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.
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.
Mass 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
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.
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
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
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
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 …
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.