Year End 2014

In most Steam sales, I have a fairly strict cut-off point of avoiding anything unless it is under $10. Over the past year or so, I’ve rarely found anything meeting that criteria that I don’t already have, so I was a bit surprised to find myself buying nine games in this Winter Steam Sale, including Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag, The Walking Dead Season 2, Murdered: Soul Suspect, Democracy 3, Contagion, Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit, Dominions 4, Thief, and Transistor. All less than $10.

Not to mention the fact that Origin had its own Winter Sale so I picked up Mass Effect 3 for a single-digit price, too.

Of course it will probably be years before I ever play any of those games, if ever. (I looked at Dominions 4 briefly but it was a bit confusing so I put it away again after about 15 minutes.)

I intended to finish Dragon Age II and then head into Dragon Age: Inquisition, but I stalled out after the second act. I was getting antsy for an ending so I could move on to something else, and then I went and bought Elite: Dangerous.

Elite: Dangerous came along at a great time because I was getting tired of story-driven gaming in general, and there were a bunch of Netflix shows I was falling behind on. For me, it’s rather difficult to watch television and cut scenes at the same time. But Netflix and Elite: Dangerous make the perfect combination.

Someday I’ll write more about Elite: Dangerous but in a nutshell I enjoy it. I have a hard time seeing it as an MMO though, because I’m playing it entirely in the “Solo” mode, and it doesn’t feel like I’m missing anything without other people. Space flight is an inherently lonely sort of activity, so it seems natural to me that there aren’t other people around. In real life I would only expect to see other people in the same ship that I was in, or after I landed on planets.

I don’t have much to say about the year 2014 in MMO gaming. I’m not much into trends. ESO and WildStar weren’t bad games in my opinion, but I didn’t get enough out of them to pay for a continuous subscription. I’d happily jump back into them again though. ArcheAge was a bit of a disappointment, although I could still see myself going back to it from time to time if–and only if–my progress were not destroyed by losing my property, which will eventually happen when my Patron status runs out.

As for 2015, one day I want to write a blog post about this, but I am going to call it now and say that EQ:Next is going to be a terrible game that will shatter the hopes of many people. There is an abundance of evidence for this conclusion in what we can already see in Landmark.

Assassin’s Creed 3 Story Finished

Taking a small break from MMORPGs for a bit and getting back to Steam. I went back to Assassin’s Creed 3 because I wanted to finish the main story before I considered getting any of the newer installments in Steam sales. (I don’t yet have Black Flag and I see now there is a new one coming out soon.) I resumed the AC3 story about halfway through and powered through to the end, largely ignoring all of the side missions and sandboxy elements.

My impression of the game was much better the second time around than when I first saw it. I think because after the halfway point, the viewpoint of the story doesn’t change. There is somewhat of a bait-and-switch at the beginning of the game, where you start out playing one character and then switch to another. (For myself, I happened to like the first character better than the person who turned out to be the real protagonist of the story. The first character makes a welcome return toward the end of the game, though you don’t get to control him.)

For me, the Assassin’s Creed series has always been more about the story than the game itself. And for me in particular, I have always been more interested in the modern-day story with Desmond than the historical stories, which is why I’ve been disappointed that there was been less emphasis on it in the later installments of the game. The story in this episode wasn’t bad, but I don’t think it matched the quality of Assassin’s Creed 1 & 2. In those early episodes, there was a mystery to the events surrounding Desmond that wasn’t there any more. It felt like it was merely tacked on, and it felt like they may have concluded it so that they don’t have to worry about it in future games, which is a disappointment.

The biggest gameplay problem with Assassin’s Creed continues to be the frustration of having your guy do something you didn’t want him to do. You might want to chase an enemy over open ground, but your avatar decides that you meant to climb up a wall instead, and then you have to convince your avatar to climb back down and resume the chase, but your avatar instead chooses to side-jump to a window, or jump into a pile of hay, or just sit there doing nothing, and by then your quarry is long gone. It doesn’t happen often, but it almost always happens at the exact time that you need it not to happen, and then you feel like flinging your controller away in disgust.

Overall, Assassin’s Creed 3 was a good game, if not great. I’ll be waiting for Assassin’s Creed 4 to go on a deep discount sale, though, before buying it. I didn’t dislike the ship warfare in AC3, but it wasn’t a selling point for me, and I have heard there is a lot more in AC4.

Why Don’t People Like Poor Desmond?

Tobold recently was not impressed by Assasin’s Creed 1. He expressed the same baffling opinions that I often hear about AC, which gives me a chance to be baffled in a public blog post.

I’ve always like Assassin’s Creed. At the time AC1 came out, I thought it was mind-bogglingly revolutionary. It was the best mo-cap I’d ever seen, the graphics looked realistic as crap, the city landscapes were amazing, and it had so many friggin actors on the screen at once. Also, nobody had ever seen "Parkour" before. All of that innovation is unfortunately lost on a modern audience, though, and all anyone sees when they go back to AC1 is the boring and repetitive gameplay.

But anyway. What baffles me is why everyone complains about the Desmond parts of Assassin’s Creed and how it "interrupts" the game for them. That’s always been my favorite part. To me, that’s where the actual story of the game is, the over-arching plot of the series. What’s going on with Altair and Ezio has always been secondary to me, just sort of a side plot that allows you to unlock the real story. The main reason I kept playing through the repetitive gameplay was to find out what the heck was going on with Desmond and Abstergo and the Ancients or whatever they’re called.

At least originally. I was blown away by the meta-story in AC1 and the cliffhanger ending. I eagerly played AC2 and Brotherhood to see what happened with Desmond and all the meta-things they revealed.

After Brotherhood, they succumbed to fan pressure and made the Desmond side of things more optional. So optional that they’ve basically just been phoning it in story-wise. I think the people who originally came up with that meta-story are no longer even there, so it’s kind of pointless. AC Revelations had a Desmond story but it was completely unrelated to anything (plus Desmond looked totally different). In AC3, it’s like they’ve entirely given up on trying to make a compelling meta story. From what I’ve read, it’s even worse in AC4.

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p>Personally I wish they’d get back to that part of the game, or maybe make another game that tells that story. Or publish a book or a movie or something. Revealing that meta-story was way more interesting to me than running around collecting feathers.

Assassin's Creed III

I started Assassin’s Creed III unsure of what to expect. I had a general feeling that AC3 had not been well-received, but other than that I knew little about it, except that it was a departure from the previous versions.

First thing’s first: The game’s new engine looks beautiful. I mean, drop-dead gorgeous. I’ve always thought Assassin’s Creed was one of the most realistic-looking games out there, even back to the first version, but this new version raises the bar higher than ever.

The game controls seem to have been simplified a bit, which I think is probably a good thing. For example, in previous games, you had to hold the right trigger and the A button to sprint, but now you only have to hold the trigger. That seems like a logical change, since you always wanted to sprint anyway. (Actually I *did* do a lot of jogging, but I don’t really miss it.)

At the same time, it seems like the combat controls are slightly more complicated. Or maybe it’s just that they moved the buttons around a little, so I have to use more brain power.

Synchronize is back on the B button, instead of pressing the right POV stick.

In previous Assassin’s Creed games, you spent most of your time in big cities, first in the Middle East and then Renaissance Italy, running around narrow streets and jumping around stone buildings. Now the game has moved to Boston right before the Revolutionary War, which is a substantially less urban environment. The buildings are spaced much farther apart. There are huge expanses of wild forest. It’s radically different for an Assassin’s Creed game. I don’t mind that it’s different. It’s kind of cool, actually. But I don’t understand why there are big wilderness areas with nothing in them. There’s occasional points of interest to visit, but mostly it’s just a big place to hunt in. And I’m not really clear on why I need to hunt at all.

The story seems disjointed. I was very confused for the first few sequences because it was my understanding that the main character was a Native American Assassin, but you actually start out playing a British super-spy. (I thought of him as Roger Moore’s James Bond in Colonial Times.) Then there’s a big surprise, which I did not see coming at all, and *then* you play the Native American. I was actually kind of disappointed when the character change happened. I liked the super-spy.

It’s a bit weird to play two different characters in one game. Shortly after the change in POV, you — now playing a young Native American — have a vision that you need to seek out Assassin symbols. This vision comes from a "Piece of Eden" that a village elder happens to have. Weirdly, even though your character hasn’t done any assassin training, you have a lot of assassin skills, including climbing and killing, before you even get to your trainer.

Then you find your trainer, and he’s a Magical Negro. I groaned out loud when he opened the door. Assassin’s Creed usually has compelling storytelling, but this was a major clunker.

I don’t know. Something just feels wrong with this installment. We saw Altair and Ezio grow to become master Assassins over time, and their journey made sense, more or less. They started out with limited abilities and grew to have a lot more abilities, growing to embrace the Assassins and their mission. And we as the viewer grew to like them. In this game, we don’t really see our guy embracing the Assassin culture. He just sort of "turns into" one, for no particular reason. His motivations to become an Assassin seem very flimsy or non-existent to me. Also, I can’t say I’ve really grown to like this Conner guy yet.

But I’m still playing. :)

AC Revelations Finished

Finished the main story in Assassin’s Creed Revelations the other day. Other than the horribly inaccurate face models of Ezio and Desmond which made them look like scarred zombies, I thought it was pretty good, as all Assassin’s Creed games are. The endings always give me a chill, when they bring together the past, present, and future. Well — the past, the past, the past, and the present would be more accurate I guess. And this one was really poignant because I guess after four games, the stories of Altair and Ezio are now finally complete.

As a game, I thought Brotherhood was better. Revelations had these weird bombs and parachutes which I found almost entirely useless in actual gameplay. Except at the very end when you were *required* to use a parachute quite a lot. I dunno, that just seemed a little *too* anachronistic to me. And what happened to the horses??

Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood Finished

Finished Brotherhood. Cool game – shorter than Assassin’s Creed II but I think more polished. (By the way, when I say I “finished” I mean I finished the story; I’m nowhere near 100% completion, because I’m not a completionist gamer. I think it was somewhere around 40% actually.)

Another cliffhanger ending. Can’t really say anything without spoiling it, but I was a little bit suspicious of that person anyway.

Started Revelations. First thing I noticed is that Desmond’s and Ezio’s faces look completely different! Not just aged, but totally different people. It’s really jarring, especially since the voices are the same. It’s like different actors playing the same part, but they got voiceovers from the original actors.

OH! And for some reason, they changed the controller buttons! Holding Y is no longer eagle sense or synchronize – now it just throws whatever your ranged weapon is. You have to use the left stick button for eagle sense, and those stick buttons are like the worst buttons imaginable.

Assassin's Creed II Finished

I finished Assassin’s Creed II last night. Man, the storytelling in this series is really good. It ended in a cliffhanger just like the first one did. And there was actually some light gameplay *during the closing credits*. How cool is that?

Anyway I started in on Brotherhood right away, which is a noticably better-looking game. It also feels a bit more like Uncharted. That is, it feels more action-oriented, with less buttons to worry about pushing. Plus there’s a part where Desmond and Lily (I think that’s her name?) wander around in some catacombs for a while trading witty banter, just like you saw Drake and what’s-her-name doing in Uncharted.

UPDATE: Her name is actually Lucy and what’s-her-name is Elena.

Finally Finishing up Assassin's Creed II

Over the weekend I decided to press on with the Assassin’s Creed series, since I rounded out my AC game collection in the last Steam sale, picking up Brotherhood, Revelations, and AC3. I played AC2 last year but for some reason I just stopped in the middle. I decided that I should finish it before I went on to the next game so I wouldn’t miss any of the cool story stuff.

I didn’t think it would take very long, but good lord, it doesn’t ever end. It turned out I was only on like Sequence 4 or 5 out of 14. Even ignoring side quests and sticking to the main storyline, I still didn’t finish it. I love just about everything about AC, but sometimes it gets a little tedious running around from place to place when you just want to get through it.

On another note, I finally picked up an Xbox controller because I got sick of trying to translate the ABXY buttons displayed on the screen into the square, triangle, circle, whatever buttons on the PS3 controller I normally used. AC was definitely made for a controller, but before now, I’ve always played it with keyboard-mouse controls. The controller is a lot easier.