Mass Effected

Over the weekend I tried to do three new gaming things: Play Mass Effect 2 (to finally finish it), play Mass Effect 3 (for the first time), and play Mass Effect 1 (over again).

I installed Mass Effect 2 from Steam, hoping beyond hope that by some magical time-space temporal vortex I would be able to pick up where I left off years ago (probably at least two computers ago), but of course I had to start over. My goal was to play through the game quickly so that I could then finally start Mass Effect 3, a game I’ve had for years but never played.

I got through the first cut scenes, remembered what great characters these games have, wasn’t entirely sure what was going on, then reached the point where I first have to control my character and do stuff and immediately remembered how awful the game part of these games are. I gave up after about 15 minutes and uninstalled the game. I couldn’t stand the thought of playing double-digit numbers of hours with that clunky, ancient-feeling control scheme and weird squad and cover mechanics.

I was left with no choice but to install Mass Effect 3 (on Origin, blech) and jump right into it. At the time of this writing, even though it happened literally two days ago, I have zero memory of what happened. There was a cut scene, then there was some running around, there was a kid (so obviously a plot device it might as well have had a neon sign), there were explosions, there were people I vaguely remember from Mass Effect 1, there were people I thought died in Mass Effect 2, there were people missing from when I played Mass Effect 2, there were other people I’ve never seen before, and there was a dream sequence.

The gameplay was marginally better but not by much. I was dumbstruck that there was no controller support in the game. There were like 3 actions bound to the spacebar: Running, jumping, and for some inexplicable reason, activating things.

I played ME3 in four different sessions over Saturday and Sunday, playing for about a half hour or less each time before having to put it down because I just didn’t “get” it. As I’m typing this I’m remembering more and more of what transpired, but it was obvious that I was jumping into the third act of an epic story and there was no hand-holding to catch me up on the story. I can deal with weird gameplay if the story is engaging, but the *story* felt alien, and I couldn’t deal with it.

So I thought I’d look for some YouTube videos that summarize the Mass Effect 1 & 2 stories. I found some 10-minute summaries, but I found them unsatisfying. They were so short that I couldn’t really follow them. I got the basic gist of the Mass Effect 1 story but it’s because I played it before. Having only seen half of the Mass Effect 2 story, I didn’t understand that one at all.

Next I looked for full cut scenes. I found a 3 1/2 hour YouTube video showing all the cut scenes from Mass Effect 1. I started watching it. I remembered that I really enjoyed that game, despite how godawful the gameplay was.

As I watched, I realized I didn’t particularly care for how the video was put together (it skipped stuff for brevity), so I re-installed Mass Effect 1 from Steam and started playing it again.

The gameplay remains godawful, but I feel like I have to play it to get into the story again. I set it to casual and maximum auto-aim and everything I could think of to move from cut scene to cut scene as fast as possible.

To make things more interesting, this time I’m playing a female Shephard, which I’ve never done before. I like it.

Mass Effect is a great example of a series that raises the question: When is a game *too* story-rich to work as a game? This is a topic I hope to explore in another post someday.

P.S. I will not be buying Andromeda when it comes out. I’ll just wait for the inevitable $10 Origin sale.

Snap Judgment – Shroud of the Avatar (Free Trial)

I read on MassivelyOP that Shroud of the Avatar was having a free trial “test” (whatever that is) so I downloaded the game and tried it out last weekend. I’ve seen increasing buzz about the game and I was curious to see if there was anything to it.

I only played for about an hour, and while I can’t say I was dying to play more, I did find it interesting enough to leave it on my games to continue watching. It had a number of things you just don’t find in traditional MMORPGs.

The biggest problem (or perhaps feature) I saw was that the game felt a lot more like a single-player game than an MMORPG to me. I didn’t see any compelling reason to play it in the multiplayer environment. There is a single-player offline mode and a single-player online mode. And for those people who actually have gaming friends, there is also a friends-only online mode. I can’t imagine why anyone would play in any other mode. In this day and age, strangers rarely do much to enhance my online games.

Still, I played the multiplayer online just to see it. I saw a grand total of perhaps a dozen people in the game, most of whom were fellow visitors. Nobody tried to talk to me or emote at me or even look at me, as far as I could tell. Most everyone was interacting with an NPC.

The game’s conceit* is a bit of a cliche, if you ask me, but it’s at least worth mentioning: Your character finds the game world on the Internet, basically. That is, your character finds arcane texts and rituals and whatnot on the Internet, invokes them, and is pulled into the game world. I don’t think it’s ever been done before in an MMORPG (with the possible exception of The Secret World), but it certainly has been done a lot in fiction. (The Thomas Covenant series and Alan Dean Foster’s Spellsinger books are two that immediately spring to mind.) I even wrote a short story once with that cliche myself.

After the cut scene that sets up how you found Britannia on the Internet, the game starts with an unusual character selection process. The “Oracle” asks you a series of questions to decide your class. I didn’t care for it, honestly. The game tells you that you should play an archer if you’re new, no matter what you picked. Regardless of what you pick, the mechanics appear to be skill-based, not class-based. I give them points for that, at least. I greatly prefer skill-based games. Now that I’m writing this, I wish I’d looked more closely into the character system.

NPC interaction is done through Morrowind-style hyperlinked text. I thought it was an interesting concept in Morrowind where you have all the time in the world to read NPC text and respond but I don’t see it working that well in a modern MMORPG scenario. I especially don’t like typing responses to NPCs. We as a species have evolved beyond Zork-style RPG interfaces, in my opinion. I suspect they got a lot of negative feedback about the typing because there are also selections you can click on so you don’t have to type anything.

After character selection you’re taken to a solo instance to teach you the basics of the game. You get to run around a burning village and rescue a kid (or not, if you want). There were a surprising number of things you could do in the little instance if you looked around.

Combat is very, very strange. The game tells you to point at targets and shoot them, but in fact you can point anywhere and still shoot your target. Somehow you “lock on” to a target and your arrows go there no matter what direction you’re pointing. I’m not sure I can explain it. It’s a weird hybrid of tab-targetting and action combat.

When you finish the burning village instance, you click on a boat and warp to the starter village, and at this point I started to wonder about the technical implementation of this game. It’s pretty clear that you’re always in an “instance” of some kind, and never in a big open seamless world like you’d expect in an MMORPG. (Though honestly, very few MMORPGs do seamless worlds any more.) The starter town is an instance with fixed boundaries. When you leave the starter town you enter an “overland map” instance where you move your tiny little avatar like a Monopoly game piece around. When you get to a place of interest you transition out of the overland map back into another instance. And so on and so on. It feels very much like a single-player game, like Dragon Age, for example.

I understand this game is built from the Unity engine, so it’s not that surprising to see it running into technical limitations with large seamless maps. As far as I know, nobody has ever implemented a full-blown MMORPG with Unity. (Not at the AAA level at least.)

Graphically, the game looks decent, if not great. It’s good enough that it wouldn’t stop me from playing it, and maybe even good enough to become immersed in the world. (I didn’t take a single screenshot while I was playing the trial though. The images in this post were grabbed from the video I recorded.) Character animations weren’t that great, though. The jumping animation made me laugh.

I’m glad I looked at it but I suppose I was left more puzzled than anything. It really feels like a single-player game that they’re trying to convince people is an MMORPG. I don’t mean that in a bad way. I feel like they would be more successful marketing it as a co-op RPG. I mean it feels like a game that was literally designed from the ground up to be a single-player RPG. I don’t understand why they wouldn’t try to sell it that way.

* I’m embarrassed that I used the word “conceit” in a sentence like that.

7DTD – The Great Minibike Catastrophe

I’m now 56 days into my Navezgane 7 Days To Die game. I’ve built a forge and a workbench and a cement mixer and my base is getting upgraded to concrete and reinforced steel. Just in time for the bigger zombies like policemen, soldiers, and weird alien “feral” zombies.

I also found some iron veins to mine. I had a hard time finding them because I kept hearing that you’re supposed to dig where you find gravel but it’s not actually “gravel” that comes out of the ground, it’s sand and stone (which combine to make gravel).

It took a long time to assemble the parts, but I put together a minibike. The way it works is you plop down a “minibike frame” on the ground somewhere and then add the rest of the parts as you find them until you get a working machine. You need to scrounge up an engine, a battery, handlebars, tires, etc.

(I built mine inside my base but I wouldn’t recommend that because once it’s complete you have to drive it out and it’s not super easy to navigate a minibike through doors and spike traps.)

I got some of the parts by buying them from the secret stash at traders (there are two different traders in range of my base). Some of the others I scavenged from cars with a wrench. I only recently learned that you can use a wrench to “take apart” items out in the world, like cars and air conditioners and refrigerators. You get things like gasoline and springs and mechanical parts and electrical parts. I had a bunch of wrenches lying around but I never thought to use them before. That was how I got enough mechanical parts to make a workbench.

Eventually I put the last minibike part in place (the seat) and I was able to sit on it (Ayyyyyy, says The Fonz). It needed gasoline so I filled it about 30% full and then dropped all of my stacks of gasoline in the minibike storage so I’d have some in case I got stranded somewhere. (I had gotten gasoline by scavenging from gas station pumps and cars.)

It was night time when I finished the minibike so I had to wait patiently until morning before I could ride it. When morning came, I crept out of my base and around all the spike traps and hit the open road. Minibikes are really fast, compared to running. And for some reason, it switches to a third-person view while you’re driving, so you get to see yourself.

There’s some graphical clunkiness that goes with the minibikes, but it’s a small price to pay for long-distance transportation. The biggest problem with the minimike is that you can’t see the map while you’re riding. You have to stop, get off the bike, then open the map. Which was probably a contributing factor in what happened next.

I drove and drove and drove, going farther than I’d ever gone before. I wanted to do a big circuit around the map and try to find as many city centers as possible. I figured I’d be able to drive all over the map and get back before dark, because I’d gone a huge distance and it wasn’t even 9:00 AM yet.

Then suddenly I started taking damage. What? Did I hit a spike trap? Was I starving? Was somebody shooting at me?

Nope, I’d driven off the side of the map into the radiation zone, where you get killed pretty fast. When I realized what had happened, I turned around in a panic (bumping off the road and through a desert terrain filled with cactii, which in real life undoubtedly would have given me a flat tire and a a faceful of thorns) and drove back as fast as I could. But it was too late, and I died.

*headdesk*

If you haven’t played 7 Days To Die, maybe you don’t appreciate how much of a blunder that was, so I’ll try to explain.

First, when you die, you drop everything you’re carrying at the spot where you die. Nothing in my backpack was irreplaceable, but far more infuriating was the fact that the minibike I’d spent forever building also got left back there where I died.

When you die, you respawn on the last sleeping bag you set down, which means I spawned waaaaay back at my base. It had taken no time to drive out to the edge of the map on a minibike, but running back there would take most of the (game) day. And as I’ve mentioned before, generally you don’t want to be out in the open at night in 7 Days To Die.

But it gets worse because I’d died in the radiation zone. That means I would have to run out into the radiation, get my stuff, and run back (on foot) and hope I didn’t take too much damage in the process. I didn’t know how far I’d have to run or how much damage the radiation would do.

I had collected some parts of a hazard suit, which is supposed to resist radiation, so I put those on, grabbed some basic gear, and started running. I almost died of heat stroke on the way out there because it was mid-afternoon in the desert by then, but I made it. I put down a sleeping bag in a house near the radiation zone so I wouldn’t have to run so far in case I died.

My temporary base at the edge of the map.

Fortunately my backpack and minibike where not too far over the border into the radiation zone. Un-fortunately it was still too far. I ran out there in my hazard suit, got to my backpack, picked up everything, turned around to run back, and died before I could take a step.

So I lost my hazard suit in addition to my supplies and minibike.

Next time I ran out there I died before I even got to my backpack. I tried a couple more times but it was pretty obvious I was never going to recover the backpack or the minibike, unless I happen to find some Rad-X in this game.

So I ran all the way back to my base. (Actually to be honest, first I rage-quit* for a while.) Then, to add insult to injury, as soon as I arrived back at my base after a long run, a zombie dog got inside and killed me before I could put down a new sleeping bag. So of course I respawned alllllll the way back at the house on the edge of the map and I had to run back to base again. (After waiting through the night because it was dark by then.)

All in all it was a very depressing first minibike adventure.

The only good news is that it won’t take too long to build a new minibike, because while I was out getting killed and running back and forth, I stumbled across a “Minibikes For Dummies” book, which means I can now build the parts for a minibike, instead of hoping to find or buy them. (All but the tires, at least.)

* Rage-quitted? Raged-quit?

Snap Judgment – Revelation Online

Yes, that’s a miniature panda on my head.

Last night I took a look at Revelation Online for the first time. I played for about 45 minutes. I don’t have much to say about it, except I didn’t particularly care for it.

It’s a solidly average anime-style MMORPG that takes no chances. It’s an Asian version of a WoW-clone. (A Lineage-clone?) I saw nothing that advanced the MMORPG genre in any way.

I didn’t think it looked that great. They went for a more cartoony cell-shaded sort of style instead of a more realistic style like Black Desert or ArcheAge. It looks a bit like that 2D style that you see a lot in fighting games. I didn’t care for it or the character animations. Everybody moved around like they were playing Mortal Kombat and did not need to obey the laws of physics.

I picked a Gunslinger class. I lost interest in the storyline within about ten minutes. It starts out with mundane tasks to teach you the game. You can literally have the game do the quests for you. It goes beyond simply auto-running to the quest location: It will actually kill the quest mobs for you, too. Is that the only way to fight bots in MMORPGs now? Build the bot behavior directly into the game?

Beware nuclear fallout.

It’s not very efficient if you let the game play for you, since it only uses auto-attacks. But the combat is so easy that auto-attacks are still overpowered. I saw nothing particularly interesting about the gunslinger combat (there was plenty of movement and flashes and sounds but it all just ran together), except one “grenade” ability that sort of looks like a mini-nuke explosion. You get way more combat abilities than you actually need at the beginning.

Double-tapping any movement key makes you dash about a mile in that direction. Double-tapping and holding forward makes you run like The Flash. You get wings so you can fly around, too, in case you get tired of running. I found it a bit difficult to control the flying. It goes so fast that if you blink you’ll zoom past where you’re supposed to go. And you can’t just take off and land like you’re accustomed to with flying mounts, you have to hit a special “fly” key.

Fly! Be free!

I’m getting bored just writing this. I wasn’t into this game at all. It was a big chore to play for 45 full minutes. :) There was nothing new or fresh or exciting to be seen, it was all “more of the same.” The environment was bland. The story was bland. The gameplay was bland. I didn’t see anything that might pull me away from a game I was already playing. Here are the only two things that really made an impression on me:

First, the game starts off in a window for some inexplicable reason, and I could find no way to change it. You have to go through the whole character creation and a cut scene and enter the world before you get to a point where you can configure the game settings to go full screen. (You can hit alt-enter to switch to full screen but it was the wrong resolution for my setup.)

Second, the idle animation of the gunslinger actually shoots birds out of the sky. Your guy shoots straight up like Yosemite Sam, and then some blue birds and a big white duck plop to the ground. It was pretty funny. That was definitely the highlight of my playing time.

In a nutshell, Black Desert, ArcheAge, TERA, and even Aion are all better Asian imports and I would recommend playing any or all of those first. Play Revelation Online if you’re a games journalist and have to play it to write a review, or if you’re a streamer and have to play new games constantly to keep your audience. Otherwise I could only recommend it if you’ve already played everything else and you’re really bored.

P. S. I did not see any bugs or connectivity issues typically associated with a launch, so there’s no worries there.

Amazon’s New World, Part Two

From a draft written somewhere around October 2016…

I finally got around to watching Amazon’s teaser video, thinking that it would erase my earlier skepticism and soften my opinion about their upcoming games, and maybe even start to get excited about the possibilities.

Unfortunately it only pushed my skeptical buttons even harder.

“What if a game was built for Twitch,” wonders a voiceover 12 seconds into the video. Instant buzzkill. The video goes on to mention Twitch about five times in the first 60 seconds, before anything about games. If we go with the assumption that what they put into the very beginning of their video is the “hook” and therefore the most important message they want to deliver, we have to assume that Twitch integration is the most important part of their design philosophy for these games. And if Amazon making games to target Twitch viewers is not a corporate-synergy-driven game design, I don’t know what is. It’s as if they accidentally put the video meant for their shareholders out to the public.

The bottom line is that we don’t know anything about New World right now, except that it’s main, repeatedly-stated purpose is to synergize with Twitch. Which, to me, is not a selling point. When I look at the Twitch ecosystem, and indeed the whole streamer sociography, I see something that’s very difficult to comprehend. Lately I’ve been thinking of streamers as the modern-day equivalent of dancing monkeys or traveling freak shows. Probably an unkind comparison, but that’s the kind of content that seems to rise to the top.

I don’t understand why they’d reveal anything at this point and leave so much room for rampant speculation. They’re talking about this game even earlier in the development cycle than when ArtCraft started talking about Crowfall, which was incredibly early, and now seems so long ago that Crowfall feels like it’s come and gone already.

LotRO Volume 1, Book 14 – The Sloggiest Journey

Another post rescued from my drafts…

Book 14 begins with Laerdan preparing for a journey south. He asked me to collect a bunch of gear for him that he left strewn around Eriador, because the hero’s journey always involves fetching stuff. It was a lengthy, boring scavenger hunt.

When I returned to Rivendell, Laerdan was gone. In a note, he said he sent me away so I wouldn’t interfere. I spent all that time collecting his gear for nothing. But I wasn’t bitter about it. Much.

He left his journal open to a section describing his imprisonment in Sammath Baul. Upon reading it, I felt myself having an out-of-body experience, in which I uh … ah, screw it, I can’t think of how to maintain a narrative voice. I played a “Scenario” in which I observed Laerdan during his imprisonment.

After my “vision” I returned to Elrond. There I experienced another “vision” showing that Laerdan had run to Eregion to re-forge the ring Narhuil and rescue his daughter Narmaleth. He was, of course, captured, and the ring fell into the hands of Amarthiel. (Because Narmaleth is Amarthiel.)

Before Amarthiel could fix the ring, she needed some dragon wings to fix the forge. Elrond sent me back to Forochel to find and kill the dragon Bregmor (apparently the only dragon available) before Amarthiel got to him. Forochel was as dismal as ever. The cave where the dragon lived was dismal and also full of some guys. Unfortunately, when I reached the end of the cave, Mordambor had beaten me to the dragon and killed it.

Poor dead dragon.

I returned to Elrond with the bad news that I’d failed to get the dragon wings. As punishment, he sent me to the ring-forge Mirobel in Eriador to confront Amarthiel and Mordrambor.

It was another slog through a big space full of bad guys, but I finally got to the dramatic conclusion. Amarthiel sicced Mordrambor on me, but I defeated him. Laerdan arrived and confronted Amarthiel (still in the body of Narmaleth, Laerdan’s daughter), but she killed him. Before I could fight Amarthiel, a surprise mystery guest appeared: Mordirith. Mordirith took the ring from Amarthiel and flew away, leaving her broken and defeated.

Thus endeth Book 14.

For most of this book, I was incredibly bored. The only parts I really enjoyed were a brief section of the first Scenario (the part where you kick all the sleeping guards), and the final confrontation with Mordrambor, Amarthiel, Laerdan, and Mordirith way at the end. The rest was an endless, joyless slog.

Speaking of Scenarios, I believe this is the first time I’ve seen one in LotRO. I like the concept, but when you have to do combat it ssssssuuuuucks. As soon as you put me into a POV character where I have a whole new set of abilities, I get pretty annoyed. I spent all this time learning my character’s abilities, and now I have all this new stuff!? It took sooooo long to fight through all the mobs in those Scenarios because I essentially auto-attacked through everything.

Which brings me to one reason why this was a dull book. My character is level 55 now and admittedly over-leveled for this content. But there was no challenge in it whatsoever. A couple of times I literally got up from my desk during a battle, re-filled my coffee cup, and came back to find I’d killed everyone. It’s hard to maintain any sense of excitement in those kinds of combat situations. It’s a foregone conclusion that you’re going to defeat the mobs.

After posting a bunch of these chapter summaries, it occurs to me that I could simply post a link to Lotro-wiki.com and save myself a lot of time in the future.

Games Played – February 2017

It’s a heart. Valentine’s Day? February? A perfectly logical picture for this post.

Games played in February, according to ManicTime. A pretty strong survival game theme here. :)

  • 7 Days To Die – 67 hours
  • Conan Exiles – 62 hours\*
  • Rise of the Tomb Raider – 9 hours
  • ARK – 4 hours
  • The Secret World – 2 hours
  • ESO – 2 hours

* Conan Exiles approximated since ManicTime counted every new version as a different game.

 

Games Played – January 2017

Bust of Janus, from Wikimedia Commons. Get it? Janus? January? Hey any picture is better than nothing.

Better late than never, here are the games I played in January, according to ManicTime:

Final Fantasy XIV 76 hrs
Elder Scrolls Online 15 hrs
Lord of the Rings Online 12 hrs
Morrowind 7 hrs
Novus Inceptio 2 hrs
Star Wars: The Old Republic 2 hrs

(Only games played 2 hours or more shown.)

Despite an attempt to get back into ESO, it was FFXIV that kept my attention the most, at least until I ran into a progression roadblock and dropped it for Conan Exiles in February.