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.

You like to, move it!

Spent about two hours on Sunday playing Start the Party, a PS3 game which uses the Move controller (camera + motion sensitive controller).  We had friends visiting on Saturday for some Warhammer FRP and they stayed over.  Sunday, after breakfast, Grete convinced us all to give the game a shot (we’d played the demo, which was amusing, but not the full game with a bunch of people).

It’s pretty fun!  We played a 5 round and a 10 round game.  The rounds are either full ‘games’ or quick-fire mini-games, and there’s bonus and joker rounds to keep people interested (more on bonus rounds in a sec).  The full games are stuff like painting in shapes (which eventually turn out to be pictures of something like a monkey), stabbing exploding coloured ‘things’ (hard to explain), shooting robots, cutting hair (hardest of all the games).  The quick-fire rounds are made up of things such as catching pizza toppings, whacking moles, bouncing balls into nets, finding bugs (creepiest of all the games).

All of the games involve you (as seen by the camera) standing in the middle of the action wielding a different implement (hammer, pick-axe, pizza, magnifying glass, harpoon spear, bug-squisher, etc.)

If someone falls behind in terms of scores, they get a free bonus round where they can make a few extra points – which I thought was a nice touch and demonstrated where the game is targeted – people having a laugh – not competing for the best score in the world.

I have to say I was pretty sceptical at first, it was Sunday morning, we were tired, and I hate enforced fun, but the game won me over.  Easy to get into, quick to play, light hearted and it kept us laughing for a couple of hours.

I was Left4Dead

About 10 years ago I used to play Team Fortress online.  Not a huge amount, but I’d join the odd random game and run around building mounted guns as an engineer or sniping from the rooftops.  I was pretty bad, but the structure of the game meant I could at least help out a little bit.  I didn’t use TeamSpeak or whatever the equivalent was at the time and I didn’t know any of the other players.  But it was fun, mostly.  A few folk from work ran a shared server for a little while for another multiplayer FPS, can’t even remember which one ((Aha, Andy reminded me it was Unreal Tournament)), and that was more fun, we knew all the players, and it was a blast, but inevitably there’s going to be someone who’s better than everyone else in a complete person vs. person game, and over time dying all the time (as I did) got frustrating.

That sinking feeling as someone bounced into the room and jumped around like a grasshopper while shooting you to death was all too familiar.  Eventually I realised I was a mediocre FPS player and I probably shouldn’t drag down the other folk by getting in their way.

What followed was several years of playing MMO’s, which provide that shared online experience but don’t require the twitchy gameplay of the shooters at the time.  Taking part in 20, 30, 70 and even 120 person raids in EverQuest was pretty impressive.

When I got the PS3, I dabbled a little with some online play but not really knowing any other PS3 owners who had the same games I did meant I didn’t really get much of a feel for it.  And I never owned a headset, so still no voice.

Now that I’ve got the Xbox 360 I feel a little more compelled to give online gaming a try – specifically Left4Dead 2.  Some of the folk who read were kind enough to invite me to a game last night – which was the first time I’d used the Xbox headset in anger.  I’m still a mediocre FPS player, so I was pleased to give the co-op campaign a go at first.  It’s a lot easier to help 3 other players against a hoard of mindless undead than it is to outwit 3 other real people in PvP style gameplay.

Other than some technical issues, the co-op campaign was good fun, it’s much more satisfying helping someone up off the ground when you know somewhere there’s a real person shouting ‘hey, I’m down, I’m down!’ rather than just the game AI.  We then tried an 8 player vs. game (4 survivors vs. infected + 4 specialist infected).  We got slaughtered over and over no matter which side we were on.  As survivors the enemy infected just nailed us, and as infected it took us too long to work out how to control the different types and use their special attacks.  We were getting better towards the end …

Anyway, I don’t think I hindered the guys too much in the campaign, I did die at the end, only one of our 4-man team made it to the boat alive – but that’s just like in the movies isn’t it?

Me?  I was left for dead.

Where have I been?

I’ve been spending a lot less time in front of the computer at home over the last few months.  That means almost no time in Lord of the Rings Online and not much blogging going on (among other things).  The reasons are many and varied.  Using the PS3 and XBox360 a lot more (Dragon Age on the PS3, Mass Effect 2 on the XBox360, among other things).  Dragon Age especially is a huge time sink.  Partly it’s because I finally got sick of sitting at the PC all day at work – and then doing the same when I got home.  That’s probably because what I was doing on the PC at home wasn’t really engaging my brain enough though to keep me occupied.

I’m probably the luckiest guy alive, I have very few responsibilities that cause me any grief, I have an amazing wife who’s just as much a gamer as I am (computers, roleplaying, larp, board games), and so while many people settle down to an evening of TV, we often settle down to an evening of games of various kinds.  It’s just that at the moment, those games are not in front of the computer.  I’m also trying to get back into (again) painting miniatures, keeping a dedicated space in the house set aside for it so I can paint when the whim takes me rather than having to dig stuff out.  We’ll see how that works out.

The net result is that I’m not sitting in front of a browser all the time and so when I think up the random crap I used to blog about I either tweet a 140 character approximation of it, or I just chuckle evilly to myself and then shoot some more bad guys.  I’m pretty sure everything will go full circle, and when the next batch of new content for LotRO is released I’ll be back in game and at the PC.

So, I bought an XBox 360

I had considered an XBox 360 a few times, but I was leery of the terrible failure rate and the fact that wireless connectivity added another ~£40 to the price, so when Microsoft announced the last hardware upgrade (built in wireless) and when I heard there were improvements to the heat management which hopefully reduce the failure rate, I was really tempted.

So tempted in fact, that I’ve gone and bought one.  In my defense, if I need one, I present the fact that as an entertainment device the PS3 has been superb and easily more than value for money.  A policy of buying games cheaply, playing them all the way through and not buying loads means that the £’s / hour we get from the PS3 easily outweigh buying DVD’s, or going to the cinema.

So essentially the PS3 has paid for itself, and I expect the XBox will do the same over time.

So, how do they compare now that I own them both (and have at one time owned a Wii).  Basically, there’s nothing in it between the XBox and the PS3.  They’re both excellent, the graphics are both excellent, the controllers are both okay.  The PS3 has rechargeable controllers by default, which is a win over the XBox battery powered ones that come with the console (although we bought a second one and it’s rechargeable).  Also, the PS3 online gaming stuff is free for everyone rather than a paid service as it is with the XBox, but they’re minor points.  The games are comparable.  I’m sure more hard core gamers will point out tearing or refresh rates or polygon counts, but to an average gamer who just likes the games, I couldn’t tell you if either one looked better, they both look great.

The XBox gets pretty hot, but it’s much smaller than my old ‘fat’ PS3.  If you play from the disc, the XBox is noiser, but once you install the game on the 250GB disk it’s pretty quiet.

Overall, very pleased.  The only difference between the consoles really, are the exclusive games and exclusive content that Sony or Microsoft manage to buy, and you have to wonder how much that costs them to maintain.  So, I’ll be able to play Left 4 Dead (1 and 2) on a console now.

(XBL Gamertag is EightBitTony if you know me, let me know who you are if you send a friend request)

Dragon Age: Round 2

When I wrote the title of this post, I went to search the blog to find the first one I wrote on Dragon Age: Origins only to find I didn’t write one (and to be reminded of how annoying the search feature in WordPress is).

So, I guess this is Dragon Age: Origins, Rounds 1 and 2.

As usual, it’s a not-review well after the game has been released, played to death by millions, had a bunch of DLC released and is being replaced with a sequel, but hey ho, what can you do.

I’ve played a few games on the PS3 now, and it’s easily earned back the cost in terms of entertainment per pound compared to say the cinema or reading, but two games really stick in my mind in terms of amount of game-play and replayability.  They are Dragon Age: Origins and Fallout 3.  My first play through DA: Origins probably took around 60 hours.  Grete played it a little bit, so probably 70 hours between us.  However, we’ve both played it through fully again now, so another 60 hours each, that’s 190 hours of play out of a single game.  And as I sit here writing this, Grete is starting a new character and playing it again.

That replayability is testimony to BioWare’s excellent writing and world building.  The game interface is sometimes annoying, the combat is sometimes a little frustrating, but those issues melt away once you get involved in the story.  Reading the codex entries, listening to the dialog, talking to your companions, actually recruiting the companions and earning the right to do their quests, and learning about the world immerse you in the story so engagingly that you want to see it again and again through a fresh pair of eyes.

I love the subtle touches with the different starting stories, and how they all weave together into the main plot.  As a dwarf, returning to Orzammar to quest there gives you a different perspective than heading there as a human or an Elf, while playing a city Elf makes the quests in the Elven alienage that more poignant.  Seeing how your actions as a starting Mage snowball into serious consequences later on is just excellent.  BioWare really do know how to write engaging and totally absorbing computer RPG’s.

The way in which your conversational choices lead to different outcomes is excellent, although you can’t help but feel the authors were limited by the complexity of offering too much choice, and like all delicious things it leaves you wanting even more.

Maybe in a few years when storage is even cheaper, processing power even greater and collective software development even better we’ll get computer based RPG’s with almost as many choices as you can imagine, but until then, BioWare offer the next best thing with Dragon Age: Origins.

Orange is a state of mind

Finally settled on a new theme (the excellent Suffusion) which comes with a bunch of colour schemes, and I’ve picked Orange on Black (for now).  I know it makes little difference since the 6 people who actually read the blog do so via RSS so never see the colours anyway, and the other hits are all chinese ‘bots trawling data to try and gimp Google out of some cash.  Some folk are tired of dark themes, but I still like them.

The Orange on White version is pretty good as well and if I get bored with dark I might go for that.

I’ve had to work on some new headers, since the old ones were too tall and too narrow.  Managed to salvage the Matrix and floaty text ones, and added a couple of others.  Was very excited to find an Atari Space Invaders icon font!

Haven’t been doing much stuff out of work other than playing Dragon Age: Origins for the second time.  Tried playing it through a second time after originally completing it but it was too soon.  A lengthy break has done the trick and it’s almost as engaging the second time around.  Grete’s also playing it, so we’re taking turns like well behaved kids.  First time through I played as a warrior and was hugely frustrated by all the chests you can’t open until you find your first rogue companion.  So this time, started as a rogue!  Very different feel to the game, can’t go rushing into fights, need to somehow get the others engaged first, and if the warriors die, I’m not likely to survive (where-as when you’re the warrior you can hold on for quite a while with just Wynne).

Playing through again reminds me how good BioWare are at dialog and storyline.

Grete’s doing well at pretending I’m not annoying, when she plays and I shout ‘no, no, do Sten’s quest first’, or whatever.  So I thank her for that.

We bought a couple of the little add-ons, well bought one, got one free.  I’ve also bought Dragon Age: Awakening which was good but no where near worth the price.

I’ve also signed up to the PlayStation Plus service thing.  Got a few free games so far (Zen Pinball being the best).  Hopefully there’ll be enough free content in the next 10 months to justify the cost.

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2

Yes, I know I’m late to the party (borrowed it from a friend) and yes, I know it’s been said before, and yes, I know the game is really a vehicle for months of online player vs player gun toting action, and finally, yes I know that I could repeat the single player campaign on different difficulty settings, but, all that said, just over 7 hours of gameplay for the single player campaign at the selling price is shockingly bad value.

We know it’s not a real guitar!

We’ve had Guitar Hero for a few years on a couple of platforms (Wii and PS3, the PS3 version is better, the Wii version made a horrible noise when you missed a note and was very distracting).  We also recently bought Band Hero despite the fact that there’s only two of us in the house.  We love the games, we keep trying to find a copy of Rock Band (and Rock Band 2) second hand although they’re still expensive, because they’re still popular.

It amuses me when I hear people talking about how ‘sad it is’ to play Guitar Hero and how they feel it’s not good for kids in case ‘they think they’re playing a real instrument’ and it puts them off playing a proper guitar or learning the drums or whatever.

In fact, it’s worse than amusing, it’s annoying.  Firstly, we know it’s not a real guitar folks.  In fact, if you try and treat it like a guitar you’ll not do very well in the game.  You have to treat it like a game controller (which, amazingly it is) and treat winning like playing a game of hitting the colours.  It helps to have good manual dexterity and it helps to have a good sense of rhythm and it can be useful to know the song, but these aren’t critical.  It’s entirely possible to ace songs with the sound muted, because it’s about pressing the right colour at the right time.

It feels to me that it’s only some part time musicians who feel a little threatened by the fun that people can have playing Guitar Hero and similar games.  Those of us having fun playing them know they’re games, know they don’t make us musicians and know that it’s only a controller.

I never, even as a kid, truly thought I could fly a jet fighter just because I played T.L.L. on the Spectrum for hours on end.  I suspect kids playing Guitar Hero or Band Hero or Rock Band know even better than their parents that it’s a game controller they’re handling and not a real instrument.  But you know what?  If it gets them interested in music and being musical and if it encourages cooperative gaming rather than purely competitive gaming then how can that be a bad thing?

If you are deluded enough to think the little plastic thing in your hands is a real golf club and that you learned to play golf in front of your Wii, maybe you’re better off not playing Guitar Hero, but for the rest of us, we know it’s a game, we know it’s a game controller and we don’t care.  It’s fun.

Borderlands – mini-review

I still don’t buy many games for the PS3, but after finishing up the ones we had in the house I was looking for something fun and engaging.  I saw the following quote for Borderlands and thought I’d give it a shot (no pun intended),

87 bazillion guns

I’d also read a couple of comments about it being much like Fallout 3 but with more emphasis on the first person shooter element, and since I really loved Fallout 3 I was sold.  After the obligatory patch and system update, I was up and running.  I own a PS3, so my comments reflect that platform, although the game is available on most major gaming platforms.

The Setting

The first thing that struck me about the game setting is that it’s not only similar to Fallout 3, it could be Fallout 3.  The game takes place on Pandora, an apparently post-apocalyptic world full of bandits, small outposts of humanity and strange creatures.  There’s clearly plenty of advanced technology around including robots, satellites, big satellite uplinks, transport systems, etc., but the world has basically gone to shit and is overrun by gun wielding bandits of all shapes and sizes.  The human settlements have a distinctly movie-wild-west feel and although there aren’t any cowboy hats in view you get the feeling this is the Wild West by any other name.

The world is broken up into zones or distinct maps of various sizes.  Most of them are large, open areas but there are a few underground cavernous locations and one or two extensive indoor/industrial locations.  As you progress in power the story naturally progresses you through these different places.  I felt some of them were underused with only a few quests while others were heavily packed with content.   Some major locations contain quest centres (and so, friendly NPC’s) and you return to those often to pick up new quest or hand-in completed quests, while the other areas have mostly unfriendly NPC’s and are there for you to quest in.

The artwork is pretty impressive (although somewhat repetitive), and the game has a pretty big sense of scale.  Despite the size of some locations however, they still manage to feel very claustrophobic when required which is nice.

The Characters

Since it’s a roleplaying game (with FPS elements), there are a number of classes you can choose from.  There are four main characters, each representing a single class.

  • Soldier: A mercenary style character who favours combat rifles and shotguns.
  • Siren: The only female character, a wielder of elemental powers and sub-machine guns.
  • Hunter: A scrawny individual who likes sniper rifles.
  • Berserker: A huge brick of a man, preferring exploding devices and hitting things with his fists.

Each of the characters has a little bit of back-story, and the game intro presents them to you to give you an idea what they’re about.  The characters vary based on the skills they can spend points in when they level up along with a single unique skill each of them gets.  Soldiers have a deployable auto-gun, the Siren can turn invisible, the Hunter can summon a flying pet and the Berserker can go into a rage.  The additional skills support the class in various ways.  For example, Soldiers can improve their deployed gun, can give themselves ammo regeneration, increase their resistance to bullets, etc.  I completed the game with Soldier and have messed around briefly with the others.  On the assumption that the game boils down to ‘shooting everything you can find before it kills you’, the choice of class really only affects how you kill stuff and where you spend your money.

In the multi-player game, the class choices can support each other (for example, Soldiers can heal other characters with gunfire if they spend points in the right skill).

The Game-play

Borderlands boils down to ‘complete quests to gain levels and better gear and follow the main quest to complete the story’.  Not much different to Fallout 3 in that respect, although Borderlands makes it even easier to find side quests because they pop up in central locations and a little friendly robot shouts at you when there are new quests available.

Completing quests can involve killing enemies, locating objects or people and even buying equipment.  You are rewarded with experience points (so that you can level) and cash (so you can buy new equipment).  When you gain a new level you earn a skill point which you can use to customise your character.  It’s not possible to purchase all the skills so you’re going to end up specialised in some areas.

Equipment can be bought from some locations, found on dead enemies and looted from chests.  New equipment takes the following forms,

  • Guns – there probably are 87 bazillion guns, but if you’re being cynical it’s because most of them are randomly generated and vary only in minor ways.  There are 8 classes of gun (combat rifle, repeater (automatic pistol), revolver, shotgun, sniper rifle, rocket launcher, sub-machine gun, alien weapons) and your character improves in their skill for each as they kill things with them.  Guns have varying amounts of damage, recoil, elemental damage (e.g. fire or acid), clip size, zoom, etc., etc.  Those attributes are generally randomly generated to result in the huge range of choice.  A lot of game time can be spent trying to find the ‘best’ gun in each of the categories you care about.
  • Grenades and grenade mods – grenades are carried around like ammunition, and you can equip a single grenade mod.  Grenade mods change how your grenades work and how much damage they do.  For example, turning them into proximity mines, bouncing bombs or even devices which transfer health from your enemies to you.
  • Class mods – a device which improves the effectiveness of your class skills (one equipped at a time at most).
  • Shields – again, your character can equip a single shield which provides defences against incoming damage, increases health, and other benefits.
  • Other – there are some other items in the game which I won’t go into, the above four are the ones you spend most time working out what to do with.

The quests are generally enjoyable and the mechanics usually engaging.  However, they do get repetitive.  It’s great killing 8 bandits, until you realise that just about any quest you complete needs you to kill 15-20 bandits and get into their camp to find something.  I guess it’s the nature of the FPS element, which brings me to …

The main difference between this RPG and others, is that combat is purely based on FPS tactics.  You have a gun, a cross-hair and the bad guys are shooting at you.  So you will need your regular FPS skill-set.  However, because it’s an RPG you can scale the game to your own skill level.  If you’re struggling, you can hang around an area killing stuff and getting a level or two and then retry a quest with your new found power.  I like that aspect, and when I found the quests getting too hard, I put in a bit of work and levelled and found the level at which I was more comfortable.

The Storyline

Borderlands has you chasing down a secret, hidden, mysterious vault (Fallout 3 much?) on Pandora.  You’re dumped from a bus outside a little settlement (so little it only has one person in it), which you immediately have to rescue from bandits.  Along the way you meet a robot (Claptrap) who shows you around, and are visited by a mysterious voice in your head (your guardian angel) who tells you to trust the robot.  From there, it’s all about the quests.  You start earning the trust of the locals while also trying to find out more about the vault.  As you progress through the storyline you learn small bits about the aliens who inhabited the planet and the corporations who are fighting over the vault.  However, it’s a pretty minimalist storyline to be fair, and most of the time is spent hunting down bad guys, terminating them with extreme prejudice and looting more stuff to sell.

The major quest line is pretty easy to spot and follow, although you’ll need to do the side quests to increase in power enough to achieve anything.  In many cases, the side quests are more entertaining.  The only issue is that they do get repetitive, there are only so many ways to say ‘travel to here, through these bad guys who you will need to kill, and collect something’.  I was a little disappointed with the end sequence of the game but won’t spoil it here for you.


The multi-player element of Borderlands is probably pretty good.  However, I’ve never played it so I can’t comment.  You can play two-player split screen on one console, on-line, or LAN based.  It’s co-operative multi-player, I believe, with no PvP element.  Having said that, there is a duel option, so during the game you can duel your opponents.  This is outside of the main scope of the multi-player game though, in my view.

Closing Comments

Borderlands was good fun in general.  I did get a little bored a couple of times after a long session, doing very similar missions over and over, but a break from the game helped, and coming back with fresh eyes made it enjoyable again.  I loved being able to scale the game myself, I’m not a huge FPS lover and I don’t have the skills of the average 8 year old, so being able to outlevel the bad guys when required really did make the game more enjoyable.  Another feature which helped avoid the repetition was that bad guys don’t chase you for ever.  If you’ve cleared a camp, and the bad guys are back and you can’t face killing them all again – just run through.  If you survive, they give up after a while, you just need to find a place you can get to which is safe.  Some people might hate those two features, saying they make the game too easy, but they allowed me to enjoy the content, play at my own pace, and complete the game without getting too frustrated.

The boss encounters were a little underwhelming, but I guess they match most FPS bosses (scoot-and-shoot the glowing bits), the cinematic style and boss info made them worthwhile in the end.

There’s definite replay value in the game, either as one of the other classes, or the same class with different skill choices.  Once you’ve completed the game on Walkthrough 1 you can start again on Walkthrough 2 with the same character, level and equipment.  All the enemies are boosted to your level, so the little dog-like beasts you killed at level 1 are now level 33 and ready to chew your face off.  I can see myself trying to beat it a second time before even trying another class.

Borderlands held my attention for the 5 or 6 days it took to finish it, provided something like 20+ hours of game-play on one run through, and had plenty of humour to keep me amused.  Well worth the asking price, in my view (if you accept that games cost what games cost), and I’ll probably hold onto it to see if there’s any downloadable content I want to see.