Tag Archives: xbox

An open letter to BioWare: Thank you

I broke my foot (lisfranc fracture) and arm (upper humerus, with displacement) playing short tennis on holiday in late August 2016.  I had surgery on both of them (plates and pins) and have been recovering since the start of September.  The first few weeks of that meant no use of my foot at all, so stuck in one room in the house peeing into a bottle and using a commode.  My arm was in a sling, and I was under strict orders not to bear any load on it.  For the past few weeks, I’ve had a heel-load bearing cast on my foot, which means I can hobble short distances, but I’m still pretty much limited to a single room because I need to keep the foot elevated as much as possible.

When my wife spoke to the occupational therapist (they did a home visit before the hospital would discharge me) they talked about exercises and what I could and couldn’t do, and my wife mentioned the consoles.  The OT was quite happy for me to use the Xbox One controller, because it would exercise my wrist and fingers without putting any load on my arm, and keep some activity in that part of my body.

Mass Effect 2 LogoI was in too much pain for the first few days at home to do anything though – which meant a lot of television.  Eventually I decided to stop the brain rot caused by that and whacked Mass Effect 1 into the Xbox One now that it’s playable under the backwards compatibility feature.  I completed a full play-through with all the DLC.  That led to Mass Effect 2 (360 only, not backwards compatible yet) and some fun and games getting the ME1 saves to import (saved on the Xbox One, but used on the 360).  Another full play-through with all DLC.  Inevitably, I finished ME3 (and all DLC)! after that as well.  It’s not the first time I’ve played them, although I’ve played ME2 most, I’ve completed ME1 and ME3 a couple of times at least.  I think that was around 120 hours of gaming.

I have Dragon Age: Origins, Dragon Age: Origins – Awakenings and Dragon Age II, but only on the 360 (and it was started to smell pretty hot on the days I played ME2 and ME3).  Also, although I absolutely love DA:O & DAOA they do feel a tiny bit tired now.  I’m not as enamoured with DA II overall, although the DLC improves it.  So, I put Dragon Age: Inquisition into the Xbox One and then played that (and all the DLC, which is new to me), and have just finished.  164 hours in total.

One hundred, and sixty four hours of game play.

daI’ve loved BioWare games for a long time, they’re a part of my gaming history on the PC and consoles.  Baldur’s Gate and Neverwinter Nights have special places in my gaming memory.  I loved the dialog, I loved the characters and the phrases.  Hell, myself, my wife and our gaming friends are still using quotes from the Baldur’s Gate series1 , when roleplaying, gaming and sometimes shopping.

Here’s a short list of why I love the games.

  1. Commitment to single player content.  Look I get it, I played Everquest for over 7 years – I was seriously into that MMO, so I know the joy of gaming online with actual real folk, having conversations with real human beings and sitting up until 4 o’clock in the morning with someone you’ve never met to help them win a piece of loot that’s just pixels backed by a database entry.  I understand multi-player fun.  But when I’m playing multi-player games, I want to collaborate.  I don’t play tabletop roleplaying games to fight against the players, and if I play online multi-player games I don’t want PvP to be the whole point, even if it’s team based.  More than that – sometimes I want a single player experience.  Sometimes I want to read a book on my own, not watch a movie with 300 other people, and gaming is no different.  I want to be the protagonist, to drive the story with a supporting cast, at my own pace, using my own imagination and in my own little world.  You guys deliver that, you guys get it, and you guys clearly love it.  Please, never lose that.
  2. Massive games.  Truly huge.  With structure.  Not huge in the Oblivion or Morrowind ‘er where do I go now’ way, but huge in scope and content, with a solid, structured layered story that helps you decide where to go and what to do when you get there.  It’s a truly fine balance and you guys usually tread it perfectly.
  3. Dialog.  You don’t always get it right, but when you do, it’s sublime.  It might be cheesy, it might be corny, it might be sentimental, but man we love it.  I love it.
  4. Complex morality decisions.  I cure the genophage every time, I have to, someone else might get it wrong.  But every time I’m forced to think about it, to think about the nuances and the impact.  I forgave the Wardens.  I unify the quarians and the geth, even though I know it’s futile, because fuck war.  Sometimes, I sit and stare at a single conversation option for 10 minutes, sometimes longer.  Do I save you and condemn the galaxy, or do I condemn you and save the castle.  Yes please.  More.
  5. Characters.  Your characters will stick with me for ever.  No less than some of the best books I’ve ever read.  Minsc, Wrex, Tali (yes, yes, I’m always a Talimancer), Oghren, these are characters I’ll never forget, and the interactions between them all are moments I’ll enjoy like the best form of entertainment in any genre.

You don’t make games.  You make interactive fiction of the highest order, and I salute you.

I have loved your games for a long time, and stuck in one room for weeks has allowed me to enjoy them all over again with an intensity usually disrupted by trivial things like sleep, eating and work.  In a world of expensive entertainment, your games offer some of the best return in pure gaming enjoyment, well before you factor in any of the ongoing conversations, memories and replays.

Long may it continue, long may you continue, and long may you focus on content rich, single player focussed interactive fiction which puts the player in charge of the outcomes.

In summary – thank you for the last 18 years of games, and thank you for keeping me occupied during my recuperation.

NB: This time, I actually didn’t mind the ME3 endings either, I tried all three, I’m sure the blue one is best overall.  No spoilers.

NB2: Now the 360 has cooled down, maybe I should give DA:O and DA:OA another shot.  Tired or not, I think it’s time a lowly dwarf from Orzammar saved the world, again.

  1. Give a man a fish and he can eat for a day, give him a sword and he can chow down on the marrow of evil! []

Fallout 4

F4_Wiki_BannerI really enjoyed Fallout 3 and Fallout: New Vegas. I played both of them to death, despite the bugs. It was therefore, no surprise to me that I was super excited about Fallout 4 when I heard it was being released.  The only issue really, was Bethesda, they’re not well known for releasing bug free stuff, and on top of that, I’d found Skyrim to be lacking any soul.  I feared that perhaps Fallout would be gutted, ripped of its sense of being and left cold and emotionless on the floor.

I needn’t have worried.  I’ve read reviews and comments from people who find Fallout 4 lacking; they say it’s just a big tower defence game, or there’s little purpose beyond travel to point A, shoot the enemy to death, and then return to point B.  I’d argue that’s no different to Fallout 3 certainly, although Fallout: New Vegas was a little richer than that.  However, the key with all three games is that the main quest line, and in fact, most of the side quests, aren’t where Fallout games get their humanity, their soul, or their poignant introspective.  They get those from the little letters, terminal messages, holotapes, non-main-quest NPC dialogue and other sources of background information.  Seeking those out, reading everything is what gives me the sense of enjoyment from the world, and Fallout 4 delivers on that level as well as the others.

Power Armour Army
Power Armour Army – about half the suits I eventually collected. There they’re displayed on top of the three story house I built for myself.

There are tales spread throughout the whole of the Boston, Massachusetts (the location for Fallout 4) of people living, dying and being reborn in the aftermath of the nuclear war.  Yes, there’s a main quest (mirroring that of Fallout 3 in many ways), and yes there are factions (bringing something from New Vegas more formally into Fallout 4).  Yes, the Brotherhood of Steel turn up (of course), and there are raiders and supermutants and ghouls.  There are vaults and mercenary groups, and bars and shops and blasted wasteland.  All of these things are there.  They’re all to be explored, and shot up.  But the soul, the jam in the centre of this delicious doughnut is the treasure trove of hidden history that you only get by digging through the bodies of those you have vanquished.

Knee deep in ghoul remains, trying to find a vacuum tube, you discover a hastily scrawled note.  A husband, telling his wife where he has gone, and that he will be back.  You know he never made it.  Half dead from a deathclaw attack, you open a cabin door and find the remains of a young woman, running away from home to be with her lost love.  She never found him.  Resplendent in your new power armour, you find an abandoned room in a sewer, and huddled in the corner is a skeleton, grasping the last Salisbury steak box a 10mm pistol and 5 rounds of ammo on the ground.  You know they made a last stand, defending the boxed meat product from all-comers.

This is Fallout 4, this is why it still has a soul, and this is why I played it for over a hundred hours.

Power Armour - Back View
Here are the suits from the back

The main quest is clearly signposted as always, but you’ll struggle to simply follow that and do nothing else.  As with Fallout 3 the second location you need to reach is a fair hike across the map and unless you have excellent luck and incredible tunnel vision, by the time you get there you’ll be knee deep in side quests.  F4 has companions and factions which affect which quests you get offered, which ones you can complete and how the game ends.  Having to repair weapons and armour has gone, and the crafting system from New Vegas has been boosted with weapons and armour being highly customisable.  The two key new features are settlement building and the way power armour is handled.  I won’t talk about how those features work (the web is covered in that) except to say, I really enjoyed the settlements, and while the new power armour has advantages and disadvantages, I enjoyed it, and found it less game breaking in some ways than the power armour in F3.

The all new voiced dialogue was interesting, and although I don’t think the game needed it I think it benefited from it.  Dialogue wasn’t quite as witty as Fallout: New Vegas, but it was still engaging and at least on my first play-through of a quest (i.e. assuming I didn’t die and have to do it again) I didn’t skip any dialogue (which I’m notorious for, even when it’s unheard).

The locations are interesting, with some new approaches and some old classics.  I did find some of the z-axis layouts very hard to understand and deal with – both inside buildings (their own discrete areas) and in the open world setting.  There are some very high places you can reach through some very convoluted routes, which frustrated me several times.  I’m sure other people love them, and I learned to deal with them, but as with F3 and F:NV, it’s not always obvious how to navigate around key locations.

NPC companions are varied and interesting, and their dialogue is all spectacularly different, which was enjoyable.

Power Armour - Side View
Dramatic shot of power armour!

Some of the faction quests were very repetitive (especially the Minutemen), and they didn’t always feel joined up.  I often completed a Minutemen quest for a settlement which had already joined the cause, only to be told it was great to get another settlement on-board.  I didn’t personally suffer any significant bugs, certainly nothing quest related.  I did get stuck in the scenery once and had to reload a save (Greté played on the PC, and the one time she got stuck she used a console command to get out, I was very jealous).  There were times when my character just stood still after dialogue, both he and the NPC kind of playing chicken to see who would walk away first.  It always resolved itself eventually but I’ve read some people getting stuck like that and having to reload.

Faction-breaking quests (where you cause one faction to hate you) are clearly telegraphed, and for the most part I knew if my actions were going to upset someone.  However, as with F3 and F:NV it is possible to do the quests in such an order that you confuse the NPC’s who won’t let you hand a quest in because they’re eager to talk about something else.  Also, as with all Bethesda games, I found NPC’s would assume I had knowledge of an event long before I actually triggered it.

Even with those flaws though, Fallout 4 was absorbing, engaging and fun.  A worthy successor to Fallout 3 and although some might argue it doesn’t make enough of a step change, I always prefer evolution rather than revolution in my game sequels.

Play Fallout 4, it has a heart, and it wants to be your friend.  If you’ve played Fallout 3, take time to look for all the connections that Fallout 4 has to that game.  NPC’s, locations, events, and even the main storyline.

Note: The screenshots are from my Xbox One play through.  It’s ridiculously complicated to get screenshots out of a game on the Xbox.  In the end I had to sign up to One Drive, save them to that, and then get them on the PC via the One Drive web interface.

Reports from the sofa

I’ve been unwell on and off since around December.  Repeated colds which would come and go, and much more frustratingly, a cough which would come and go, and which at one stage was very bad indeed.  Eventually, my GP diagnosed it as whooping cough (yes, I know), and some antibiotics sorted it out.  It flared up again a few weeks ago, but only lasted a couple of days, and I’ve been pretty okay since.  Reports suggest it can take a few months to really get back to full health, we’ll see how it goes.

The reason this is important (in terms of this blog post) is that during the worst bouts of coughing, where I was basically coughing every 30 seconds, having something to absolutely focus on was the only way of either controlling it or ignoring it sufficiently to not go insane.  The two things which allowed me to achieve this were watching movies and playing computer games.

In March, I have spent a lot of time playing computer games.  This then, is a summary, a report from the sofa.

MasseffectlogoMass Effect

This wasn’t the first Mass Effect game I ever played.  I played the 2nd first, because I picked it up cheap when I first got the Xbox.  However, after loving it, I bought this as well.  This play-through, which started in February and ended in March was probably my third or fourth complete run through the game.  BioWare did two things with Mass Effect.  They delivered an amazing, interesting story supported by accessible game-play, and they learned from the experience when they went on to make the second game.  I’ve got all the DLC (downloadable content or add-ons) for the game, and the full play-through took 42 hours.  Decisions you take in the first game impact the second and third in the series (if you import your character), and so I was careful to make all the decisions in the way I wanted them to play out in the next two games.  I romanced Ashley, despite hating her bigoted opinions, because I’d never picked that option before.  I was planning to romance her through the 3rd game as well (staying true to her in the 2nd, by not romancing anyone) – but it didn’t work out that way.

I loved this play through as much as I did the first time.  I find as long as I leave enough time between play-throughs to make the dialogue fresh and interesting again, the game is as enjoyable as ever.

ME2LogoMass Effect 2

The 2nd game in the series fixes the most annoying feature of the first one, which is the equipment/loot system.  In the first game, you spend a lot of time sorting out gear for you and your party.  In the second, the whole system is streamlined and handled at a much higher level.  That alone would ensure I loved Mass Effect 2 more than 1, but it’s not the only thing BioWare made better.  Dialogue is more interesting, choices are more interesting, the missions are more varied and the general world in which you play is fleshed out in greater detail.  The one thing I preferred in the first game over the second was the layout of the Citadel.  In the first game it’s a sprawling location you can roam around as well as use fast travel stations, but in the second, it’s locked down more tightly and feels a lot smaller.  Considering the supposed size of the Citadel in-game, that can be disappointing at times.

Thanks again to owning all the DLC and being addicted to side missions, this time it took 48 hours to complete the game, finishing around the 9th March.  It should have only taken around 46 hours, but thanks to being an idiot, I had to take the collector base 3 times to get the ending I wanted.  Mass Effect 2 is the near perfect gaming experience for me, a blend of story, humour and action, with real in-game consequences of taking particular actions.

Mass Effect 3 LogoMass Effect 3

Up until this March, I’d only played Mass Effect 3 once.  I was pretty vocal about how much I hated the end (read here, massive spoilers), and the other issues in the game.  I’d never played any of the DLC other than the Prothean one released on day 1.  Since then, BioWare have released lots more DLC, including a free pack which updates the end.  BioWare promise it doesn’t change the end, it just clarifies what’s going on.  I was dubious, but I wanted to play the new DLC, and give them a chance.

Well, I still think there are issues, but I’ll give it to BioWare, they significantly improved the end for me.  There are three choices at the end, and on the first play-through there was really only one that gave what felt like the ‘right’ end.  Now, all three (four if you include the ‘no choice choice’) give far more satisfying ends and are described in a way which resolves many of my primary concerns.  I won’t spoil them here, but essentially, all the endings make sense now, and all of them result in some kind of victory, the only question is what are you prepared to give up to get that victory.  I’m still a bit sad that I had to be let down by the ending the first time, to get the better explanation the second time, and the new endings were tainted a bit by my memory of the originals.  However, you have to hand it to them, they realised they’d made a mistake, and they fixed it as well as they could without fundamentally changing anything.

Overall, the new DLC’s were excellent (Leviathan, Omega, Citadel), and I enjoyed this play-through much more than my first.  The game is quite happy to poke fun at itself, especially in the Citadel DLC, and that humour really shows how much the writers love the game, the characters and the fans.

Overall, the play-through was 57 hours (which is just over half of what I spent playing Skyrim).  For a third-person shooter that’s not a bad amount of time!  This time around I even played some of the co-op on-line content and really quite enjoyed it.

Mass Effect 1, 2 and 3 have to go down as one of the most legendary gaming experiences ever, surely.

dishonoured logoDishonoured

I don’t know how many hours I played Dishonoured for.  I’ve already traded it back in (bought for £15, traded back for £7), so I can’t load the save game and see what the played time was.  However, HowLongToBeat says it’s around 15 to 28 hours depending on how much stuff you want to complete.  I’m a fairly slow player, cautious and sneaky in games like this, so I’ll guess at around 22 hours.  Dishonoured is an excellent sneak-em-up set in a mysterious steampunky world and populated with some truly horrible people.  You can play the game in your own style, using a combination of violence or stealth to complete your missions, and despite essentially being an assassin you can choose to leave as many or few people alive as you like along the way.  The ending apparently varies depending on how many folk you dispatch, but while being fun, I didn’t feel the need to replay in a different style.  Conversation is interested, but the choices are limited and while there are side missions, they’re few in number and actually feel more like edges of the plot than truly side elements.

Actual game-play was really fun and the game easily kept me interested and engaged, despite playing it almost straight after the Mass Effect trilogy.  I completed the game with only about 5 kills, and some of those were accidental, honest.

Dungeon Siege III LogoDungeon Siege III

I’ve had this for ages, but had only played for around 2 hours.  After Dishonoured I was looking for something to really absorb me, and restarted from scratch.  I was pretty hopeful early on, but the game slowly became more and more repetitive, and essentially, a button-mashing 3rd person combat game.  It’s nothing like the original two games, which included full sized parties, and was based around a pause-and-go, click combat system.  Number 3 limits your party to two, the combat is real-time and requires control of your character and a limited number of skills with power bars and the like.  If you like button-mashing combat, then it may be for you but after 8 hours I gave up.  The story isn’t interesting enough to keep me trying to beat enemies that wipe me out in seconds with no obvious route to success.

Army of TWO TDC LogoArmy of TWO: TDC

We finally traded in the PS3 and all the associated gubbins, along with a few games, and as part of the trade-in deal put a pre-order down on Army of TWO: TDC after playing the demo.  I was looking for a FPS which was fun and relaxing, and Army of TWO fits the bill.  I knew it would be short, and I knew I wouldn’t play it more than once, but it was still enjoyable and satisfying.  Essentially, picked this up on Thursday, finished it, and traded it back in on Saturday afternoon (~£24 trade in).  I guess it was around 14 hours over those three days to go all the way through the story with a couple of stop-starts when I had to redo most of a complete chapter.  Fun, and essentially free, but not the kind of lengthy campaign I really enjoy in single player games.

Far Cry 2 LogoFar Cry 2

While I was trading in Army of TWO I looked around for something to play that could keep me busy for a while, and picked up Far Cry 2.  I know #3 is out, but I thought I’d give #2 a go initially, since it was in GAME’s 2 for £10 range (I picked up Bulletstorm at the same time).  I’ve played for around 3-4 hours, go through the tutorial and tried a few missions.  So far it’s fun.  I’m struggling a bit with the lack of feedback in terms of how stealthy you’re being (if at all), and the ‘no cover’ system is a little frustrating.  Otherwise, I think if I get into the game’s mindset I could find myself playing this for a good few hours.  However – I took a break to check out Bulletstorm and, well, read on …

Bulletstorm LogoBulletstorm

Well well well.  I played the demo when this first came out and while I thought it was interesting, I was clearly not in the mood for an irreverent, puerile first person shooter.  Apparently, this week, I’m absolutely in the mood for it.  Bulletstorm has some very high quality voice actors (from Mass Effect, in fact), some hilarious dialogue, a lot of swearing, some very annoying enemies, and some interesting weapons.  Technically, it’s a very solid first person shooter, with the feel of Gears of War without the cover-mechanism.  However, where the game really shines is the method of rewarding points (so you can buy weapon upgrades, ammo, etc.)  Each basic kill earns some points, but more complex kills earn more points, and the first time you perform a particular kill you get extra bonus points.  For example, shooting a bad guy nets you 10 points, but kicking that bad guy backwards and then shooting them, earns you 25 points.  Kicking the bad guy off the edge of a platform (earning you the Vertigo kill) is worth 50 points.  Add in blowing things up, an energy whip which can pull bad guys around, a combination of weapons and enemies, and the action is both frantic and humorous.

Yes, it’s silly, yes it’s slightly offensive, and yes, it’s utterly manic, but I’ve not had this much fun playing a true FPS ever.  The story is no worse than many first person shooters, while being better than some, and having some very high quality voice actors really helps.  Knowing that the actress for voice of the female character is the same as the one which played Female Shephard in Mass Effect gives the line “I will kill your dicks” even more added value.

I couldn’t stop playing yesterday and at times I was crying with laughter.  In one fight, where I dispatched about 20 enemies with a single shot to an explosive barrel, I was waiting for the combat to end, wondering why it wasn’t, but there were no new enemies.  Eventually, about 8 seconds after the explosion, I saw a lone falling enemy, through a window, who floated past us into the ocean giving me my first Fish Food reward.  Truly awesome gaming.  I can see me playing this a lot.

Borderlands 2

I love the first Borderlands game.  So much so that after completing it a couple of times on the PS3, I repurchased it on the XBox after my Sony-Rage meant I stopped using the PS3 completely.

I was pretty excited when Borderlands 2 was announced and I’ve been patiently waiting for September to arrive.  Here it is, and Borderlands 2 dropped through my letterbox this morning.

So far – it’s excellent.  All the good stuff from the first game and some of the annoying things ironed out.  The biggest difference is the enemy – they’re much, much cleverer.  The locations seem more sprawling, if that’s possible, and the enemy can turn up from almost any direction.  Locations are significantly more three dimensional as well, with gangways above and below where you’re walking.

The lovely cell-shaded-like graphics are still present, and the same dark humour runs through the sequel.

So far, after a few hours of playing, I can honestly say it’s the most fun I’ve had on the XBox 360 since Borderlands 1.

My favourite feature so far – the comments your character makes after a critical head-shot.  Love that sniper rifle.

Computer games – do you always play the ‘same’ archetype?

Many types of computer game have you taking on the role of the main protagonist.  Sometimes you get almost no choice about the kind of person you’re playing and sometimes you get lots of choice.  However, even with games such as Modern Warfare you often get a choice of weapons that can dictate your play style.  At the other end of the spectrum are games like Skyrim where you have almost unlimited choice in how you play your character.

I find that no matter which game I’m playing, I tend to gravitate towards a small subset of archetypes for my initial play through.  I may replay the game later with a different class or approach, but usually I stick to my tried and trusted standards.

I can split the archetype choices down into two basic categories.  If the game is primarily fantasy based (Dragon Age, Skyrim, Dungeon Siege III for example) then I will most often play a warrior with sword and shield.  I tend to relegate stealth, ranged weapons and magic to the back burner in fantasy games.  Sure I’ll shoot an arrow if necessary, and I can sneak if the quest demands it, but I’d rather be standing tall in the middle of the battle, crushing the enemy with my shield and beheading them with my shiny sword.

If the game is modern, sci-fi (Borderlands, Mass Effect) or post-apocalyptic (Fallout, Fallout New Vegas) then it tends to include projectile weapons (i.e. guns).  In those games, I usually always play a soldier style role with medium range high accuracy weapons by preference (assault rifles and other rifles, machine guns at a push).  I love sniper rifles in those games, or anything which lets me shoot from very long distances.  Again, I tend to avoid specifically stealthy options, close combat weapons (shotgun, pistol), melee weapons, low accuracy rifles (sub-machine guns) and the like.  If the game has powers (like Mass Effect or Borderlands) I tend not to use those either unless they’re integral to the game.

On a second or third play through I might go for rogues/thieves or magic/powers based characters, and if the game supports lots of facets I’ll often pick up rogue-like skills as secondary support skills.

But generally, you’ll find me knee deep in dead goblins waving a sword and hiding behind my shield, or ducked behind cover 300 yards from the enemy looking down the scope of an assault rifle or sniper rifle waiting for the just, the, right, moment.

I find it amusing sometimes that in fantasy games I opt for the in-close with a melee weapon option and eschew bows and long range magic, and yet in modern and futuristic games I hate melee weapons with a passion.  I’ll use the chainsaw once, for fun, but I’ll always go back to my trusty assault rifle.