Archive for September, 2011

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A Key Cog – Thoughts On Gears Of War 3

September 29, 2011

While nothing too much has changed about the gameplay from the previous games and the campaign itself probably only took me a total of 14 hours to complete, what Gears of War 3 made me realize is that a good co-op game is a very special gem.

Throughout the years I’ve played a lot of really amazing single-player games and have enjoyed having adventures and exploring worlds on my own, and I wouldn’t trade those memories for anything. But every so often something comes along and I learn to appreciate all over again the fun of experiencing all the joys of a game with a family member or a buddy.

It’s great to be able to play some co-op with my husband, and when I do, the time just flies by. Likewise, when I see my good friend online working his way through the game I’ll just jump in and play with him, and vice versa. Afterwards, we might chat online about what we did or bitch about which one of us is the bigger ass for stealing the other’s kills. It just adds a whole different level to the gaming experience.

I think there’s definitely some value in it, and I recall a case of a family friend who was able to connect with his older son through sports, but was struggling to find interests in common with his younger, geekier gamer son — that is, until they discovered co-op games on the Xbox360 like Call of Duty, Left 4 Dead, Army of Two…and yep, Gears of War.

Combat in Gears 3 feels familiar like it’s clear they didn’t want to stray from the path too much, but I can forgive it since the campaign was such a wild ride. The game never really slows down, it’s always throwing you into insane situations each more explosive than the last, and most surprisingly, the story and characters found a place in my heart.

Let’s get one thing straight — I never pick up these shooter-ish type games expecting there to be much in the way of dramatic or emotional back story. But the truth is, even within its testosterone-laden bromantic plot lines, there was something that reached out to me. I even felt myself tearing up a little at a couple of the cutscenes, no joke. Of course, right afterward the game did throw a bunch of lambents at me and I almost died because my eyes were blurry and I couldn’t shoot straight.

The characters were also more fleshed out in this last installment of the Gears trilogy, and I especially liked the highly-publicized addition of the female soldiers. Sam and Anya kick as much ass as the boys and I love the dialogue and unique dynamic they add to Gears 3. Given how I was told 90% of the game’s and characters’ stories happen in the series’ novels, I may just have to pick up a Gears book one of these days.

Then of course, there is the multiplayer, which really has to be reviewed separately from the campaign. I was never really interested in exploring the multiplayer content in the previous Gears games, but I was in Gears 3 which should tell you something. I probably spent the least amount of time in Versus mode, preferring Horde mode where I got to defeat waves of enemies with either friends or strangers in matchmaking, as well as the new and exciting Beast mode which allows you to play the Locusts.

In fact, Beast mode’s probably my favorite part of multiplayer. For me, it’s mostly pure unadulterated fun, whether you’re blowing heroes up with a Ticker or slicing them off at the knees with a giant Serapede.

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Sweet Release?

September 26, 2011

Sometimes, I think it’s really interesting just to watch the ripple of reactions go through a series of often predictable changes or stages after a big announcement. Especially when the big news is something that’s been anticipated for a while, and finally comes out of nowhere to surprise us all out of the blue.

At long last, BioWare announced this past weekend that Star Wars: The Old Republic is set to be released December 20, 2011. It was the last thing I expected to see when I woke up bright and early on Saturday morning, bleary-eyed and struggling with getting a skittish and carsick dog (who was freaking out enough for the both of us) into the backseat so we could get to the vet on time. The mind can only process so much, you know, so here I am on Monday during my lunch break finally being able to ramble about my thoughts and musings about the release date.

In a word, I am thrilled! And I think a lot of other SWTOR fans are too. But isn’t it funny, though, how in mere hours the speculation had already moved on to other big questions, like “When’s early access?” or “When’s the NDA gonna drop?” Not that I would deny being curious about the second question myself, being there are a ton of misconceptions I would love to clear up about the game and the fact I already have a bunch of topics I’d love to talk about. Sometimes I think it is the nature of the gaming community to seek the next big shiny and salivate over the next big piece of news.

But of course, another huge question that I’m sure a lot of people are asking now — “Where am I going to find the time to play SWTOR?” I’ve already seen a lot of hilarious jokes (at least, I hope they’re jokes) on various forums about ditching family to play SWTOR and getting divorce papers served in their Christmas stocking this year. I personally don’t even know what my holiday plans are yet this Christmas, but I can tell you, December just got a whole lot busier.

I’ve also seen comments from people who are genuinely soured or upset. But why? I’m not saying December 20th isn’t an extremely awkward date, but where my feelings are concerned, BioWare has done right by me. They said 2011 and they delivered, even if it’s with 11 days to spare. They said “Holiday” and they delivered, even if that was quite literal. There has been a ton of speculation on the reasons, from factoring in Diablo III to timing the release purposely to stagger population loads, all of which are plausible of course, but whatever. As we’ve learned, game releases can happen at any time, and regardless, life happens — whether it be the holidays, exams, deployment, a new baby, vacation, or any of a whole slew of possible commitments. Just gotta roll with the punches.

Personally, I’m not worried. Christmas comes but once a year, yet SWTOR will be around for a long time. Besides, getting your fill before holiday crunch time and the family arrives is what the preorder early access is for, my lovelies!

For what it’s worth, I am content. We have a release date. For me and many others who have been following this game for years, the waiting is almost at an end!

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SWTOR: Mark Your Calendars

September 24, 2011

Release Date: December 20th, 2011

Edit: And the updated Star Wars: The Old Republic “Fate of the Galaxy” trailer with the release date shown triumphantly at the end. I always thought something felt missing after that rising crescendo finale, now it’s much better!

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The Unifying Force: SWTOR Allies & Adversaries

September 23, 2011

Those who have followed Star Wars: The Old Republic for a while might recall that way back in March (wow, has it really been that long?) BioWare announced their Guild HQ and Pre-Launch Guild Program. People began registering their guilds on the SWTOR site, setting up their forums and inviting members.

Of course, back then I was still guild-less and clueless, and aside from thinking that it’s kinda nifty that we were being offered this service, I was pretty ambivalent towards the news. I did, however, anticipate that the later phases might be where things start to get interesting.

But even I didn’t expect how much excitement can come out of just the simple act of linking guilds.

The story: On Wednesday, the Pre-Launch Guild Program officially transitioned into Phase 2: Alignment, prompting guilds to designate other guilds they want to play with as allies or adversaries so that BioWare will to put you all together on the same server. Now that I’m a member of the Republic Mercy Corps, when my guild leader asked us officers to start seeking other guilds to add — primarily guilds with medium to large player bases who are interested in rolling on a RP PvE server — I thought immediately of Multiplaying.net’s Delusions of Grandeur.

Okay, so I didn’t suggest them for completely selfless reasons, even though DoG is pretty much the only guild I’m familiar with at the moment that has registered themselves as RP as well. I do know some friends from DoG already, and have already entertained thoughts about how cool it would be if could play together on the same server. So I was thrilled when they expressed interest in being our guild’s allies and making our sister Empire guild their adversary as well.

Before I knew it, my guild officers were getting really excited, we also had dark side-oriented DoGs expressing interest in rolling alts in the Imperial Mercenary Corps, my notifications were going off every two seconds due to Twitter and email conversations, new categories in our respective forums were set up, new relationships were formed…it was just a flurry of activity which got my internal SWTOR hype-o-meter all worked up again.

I guess my point is that it doesn’t always require important game information or a fancy new trailer to drum up excitement; sometimes, it’s the features that encourage community and friendships that have the most meaning to the players. I know it is for me.

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The Way Of The Preorder

September 22, 2011

Let me just say I have nothing against Gamestop; as a retail store they’ve always treated me fairly and the employees at my local branches are always friendly and chipper. Yet I don’t find myself shopping there often, only because as a cheap ass gamer chick I always seem to find better deals offered elsewhere.

So, when I preordered Harvest Moon: Tale of Two Towns for the 3DS at Gamestop, my friend asked me why, and I got all embarrassed and made him promise not to laugh at me if I told him the reason:

This damn thing.

I don’t normally allow myself to be baited by physical, tangible bonus items because God knows there’s already a big box full of my video game memorabilia collecting dust somewhere. But frivolous and mundane as it is, there’s just something about this stupid, infernal Alpaca Plushie. Its beady black stare compels me.

It also made me realize something about myself — I’ve never really gotten into this whole business of preordering stuff. I average at about one game preorder a year, if even that.

But I see a lot of gamers do it all the time, and I just wonder why do you do it? I used to think it was kinda pointless, because I only buy special editions like once in a blue moon, and I know that even if I wanted something bad enough I’d just show up at the store bright and early on the day of release and pick it up then anyway, preorder be damned.

Okay, so clearly there are exceptions. Suffice to say the areas of game marketing and publicity are ever evolving, but at least for me, these are still the only three reasons why I would ever preorder games nowadays:

  • Money credit or bonus. I don’t think anyone can argue with a sale or a good deal, which is why if I do preorder I always go with Amazon because they seem to be throwing those $10 and $20 credit offers like candy.
  • MMOs. Sometimes it’s for early beta access, but more often it’s for the in-game items. This only makes sense to me because MMOs are multiplayer games where pixelated goodies can actually be displayed and appreciated by an audience other than myself. On the other hand, I don’t usually go out of my way to preorder single-player games for their in-game exclusives. Be it character skins or special weapons, it’s just not as much fun when you can’t show off your swag.
  • Stuffed domesticated camelids.
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Awed And Augmented – Thoughts On Deus Ex: Human Revolution

September 19, 2011

Last Friday I made the push and finally completed Deus Ex: Human Revolution, refusing to relinquish the Xbox360 until I was done. And now that I’m finished the game, I believe one of my commenters said it best when they used the term “class” to describe the experience of DE:HR. I mean, have you ever appreciated a really good movie or read a book you just couldn’t put down, because its plot elements were just so well put together that they flowed almost effortlessly? I can’t remember the last time I was so impressed with an RPG, which is good because I mostly bought DX for its story, and I wasn’t disappointed.

In the end, I did come to enjoy everything DE:HR had to offer. In fact, to cut to the chase, the only two major issues I had with the game were 1) the so-named “tacked on boss fights” (but more on that later), and 2) the numerous times when my delicate senses were accosted by the horrible voice acting by the main character (who was probably advised to act too cool for any line of dialogue he speaks, which would certainly explain why everything was delivered in a laughable monotone).

What I really liked about DE:HR was the flexibility it offered. At first, I admit I wasn’t all that crazy about the game mechanics or the augmentation system (which arguably forms the basis of these Deus Ex games), but I did learn to love it. In fact, it’s where much of that flexibility comes from. Once you play the game a bit and start to “get” where it’s coming from, the whole world of DE:HR opens up to you. It also gets easier and gives you a lot more room to play with once you gain more Praxis points. There are so many ways to tackle the situations in this game, even two players with completely different play styles can have a lot of fun with it.

I for one have neither the skill nor capacity for sneakiness, instead preferring bloodbaths to stealth runs, so I played the entire game like a shooter.

My husband on the other hand, he of the seemingly endless fount of patience, challenged himself not to kill anyone or even be detected. Needless to say, watching him play was an infuriating cycle of “oops-pause-reload last save”, “oops-pause-reload last save”, “oops-pause-reload last save”, bringing me dangerously close to just grabbing him by his collar bone from behind and re-enacting a classic Adam Jensen takedown on his ass. And that’s why he’ll probably get the “Pacifist” and “Foxiest of the Hounds” achievement, and I…didn’t.

The only parts of the game I dreaded were the boss fights. Most of the complaints you’ll see about this game will probably involve them, and for good reason. I didn’t think they were going to be so bad but after experiencing them for myself, they do somehow feel apart from the game. First of all, the boss encounters in this game are all straight-up fire fights. So for those who were totally digging the whole stealth and sneaking around thing and not having to kill a single soul, I can see why they would be pissed.

But even as someone playing as a trigger-happy mercenary, I can’t say the boss fights felt all that great for me either. Simply put, they can be difficult. While I don’t normally mind a challenge, the problem is I don’t think the game prepares you for these boss fights. Much of the beginning emphasized and even encouraged stealth and taking enemies down quietly and non-lethally, making it look like a bad-ass bag of fun. Then just as you’ve gotten all your stealthy augments and started falling in love with your stun gun, they throw you into death trap to fend for yourself against some heavy-rifle toting meathead nicknamed “The Bull”. I had damage reduction and all my guns upgraded, and the first time I still flailed around like an oiled-up squid.

Yet, if you know what you’re getting into, DE:HR is still a rock solid game. And the world details are phenomenal! Even when you think you can get away with something, the game’s just too “smart”. Just like real life, someone might catch you moving behind even a tiny window panel in a door and the next thing you know a dozen guards will be alerted to your presence. And as someone who can read a bit of Chinese and French, I was also amazed at the number of Easter eggs I found in Hengsha and Montreal; everything down to the emails to the graffiti scrawled on the walls meant something significant (or was just plain old fun).

I also developed a knack for hacking, and poured points into that as well as social persuasion. Both to me were like little mini-games related to the story, scattered throughout the game. This is where I think the game excels, by giving you many ways of dealing with a situation (with the exception of the boss fights), leading to different branches of the story in a way which I think is even more elaborate than a BioWare game. Picture all the game elements like its plot, features, or mechanics each being an individual thread, and all of them coming together to make a perfect web, and that’s how I felt throughout my playthrough of DE:HR.

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In The Fall My Fancies Turn…

September 15, 2011

It’s that time of the year again, when the old MMO fatigue settles in and I climb back on that Xbox360 wagon to start lusting for the myriad of AAA single-player games coming out in the fall.

In fact, it’s already started. I don’t think I’ve touched an MMO in the last two weeks thanks to Deus Ex: Human Revolution, which is one of those games you tell yourself you’ll just play for a couple hours but then hey why not just another mission and I’ll be done but oh first I should clear out this area and do all the side missions and before you know it the whole day is gone.

When it comes to finishing single-player games, I’m also a bit on the slow side. Yes, I sometimes feel the need to draw out the experience and savor every moment when it comes to SP games, but it’s also mostly because I — *groan* — have to share. I realize in my household things are a bit unconventional in that I’m the one who does all the game buying (plus I love hunting for game deals), and it never fails — I pop in a game, my husband sees me playing and “steals” it. Please tell me this is a common issue for a lot of people, right?

It means that given this fall’s game release schedule, I’m going to be buried under an avalanche. Until Star Wars: The Old Republic, don’t be surprised to see single-player and Xbox games dominate my time  — Gears of War 3, Arkham City and Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim already on my must-have list, Dead Island, Modern Warfare 3 and Assassin’s Creed: Revelations on the will-get-when-there’s-a-sale list, not to mention a whole other bunch on the wait-and-see list.

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