Into the Steam Backlog: Kingdoms of Amalur

Posted February 3, 2018 by Ophelie
Categories: Beyond WoW

Tags: , , , ,

I’m working reeeeallly hard to tear myself away from Kingdoms of Amalur long enough to stretch my out-of-shape writing muscles.

(Technically Kingdoms of Amalur: The Reckoning but the “:” is highly unnecessary given the franchise’s tragic standalone game fate. Then again, abbreviating to KOA:R prevents all sorts of confusion with campground chains.)

As if I wasn’t already struggling to write about games these days – I have no regrets walking away from social gaming but single player adventures are way less exciting to share – KOA (:R) is huge, has just the right amount of grinding (sweet spot juuuust between “not enough” and “what’s the point?” and is so ridiculously and unexpectedly fun that I find myself thinking “I could dust off the blog… OR! I could do ONE MORE QUEST!”

Kingdoms of Amalur: It’s not cutting edge, but it’s pretty.

For background info, it’s the usual story of I bought the game during a Steam sale. Black Friday I think. I can’t remember what I paid, but it was a good deal. Especially since, unlike most Steam purchases, I’m actually playing the game and staying focussed requires no effort on my part.

I had heard of it before. It made headlines a few years back, though it was less for its contribution to the industry and more for the unfortunate bankruptcy it inflicted on its creators. Flashback to the era of gaming companies racing to birth the “WoW killer” (which I always thought was stupid, but then again, for all my decade of serious WoW playing, I despise other people in my games and don’t care for MMOs so I’m kinda biased. I suppose it’s better than today’s trend of thinly veiled micro-transaction storefronts masquerading as games.) 38 Studios jumped into the race, ran out of money, wrapped up their MMO as a single player game, defaulted on their loan payment and crashed out of existence. The game got decent reviews but didn’t sell well, and when you play it you completely understand.

My memory circa 2012, the year it was released, is a little foggy but I feel like this is a game that plays better now as nostalgia fodder than it did as a new release.

It was came out early that year, a few months after giants Skyrim and SW:TOR and a few months before equally giant Mass Effect 3. There were other big games around the time, but those are the three I’ve played and they target a pretty similar demographic to KOA. And, poor KOA, didn’t perfect exploration and open world the way Skyrim had, the writing wasn’t as solid as SW:TOR and, well, you can’t really compete with the final installment of a beloved series in any circumstance, but compared to Mass Effect 3, the story is shallow and the graphics are shit.

So KOA is hardly the only game to do this, but it drives me absolutely bonkers. Dark to be edgy? Trashy but forgivable. So dark you can’t see anything? WHYYYYYYYY! And this is with brightness turned all the way up.

But played as an “old game” nowadays, it scratches the classic RPG itch I didn’t know I had. I’m constantly reminded of my first love (or at least one of my first loves) Might and Magic VI, but with smoother combat, better inventory management (not perfect by any means, I NEVER SAID PERFECT, but better), good voice acting (I hear Cullen’s voice everywhere, I can’t complain!), decent writing, less weird story. You can forgive the shitty graphics because old game! You can live with the bugs because, hey, unlike my other vintages games, it doesn’t crash every 15 minutes. The game-play is brilliantly flexible, one of my favorites ever. Possibly my favorite ever. I started off thinking I’d play a mage, then I ended up in warrior style and eventually settled as an uncommitted stabby, creepy rogue. I swap my weapons around by rolling my mouse wheel and I use all 12 of my thumb buttons. I don’t know if I’d want this in a modern game but in an “old game” the freedom is the best! And all the skills, talents trees, stats, collectibles! I feel like the game was designed by people who genuinely love old style RPGs yet totally respect modern gamers’ attention spans.

Oh, and there’s none of that dated D&D style rolling based combat. I know there’s still a market for that (they come out of the shadows when they overhear me complaining about I never finished SWOTOR 2 because I hated the combat so much – also Redbeard at Parallel Context even wrote a guide to it a few days ago in the Baldur’s Gate context – worth checking out if, like me, that style of play doesn’t come naturally) but, me, I sing high praise at whatever gives me that old RPG feel without that detested randomness.

Unlike some recent releases which may or may not have been flops for their creators (*cough* MEA *cough* Destiny 2 *cough*) you can totally tell where the money went. The scale of the game is HUGE. I don’t know if it’s Skyrim huge (it’s been awhile since I’ve played Skyrim) but I think the size is comparable. Yet each of the hundreds of NPCs has a story, a personality and a quality voice actor. The Amalur lore is interesting, Dragon Age Thedas interesting (clarification: the lore, not the story itself!). I hadn’t even made it out of the first zone and my mind was blown by how much TLC was poored into sweet Kingdoms of Amalur. The investment was probably misplaced: I think depth over sprawl could have secured Kingdoms of Amalur legendary game status and thinking about it makes me sad.

There you have it though, Kingdoms of Amalur (:Reckoning): a sad casualty of the WoW killer race, but still worth a few 100 hours of playtime. Would recommend. Am going back to playing.

Isn’t my character just adorable in her tribute to Mass Effect armour?


Oh hey, it’s N7 day!

Posted November 7, 2017 by Ophelie
Categories: Mass Effect

Tags: , , ,

Some part of my subconscious remembered, because I put on my N7 hoodie after not wearing it for a few days.

Me with my Mass Effect merch! Censored my face because I couldn’t be arsed to make myself presentable today. In the end, it took longer to achieve satisfactory censorship than it would have to brush my hair and slap on some powder. Selfie generation, I am not.

Both items from the official Bioware store. Official artworks (they call them lithographs which I guess describes how they are printed? My lack of art knowledge is embarrassing.) are limited editions as far as I can tell. This one was a gift Ed gave me years back. The most similar one currently available is the Mass Effect Saga Lithograph (which looks pretty cool, I must say – I’d buy it for our gaming room Ed if shipping to Canada wasn’t so outrageous). And the hoodie in the store today that is closest to mine is this one.

I see a lot of questions about merchandise quality and I have to say, my hoodie held up beautifully over the years. Yeah, the paint has thinned a little and I’d probably buy a new one if convention attendance was in the cards, but I wear it almost daily at home and I’ve washed it quite often (can’t have me perpetuateing stereotypes about unhygienic gamers). It’s still ridiculously comfortable, the inside is still surprisingly soft and it still looks good enough to please me when I see myself in the mirror. Only problem I have with the official store is that there’s no Canadian site, which means prices are doubled due to shipping and duty fees. If I were to ask anything of Bioware, it wouldn’t be a perfect Mass Effect game (although I admit that would be a close second) or more role-playable Dragon Age protagonists (third), it would be a more cost effective way for us Canadians to buy their merch. They could even just make a little front in the reception area of their headquarters. I GO TO EDMONTON ALL THE TIME! I WOULD SHOP THERE!

N7 Day

This year I predicted they’d make a video recycling interviews with people involved in making the game talking about how much they loved it. (I should really start keeping written proof of my predictions…)

There was a video, it showed people involved in making the game (as well as a few fans – which I loved, I’m especially happy they showed a clip of Biofan because I’m kind of obsessed with his videos these days) and they were all sharing their wonderful experiences. The interviews look new though. Or at least, I hadn’t seen them before. Despite being exactly what you’d expect, I still enjoyed watching it and savouring the warm fuzzies.

There’s some featured artwork, in high res even(!) so you can take them to Walmart for printing without having to spend an arm and a leg on shipping. I’m hungry for moar and moar artwork – it’s funny I never cared much for paraphernalia in the past yet lately I can’t get enough of Mass Effect related art – but I am very impressed at how excellent yet radically different their selection was. The one by Unoobang is my new desktop background. It totally captures the atmosphere of my Normandy. And that Space Hamster!

Mass Effect Archive

Buried in the middle of the N7 day page is the Mass Effect Archives. I almost missed it, thinking I’d talk a bit about the video and the art, then the streamers even though I don’t watch streamers, then hit the publish button.

In the nick of time, I noticed the link. I clicked it and OMG! WHY HAVEN’T THEY MADE A BIGGER FUSS ABOUT THIS? There’s nothing on the Bioware blog and even the Mass Effect subreddit was wondering if this was a new thing or an existing feature we’d all missed.

I’m a pretty big fan of the Dragon Age Keep. Sure, there are a few bugs and it can’t keep track of everything a save file can, but overall, it’s a great way to overcome game engine and console generation barriers. Plus the art is lovely and I had a lot of fun filling it out the first time. Actually, I still have fun messing with World States, and while I haven’t done so yet, I like how if you want to explore a specific world state in Inquisition, you don’t have to put in 100+ extra hours into the earlier games.

So I’m really excited about a Mass Effect version (I’m positive that at some point, I have wondered out loud why there was no Mass Effect Keep in production, but as usual, no written record).

You wouldn’t believe how long it took me to figure out how to upload my character. Maybe I shouldn’t have clicked through the tutorial…

It’s not as straightforward as the Keep (or maybe I’m just so used to it that I don’t notice the gaps in userfriendliness anymore) but perhaps I would have had an easier time had I used the tutorial. The Keep also doesn’t have an “upload appearance” feature, which is what I had the hardest time figuring out.

I hope this means we’ll be getting new Mass Effects in the future, and Mass Effects that care about our old Mass Effects (although the FAQ does specify that the Archives won’t affect future games) – unlike most vocal fans, I don’t think Andromeda was a death sentence and I do think we’ll revisit the universe, its world is so juicy and there’s an abundance of stories sitting there, waiting to be told. It would be way less time and money to return to Mass Effect than to create a brand new world.

I’m patient and I’ll be here, playing with my Tapestry while I wait.

Happy N7 day!

Dragon Age: Inquisition – Who to Support at the Winter Palace?

Posted October 2, 2017 by Ophelie
Categories: Dragon Age

Tags: , , , ,

Yeah, I know.

Somehow I ended up playing Dragon Age: Inquisition again. Out of nowhere, I was itching to make a dwarf Inquisitor and, well, I feel like the game just gets better with every playthrough.

The Winter Palace Ballroom. Love the art that went into it.

I was working (or rather attempting to work) on a different post. It bored me (since not having WoW and its community anymore, I have to admit, video game blogging has become extremely challenging. Anything I write sounds utterly stale.) so I went and played the Winter Palace segment.

Whenever I do these in-game story decisions, I love seeing what other players choose and their rationale. Even on first playthroughs, I can’t resist. I don’t have that kind of trouble making decisions IRL, I swear!

Since we’re talking about a 3 year old game (in that shitty zone between “becoming less popular” and “classic”), though, all relevant discussions are dated. Plus I promised myself to never post on message boards (or Reddit or whatever the cool geeky kids use to socialize these days) again. I suck up too much internet time as it is and all I end up doing on message boards is making a fool of myself. Anyway, I figure I need content I actually want to write, so why not?

So here it is, how my Inquisitors decided to end the Orlesian civil war.

Spoilers so here’s a cut.  Read the rest of this post »

Wrapping up Mass Effect 3

Posted September 14, 2017 by Ophelie
Categories: Mass Effect

Tags: , , ,

I lost count of the hours long ago, but they were up there. After so many of them, it’s time to say goodbye to my Shep again.

There’s Shep, looking at her team. I get a green screen instead of a picture most of the time. This was the only shot I got.

Much easier on the feels this time around, for sure. I used Citadel DLC as my finale which concludes with Shepard looking nostalgically at the Normandy while her party attendees board. I held on to that feeling for a few moments after the screen faded to “Hit Any Key To Continue“. Considering last time I bawled my eyes out and moped for months, I believe I’ve made progress. (It seems there’s even an Urban Dictionary entry for this phenomenon.)

Then I went back to Mass Effect 1 and started a MaleShep Insanity run.

We’ll see how long that lasts.

It was lovely to play the same character, with roughly the same choices. I ended up with a few differences: despite my best efforts, Kelly didn’t offer to feed my fish, nor did she show up in the third game, and somehow I passed that reputation check with The Illusive Man in the end. As stated above, I was less of mess of this time so although I covered up the ending with MEHEM out of curiosity, I think I would have accepted the base game outcome. Except the Synthesis-disintegrated-in-a-well part (like WTF is wrong with whoever thought that was a good idea).

Interestingly, there were plenty of times I felt my heart race and my arms shake and had to say “chill out silly, you know what happens“.

Speaking of knowing what happens, I’m not holding back on the spoilers so I’ll stick the cut here.
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Let’s React to the Mass Effect: Andromeda News (Or Anti-News)

Posted August 23, 2017 by Ophelie
Categories: Mass Effect

Tags: , , , , ,

After months of speculation, it was made official a few days ago: There are no planned future patches for single-player or in-game story content for Mass Effect: Andromeda.

While they say patches and not paid DLC, I think it’s pretty clear they mean single player content period. They elaborate: “we will continue to tell stories in the Andromeda Galaxy through our upcoming comics and novels, including the fate of the quarian ark.”

Kotaku’s Jason Schreier called it in May and again in June and is now probably enjoying the biggest I-told-you-so of his career. Anyway, his posts caused the fandom to erupt in a “Is it true? Is he right?” explosion that took Bioware what feels like forever to confirm or deny. I feel like at this point, they’re just accepting all publicity as good publicity.

Speculating on the Why

I browse the Mass Effect subreddit pretty often. The audience seems younger and less thoughtful than the Dragon Age subreddit, but there’s sporadic decent discussion and frequent fantastic fanart.

Regarding Andromeda DLC, there are plenty of (relatively) long posts about how the game under-performed, how it was mocked by early reviews and how troubled the development process was (a topic also explored in depth by Schreier – I don’t normally endorse “professional” blog-like sites because I rarely like them, but if everything Schreier wrote is true, then that was some excellent reporting. And if it’s all made up, well, it was still one of the most interesting things I’ve read all year.)

All factors which most likely influenced the decision to abandon single player (for the foreseeable future).

What isn’t mentioned nearly enough though, is the less dramatic but probably main issue: in comparison to single player, multiplayer is really freaking lucrative.

Content DLC calls for a giant boatload of people: writers, voice actors, cinematics, animators, programmers, sound crew, testers, etc. A huge machine to put or keep in motion. All that to produce a few hours of story and gameplay that will sell for 10-15$ per player.

In multiplayer, players will throw 10-15$ at the game, over and over, for weapons and cosmetic items that already exist. They do have to keep the game fresh, but – and I admit to knowing very little about game development – it seems to me that APEX mission development requires a fraction of the team needed for single player DLC. Plus, it seems that the multiplayer team is sailing along smoothly, while the key single player developers, those who hung on until the end, are probably still trying to unlive the past few years.

Speculating on the future of Mass Effect

Will there be another Mass Effect game?

Everyone seems to think so. (Even Schreier posted Reddit that he guesses something would happen in 5-6 years)

I assume the game direction options are: 1) a prequel to the original games, 2) a sequel to the original games, 3) Andromeda 2, 4) a non-RPG game in the Mass Effect universe (think Blizzard’s Hearthstone).

Option 4 is the safest option from a business perspective – just like the current multiplayer, a card, an arena style or a MOBA would bring in the dough with minimal effort and risk. As an RPG player, I think this idea sucks massive donkey balls.

Option 1, a prequel, has been considered, I believe. Something about a focus group that revealed that fans adamantly want a sequel and not a prequel. I’ve seen fans say they’d like to play in a prequel world as another species, but believe it would never happen because apparently the larger player base only wants to play humans. Me, I think playing a non-human is trivial compared to a prequel’s bigger problem: one of the major joys in Mass Effect is discovering an unknown world and not knowing what will happen to it. A Mass Effect in known surroundings leading to a known outcome doesn’t sound very fun. In my humble opinion, of course.

A sequel, Option 2, would force some sort of backtracking on the endings. The meaning was a clear “fuck it, we’re done and we’re going to mess up the universe so they can’t force us back”. They all guarantee to leave the galaxy in one of several unplayable states. (So this recent tweet from former project director Casey Hudson made me chuckle.) While I would love to play some kind of investigator/explorer part of a galaxy rebuilding team, Synthesis Galaxy is awful and Refusal Galaxy would just be the same story with a different face. Destroy and Control could be worked with as a what-if, I guess. Cameos of beloved characters would also be a pain since pretty much everyone has the potential of being dead.

Then, Option 3, ME:A2. Popular opinion seems to be that the Andromeda setting is toxic. I disagree. The Andromeda setting is awesome. Going to a different galaxy totally blew my mind. At least for the first hour or so. It had, and still has, tons of potential. The weaknesses in the writing: the pathfinder’s progression, the shallow squadmates and new species, the sub-optimal placing of plot twists and the general lack of inspiration are all more due to the chaotic development forcing the game being published before it was finished. The bones of the story were interesting, they were just given to us without enough meat to sate our hunger. ME:A2, with a proper development team, using the first Andromeda’s loose ends could potentially be a exceptional gaming experience.

As for a time frame, I actually find 5-6 years to be short. Look at Dragon Age: Inquisition, a game that did well. It was released in late November 2014 and closed with its last DLC less than a year later. It’s been almost 3 years and almost 2 years since Trespasser, and while the team has made it clear that they’re actively working on DA4, there’s no formal announcement and probably won’t be until Anthem is released in (tentatively) Fall 2018. Which would set a Dragon Age release in 2019 or 2020, 5-6 years after DA:I. So for a franchise that has taken as many blows as Mass Effect, I don’t think 5-6 years is a long time.

What About These Comics and Books?

I wonder how they could wrap up the Quarian Ark story in a satisfying way via books or comics. While I doubt most of us are really attached to the bulk of our choices in ME:A, designating “cannon” pathfinders would ruin what little sense of ownership we felt over the universe. The other option, dodging the problem by not involving any pathfinders in the Ark retrieval, would be very, very difficult to pull off (yay APEX rescues the Ark! ….ugggg).

As for already published Mass Effect literature, I haven’t felt inclined to read any of original trilogy media, however I’m told the Drew Karpyshyn books are outstanding. I have read Nexus: Uprising (from Andromeda) and enjoyed it. (The selling point was that one of the authors, Jason M. Hough, hung out in the Mass Effect subreddit and made some very relevant posts. He seemed like a cool guy so I decided to read his book. I don’t regret it.) Supposedly the next book features Cora’s past. I’ll wait until it gets reviewed before deciding whether or not to get it. Same for any other Andromeda books. I am pretty unlikely to read comics though, just not my thing.

Looks like a grim future for us Mass Effect fans (and for us RPG fans in general, if the market keeps it’s current direction), but what can you do?

Mass Effect 3 Mid Game Post

Posted August 21, 2017 by Ophelie
Categories: Mass Effect

Tags: , , , , ,

Ok, I’m back. In the past month, I played until the end of my WoW subscription.

Not much to talk about there. I made it to Northrend and about level 70 before running out of time. Will have to go back and play again once I can commit to it so I can actually experience Legion (and Warlords of Dreanor for that matter, since I’ve never played that either). I do find that I like the “run around while listening to music/podcasts” aspect of the game the best, which is a little sad since the main reason I got WoW was because Ed kept saying how much he missed playing games with me. In the end, all I wanted to do was play by myself and listen to stuff. Maybe we’ll look into a different game to play together.

Also in the past the month, I posted pictures of my “forced” holidays. I feel like the world needs more harmless sharing of nature photos. (Not to be confused with au naturel photos which are a completely different matter.) Am always looking for recommendations. The travel and real life bloggers I follow either patter out or turn into advertisements for their “how to work from home” books and/or their sponsors. (Follow My Legs and the Giant Spoon! I have neither books to sell nor sponsors to promote!)

On Mass Effect 3

I’ve played up to Priority: Rannoch now. I supposed I should have good manners and put in a spoiler cut after the random screenshot. 

I freaking LOVE this poster. I tried to find a real life version (or even a windows wallpaper). No luck. Am bummed.

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Mass Effect 2 Wrap Up

Posted July 16, 2017 by Ophelie
Categories: Mass Effect

Tags: , , , , , , ,

Got to the end of Mass Effect 2 a few days ago. I clocked in about 100 hours…a lot of which were AFK. My tendency to forget what I’m doing and just…wander off… makes it really hard to keep track of how long it actually takes me to play my games. The WoW subscription I paid for and have barely used is expiring in a few weeks so I figured I should do that before hurling myself at Mass Effect 3, but first things first, ramblings about my last and final ME2 session.

This is going to be all spoilers all the time, so even though this is a *checks* 7 year old game, I’ll be kind and hide the post behind a cut. Read the rest of this post »