Mass Effect

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Indeed I am many years late to the party but I legitimately didn’t finish the game until last month. After all the hype and good things I’d heard from people who don’t even play video games and raved about this title, I decided I had to finally play it – 2 years ago. I just didn’t actually get past the prologue until I forced myself. I have to admit going into it that I have never been a Bioware fan. Sure, Jade Empire and KOTOR were excellent. Baldur’s Gate was legendary. But those were all over 10 years ago.

It’s more or less impossible to produce a space game, especially one with a rich and sprawling universe, without drawing comparisons to your three big hitters in the space “genre” – Stargate, Star Trek, and Star Wars. Star Wars in particular is something you might think of when playing Mass Effect, as the funky aliens, rogue murderous robots, space secret agents and many more common elements are there, and it’s fortunate that this isn’t a Star Wars game because BioWare has already done that, and done it well.

In Mass Effect I found probably the best sleeper hit RPG in many years. I bought it because I assumed I’d like it – I’m into basically all of the themes and elements that make the game what it is. I just don’t particularly like Bioware. Dragon Age left a very bad taste in my mouth. The combat was dreadfully boring, the learning curve didn’t exist, and the characters would not shut their mouths. Look, I like dialog and story as much as the next guy. It’s a vital part of RPGs. But the characters in Dragon Age droned on and on, and none of it was ever interesting. Fortunately for Mass Effect, I hung on every word that characters had to say. Even if I got tired of hearing them talk, I read the subtitles and hit the spacebar.

Obviously, the story in the game is not 100% original. I’ve seen many people draw comparisons with System Shock – though I’m not so sure how given the ending of this trilogy. Many elements draw blatant parallels with the big three, again – how couldn’t they? With thousands of hours of film and even more of novels and comics between them, those three franchises have covered as close to everything as possible. I also knew the ending to the trilogy would be shit beforehand, thus the thing about playing games way too late. Regardless of all this, I found it to be entertaining, and robust. The game has so many factions and side-quests to deal with that I found myself having to pause to remember exactly what was going on at times, more-so in the sequels than the first entry.

I have only two real criticisms First is the games handling of other species sex, and the Asari were somewhat well written. However, why must every character be overly sexualized? Do I need to see her tits as she dies? Just like early Star Trek and most of Star Wars, most species just seem to be a green or blue human with boobs tossed on them. We can’t speak for the quarians because we don’t know what they look like, but from what little you can see through their visors they appear sort of reptilian. The Asari, who even knows, with their tentacles on their heads.

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The other is….the morality system is basically meaningless. If you play RPGs properly, that means you talk to literally every NPC all the time, and do every quest possible. Simply talking to everyone whenever possible gives you paragon points. The only way to get renegade points is to intentionally take renegade actions. Even so, you would have to only do the renegade type of thing every single time, to be a renegade. Just like Fallout 3, the balance of morality has basically no effect whatsoever on anything because even if it did, it will take you 4 seconds to fix it.

The voice acting was very well done, even in the first game, and combined with the dialog itself I felt a sincerity to the things people were saying to me, or to others. In addition, the dialog and story seemed rather well written, to the point that I wasn’t being taken out of it to question the authenticity of the plot developments.

I flew back and forth around the galaxy, doing 100% of every side-quest and quest possible. It reminded me of long dead games like Final Fantasy or Chrono Trigger where you controlled where you go and what you do, when. Even better, it seemed that every single one of these quests remained relevant after the game was over. Looking back, the only things I didn’t do all of were probes or beacons or containers that required too high of a science level I didn’t have.

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Worst vehicle in the galaxy.

Surprisingly, the fact that the combat all controls as a third person shooter didn’t even bother me. Occasionally I ran into some frustrating battles like Benezia or basically everything else on Noveria, but most of that boiled down to playing the game too much like a shooter. It seemed an interesting way to handle the combat – not many RPGs have tried. Although I do feel that if you’re going to make a third person shooter and make it with consoles in mind, it would be nice to have a functional gamepad control scheme on PC as well. I typically play PC games with keyboard anyway, but the option would be nice. The only thing about this game that bothered me, other than the god awful handling and boringness of the Mako, was the 150 item limit. I was picking up at least 50 – 100 items per planet and mission. And then having to turn them all into omni-gel or sell them, seconds later.

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I don’t know what the graphics in the game looked like originally, as I played with the MIUTM mod. It doesn’t drastically change things, but it does replace most of the textures with high quality ones. And it looked pretty decent for an ancient game.

Fallout 3 GOTY Edition – PC

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In the eyes of some, Fallout is a franchise that lived its entire lifespan and died with Interplay in the 90s. As far as die-hards are concerned, this game is not Fallout -it lacks the sophistication in gameplay, the freedom, and most importantly it lacks the “dark” sense of humor present in the first two games. Simply put, these are nothing but the rose-tinted sight problems of nostalgics. Fallout 3 took one of the most popular cult classic games of the 90s and transferred it almost perfectly into a format that gamers can more easily appreciate

Whereas the combat in Fallout 1 and 2 was turn based, and consequently quite frustrating from start to finish, the Elder Scrolls 3+ type combat Bethesda applied to the game makes the gameplay much more fluid, and much more immersive. Rather than asking yourself why your vault dweller – a character who had no personal backstory even despite their character description and no overall narrative, beyond your quest to replace the Vault’s water chip, that you can become involved in emotionally – is willingly letting three radscorpions try to kill him/her without flat out running for their lives, you would frequently find yourself in a situation where you would get a random encounter map, then be forced to run one turn at a time for your life as they hounded you across the map and potentially killed you. While that wasn’t game-breaking, the fact that Fallout 3 puts you in control of your fight or flight instincts makes it far more user friendly. On top of this, it’s a hybrid FPS where you control your aiming, rather than generically shooting a radroach or molerat or what have you until it dies.

The one major flaw with the first person shooter style of combat in Fallout 3, lies in the V.A.T.S system which was introduced to try and retain some of the nostalgic, turn based feeling of the original games. Essentially, if you’re bad at aiming, you can enter V.A.T.S and have the game calculate your hit chance, based on what target zone you choose on an enemy, by crunching the skill numbers for your guns against the enemy’s HP and their stats, which are affected by level. Once you level up and approach level cap, much less once you reach level cap, shooting any enemy without using V.A.T.S becomes an exercise in tedium. Enemies will always die easier if you let the cinematic autoaim do it for you – even if your skill with that gun type is 100 and that gun does 300 damage or whatever. So, after a certain point in the game you’ll start using VATS more, and more, and more – especially if you use the perk that refills your Ability Point bar if an enemy is killed while in VATS mode. Normally, this wouldn’t be such a problem, except that with the DLC, you easily reach level cap before doing even a third of the content in the game.

Fallout 3 will make you kill tens of tons of enemies at every opportunity, at almost every location on the map. Combine that with the dreadfully short main quest line and some of the more accessible side-quests you’ll likely do along the way, and you’re probably going to hit level 30 before you even finish Broken Steel. In a game with so much content, it becomes somewhat frustrating that during the course of completing it, you’ll spend the majority of your time fighting the highest tier enemies possible – like Super Mutant Overlords, Deathclaws, or Tesla and Hellfire troopers. Broken Steel specifically has a bad habit of replacing most enemy types with the “new” enemies, rather than maintainng variety, so you’ll be using a lot of stimpaks and a lot of ammo.

One of the most common complaints about the new game is that the tone, the dark sense of humor is gone. The fact is, the game is just as dark as its progenitors. Nearly everyone in the Wasteland is a scumbag or will show a propensity for being one. Many NPCs will have requests or missions that seem innocent, and will turn out to be requests to kill themselves – or, for example, an NPC will ask for a drug you have and that they are able to get on their own. They’ll take it and immediately overdose and die. One quest will ask you to set off a nuclear bomb in a city and erase it from the map – just because an old WASPy bastard doesn’t like it being on the horizon when he sits on his balcony. You may even be manipulated into killing and torturing people just for an NPCs amusement. The writing and sense of humor are still there, as long as you play the game to actually find out.

Starring the talents of Liam Neeson, Malcom McDowell, and the now unforgettable Erik Todd Dellums , the storyline is a quite normal though solid tale of trying to save the world – in this case the wasteland – and then deciding whether or not to even do it once the responsibility falls on your shoulders. Ultimately, you need not ever even do the main storyline, and you only have a few choices what ultimately happens with the main story, However, piled on top of that are dozens and dozens of quests that reveal the post-apocalyptic world and introduce you to interesting dilemmas, characters, and adventures on the way. Frankly, it’s a lot more fun than finding a water chip.

My one and only feature complaint is regarding vehicles in this game. Admittedly it doesn’t make much sense to be driving a vehicle around the downtown area, not only because there is rubble absolutely everywhere, but because there’s so much to explore that you would miss it. However, Bethesda made the game that way on purpose. You have to follow all kinds of tunnels and convuluted routes to get anywhere in the downtown area, sometimes following a winding tunnel or sewer for a mile just to get to a building located literally 100 feet from that very sewer entrance. To that end, there are dozens of motorcycle parts laying around the wasteland – used for crafting weapons or just selling. There are even cars and motorcycles laying around that seem in perfect shape. What’s worse is that the majority of those cars will burst into a nuclear fireball if you shoot them – so clearly, they still work. Oblivion had horses and the game world was a similar size, maybe even smaller. It didn’t detract from you exploring everything. It would just be a nice option to have rather than only fast travelling or running across the wasteland.

Looks pretty functional to me.

Looks pretty functional to me.

As for this version of the game, on Windows, this is one of the reasons Bethesda has become infamous for buggy games. I first played this on PS3 and the game froze when it came time to take the G.O.A.T, forcing you to restart the game if you hadn’t manually saved before that. That pales in comparison to the amount of problems with the PC version. Fallout 3 was released in October 2008, eight months before Windows 7. It does not natively support multi-core processors and even if you manually edit the configuration file to use more than one thread, there are still issues.

Ergo, the game barely works on anything newer than Vista if you have the retail, original Games for Windows Live version. Even the Steam version, which is the same game with no changes, has plenty of problems. There was a bug, for example in the pre-patch game, where it would crash every single time the game auto-saved. You had to manually save always. In addition to various driver problems, the game has problems on Windows 7 where the audio codecs the game uses to play MP3 files – meaning all the music on the radio stations – cause stuttering and you have to use a mod to tell the game to use the .wav versions of the songs, which are what it uses for the actual set top radios. Add to this a lot of oversights such as a specific quest that you have to use console commands to access if you don’t do it before you finish the main storyline, and the game is nearly unbearable when it isn’t working correctly. Bethesda can’t be blamed entirely for the game not working on Windows 7, but considering even Vista supported multi-core processors which were the norm at the time the game came out (Core 2 ring a bell, people?), there was no excuse for the way the game was designed – which was for consoles first.

Despite those technical issues on modern Windows systems, Fallout 3 is one of the best games of the seventh console generation and its technical failures are nearly overlookable for PC gamers, when considering the available mod support and debugging options. The GOTY package is a must have, hands down.