Star Wars: Revan

I pre-ordered Star Wars: Revan. It’s a documented fact that I’m a huge KotoR fan, and so when this book was announced I had to have it. I pre-ordered it on my Kindle and the minute it was released I downloaded it and read it. Read the rest of this entry »

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Mass Effect 3 Ending Patch

This is starting to become old news, but Bioware has been put on the defensive lately by people having played Mass Effect 3 and been dissatisfied with the ending. Having not beaten the game myself (blasphemy!), I don’t know how much I can argue the point, but I do think it’s gotten pretty ridiculous so far. Read the rest of this entry »


Mass Effect 3

From the get-go, Mass Effect 3 had a tall order to fill: to be better than Mass Effect 2. Mass Effect 2 was a brilliant game and an excellent follow-up to Mass Effect… itself, a brilliant game. That isn’t to say each isn’t without its faults: Mass Effect had its fair share of irritating gameplay elements and annoying missions. Read the rest of this entry »


Xbox 720: One Step Forward (and Two Steps Back)

Reading this over at Kotaku reminded me of GTA: San Andreas – specifically when you turned to K-Rose and the song One Step Forward was playing. Read the rest of this entry »


Star Wars: The Thrawn Trilogy

1983 is a significant date in the history of Star Wars; not only did it mark the release of Return of the Jedi, but it was also the last year in the 1980s that a Star Wars book would be published (not if you count the Star Wars Roleplaying Game sourcebook that was released in 1987). After Return of the Jedi, there were fears that the whole “Star Wars” thing had dried up and that public interest was waning. For all intents and purposes, Star Wars was dead.  Read the rest of this entry »


Let’s Blow This Thing and Go Home

Smuggler Han Solo in his most intimidating and seductive pose.

Unlike when the Jedi were killed by the clones, millions of nerds cried out in joy today, for Bioware is allowing folks to pre-load Star Wars: The Old Republic.

Press PLAY before continuing.

While the game itself isn’t playable until the twentieth fifteenth THIRTEENTH (they added 2 days to the pre-release playtime!), it does help build anticipation for the gamer. I’ve been excited about this game forever and had a chance to do a weekend test or two and am absolutely stoked. The fact that I can start playing a day or two before my collector’s edition arrives in the mail (with my Darth Malgus statue and whathaveyou) is awesome.

There are two things I want to address directly related to the game:

NUMBER ONE

Some people have been critical of the TOR beta. Some of them are trolls, EQ/D&D:O/LotRO/WoW fans who have just come in to ridicule the game and support their own team (and there is of course, speculation that some of these trolls are in fact company men [c-men, if you will]). Some don’t like the crafting system, or the linearity of the questlines for certain classes, or even just the graphics (which I think look sick, but whatever). These trolls have also complained that because of the NDA, they’ve been unable to bitch in public, and as such Bioware is scamming the public (or so they accuse). But with the NDA lifted, people are free to post what they want.

The main problem with posting criticisms however is that, well, it’s a beta. For those not in the know, a beta is essentially the preview release of something, the prototype, if you will, often wildly different from the actual product.

And here is where I think Bioware is brilliant: there are some fans who will probably like this game no matter what, and they’ve pre-ordered. These folks will get up to a week to play it: if they like it, glowing reviews will spread and Bioware can easily expect strong sals to continue. And if it is bantha poodoo*, well, the reviews will reflect that. So, well played Bioware. Well played.

NUMBER TWO

Having only played a bit of the game, I can say that while the UI and controls mimic WoW pretty well (and, as much as I dislike it [as a former WoW player], Blizzard nailed their UI), the storyline seems incredible. I won’t lie, I’ve read the three Old Republic novels released for the game (Revan wasn’t as good as I expected, TBH. Maybe a review to follow?), and I continue to be blown away by what is easily the most interesting part of the Star Wars timeline. Obviously, like any good person, having played Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic to death, my expectations are high. But from the minuscule amount of playtime I got, I was incredibly impressed. The main problem with MMOs, to me, is the lack of a compelling storyline. Playing WoW, for me, was literally “ok wheres my quest oh here it is what do i do ok done here now what oh this guy might have something” etc. Very little thought goes into it or is needed. The world is only ever changed by you by action or inaction, and even then, the changes are temporary. TOR, on the other hand, offers more choice. Even if the choice is extremely limited or black and white (the typical “kill/don’t kill” option), it still offers a way to change your story, and that’s what TOR is. Rather than being a multiplayer-based MMO, it’s a story-based MMO (the designers claim that TOR tries to walk a path between the two but it’s not incredibly obvious). To hardcore MMO players, that’s a bad thing. To others, well, it’s a great thing.

There’s not much else I can say that I feel is worth saying, to be honest. The beta is behind us, the real game is literally days away. And while I still need to get a supercomputer so I can play it with the settings maxed, I’m absolutely stoked. Pre-order it if you can (digital editions aplenty, I expect).

*according to 1.ii.a.iv of the Reviewing Star Wars Stuff Agreement (ratified 1989), the phrase “bantha poodoo” must be used to describe something not good. Google it.


Skyrim

A dragon not fucking around anymore, he's finished with that, you're not his boss.

I twisted my knee pretty badly at work some time ago and have been off on Worker’s Compensation due to my inability to walk properly.

In that time I have amassed over 50 hours of Skyrim time. Not a lot, I know, but I have done next to nothing. I’ve done tons of side quests, I’ve wandered around the world, I’ve beat people up because they figured they could win 100 septims the easy way, but aside from that, I’ve done nothing.

Sure, I’ve smashed dragons in half with a warhammer and killed giants like they were ants (or, dragons, I guess), but aside from that? Nothing. The main questline remains next to untouched. I didn’t even talk to the Greybeards until hour 45 or so (big mistake, I see now).

This, I think, is what makes Skyrim an amazing video game and this is what makes Bethesda an amazing company. The same thing happened to me in Oblivion. My first playthrough, I put in roughly 60 hours before even going through the gate at Kvatch (and was soundly destroyed because of how I levelled my guy). My second playthrough I put in over 100 hours and I didn’t even beat the game.

I don’t know what the “future of gaming” looks like. Oblivion, and to a lesser extent, Skyrim, are very old-school style games in that you’re just some guy and there’s this massive world out there waiting to kick your ass. Daedric princes don’t care that you’re rocking the best armour and weaponry money can buy — you’re still just some punk. They’re also old-school in their approach. The game is just plain mean, and unlike, say, Dragon Age II, which coddled players to the point of absurdity, it doesn’t hand out much to the player. You escape a dragon and bam!, the whole world is out there for you to explore.

I will admit: I’m a bit of a jerk when it comes to video games. The more draconic and harder to understand, the more I like it. There was a time when video games came with what was essentially a tome, a compendium of rules and gameplay mechanics that you needed to read to play the game. Games like Baldur’s Gate or Neverwinter Nights come to mind — even if you played D&D, you still needed to know how the spells in BG or NWN differed from their pencil-and-paper counterparts. Those days were awesome.

But I think what Skyrim has accomplished is kind of what Dragon Age II was trying to accomplish. Critics of Dragon Age the first complained about its controls and its combat system in general (among other things, of course). Many complained that the lack of a thorough understanding made combat difficult, that in fact, the game was too  difficult because of it. The rules were all there, of course, but they required reading.

This is best summarized with an example, I think. I was reading comments on some review site and one person was slamming DA 1 and praising DA II, because they missed two characters in DA during their first playthrough because they had no idea that Lothering would be reduced to a pile of ash after they blew dodge. That’s right: since there were no direct quests (“Save playable character Sten from jail”, or “Assist NPC Leliana in the bar so she’ll join y’all in your quest”), he just took off even though he had just witnessed an army of darkspawn slaughter an army of soldiers.

My main issue with this is that this is a case of pure laziness on the poster’s part: had he bothered to wander around Lothering, he would have found Sten and Leliana. Instead he followed his quest icon without thinking and just took off. While DA 1 or especially 2 are nowhere as free-roaming as Skyrim or Oblivion, Bioware obviously created a world for you to explore. And I think this kind of stupidity, which may or may not have its roots in World of Warcraft or Diablo 2, is hurting the RPG as a category of video game. RPGs should leave a lot of the decisions up to the player should decide where to go and when to go there. I could, to use the previous example, knowingly see Sten locked up in his cage and decide, “tough buddy, I don’t feel like helping you”, and leave, allowing him to get killed by the Darkspawn. It’s my decision to make, which is awesome.

Granted, Skyrim, Oblivion, Fallout 3 and Fallout: New Vegas are all made by Bethesda and each has a very similar quest journal which actually points out where to go, sure. But the game does leave the decisions up to you, even if the decision is typically “kill/don’t kill”. But that’s the point. The decisions, the quests, are up to you. You don’t have to do anything. The n00b who complained about the Lothering thing in DA1 clearly didn’t get it. He wanted a game that would direct him through each and every quest so he could complete the game without missing out on any of the collectables (be they NPCs or whatever else). He didn’t want to explore, he didn’t want to check things out for himself. He just wanted someone, or something, to tell him how to play. And I guess that’s an acceptable thing to expect from a game, but it’s not something I like.

What Skyrim ultimately offers, I think, is a choice about the type of game you want to play. You can get right in there, pick the right perks, level up carefully, serve jail time to downgrade some skill levels, whatever. You can smith and enchant and make potions to your heart’s content and fill up your house with trophies of your adventures (or sell everything that’s not bolted down). Or you can play the game at a bit of a distance and not bother with any of that stuff that horrifingly OCD people like myself get caught up in. But what matters is that there is no right way to play Skyrim, just like there is no right way to play Oblivion. Let me stress: I love Oblivion and have put tons of hours into it, but I’ve never beaten it. And I’m fine with that. Which is awesome, too.