My 12 Favorite Trailers From E3


Last week’s E3 saw the release of too many trailers for me to share them all in just one post but I would like to share the trailers for 12 games that I am especially looking forward to.  In alphabetical order, these are my 12 top trailers from this year’s E3:

  1. Anthem

2. Assassin’s Creed Odyssey

3. Beyond Good & Evil 2

4. Call of Cthulhu

5. Control

6. Cyberpunk 2077

7. Doom Eternal

8. Ghost of Tsushima

9. Marvel’s Spider-Man

10. Resident Evil 2

11. We Happy Few

12. Wolfenstein: Youngblood

 

 

The Relevant Irrelevant Expo


Some reactions to games “unveiled” at E3, and some reasons why one would care… or not. Note that this is not intended to be absolutely comprehensive coverage of E3 at any level, but is instead simply one man’s opinion.

If you visit IGN today you can gain access to a fairly comprehensive review of the Electronic Entertainment Expo, or E3, the yearly convention that has ranged from absolutely industry defining to utterly without meaning in its scope of relevancy. To say that its current iteration is overrated might not be entirely correct, but it is within the scope of the discussion. In general, most of the games that were “revealed” or “unveiled” or whatever at E3 were things that were already in the public consciousness – at least at some level. To say that E3’s tech demos fleshed some of these games out significantly would likewise be stretching the truth – a demo is a demo is a demo. Those are words to live by.

Until we hold these upcoming titles in our hands, we know nothing. This is a truth that should have been driven deep into each gamer’s brain by this late stage. In case you are a newcomer, or one of the very young, please internalize this lesson right away: Game companies are trying to sell shit. If they incidentally create a great game… so much the better. But if you buy the game they are peddling, regardless of its comparative quality, then they have achieved their goals. Their salaries are secure for another round. Never make the mistake of assuming that a great demo will yield a great game. Ever. No matter the pedigree of the franchise, or the publisher involved, or whatever else.

Obvious, given that paragraph of raw cynicism, I would not advise you – dear reader! – to take any of the following impressions any more seriously than they are intended to be. I am simply reacting on instinct to things that I have seen from E3. Not even all things I saw from E3. In fact, in my more candid moments, I would probably admit to you that I would be delighted to see people argue with me in the comments section below. So keep that in mind.

Alright, all that’s done. Let’s take a look at some upcoming releases swept from behind black curtains at E3…

Alien: Isolation

Billed as the Alien game that fans have always wanted, Alien: Isolation is a survival horror title published by SEGA, and created by The Creative Assembly, the studio behind innumerable “Total War” franchises. What Total War has to do with evading an unbelievably lethal xenomorph is a question best left to the philosophers. This is a game that people have ostensibly actually played. For real. And those people liked it. I remain incredibly skeptical, but not totally immune to the charms of the idea…. After all, many serious gamers have labored many long years hoping to see an Alien game that captured the essence of the original film. At this point, though, aren’t we looking for survival horror rooted firmly in the unknown? How many surprises are there left for the xenomorph to gift us?

My Prediction: For achievement whores and survival horror junkies only. Ends up on a stack of “Oh, yeah, that was pretty good. I haven’t finished it…” for … everyone else.

Assassin’s Creed: 5,6,7…

Does anyone else remember when this was trumpeted as a trilogy of revolutionary action games, with contextual controls, a fascinating science fiction plot… and… well… three games? The first of the two Assassin’s Creed games talked about at E3 would bring the total number of distinct AC titles listed by Wikipedia to 16. The original Assassin’s Creed was released in 2007. I’ll let you do the math here.

Incidentally, I freely admit that Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag, was heralded almost universally as an improvement over a series that I had long since lost interest in… but why are people still hooked? Is there even a story being told here? I’m all the way out on Assassin’s Creed. I’d much rather Ubisoft just kept the engine and released something altogether new. Does this have to be the “Spider-Man” of gaming?

My prediction: An embarrassingly overrated (critically) offering from a series that was tired eight offerings ago. The announcement of Asssassin’s Creed 7 (or whatever) follows almost immediately.

Batman: Arkham Knight

This opinion is going to be unpopular… but… did you really love the third Arkham game? Are you even sure you loved the second Arkham game? Believe me, I am the first to admit that Batman is something of a badass. To be put in his skin, with a variety of his capabilities, like stringing villains upside down beneath statues on cables, is rewarding to say the least. Honestly? I got my fill the first time around. Increasingly implausible setups revolving around the same core gameplay just serve to make things even more thin and stretched than ever. Barring a significant improvement in gameplay, this is just another clone.

You should be waiting for a substantial Steam sale here, folks.

My Prediction: Increasingly thin premise leads to thin reviews and even thinner popular support. The end of this latest revival of Batman video games.

Bayonetta 2

Wii U exclusive? I am, in fact, laughing out loud.

My Prediction: Exclusives are a disaster when you’re the Wii-U.

Battlefield: Hardline

I have heard preliminary reports that this is… underwhelming. At best. I am not surprised. From the footage, it looks like the folks at DICE have decided to merge the successful Battlefield franchise with Payday: The Heist. I’m not sure why. Battlefield’s appeal, to me, has a lot to do with its portrayal of a battlefield. I have no patience for this nonsense. After the catastrophic launch of BF4, and its continuing problems, I have very little patience for DICE, either. This one is going to have to prove a lot to get back into my good graces.

My Prediction: Absolute disaster. The least successful BF since before Bad Company brought it back.

Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel

I, personally, might be out on Borderlands.

But it’s not because of some fundamental flaw that I see in the games. The infusion of humour into a “Diablo”-style game model of increasing loot drops makes for a very refreshing experience. For some. Your own mileage may vary. Still, this is a franchise that has the liberty to extend itself, from my perspective, in ways that Assassin’s Creed has not earned. The simple fact about Borderlands is that a simple frame story is adequate… as long as it’s stitched together with hilarity.

I think we can assume that it will be.

My Prediction: The new Diablo. I grow ever further from people conceptually, as I have an increasingly difficult time understanding why anyone would want to keep playing.

Call of Duty: This Year’s Call of Duty Star Wars Battlefront Advanced Warfare

Is any franchise more predictable? My own experience, and people that I personally have met, were turned off by CoD: Ghosts. Were you?

My Prediction: It’s CoD, for whatever that’s worth.

Civilization: Beyond Earth

Any new Civ is a big announcement since the advent of Civilization 4, which probably still remains the gold standard by which all similar titles must be judged. Civilization 5 failed to employ Leonard Nimoy to read its narrative dialogue, but otherwise improved substantially in some areas even upon Civ 4. There is little reason to doubt that this latest foray, whatever its inevitable practical issues might be, will provide new and unique opportunities to “civ”. I expect that all serious Civilization players are already planning to buy it. But if that list doesn’t include you yet…

… Why not?

Perhaps this is, finally, the Civ you’ve been looking for. I’d be the first to accept you if you said that Alpha Centauri was simultaneously what you wanted Civ to be, and yet fell short of all your expectations. Alpha Centauri definitely had its problems, even though I would defend it as a superior game of the last twenty years or so. Beyond Earth has the potential to far exceed anything that has come before in Civilization, however. One disappointing idea is that it may also mean that Civilization has explored Earth’s history as thoroughly as it can. I suppose I’ll be pouring out a 40 as I board my shuttle to the moon.

My Prediction: A game that is absolutely worse than Civ IV (no crime, actually!), but is almost as good as Civ V. Shows the potential of the franchise.

Dragon Age: Inquisition

Inquisition has vowed to return more to the ideals of the original DA (gameplay wise). I think this is undeniably a good thing. In fact, you could generate an almost perfect WRPG experience if you combined the tactical gameplay of DA:O with the sophisticated characterization and long-reaching multi-layered plot of DA2. Name games for me in each respect which are superior to DA:O (tactical RPG gameplay) and DA2 (characters). Do not use the phrase “Baldur’s Gate 2”. Go.

My Prediction: Disappoints both fans of DA:O and DA2. Becomes overly conservative after chance-taking DA2, but also unwilling to create the tactical difficulty levels that players are hungering for. Demonstrates a continuing lack of awareness from Bioware of what their players actually want.

Fable: Legends

Something literally no-one wanted! An RPG that can only be played online with other people.

No, I’m sorry. I can’t say for certain that no-one wanted it. If you wanted it, please respond in the comments below.

My Prediction: HAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA.

Far Cry 4

Considering the games in this franchise have literally nothing connecting them.. do they really need to be a franchise? Seeing the number “4” after almost anything just bums me out. Still, Far Cry 3 was a triumph. If Ubisoft can continue on that successful path this is a game that is worth serious consideration as it releases.

My Prediction: A series of incredible trailers that make the game look better and better by the day.

FIFA 15

😀

My Prediction: A competently arranged sports game. C’mon. There’s a 0% chance that there will be any surprises here, one way or the other.

Forza Horizon 2

This really is a disappointment to me. Forza Motorsport 5 continued the successful Forza franchise on next-gen consoles, and it is an adequate representation of the genre. Forza Horizon (take one!) was a pleasant diversion from the world of racing established tracks with established racing cars, and so on, and so forth… The “refreshing” part starts to dilute right away when you make it into a sub franchise though, right?

All that being said… there’s promise here. The original Horizon was an undeniably fun game. A worthy side-diversion from the historically great Forza Motorsport 4. This one probably bears watching.

My Prediction: Less compelling than Horizon 1. Less compelling than Forza 4. A misguided attempt to score twice with the same franchise in the same year. Bad, bad…

Gears of War 4

R.I.P.

My Prediction: Does anyone give a shit anymore?

Halo 5

R.I.P.

My Prediction: R.I.P.

Halo: The Master Chief Collection

Presumably realizing that there’s no new ground left to tread (and there hasn’t been since Halo 3), now there’s an HD collection which brings all of the previous Halo titles up to snuff. Everything will be in 1080p. All the old multiplayer environments will return. All the old games have been remastered. What Microsoft really wants here is a time machine… if we could actually go back to the era of Halo 2’s multiplayer, that would be one thing… but just recreating it now? Let’s just say that I have my doubts.

Please don’t buy this collection.

My Prediction: Startlingly unpopular. Please don’t buy this collection.

Kingdom Hearts 2.5 ReMix

It’s sort of like the FFX/FFX-2 remasters, only it doesn’t bother to include Kingdom Hearts 1. The staggering volume of peripheral titles is well represented here, so your own mileage may vary.

My Prediction: If this is the HD collection you wanted, buy it. If not, boycott it.

Kingdom Hearts 3

zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz…

My Prediction: More to say, have you?

Mass Effect 4

We don’t know that much yet, even after E3. Still, it sounds like there will be a new, original story, with new characters, in the universe of Mass Effect. Given the scope of the setting, and the absolute masterpiece that was Mass Effect 1-3… I’m going to give Bioware some slack here. I’m going to wait until I have some solid information on what they’ve come up with before I start trying to hack it to pieces.

My Prediction: This will spawn 70 billion angry emails and internet comments, and 63 billion angry fanfics. It will also probably be excellent, if you can get over yourself.

Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor

We all know this game is going to be terrible right? I mean, people who love the lore of Tolkien are going to riot… it’s going to be mechanically or emotionally inferior to Bioware products like Mass Effect, or to the sophisticated blend of The Witcher…

I guess the jury is still very much out on this one. But I just don’t have high hopes at all.

My Prediction: My least fair judgment of all. I think this game will fucking suck.

Mirror’s Edge 2

Top of my “did not need a sequel” list. Great cash grab, guys! I loved the first one, but it actively bothers me that you can’t come up with another brightly lit setting to run athletic characters through. Booooooooooooooooooo.

My Prediction: The birth of another unnecessary series. Still, if the games remain bright and colourful, they have a niche over the browns, greys, brown and greys of, say, Gears of War, or Call of Duty.

Mortal Kombat X

Please make Story Mode repeatable.

Sincerely,
Gamers

My Prediction: Mortal Kombat was already a pretty good start on rejuvenating this franchise. I think it has an upward trajectory… but it needs to make some smart decisions. I don’t think it will. Underwhelming filler game!

Pokemon Alpha and Omega

The beginning and the end.

The first and the last.

My Prediction: Doth thou desire the power?

Rainbow Six: Siege

One of those oddball franchises that pops up with no regularity whatsoever. Still, I gleaned a great deal of enjoyment both out of Rainbow Six: Las Vegas and Rainbow Six: Las Vegas 2: The MGM Grandening. Or whatever. This is one of very few franchises that inspires an immediate “perk up” from me, instead of a sad shake of my head. This is a game that I will be keeping my eye on in the coming months.

My Prediction: My top multiplayer game for exactly three weeks. Then back to business as usual.

Star Wars Games

Star Wars games suck. They sucked before Disney acquired the rights, and they still suck now. Don’t get your hopes up.

My Prediction: Lens flares. They put JJ Abrams in charge, right?

Warhammer 40k: The Eternal Crusade

Too much lore, too much backstory. You will never find what you’re looking for in a video game. I’m sorry. I feel your pain.

My Prediction: A competently executed but ultimately very forgettable title.

The Witcher 3

As soon as censors get hold of the good sex cards, the appeal ends. Well, that’s not fair… this is definitely an above average RPG series. Actually, I have high hopes for the third installment. They still range about 35% lower than the average retail price. Bummer.

My Prediction: Way less nudity than everyone is hoping for. Bummer.

Game Review: Ham and Egg Lawyer


People tend to assume that, because I work in a law office, I know something about the law.  Actually, beyond the fact that marijuana should be legalized and police officers should be more polite when they stop you for speeding, I know next to nothing about the law.  (And, having typed that sentence, I now notice that both of those are personal opinions as opposed to legal facts.)  I know how to keep an office neat and organized but, when it comes to the actual practice of the law, I’m about as lost as your typical art history major who has a day job as an administrative assistant.

So, perhaps that’s why I enjoyed playing Ham and Egg Lawyer.

In Ham and Egg Lawyer, you play a lawyer who is fresh out of a law school and who is in the process of setting up her first practice.  What this means is that you spend most of your time answering the phone and getting asked various legal questions.  (Occasionally, you also get a call from a telemarketer who offers you a chance to improve your web page.)  The game takes place over 5 days and, once the work week has ended, you’re giving three different score — reputation, money, and stress — based on the choices you made.

Now, the main issue that some people will probably have with this game is that there really aren’t any concrete consequences for having either a low or a high score.  For instance, you can have a terrible reputation but clients are still going to call you up and ask you about age of consent laws and whether or not you’d be willing to handle their DUI.  By that some token, you could end up with a negative money score without having to worry about getting evicted, losing your practice, or starving to death.

But that didn’t really bother me.  The game is well-written and the people who call the office are consistently amusing.  From some of the comments that are made at the beginning of the game, I’m assuming that it was written by an actual lawyer and, as such, the game’s situations feel authentic.  If nothing else, it makes for an interesting slice-of-life experience.

As for myself, when I played Ham and Egg Lawyer, I specifically went out of my way to pick all of the wrong and/or greedy choices.  Bad legal advice?  I gave it.  Large retainers?  I charged them.  It wasn’t always easy because my natural instinct is always to try to help people out.  “Oh no,” I occasionally thought to myself, “I shouldn’t have guaranteed that client that I’d be able to get him a large cash settlement.  Even I know that!”

But then I reminded myself that it was just a game, I’m not really a lawyer, and it costs money to live well!  “Fuck being ethical,” I thought as the in-game phone rang with another mark looking for legal help, “Lisa needs a new pair of shoes.”

As a result, I ended up with a high money score but a negative reputation score and you know what?  I can live with that.  At the very least, I can use that money to start advertising on TV and then let’s watch the cash come rolling on…

Yay!

Play the game here.

The Reaper of Souls


Diablo_3_reaper_of_souls_box_art_0

There’s no need to be afraid. Spoilers do follow (to the extent that a Diablo game can be spoiled). You have been warned.

So, in the relatively recent (surprisingly still recent!) past… Blizzard Entertainment released a hilariously long-delayed sequel, which is sort of their hallmark, in Diablo 3. Probably everyone who had some interest in the Diablo franchise played it. And, in several ways, it was sort of the ultimate evolution of the Diablo formula and format. Is the storyline silly? Yes. In fact, it borders on preposterous. But it also holds together in a ‘good enough’ way to propel the action through a variety of beautifully rendered locales killing everything in sight. Reaper of Souls does not alter this formula. Presumably none of us tuned into Diablo for storytelling, right? It’s not an RPG. It’s a game where you click on monsters and kill them. Your reward is better loot, which makes it easier to click on monsters and kill them. It is weirdly absorbing in its way, but it is not high art. This is a game about a visceral experience; it is purely about fun.

And Diablo 3 was fun. It improved heavily upon Diablo 2. Each class can now be either sex! Each class now has a half dozen abilities in play at a given time, rather than just ‘left click’ and ‘right’ click… and the procedural generation, while still present, is a little more structured… or, at least, it feels a little more structured. Some areas seem to vary little between different playthroughs. To be perfectly honest, while it is a very competently produced game, a tight experience, with lovely graphics… I didn’t feel like I had $60 worth of game when I acquired Diablo 3. I think I eventually got enough play hours out of it to where I can shrug and move on… but I didn’t expect to find myself shelling out another $40 for Reaper of Souls. I did it anyway, though.

The good news is, for what fence-sitters may remain… Reaper of Souls is pretty good! Let’s discuss several reasons why:

– Act V. Act V is a massive act, easily twice the size of any of Diablo 3’s four acts. It comes complete with an entirely new selection of monsters, three major bosses with complex battle mechanics and a variety of environments, all of which are pretty cool. It’s hard not to respond to Act V as the best overall Act available in the game now. Act V, for those who haven’t been paying attention, follows the Nephalem’s quest to save the entire world of Sanctuary from a renegade angel, Malthael, whose exact plan remains unknown.

– Crusader. Crusader is the new class, a melee attacker like the Barbarian or Monk. The Crusader uses a weapon and shield style, though the weapon can be two-handed with the use of a passive skill slot. In play, they feel strong defensively, with a good area of effect capability. I have yet any of their legendary items with my own eyes, but the class does represent a new way to experience the game. I certainly can’t claim to have 60’d a Crusader, let alone 70’d… but I have played the Crusader, and it is good.

– Loot 2.0. I know this actually launched at the start of March, but it was part of the build-up to Reaper of Souls. I get how a company seeking profit would clamp onto the idea of the real cash auction house. I get how the economic power of the World of WarCraft Aution House could invite the creation of a similar body in Diablo 3… but even the most hardcore players I know would suggest that the existence of both cash and gold AHs was a mistake in Diablo 3. At best, they did nothing to improve the experience. In the real world, they significantly harmed it.

Now that the Auction House is gone… we get Loot 2.0. A universal improvement over loot 1.0, randomly generated loot now tends to generate according to your needs. Stats are much more likely to roll for your class, legendaries will (almost) always be for your class. Sets? I haven’t seen much of, despite a good number of hours invested… but I assume they adhere to similar principles.

– Bosses 2.0.

One area where Reaper of Souls really shrines is in boss design. Did you like the act bosses in Diablo 3? Because loot 2.0 comes with boss 2.0, and even without the expansion, the purple encounters throughout the game have been tweaked, revisited, improved… and it goes double for Reaper of Souls itself. Uzrael, the first of three significant act bosses, was more complex than the act bosses in Diablo 3… more complex than Baal had been in Diablo 2… Blizzard applying lessons learned from years of creating raid encounters for increasingly sophisticated MMO players. But there are balances to be struck, and they differ between products. A single character has to be able to confront Malthael at the finale of Reaper of Souls, and ultimately that’s as much a part of the game as 10/25 man raids are for World of WarCraft. This is a process that easily could have been screwed up, but instead it’s been implemented beautifully. Malthael’s encounter is an epic affair, featuring no easily discernible pattern, with Malthael possessing at least a dozen different types of attacks, some of which are not easy to dodge. He will test both your skill and your gear, and it was awfully satisfying to finally see him fall.

– Difficulty 2.0

Reaper of Souls heralds a new dynamic difficulty system for Diablo.. one that is based, more or less, on your gear… rather than your level. In Diablo 2, and again at Diablo 3’s launch, difficulty consisted of Normal, Nightmare, Hell, etc. difficulties, each higher difficulty “unlocked” by completing the previous one. In order to proceed, you have no choice but to play through the entire storyline, consecutively. It made it harder to just “jump in” to games with your friends unless they were in the same difficulty of the game, and the difficulty jumps generally were quite drastic.

Difficulty 2.0 attempts to smooth all of this with a much more dynamic difficulty system. Now, the player has access to a several ‘standard’ difficulty levels, and then Torment levels which are designed for high-level (60+ minimum) play. The higher the difficulty you play on, the bigger the bonus is to the player’s experience points earned, gold and item find. Since this sliding scale also stacks with the inherent bonuses from having multiple players in the game, high level runs on Torment difficulties with your friends can produce quick dividends in terms of loot. Of course, there’s always better loot just around the corner…

These are the most substantive changes. They were needed, they are positive, and if anything could re-invigorate the Diablo 3 experience for you… this patch and expansion will probably do it. The game features many other improvements, like customising items (both a single property of a given item can be swapped out, and its appearance ‘transmogrified’, using a new artisan in town), an expanded stash, re-worked items and class features, and so on.

There are two big negatives, however. They are intertwined, and they are compelling.

– $39.95 U.S.. And that’s not me getting overcharged for physical media at Wal-Mart. That’s from Blizzard’s digital store, through my Battle.net account. For an expansion? Ouch. Now, obviously, they did a lot of work on this one. Act V is big, Malthael is a bad ass, and all of the other updates and improvements were welcome… but it’s still a stiff price tag to pay for a game add-on. I’m suspicious of the idea that a new character class is really that big of an addition to this type of game. But there it is. They’ve already got my money.

– It’s still Diablo. That means that its replayability mileage for you [i]may vary[/i]. Just keep that in mind, before you shell out your hard-earned money. Still, if Diablo has always been something you’ve enjoyed, you will find this the most pleasing offering so far.

2013 in Video Games


2013 was a year. And video games were released. And many of them were played by millions. Some of them were enjoyed!

This what I theoretically write about, right?

So let’s talk 2013. In video games. Unfortunately, I didn’t play many terrible games this year. I managed to nail most of my selections, and then I spent some time dealing with serious family problems that repressed my desire to game. Also, I spent a lot of time playing Final Fantasy games. But I do have some thoughts on what happened this year… I’m going to hand out a couple of awards. I’m going to do a couple of lists. Listen, guys, I’m not always great with structure.

Five Games Not Enough People Played*, In No Particular Order
1. Skulls of the Shogun. Critically acclaimed (like, really acclaimed. With good reason) I’m still the only human being I know who has actually played this game. Unless some of you have been holding out on me.
2. Space Hulk. I promise, it’s not bad. Uhh… anymore.
3. Mechwarrior Online. Somehow, the Mechwarrior franchise is not dead… just dying and gasping for air. Still, you can play a real Battletech game for the first time in like 10 years.
4. GTA V! No, but seriously guys, did you play Rogue: Legacy? It’ll make you want to remove your own brain. Or you’ll really have fun. Or, probably both.
5. Saints Row 4. I don’t care how many people played it, there are people who didn’t. And that’s a shame.
*This figure was scientifically determined by a sampling of people I know personally. They represent all of you.

The Five Games I Enjoyed Most in 2013
5. Final Fantasy Mystic Quest Tomb Raider. I understand the criticisms that a) the characterization of Lara Croft is a little uneven. B) It’s uncomfortable to watch Lara become increasingly sneaky and (especially) brutal as the game goes along. No matter how much visceral pleasure one might gain from murdering crazy rapey cultists with a climbing pick. C) The puzzles which were the entire point of the series have been relegated to optional side-missions. I get all of that. I promise. This game was still really, really good, and it gave me hope that the Tomb Raider series is moving in a cool direction.
4. Grand Theft Auto V. The release of a Grand Theft Auto game is, basically, An Event. It’s not just another video game release. It’s Grand Theft Auto. It’s an institution. Everyone takes a couple days off work, buys a case of red bull/”Code Red” Mountain Dew/a couple grams of coke and a hundred hours simply disappear. Right? Well… GTA V definitely did a lot of things right. But as usual, I was left with the feeling that the game was working harder to impress me than to let me have fun. Consider me impressed. But I definitely wasn’t always having fun. And yes, I was deeply disturbed by the torture mission. And no, I’m not ignorant of the fact that it’s supposed to be biting satire.
3. Heart of the Swarm. The long (long, long, LONG) awaited sequel to StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty, finally dropped this year. Only 4? 5? more years to go for the epic conclusion! Heart of the Swarm is basically a vast improvement over the original StarCraft II without really changing that much stuff. A couple new units, a very good new campaign (not that WoL’s was at all unenjoyable), and a consistent multiplayer experience. Just because I suck at the multiplayer does not mean it’s bad.
2. Payday 2. Just in terms of hours wasted, it’s hard not to rank this one #1. Or it would be, if the #1 slot wasn’t so preposterously clear that it doesn’t even merit discussion. Anyway, Payday 2 can be frustrating, still has a number of infuriating bugs, and occasionally feels like it doesn’t have nearly enough content. Plus, I’m tired of getting ‘The Jaw’ masks. Do you guys know how many ‘The Jaw’ masks I have? I don’t want to talk about it. Anyway, one of the great time wasters.
1. Saints Row IV.

A Game That Somehow Didn’t Make the Above List But I Want To Discuss
To: Magic: The Gathering Duels of the Planeswalkers 2014.
Quite a mouthful. I actually think it may just be ‘Magic 2014’ this time around. I think it’s okay for me to refer to it that way. This franchise has been putting out an excellent game every year for four years. It is not a replacement for MTG: Online if you’re looking for real constructed formats. This game is its own limited format, and if you don’t want that, then don’t buy it, you’ll hate it. 2014 incorporates all of the gripes I can remember people mentioning since the first (MTG:DTP, no year the first time around!) iteration dropped: You have full control over the 80 cards (or whatever it is) that can be unlocked for each deck. You have full control over the land in each deck. You can manually select which lands tap so the AI can’t cause you to “tap out” of a colour you still need. However, 2014 can’t make the top 5 list because it has some real problems with the balance of its constructed format (the top tier decks are too top tier) and the Steam version was totally assassinated by rampant cheating in the Sealed format early on. Rough year. Still, this is a franchise people should know about.

The Bethesda Softworks Award
For: Most inexcusably buggy release that still has serious problems after a couple major patches
To: Battlefield 4
This award was originally going to go to Space Hulk until I recently revisited it. Fortunately for Space Hulk, the major patches fixed all of the problems for me, at least! Fortunately for everyone, Dice’s Battlefield 4, while incredible in its recreation of a battlefield environment that I can drive an attack boat around and kill people in… is almost hilariously bugged out. A couple of major patches have seemed to create just as many problems as they have solved. And that’s on the (relatively) stable XBox 360 release. I am told that the releases for PS4 and XBox One did not go smoothly. I don’t own either of those consoles yet, so I can’t speak personally… but I have no reason to doubt my sources (they include everyone I know who has played BF4 on a new console). This is particularly infuriating for me because I really want to play and enjoy Battlefield 4. But if I’m the only person who can play it without their bullets shooting sideways and their save data being corrupted… uhh… I guess I don’t have much reason to play at all, under those conditions. Thanks for nothing, Dice.

The Blizzard Entertainment Award
For: Wait, HOW long has that been in development again?
To: Defense of the Ancients 2
This isn’t really fair, since Dota 2 has been in beta for much of the long development cycle, and thus people have been able to play it. Still, the game had been in playable beta for over two years before it ‘dropped’. That having been said, it’s free to play on Steam, so what the hell do I care?

Baldur’s Gate Enhanced Award
For: ‘HD’ remake, ‘updated’ version, or whatever, that I randomly enjoyed
To: Age of Empires II: HD Edition
I seriously think I enjoyed it more than I did when the game first dropped. Mercifully, while this HD version is nothing (so far as I could tell) then a new coat of paint slapped on an ancient game… it was a very pretty coat of paint. And the game runs stably on my 64x OS. And it’s fun! What more could I ask for, really?

Game of the Year
For: Game of the Year
To: Saints Row IV.
C’mon. If you’ve never dipped your toes into the franchise… Saint’s Row IV concludes the story of ‘The Boss’, the nameless player-avatar protagonist who rose from being a nothing street punk to the leader of the Third Street Saints, which then became a massive media empire, to becoming elected as the President of the United States. I believe the tagline for the game on Steam is: “Gloriously Stupid” “Stupidly Fun”. That’s about right, except I don’t know how ‘stupid’ it really is. Saints Row IV is deeply referential; it pays flippant homage to essentially the entire history of gaming. Many of the references range from shrewd to brilliant, and many of them are simultaneously hysterical. It doesn’t have the size or scope of Grand Theft Auto V, but it’s every bit as much fun to play (this is a lie: it’s like 90283048x more fun to play). The absurdity of the game may not be to all tastes, I suppose, but all video games are absurd in one way or another. Give it a chance. Let it win you over. Oh, the PC version has some bugs. I didn’t find that they dampened my gameplay experience too much, but they are there, and they do suck when they crop up. Stupid ports.

Quick Review: Word Realms!


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Full disclosure: I was a Kickstarter backer and beta tester for this game.

So recently, Asymmetric’s “Word Realms” was released to the public as a semi-finished product. I say semi-finished because, by their own admission, there are many changes still to go. If the studio name sounds vaguely familiar, it’s probably because you’ve happened across the popular browser-based game “The Kingdom of Loathing” in the past. As a long, long, long time fan of the browser based game, I simply couldn’t resist when the opportunity came to support their new endeavour – an animated game effort with (presumably) the same kind of sarcastic humour and potential, and one based even more promisingly in the realm of words.

So here’s the skinny. Word Realms challenges you to play a lot of “Scrabble”. The combat involves forming words out of randomly generated banks of letters. Each letter has a score value, and the higher the score, the more damage that you do. It’s really that simple. So if you’ve been dominating your friends at “Words With Friends” for the last five years, then you should find yourself quite at home here, but with a catch: the combat timer is somewhat swift, and you’ll need to think quickly about your word, rather than spending days on it. Generating valuable words quickly is as important a skill as knowing how to dump off the random “Z” letters that come into your life. Frankly, I found the experience quite immersive, but your own mileage may vary based on just how much you enjoy the word games in your life.

The problem with Word Realms is that, even explored to its utmost, there just isn’t that much girth to be explored. While the game definitely has the potential to absorb an entire afternoon away from you, I’m not sure it has much more than that. There’s a small amount of replayability, I suppose, and the game does have some fun mini-games (found through the story mode in the form of dream sequences; you’ll see) and a fairly deep crafting system. I still maintain that the core game-play is probably just not substantative enough for most single player gamers who are, frankly, looking for something to suck up their free hours. That said, the $11 price tag guarantees five or six totally engrossed hours. I’m not sure how much better most modern single player experiences do in terms of bang for your buck.

For what its worth, I enjoyed Word Realms. I backed it for substantially more than $11 and I certainly don’t regret that choice. If you’re looking for something to do it would be hard to go wrong with this title. Oh, and as for the acerbic wit of Kingdom of Loathing? If you enjoy the browser game the humour will translate easily to you.

Shepard’s Last Dance


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Well, it’s been quite a journey, hasn’t it? We’ve followed Commander Shepard across the years, and across the galaxy, battling against nothing less than our complete annihilation. But there’s one last shot in the chamber, it seems, as a sinister conspiracy seems aimed at killing off the legendary Commander Shepard. Such is the plot of the new Mass Effect 3 “Citadel” DLC, now available for 1200 MS Points.

Note that this review openly discusses details from the original Mass EFfect 3 game. So if you somehow still haven’t played it and still want to, come back and read us later. It’s alright, I won’t be offended.

I know that people have mixed feelings about content DLCs for Mass Effect 3, the ending of which is very definitive. Even with the “best” ending and the added fluff of the “Extended Cut” DLC released last summer, there isn’t anywhere else for Shepard’s story to go after the credits roll. While the “best” ending leaves Shepard’s ultimate fate ambiguous, Bioware has told us that Shepard’s story is over. So what is there to add to the gameplay of Mass Effect 3? I actually think Bioware has done a decent job of addressing this; I enjoyed the “Leviathan” DLC if only for its interesting story reveal. “Return to Omega” is cutting room floor stuff; the conclusion of Aria’s plot arc belonged in the original game, but at least its spot in the Mass Effect story makes sense. But “Citadel”… “Citadel” is one fine DLC. I would have said that the gold standard for Bioware’s DLC before this one was probably “Lair of the Shadow Broker”, which added substantially to my Mass Effect 2 experience, had an interesting plot, and some interesting combats interwoven with some great moments for Liara and Shepard.

“Citadel” is better, and it is better because it honours what has been Mass Effect’s biggest strength all along: the characters. The party interaction. The dialogue. The combat system in Mass Effect 3 is very polished, and it functions very well for what it needs to do, but I would not play Mass Effect 3’s campaign for just the combat sequences. Instead of just fighting through waves of mooks, Shepard finds himself blending into a gala at a casino, blending in at the roulette table and socializing with the who’s who of the Citadel… in between casually shutting down cameras and bypassing security while a companion distracts nettlesome guards. Meanwhile, another companion is sneaking through the ventilation system, all so you can get one single crack at someone who may or may not have answers Shepard wants. It is probably worth noting that this DLC is simply not self-serious in the way that the rest of Mass Effect 3 is. If you feel a shift in tone is dramatically inappropriate, this DLC could rub you the wrong way I suppose.

Things open with orders to put the Normandy in to the Citadel for refits and repairs, where our old friend Admiral Anderson has given over his (ridiculously) swanky Citadel apartment for your use. Anderson does not anticipate ever leaving Earth again; even if he survives the final confrontation with the Reapers, the effort to rebuild Earth is something he knows he can’t walk away from. Once there, you end up meeting Joker for sushi in a highly exclusive restaurant on the Citadel. Things go south soon after, and Shepard is forced to deal with yet another problem dragging him away from the master situation of the Reapers. Things culminate in what could possibly be the most difficult combat in the game (about which I will reveal nothing at all; better that way). I found that I didn’t mind.

The thing about “Citadel” is that it’s genuinely lighthearted and funny, with razor-sharp writing. It’s a remarkably refreshing detour from the otherwise dour tone of Mass Effect 3. The game’s tone is, largely, completely warranted… but this DLC provides a break from the agonizing struggle of the war that the original game really, for the most part, lacked. Combat sequences breezed by in a frenzy of faced-paced action and constant party banter, making me think fondly on the constant party interactions from Dragon Age II. The respites between the action sequences are more of the same. Granted, just shoving characters into the setting of Shepard’s ultra-unbelievably-luxurious-swanky Citadel apartment doesn’t feel as organic as another scenario might… but gathering party members on the Normandy is a bit of a contrivance as well, isn’t it? Let’s give Bioware a pass here. They try hard to get your old squad members involved. Tons of characters return from the previous games, offering them more screen time than they otherwise received in Mass Effect 3… including the opportunity to once again use fan-favourite Wrex as a squad member (really, what’s a squad without a Krogan?)

If you’re still angry about Mass Effect 3’s ending, after all of the time, discussion, and the “Extended Cut” DLC (and, if you are, I certainly don’t blame you – it was a travesty) then you may not find the send-off this DLC gives to the characters and the scenario any more satisfying… but, on the other hand, you might. I thought it was a nice fan-service sort of addition to the Mass Effect canon, and a fun adventure besides. Incidentally, this DLC occupied me for at least three hours so far, and I haven’t gone through everything it offers. You should make your own decisions on whether it is priced fairly based on this.