Gaming Journal; Oct. 26, 2012

Defeated.

I beat Dark Souls.

It was a quick, surprisingly easy battle with Gwyn, Lord of Cinder. Myself and the ever-helpful WanderingMoogle, a fellow player who helped me out on more than one occasion. Thanks to you sir or madam (whomever you are).

But yeah, the battle was quick, easy, and the ending was appropriately brief. I’ve said it once, I’ll say it again: Dark Souls is a phenomenal game, and a great hardcore RPG experience. It’s not for everyone. but damn is it good. I’d say it’s tied with Skyrim as my favorite game of this generation (and that’s against games like Mass Effect 2, Rayman: Legends,  Metroid Prime 3, and Halo: Reach, just to name a few). I also completed the Artorias of the Abyss DLC. Took me  a few hours, but seeing as how it was the very last thing I did before Gwyn, it wasn’t too difficult to complete. The bosses were cool, and I liked the new areas pretty well, but if you decide to skip out on the content for now you’re not missing much. There are some cool secrets and plot lines, but it’s all pretty isolated and doesn’t pertain too much to the story other than giving some background by making you play through (and cause) events mentioned in the main story.

Obviously, after the game was over I immediately began NG+ as was astounded at the fact I completed in 45 minutes what it took me a few days to complete on my first character. Anyway, I’ll probably get a but further in NG+ then put Dark Souls down for a bit… but I’ll be back soon enough.

Need more of this in my life…

Other than Dark Souls I cranked out more Doom 3: BFG Edition and got some hands-on time with Odin Sphere. I’m enjoying both, but seeing as how both Hawken AND Mechwarrior Online begin their closed betas this weekend and Halo 4 is just a couple weeks away, I probably won’t get too much time with them for a few weeks. Neither game has really hooked me either, and to top it off have been hearing the siren call of Bethesda’s RPGs after the impressions for The Elder Scrolls: Online hit. I’m glad to hear that they’re changing up the combat; mostly that it won’t be standard MMO cooldowns, but more of a focused version of Skyrim’s combat. But more importantly, I’m very pleased to hear that players can, in fact, explore the world without too much restriction.

I could use a new RPG; Dark Souls is complete, and I have yet to get my hands on The Dark Spire, so maybe it’s time to return to Skyrim… or Cyrodiil… or Morrowind… or The Wasteland…

And let’s not forget: it’s Halloween next week. That means I’m gonna be playing a lot of Castlevania.

Games Played This Week: Dark Souls; Doom 3: BFG Edition; Odin Sphere

Games Completed

October 2012: 
  • Dark Souls [and Artorias of the Abyss DLC]

So yeah, that was my week. What did you guys play?

 
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The return of the old-school RPG

Oh hey look — Brendan’s talking about RPG’s again. I can’t help it, there’s just too much to be excited about these day. Thanks to things like free 2 play, indie development, and Kickstarter, the gaming industry has seen an influx of fresh, creative minds as well as the return of legendary game creators, able to finally create the worlds they’ve been wanting to for years, but that have been pushed aside in favor of the cash-cow, AAA first person shooters and action games we’ve been buried under for the past couple console generations.

Look I know: RPG’s have been around for ages and have evolved with the times to remain relevant while still providing the types of experiences people have come to expect from the genre…

…err, sort of. I’m a huge fan of the Mass Effect series — arguably the biggest RPG franchise of the current console generation — but it’s not really an RPG. It’s a great, great series — truly — but compared to even some of its contemporaries it’s not much of an RPG. It’s also not the only series shifting away from role playing game’s origins.

While I’m not a big fan of JRPG’s, I can’t deny that the Final Fantasy XIII series (that sounds weird) has been a major departure not only from the roots of past FF games, but from JRPGs in general. And I recently vented my frustration with Blizzard, but it’s worth noting that Diablo III, despite remaining true to much of what’s great about the Diablo series, is missing that “RPG” quality. When I say “RPG’s are coming back,” I mean the old-school, hardcore RPG’s of yore.

Ishar 3

To be fair, there’s still a fair amount of Old-School RPG DNA in some of the biggest games today. Besides the few games still adhering to the old school formulas (Dungeons of Dredmor, The Dark Spire, Etrian Odyssey series), there are several titles that appeal to those who were gaming in the 80’s/90’s, or appreciate their legacy. The Witcher 2 is a great example of a game that balances the cinematic, character-based story of games like Mass Effect, with deep combat, skill systems, and character building of true old-school RPGs; Bethesda’s games offer massive worlds filled with quests, dungeons, and NPCs to create your own story — not to mention games like Fallout 3 and Skyrim prove you can evolve character building without sacrificing depth. And, of course, it wouldn’t be an article about RPGs if I didn’t mention Dark Souls, and it’s predecessor Demon’s Souls: truly hardcore RPGs of the modern era.

But when it comes to real old-school RPGs utilizing the same design of classic titles like Wizardry and Ultima, the industry has been in a bit of a drought. There’s always been a small, cult following around a few underground niche titles, but now there are a few projects brewing that will hopefully usher in a new surge of old-school RPGs.

Legend of Grimrock
Developer: Almost Human
Released: April 11, 2012
Website

We reviewed this game back when it was released earlier this year. It remains one of my favorite indie games of the year. Despite middling reviews from some critics, for many gamers like myself Legend of Grimrock was a great throwback to the dungeon crawlers of the 19980’s/90’s, tweaked and modernized for more accessibility. More importantly, it set the ground work for future sequels, and opened the door for new games in the genre to flourish.

Shaker
Developer: Loot Drop
Estimated Release: January 2014
Kickstarter Page

Being developed by Tom Hall (co-founder of id Software), and Brendan Brathwaite (Wizardry, Train, Dungeons & Dragons), Shaker is currently being funded on Kickstarter. The duo started the studio Loot Drop Games, and together with a highly qualified team, are looking to create a game in the same vein as the classic CRPGs of yore a la Wizardry, Lands of Lore, Ishar, etc.. Personally speaking, this is probably one of the few currently funding Kickstarter projects I’m really, really excited about. Check out their Kickstarter page and please back it! We need more games like this.

Project Eternity
Developer: Obsidian Entertainment
Estimated Release Date: April 2014
Website

Obsidian games are a studio well known to any RPG fan. Recently, the company was able to fully fund a brand new party-based RPG in the vein of Icewind Dale and Baldur’s Gate. This is another project I’m super excited for, and I’m really happy to see that they exceeded their goal and will be making this game. There is quite an impressive pedigree here, and some of the ideas being talked about remind me a lot of Planescape: Torment, one of my personal favorite games of all time. The success of this project gives me high hopes for the future of the genre.

Wasteland 2
Developer: InXile Entertainment

Estimated Release Date: Oct. 2013
Website

Before there was Fallout, there was Wasteland. In the wake of the massive success of Tim Schafer’s Double Fine Adventure Kickstarter, Brian Fargo decided to reboot his post-apocalyptic RPG Wasteland, and launched the Wasteland 2 Kickstarter. The project has been fully funded, and work is underway. Check out the video above for a small glimpse of what we can expect from this project. I never got a chance to play the original Wasteland, but as a huge fan of Fallout and Fallout 2 (games directly inspired by Wasteland) the footage has me jonesin for some top-down, post-apocalyptic roleplaying insanity.

Ultima Forever
Developer: Bioware,
Estimated Release Date: Winter 2012
Website

Speaking of well known developers, Bioware is resurrecting one of the oldest and most influencial Role Playing series with Ultima Forever. Essentially a remake of Ultima IV, this new title is going to be entirely free to play (or, as Bioware calls it “Play4Free”) and will be playable on PC, as well as iPad. According to Bioware, the game will feature many of the old mechanics of the Ultima series, while combat will be positional and action-oriented, comparing it to The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past. Definitely on my list of need-to-play games —  I mean c’mon, free Ultima!

That list almost sounds too good to be true. So many great names and developers are behind these projects, and my hopes are high. And these are just classic RPG’s; we’re also seeing the return of point and click adventure games (thanks to Tim Schaefer and Double Fine’s highly successful Kickstarter campaign), mech games (MechWarrior Online, Hawken), turn-based strategy (The Banner Saga, XCOM: Enemy Unknown), and of course Chris Robert’s return to gaming and the long-forgotten space-combat sim with Squardron 42. It’s almost too much to handle! With such bright prospects like these, it’s hard to argue we’re not in a new golden-age of videogames. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a basement to return to.

Storytelling in Videogames: Something’s gotta give. (and my Mass Effect 3 ending response)

Update: my thoughts on Mass Effect 3 specifically have been expanded and fleshed out in this later blog post.

By now, you’ve probably heard about, or experienced for yourself, the ending(s) of Mass Effect 3. I won’t get into it, but my 2 cents on the matter: I find the lack of variation disappointing, and while I can accept the  of choice and the bleak outcome, I find the endings to be ambiguous, and to open up unnecessary questions. 

I’m not going to discuss what aspects I mean by that, but in general it seems a majority of fans share these same sentiments. If you are looking for a discussion about the nuances of the game’s endings, there are plenty of other forum threads and blog posts to seek out. This post is about an issue I feel Mass Effect 3 brings up, but no one is discussing; the Mass Effect series has proven that storytelling in videogames needs to change. Continue reading “Storytelling in Videogames: Something’s gotta give. (and my Mass Effect 3 ending response)”

Game of the Week 2/24/2012: Mass Effect 2

Welcome back to Game of the Week! This week, Brendan tells us all about the second part in the epic sci-fi trilogy, Mass Effect 2.

Mass Effect 3 is right around the corner. We’re just a few short days from seeing the end of Commander Shepard’s saga, and his mission to save the galaxy from big, bad, mechanical super-beings. With the closure to this story imminent, I’ve recently gone back through Mass Effect 2 — one of my personal favorite games of all time.

What it is: Mass Effect 2 is the second game in a sci-fi action-RPG series from Bioware. The series is unique in that for the first time, choices made in the first game can affect the entire outcome of the series’ story arch.

The story behind this series is a high-science fiction tale centered around Commander Shepard — the first human to be instated into the Specters, a group of special agents who carry out missions around the galaxy against some of the biggest threats to all species.

In the first game, Shepard was recruited to take down a fellow Specter, Saren, who had gone rogue and was arming a race of sentient robots know as the Geth to go to war against all organic life. This all occurred after he (and Shepard) came into contact with a relic from an ancient civilization known as the Protheans, giving them strange visions of the future. Players had to race across the galaxy, recruit a team to take down Sarin and stop his attempts at galactic genocide. Many options are open to the player, giving them full control over their story, making their experience unique.

In Mass Effect 2, the ramifications of the player’s choices in the first game begin to play out. Saren is defeated, but now the true motivation behind his actions have surfaced: he was being controlled by a race of ancient machines, The Reapers. Every few millennia, the Reapers descend upon the galaxy, harvesting and devouring all organic life.

Mass Effect 2 puts Shepard in a new part of the galaxy — the Terminus systems, something of a “wild west” in the Mass Effect universe. Human colonies in these systems have been attacked and their inhabitants taken by a mysterious race of aliens called the Collectors, who seem to be working directly with the Reapers. Again, the player recruits a team, and is faced with numerous choices that can change the outcome of the game — and therefore, change the entire experience players will have in Mass effect 3.

Why I love it: The Mass Effect is probably my favorite gaming series of this generation. I love sci-fi, and Mass Effect takes the best bits of Star Trek, Star Wars, Blade Runner, Battle Star Galactica, and even Alien, and adds heaps of character and style to create a very unique scifi universe. Possibly the best sci-fi universe in decades.

The origianl Mass Effect is a great game, and when compared to mass effect 2, it’s story is a bit more cohesive, but some odd game play design choices and bugs held it back.

The reason I prefer (only slightly) Mass Effect 2 is because not only did those gameplay hitches get ironed out, but the story is a much more fleshed out web. Instead of a straight line from beginning to end, with some side quests, in Mass Effect 2 you get more bite-sized stories where you get to know each character and their motivations much better than the vast majority of videogames can accomplish. It’s such a compelling universe to be in.

Besides all this, I’ve never put so much consideration into the choices I’ve made in a video game. Where as in games like Fallout and The Elder Scrolls, role playing is game play mechanic (I’m gonna be a dual-sword wielding Orc who hates Hig-Elves) in the Mass Effect series the role playing is entirely story-driven. Each moral decision my Commander Shepard faced became my moral decisions to make.

In Mass Effect 1, my decisions didn’t feel  quite so important. There were some big moments where I had make some hard choices, my motivation behind those choices were contained within the game.

In Mass effect 3, the choices of both games will bring a close to a story I’ve followed for the past few years, and any decisions I make will once again be contained within the game, rather than the series.

But in Mass Effect 2, I was seeing BOTH my decisions from ME1 coming into pay, yet the reasons for doing what I did was because I was worried about what would happen in the next game. Because it’s the middle entry, it also hold the most opportunity for not only changing the ending of the series, but also for rectifying (or completely fucking up) the things you started at the beginning of the series.

So, in a nutshell, Mass Effect 2 offers more time to spend in the best sci-fi universe of the past decade, but also for the first time EVER, fans care about a series not for its gameplay, graphics, or achievements/trophies, but solely for the story. In a medium where story is (in my mind, rightfully) less important, it’s amazing to see what these games have accomplished.

The Elder Scrolls have taken over my life once again.

–By Brendan

As I write this, it’s been exactly a month since The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim was released, and a month since I began my newest string of adventures in a new part of Tamriel. As I slowly close in on completing all the major and minor quest lines and activities available in the frozen wilderness, I find myself just as captivated as those first few hours with the game. Now, admittedly, the world feels much less mysterious; I’ve seen many of the landmarks, and the areas don’t seem quite as foreign or new. Still, the atmosphere the game creates has sucked me in.

That being said, I find myself branching out into the other lands and eras of Tamriel. Currently, I have a total of four Elder Scrolls games installed on my PC. I’ve been popping into each game depending on what I feel like doing as each offers a very unique experience. If you’re looking for more adventures in the lands of Tamriel, read on! Continue reading “The Elder Scrolls have taken over my life once again.”