Nocturnal Lives

Musings from the mind of Amanda S. Green – Mother, Writer, Possessed by Cats

Category: Gaming (Page 2 of 2)

Review: Mirror’s Edge Catalyst

I don’t often take part in beta tests for games. One reason is I don’t usually have time. Another is I hate opening my laptop up to software that hasn’t been fully tested yet. But when I had the opportunity to take part in the closed beta test for Mirror’s Edge Catalyst – PlayStation 4, I jumped. Then I prayed I would be one of those lucky enough to be chosen. I was and I’ve spent several hours since then playing the opening sequences of the game as well as some optional missions.

All I can say is if the final game is as much fun as the beta test version, it is going to be a blast.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with the game, this is the follow-up to Mirror’s Edge, one of the best games I’ve ever played. Considering this game is so very different from most everything else I play, that’s saying a great deal.

Short version, the game takes place in a quasi-dystopian future (funny how so many games take that approach — not). The main character, Faith, is a runner. Runners take to the rooftops and are the parkour heroes of the future. Mirror’s Edge was more a game of tactics and evasion than a run and shoot. I know a number of folks who played the game without ever using a gun and who prided themselves on trying to find ways through missions without engaging the enemy. And, no, this is most definitely not a stealth game.

Mirror’s Edge also had the advantage of having been written by Rhianna Pratchett. The follow-up, Mirror’s Edge Catalyst – PlayStation 4 does not include Pratchett. In fact, much of the original team is gone. That could be problematic. Other games that have had such major shifts in personnel from one game to another have suffered. For the little bit we saw in the beta test, this one does not. Of course, I say that with reservation since the beta only lets us see a couple of missions.

So, what do I think about Catalyst? I loved it. The controls — and I was playing on PC — were intuitive and easy to get the hang of. I liked the fact that the tutorial wasn’t all at the beginning and staged as such. There was some character interaction and then “training”. Even after that, you received another mission which included some more training as well as completing a mission in the process.

Yes there were glitches. This was a beta test after all. The voice to video synching often reminded me of a badly — very badly — dubbed Japanese science fiction movie. The mouths would move and the subtitles would appear and then the voice would sound. Load screen sometimes froze or it felt like they did because it took forever to move from one to another. But it was nothing compared to some finished games I’ve played and hated.

This is a beautiful game. I wanted to spend time I don’t have just exploring the city. The fact that you can go off-track is something I enjoyed and I look forward to being able to do it in the finished product.

My recommendation is simple. If you enjoyed Mirror’s Edge, you need to check out Mirror’s Edge Catalyst – PlayStation 4. If you like games that let you use figure out the best way to get from Point A to Point B, this is your game. If you want to use your wits to avoid the enemy or if you want to confront the enemy, you can do it with Catalyst.

I don’t know about you, but I will be pre-ordering the game and waiting anxiously to be able to play the full game.

On writing, gaming and drinking coffee

Yes, yes, I know. I promised a snippet and you will get it. Not today or even tomorrow. I am going to start doing snippets on the weekends. I am hard a work on the final edits for Honor from Ashes (Honor and Duty Book 3). I am also starting the preliminary draft for Dagger of Elanna, the follow up to Sword of Arelion (Sword of the Gods Book 1). After that, not necessarily in this order, will come Nocturnal Challenge, a secret project I can’t discuss just yet, Skeletons in the Closet, and a host of other books demanding to be written.

One thing I’m learning is that I have to take a little bit of time between projects to not only switch “voices” but to decompress. That week or so is when I try to catch up on my reading, see movies and trying out new video games. I don’t buy a new game after every finished product but I do when something interesting catches my eye or someone I trust recommends a game.

That’s why I played — and later reviewed — Rise of the Tomb Raider – Digital Deluxe Edition [Online Game Code]. It is why I am now playing Assassin’s Creed Syndicate – Gold Edition – PC. This is the first time in a long while I’ve bought the actual disc for a game. But this particular edition was a much better buy than going to Steam and paying for the game and then buying the season pass. So, I bought the disc, installed it on my laptop and started playing.

And found what has, so far at least, been my favorite Assassin’s Creed game to date. Part of it is the story and mechanics. Part is the fact I can, on many of the missions, choose which character to play. I can go more for brute strength by playing Jacob or stealth by choosing his twin Evie. Yes, for those who feel there needs to be a female playable character, Ubisoft has given you one.

I’ll follow up with a full review when I finish the game but, for the moment, I am enjoying it a great deal and it has helped with the decompression from finishing Slay Bells Ring and doing edits (which I hate doing) on Honor.

So where, you ask, does coffee come into all this? That’s simple. Like a lot of writers, I seem to live on caffeine. My brain doesn’t get going in the morning without that kickstart you can only get from a cup of coffee. I grew up in a household that used a Corningware stove top percolator, even after the company recalled them. My dad’s philosophy was that your coffee wasn’t strong enough unless your spoon could stand, unaided, in the middle of the mug. Not that he would ever ruin a cup of coffee by adding anything to it. Coffee was meant to be drunk black as night and hot as Hell (or cold as the Arctic in the summer).

Fastforward to today. I’ve done the Mr. Coffee route and the Keurig k-cups. Mr. Coffee and those type of coffeemakers can leave you with scorched coffee because you leave it on the burner. The alternative is to brew into a carafe that is a bitch to clean. K-cups will never, ever make a full-bodied cup of coffee. Sorry, it just isn’t going to happen.

So someone finally recommended Death Wish Whole Bean Coffee, The World’s Strongest Coffee, Fair Trade and USDA Certified Organic – 16 Ounce Bag. I balked at first. After all, you may as well say it is $20/lb. Ouch! Then I started looking at what I was paying for Peet’s or Starbucks to put into the reusable k-kups as well as what I spent to drink regular k-cups. By the time I added up the cost per cup and how many cups per day I was drinking, I thought I might as well give Death Wish a try. After all, if it was as strong as they said, I might not drink as much.

Boy has that been a good decision. My four or five cups (read large mugs) of coffee each day minimum I’d been drinking is down to two cups max. A pound of Death Wish lasts approximately 2 weeks. So my monthly coffee budget is $40. If I were buying k-cups (Green Mountain because that is the brand the rest of the family likes), and if I were averaging 4 cups a day, my monthly budget would be over $80 ordering from Amazon. It would be less if I were lucky enough to find a sale locally but those are few and far between. Starbucks whole beans would run somewhere between the two. So, for a great tasting coffee that has enough caffeine to get me going and that doesn’t leave me crashing later in the day, I’ll pay the price. It works out to be less in the long run.

Now, if only I could find chocolate as good as Death Wish is as coffee and that was as affordable per use, I’d be a very happy camper, er, writer.

Rise of the Tomb Raider

Yes, I know. I’m late to the game when it comes to reviewing Rise of the Tomb Raider – Digital Deluxe Edition [Online Game Code], the latest installment in the Tomb Raider series of games. There is reason for it. First, I have moved away from console gaming almost completely. So I had to wait for Square Enix to bring the game to PC. In a move only understood by Square Enix and probably Microsoft, Square Enix initially released the game only on Xbox 360 and Xbox One. However, the day finally came and I snagged a copy. I’ve been playing at it for a couple of weeks and have finished my first play through and the Baba Yaga: The Temple of the Witch DLC.

For those who aren’t familiar with Rise of the Tomb Raider, it is the second game in the re-imagined Tomb Raider Series. The first, Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition – PlayStation 4, (also available on PC and XBox) came out a couple of years ago. Instead of picking up the series where it had left off, Square Enix did something smart. It rebooted the series with the story of how Lara Croft became the Tomb Raider. That game, while good, felt a bit short and wasn’t quite the Tomb Raider I, or many like me, remembered. It was more a run and shoot than a searching of tombs and solving of puzzles. Gamers and reviewers let their displeasure, mild though it was, be known and Square Enix listened.

This latest installment picks up after the events of Tomb Raider. There are tombs aplenty and enough moments when a big bad — whether it be animal, human or something else — to cause a few starts and nervous laughs. This Lara is not only older but a bit more jaded. Part of that is because of what happened in the first game, although I don’t recall those events being directly mentioned, but mainly because of what she remembers of her father and the events leading to his death. In short, Lara is on a personal quest to prove that the mystery her father had been chasing not only exists but that he had been right all along. As the story progresses, she has to decide whether that quest, and the quest to clear his name of the shame that had been attached to it, was more important than the truth she was uncovering.

This is, in truth, a story about choices, not only Lara’s choices when it comes to either using stealth to avoid danger or approaching it headlong but also with regard to what she will do when she come to the truth surrounding the secrets her father had been chasing. Then there is the truth about the circumstances surrounding his death.

For anyone who saw the travesty that was the Tomb Raider movies, no, the Illuminati is not part of this plot. However, there is a super secret organization with ill intent out there. Called Trinity, you never see the leaders. That is part of how the developers have set us up for another game to come. Part of it is also because one of the big baddies we do meet in this game, Ana. She plays a pivotal part in not only what happens in the game but in the events that are the background for it.

If you buy the season pass, you will have access to some new outfits and such and one playable DLC right now. That DLC, Baba Yaga: The Temple of the Witch DLC,  was a fun addition to the game. I played it as part of the general progression of the game instead of finishing the game and going back to it. Part of that was strategy. I wanted to see what sort of weapon upgrades I might find in the DLC but I also wanted the experience upgrades before heading off to do the final mission of the game.

As the title of the DLC suggests, the plot draws its inspiration from the Baba Yaga tales. Yes, there is a house on chicken legs — or is there? There is an evil witch with ill intent in mind. Or is there? Those are only two of the questions Lara much answer in the DLC. It’s not a huge DLC, certainly nowhere near as long as The Citadel DLC for Mass Effect 3 Digital Deluxe Version [Download]. But then, there weren’t as many upset fans with Rise of the Tomb Raider as there were for ME3, not by a long shot. Still, if you are a perfectionist and want to work to get 100% on the DLC, you will have several hours — or more — of game play.

The graphics on the game are great. It is one of the best looking games I’ve seen. While there is the occasional camera angle problem, those are so few that I almost hate to mention them. The background score is good and the plot is interesting if somewhat derivative at times. The bad guys, while bad, aren’t necessarily truly evil. They are flawed and those flaws blind them to the folly — and evil — of their intentions. One of the good guys isn’t quite as good as you think at the beginning. Lara herself is flawed and that is one of the things I like. She has doubts. She has a temper.  She is driven, often to the point where it puts others in danger. Yet she does make the right decisions when she needs to.

If I had to complain about the game, it’s a bit short. After playing the Dragon Age series and some others (and yes, I know. Different types of games), Rise of the Tomb Raider seems short. Still, it costs less per hour of game play than going to the movies, much less. I also am not a fan of releasing DLC so soon after a game comes out. Game developers have, for some reason, started releasing playable DLC within a month or two of the release of the games and that, to me, feels like cheating. Then there was releasing on only one platform for awhile. That bothered me more than any of the rest of it.

But those are minor complaints in the grand scheme of things. I would give this game a 9 out of 10. It is a definite recommend. I am looking forward to seeing what Square Enix does next with the franchise.

Since I mentioned Dragon Age, let me add a quick note here about the last playable DLC for Dragon Age: Inquisition. Dragon Age: Inquisition – Trespasser – PS4 [Digital Code] (and it too, is available on Playstation, XBox and PC platforms) is one of the best playable DLCs I’ve played in a very long time. It takes place several years after the end of the main game. It not only lets you get reacquainted with the characters from Inquisition, but you find out what has happened to them in the interim. Some of it is determined based on choices you made during the main game. The basic conflict begins because the governments have grown concerned about the power — and respect — the Inquisition holds. The danger to their lands is over and now they want to rein in the Inquisition and hamstring it. Before that can happen, trouble once again breaks out and it is up to the Inquisitor to find out who is behind it and stop it before war breaks out.

The writers of the DLC left everyone who played Trespasser nodding their heads, convinced not only that there will be a sequel but that they know where on Thedas it will take place. Then there is the fact that, if we aren’t misreading the seemingly obvious hints in the DLC, Solas will play a major role in the next game and it isn’t going to be as the hero.

So, if you have played Inquisition and haven’t played Trespasser yet, do so. The only negative I can say about Inquisition — and it doesn’t play much of a role in Trespasser — is the endless collecting of resources and a crafting menu that gets too complicated if you are a completionist. But, it is one of those things you can do as little or as much with as you want. But, if you’re like me and you do your damnedest to get a 100% completely, that hunting-gathering gets old and does make it less inviting to play the game a second time.

Still, I give DA:I a 9 and Trespasser is the one playable DLC that I say is a must get if you enjoyed the game. The others are okay but they don’t really expand the story like this one does.

So there you have it. One game and one DLC review.

Snippets will follow later today.

 

Bioware brings Dragon Age Inquisition to an end

I have a confession to make. It’s not a new one. Anyone who has followed me here or on Mad Genius Club knows my secret. I’m a gamer. It started innocently enough. When my son was young and all his friends had Playstations and Xboxes, he wanted one too. I relented, finally, when prices came down to something resembling reasonable. The only caveat I put on his gaming was that I had to play the game first. It was the same rule I had for movies. He was young enough that I wanted to know what he was going to see or play so I could talk with him about it if he had questions or comments.

Checking out games to make sure they were appropriate for him soon turned into a bonding exercise between the two of us. We gamed together. As he got older, we discussed games, and gaming systems. Which game was better on what system. Then we got into gaming on our PCs and that added a whole new level of discussion. Was it better to game on a system or on the PC? What needed to be done to upgrade the PC to play the latest generation of games? Yes, we became a gaming and techie household.

Well, my son is an adult now and we are both still gaming and talking about what games we play, what platform we play them on and what games are coming out. I don’t remember if I turned my son onto Dragon Age Inquisition (Deluxe Edition) – PC when it came out or if he turned me onto it. Not that it matters. What does is that Bioware redeemed itself in my eyes after the debacle that was the ending of Mass Effect 3 Digital Deluxe Version [Download]. (No, I don’t think the ending of ME3 was as bad as some of the fans do, but I will admit it could have been handled better. After all, it basically did away with the decisions we had made through three games. That didn’t sit well with many of the fans.)

For those of you unfamiliar with Bioware games, one of the strength of those games has always been the story. From Jade Empire to Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic to the Mass Effect Trilogy to the three Dragon Age games, story and characters have kept gamers returning and, more importantly, demanding more. All you have to do is look at the discussions that have gone on since the ME3 was released and speculation about what the next Mass Effect game might be.  Yes, I am one of those anxiously awaiting Mass Effect: Andromeda and hoping that Bioware continues building on the legacy of Mass Effect and doesn’t try to reinvent the wheel.

Anyway, back to DA:I.

If you aren’t familiar with DA:I, this is how Bioware describes it:

A cataclysmic event plunges the land of Thedas into turmoil. Dragons darken the sky, casting a shadow over lands on the brink of chaos. Mages break into all-out war against the oppressive templars. Nations rise against one another. It falls to you and your allies to restore order as you lead the Inquisition and hunt down the agents of chaos.

Explore, lead, and battle: Tough choices define your experience, and even one decision can change the course of what’s to come.

It’s fun. The combat can be challenging and it has, in my opinion, a high replay value because of the different classes you can play as as well as the different choices you can make during the game.

Even without the DLC packs, DA:I is a game that can keep you busy for tens, if not hundreds, of hours in a single playthrough. You can simply do the main mission quests or you can do all the side quests. Then there are all the “collectibles” you can go after. Yes, some of it does come down to simply grinding as you try to find the right group of bad guys to beat so you get the valuable you need to finish this side quest or that but, unlike so many games, grinding isn’t required to progress through the game.

There are three single player DLC missions for the game. The first,Dragon Age: Inquisition – Jaws of Hakkon [Online Game Code], was an interesting mission, taking players to new areas and giving them some challenges battles. The mini-boss near the end of the DLC was, to me, more difficult to defeat than the final boss. As with the main game, there are storyline missions, side missions and grinding if you want. Overall, I enjoyed Jaws of Hakkon and found it challenging enough to keep me interested.

The second DLC, Dragon Age: Inquisition – Jaws of Hakkon [Online Game Code], was less satisfying to me. Yes, it introduced a couple of new characters, non-playable but companions during the quest. Yes, we got to return to the Deep Roads, one of the more interesting areas we’ve visited in the Dragon Age universe. But the plot was only meh, in my opinion, and it felt too linear and felt like one big grinding exercise. No, that’s not quite right. It felt rushed. Yes, when I finally go back to do another playthrough of DA:I, I will play this DLC, not for the plot but for the items you can grab along the way.

The final DLC, Dragon Age: Inquisition – Trespasser, was released yesterday. It isn’t as long as the previous DLCs and that could be seen as a detriment since it costs the same as the others. However, I didn’t care. This DLC did exactly what Bioware promised. It brought DA:I to a close and it set the stage for the next Dragon Age game (please let there be another one).

trespasser

Trespasser takes place two years after the end of the events of DA:I. It is your chance to find out what happened after the breach was sealed and peace came to Thedas (Of course, peace is never long-lived in that world). The basic starting point is that the Inquisition, which had been welcomed for its help in closing the breach and driving off the bad guys, is now seen as a danger. It is too big, too independent and too well armed. So a conclave has been called to determine what is to become of the Inquisition now.

Once again, you play as the Inquisitor. You have the chance to interact once again with your companions from the main game. But trouble is afoot. That becomes clear very quickly. So, while you leave your advisors to deal with the icky political aspect of what is happening, you and your companions go haring off to some new and some familiar locations in an attempt to track down not only who is behind the trouble but learn why they are doing it.

No, I’m not going to give spoilers here. Just know that this DLC, which I played through in about 4 hours, answers a lot of questions left from the main game and other DLCs. Heck, it even answers a few questions from the first two games. While it does give closure to the game — and you get to choose what will happen to the Inquisition and see the near future consequences of that decision — it also leaves questions open, questions that could be the seeds of the next Dragon Age game. It left me wanting to play the next game when it comes out because there is no doubt Thedas will soon be facing its greatest threat yet.

As I write this, part of me is sad to see the game come to an end. While we might not have seen the backstory of our Inquisitor like we did with Hawke in Dragon Age 2, the Inquistor and companions in DA:I are characters I want to see more of. Perhaps they will make appearances in the next game. But, that is not guaranteed. One character that has been with us since the first Dragon Age game is talking about retirement. Another, one we’ve known since the second game, has been — much to my surprise — raised to a position of political power. A third, who we were also introduced to in the second game, may or may not be the new Divine, depending on decisions you made during the main DA:I game.

Yet, sad that I am to have DA:I over, I have to applaud Bioware for how the did it. The decisions I made during the main game and other DLCs mattered and had an impact on the decisions and outcome of this final DLC. Because of that, and because of the quality of the not only the plot and lore in this last DLC but also the graphics, I give Dragon Age: Inquisition – Trespasser a thumbs up. It is a must for every fan of the game.

One last thing, watch through the credits for what very well may be a hint about where the next Dragon Age game will take place.

I can hardly wait

For years, Bioware has been one of my favorite game developers when it comes to RPGs. There are a number of reasons why but it all really comes down to one main thing — the story. The first Bioware game I remember playing is Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic. That was quickly followed by Jade Empire. Later came the Mass Effect trilogy and the three Dragon Age games. I have played these games across platforms and, for a few, have them for both console and PC.

I’m not one of those who demands that the main playable character be female just because I am. Nor do I worry about what their race or sexual orientation might be. What I worry about are gameplay mechanics and story. Both are integral for my enjoyment of a game but, in an RPG, story takes on even more importance than it does in any other sort of video game.

It’s been a year or more since I’ve put any real game time into playing the Mass Effect games. Instead, I’d been immersed in games like the three Borderlands games, Dragon Age: Inquisition, Tomb Raider and more. I’d revisited games like the Ratchet and Clank games on PS3 (and PS2). Let’s not forget Jax and Daxter as well. All are fun and all for different reasons.

E3 2015 has been going on this week. For those not familiar with it, E3 is sort of like Disneyland for gamers. It is when the major studios and developers announce their upcoming games. Sometimes we get to see in-game play. Other times, we get in-game cinematics. Among the most dramatic announcements this year was the upcoming Fallout 4 and the upcoming release of Final Fantasy VII for Xbox One. For me, one of the highlights was seeing the video from Mass Effect: Andromeda, the long awaited next game in the Mass Effect galaxy.

Bioware hasn’t said much about ME: Andromeda yet. It has said this:

[T]his game is very much a new adventure, taking place far away from and long after the events of the original trilogy. You will play a human, male or female, though that’s actually not the character you saw in the trailer (more on that later). You’ll be exploring an all-new galaxy, Andromeda, and piloting the new and improved Mako you saw. And through it all, you will have a new team of adventurers to work with, learn from, fight alongside of, and fall in love with.

That last sentence is the essence of much of the philosophy surrounding Bioware games. They want a game the gamer can become fully immersed in. There is more to the game than running escort missions or hunter-gather missions. You can develop relationships with the non-playable characters. You can romance them, if you want. If Bioware follows past history, and I know of no reason why it won’t, those romances can be hetero or gay. It doesn’t matter. You choose the path you take, and that includes celibacy.

For now, ME: Andromeda is scheduled to drop during the holiday season of 2016. That is a long time away. Next year’s E3 will give us more, hopefully some gameplay footage as well as an actual release date. Until then, I will play the original Mass Effect trilogy again, maybe more than once since it has been awhile since I last played it. For now, here is the trailer for the upcoming game.

 

 

Revisiting an Old Friend

I love video games. I’ve never made a secret of that. They are what I do in the evening when watching TV with my mother. (Frankly, it is the only way to keep my sanity when she wants to watch her reality TV.) I sit on the sofa with my laptop and am able to do something I enjoy while keeping her company. That’s very important now that she is getting older. Anyway, I digress.

Because of various reasons, I wound up doing a clean install of my gaming laptop a couple of weeks ago. Yes, I backed up my saved game files. But, as I reinstalled some of my favorite games, it gave me the chance to consider whether I wanted to throw those save files onto the HD or start anew. With a couple of games, like Dragon Age: Inquisition where I am still working for 100% completion, and Borderlands 2, I opted not to do so. I still have the files backed up but, if I wanted to play the games again, why not start off clean?

And that brings me around to the reason for this post. Earlier this week, I started replaying the Mass Effect games, starting with the original. Yes, I’ve already played them all several times. Yes, I know the so-called problems with the ending of ME3. I don’t care. Bioware did something very right with this series, something that lets me return to it from time to time and still enjoy playing it.

It cared enough to give us a story we can lose ourselves in. That is why so many people screamed and yelled and pitched a fit over the way ME3 ended. We had lived and breathed as Commander Shepherd, metaphorically speaking, for so long, we couldn’t accept the way the trilogy ended. Even when Bioware issued the “fix”, it wasn’t enough. It was better but, damn it, we wanted Shepherd to live and be reunited with her crew and her love.

Yes, her. That is something else Bioware did right, as it often does. It allowed you to spec out Shepherd to be male or female, gay or straight, good or bad. It let you become invested in a character you would spend hours and hours with over the course of the three games and the various DLCs. I played the games as male and as female. I’ve played as gay, straight and who-gives-a-damn. I’ve played it as good and bad.

So I’ve returned to the Mass Effect universe. This time, I’m playing as a female Shepherd. It’s still too early into ME to decide if I’m going to be good or bad, much less to decide who I’m going to romance — if I romance anyone. And you know what, it doesn’t matter. I’m enjoying myself and that’s all that matters.

I’ll admit, sitting down with ME1 is a little frustrating. The graphics aren’t as sharp as newer games and the gameplay is a bit dodgy at times. But it doesn’t really impact my enjoyment of the game. That’s especially true because I hadn’t played the original Mass Effect in something close to three years. That means I don’t remember where everything is and there are times things happen that surprise me. So my decisions won’t be the same as the last time I played it.

I’ll admit something else as well. ME1 is probably my least favorite of the series. But that’s okay, I still enjoyed it. If I hadn’t, I wouldn’t be replaying it now. In my opinion, the game suffers from the same issues many first entries in a series — book or film or game — often do. It has to build the history and foundation for the series. Bioware does a pretty good job with that part of it. With newer game engines for ME2 and ME3, the gameplay became more fun.

Of the games, ME2 is my favorite. More on that when I start replaying it. Until then, there are Reapers to defeat and plots to uncover. Who knows, there might even be a romance or two to enjoy along the way.

wallpaper-021-femshep-p

 

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