Anthem – The Heck?

If I were to say that EA was developing a Destiny clone, most people would consider that reasonable.  EA and Activision have been cloning each other’s games for years.  They are big for a reason, and that means breadth of choice.  They each have  game of pretty much every type.

Now, if I were to ask which dev shop within EA would develop a Destiny clone, who would you pick?

  • Criterion
    • Racing games, Battlefield and Star Wars Battlefront 2
  • DICE
    • Every FPS from EA for the past 15 years
  • Ghost Games
    • Need for Speed
  • Visceral
    • DeadSpace, Army of Two
  • BioWare
    • Mass Effect, Dragon Age, SWTOR
  • Motive
    • Brand new, working on new IP

Pretty much anyone but Ghost and BioWare, right?  This Forbes article (I know) covers a lot of points.

  • Anthem looks like a neat idea, and great visuals
  • A 3rd person shooter could work…Gears has shown that
  • The multiplayer aspects sound a little too good to be true after.  We’ve been burned on a lot of those promises over the years (Division, I’m looking at you).
  • Story could work… but not for repetition.  SWTOR has shown that to an extremely large audience.

But most importantly, BioWare?  The studio that prides itself on story-first games?  The one where actual combat mechanics and fighting have always had rough edges?  It’s sort of like if Bethesda decided to enter the MOBA market, just a whole bunch of “what?”

On the good side however, EA uses a single engine (Frostbite) for all their games now, and they have a whole pile of shooters to leverage.  Dead Space was a 3rd person game, so there’s certainly something to use from there.  Maybe this is just a continuation on the Shadow Realms IP – there is certainly a whole pile of overlap.  Maybe this game ends up being good, and reverses the trend of BioWare overreaching for the past 5 years.  I would certainly hope for that, given the history of that developer.

That said, I think it pretty much means that BioWare is out of the true RPG business. Which really stinks, since it was BioWare that really established what RPGs meant for the west for the past near-20 years.

Fingers crossed.

Truth and Trespass

This is going to be a gripe post.

I’m nearing the end now, or at least it feels like it.  I’ll have a summary post at that point, but the general themes so far have stuck through.  There are bits and pieces that work, and others that don’t.  The ones that don’t are unfortunately systems/mechanics.  The things that work are the small story bits, but it’s highly inconsistent.

Truth and Trespass is the most perfect example of this.  There are some spoilers here, be warned.

This quest happens after you find the Salarian ark.  Seems that there’s a possibility that the Salarians sabotaged themselves.  This is a very cool premise, given that the lore of Salarians is that science >>>> reason.  So, there’s potential!

What happens next is you running across 5 locations.  Moving between locations takes 2-3 minutes, depending on the loading screens.  Then you need to get to the quest locations, which is another 2-3 minutes.  Often times you have to run through a small set of enemies once there.  Not challenging in any shape, just filler.  Then you either scan or talk to an NPC.  There are no options presented, it’s just reading dialogue.

The final step does have a decision point.  You find the truth of the matter and are given the choice to exact justice or exchange freedom for information.  This is one of the few times where I thought about it for more than a few seconds.  The information is presented as being extremely valuable, and the damage is already done.  So you’re not actively preventing something, it’s simply a “justice” question.  I therefore opted for the information path.

I was rewarded with a codex entry of 3 paragraphs with information that I had already gathered through other means.  Well, that and info that 2 other races existed (but not meet them in this game).

So, nearly an hour of running around, what appears to be a difficult decision, and I get a codex entry.  This is bullshot-level quest design.

 

History

ME:A’s largest issue is history.  ME:2 & 3 were good games, with good writing.  The ending of ME:3 is a separate discussion for this point.  When we quested in those games, there was impact in the decisions.  Changing the leadership of the Krogan, reversing the genophage, freeing the Geth.  Those were big deals.  The actual quests were in rather unique, isolated locations, that were thematically appropriate.

ME:A does little of this.  Many quests span multiple planets for no reason.  Aside from three quests (Krogan, Primus, and Exiles) there doesn’t appear to be any decision point that has any in-game consequences. When there are no consequences, then why bother making a choice in the first place?

There is a pile of breadth here.  Lots of stuff to do.  Piles.  There’s just no depth.

The sad part is, if this was a new IP, it would be somewhat acceptable.  The fact that this game carries the Mass Effect name, there are expectations that are simply not met.

ME:4 Jaal and Peebee

I really like these 2 pals.  They are opposite ends of the spectrum, but both are incredibly naive when it comes to the world around them.  Makes for some interesting dialogue, where is has nothing to do with the game.  Plus, their combat abilities are pretty solid.  I’ve not really found a reason to swap for anyone else.  Some spoilers below, but they are minimal.

Jaal

I finished up Jaal’s personal quest, a small sub-zone in Havarl.  The concept is that there’s a leader of an anti-alien group (Roekar) and Jaal’s family has been indoctrinated.  That last part happens off screen, and you get an update that lasts about 15 seconds.  There’s a final standoff at the end, and you make a choice.  I was doing something else at the time, and there was one of those quick-input options that popped up.  By not selecting it, things turned out much different than I had expected.

(as a side, it would seem that nearly all those decision points provide better results if you don’t do anything.)

The combat in that section was against low level enemies, or rather, I ended up clearing it all in half the effort of “open world” combat.  The story ended exactly like I thought it would, which was disappointing.  Felt like another opportunity that was missed, on a much larger subject.

Did I mention that the majority of this quest’s progress is unlocked through emails?

Peebee

More bugs.  This time on Havarl.  There’s even a few posts on it as well.  I ended up moving on through the quest, but a portion will be stuck in my log forever it seems.  There’s something wrong with the pacing of this particular quest line, I think.  The game introduces the heel early enough, then tries to shoehorn another bad guy (that’s only in datapads), then it turns out to be the original bad guy after all.  She all but says “I am Peebee’s rival” the first time you meet her too.

I really like Peebee’s thinking in this line though, and her dialogue is solid.  Clear that she has goals, and what they mean to her.  It’s just too bad that the quest is supported through “fetch quests” and a poorly executed storyline.

Liam

I had mentioned I had completed his quest line.  I don’t understand his character at all, or his motivations.  He has a lot of police/threat training and makes absolutely horrendous decisions that put people’s lives at risk, with no real plans to help them out.  I’m sure if they had unfrozen the cook he would have been smarter.

That said, his last mission was pretty neat in the mechanics and overall story.  Felt like a Lethal Weapon movie to be honest.

Forward and Back

It seems like for every neat item, there’s an equally dumb item behind it.  The more annoying part is the inconsistency of these two things.  Sometimes it’s the writing, sometimes the delivery, sometimes the quest structure…

Good golly there is so much potential in this game.  All the pieces are there.  It just feels like the overall producer took a long lunch at the tail end and let the peons make the calls.  I cannot recall the last time I was left so confused by a game.

So Much Rain…

We opened our cottage this weekend.  Hoping to get a couple days without rain (5/7 now, over the past 3 weeks) in order to stain the deck.  We got through Saturday, but Sunday was a downpour.  Fingers crossed the stain stuck!

I also spent over 2 hours getting the water pump to work.  Hunched over under the cottage.  In the cold.  I had eliminated everything I could over that time and was left with one option – the foot valve.  That’s the bit that hangs at the end of the line, deep in the water.  The water that was ice last week.  Sure enough, the valve was the culprit and 10 minutes later we had water.  We expected an up and down, but it turns out after 8 hours of work, we were burnt.  A good night’s rest at the cottage is something I had forgotten I missed.  I am looking forward to the next run up.

Mass Effect 4

Not a whole lot of time for this, though I’ve now completed Eos, Voeld, Havarl, and Kadara (missing an outpost).  I’ve crafted a super level 5 sniper rifle.  I’ve unlocked Liam’s final skill.  I guess that’s a fair chunk?  75%?  Anyhow, the game still has some interesting bits mixed with some not so interesting.  On PS4, I’ve encountered a half-dozen game breaking bugs – either falling in the world, the game freezing, random teleports, and some of those weird animations.  The most obvious one is that the Nomad (the car) frequently stutters in it’s movement (every 2 minutes or so) and loses sound (every 15 minutes).  The frequency of these last 2 makes me question the effectiveness of QA testing, in particular given that I spend so much time in that car.

I mentioned before the busy work. Given that the main quests have narrowed down, I’m chocked full of side quests/tasks.  I had about a dozen or so to clear out on the Nexus.  One of them ended with “go check your email on your ship”.  I have a holographic gizmo that can turn into a sword, but I have to go to a specific physical location, and email?  There’s also a lot of “go to this planet, and then this one, but only spend enough time there that the loading screens are longer”.  Ugh.  I feel like a ping pong ball, always being hit from one end to the other.  The talking bits are good, but the combat/explore portions are horrible repeats of existing gameplay.  Liam’s last quest was in a unique zone, so that was good.  Hoping the others are the same.

The upside is that the individual quest stories are interesting.  There’s one that deals with an anti-AI faction, which could have been a neat exploration of what being human means.  You fake losing your own AI (SAM), and track them down.  They are planning some EMP attack on the main Nexus, so you track those down.  The final scene has you asking 1 question, then ordering a sniper hit in a cutscene.  I am disappoint.  So much potential!

It’s that potential that keeps me coming back.  Like pulp fiction… if you look beyond the rough edges, there’s some good stuff to find.

Gloomhaven

Plain and simple, I put down some cash on Kickstarter for it.  I am usually against these types of services, but in this particular case, it’s a re-print.  The risk here is that the printing factory goes down in flames and shipping gets delayed.  I  can live with that.  You can take a look at a game review on Ars Technica.  I really love coop games, and one without dice sounds quite interesting.

Kickstart (and similar services) are a great space for board games.  I picked up Shadows of Brimstome, Galaxy Defenders and a few others in the past couple years.  The neat thing about boardgames is that the money is near entirely related to production costs, not development costs.  The game has already been tested and refined ad-nauseum with simple stand-ins, like any true D&D player would do.  Compared to PC games, where the development costs far outweigh production.

Space Wizards

Cause that’s what ME gives you.

It could be rose-colored glasses, but Biotics used to be more powerful than what I’ve seen in ME:A so far.  All the way back to KOTOR, force powers were a great way to take out massive groups of enemies, assuming you had the points invested.  Sure, the melee super saber strikes ended up killing even the Tarentareks in a couple of rounds, but force powers were more fun.

Right now, I’m finding that there are only 2 useful powers – pull and throw.  If they are unshielded/unarmored, then that combo kills anything.  Full biotics usually means “tissue for armor”, so the melee-ranged skills aren’t much use.  That leaves Singularity or Lance as options.  The first is a remake of the black hole skill that sucks people in, and the latter is a bolt of ranged damage.  None of the skills have much effect on shields.

So what ends up happening is that my space wizard uses Singularity on the first set of enemies, to set up a wall of sorts.  Weak enemies get snared, and I throw in something to blow them up.  A separate Pull is used on the enemies outside of range.  It’s a solid build for clearing trash.  That leaves the big guys.

And the only thing that works on those buggers appears to be guns, and companion skills.

Not all companions seem to be built equally. Their weapons don’t see to have much effect, at least not compared to mine.  Their skills though, woo.  Some of them seem like steroid users with the punch packed.  Drack is something.  Jaal too.  I’m a little disappointed that I can only have them focus on a target, rather than select from a skill profile, or prioritize the skill usage.  If I just let them go without direction, then things can go sideways.  If they focus, then things seem to work out well enough.

Anyways, back to space wizards.  On console I only have 3 skills that I can slot for use, and while useful, they seem somewhat limited as compared to other profiles.  Maybe I’ll respec into an Infiltrator with a robot pet…I’m using sniper rifles anyways.

More Effect

I think I’ve found my core issue with Mass Effect, its the underlying design decision of an open world.  Rowan Kaiser hits a few of those notes.  It’s the main reason I stopped playing Inquisition after 4 hours, even though I have over 200 hours logged into DA:Origins.

My appreciation for BioWare relates to contained stories, and the interactions between them.  They play like chapters of a book, with focused direction.  What ME4 gives me is a directionless world with bits and pieces that don’t fit into a larger story.  It gives me a home base (with loading screens), and more missions on more planets than I actually care to bother with.  I just completed a bunch of missions on the Nexus, only to get an email, head to Eos, then have to go back to the Nexus.  Really?

The quests themselves have a decent set of lore to back them up, but they are poorly executed.  Ooh, I get to fill up medit kits around the map.  Or get to decode another glyph for Peebee and kill 5 remnant robots.  Both requiring that I cross large swaths of empty land to get there.  It’s the order in which I acquire these bits that annoys me, just a lack of focus.  It feels like busywork, rather than actually accomplishing something.  I’m the damn Pathfinder, supposed to lead us to greater worlds.  Why am I stocking boxes with bandaids?

I really liked the rescue mission on Voeld.  Contained, logical, pressure.  Interesting characters and developments.  Even the follow up that had the audio logs for exaltation was neat.  But then that ended with “PAUSED: discover more Kett data”.  Ugh.  Why?

Now, I love me some open world games.  Where you can do pretty much what you want, when you want.  But in each of those, there are 2 pieces.  The story has minimal bearing on it, or the game supports emergent gameplay.  Shadow of Mordor, Horizon, Skyrim, Fallout, Far Cry… they work in that setting.   Then there are games where the open world is just a mess of icons – pretty much any Ubisoft game in the past 5 years.

ME4 feels like a game that is less than the sum of its parts.  There are certain items that are really quite impressive.  The art, the companion personalities, the basic lore.  That works and makes me want to be invested.  The execution is annoying, moreso because I know that BioWare used to do such a good job at it.  A seriously good job.

I have a feeling that DLC for ME4 is going to be solid, exactly because it will be focused on a given story, and ignore the rest of the open world.

Mass Effect

Uncharted 4 complete + Isey praise + sale = purchase.  Not sure how there was a sale, but it was there and I saved $20.

Uncharted 4

At last record I was about halfway done, which is now complete.  In nearly all respects it is a better game than its predecessors.  It is absolutely gorgeous to look at and the final island you visit feels like a themepark of action.  I am part of the PC cult, so console controls always feel loose to me, and that’s about my only gripe with the game.

Story-wise and writing, Naughty Dog is still champ in my books.  The relationship between Nate and Sam, or Nate and Elena is as real as anything I’ve ever experienced.  Everything flows extremely well from set-pieces to next, and the final battle looks like it’s straight out of a movie.

That’s 2 out of 3 games that hit in the 9/10 area.

Mass Effect

I played “after patch” where the facial animations/art were tweaked.  The game certainly looks different than YouTube videos, but it remains to be said that facial animations are a low point in this game.  I am of the belief that this is due to the same engine for non-humans as humans being used.  Turians, Krogan and Asari do not have facial ticks, or at least we don’t expect any.  We do expect it in humans, and it throws the visuals off.  As a general rule this doesn’t bug me, but when someone is telling me about their dead relative and how painful it is, with a straight face, it throws the event for a loop.

The writing is generally good, and there’s a lot of mood building.  I met two Angarans who complained about studying in Australia, which seemed quite odd to me, considering they are from another galaxy.  I’m 2 planets in (Eos and Voeld) and so far things make general sense.  Not so much purposeful sense, but non-conflicting sense.  Two examples from Voeld, some minor plot spoilers I guess.

First is the Yvera, a whale-like being that lives below the ice, and is revered by the Angara as the only history they were able to keep after the Scourge attack.  The game stresses this point numerous times, how it is unbelievable that these animals would be attacked.  After a bit of running around, you find a doctor who says “there’s a possibility these animals can help us recuperate faster after Kett attacks”.  Then you choose to let them continue the study or turn them in.  Nothing deeper, no proof.  Up to this point, every Angaran agreed that this act was treasonous, and now you have an ethical choice.

The second is related to the main story on Voeld.  After a lot of running around, you end up in a previously shielded cave and free some Angarans from laser cages.  You finally end up in a giant room with a computer in the middle.  This computer is an AI, who professes a self-defense position, while your own AI indicates that this other one is continuously lying.  Ok, I’m thinking this will be neat.  Before you can question it, one of the freed Angarans tries to touch it and starts getting zapped.  You are then presented with a choice of letting the AI live and killing the Angaran, or killing the AI.   Um…why those choices?

There are no links between any of these stories, and you can’t really deep dive on them before you’re given an apparently massive decision to make.  It feels like reading a short story that’s missing a quarter of the meat.  Lots of potential, just odd execution.  The good news is that there is a lot of content here, and a few missed chances doesn’t drag the others down.

The overall lore, codex, and story telling is solid.  Each piece seems to have some meaning in the world.  Small touches here and there make it feel alive.  Someone goes mad because they lost their family.  Another couple huddled for warmth.  It works.

Combat is ok.  Better than previous games, as it’s more action focused than RPG.  I’ve opted for a Biotic approach, with a strong pull/throw/singularity build.  It works really well against non-shielded opponents.  Big bad guys are harder to take down.  I can only use 3 abilities at any one time, which I dislike.  Why give me 25 options if I can only use 3?  Weapons feel weak in comparison, and I am unsure why headshots with sniper rifles are not more accurate/deadly.

I took down an Architect, which is like a Maw from ME1.  A giant robotic snake, with 3 tails.  It was a 20 minute fight, very hectic.  The dodge mechanic was used more than shooting, which while fun to start, becomes quite boring as it drags on.  It provided me with 4 remnant fragments, which relate to crafting, but no extra loot beyond that.  I guess that’s a good reward?

Overall, the game is quite engaging.  The main areas to nitpick are the animations and the story integration.  They remove me from the game when I encounter them, but it’s easy enough to move on from there.

I have some overall questions as to how the game will expand past this point.  It’s certainly an enjoyable game, and better than the general reviews have let on.  I can see myself playing to completion, and getting 100% viability on the various planets.  It’s fun, and really, that’s the entire purpose.