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.

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.