Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Mass Effect 3 Demo Impressions

Valentine's Day 2012, a day of love, romance... and intense, biotic combat? That's right, V-Day 2012 meant one thing to Mass Effect fans: the demo for the series finale is live.

I had a chance to tinker with the demo and was pretty satisfied overall. A majority of my playtime went toward the single player demo, but I've been able to get my feet wet with the multiplayer mode.

Single Player Demo

The single player demo takes you through two missions: the introductory mission on Earth and a retrieval mission on the Salarian homeworld.Across these two levels, you get to experience the game's revised mobility mechanics. You can slide over crates, climb up ladders and drop off of ledges, just to name a few things. There are also a few new practical additions, such as dodge rolls and melee grabs around cover. I will admit, there were a couple of times where I felt like I was playing Gears of War with all the dodge rolling about.

Combat feels quite a bit heavier this time around, as weapons have a heavier feel and the auto-aim functions aren't doing as much of the heavy lifting as in Mass Effect 2. At least for single shot weapons like heavy pistols and the Mattock assault rifle, you need to place your shots pretty carefully. The new heavy melee attacks are pretty seamlessly implemented and are quite useful for eliminating (or at least staggering) the unfortunate sod in your path. The new gameplay elements (and the increased difficulty) lend to the "This is War" atmosphere that the Bioware team set out to create.

In order to avoid dropping any major demo/main game spoilers, I won't go into too much detail about the plot elements found in the demo. There are plenty of great Mass Effect moments, some humorous and some dramatic. You'll see some familiar faces that will bring a smile to yours. However, there's also one particular part that hit me in the chest like a ton of bricks. This type of story-telling finesse is what makes the game a true Mass Effect title, even with the vast array of changes the series has seen over the years.

Multiplayer Demo

Single player is all well and good, but the part that longtime fans are skeptically looking at is the new co-op multiplayer. It's a polarizing topic - people either love or hate the idea of adding multiplayer to their beloved series.

Based on my experience with the multiplayer, I love it. You are able to choose one of the main Mass Effect classes (and in the full-version, you can choose your race). Each class/race combination has a different combination of abilities and powers that you can level up. In addition, you can customize your loadout, attach weapon mods, and buy unique items to help you in-mission, including health packs, ammo boxes, and rocket launchers.

When you get into the fray, you quickly learn that Bioware definitely means for you to cooperate. Your primary goal is to survive for all ten waves, occasionally chasing down and completing objectives within a time limit. Enemies are merciless even on the lowest difficulties, and their AI works together surprisingly well to draw you out of cover and into their sights. For example, riot shield and melee enemies may try to herd you out of your cover and into an open area. In order to get through the final waves, you'll need to draw on your team's diverse range of abilities, such as having Infiltrators conduct hit-and-run attacks with their tactical cloak and Vanguards force baddies out of cover. As I've explained, Special Forces is hard work - but pulling together and beating "impossible odds" ends up being extremely fun!

Are you ready for war?

I walk away from the Mass Effect 3 demo very satisfied, despite some of the changes made to the Mass Effect formula. Combat mechanics feel closer to Gears of War than they do to Mass Effect 1, but it all plays very well. Bioware has done a phenomenal job updating and maintaining the series so they're not just releasing a re-shelled clone of the previous title (Call of Duty anyone?).

On top of that, the new multiplayer elements are surprisingly fun and addictive, albeit challenging. However, despite the quality of the game mode, its on-going success depends very heavily on the number of people that continue to play it after they complete the story. It's not something you can successfully do alone.

Nonetheless, even if this does come to pass, Mass Effect 3 looks like it will be able to deliver the same quality level of single player content that the series, and Bioware, is renowned for.

Mass Effect 3 is scheduled to be released Tuesday, March 6 on Xbox360, Playstation 3, and PC.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Mass Effect 3 Looks to Be Action Packed!

The "Adrenaline-Pumping Gameplay" trailer offers Mass Effect fans a look at some of the intense moments to look forward to in the upcoming finale. Most notable, at least for me, is that you're going to be fighting the Reapers on foot! To put it in perspective, that's roughly equivalent to an ant fighting a monster-truck.

Impossible odds? Sounds fun to me!

As if that wasn't epic enough, our friends over at Bioware have also released a "Reinstated" trailer that stars the female version of our favorite N7 Marine. The trailer looks awesome and I can't help but think that "Fem Shep" is the way Mass Effect 3 should be. Jennifer Hale's voice acting in Mass Effect 1 and 2 has been superb, and I  am excited to see (or hear) how she takes command of the character in Mass Effect 3. The trailer also features the new default face for Fem Shep, a major overhaul and upgrade from the series' past versions.

Mass Effect 3 is scheduled to be released Tuesday, March 6 on Xbox360, Playstation 3, and PC.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Pre-Owned Gaming

Depending on who you are, you either love or hate pre-owned game sales. Consumers typically love it, since it helps to manage the increasing prices of video game consoles and software. It makes it a feasible hobby for those who have bills to pay. On the other hand, publishers and developers hate  it, as they seldom see a dime from the re-sale. It's a bit of a jumbled issue - people need to be able to afford the game, but developers need to turn a profit on it.

The whole debate has been further agitated with rumors that next-gen consoles, like the Xbox 720, will have built in features to deter used-gaming. The Official Xbox Magazine jokingly explains that this news may be the harbinger of "the End Times, when pipe-wielding mobs roam the streets and rivers run black with publisher blood." Jokes aside, this would hurt a lot of people and companies that rely on this method of distribution. However, this same article does a great job of proposing some alternative solutions to alleviate the problem. The two that I agree with most are lowering/varying the price points and implementing more quality, substantial downloadable content.

Currently, most used console games sell for $59.99 (minus tax) when they first come out. Some titles are worth this amount and offer a lot of bang-for-your-buck. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim boasts an average playtime of 75 hours - that's less than one dollar per hour of game time! Likewise, titles like Mass Effect and Dragon Age offer a similar level of long-term engagement. High profile multi-player series, such as Halo, Battlefield, and Call of Duty, offer gamers an ever-changing and competitive environment as well as a chance to earn new gear, titles, and trophies.

However, every game doesn't offer this type of rewarding experience. For example, Dead Space doesn't have the same value when you've played the single-player levels time and time again. The horror element comes from not being fully familiar with your surroundings, as well as not knowing what's around the next corner. Other horror games, Resident Evil included, fall into this same rut. Other examples include Medal of Honor (2010) and Crisis 2, which offered an entertaining single-player and mediocre multi-player. It's not a bad game, but there's other options out there which offer a much better return-on-investment. Finally, some games are just downright bad! To be polite, I won't name any names...Bomberman Act: Zero. Just as every movie isn't intended to be an Oscar winner, there are some games that aren't shooting for GOTY status. Developers and publishers ought to recognize this and adjust their pricing accordingly.

Having the price make sense is one way to boost your sales, but once people have the game - give them a reason to keep it! That's where downloadable content comes in. My favorite example of a game that poured 110% into DLC is Mass Effect 2. The Cerberus Network did a phenomenal job, in my opinion, providing gamers with a wealth of free and paid DLC: new and unique weapons, new and unique squad members, and new and unique mission packs. I'm being very intentional with the words "new" and "unique" here. I still think Lair of the Shadow Broker was the best DLC content I've ever played because it added an engaging story, as well as missions and content that extends far beyond the immediate mission. Kasumi's DLC pack was fun because she's the only stealth-melee focused squad member. Arrival, while not at the same level as Lair of the Shadow Broker, was still a great piece of content because it added a thrilling and engaging atmosphere. More games need to aspire to this level of quality content. Many people have held onto their copy of this game instead of trading it in, just because the next batch of content is so highly anticipated.

It's still too early to discern what is fact and fiction about the next-gen consoles - the pre-owned ban may just pass to the wayside. Either way, it is evident that publishers and developers need to rise up to the challenge and find new ways to make their products, either used or new, worthwhile for their consumers.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Skyrim Creation Kit is Live

Bethesda has released the much awaited PC mod tools for their smash hit, The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. For those unfamiliar with the culture of Bethesda's PC fanbase, this is something just a few steps shy of the Second Coming of Tiber Septim.

In addition to the release of the Skyrim Creation Kit, Bethesda has also released episode #1 of their Creation Kit Tutorial Series, this time around focusing on an overall introduction to the kit. By browsing the popular mod site Skyrim Nexus, one will notice that the modding community has already developed a plethora of user-generated content already without official modding tools. In the coming months, it will be exciting to see how these new resources will spark modders' imaginations in new and unique ways. If the series' previous installment, The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, is any indication, there will be a virtually endless stream of new equipment, spells and gameplay overhauls being developed for gamers, by gamers.. Additionally, the Steam Workshop has launched alongside Bethesda's  toolset. This new resource offers modders a place on Steam to share their work with the rest of the gaming community.

The Skyrim Creation Kit is only available for PC can be downloaded through Steam.

How to Win Valentine's Day

Monday, February 6, 2012

Skyrim + Marriage

Last month, my wife started playing Skyrim and has taken to it quite well. Years ago, she used to play Oblivion with God Mode on, but this time around she's actually playing through the game as a mortal. In fact, she's taken it one step further and designed a back story for her heroic Dark Elf character with the soul of a "Dova."

Okay, I need to give her a little slack. It's not like she sat around with parchment and quill. She was complaining about being unable to afford a new piece of armor. Being the helpful sort of husband, I suggested that she join the Thieves Guild or Dark Brotherhood to earn a little extra coin. Each time I suggested this, she passionately exclaimed, "No!" Finally, I asked her, "Why not?"

With her best matter-of-fact voice, she replied, "Well, Artemis is a good Dark Elf girl raised by her father, a self-taught mage, and her mother, a devout Priestess of the Nine. They raised her to live a wholesome, honest life."

Surprised by the depth of her response, I needled her further. "If she's so honest, how'd she get arrested outside Skyrim?"

Without missing a beat, she explained, "Artemis' father always dreamed of going to the College at Winterhold, but never could afford it. Once he saw his daughter's gift for magic, he gave up his dreams and earned enough to send her to the college in his stead. She was making the journey when ended up in the middle of the Imperial Legion's trap for the Stormcloak rebels."

Her story continued to grow the more I pried. Apparently Artemis also had a brother who was killed by the Thalmor for openly worshiping Talos. Also, her mother once worshiped the Daedric prince Azura, but repented and became a priestess of the Nine once her daughter was born.

I'll be honest, I was shocked by how detailed she made this story, especially since it was completely spontaneous! She then turned the tables on me and asked me to explain the back story of my character, the leader of the Dark Brotherhood AND the Thieves Guild. I took a second, then looked her straight in the eyes.

"Well, Undyne was an orphaned Nord who was raised by wolves. He was particularly hungry, one day, when he spotted a tasty looking Dark Elf mage girl on her way to the College at Winterhold..."

"You're just the worst kind of person," she replied.

"I know."

Mass Effect 3 Achievements

Additional Mass Effect 3 info has trickled out and, as with the Special Forces trailer, EA/Bioware continue to string along their eager fan-base.

This time around, we have a list of achievements for the series' finale.Hot entries include winning political stand-offs, learning the origins of a monstrous enemy, and defeating a new type of enemy: the Harvester. There's most likely a few spoilers hiding in the list, so be careful how closely you read if you're safeguarding your Mass Effect 3 experience. Otherwise, check out the complete list here.

Mass Effect 3 is scheduled to be released Tuesday, March 6 on Xbox360, Playstation 3, and PC.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Mass Effect 3 Teasers

After a longer hiatus than I would've liked, the blog is back up and running. Also, I couldn't think of a better topic to be the harbinger of our return - Mass Effect 3.

With nearly a month to go before the release of the grand finale of the Mass Effect trilogy, Bioware and EA have taunted fans with the perfect balance of information and mystery. While they release details about gameplay, they withhold the golden nuggets of the story and squad mates. I, for one, am practically drooling!

One of the biggest mysteries, the new cooperative multiplayer mode, has a new trailer that teases at the variety of classes and playstyles available. The multiplayer mode, called Special Forces, allows players to step into the shoes of the elite commandos supporting Commander Shepard's fight against the infamous Reapers. Based on the trailer, this new game mode promises to be an action packed, brutal, and exhilarating adventure.

Mass Effect 3 is scheduled to be released Tuesday, March 6 on Xbox360, Playstation 3, and PC.