The Secret World turned out to be soul-sappingly boring and I couldn’t be arsed writing up a beta overview in the end. Hell, I forgot about the entire blog. Don’t worry, though. I got somethin’ planned. Maybe I’ll make a post about XCOM or Dishonored or something. Maybe even Halo 4.
In which we venture into Guild Wars II, explore Ascalon and drive back the ghost infestation.
If you pay attention to gaming news, you’ve no doubt heard of Guild Wars II, NCsoft and Arenanet’s premier new MMO. The first game is something of a cult favorite and is still being played to this day since its launch in April of 2005. While many dismissed it as a simple Warcraft clone, it was probably the closest we’ll get to a Diablo MMO this side of Diablo III what with the game’s instanced romps through the countryside.
The second game looks to be a bit more standard in its MMO offerings with an enormous open world for players to explore and a selection of different races rather than being stuck with Humans in the first game. Alright, so we’ve got: Norn, shapeshifting vikings. Asura, tiny smart guys. Sylvari, plant people. Humans, humans. Charr, giant demonic cat people that want to blow shit up.
Back in April, Arenanet hosted a beta weekend available to those who had preordered the second game. Fifty bucks and an enormous client download later, me and a friend who had also preordered the game signed onto the servers and made Charr characters (Charracters?) and went on our merry way blowing shit up as was per Charr tradition.
Or we would have, if the server he was on wasn’t full. Most, if not all of the Australian and New Zealand Guild Wars II players have agreed to head to the Sea of Sorrows server but seeing as Arenanet were still testing the server framework it filled up fast. We played together later that night when things had cooled down a bit. Until then, I headed to a different server.
After an fiery tutorial in which I blew up some ghosts by using my explosive bullets, I headed to Ascalon to do some questing. I discovered quests in Guild Wars II functioned a bit differently than in typical MMOs. Rather than speak to some shmuck standing around waiting for nothing, you have to go find quests yourself. It was an interesting mixup of the usual formula, as instead than visiting everyone with an exclamation mark I was blasting my way through the countryside helping npcs left and right scoring points, money and XP.
There were more traditional quests in the form of Missions, which progress the plot and introduce you to characters. Again, unlike the norm the plot was actually fairly good and the writing wasn’t atrocious. My character was playing a fairly central role, rather being resigned to a quest monkey while the main characters go do all the important stuff.
During character creation I signed on with the Iron Legion, one of the four Charr legions. The Iron Legion were the Charr’s league of weaponsmiths and machinists. After the aforementioned ghosts killed my warband it was time to assemble a crack team of soldiers and smiths, all the while assembling a prototype weapon to drive back the spirits infesting the land.
Once the Ghostbore Musket (The prototype weapon) was completed, me and the story characters put it to use in a couple of entertaining missions. Rytlock Brimstone, one of the main characters, was stoked to have some new toys to play with. It was great seeing the gun I had built in the hands of someone important to the plot (not to mention a pretty cool guy) and even better was using the musket itself, blasting ghouls, ghasts and spirits to smithereens with ease.
After all those wonderful plot shenanigans, I noticed the Sea of Sorrows server had emptied out a bit. I transferred over to meet up with my buddy, and together we went and adventured. Or we would have, if the game’s lag and overpopulation prevention systems hadn’t split us up. My partner got stuck in the overflow server, which is were players are sent when the main server is full. As you may have guessed, I was stuck in the main server. Some time later he eventually got into the main server and we met up and finally had that adventure.
He was playing a warrior, while I was playing as an engineer. He was having a great time smashing things into itty bitty pieces with an enormous hammer, while I blasted things from a range with pistols and explosives. As we adventured, he became rather attached to a musket we found along our travels as he had discovered how to pull off ludicrous critical hits with it (upwards of 700 damage) and thus made short work of most enemies we encountered. I took on a more utilitarian and support role, brandishing various types of grenades and a debilitating chemical thrower.
The teamwork was fantastic. I could get up close to gas our enemies while my wingman gunned them down with lethal precision, and if we were wounded I could drop bandage powerups for us to patch ourselves up with. If we needed to make a quick getaway, I could toss a freeze grenade to slow down our foes while we made our escape.
Another aspect of the teamwork would have to be how grouping works the game. Groups merely arrange players together - out in the open world we were all in it together. Gone were the days of bullshit kill stealing and waiting for quest-essential enemies to respawn. Gone too were the instanced, locked off boss fights available only to those who assemble crack teams of players with ludicrously good equipment.
On the boss monster front, a powerful shaman from a rival legion showed up, and players flocked to fight him. Me and the enormous group of other players vanquished the shaman and after a brief respite to lick our wounds we charged onwards and just kept going. The pack mentality was hilarious. We were a fast moving scourge just rolling through the landscape demolishing quests and foes alike.
The sheer fun of all that happened through the beta weekend blew away any concerns I had about the game, but something that almost ruined the entire experience was the technical and logistical issues. Server frustrations aside, the game ran extremely poorly even on the lowest settings. I was forced to experience Ascalon in a blurry, sparsely-detailed state due to the the developer’s unwise decision to render many of the graphical effects from the CPU which was an extremely dumb move. My duo of beefy graphics cards were put to little use.
Despite all the placeholders and technical difficulties, the first Guild Wars II beta weekend was a great time and I eagerly await the next one which is rumored to be later in the month. The storytelling blew away blizzard’s poor attempts at MMO story and the gameplay is more than enough to keep me coming back.
In the next part of this post, we’ll uncover the Secret World and find out what befell the troubled port town of Kingsmouth.
One century in internet years ago (1997), Blizzard Entertainment released Diablo and redefined RPGs. Everyone loved it, and via the game’s online multiplayer many good times were had. In 2000, Blizzard released the sequel, giving us a finely-tuned finely-crafted product that improved on just about everything from the original.
Fourteen days from now Blizzard is going to release Diablo III and it’s going to receive critical acclaim, high ratings everywhere, and enough awards to make a Valve title jealous.
And I think that’s total bullshit. And in this tumblr post, I’m going to tell you why.
The timeline I’ve written above pales in comparison to the actual tale, as I’ve left out rumors, expansion packs, release dates and delays but that’s because I wanted to get straight to the heart of the matter. The fact is, I’ve played the game and I don’t think it’s very good. Call me a bitter purist if you must.
A few weeks back Blizzard decided to hold an open beta weekend for the game which I decided to jump into. I started up to client and laid my eyes upon the game’s suspiciously bland main menu which seemed downright stock compared to the second game’s quite moody one. I brushed it off, made my character and loaded into the game world.
I was disappointed almost immediately. Gone were the dark, moody visuals of the first two games only to be replaced by almost searingly bright and vibrant visuals. Then, it hit me. I was playing the Diablo expansion pack for World of Warcraft. It was all there - Cartoonic art design, lack of singleplayer, horrendous balance and awful community. I shambled my way into New Tristram, the local town and decided to get the story rolling. Fan favorite character Warriv has been killed off in favor of a suspiciously bland pretty face known as Leah, who is Deckard Cain’s (we’ll get to him in a bit) niece or something. She told me about some vague zombie plague and to go kill a couple of boss zombies. One trivial quest later and she’s walking me through the ruins of Old Tristram dumping plot on me and saying she’s Adria’s (a character from the first game) daughter and bla bla bla let’s go save cain.
Blizzard’s been doing this a lot lately, placing emphasis on characters you really don’t care about. The worst case so far is World of Warcraft, in which I simply could not care less about the handful of awful characters they were shoving in my face. They did this to the extent that they ruined one of their only good characters, Thrall, and have transformed him from a symbol of awesome to an utter mary sue.
Some generic adventuring later I found myself in the Tristram Cathedral. It was about this point that I realized the game has been desperately trying to appeal to my sense of nostalgia by having me visit familiar places en masse. Once I noticed this, the illusion came crumbling down and all that was left was bad textures and the same handful of monsters they’d been recycling throughout the whole dungeon.
I decided I may as well try and have some fun with this. I muted the game’s stock orchestral music and set Matt Uelmen’s moody beats that populated the first two games playing in winamp. Just like that, I’d outdone blizzard’s paltry attempts at nostalgia. In the cathedral undercroft, I saved Cain from some monsters and he told me that King Leoric has arisen once more (they already played this card in the first game) and that a star has fallen into the cathedral and that if we want to get to the star, we’ll have to vanquish the skeletal king. I engaged in some more questing in which I retrieved the king’s crown, fought off the ghost of Chancellor Eamon (who is also from the first game) and received some nice loot.
Crown in hand, I returned to the cathedral and plunged into the depths once more. I met one of the few new characters down there: Kormac, the templar. He asked for my assistance in finding his mind-controlled friend who is also a templar. We fought our way to him and broke the mind control at which point he asks us for forgiveness as the cultist coven’s mind control had clouded his thoughts. Kormac replied “Betrayal can never be forgiven!” At which point he curb stomped his templar buddy in a vain attempt to make the game seem more dark and edgy. I did not approve, to say the least.
After some more dungeon running with my oh-so-grimdark AI comrade, we came to the boss chamber, placed the crown upon the skeleton king’s corpse and bound his spirit to the body so we could kill him. After a surprisingly fun boss fight, some big text popped up telling me I’d completed the beta.
It may as well have been a demo. The game was in a very finished state, and had two to three weeks until release. While bugs can be fixed, awful writing and mediocre gameplay cannot.
Gameplay is something I haven’t touched on so far mainly because there’s really not a lot to say about it. The game has barely evolved since the second installment outside of a nice new user interface, but one thing that did not survive the decade-long divide was the skill system. Diablo the second sported a fairly ordinary talent tree with some fun spells and attacks, but Diablo III’s skill system is flat out awful.
If I wanted an isometric layout, I’d play Call of Duty. Diablo III’s skill system functions like a gimped Guild Wars and lacks conventional RPG logic. Who thought this thing up, much less thought it was a good idea?
Blizzard did, and the reason such a draconian ability system was implemented was so that smart people didn’t get an advantage over dumb people. Oh, and that’s pretty much a direct quote. It’s all to do with something I call the death of complexity, but that’s another rant all together. In short, video games nowadays are becoming simplistic and easy. In the days of old you had to be informed, you had to be clever and you had to be skillful. I salute the brave men who drew and sketched their own maps on printer paper in the days of old because nowadays every single RPG has some form of automap function. Hell, I salute the brave old DOOMers who would comb over maps and levels for hours at a time hunting for secrets and hidden items, while every shooter nowadays consists of corridors and cutscenes.
But we’re getting off track, and I think I’ve made my point. Diablo III is going to sell a zillion copies and make Blizzard a billion bucks and they won’t have earned a cent of it.
The fact is, Diablo III is a watered down, poorly written uninvolving mess of a game that I couldn’t care less for. And you’re going to buy it regardless of all this.
Joking aside, I’m planning on doing a summary rant where I get to everything I didn’t. Specifically, the marketing - The amount of lies we were fed during the game’s development is despicable.
I regret not going further into detail with my first rant. It was just a series of isolated incidents spread across parts of the game, instead of the grandiose deconstruction I wanted it to be. The point I wanted to make is that this is pretty much the whole game - It’s 100% this lazy/rushed/buggy/any combination of the three. Frankly, for a multimillion dollar triple-A blockbuster title that’s inexcusable. I’ve seen ten dollar indie games with more polish. Super Meat Boy is one example - Pin point controls, sharp graphics, bitchin’ soundtrack - but I’m not here to talk about that.
What I am here to discuss is Mass Effect 3’s ratchety, disjointed narrative and abuse of the fan’s trust.
oh and uh, big goddamn spoilers below if that wasn’t obvious
The idea is that throughout the other two games you’ve been piecing together a mysterious mystery about the Reapers: Immortal machines that exterminate all life every 50,000 years. Awfully specific, I know, but we’ll get to that later. Towards the end of the first game, you figure out that there’s actually enough of them to make the machines from Terminator wet their pelvic servos - And they’re coming to our galaxy. Shepard is the only one who can stop them.
Going from Mass Effect 1 to Mass Effect 2 was like going from Star Trek to the Matrix. The first was a quite solemn traditional sci-fi experience, while the second is a bombastic thrill ride with enough gas to drive the length of a rollercoaster. It should probably be pretty obvious that the story didn’t quite make the jump. One of the best comparisons I heard is that the first game is like a movie, while the second is a season of the TV show based on said movie.
The characters were great. Seeing the likes of Garrus and Tali back in action, along with newcomers like Legion and Thane was a blast through and through. The overarching story was more akin to a Saturday morning cartoon, however. By the end of the game nothing had really been accomplished - Sure, we stopped the collectors from kidnapping entire colonies of humans and blew up/kept their base (you get to choose) but the reapers were nowhere to be seen, and we hadn’t struck any major blow against them (DLC notwithstanding).
We’ve gotten a little sidetracked. The game (Mass Effect 3) opens with the player character Commander Shepard in an unnamed city on earth, having had his/her ship grounded after smashing a mass relay (giant space slingshot) into a Batarian colony in order to stop the reapers from getting into the solar system. Hm? What’s that? You didn’t play the Arrival DLC in Mass Effect 2? Congratulations, you just missed out on an important part of the game’s story because you didn’t buy it.
Shepard goes into a council room and the earth government says “Oh shit, we got a radar signal. Is that the reapers?” And then Shepard’s like “Yeah it’s the reapers” and then michael bay assumes direct control of the script and a bunch of explosions happen. Cue some running away and shooting at cyborg zombies.
And then you see it. You see that hideous little franchise-destroying abomination. The kid. The moment you see the kid you know his only reason to exist is to die in some amateurish emotionally manipulative scene. And he does just that - After Shepard gets aboard the Normandy (the aforementioned ship) he looks across the harbor to see the kid getting on a transport shuttle. It takes off and is immediately blasted out of the sky by a reaper.
I had to contain my laughter. Never before had I seen a scene so blatant in its attempt at tear jerking. Everything about it - The close up on the kid’s scared face, the melodramatic piano music - it was clear that bioware didn’t have any grasp on how to do a scene like this. We had no attachment to the kid. He shows up, disappears for a few minutes just to show up again and get killed. That’s the long and short of it, aside from him showing up in the dream sequence they repeat three times.
You want a good example? Go play Katawa Shoujo (don’t play katawa shoujo) or Homeworld. Holy shit, I teared up in level 3 of Homeworld. You return to your home planet to find it’s been incinerated. Kharak is burning. Adagio for strings is playing and all you can do is save who you can while gunning down the scouts the enemy left behind. Then Mass Effect 3 comes along and pffffhahahaha that kid got his ass kicked
Once you’re off the planet, you begin on a mission to gather up who you can to fight the reapers, and this includes more than a few familiar faces. Absolutely everyone’s here - be it a full appearance or a minor cameo. This is where the bulk of the game takes place, and for the most part it’s actually really good. Uniting all the different alien races is most satisfactory, except for the Quarians (space gypsies.) Back in the second game they agree to work towards fighting the reapers but noooo all of a sudden they’re trying to retake their homeworld from the geth who are not the reapers and they’re getting themselves blown up and accomplishing nothing in the face of the impending machine apocalypse.
It’s inconsistencies like this that start to accumulate and drag down the whole experience. Did you blow up the collector base or give it to Cerberus? Doesn’t matter, they recovered stuff from it either way. Did you save or kill the Rachni Queen back in the first game? Doesn’t matter, she’s just a footnote in the third. Did you nominate Captain Anderson (Keith David) or Councillor Udina for a spot on the Citadel Council (space government)? Doesn’t matter, Udina is the Councillor in the third game either way.
Hang on, Cerberus - I haven’t mentioned them yet. Cerberus were little more than sidequest fodder in the first game, but in the second they took a much bigger role. They’re a pro-human organization that go above and beyond galactic law to secure our safety. Led by the Illusive Man (Martin Sheen), they bring Shepard back from the dead so he can fight the Collectors who, as I mentioned, are kidnapping entire human colonies.
In the third game, you’re fighting them for some reason. TIM (The Illusive Man) comes to twirl his mustache at you in the second mission where you are trying to recover data about a weapon that could destroy the reapers. He still claims that Cerberus are working to save humanity, but keeps trumping Shepard at every turn be it sabotaging a research facility, stealing critical data, or staging a coup. If you’ve been keeping up with the reaper’s abilities you’ve probably figured out he’s been indoctrinated - the reaper’s slow, gradual mind control that makes the victim think what they’re doing is correct.
TIM was an awesome character, but he came off as very phoned in here in the last installment. Mainly because in ME3 he’s a huge rehash of Saren Arterius, the first game’s villain but instead of wanting to join the reapers he wants to take control of them. Hell, if they were going to rehash Saren why not just bring him back from the dead? I mean, sure, we vaporized him back in the first game but it’d make as much sense as some of the other design decisions they made.
I guess I can’t put this next part off any longer. I’ve already talked about how stupid the rest of the galaxy is, so let’s chat about something from a different one - the reapers.
The weapon I mentioned is called the Crucible, an enormous macguffin that will supposedly destroy the reapers. ‘Course, there’s no guarantee it’ll work. The aliens who designed it went extinct 50,000 years ago and they never finished it. As you complete missions, assets you capture and secure from them go towards its construction and every now and again Admiral Hackett (Lance Henrikson) gives you a progress update. Sounds like a good set up, right?
Now, the reapers somehow captured the Citadel (space new york) and have moved it to earth, which is their most heavily defended foothold in the galaxy. Turns out the citadel is like a focus for the crucible - when the two are attached, it can fire. After a surprisingly boring level on earth you make your way aboard the citadel so you can allow the crucible to connect. This is the point where you realize there is no final boss. Just thought I’d point that out.
TIM shows up and he’s like “I am still not a bad guy even though I am and I must use the crucible to control the reapers” and then you shoot him and keith david dies and lance henrikson is like “do something”
Then Shepard does something. He pushes a button and goes up an elevator. This is it - He’s made it to the crucible and the first thing he sees is that fucking kid. Yes. The superweapon that’s going to save all life in the galaxy is operated by that fucking kid. The idea is that the citadel houses a being called the Catalyst, and it’s read Shepard’s mind and has taken the form of the kid because that symbolizes Shepard’s guilt over everyone he wasn’t able to save. Okay. I can buy that. But the kid? Seriously? That little arrangement of pixels dumps a bunch of nonsensical plot resolution on you that just makes you feel angry. Not angry because of what the reapers have been doing, but because it’s so stupid.
Alright. With me? The reapers destroy all sentient life every 50,000 years because if they don’t we’ll create synthetic beings that will take over the galaxy but the reapers are synthetic so that makes them a paradox and ultimately pointless because why not just exterminate life altogether but that implies someone thought this ending through I’m looking at you mac walters you goddamn hack and
alright you get the message. The ending makes the reapers out to be really stupid. Once you’re onboard the crucible you get to choose one of three endings. The first will let you control the reapers and do what TIM could not. The second will destroy all synthetic life (including Shepard because he’s a cyborg). The third will merge organic life with the reapers, but all of them will destroy the mass relays, and if that happens the galaxy will become disconnected since there’s no means of lightspeed travel.
I picked the destroy ending. This is what I came here to do, after all. So, Shepard smashes the crucible and the crucible sends out an energy wave that smashes the reapers and also smashes the mass relays. After a short ending sequence that told us nothing of what happened to our favorite characters, the credits rolled on.
I know what you’re thinking. “That’s it, huh?” “The ending was dumb, sure, but at least they didn’t ruin everything.”
They did. After the credits there’s a brief sequence with an old man telling a child a bedtime story. Yeah, all that kickass space action with rockets and laser guns? That was all a bedtime story.
I wouldn’t hate the ending so much if it weren’t for that bit after the credits as it basically nullifies everything that happened in the entire trilogy. Everything you fought for has been for nothing. Tuchanka? Rubble. Sur’kesh? Ruins. Rannoch? Wasteland. Thessia? Wreckage. Earth? Crater. It’s a giant slap in the face for the people who have been waiting five years for this.
There have been some attempts to rationalize all of this. One of the popular theories is that Shepard had been indoctrinated and this was all in his head, but I believe theories like this are called “being in denial.”
Mass Effect 3 has its moments. The gameplay is generally fun, and while the writing ranges from great to awful, the good stuff is really good. Anything with Garrus or Wrex is fantastic, not to mention some of the stuff that comes out of Javik’s mouth will leave you in stitches, and hell, I almost teared up when Legion bit the dust.
When Shepard goes up the white elevator, turn off the xbox, switch off the ps3, quit the game, and just make up your own damn ending. I guarantee it’ll be better than this.
I’ve had that song stuck in my head for five years running. It’s a crying shame it’s all for naught.
I still remember that day clearly, five years ago. I was playing the first Mass Effect on the backup TV in another room. It was the final act. Commander Shepard’s showdown with Saren Arterius, as the fight between the Geth and Alliance fleets raged above them. After the confrontation, we resolved to fight the Reapers. The credits fade to black, and M4 Part II starts playing. Just like that, I saved the galaxy. I wonder how disappointed I would’ve been if I knew how shoddy the final part of the story was going to be.
For the uninformed, Mass Effect 3 is the final act of a story five years in the making. It’s all come down to this - An ancient race of machines have returned to exterminate all life in the galaxy, and only you can stop them. You’ll need all the help you can get, and to get it, you’ll need to call in more than a few favors. All the decisions you made in the last two games - Be it saving controversial data, forcefully ending a civil war between two factions of AIs, or even gunning down one of your party members to stop him from jeopardizing the mission - It all matters.
At least, that’s what they want you to think. Turns out everything that happened in the last two games is rendered completely inert by a dimension-hopping time-travelling deus ex machina known as the “Starchild.”
The Starchild is an argument for another day, however, as for now I’m here to dissect what is fundamentally wrong with ME3, not to nerd rage about how awful the plot is.
Let’s take it from the top.
The first thing you see in Mass Effect 3 is the blurry JPG main menu, complete with an interface recycled from Mass Effect 2. The difference, is that in Mass Effect 2, they actually bothered to render the main menu. That’s lazy enough, but it only gets more rushed from here - Buckle up.
The first mission of the game (after the tutorial level on earth) sends you to a base on mars to recover critical data, as well as rescue an old friend. You and your squad take a shuttle down to the surface outside the facility. You’re thinking “Woah. This is mars. This is pretty important.” If it’s so important, why did they spend only 15 minutes drawing a skybox texture for this thing? I made the mistake of looking up as soon as I landed and noticed that the skybox wasn’t rendered properly, and had to stifle laughter immediately. The sky was shaped like a dome, and at the very center of it was a black spot, indicating an amateurishly misdrawn texture.
I know it sounds like I’m nitpicking. But I was constantly spotting lazy design like this all over the game.
In the second mission, I had been sent to rescue a turian leader on the moon of their homeworld. Several criminally bad textures later, I noticed something. The turians had set up several fortifications to fend off the reaper forces and were shooting at absolutely nothing. I regret not taking a screenshot. The turian forces were shooting at thin air to make things seem more interesting, while I was doing the actual fighting.
Hang on, I got another one. In another mission, where I was tasked with rescuing space wizard apprentices from an academy, I got a chance to pilot a big battle robot called an Atlas. The enemy pilot had left the vehicle to conduct repairs, and left himself open for a context-kill (press F to kill bad guy.) When I defied the game’s expectations by just shooting him instead, the AI panicked and he stood still while I blasted his head off with my shotgun. I clambered into the mech and stomped into the next room, blasting soldiers all the while. A few of them had snuck up behind me, so I turned to face them. That’s when I noticed that by turning too fast I had discovered a hole in the HUD. Yes - by turning around too fast, I broke the graphics.
The last point I’d like to make is about Tali - a fan favorite character. It’s been a running joke through the series that you never see her face, as she’s always wearing a space suit because of her weak immune system. She’s finally unmasked here in the third game, aaaaaaand they didn’t even put any effort into it. They just took a stock image of a hot chick from google images and ran it through photoshop.
Don’t believe me? Take a look.
Meanwhile, they’ll fully render Diana Allers, a corporate plug from IGN.
I could go on for an hour about this stuff, from the 3DS Max abominations they call civilians to the 2D sprite birds. The list goes on.
I hope this proves sufficient evidence of how rushed the game was. Tune in next time when I rant about how awful the writing became.
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