, designed to permanently alter the world in some way. Dubbed the Living Story, these episodes have seen players fend off various attacks, and foil multiple nefarious schemes. Now, the latest instalment brings politics to the world of Tyria. Appropriately entitled Cutthroat Politics, the latest update, arriving on July 23rd, will centre around filling a council seat in Lions Arch made vacant by assassination during the previous Dragon Bash festival. Two well-known, in-game, non-player characters will compete for player votes in the upcoming election, and players will take part in a variety of activities designed to increase support for one candidate or the other.

The first candidate is Evon Gnashblade. Players haven’t had too much interaction with this ruthless Char, beyond buying things from the in-game cash shop. Gnashblade is the head honcho of the Black Lion Trading Company, and he obviously sees the vacant council seat as a business opportunity. Our second candidate is Ellen Kiel, a human war hero players have spent many hours helping already during the Living Story. Kiel has spent most of her life defending Lions Arch, and would like the council seat for far more benevolent reasons. Both candidates are vying to seal a trade agreement between Lions Arch and the Zephyrites – a new faction introduced during the Bazaar of the Four Winds update.

Both candidates are promising actual in-game benefits for players should they be elected. Gnashblade is offering a four-week discount on Black Lion Keys (a cash shop item used to unlock special boxes), “research” into adding a new fractal to the Fractals of the Mists dungeon, and the return of a selection of much-loved, seasonal mini-games. Kiel is also offering the mini-games and the research into adding another fractal, along with a four-week discount on fast travel around the game world. Players will also be able to take part in three new activities – two of them PvP based, to earn support tokens. These tokens will be used help your favourite candidate, and thus turn the tide of the election. Both NPC’s are offering interesting rewards for players support, so the battle for office should be fiercely contested, and fun to watch.

Concerns about whether temporary content in general is good for the game in the long-term aside, I have to admit that the Living Story arc has been getting better and better. The bumpy start of Secret of Southsun has been forgotten, and the current stage – Bazaar of the Four Winds has shown ArenaNet have really hit their stride now. All the content updates have been free too, which to my mind makes Guild Wars 2’s buy-to-play payment model look ridiculously good value for money. I might wish that these content updates were a little less temporary, but that doesn’t stop me enjoying them. Roll on the 23rd!

The Game Jar Files: Review – Dungeons and Dragons: Chronicles of Mystara

Originally published on The Game Jar.com – 01/07/2013

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Chronicles of Mystara is in fact two games in one. The first game – Tower of Doom, was first released in 1993, with its sequel – Shadow of Mystara released three years later, in 1996. Interestingly, this is not the first time both games have been bundled together, way back in 1999 both games were released as one package on the Sega Saturn. Having never heard of either game before, I was interested to see whether the mixture of Dungeons and Dragons and beat ’em up would be pure genius, or sheer madness.

As I said, Tower of Doom is the earlier game, and in one or two ways it shows. The enemy AI feels a little cheap at times, and the graphics aren’t quite as crisp as the second game. That said, it’s still an enjoyable game to play, with the easier difficulties ensuring it never gets too frustrating. There’s four characters to choose from; Dwarf, Fighter, Elf and Cleric, and they cover the kind of basic classes you’d expect to see in a D&D game. The plot line may be a touch too high fantasy, but at least it’s more imaginative than most games of this type, there’s no kidnapped girlfriends to rescue for a start. Comparing the two games, Tower of Doom is marginally the weaker of the two, but it’s still a fun romp.

Shadow of Mystara is my favourite of the two, it looks better, the enemy AI feels better balanced, and there’s two more classes to choose from. In addition to the four characters from the previous game, SoM includes a magic user class, and a thief class. Of the two, I enjoyed the magic user the most. Yes it’s the most squishy, but you get to use a selection of bad ass spells to crush your enemies with. Many of the basic enemies from Tower of Doom return for this game, which is a shame, but there are all new bosses to destroy.

From a side-scrolling Beat ‘Em Up point of view, both games are fairly standard faire. You make your way through the level, wailing on everything in sight until it falls down and doesn’t get up. At regular intervals a boss turns up to give you a hard time. In true retro game style, beating them is all about learning their attack patterns and choosing the right time to strike. Pleasingly, if you get the timing wrong the boss kicks your face in. In general, the combat is a more tactical affair, there’s a variety of strong attacks to master, plus a healthy sprinkling of blocking and dodging.

As with many other games, this modern-day re-release has had a HD wash and brush up, and I have to say they look rather good. Like many of these older titles designed to run on much smaller screens, these HD versions don’t fill the screen entirely, so there’s a nice D&D themed border running round the edge. I was pleased to see that Iron Galaxy have put that border to good use, using it to display your progress in various challenges. The in-game UI in both titles feels a little archaic in places, given the age of the source material I guess that’s only to be expected.

Both games occasionally offer you a choice of paths to go in. The choices don’t radically alter the story, but they do add some variety for repeated play-throughs. There’s plenty of chests to loot, and hidden caves to find, and there’s a levelling system too. In fact, there’s a surprising amount of D&D-type mechanics in both games. I know, I know. It’s a D&D game, what was I expecting?

In all honesty, I wasn’t expecting to enjoy Dungeons and Dragons: Chronicles of Mystara. Turning a classic IP like D&D into a side-scrolling beat ’em up sounded like a terrible idea to me, but that was before I’d tried the game. I played through both games once, and loved them. So much so in fact, that I immediately played them again. The added D&D flavour raises this package of games just above the other side-scrollers I’ve played, and I have a suspicion I’ll be playing this for a while.

Summary: Dungeons and Dragons: Chronicles of Mystara is a great package of games. The face punching action is solid, and the D&D bits add some nice depth. Highly recommended for the old skool beat ’em up fans out there.

The Good: It’s D&D. It’s punching baddies in the face. It’s two games in one.

The Bad: The AI in the first game feels a little cheap at times. It’s an old skool game, with all that entails.

Why an 8?: Two enjoyable games, with more depth that the average side-scrolling beat ’em up. What’s not to like?

The Game Jar Files: A Lookback at Dragon Age Origins

Originally published on The Game Jar.com – 24/04/2013

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Dragon Age: Origins is a curious game. Graphically it’s not very pretty, the storyline is clichéd high fantasy, and mechanically its a hardcore RPG. And yet those that like the game, love it. So much in fact, that it’s sequel is considered to be the inferior game, despite having far more technical polish. So why do gamers love it so?

Considered as somewhat of a spiritual successor to Baldur’s Gate, DA:O is what I would call a proper, old school rpg game. The kind of game Bioware is seemingly convinced no one wants to play any longer. Every bit of armour and weaponry has stats to pour over and compare. Characters have multiple builds to explore, and stats to tweak. Every enemy corpse is a chest to be looted, and dungeons are full of secrets to find. There’s three different races to play; Human, Dwarf and Elf. Three different classes to play; Warrior, Rogue and Magi, each with their own specializations. Combining the races and classes, there’s six separate Origin stories to explore. If you’re starting to get the impression that DA:O is a big game, you’d be right. It’s chock full of the kind of content that RPG fans love

After you’ve chosen your race and class, your first steps into the world of Ferelden take place during your origin story. Each story, although unique to your heritage, serves to explain the chain of events that lead you to joining the Grey Wardens, and embarking on the main quest proper. Ferelden is facing  another Blight, an event that will see a horde of evil Darkspawn (undead creatures?) unleashed upon the land, and it’s the Grey Warden’s duty to stop it. Unfortunately, the Grey Wardens are lacking in numbers, and rather unpopular, so things are already looking bleak. King Cailan has a far more romantic view of the Grey Wardens, and is eager to join them in battle against the Darkspawn at Ostergar. Teryn Loghain, the kings general and father-in-law, has other plans though. Seeing political gain in the king’s death, Loghain withdraws from the battlefield, leaving Cailan to die and the Grey Wardens to take the blame. You and Alastair somehow survive the battle at Ostergar, and are left with the unenviable task of stopping the Darkspawn, all the while under suspicion of treason.

After the opening stages of the game, you’re left to decide how to proceed next. Your plan is to recruit allies from the three races, but the order in which you do it, is entirely up to you. Also undecided is your choice of companions. I’m not just talking about who you party with, either. Several characters can be left un-recruited, or even expelled from you camp in the future, and it goes some way to bringing a sandbox feel to a game which essentially has a linear story. The game world tries the same sort of thing too, the various locations are fully explorable, but only within their limits. Try to venture out, into the countryside between towns, and you’re automatically taken to a map and asked where you want to go.

One of my other favourite aspects of the game are the various origin stories, and how they tie in together. For example, in Denerim there’s a dwarven weapons merchant called Gorim in the town square. If you talk to him he’s polite, but he won’t reveal how he got there. It’s only by playing the Dwarven Noble origin story that you find out who he really is, and how he became a lowly merchant. If you play the Human Noble origin story, your run in with Arl Rendon Howe later in the main quest has a far more personal edge to it. If your class choice is Mage, a certain prisoner in Redcliffe will have featured in your origin tale. DA:O is full of these little crossovers, and while they’d never be classed as major plots points (within the context of the main quest line), they do add plenty of charm and flavour.

My love for Dragon Age: Origins isn’t complete however, as it does have one or two things I don’t like. There’s a section during the rescue of the mages circle that takes place in the Fade that I suffer through every single time I play the game. I find it repetitive, and in places confusing. Considering that the game is so large anyway, I could happily do without it. Then there’s the colossal amount of DLC to get through, it’s almost overwhelming at times, and I still haven’t finished it all. But those two pale into comparison when compared to venturing in to the Deep Roads. Every time I go in there, I get lost. Every. Single. Time. And I’ve done it multiple times too, so I should know better. The biggest problem is a lot of it looks exactly the same, I’ve lost count  of the amount of times I’ve lost track of which direction I’m going in.

I started off by calling Dragon Age: Origins a curious game, and I stick by that. At the time, I agreed with the reviews that give it a 5 or 6, and yet I played it endlessly. I liked it despite it faults, and I’ve never been able to quite work out why. I rather suspect it’s because (to my mind) it’s the last time Bioware really made a full on RPG. Dragon Age 2 and the Mass Effect games are fine, but they’ve had a lot of the RPG elements stripped out, and I miss those things. It may feel old fashioned by today’s standards, it certainly lacks the technical accomplishment of the later Bioware titles, but Dragon Age: Origins retains a certain level of charm that other games often never have.

Tales from the Mass Effect universe: Entry 2

WARNING! I will be talking candidly about the three Mass Effect games in this series. If you want to avoid spoilers, do not read any further!

Entry 2: Noveria, Virmire, and wrapping up Mass Effect 1

GiannaParasini4After wiping out the colony of Zhu’s Hope, it was on to Noveria to see what havoc I could wreak there. If you’re familiar with the game, there’s not many full on Renegade opportunities to be had, but I could continue my trend of being as rude and obnoxious to as many people as possible. First to experience my  no-nonsense approach was Kaira Stirling, every time I go through this part, I wish that I could just shoot them dead right then. I know you get to kill her later, in Synthetic Insights, but still. I ran through all the usual small missions in Port Hanshan, smuggled for Opold, spied for the Asari women in the bar etc, and took particular joy in turning Gianna Parasini down. She annoys me every time to, with her high-handed attitude. I’m looking forward to finding out whether she turns up in Illium, if she does, she wont be buying me a beer. After wrapping this section up, I moved on to the Peak 15 section of Noveria, and plodded my way through it for what must be by now the thousandth time. During conversations I took every Renegade option possible, but the only reall bump was choosing to eliminate the Rachi queen. With my Renegade score looking quite healthy, and the warm internal feeling of insect genocide glowing inside me, I departed Noveria, quietly pleased with my death-toll.

Virmire_28Virmire, lovely Virmire, let the bloodbath begin! If you’ve been reading this series, you’ll know my aim is to go full Renegade over the course of all three games. Given that, I’m sure your mind has already raced forward to that moment, and is already recoiling in horror because of what I’m about to do. So, if you’re a Wrex fan (and let’s face it, who isn’t), look away now. Yes, I killed Wrex. Brutally. In other play throughs, I’ve always saved him, because y’know, he’s Wrex, but I have seen him die once before. If the conversation goes badly, and if you tell Ashley to be ready, she shoots him for you, and all your left with is berating her for killing a team member. But that’s not what happened here. I chose the option to shoot him, smashed him to the ground with my shotgun, then unloaded into to his prone body! (forgive me, Wrex!). I don’t think I’ve ever chosen that option before, or if I did, it was when I first played the game, because surprisingly I found it quite shocking. In general, I’ve enjoyed this Renegade play through, but not that bit. Shooting Wrex left me with scars that’ll never heal… After that, the assault on Saren’s lab was fairly routine; I killed the assistant, chatted to Sovereign, and left Kaiden to die. Regular kind of day.

Council_Hologram-Ambassador_Meeting_2That left me with Ilos, the citadel assault, and the Bring down the Sky DLC. BDTS whilst being a fairly enjoyable bit of DLC, doesn’t seem to have any impact upon the later story ( apart from a small cameo in ME3, if you let Balak survive), so I took the Renegade option, left everyone dead, and moved on. Ilos is straightforward; kill Geth, open the door, drive the Mako to the conduit. I’ve done it so many times now, I could probably do it blindfolded. It was the Citadel assault then, that provided the last little boost to fill up my Renegade bar. Of course, that meant the arrogant, pompous council had to die. Mwuhahahaha! That look on the face of the Destiny Acencion commanders face, when she realises the Alliance isn’t going to help, is priceless. With the unhelpful council members little more than space dust, the final cut-scene takes a decidedly fascist turn. Udina rants on about how Humanity will become the dominant species, how they’ll make the rest fall in line, etc. I hate Udina, so even though I’d pursued the Renegade path, I still couldn’t bring myself to choose him as council member. I was sick of politicians by that point, so I left them, not caring who was chosen.

Mass-Effect-1-boxartWrapping up Mass Effect 1, a few things had become apparent  First, all my Renegade killing was probably just removing all the colour from the next two games. Helena Blake for example, she doesn’t play any real part in Mass Effect 2, but meeting her again does provide a nice little callback to the first game. I was obviously removing a lot of that kind of stuff. Second, the combat does suck. Just a little bit. I’ve moaned a fair bit (in the past) about the introduction of thermal clip “ammo” for later games, but I’ll live with it in return for the much tighter combat mechanics and solid frame-rate  It’s strange going back to a game you love and noticing the technical flaws for the first time. I guess its just a symptom of ever improving games. Mass Effect is showing it’s age now, good job the story is as good as ever. Lastly, I miss the proper RPG aspects in the later games. I want to pour over armour and weapon stats every time I pick a new piece up. Removing all that felt wrong at the time, and it still feels wrong now.

Next instalment I move on to Mass Effect 2, where the Renegade path will be less straight forward. Till then, keep it Renegade, Soldiers!

Tales from the Mass Effect universe: Entry 1

WARNING! I will be talking candidly about the three Mass Effect games in this series. If you want to avoid spoilers, do not read any further!

Entry 1: Introduction and the story so far…

Mass-Effect-1-boxartI’ve played all three Mass Effect games multiple times, and in multiple ways. There are one or two things I haven’t ever done, like romance Jack, or get people killed in the suicide mission, or cheated on my love interest, but by and large I’ve explored most options. There are two paths I’ve never fully explored however, and those are to play the games in full Renegade mode, and to play a female Shepard from start to finish. What does Fem Shep look like in the third game? What happens if I never unfreeze Grunt? Are there any consequences for cheating on my love interest from ME1 in ME2/3? Obviously, as a Mass Effect nerd, I needed to answer these questions. Thus began my latest journey through Bioware’s three epic space adventure games. I would play a female Shepard, I would be as nasty as possible, and I would get as many allies killed as possible. This should be fun…

The story so far.

SeranKillsNihlusI began Mass Effect by re-using a level 59 Fem Shep Soldier. Given the choice, I would have preferred playing an Adept, but a second 60 to import to ME2 would be nice to have, and the bonuses for doing so are quite nice. One complete play-though should be enough to get that last level, so I dived in with the Soldier. I played through the opening mission on Eden Prime being as snotty as possible to everyone you can talk to. I punched out the hysterical scientist locked away in the container building thing, but much to my disappointment, I couldn’t shoot the guy smuggling weapons at the docks. Building that Renegade bar up could take longer than I thought. After Eden Prime, I hit the citadel. As I had one level left to get, my plan at this point was to do every quest I could lay my hands on. Through past experience, I knew that getting from 59 to 60 was a long slog, so I wanted every little bit of XP I could find.

ClerkBoskerI hoovered up every quest, and took the Renegade option where possible. I slept with the consort (not that it bumps up the Renegade score, but hey…), I called the Hanar preacher some nasty names whilst mocking the C-Sec officer trying to deal with him (or her, do Hanar have different sexes?), and I got rough with Bosker in Embassy bar. All of it started to build the Renegade bar quite nicely. Eventually I was nearing the point of departure from the citadel, and I made my first discoveries whilst on this play-through: It’s impossible to prevent Garrus, Wrex, and Tali joining your mission. I vaguely had some recollection of trying and failing before, but it was so long ago I’d forgotten. Thinking about it, it makes perfect sense when you consider that you’ll be losing either Kaiden or Ashley on Virmire. What I didn’t try is completing the game without collecting Liara. Whether the game would allow you to proceed to Ilos without her, I don’t know. Regardless, she’s my goto love interest, and I couldn’t save the galaxy without her. How meeting her on Illium would play out if you never met her in 1 does intrigue me though.

Feros_ArceliaSilvaMartinezI continued to plough though the side quests that I knew had play-off’s in ME2 until I dinged 60. As it turns out, my last play-though with the character had gotten me a fair way to the final level, so as I hit Feros, I had the choice to either continue knocking off side quests, or just speed through the main story. At this point, I’m not sure what I’ll do. There are some interesting side quests around Cerberus left to do, and while they don’t add anything significant to ME2, they do add a little flavour when you meet whoever survived Virmire, so I’ll probably do them. But I’m jumping ahead now, so I’ll finish catching you up by rounding off the Feros mission. As I said, this is a Renegade play-through, so when the choice came whether to equip gas grenades or not, I chose not! Every colonist died, even that snotty cow Arcelia Silva Martinez, I enjoyed killing her. Shiala (the Asari cloned by the Thorian) died too, she took a bullet to the back of the head, execution style. By the time the Normandy was dusting off, there were very little survivors, and my renegade bar was over half full. A job well done.

In my next entry I’ll be continuing my adventures in Mass Effect. Noveria and whole host of side quests still await, so there’s still plenty to do. Until then, keep it Renegade, soldiers!

Lotro Shots!

If you squint hard, really hard at a calender, Wednesday looks like it’s part of last week and therefore this post isn’t late :-p Anyhoo, I’m not going to bog you down with two lots of my nonsensical ramblings this week, so I’ll keep this post light with some shots from Lord of the Rings: Online. I hope to make more posts on Lotro, so this is a good way to kick things off.

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