My Odyssey

Sometimes, instead of playing D&D, our group would get together and play a console game. Usually, it would be something we could take turns at, a perennial favourite being Katamari. Then we might fight it out with Super Smash Bros Brawl or, before Twitch was a thing, watch one person play Halo, Portal, or, in one memorable instance, Assassin’s Creed.

It was early 2008 and we’d never heard of this game, but it looked fun. Kind of like Prince of Persia, but with a much bigger world and story. So I bought a copy and played it through, experiencing the usual arc of new game discovery. In addition to learning how to make Altair run and jump and climb, there were extra senses and puzzles and things to collect. It was hard and frustrating, then not so hard and fun in that ‘I’ve accomplished a thing and I really want to accomplish the next thing’ way, then amazing, and then… wow. There was a story here, something deeper than an overarching reason to kill stuff and collect stuff. The best part for me, though, was the fact you didn’t have to fight your way to every victory. A lot of the time, you could sneak around the bad guys, pull off one spectacular kill, and run away.

This wondrous game had also solved the inconsistent puzzle of death and resurrection. Because the player character was reliving the memories of ancestors through a device called the Animus, death was really just desynchronization. Reload and try again.

Perfect game was perfect.

You can continue reading the highlights of my Assassin’s Creed journey in previous posts. (Assassin’s Creed III, Black Flag, Syndicate, Unity, and Rogue.) Today, I’m going to leap forward twenty or so years to Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey, which I just finished, bringing me up to date and ahead of new releases for the first time in ten years. Continue reading “My Odyssey”

I Can Quit At Any Time

One day last week (not sure which, it’s all a bit of a blur), I was nestled on the couch with a blanket and a couple of cats. Too tired to read and having watched enough television to numb certain parts of my brain, I was playing solitaire on my Kindle. Though it makes little sense to play a game of logic when I’m tired, I often play solitaire in the evenings. I find it just engaging enough but just bland enough to fill in the hour I should wait before surrendering to sleep. (Going to bed too early means I get up too early and that’s an unaccountably vicious cycle.)

An ad popped up for a game called Klondike and I figured what the heck, I’d download it and give it a try. It looked even more mindless than solitaire but prettier.

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The game started up with lots of easy to follow instructions. Buy some chickens, plant some wheat, and chop through these bushes to reveal hidden treasures! The juxtaposition of farming and exploring didn’t really make sense to me? Nor did having to rescue people and fix someone’s boat, but the game was telling me what to do, meaning I didn’t have to think, so I went along with it.

For three hours. Continue reading “I Can Quit At Any Time”

Small Packages, Good Games

In between long and involved games like chapters of Assassin’s Creed and The Witcher, I really like shorter games with tighter stories that I can play through in a week or two. Especially when I don’t have a lot of time to devote to gaming. Two shorter games I played this summer that really impressed me were Watch Dogs 2 and Soma.

Watch Dogs 2

I loved playing this game. Watch Dogs 2 has the perfect balance of open-world and a directed story. I could while away a gaming session exploring a beautifully rendered San Francisco and Bay Area, stopping for coffee at a donut shop, trying on new outfits, cruising the harbor or pretending to be a part of impromptu parties and street gatherings. I could explore hidden basements and rooftops, looking for new key data and the points to spend researching it. For a day, I could be a cab driver, toting citizens around the city – or helping them catch as much air as possible by zooming up San Francisco’s many hills and launching ourselves (in the car) from the top of them. There are so many neighborhoods to explore and reasons to do so. And, you can post it all on an Instagram type feed called ScoutX.

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Meanwhile, there’s a fairly immersive story waiting for you that ties into real-world issues by proposing that one man, Dusan Nemec, is using the tools at the disposal of his tech corporation, Blume, to gather data on network users (hypothetically, me and you) for financial gain and influence. The data is exchanged in secret deals with health insurance companies (order a pizza using the app on your phone and your health insurance premiums might just go up), home security companies (do you know who has access to your new smart home?), the local police (use and abuse of power and cooperation with local outlaw gangs), the FBI… the list goes on up the chain until the game has you believing that no data is safe from attack and abuse. It’s pretty scary and reminiscent of reality in a way that has you thinking about the trail you leave online.

I’ve always been of the opinion that if someone finds me interesting enough to trace, good luck to them. I surf recipe sites, book review sites, gaming sites, some science, a little porn, and too much social media. I’m really not that interesting. But my digital footprint could be useful in the right hands when it comes to manipulating my opinion on certain subjects, such as an election.

The point of the game is to take down Blume and the process is fairly straight forward. Get some dirt, spread it around, and invite others to roll in it with you. Of course, this gains Nemec’s attention and he’s not a friendly foe. The stakes rise far higher than I expected from this outwardly fun game, and the plot points hit harder. I came to truly care for the members of Dedsec, even though they sometimes felt a little too young and radical for my homecooked and mow it to perfection twice a week self. 

What I Loved Most

Driving. Or, more accurately, riding my Sayanora motorcycle from one end of the city, across the Golden Gate Bridge and up into the hills behind Oakland. I only killed one other motorcyclist on these trips (which I, of course, felt terrible about), and managed to limit collateral damage to a few traffic lights and several stop signs. I was much more dangerous with four wheels beneath me. Or should I say Marcus was? Marcus was much dangerous in a car. In a van, he was downright destructive. The guy was a terrible driver. 😉

I never got tired of driving across the Golden Gate Bridge or simply watching the city unfold around me. The environment is amazing and the fact you can stop off at any point and engage with it never failed to tempt me.

I also really enjoyed learning to sneak around Umeni security corps and gang members. I excelled in the art of distraction and spent most of my research points learning to sow greater chaos.

The network puzzles were awesome, except the ones that had timers attached. I actually sucked at those but managed to get through all of them, sometimes with naught but a second to spare.

And shopping. I really enjoyed shopping. In what other game can you buy and wear a donut shirt?

donutshirt

What I Didn’t Love

Not much, to be honest, though the level of violence available never stopped bothering me. For some reason, I thought hackers would be peaceable types who favored quiet takedowns or a completely hands-off method to achieving their goals. Probably naive of me.

Apparently, if you immediately freeze, Umeni Corps won’t shoot. They’ll arrest you and escort you from the premises. I never managed this feat. I was shot every time and had to replay several missions several times in order to learn the path of least resistance out of a building – until I become a more accomplished chaos engineer, that is.

I also didn’t like that it was so easy to kill people with things like, um, forklifts. The first time was an accident and I stared at my screen, completely horrified. The second time was deliberate as I learned to remotely pilot forklifts, cars, motorcycles, vans, and scissor-lifts into enemies, maiming, crushing, and killing. Bad guys. Mostly bad guys. Load up something explosive and the effect is even better. I never felt quite right about killing people, though, and opted in most cases for a melee attack that probably broke necks, but I could tell myself they were simply knocked out. You know, like in Assassin’s Creed.

Dusan Nemec was a tool. I loved his eventual takedown. So, I didn’t love him, but his character was perfectly scripted. From the man-bun and not a hair out of place face fur to his stupidly expensive track pants.

In Summary

While searching online for the reason there was so much trash blowing around the streets of San Francisco (I thought it might be a real-world effect caused by my causing too much chaos, like in Dishonored), I came across a lot of Reddit and other forum comments calling the game trash, a waste of time, and absolute garbage. I disagree. I thought the game was FUN, well-scripted, just difficult enough to be a challenge, and filled with enough activity outside the main quest to be worth the sticker price. I grabbed it on sale for less than $20 and wouldn’t have been upset to have paid the usual $50-$60.

The game ran bug-free and seamlessly on my PC, which is running a fairly old (now) Intel Core i5-4460 CPU with only 16Gb of RAM, and a GeForce GTX 970 graphics card.

I logged 40 hours of playtime and though I completed the main quest and quite a few side activities, I felt I’d barely scratched the surface of the world environment. There was a lot left to do and the main quest holds (in my opinion) substantial replay value.

Recommended!

Soma

Before playing The Evil Within, I hadn’t known horror survival was a genre. What I love about games like this is the tight, compact story, and the different style of gameplay they encourage. These aren’t necessarily “kill them first and ask questions later” kind of games. You don’t advance by learning to hold two guns (swords, machetes, flame throwers) at once. More usually, the player is presented every level with a new puzzle that encourages you to think about what you’ve already learned and apply it in a new and interesting way. Sort of like Prince of Persia, but with way less jumping.

I had forgotten everything about Soma by the time I got around to playing it, except that maybe I’d bought it on my daughter’s recommendation. I once watched a trailer for this post-apocalyptic game set under the ocean where you went from station to station in a sub, avoiding scary things. It was a top-down, 3D affair (think Diablo III) and looked pretty immersive. I forgot to add it to my wishlist, though, and never saw it again. Then my daughter started talking about a game called Soma that was post-apocalyptic and underwater. And it was on sale. So I picked it up.

Soma is eerily similar to that lost game, except that it has an FPS interface and the only sub you get your hands on breaks soon afterward because of course it does. Getting around in a sub would be too easy – and boring.

Basically, the story is that you’re this dude, Simon, and you have something wrong with your brain. The result of an accident. The game begins with you (as Simon) visiting the doctor who is going to scan your brain with the hopes of developing a treatment regimen. You go to this lab and sit in a chair and a mechanical screen lowers over your head as you engage in foreshadow-y banter with the doctor – about how Native Americans believed that cameras could capture a person’s soul. As Simon is plunged into darkness, you, the player, is, of course, thinking about what this computerized brain scan is going to capture.

When the screen lifts, you’re in a different room. It’s dark and really, really creepy, and once you figure out how to turn the lights on, it’s not much better. The room is littered with broken machinery, which has, ah, something sort of growing on it, something that at first glance is part machine, part biological – maybe – and then there are these suits.

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You quickly ascertain that you’re not where you thought you were and over the course of the game, you also discover that you’re not what you thought you were. Oh, and the world has ended, and you’re basically humanity’s last hope.

What I Loved

While you’re dodging scary AF creatures that KILL YOU, the story delves more deeply into the themes of what makes us human, and thoughts about our viability and survivability as a species. All stuff I LOVE.

The voice acting is thoughtful and I really enjoyed getting to know the two main characters in the game, Simon and Catherine. I was invested in their adventure.

The creep factor is real and I jumped several times as horrors ducked around corners and crept up behind me. I further loved the fact that there is no combat option – the only way to survive the game and win all objectives is to sneak your way through the increasingly weird and depressing ruins of the Pathos station.

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Oh, and there are a couple of neat twists to the story, and one or two decisions you must make that really hit quite hard.

What I Didn’t Love

The way the ending was handled. No spoilers, but initially, there was a complete sense of “well, damn.” I was depressed about how things had turned out and a little annoyed that the developers had ended the game the way they had. Tabbing out of the end game credits delivers an epilogue that is much more worthwhile, being the ending I’d expected all along. I don’t know if the first ending is a fake-out? If so, I think the segue into the second ending could have been handled a little more elegantly.

In Summary

Overall, I loved this game. I’ve raved about it to several other gamer friends and despite the small hiccup toward the end for me, I thought the story was super solid. Deeply thoughtful and compelling. The first ending does work quite well, it’s just… I like my endings a little happier.

I was hooked by the story from beginning to end and played this game in two days – which is nearly unheard of for me. I usually don’t have that sort of time to devote all at once, but also, this is a really short game. I clocked only 12 hours over the course of a single weekend.

I got this one on sale and would probably wait for a sale again rather than pay $30, but I did think the bang was worth the buck. Soma delivered a nearly flawless gaming experience and a totally immersive story. It’s easy to learn the rules, and while the story is tight, you can roam off the beaten path to explore more of the world if you want to. I can imagine the game could be replayed a couple of times, therefore revealing more clues.

Highly recommended. I’ll be looking out for more from Frictional Games.

 

Wrapping the Kenways and Completing the Initiates

I had actually thought both Unity and Syndicate were a part of the Kenway saga. The names of Edward and Haytham pop up often enough for them to feel like they are. But apparently they’re their own thing, which doesn’t really affect this post all that much except making naming it more complicated.

I’m talking about the endlessly fascinating Assassin’s Creed series, by the way. I’m behind in posting my thoughts on Rogue, Unity and Syndicate.

assassins_creed_syndicate_logo-HDWe’ll start with the game I finished playing just last weekend: Syndicate.

What I Loved

Which is mostly going to be a list of what I liked, in some cases very much, as I didn’t really love this one. I loved the beginning and felt the game actually got less interesting as it progressed, most markedly when Jacob and Evie arrived in London. There began the relentless and monotonous conquering of the city, which I enjoyed for the sake of clearing out the rabble, but quickly abandoned once I’d leveled the twins and finished upgrading all of their gear. Westminster remains unconquered.

I really enjoyed the Thames as a borough, and had fun riding up and down the river on barges, sabotaging and stealing shipments. I stumbled into the World War I segment by accident and enjoyed that immensely. I liked the short and defined nature of the quests and the feeling of actually making a difference. Also, shooting the planes out of the sky was fun.

I liked how the present and precursor stories were handed in Syndicate. No more tedious traipsing around an office hacking computers for files we didn’t really need. We also got a huge chunk of precursor story, but felt a little recycled. Was it recycled? I did miss solving the logic puzzles, though. I’d rather have scanned barcodes on buildings and solved puzzles for database entries and keys than complete endless London Stories that often had no bearing at all on the main quest.

But we’re talking about what I liked. I loved driving carriages and quickly achieved Wanton Destruction, thus making my carriages even more dangerous! I liked not having to level my lockpicking skill and waiting for tumblers to settle. But I sort of missed that as well?

Jacob was loveable. I made up a ton of stories for him in my head and if I still had the time to write fan fiction, he’d quickly consume my life. I loved his personality. His cheekiness and blunt way of getting things done. I felt he had a lot more emotional investment in his quests than Evie, too.

Finally, being able to infect multiple targets with a poison dart? Delightful.

What I Didn’t Love

The overall story was… dull. Basically, it followed a chain of linked characters who had to be killed before the big bad, Starrick, could go down. And Starrick wasn’t all that big and bad. In discussing this one with my husband, we came to the conclusion that while we like the blurring of the lines between the ultimate aims of the Assassins and Templars, this game really suffered from the shades of grey. Yeah, Starrick was evil, but he also seemed like he had the best interests of London at heart. I dunno. I didn’t feel as though I was ridding the world of super dangerous scum at the end of this one. But I did like that Jacob and Evie had settled their differences by the end.

maxresdefaultContinuing to work backward, let’s talk about Unity.

 What I Loved

Just about everything, actually. I had FUN playing this one. I loved the brightness of Paris and the difference between the neighborhoods. The city felt much more distinct than in previous games, which was probably because I’d played Black Flag, Freedom’s Cry and Rogue in the year or so leading up to it, and so had been wandering the developing world, sacking and pillaging ships and villages for a long, long time. It was nice to shake the mud off my boots for a while and rediscover civilization.

I think my favourite aspect was that it felt like a return to Assassin’s Creed II in gameplay and design. I enjoyed making the city mine and bumping into history via quests and the engaging Paris Stories. I loved solving the mini-quests like the murder mysteries. Again, I fell into the expansion without warning and though I was a little under level for it, persevered and came out all the richer for my troubles.

I enjoyed sneaking into and out of the Bastille. I enjoyed sneaking into and out of just about everywhere, actually. What I loved most about this installment, though, was the story. Yes, it was another shades of grey episode, but it really worked here with the star-crossed romance angle, which I really liked. Arno had so much more purpose than the average assassin. In fact, he kind of reminded me of Ezio, my all-time favourite. Giving the assassin a personal quest as well as a world quest definitely makes the story more engaging.

I also just really liked Arno.

Oh, and the World War II segment was really, really cool. I took so many screenshots of the balloons over Paris and all of the other craziness.

What I Didn’t Love

The present part. BORING. I miss the present story having a face. I miss Desmond. 😦 I also feel like the present and precursor stories have stalled. I love that the series has unlimited potential when it comes to tracking down the pieces of Eden using the memories of certain bloodlines, but what drew me to and kept me fascinated through the end of Revelations was the intertwined story threads of past, present, and possible future (or ancient past). I’d love to see more of that.

10495383_849842478360298_1178114232514149692_oFinally, let’s talk about Rogue.

What I Loved

A lot, actually. My most defined thought is that Rogue is what Assassin’s Creed III should have been, starring Haytham Kenway. I’ve complained loudly and often about Assassin’s Creed III—the game that nearly had me quitting the franchise. If not for Black Flag, I might have. Rogue took the best elements of both—giving us the story that should rightfully have been Haytham’s, that of a man born to one creed and raised by another. Conflict within and without.

If you don’t know Haytham’s entire story, I recommend reading Oliver Bowden’s novel, Forsaken.

Back to Rogue. I really liked Shay’s story. I felt his motivation for leaving the Assassins and joining the Templars was sound and his continuing struggle with his decision was handled well. Not over the top, but not ignored. I played the game with a sort of, “about time” attitude.

I loved the more confined map. This isn’t as big a game as Black Flag, although it was markedly similar in a lot of ways. But the story was much tighter and more cohesive with less reliance on real-world or “storied” events. More its own thing. Like Revelations, the story here was organic to the game world and current character than the more sprawling installments in the series.

I really enjoyed sacking and pillaging.

I always enjoy sacking and pillaging.

I don’t know what’s so fun about it, except that there’s a wonderful sense of accomplishment attached to defeating another ship or claiming a plantation or warehouse and relieving each of all their supplies. Maybe it’s that those supplies were then used for upgrades, so there was a real drive to engage in this activity, over and over again. And it wasn’t as tedious as all that shipping and trade introduced in AC II (only to be dropped thereafter, because ugh).

I enjoyed the mini-game of expanding trade routes, though, with the turn-based ship battles. I liked building and maintaining that fleet, and watching my wealth escalate as a result—not that I ever figured out what to do with it all? I’ve generally finished the main plot of every Assassin’s Creed game before realizing the benefits of all the side quest actions like conquering districts and building fleets.

What I Didn’t Love

The limited access to the world map at the beginning of the game. I’m a natural born wanderer and as such, like to wander wherever, whenever. I became so frustrated with the limitations of the map and not being able to clear and claim areas and complete quests ahead of schedule. Same with the access to tools and equipment.

Thankfully, this seems to be the only game where the limitations were so fierce, and I’ve wandered freely since.

 

So, what’s next up? Origins, I guess! I’m usually two games behind, so I doubt I’ll even get to Origins before Odyssey is released, though. Probably not even this year. I’m playing The Evil Within right now, and loving it, and I’m hoping to squeeze the new Tomb Raider in before the new Fallout drops. Then there are all the other new games coming up soon (which I talk about here if you want to read another gaming ramble).

I am looking forward to playing both Origins and Odyssey, though, and despite myriad small complaints, really do love the Assassin’s Creed games. They’ve become my comfort game of choice, taking over from Skyrim. When I just want to kill stuff, I now slip on my hood and become an assassin for a while. Keeps me off the streets. 😉

What I’ll be doing in October, November, December, and beyond…

There is so much gaming goodness coming our way! Among the titles I’m most looking forward to are the usual suspects: another Fallout, more Assassin’s Creed, anything related to The Witcher, and a follow up to The Last of Us. With E3 wrapped, I’ve been watching videos and reading up about the games I’m most excited about. Here, in no particular order, are my top four.

*game links refer back to reviews and rambles on this blog

The Last of Us Part II

Okay, I lie. This is the game I’m most looking forward to, so I’m going to talk about it first. The Last of Us was my favourite game last year and is in my top five games ever. It’s also the game that affected me the most emotionally, just eclipsing Dragon Age: Origins by a single box of tissues. (Damn you, Alistair!)

What I’m looking for in the sequel is that same emotional impact along with a story that isn’t just another run through the wasteland of a zombie apocalypse. I also have questions I’d like to see answered—which I’ll try to allude to without spoiling the first game. For those of you who have played: remember the scene at the end when Ellie asks Joel if he’s lying? I want to know if that is going to come back to haunt us. Developer Neil Druckmann has confirmed that Joel and Ellie will continue to be central to the game, though Ellie will be the only playable character. So however it plays out, we’re only going to get one point of view.

After watching the recent gameplay trailer, I’m also really excited about the combat tweaks. The Last of Us is already nail-biting and edge-of-your-seat when it comes to the fight scenes, with the scarcity of resources, smart opponents, and no two scenarios playing out the same way. Now it looks as though combat will become more dynamic, taking the environment into account in ways I haven’t seen before.

What I’ll mostly be playing for, though, is the story. Fingers crossed it’ll be a good one, and that Joel will get enough screen time. For lots and lots of story discussion, including hints and theories, visit this fantastic article https://www.usgamer.net/articles/22-06-2018-the-last-of-us-part-2-release-date-characters-story-trailer-everything-we-know

 

Fallout 76

The Fallout games have some of the most immersive worlds I’ve played in. Even months after I’ve finished the main quest, I’ll find myself thinking about other parts of the map—mini quests I stumbled across, the quirky side characters, and the unique and diverse environments from each game. To this day, I cannot travel the Metro in D.C. without having a Fallout 3 flashback—and an overwhelming urge to play. I adored the faithful rendering of the environment in New Vegas, which reminded me so much of the real place, and when I’m out hiking and find abandoned and broken down buildings, I’m instantly in one of my favourite games—thankfully without a marauding population of radscorpions.

Fallout 76 is exciting for a number of reasons.

  • It’s another Fallout. Duh.
  • It might be set in West Virginia (or neighboring Virginia). I’m not as familiar with that environment as I have been D.C., Vegas, and Boston, but “Take Me Home, Country Roads” took me right there.
  • It’s going to have base building. Yes! One of my favourite parts of Fallout 4 was building towns. It was a new addition to the Fallout activity roster and even though I eventually tuned my radio away from the Minutemen because, oh my God, those towns always needed rescuing from something or other, I did enjoy dotting the map with several iterations of Kellyville.
  • It’s going to be online…

My excitement skids to a slow halt about here because I’m pretty much over multiplayer online games. Recovering WoW addict, here. Also, I just don’t have the time to compete with other players in a persistent world. I am always going to be behind and playing catch up isn’t the same as playing a game. But, it has been confirmed that you can play solo, so I’m hoping the experience will be similar to BioWare’s Star Wars: The Old Republic, which I mostly played solo, co-oping now and again to complete difficult quests.

I will say that having other players inhabit the roles usually reserved for NPCs—from vendors to raiders—could make the game more dynamic. I’m hoping the PVP aspects will be flexible, though, so that I’m not spending all of my time dodging other players.

Despite this bump in the road, I am still really looking forward to this game.

 

Cyberpunk 2077

I’ve been interested in this one since I finished The Witcher 3 and started poking around the internet for hints as to what the team at CD Projekt Red might do next. Though slightly disappointed that it wouldn’t be another Witcher game, I found it hard not to be excited by the early concept art and gameplay descriptions for a near future cyber thriller type of game in my favourite setting: an open world.

After watching available trailers and cutscenes for Cyberpunk 2077, my number one impression of the game is that it’s going to be fun. I get a Mass Effect crossed with Saint’s Row vibe from the world, which is exactly the sort of game I’ve been hanging out for. I was seriously disappointed by Mass Effect: Andromeda—mostly due to story issues. But I miss the “feel” of a sci-fi game. Mash that up with an interactive environment, new and interesting combat models, and multiple mission approaches, and Cyberpunk promises not to be boring.

Check out this article for a full list of what we’re looking forward to http://www.ign.com/articles/2018/06/12/e3-2018-first-cyberpunk-2077-details-game-is-a-first-person-rpg-more

 

Red Dead Redemption 2

This one’s easy:

  • It’s a western
  • It’s the sequel to Red Dead Redemption
  • It’ll be available for PlayStation as well as Xbox! (And maybe even PC.)

The release date for Red Dead Redemption 2 has been pushed back so many times I’ve often wondered if we’ll ever get to play it. But this trailer keeps the home fires burning.

 

But wait, there’s more…

I am, of course, looking forward to Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, but Ubisoft releases new adventures in this franchise so regularly and reliably, I hardly have time to build up a proper flail. The trailer is pretty exciting, though!

I’m interested in Days Gone, even though I’ve been reading some pretty lackluster reviews of the gameplay. One player compared it to Far Cry, which honestly didn’t turn me off because, even though the Far Cry games are variations on a single, oft-repeated theme, sometimes I crave that. A simple story that’s just engaging enough to carry the action, and a world open to the havoc I can bring. Plus, Days Gone has zombies.

Which upcoming games are you most looking forward to?