Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Now BioWare Wants a Park Ride

Not to be left out on the theme park madness, BioWare announced yesterday a partnership with California's Great Adventure and operator Cedar Fair for a Mass Effect themed ride to appear in 2016. The ride will be a combination of 3-D and 4-D, allowing attendees to visit one of the planets in the game and battle the alien forces with the help of a costumed performer. I'm assuming that would be Commander Shepard and we're probably going to kill a lot of Geth. I think some of the Reapers might be too scary for kids.

The timing couldn't be better, though some may think it's a bit late given the age of the Mass Effect franchise. Nintendo announced this year that they are working on a theme park deal. Ubisoft will have their own park in Malaysia, mentioned earlier this month. There's a wave to get games into parks to draw more people in. The popularity of gaming gear in Disney World, for example, has helped boost attendance rates in Epcot (which has seen a slow decline over the past decade). 3-D/4-D rides are making waves across the country in Six Flags parks for having gamer-like qualities (I'm talking about the Batman ride where you can run around Gotham and shoot up bad guys). And it's good promotion for the upcoming Andromeda.

Now might be a good time to invest in a theme park.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

My 10 Favorite Video Games. Ever.

Other then the fact that I have over-posted on "top" lists this past week, someone pointed out to me that I have yet to make my own for "favorite video games."

Well the joke is on them! I did make a "favorite game" list in 2011. There was a segment back in 2010 covering my top 10 favorite cartridge games. Since then my list have been topical, comical, and on the rare occasion insightful. Mostly I poke fun at the other lists. But it's been a few years. I think my original list could use a face lift and incorporate some games that have wedged their way onto my shelf.

So here we are. It's a culmination of lists. And more lists. And now, my list!

I'll preface this with my usual notes that this is all one person's opinion: my own. I haven't played every video game out there (no one has). I'm a retro gamer. I'm not as new-school as kids today, but I have a very diverse gaming background. While I may not be a fan of certain genres or development teams, I don't dismiss a good product if the body of work as a whole is questionable (see Call of Duty and Ubisoft). So expect a varied list.

This list is based on my opinions, and only mine. Feel free to agree or disagree as much, or as little, as you like. Everyone is different. Everyone has their preferences. These are my own. Any flaming and your butt is getting banned. Got it?

With that out of the way, onto My 10 Favorite Video Games. Ever.

10. Halo 2. In my initial list, Halo: Combat Evovlved was number 10. But over the years, I realized that I didn't play Halo 1 as much as I did the second game. That's when the combat really jumped up a few levels and provided some of the best co-op, and online FPS action that I have had in years. Story-wise, it's about on par with what 1 brought to the table. The introduction of the Arbiter helped provide more context to what the heck was going on in the universe. The first game always felt like this weird attempt at being Half-Life (remember kids, Half-Life came out in 1998 while Halo was 2001) with the story. The Flood reminded me of those head-crabs, but were infinitely more annoying. The flailing was also universal. To see the other side of the alien life and to get a better grasp on the story really helped the gamers better understand 'the Halo.' It also had a much better Needler (best weapon ever), more thoughtful online maps, and an array of gravity boosting insanity. This is my go-to for FPS games.

9. Myst. One thing I lacked greatly last time were PC games. I love my PC. For a while, I was a big PC gamer. Mostly to get away from my brother's annoying friends who wanted to trash talk me while playing consoles. So PC's became a hub of entertainment. I don't remember how I stumbled upon Myst, but it was one of those games that sold me within the first few minutes of play.

I liked this game for it's complexity. It's a puzzle questing sort of game with really pretty visuals. Almost like an upgrade to the text-based adventures of the 1980's. But with a lot of puzzles. And riddles. I hate riddles. A lot. But I was determined to follow-through with them in Myst because the story compelled me to do so. You start the game as a "stranger" who has traveled to Myst with a book. Using that book, you must solve puzzles to unlock other locations and figure out the mysteries behind the books. It was also one of the first games that provided you with multiple ending scenarios based on your decisions. And unlike other adventure games, you start with very little backstory in the beginning. It reminds me of the movie Memento where you need to uncover the past as you play; and from that you can determine what your goals are. The game unfolds at it's own pace using patience, observation, and logic. Anyone who likes puzzles needs to pick this up. This was one of the top selling PC games of all time until The Sims, and for good reason.

8. Grand Theft Auto: Vice City. The immersion of GTA Online is fantastic, and one of the best open world-platforms I have seen in years. But Vice City is where it's at. I selected this game out of the GTA series for a few reasons. Not only am I a fan of everything 1980's (in terms of nostalgia - I really don't want any of the fashion trends to come back), but of all of the GTA's, this one had a story that kept me interested. If you haven't figured out, story is important to me. While we applaud GTA for being very sand-boxy, the story can sometimes suffer as a result. You spend more time driving around doing random acts of stuff, then in engaging the character with the plot. I play for story. And that's what Vice City provides me. I enjoy how over-the-top ridiculous it is in it's 'Miami Vice' nature of plot twists. And how down-to-Earth the characters can be the next moment. I love the witty dialogue of the NPC's, and how thrilling the take-downs of the "bad guys" are. Vice City lives for "moments." That's what makes it stand out against it's counterparts.

7. Super Mario Galaxy. We need a Mario game on this list. And while I could spend decades ranting about how great Mario Kart is (I still play the first DS game whenever I'm traveling), to me the quintessential Mario game comes in the form of Galaxy. Like most traditional Mario titles, you are Mario. Bowser has kidnapped Princess Peach once again and it's your task to save her. But this time you're thrown out into the universe and must assist a new-comer, Rosalina, in restoring the Power Stars, which allow you to travel to new worlds and catch up to Bowser. Because his butt stole a bunch of stars and destroyed some of the pathways. So what makes Galaxy different? This is the first game for the Nintendo Wii where we saw Mario evolve with his game dynamics. He went from 8-bit, to 32 in the move from the NES to the SNES. And then three dimensional with the N64. With Galaxy, Mario changed the way we thought about gaming in a 3D realm. Jumping from planet to planet required players to take into account things like gravity (each celestial object had their own gravitational force); walking in some situations was a challenge. You are sometimes restricted to a 2D playing field on a 3D map. The fact that you could run and have the planet rotate with caused some major mind screw the first few times you played. Possibly some motion sickness as well. It also heavily utilized the Wii Remote and Nunchuck, the bane of players existence for every game outside of Wii Sports. But Galaxy used them well. The controls felt fluid and gave some validity to the motion sensors in the new Nintendo products. Plus, you got to jump around in space. I mean, you can't beat that! If there's any one Wii game, one Mario game, to play, it has to be Galaxy.

6. Golden Eye 007. What could possibly beat out a Mario game? Why the original N64 Golden Eye of course! This was the game of all games for Nintendo fans, and the mutliplayer product to beat. Even now I'd say most mutiplayer titles can not match the wonder of Golden Eye. The single player story was equally as entertaining, though sometimes monstrously difficult. This is the first game that I can remember my brother and I playing all day and never being tired of it. The maps, the challenge of finding your enemy, the silly unlocks of big heads and paintball bullets, all of it captured our youth. What I love about this game was that anyone could easily jump in and play. You could make the settings as easy or as difficult as you'd like. And you didn't have to be good at multiplayer to enjoy it. Even if you are the worse Golden Eye player, it was still fun to watch the insanity unfold on the screen. And back then, this was new for us. We didn't have FPS that promoted co-op and multiplayer gaming this way. And the developers did such a great job with the tactical aspects while keeping the game fun, that future products strive to live up to this ideal. The multiplayer really capitalized on split-screens and bringing people together through gaming - something that is lacking in today's content. Even now when my brother is home, we find ourselves bringing down the N64 from it's box and playing a few rounds. We could never get enough of Golden Eye and still don't! The remake for Wii isn't the same. It misses out on a lot of the charm.

5. Mass Effect 2. Until my Let's Play session, I wasn't convinced about the "magic" of Mass Effect. I was still not convinced after finishing the game. ME2 fixed that. And a lot of it has to do with how in-depth BioWare went in developing the characters. Outside of Final Fantasy titles, this was a game that made me give a darn about what happened to these digital beings. For all of the battles, the planet scanning, the non-Mako-antics, the humanity of Mass Effect came alive in the second game. It gave me a better sense of purpose to see the mission through. While the dialogue options seem a bit limited by comparison to the third installment, and future BioWare products, this was a title that really opened my eyes to the possibilities of future gaming. We need more like this.

4. Borderlands 2. I made every effort to get into the first Borderlands and I didn't get it. The story never grabbed me. The controls felt too clunky. The art style too rough. The grinding very grinder-y. At the request of my significant other, I gave Borderlands 2 a shot. That "the story is a lot better" and "you don't need the history of the first game to appreciate the second one." Okay. Let's give this a try. While he wasn't completely on point regarding the history (knowing what happened in the first game really helps with some of the context and jokes, but it's not 100% necessary), the content in 2 allowed me to understand why Borderlands was so popular among adults. For a game with a lot of freekin' guns, it had an entertaining and surreal story. It's one of the few games where I wanted the bad guy to win. The antagonist wasn't "that" bad. Surprising how few video games tackle that topic. I mean, yeah. Handsome Jack is an asshole, but an endearing one. He had good intentions. He went about them the wrong way, but they were good in theory. The characters were much more likeable, relate-able to an extent. The end goals seemed much more admirable then the first game. The jokes felt both adult and childish in one fell swoop. It's a fun game that got better with age. If you're looking to jump into Borderlands skip the first one and the Pre-Sequel. Go to game 2 and you'll get what the big deal is.

3. The Last of Us. This is zombie horror survival mixed with 'The Walking Dead' drama and soul crushing RPG characters. If this decade could be defined by one game, it would be The Last of Us. Not only  does the plot that pulls at the heart strings, it's how damn creepy this game is even when you're out in open spaces. I thought the zombies in Resident Evil were bad (when they like to creep, they can be too quiet for my tastes). Wait until you get smacked down by a Clicker and never hear them coming. Ugh! It annoys me to no end! This is one of those games where no matter how much I try to explain it, I can't do it enough justice. You need to play. That's all I can say. Be prepared for tissues for those tears at the end.

2. Final Fantasy IV. Yes it's still #2. And if you've read my past "favorite games" list, then you already know what's #1. I'll let this Critical Distance article act as a recap on why I heart this game. Everything I knew about gaming before Final Fantasy was in this little circle of Pong and Mario. FF4 showed me the world of gaming in ways I never expected. It allowed me to open up my eyes and see what else is out there. It taught me how much fun life could be. It made me care about fictional people for the first time. It proved to me how powerful storytelling can be in a digital medium. For all of it's highs and lows, frustrations and silly mini-games, it gives me feels that I can't express with most titles. It may not be the perfect game or the best. But FF4 is the Final Fantasy of all Final Fantasy's. Bar none.

1. NiGHTS: Into Dreams. The number one spot will never change on my list. It will always and forever be NiGHTS. If FF4 was my reason to game as a kid, NiGHTS was my reason to pursue it as a hobby for the rest of my life. There's a great amount of simplistic beauty to the game. It's bright, full of color and joy, as well as darkness and strange nightmares. I think what pulls me back to this game every time is that it is just plain ol' fun. You don't have to have the high-tech graphics, or the coolest voice actors. You can have a simple, compelling story, with captivating art, and engaging characters who act through emotion to create a wonderful game. Without NiGHTS we wouldn't have Journey, Katamari, or Shadow of the Colossus. Games that are very basic on the surface, but hold an intrinsic beauty that can not be matched. This is one of the first games that took 3D realms and tried to wrangle them in with a unique perspective. Your character flies around the world as it bends and curves to your movements. It may seem archaic by today's standards. It was pretty cool in the 90's. And having a story that was stripped down of fluff really allowed this game to blossom. I will love this game forever and ever. There's no doubt about it.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Cosplay Catwalk

Western Canada Fashion Week, WCFW and yes that really is a thing, tried to add in something geeky this year by allowing cosplayers onto the catwalk to show off their sewing skills. Vicky Lau, aka Vivid Vision, was selected to be one of the first to use the runway to present the variety of cosplay to mainstream audiences - or as mainstream as fashion can be. Only one original design was presented, and that was Anna from Frozen in a warrior/cross-over. Lau's theme was 'Female Warriors.'

I don't imagine this transferring into New York Fashion Week anytime soon, but it's nice to see that geeky culture is getting a say in clothing. To note these will NOT be mass produced. This is more of a showcase of skills from the non-fashion industry in Canada, that could influence the future of designs.

WCFW is not the first to do this. San Diego Comic Con invited Her Universe for a second year to allow designers around the country a chance to showcase original fashions inspired by geeky things - such as Dr. Who, Star Wars, Aliens, etc. It culminates in an amazing showing of geeky things that we would all love to have in a retail, slimmed down version.

Welcome to the future! It's turning geeky.

Friday, September 25, 2015

ESRB Ratings Showing Shift in Games

Dadaviz, a data visualization website, has recently crunched numbers on the types of video games released over the past decade based on the ESRB rating system. What they have graphed out is that there is a steady rise in M rated games, while E is on the decline.

Here's what you should take away from this: it's not that big of a deal.

Really. It's not. There are still a lot of E games on the market, and they make up over 40% of the content out there. Has it gone down? Yes. But it's not the end of the world, parents.

What this trend in gaming is showing is that the audience is growing up. Gaming is not an activity for children, as many of us know. And now we have the data to back it up. As the audience matures, so do the games (sometimes). It's further proof that the average age of gamers isn't 12, as many news media outlets would like to assume. We're growing up. Our tastes are changing. And the games we play are growing up with us.

There will always be E content. And as the graph shows the E10+ is steadily gaining momentum in growth to better evolve with kids today. So settle down, parents. You'll still have your Mario. Some of us adults would like to play Diablo instead, if you don't mind.

I also find it freekin' hillarious that the post underneath it tracks the use of profanity in the Die Hard franchise. Die Hard with a Vengeance, one of the best in the series and my personal favorite, uses ass, damn, the f word, and the s word the most at 203 times. This doesn't include other curses or slurs dropped (such as the N word, as this was the movie with Samuel L. Jackson as Zeus). And then you watch it completely plummet in Die Hard 4 and 5. When did John McClain become soft?

Thursday, September 24, 2015

TBS to Air New Video Game Competition Show in 2016

TBS has recently announced that it will be broadcasting a video game tournament program starting in 2016. The show will feature a 10-week season, airing on Friday nights, where eSports competitors will play live against each other in Counter Strike: Global Offensive. The game may seem out of date to many of you, but it's one of the staples of eSports for it's consistency in game play, minimal lag, and scoring system. It also doesn't have a yearly release like some products (*coughscallofdutycoughs*) so it makes it a more reliable game by allowing players a chance to learn the content and improve themselves over time, just as with any sport.

Turner Broadcasting System, TBS owner, is looking to post the show live, and have the same quality of filming as one would expect from a basketball game. A brand new set is being built for the show, which would include more stadium-like seating for audiences. They'll be bringing in some of the top eSports announcers, though names and dates have yet to be revealed.

The jump to eSports coverage shouldn't be surprising given that ESPN is on board and broadcasting tournaments regularly.

From the sound of things, this new TBS show is going after known eSports teams who are invested in Counter Strike as their game of choice. Instead of getting 4 or 5 amateurs and placing them on a team (something G4TV did in the very early days with their gaming shows), they want people who play professionally. It'd make for more interesting matches, that's for sure.

As mentioned, no date on a premier has been listed yet, but it's good to see how far gaming has come with eSports over the past few years. Cable TV is taking it to another level.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

SAG Vote Could Call Strike Against Interactive Media (aka Video Games)

#PerformanceMatters cropped upon Twitter overnight as part of a response to a panel hosted at Long Beach Comic Con on September 12 by voice actors. Typically in these panels the actors and actresses will talk about the craft, how they got into the industry, and it opens to a Q&A where fans try to get the talent to say their favorite line in the voice of their favorite character.

What rarely gets discussed is the crappy wages many voice actors work with. The industry for voice over work has changed rapidly over the past decade. Not just with video games, but with film and television (anime in particular) as well. There is a higher demand for voice over acting, and more opportunities for newcommers and those in the business. The downside is the crappy pay and the crappier contracts. On occasion you'll hear voice actors comment about the unfavorable working conditions. They have been more vocal in recent years as virtually all video games move to using voice work (not all, but close to it).

So why the hashtag? SAG-AFRTA, the Screen Actors Guild, is currently voting on whether to issue a strike on the field of Interactive Media for unfair contracts and pay. That would be video games, kiddos. And a number of known video game voice actors have voted yes on the strike, such as DC Douglas (Resident Evil, Last of Us), Matt Mercer (Metal Gear Solid V, Disney Infinity, Batman: Arkham Knight...just turn on any animated show or play any video game. Matt is in it), and Grey Griffin (currently on Wonder Woman on all games/animated shows, Mortal Kombat X, you know what? She has an equally impressive background, so I'll just link it).

SAG has been in negotiations with several publishers such as EA, Activision, Disney, Warner Brothers, and many more, since early February of this year. A follow-up meeting in June provided no results. The hope is that the publishers will be more in line with today's SAG terms. Currently both parties (publishers and SAG) are using a mid-1990's template for interactive media. It was fine at the time. It's really outdated now. Here's what SAG and voice actors are fighting for:

- Performance Bonuses/Residuals. Did you know that video game voice actors don't get squat after a game's release? If the product goes on to sell millions, oh well! You got your one paycheck. Unlike television shows or advertisements where the actor maintains some pay long after the show ends, voice actors do not get the same treatment. Games and anime are treated as a one-time end product, and actors are paid as such.

- Vocal Stress Stunt Pay. This sounds weird, but go with me for a moment. Voice actors have to perform a lot more from a vocal standpoint compared to a film actor. They have to yell, scream, grunt, sigh, elate, and provide a myriad of punching, hitting, ducking, swiping, and battle noise that most actors would never have to deal with. It provides additional stress to their vocal cords, and requires more effort. Thus, pay to compensate for this.

- Stunt Coordinator for Performance Capture. Basically, a stunt man on the set whenever they need to do motion capture. It's not required, so a lot of publishers do without. It creates a potentially dangerous work environment.

- Transparency. In the world of voice acting, you go into a booth, you do your audition, and you leave without ever knowing what the heck you just read lines for. This doesn't happen with TV, movies, or theater. You go in at least knowing the title of the project, if not the character you're auditioning for. While we understand that video game secrecy is a big deal, so are movies and tv shows. Give everyone an NDA when they audition and you're good to go.

So why do actors and actresses keep picking up voice over gigs if they're not being properly compensated for them? I'm going to bet that it's for the fans. They go to conventions and see how much people respond to them with open arms and bright smiles, that it makes all of the stress worth it. Actors are one in million. You could easily forget a person on the screen. But a voice lives on forever. I will always remember Bugs Bunny, Bubbles, and Goku.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

The Lists. Oh The Lists!

Ah lists. I like lists. Don't you like them? Sometimes they are astute and insightful. Other times they rile up the nerds and it can be funny to read the comment fall-out. And on some occasions they can be very stupid. But still enjoyable.

For some reason this month is "list happy" with a number of gaming and news websites. Even I made one just the other day. Maybe it's the end-of-Summer blues kicking in? I'm not sure. I thought it would be fun to round up some of my favorites for us to dissect and laugh about.

- WhatCulture is going to get it's own category because it seems like all they post are lists. Lists. Lists. And more lists

This one has to be my favorite from WhatCulture based on the title alone: The 20 Severely Underrated 90's Games You Forgot You Loved. Wow. First, who came up with that article lead? They need a Pulitzer. Second, they list Xenogears. I'm not saying this is a great list. In fact many of the games mentioned don't deserve to exist in our minds. Ever. Such as Blood, a horrible Doom rip-off (and considering that they used the same game engine, no one should be surprised that the screencaps look like a Doom clone). But Xenogears...this list can be slightly forgiven for that mention.

Next: 8 Hugely Controversial Video Game Endings That Divided The Fans. Okay, I really want to know who comes up with their article titles. Genius!

But more importantly, the writer for this particular list makes a clear point that this isn't about the games with crappy closing chapters. Like Mass Effect 3. These are the games that "couldn't stick their landings." The problem is that in using ME3 as an example and then turning around and making it number 6 on the list completely blows apart any validity they may have had. Of course this is WhatCulture so, should anyone be surprised at their inability to maintain their own standards?

- Onto Business Insider, with 9 Ways to Boost Your Intelligence by Playing Video Games. The title is misleading. The writer isn't giving you means/ways/how-to's to help improve your brain skills. Rather, it's a list of current research-able facts about how playing games will boost intelligence. If you play video games, expect a 25% increased reaction time compared to others, stronger memory skills as you age, and better eyesight. Again these aren't ways to boost your brain. They are happy side-effects of being a gamer.

- PC Magazine has 7 Seriously Impressive Video Game Collections. Seriously. Some of these range from personal collections of Nintendo products to vintage arcade bars with hundreds of machines. It's cool. Maybe not as impressive as some of the collections I've seen at gaming expos, but cool.

- CBS Minnesota jumped into the listing mess and created their own with the Top 5 Worst Athlete-Endorsed Games. Given how abundant sports games are, and how many sports teams are on covers and in the games themselves, this was probably a butt to pick only 5. To their credit, the CBS station really did pick some of the worse sports games out there. Michael Phelps: Push the Limit, for example. Not just an XBox 360 swimming game. But a Kinnect Swimming game. Take all the joy of being in the pool and bring it indoors, they said. Bad game it be. CBS Minnesota, good job. You have made a worthy list.

- Pixelkin, a website focused on news, reviews, and gaming content geared towards parents of gamers, created a list on the 8 Ways to Justify Letting Your Kids Play Video Games. I guess this is meant to be used as a response to those parents who question how you're raising your kids when they play video games after school? I'm not sure. Especially when point number 1 is "all kids play video games." That's not really justifying gaming to anyone. You're telling kids to not be individuals. Go with the crowd. Let them dictate your habits. Yeah...not good. Also point 7 about being a professional gamer and making millions of dollars is not a good justification. It's incredibly difficult to reach that level of stardom, and requires an endless amount of work. It's not fun all the time, I can promise you that. While it tries to pick it up with the other points about games improving sociability and reducing stress, the rest of the list falls flat.

- Man Cave, a CBS radio show, posted a list of 5 Ridiculously Sexy Video Game Outfits. The reason that I'm sharing this is because it includes men and women. And not the men that I expected. I have to give a thumbs up to this list for not only breaking a stereotype around the phrase "Man Cave" (by having a fair and reasonable discussion on how dumb some sexy outfits are in video games), but by giving a list that I didn't expect. Freekin' Varric from Dragon Age:Inquisition is on there, and for a reasonable argument. As well as "Cid" from the upcoming Final Fantasy XV in a mechanic outfit that would never be taken seriously. Bravo on this list.

- DailyFinance gets a win on the "dumb list" award with 3 Things to Ask Yourself Before Buying a Video Game Console. I'll save you all a click. The list is: Will it be cheaper if I wait? Do you really need it? And are there other ways to get your game on? Stupid list is stupid. I think the writer was looking for a quick paycheck on this one.

- From the industry with Gamasutra, here are 5 Reasons to Trademark Your Video Game Today. Actually this is a good read for anyone who's interested in developing their own game or mobile app. Look into it.

- The Escapist has a "list" that's more of a "oh this is cool!" It's 8 Classic Video Games Recreated in LEGO. From Shadow of the Colossus to Castlevania, these are neat to look at. I'm sure we'll see more of these types of creations in the LEGO World game as it nears its release date.

Death of Split-Screen Games?

It's not just you. If the landscape of co-op and multiplayer gaming seems to be changing, you would be correct. For those growing up before online games became a thing (so let's just say before the year 2000), our options on playing with another person required the second, third, or fourth player to be in the same room as you. All with a controller in hand, playing off of one console as you try and fight for the best spot on the floor for a better view of the television. Split-screen gaming has been steadily dying out over the past decade in favor of robust online content and the knowledge that you can play anyone, anywhere, as long as they own that same game, and you can hog the tv screen all to yourself.

For some games this works. Though Halo co-op mode is entertaining, the online portion worked best when you didn't have half a screen to work with.

And for other games, this was a dumb idea. Rock Band for example. Music and dance games don't benefit from an online connection. Part of the fun of these games is watching your friends and family make fools of themselves (just as you do when you flail with the guitar controller). When you go online to try and form a band, the magic of the "group" dynamic is gone. Not to mention you can't hear anything that the other players are doing. Their notes, their singing: this is all removed so all you hear and see are your cords. It only took one time for me to attempt online mode with Rock Band and I never did it again.

This is where Paul Tassi, a contributor on Forbes, is hitting a wall. The change in the gaming scheme is causing us to lose some of the social aspects that we use to love about games. While we're more "social" online, offline, it's a different situation. Tassi's article is more of an ode to the days that once were. Lamenting the fact that a lot of today's games no longer offer split-screen. Even Halo 5 dropped their split screen option. Developers responded to fan concerns saying that the feature is "nontrivial." And when you think about most of the games out there today, that seems like a very apt description. So many games forego the feature. I remember the roar of cheers at PAX South last year when GearBox announced the Borderlands 2 bundle for PS4 and XBox One that it would have a split-screen option for people who want to game in the same room. Why did we all applaud? Because it's so rare to see it!

While there are still Nintendo games that we can look forward to that will appreciate same-room co-op, even that is steadily dying out. Look at Splatoon or the latest Mario iterations. Not to mention all of the controllers you now need to wield just to play a game on the same system. You have the Wii-U, and the Wiimote, and maybe one of the Gamecube's now a fight over who gets the better controller (Gamecube, duh).

But maybe this is where gaming is meant to go? The interactive nature of games allows us to communicate with people, even when we're sitting in our bedrooms or living rooms alone. Anyway, the article is worth a read.

However. Rock Band. Next game. Please do not put in an online mode. That was horrible and did not make the game any more fun. It made it less. Keep the bands offline.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Spending Time On Life - Games Optional

It takes a long time to play video games these days.

When my brother asks me why I haven't purchased Grand Theft Auto 5 for my PS4 yet, or bothered to play the unopened copy of Destiny, I point to my PC and show him the myriad of games that are in my backlog. During the Steam Summer sale, I purchased about 20 games knowing full well that I wouldn't be able to play any of them for at least another year. But I got them when they were 75-90% off. It was worth the savings even though they remain untouched. And it's not just me. I hear from my gamer friends all the time how there isn't enough time to play. "Have you tried this yet?" "Nope. There's too much play with this other product."

Games today seem to fall into two categories: they are either easy to pick up and can kill time for 10-30 minutes. Or you get these action/rpg/adventure epic's that require 50+ hours. There isn't a happy medium.

And that's what Kotaku UK writer Keza MacDonald is struggling with. There are too many great games that released this year, and it takes too long to complete them. Sure the base game may be 15-20 hours, which is still a good chunk of time to spend on a game. But you miss out on the flavor of the world by avoiding all of the side-quests when you focus solely on the main story. With a BioWare game, by skipping the quests you're inviting bad things to happen to you core team members. Or in the Batman Arkham franchise, entire villain sub-plots can remain unknown if you don't take the time to explore the city. By skipping these sections and focusing on the main story, you're doing a disservice to the game, and yourself.

How do people handle playing multiple 50+ hour games in a year on top of their life responsibilities? I.E. Work, school, family, social life, hobbies, sleeping, etc.

Now when your job is to review and research games, you have to make time magically appear out of nowhere to accomplish this. It also means that 8-10 hours of your working day are devoted to playing games, so it's a bit more feasible to complete content. For the rest of us? We're SOL.

I love video games. I love playing them. I love talking about them, and getting into scholastic debates about the topic. I enjoy going to gaming expos and meeting with other gamers to talk about our hobby of choice. But this hobby can be a time suck if there ever was one. 20 hours on a game is nothing to blink at. Not when there are only 168 hours in a week. Let's do some fun math and see just how much free time a person can have:

40 hours are given to your job (maybe upwards to 50 when you account for travelling and traffic). 56 hours to sleep, assuming you get a full 8 hours a night. We're down to 62 hours. So let's split that into household chores (dishes, laundry, cleaning), taking care of your family and/or pets (or in my case, my pets are my kids), and doing "adult" things. All-together, I'll round that to 30 hours a week. Now a social life! Your friends and family want to see you outside of work and gaming, so you may go out to dinner or to a bar 1-2 times a week, at roughly 5 hours a pop (I'm rounding up based on my own experiences. I seem to spend 5 hours a time with my friends). That's another 10 hours knocked out and now we're down to 22 hours left in a week. That's 22 hours to decompress after a work day, eat meals, clean yourself up, partake in other hobbies, check social media (which is now a life requirement these days): the works. If you are an MMO or MOBA fan, knock out at least 10 hours to working on your character. Don't lie. Everyone does it. Now we're down to 12 hours. 12 hours to do whatever you'd like, as long as it includes eating and keeping your body functioning.

Taking a year to complete a video game doesn't seem that far-fetched.

It's no wonder that it's taken me this long to finish everything in Dragon Age:Inquisition since it's release date (November 2014). I consider that an accomplishment since I usually don't have the time to get around to a new game until a year or two after release. And I just realized that I've spent nearly 130 hours in Inquisition. I have almost a week's worth of time played on that game. Woah.

So how do people do it? How can you finish 6, 50+ hour games in a year when you have a full-time life?

My guess is that games selected for play are chosen with a purpose. You're a fan of the franchise. You like the developer. You have read countless reviews, etc. The games you pick are the ones you stick with until the end because you invest so much time into them. That's why we're seeing lackluster response on Mad Max. Without solid names and investments behind them, people are less likely to shell out the time and money on these products.

And at some point you have to put down the controller and tell yourself to moderate your game time before it sucks up everything else. You have to come to the realization that it's okay to not play every game. That you can take as much or as little time as you want in playing a new title - if at all. If someone has a problem with that, ask them to share with you how they are able to have so much free time and what it would take to get their hours added onto your life schedule. I believe we would all like to know how that's possible.

There's also a false sense that if you buy a game boasting 100 hours of game play that you're getting a better product. Not true. Seeing the comments on the Kotaku article worried me a bit that gamers felt some sense of "getting your money's worth" for a longer game. A longer game doesn't make for a better product. Look at Life is Strange, The Walking Dead, and Heavy Rain. Games that have stories that can easily be completed in under 10 hours. And what amazing stories they are. Memorable, compassionate, sometimes terrifyingly good that we froth at the mouth for more.

I admit that I too have fallen to this lure. Back in 2010 I wrote a blog post about what you could spend $62.99 on versus buying a game at release date. I was disappointed at the lack of content with God of War III. It was a fun game, but the lack of replay value and finishing it in just over 8 hours made it only a "meh" title for me. And part of my disdain was the game not being a 50+ hour product. There is so much lore in GoW, that it felt like the audience was cheated out of it in order for Sony to make a buck off a franchise that guaranteed sales. Today, I don't think this as much. GoW 3 is still fun. Replay value is still low. But to finish a game in under 10 hours and enjoy the story is a win in my book.

But as gamers, we should know better then to fall into this pit. Having more content and taking 50+ hours to complete a game does not make it a better product. Look at how mixed the reviews were for Watch Dogs. The gamer reviews are polarizing. This isn't to say that all short games are great, and all long games are bad. But we know better. We know when we're given a crap product, and we need to stop glorifying developers that give us 100+ hours of content.

Stories matter. Characters matter. Design matters.

And so does my time.

How do you decide what to play and manage your hours?

Friday, September 18, 2015

What's Really Stopping Game Growth? 11 Points! list-maker K. Thor Jensen, who really loves the number 11 and seems to enjoy angering fanboys and girls alike, posted yet another list: 11 things that ruined video games forever. I was unaware of Jensen and in my blissful ignorance, read the list.

Dangit. I succumbed to the click-bait once again!

I'm almost certain that Jensen is in the 19-25 age range, as one comment-er pointed out. Because this list is full of fail. So much fail. What's wrong with quick saves and quick time events? I love quick saves! The only thing I would half agree on the list is that pre-orders are ruining video games, but this is a recent trend. In the past pre-orders were a good thing. A very good thing. And in some situations, they still are. But to outright dismiss the impact of pre-orders is juvenile.

The biggest glaring issue with the list, other then attempting to stir up trouble by picking items that would rile up the crowd, is that it's too generic. No details. No specifics.


Instead of breaking down why this list sucks so much and wasting my time, I'm making a counter-list.

These are the things that I feel are currently curbing video games. Some of them are decisions made in the past that worked for the time, but no longer hold water in today's gaming market. Some are really bad ideas.

So, here is my list of 11 Things that are Currently Hampering the Growth of Gaming in the Industry and in the Community. How about that for a more accurate title?

1. Pre-orders. I've written about this topic quite a bit lately. And I do feel that publishers put too much emphasis on pre-orders that quality suffers in the final product in favor of a push for sales. Here's the thing: pre-orders on rare international imports or products that will have a low sale output are okay. For the first few Ace Attorney games, the only way to guarantee them in your hands was to pre-order. Finding them in stores was a challenge. They made only so many copies, and had a limited Western release initially. Those types of pre-orders are fine. But there is 0 reason to pre-order the latest Call of Duty when stock is plentiful, and you can still get most of those in-game bonuses after the game's release. Just saying.

2. Digital Rights Management (DRM). Over the past few years, companies such as EA have reviewed and changed their policy regarding DRM. It was developed as a means of combating piracy. In the process, it has locked out a number of gamers who purchased the game through legitimate means with silly rules that still cause us to scratch our head. Does anyone remember the installation limit on the early The Sims games? You could only install it up to 3 times on one computer before the product key is locked out and you have to call in to their support center for a special pass to re-install. So if you ever upgrade your machine to a new Windows OS or your computer crashes, you only get 3 chances.

In recent years, DRM has extended to an "always-online" mode, where publishers can verify a game's authenticity by scanning your system in the background while you're logged into their servers. Microsoft was blasted for this when they initially announced the XBox One, by having a required online connection for every system to do a 24 hour DRM check (or 1 hour if you are logged in to a friend's console). Without the check, you couldn't play any game on the system. At all. Which was a big fail since a good chunk of the US still doesn't have access to broadband connections, and it would have locked out most over-seas military locations (which, as my time at GameStop showed me, make up a large section of their sales). While they reversed their decisions, companies such as Ubisoft still use this practice, and give their users endless amount of headaches.

3. Rule-breakers for Online Gaming. Policing games has been an issue, and always will be. With MMO's you have to deal with real-time money traders (RMT) along with harassment claims and potential cheaters. The problem is that it hasn't really improved over the past 20 years. Since the earliest MMO's such as Phantasy Star Online and Everquest, the gaming community has grown. And so have the trolls and the amount of hate-speech that is thrown around. Many companies have very basic policies regarding complaints against another user. Those with banning periods are very limited or so lenient that it doesn't resolve the issue. And in some cases, companies don't even hear our requests for help until we go on social media and point out the flaws of their policies.

In today's world, it sucks if you're not straight, white, and male in online gaming. You'll be harassed in some form or another, and beyond muting headsets, there's little else we can do. And that sucks. This needs to change. It's needed to change for a long time.

4. Elder Scrolls: Skyrim. Because it's now the standard for all RPG and fantasy gaming, and it forces a lot of people to try and rise up to this ideal that may, or may not, be fitting for their games. We haven't seen many RPG's since Skyrim that have done well, because now we're trying to compare them all to this game. I mean...good on Elder Scrolls. Glad they they created something so engaging that people are still playing this game nearly 5 years later. But for the other developers, you can't be Skyrim. You need to carve your own path. If you try to replicate that success, you're doomed to fail.

5. Fanboys and Fangirls Disrupting Progress. The biggest issue I'm finding with gaming today is how much gamers are trying to disrupt change. They're most likely the minority in the opinion that games should stay as they are, but they have the loudest voices. They have the booming voices that cause us to flinch when they speak - because they don't represent the community as a whole. It's so easy for us to yell at a developer for big changes, and to ignore what others want. In doing so, we're stopping video games from growing into an artistic and entertainment medium that can be respected. We're hampering attempts at diversity and creativity. From #GamerGate to open harassment against women, and individuals of color within the industry, it's halting progress that we desperately need. I don't know about you all, but I'm tired of seeing the same 5 types of games release every year. I want new products. I want new faces. I want new choices. I want new games. Even Peter Moore, who I typically disagree with, would favor this point!

6. Social Media. This particular aspect is going to be multi-faceted. I applaud social media in giving people a new outlet for discussing their fandoms, and reaching out globally to new communities that share a love of gaming. I dislike social media for being one massive hole of spoilers and freebe advertising for gaming. Nothing annoys me more then to see "so-and-so got an Achievement in Assassins Creed" filling up my Facebook and Twitter feeds. It has become so pervasive that it doesn't encourage me to buy the game. It makes me want to play it less.Also, gamers. Stop posting spoilers! I had to avoid all of my social media the week that Dragon Age: Inquisition Trespasser DLC was released, since it was providing a lot of end-game content that sets up for game #4. Because people would not stop posting spoilers. Everywhere. Ladies and gents. I'd really like to play a game without pre-conceived notions so I can get the best possible experience of the product. You spoiling it for me does not help. So stop it. Please. You're making us dislike gaming more and more when you do that.

7. Obligatory Yearly Releases. EA and Ubisoft, I'm looking at you. There is no valid reason why we need to have a new Call of Duty game every year. Or Assassin's Creed. Or even Madden. I know this is not a popular opinion. These games sell well during their release, and people clamor for them every year. But it also hampers progress. It doesn't allow for many new changes to a product when you're set for a yearly release cycle. Which is why I gladly accepted the delay of a new Need for Speed last year so that the developers could make a new product worthy of their fans time and money. Gamers are willing to wait on a product if you give us new stuff, even for franchises.

8. Forced Monitization to Progress in a Game. This is a recent phenomenon. Pay to play games are not uncommon these days, and freemium is a word many of us wish would go away. But it's here to stay. The problem comes in with Triple AAA titles, and Assassin's Creed:Unity made us fear for the future. In Unity, there are areas and boxes that you can not access without paying for them. Yep. You dumped $59.99 (before tax) on a video game and you have to pay more to play the content that exists in the game. This isn't like an MMO where you're paying a monthly fee that goes towards keeping the servers online, patches, and game updates. This isn't DLC that adds more to the story. This is asking you, the gamer, to spend more money to access content pre-built into the game. It's dumb. And I hope it goes away asap.

9. Video Game Reviews. I remember the boom of gaming magazines in the 90's. I still have a number of them stored in Rubbermaid bins. So few exist today, but the impression they made has lasted. So much so that video game reviews are in a rut. Much like movie reviews, everything about a game review is arbitrary. Numbers, thumbs up or down, percentages, whatever. It's all made up. With this, it's difficult to really gauge which reviews are valid and which ones are fluff. And because a number of us grew up on those gaming magazines of the 90's, we use the same format as we did back then. Name the game. Here's what's cool. Here's what sucks. Throw out a fake number to represent how good the game is. Call it a day.

What bugs me about today's game reviews is that there is little depth to them. Typically a game reviewer will get a product anywhere from a week to a month prior to the sale date. Most are contractually obligated to release a review up to a week before sales. Some are asked to withhold reviews until the release date (and that's typically viewed as a bad sign - that the publisher doesn't have faith in the game). Because reviews have so many products they need to play and review, they can't commit a lot of time to each game. They need to be fair to the other games sitting in their pile. So an RPG may only get about 10 hours of play - which we all know doesn't scratch the surface of how in-depth they can go. An FPS may get 5 hours of play, and so on.

This system has created a false sense of faith in game reviewers. We trust them to provide us with accurate commentary on new products, and they can only deliver a few hours of game play to base our purchase decisions off of. While some websites are attempting to move forward in how game reviews are perceived, many still use the old system. It's not providing the quality of content to gamers that we're looking for.

10. Citizen Kane of Video Games. Can we just stop trying to make this happen? Someone made a Citizen Kane video game. So there. It's done. It's the best game we could have about one of the crappiest movies. So let's end this madness and admit that we will never have a Citizen Kane of video games. And we don't need one.

11. Achievements. I fully admit that I'm an achievement monger as much as the next person, but I feel that it's also detracting from the value of the game. As you run around the digital world, aiming to get your 1,000th zombie kill via head shot, you end up missing the beauty of the game. You're so absorbed in obtaining these ancillary achievements (which do not prove your gaming prowess, rather they show how much free time you have), that you ignore the game itself. You end up overlooking the quirks that make the game what it is.

One thing that I love to do in video games is hunt out alcoves, paths, and ledges to take scenery photos. There are moments in Final Fantasy 14 and BioShock that make brief appearances, before timers reset and you have to wait for them to pop up again. And they make for stunning images that are difficult to replicate. We miss these things because we're so focused on getting achievements. Take the time to appreciate the work of the developers.

Oh, and the dumb achievements are dumb. 10 points for starting the game? Really? If you're going to have an achievement, make it something of worth or do away with them all together.

Thoughts? Comments? The text box is below to make your statements!

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Weekly Link Round-Up

There are so many stories online today, along with the flood of content coming out of Tokyo Game Show (TGS), that there's no feasible way for me to pick one topic and write about it. So here is your weekly link round-up:

- TGS opened this week to a record number of exhibitors, including newcomers YouTube and Amazon. Over 2,000 booths have been registered, and 480 exhibitors. Wow. Sony has already started out strong with a bunch of new games for the PS4. It's going to be a very busy week at TGS and for attendees.

- If you need a gaming fix sooner rather then later, PAX South (taking place in January 2016) tickets are live and there are some 3 day passes still available. This will be the second year of the event, and it's sure to draw in larger numbers. A 3-day passe is $75, with single days at $35. Last year was great for the indie games, and that's one of the reasons I'm looking forward to going back.

- Finding love with video games. It's a story as old as the 1980's, but ever more present with the internet age. One man's story about how he found his girlfriend, and their bonding through video games,'s sweet. And this isn't one of those "how can you get women to play games" articles. She was already a gamer. Right on sister.

- Mike Fahey at Kotaku has a quirky series called BRB, Kids Are Screaming, about parenting and gaming. His latest installment covers five games that put his kids to sleep. Amusing, to say the least. Not surprised that one of them is Madden '16.

- WhatCultue has another list, of the 11 Best 3D Platformers of the 2000's. Expect a lot of Nintendo and E-rated games. The list is meh, and I think WhatCulture is just putting out content for click bait. Feel free to not click! All you need to know is Super Mario Galaxy is number 1. That's it. :)

- cmee4 Productions, a team of researchers and game designers, have come together to create Sound Scouts. A video game that will help detect hearing problems in young children. And that's pretty nifty. As many people are now becoming aware, the upcoming generation of children, as well as the 18-35 crowd, are going to experience the highest rate of hearing loss. We've become inundated by louder sounds, and new headphones that amplify bass as well as dive deeper into our ears, more people of our age range are experiencing hearing issues that would not typically be seen until our late 50's. And much of this can be curbed as a child. That's what Sound Scouts hopes to achieve, but using medical science and the technology of games to help kids.

- You probably haven't heard about Tencent Holdings or Douya TV. Tencent is currently in talks to investing in Douya TV, which is the Twitch of China. It would provide more access to gaming streams for the country in the same way that Amazon and Twitch have partnered up. That's really big news in China. While it's unlikely that we'll see Douya TV take over in the West, it's a big leap forward for China's emerging gaming scene.

- And users are going over the moon with Mario Maker by creating levels that emulate other games. Like this emotional roller-coaster. Why would you make me choose between Yoshi and death? Why?!? I can't wait to see what other crazy things people come up with over the next few months.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Dragon Age: Inquisition. I Finally Have A Review!

90 hours and 22 minutes.

I was able to best the crystals, claim every piece of land, and defeat the Dragon...Age. Inquisition to be exact. Since departing on the quest just shy of a year ago, and battling really bad OCD tendencies with 2 playthroughs, I have finally completed everything in the game, including DLC's. I'm missing a few achievements, but for good reason. I'll even point them out:

  • Base game: Completing the game on Hard and Nightmare mode. DA is such an in-depth story that I didn't want to spend my evenings and weekends battling demons from the Fade. I came for the story. Difficulty doesn't matter. So those are 2 achievements awaiting my judgement.
  • The Descent DLC: Game glitch. I've read about this on a few forums, so I know it wasn't just me. And it's a simple one too - defeat the boss for the area. Because I'm an over-saver, I have a point right before this fight that I can jump back into and try again. Hopefully the achievement will unlock at that point.
  • Trespasser DLC: Part of the "bonus" with this DLC is that it adds new achievements to the base game. Which...requires me to start a brand new character. Damn. So these are not obtainable until I get my ass back to square one with a new game.

Which I'm totally doing as a MALE Inquisitor. I have to do this to stay away from Cullen. My female characters keep getting drawn to him, and this is the only way I'll be able to prevent that from happening. Again. Instead, I can try my hand at Dorian.

All together I have dumped well over 130 hours into Inquisition, besting my 109 hours of game play with Mass Effect 3, and that was with several different Shepards - DLC included. With Inquisition I have played with 2 characters. One was with the base game and getting most of the content done: I just wanted to get to the end of the story. The second was the in-depth play through where my goal was to get every damn thing in the game completed. Everything. Every quest. Every item. Every mount. Every Skyhold decoration. Every stupid seed for the stupid garden. Everything.

I should loathe RPG's but I appreciate the challenges they give me that I can't give up on them.

I've taken my time, but I wanted to provide you all with a full review of the game. A few hours of Dragon Age doesn't do it justice. With a game that is this in-depth in the lore, you really have to take the time to immerse yourself into it before you can come up with any form of a review. Which is why I'm a fan of Kotaku's new approach to game reviews. It's not a snippet of the first few hours of the game. You get a well-rounded experience in a few paragraphs.

So let me start this review with a note that I'm going to do my best to not spoil the recent DLC. I avoided Tumblr like the plague for the past week so I wouldn't get spoiled myself. Trespasser was released on 9/8. The content from the first 2 DLC packs, Jaws of Hakkon and The Descent, really don't give any game spoiling moments like Trespasser - which will break your brain, and probably your heart.

But enough of that.

The best way I can summarize Inquisition is it's organized chaos. There are very clear plot points and goals. The world is torn asunder by a giant Rift in the sky. Your character ends up with a weird mark on your hand, that will stop said Rift. You trot around the world to find the demon behind the Rift. Fairly straight-forward.

To be the Inquisitor means you can judge a man's fate for
throwing goats at your fortress' wall. Not even joking.
It's all the mess in-between that can make it confusing. And that's part of the charm with Dragon Age. There is so much lore that you can't help but want to dive in and learn more. You could spend hours reading through the history and codex entries before getting into the meat of the game. At the same time, when you're ready to move forward you are thrust into a series of quests that have no connection to the main plot and they can be frustrating. Most you can walk by. Some you can't. As much as the game leads you forward to your end goal, the open-world aspect for most of it can be quite daunting.

There's a well-known internet joke that you should get out of The Hinterlands as soon as possible. It's the first area you come upon where you can start collecting herbs and questing. Because it is the time sink of all time sinks that have ever been sunk. Easily 10 hours of your life will be spent in The Hinterlands if you intend to complete most of the quests. It's a large ass area. And the learning curve for leveling is steep. You can easily find yourself as a level 5 stumbling into a level 12 area and getting your butt handed back to you. And most of the game is like this. You'll think you're doing quests that help the story-line, but most of them are innocuous and unnecessary. Anything that can alter the game will only be in the main story quest. (There is still the possibility that my smaller choices will be affected in DA4 - and yes there will be one; it was heavily hinted at not only in the base game ending, but in Trespasser as well - but it feels less likely when comparing the previous games.) So after piddling around in Dragon Age Keep, a website that allows gamers to tailor past game choices and create customized "worlds" to import into Inquisition, I found out that those quests really do have an impact. There is a setting that unlocks the latest game content (it's hidden initially), and the side-quests will definitely impact future games in the series. Even how many rifts you close will change future plot lines! So. everything. Leave no stone un-turned. In a very literal sense.

But the lore. Holy. Crap. I thought The Old Republic was bad (with over 100k entries into their codex that it's more pages then Game of Thrones) but Inquisition trumps it by, well, a lot. You can make a full book out of 'Hard in Hightown,' a fictional romance novel in the game, based on the pages you find. In fact, some cosplayers have. It's walls upon walls of text. Not for the faint of heart.

This isn't meant to scare off people who are new to the series. In fact, if there were one game I would recommend for people to start with, it would be Inquisition. You don't need to know the backstory of the past 2 games to play. It helps, but it's not necessary. You may not understand some of the jokes or the nods to the history, but that's okay. You'll still have fun and not feel completely bogged down by not having played the previous games. And that's where I feel Inquisition becomes so much more approachable then most sequels. For all of the heavy text, the seemingly endless amount of quests, the open worlds, and the wonky language use (sometimes the English hurts my brain), the player isn't ostracized for not having played Dragon Age Origins or II. Everyone has to go through the basic game mechanics. You're given enough history to drive forward and start on your main journey. There's no mess. No fuss. Until you get into The Hinterlands, but then it turns into xp grinding and if you want to suffer through quests.

But what about the choices thing BioWare likes to do? If you've played the first 2 games, then you will see your choices affected in Inquisition. And if you haven't played? That's cool too. Because the options selected on your behalf for a default game are in a neutral pathway. Again, you're not penalized for not playing the other games. Instead Inquisition gives you a baseline that allows you to fudge with your choices as much or as little as you'd like. Want to be the bad ass? Cool. The default selections are not going to hamper your ability to be as bad as you want to be. (To note, there is no moral compass like with Mass Effect, but your companions will respond to your choices positive/negatively.) And that's pretty cool. There's no fear that I'm going to get screwed over by the game - I can take the story wherever I want to go from here.

The base game is fun. That's the bottom line. Much of that has to do with interactions with your companions, within your fortress at Skyhold or out on the field. The banter between the characters is worth playing. I love the fact that BioWare gives us characters that we can adore, or hate. I have a real visceral reaction to the character Sera. I dislike her. Immensely. Her personality completely clashes with my own. And that's awesome that we have games that allow us to feel so strongly about a make-believe person. It's something I appreciate about BW's writing team, and it keeps getting better with every game. I thought they couldn't beat the wit of TOR nor the dismay or ME3. Completely wrong - Inquisition beats them out.

Speaking of your compatriots, BW doesn't defy the tropes and provides us with the mish-mesh of characters that really shouldn't belong in the same party. There is no reason on Earth or Thedas that Sera, Cassandra, and Dorian would ever get along. Ever. But they somehow do. It's RPG logic, that's the best way I can explain it. As much as I would like to have a more logical grouping of like-minded people, banding together to save the world, let's face it. It wouldn't be entertaining. So! Random people we go! It adds to the comedy and the drama. Not so much to the sanity.

As the game has patched over the past few months, new items and content has been introduced that did not require you to buy the DLC. Such as the dye table, which allows you to alter the color of your armor and weapons. Really cool. One of my pet peeves was making armor that looked incredibly mis-matched. Every crafting material give certain colors or patterns. Dorian was looking like a fashion disaster in yellow plaid with blue culotte-pants. And there wasn't a thing I could do about it, until a patch in May/June gave us a table to fix all of that. My OCD appreciated it. But it was good to see that BW still invested in the base game to not leave out the audience who wouldn't be interested in the DLC. And there have been tweaks such as the gathering time for herbs and ore - which use to take 3-4 seconds: now it's down to 1.

My complaints with the game are few. The "Casual" game mode can be difficult at times. And not against the dragons, but common mobs. Something is weird in the coding because this is very pervasive in the DLC (and I'll address that in a moment). It shouldn't take my level 25 group 2 minutes to kill a level 18 mob. Ever. Detracts from the game.

Bugs are still apparent. My favorite is at Haven when you go to Commander Cullen for dialogue and there are troops training around the camp. Some of them are headless. Some of them have no swords but they're clanging away as if they are wielding one. It's still a problem, and it's still really funny to have in the background when you're trying to hold a serious conversation with Cullen or Cassandra. "Yes Cass. I want to talk about your Seeker days, but there's a man without a head behind you. Think he's a spirit?"

The forced side-quests are few, but tedious. This is more of a mild annoyance, given the amount of freedom BW bestows upon the player.

The stupid crystals and stupid parkour-ing. Okay. So. They have these crystals scattered around the world that you have to find using a skull (get the "Indiana Jones" reference there?). Again, it's an unnecessary side-quest but it can be quite beneficial. The crystals open doors in a tomb that allow you to gain ability stats to make your character more powerful. The crystals, however, are in some of the worse spots possible and you have to use the clunky walking controls to jump around and obtain them. One of the worse is in, guess what, The Hinterlands, near one of the game's 10 High Dragons. It's the type of jumping that would be a nightmare to Mario. The ledges are smaller then what your character can stand on. There's no way to maneuver without falling, so you have to land your jump right the first time. People have spent hours getting this stupid crystal from the stupid skull, and it is aggravating beyond all reason. I love to explore in games, but not when it's forced.

The multi-player sucks. And I say this because it's plagued with some of the worse server problems I have seen since Sim City. My last attempt was in July, so maybe it has improved since then. The idea was to allow people to create a base character (no face customization) and you work as an agent of the Inquisition. You and a team travel through ruins to end threats, find stuff, or claim a keep. And it sounds like a good idea, in theory. A way to extend the game beyond the main story.

But the sucky servers really make this a challenge. You can't level up or keep items unless you complete the level. You lose everything when you're booted from the game. And if you disconnect (DC) and are able to jump back in, assuming the rest of your party didn't DC as well, you return at only half health. I've only been able to complete one level with a party, and it took nearly an hour and  a half on what is advertised as a 20-30 minute experience. Just avoid the multiplayer until they get the kinks worked out.

Overall, this game is worth playing. Visually, it's majestically beautiful. The scenery could easily rival Elder Scrolls. I wish there were more out-of-body camera options. I would be taking screenshots all day! And if you're wary about chumming up with your companions on an intimate level, don't worry. None of that is required nor forced upon you. You can play the game pretty much however you want to. If you want to spend your entire time crafting and building the best armor and weapons possible, do it. Quest to your heart's content! Or just plow through the main story. Inquisition has so few restrictions, it allows gamers to build a character as they see fit.

But maybe don't spend 90 hours in it like I did. I don't know if I can handle another play through for a while.

Onto the DLC. Should you buy any of them? I'll make this really easy for everyone: Yes to Jaws of Hakkon and Trespasser. No to The Descent.

Biggest issue I found with all of the DLC is that the game does a horrible job of scaling you to the mobs. Hakkon is a bit more forgiving since you can get into the area around level 23/24 and muddle through it. Challenging, but not so much that you'll hate it. When moving to The Descent and Trespasser, it was a nightmare. Monsters taking upwards of 5 minutes to destroy. Mobs with one hit kills on CASUAL MODE. I repeat. CASUAL MODE. You choose this mode because you want to learn the game and/or enjoy the story. Not die a whole bunch. It's atrocious how difficult the game becomes when you hit level 27 (which is the cap, btw). I never achieved a "game over" screen until the DLC. I can't imagine how people in Hard/Nightmare mode are able to complete these if you can so easily die even in Casual.

And the gear they provide doesn't exactly level up with you. I was still wearing most of my non-DLC armor that I crafted by the time I hit Trespasser. To note, I didn't buy the additional Avaar or Qun packs (which run at $4.99 a pop before tax). But I shouldn't have to buy that extra bit for DLC that already comes with new gear. The equipment should scale with me and my super-powerful hand.

From a story perspective, Hakkon wins out. While it doesn't give you as much interaction with your companions at Skyhold (you do get comments on the field at least, and lots of great content with Scout Harding), this is one of the few areas of the game where the side-missions feel integral to the main story line. As you move throughout the Frostback Basin, every search, hunt, and fact finding mission brings you one step closer to the Avaar. It was refreshing to have the story crafted with this framework in mind. It wasn't The Hinterlands, so that's an A+ in my book. Also, fun dragon fight. So fun. And if you didn't know a dragon would be involved, go look at the title of the game.

Yes Bull. You have lovely man-nips. Now would you kindly
move out of the way? You're in my shot!
Not to mention, pretty landscape that has a day and night cycle after certain events are completed. I found myself wandering the wilderness when it turned to night just to see the fauna change colors.

Trespasser gets a close second because of it's heavily story-driven narrative. It also gives you companion banter, which was sorely needed in this last DLC. It's reminiscent of Mass Effect 3 - Citadel DLC. No spoilers here; I'm only reiterating what the developers mentioned about this content in trailers and at PAX Prime. Trespasser takes place 2 years after the end of Inquisition. People have gone their separate ways, but return to help your character determine the future of the Inquisition. And then some of the Quanari decide to shake things up, and the Eluvians are involved. And yeah. It's a mess of story that hurts the brain. It's also incredibly surreal because you know things that your character does not. If you've seen the ending of the main game, you have knowledge that your character will never understand. It's meta. And it's weird. And I don't know if I like it. It's fun to explore the story with your character. When you know more then your character because of bonus cutscenes, well, it's weird. So the jury is out on if I like this or not.

Trespasser also suffers heavily from improper mob scaling. This is the one with a one-hit kill boss that you have to stop (and beat him 3 times!) before progressing. It. Sucks. Donkey. Balls.

It's a good attempt from BW to try and tie up loose ends and set up the next game. It doesn't give you too much so you can still create additional pieces to the puzzle as you see fit. But it's enough to satisfy fans. Would have love to have seen more content with the mazes you trounce through, as well as more character dialogue, but it'll do.

I still don't know what this glitch is...
The Descent is off the list because it's a cumbersome add-on. I'd only recommend it for those who are really interested in Dragon Age lore or have played Origins. Your team is sent to The Deep Roads to figure out a way to stop earthquakes that are destroying the lirium mines. The same mines that your team uses to keep your Templar or Mage forces happy. It's a very linear story and path, as it should be. But it can be quite dull at times. Walk forward. Kill the bad guys. Walk forward. Kill more bad guys. There are very few story points that keep it interesting. The only thing that caught my interest was an area you hit deep into the roads of un-mined lirium. The place is stunning. Artists - you did good here. You did very, very good. Aside from that, it's lore heaven. The Deep Roads are not really discussed in Inquisition, so unless you've played the first game, it's not going to interest you. For me, I found the history quite fascinating. But I could have wiki-ed and saved the $16 bucks. Not the same feeling as playing the game, but I would have saved money. Maybe bought those $4.99 equipment packs instead.

Final call: Play Dragon Age Inquisition. You don't have to understand the past games to enjoy this one. And if you must get DLC, spend it on Hakkon. Let your imagination go wild on the end of the game. I prefer my version of the events after the game.