Let’s Play: Mass Effect Andromeda

Mass Effect Andromeda might be my most anticipated game in the past few years. I was a devout fan of the original trilogy, having completed runthroughs across all three games multiple times.

However, in the age of internet outrage, I forced myself to stay in the dark about anything concerning this latest installment and try my best to keep my expectations low. That allowed me to have a pretty blank slate going in to Andromeda.

I didn’t like abandoning the Milky Way for a whole other galaxy, 600 years into the future. That just minimized the effects of the events in the trilogy.

But, I suspect there was really no other way to move the story past what had happened. Bioware was looking for a clean start and this was their way to do it.

That meant losing a lot of familiar characters and environments. Luckily, we kept a lot of other elements, including species, aesthetics, abilities and weapons.

It was a joy to see turians, asari, and krogan again. Equipping the valiant sniper rifle was like finding an old, comfortable sweater.

In that sense, Andromeda was able to attain that elusive goal of “feeling” like a Mass Effect game. To me, at least. Plenty of people seemed unhappy and unsatisfied. (That goes back to my comment about hedging my expectations.)

Gameplay-wise, the balance of RPG and FPS seemed good. The side quests were much more robust (perhaps with a bit too much planet hopping back and forth).

The main story was a bit lackluster, but still managed a few nice twists. The main antagonist wasn’t as iconic or fearsome as the Reapers. In fact, the nice easter egg of audio logs about the Reapers actually reminded me how intense and dire that situation was, and unfortunately dulled the current story I was playing.

Mass Effect though was always more about the characters and your relationships with them. This is probably where Bioware managed to shine the brightest. It was a tall order to ask players to love the new teammates and Ryder as much as Shepard or Liara or Tali. Outside of the supremely annoying Liam, I think they succeeded. Even characters I was skeptical about, like Peebee or Cora, eventually won over my affection.

As for the Let’s Play, it was a challenge to play such a long, sprawling game with the pressure of keeping it engaging and entertaining. It was easily twice as long as any other game I recorded. I’m still glad I did, and hope it comes across well.

Not sure where Mass Effect goes from here (Bioware resists hinting at a new trilogy), but I’m still along for the ride!

Learn to Play: Mass Effect Andromeda Multiplayer, Asari Adept

I’ve finally done it. I’ve made an edited video post for video games. As many Let’s Plays as I’ve done, it’s always been pure recordings with no edits (other than cutting out times when a game has crashed).

I’ve been playing a ton of Mass Effect Andromeda single player, and honestly really enjoying it. The game’s been getting mixed reviews and the typical internet outrage, but knowing that every ME game has had its flaws, I’m getting pretty much what I’d expected (if not what I’d hoped).

But like Mass Effect 3, this latest game’s multiplayer is great and so fun. I logged countless hours in ME3’s multiplayer and a lot of that translated over to this new incarnation. Thus, I have a lot of working knowledge and expertise and felt compelled to share some of that with others.

It was a lot of work putting this together so I now have a new-found respect for those professional YouTubers who pump out videos everyday. A lot of time and effort goes in behind the scenes. I had to create a ton of footage so that I had enough to pull together for this one 24 minute video.

Hope people find it helpful!

Why I Play Video Games

There’s a recent article on Vulture examining why some (particularly grown-up adults) choose to spend so much of their free moments playing video games.

As much a past-time as reading, watching tv, or sports, playing video games has always had a negative stigma. That it wasn’t as worthy of our time and effort as the other recreational activities. I assume because it’s thought to be more for kids. Although I can’t fathom then why so many have no issue obsessing over sports… and not even playing but watching sports.

The article tries to justify gaming through several angles… some people make money broadcasting on YouTube! Or it’s a way to experience a world that has rules and goals unlike real life!

But the author (while a self-described gamer) doesn’t seem to fully buy into any rationale. Even stating that writing for a video game is an inferior artform to literary writing.

Of that, I totally disagree. Just because examples of stellar video game writing are far more scarce than books or poetry or whatnot, doesn’t mean it’s not capable of achieving the same heights.

Take The Last of Us. I can’t recall too many novels that caused me to swim in such a deep well of emotions by the end. I put down my controller at the end credits and felt a mixture of awe and devastation for characters that I had come to connect with more than most fictional characters

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We also tend to forget that video games are a relatively new medium compared to other forms of artistic expression. Music and writing are about as old as human existence. Television has even been around for almost a century.

Video games, starting off severely limited by technology, have only really recently begun to venture into the waters of art and storytelling. More complex stories, professional voice (and mo-cap) actors, and music conductors, are all becoming as vital to video game production as the level designers and programmers.

Back to my own gaming journey, I spent a hefty amount of my childhood playing NES and SNES games, only to fall off around college, thinking that yes, indeed video games are just for kids.

I missed entire generations of consoles such as the N64, Gamecube, Playstation 1, and Playstation 2.

I finally found my way back after being intrigued by the concept of the Mass Effect trilogy. That there’s a series of games that allows you to craft your main character, to make decisions that have actual effects in not just the game you’re playing but subsequent games too. That video games were now much more epic and cinematic than when I was running around on 8-bit and 16-bit levels.

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Even now, I have friends and girlfriends who look at me a bit sideways when I reveal that I spend a significant amount of my time gaming. It’s still viewed as a waste of time. Especially at an age and time where so many other things should take priority.

My simplest explanation basically breaks down to how video games are much less passive than watching tv or movies. And video games are as immersive as books, but have visual stimulation as well.

Being able to control a character, guiding them through a story or a puzzle or a battle, allows me to have agency and investment.

I won’t deny the sense of satisfaction when beating a tough boss enemy or solving a puzzle obstacle or the pleasure of killing an obnoxious online player. But that’s not what keeps drawing me into gaming. There has to be a story. There has to be character. There has to be emotion.

Recently on the way in to work, Life is Strange‘s main theme came up in my phone’s shuffle mode and I had a flood of feelings hit me. I felt a sense of missing Max and Chloe and their heart-warming, heart-breaking journey.

This is a grown-ass man going to an office, fighting back emotions for a video game about two teenaged girls.

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Now, I know that people play video games for different reasons. I’m all about the story. But I recently found out that my cousin only likes to play online shooters and skips any cinematic just to get to the action. I found that mindset completely baffling. But to each his own.

Personally, I don’t play games for profit, popularity, or even as an escape from my real life.

I just like that as a form of entertainment. Like going to see a film or listening to music. Video games have just as much value to me as any of those.

Hopefully soon, there will be less stigma whenever I admit to someone that I like to game. I’ve definitely had the urge to sit people down in front of a game to show them that things have progressed very far from Super Mario Bros.

Here are some of my go-to games to express the potential of the medium:

The Last of Us
No brainer. The prologue might play a little too long for some people’s patience but it’s a hell of a display of the power of interactive story-telling.

Journey
A very different type of experience. Most people are caught off guard by how restrained it is. Usually, games come off as loud amusement parks. This game is more like a monastery.

Limbo
This one tends to be a bit easier transition for people since most are at least familiar with side-scrollers. But the art direction and the stellar adherence to minimalism is always impressive.

Life is Strange
As mentioned above, this game really gets its hooks in you emotionally. It’s a bit of a tough sell though since it takes a good amount of time before the appeal kicks in.

The Walking Dead
I’ve come to love/hate Telltale games but this is a good one to introduce to people due to the popularity of the show. Plus it does a good job of retaining the show’s brutal no-win scenarios but puts decisions in the player’s hands.

Until Dawn
A great one to pull out for a group gathering around Halloween. The impressive visuals and the Scream-like setup is another good example to people of how games can be just as engrossing as a movie.

Final Fantasy XV Review

One of the first opening screens for latest installment of Square Enix’s long-running franchise states “A Final Fantasy for fans and newcomers alike.”

The decision to flash that message every time the game boots up seems like an odd marketing ploy; even odder considering anyone who sees it has probably purchased the game already.

But does the game fulfill that promise to satisfy loyal fans as well as invite those who are curious about the storied series?

My verdict is mostly no.

As a person who was a huge fan of Final Fantasy IV and VI on the SNES, as well as VII and VIII once the series jumped to Playstation 1, I’ve always had a soft spot because these games provided an epic scope of story and characterization that was unparalleled in video games at the time.

The following years though, I strayed from the series and gaming in general, so was not quite familiar with how the series has tried to evolve as video games overall became more epic and cinematic.

So, in a way, I felt like I was both a fan and a newcomer. (Well, I did play XIII but no one likes to think about or consider that game at all.)

Back on topic to FF XV, I immediately felt lost and uncomfortable. The game boasts an initially complex and daunting series of systems, from how to fight to how to level up to how to manage magic. I just couldn’t fathom how any casual gamer would be patient enough to learn these mechanics. I think I was at Hour 5 or 6 before I felt like I had a good grasp of everything.

Not only that but nothing in the game felt to me like a “real” Final Fantasy: the American West-esque setting, the cartoonishly overdone Southern accents, driving around in a CAR. The Jap-pop design of the main characters was off-putting but at least it seemed appropriate for a FF game.

I did end up enjoying the game. In fact, I ended up platinuming it on the PS4. The camaraderie between the four protagonists has been universally cited as a strong point and I tend to agree.

However, another hallmark of Final Fantasy games in my opinion is how a rag-tag group of people from completely different backgrounds always manages to come together to save the world. FF XV never really allows for anyone else to join the party, and players only ever control Noctis.

I also realized around the halfway point during a cinematic scene that I had virtually no idea what was going on in the story.

My band of travelers was on a roadtrip to go meet Noctis’ fiance in another city. However there was some sort of strife back in home with the king and some other people but I generally had no idea with whom or why.

I eventually pieced together the plot but none of the motivations ever got illuminated in a meaningful way.

I think that was the most disappointing aspect of playing this latest Final Fantasy. The story didn’t seem epic or worldly like other past installments. It’s hard to feel like there are any stakes to the conflict when you’re allowed to just cruise around in your vehicle with your buddies.

Which was another issue I had with the game. I got to the point where I’d set my destination and then walk off to grab a drink or check my phone. Huge swaths of time were devoted to just sitting there waiting for the auto-pilot to get to the next place. There is a fast travel option but the loading screen seemed to take just as long and didn’t provide any AP bonus points.

The more I write, the more clarity I get on how disappointed I actually was in the game. It’s by no means the disaster that XIII was. But this game was in development hell for ten years. The fact that it got released at all is probably an achievement.

The end result makes me want to boot up FFVI Advanced on my old Nintendo DS, but it makes me a bit nervous about the likelihood that Square Enix will bungle the FFVII Remake.

Let’s Play: Dishonored 2

Here we go! Another Let’s Play series.

After the first Dishonored, I immediately barreled into the recently released sequel. I’m glad that I played the original to get more context and more depth, plus it helped me get better at the gameplay. (“Better” is subjective in this case.)

The graphics are great, but since the art is so stylized, it doesn’t seem like much of a jump from the first game.

But you can tell the devs were working with more confidence and more budget. The level design is amazing. Chapters like the Clockwork Mansion and Stilton’s Estate are some of the most innovative stages I’ve ever played.

Plus the main character(s) finally have voice acting. And being able to choose between two main characters to play means I’ll definitely be replaying this game. Each has comparable but different power sets which I really want to go back and experiment with.

All in all, I think these were stellar games that should’ve gotten more attention than they did.

I definitely recommend playing these if you can.

Let’s Play: Dishonored (Definitive Edition)

Here is my playlist of videos for a Dishonored let’s play. It comes right on the heels of my Rise of the Tomb Raider let’s play, because I was just so excited to get started and get through this game.

I can’t believe I hadn’t even heard of this game until the sequel came out. I’m really glad I played it, and it was definitely one of the more challenging games I’ve played recently.

I’ve already kicked off playing the sequel and it’s just as awesome and difficult as the first.

Let’s Play: Rise of the Tomb Raider

I finally got to play this game since it’d been an Xbox One exclusive for almost a year.

I think it mainly lived up to expectations. The gameplay is great and robust, while Lara further progresses into the bad-ass we all know her to be. But the story and antagonists were largely bland and forgettable.

It’ll always draw comparisons to Uncharted 4, and I think each were strong where the other was weak. Uncharted 4 might not have been as wild and crazy as the previous entries but its memorable characters and their interactions were the backbone of that story.

I will say that I loved the Challenge Tombs and solving those puzzles gave me such a giddy pleasure. My gun-battle skills were the normal levels of mediocre though. Enjoy!