Gears of War – A Reminder of Online Greatness

So I’ve been playing the Gears of War: Ultimate Edition multiplayer beta for the past couple of days now, and it has reminded me of just how great the online component to Gears of War truly is. Managing to finally pull myself away from the ongoing beta, I’ve decided to briefly discuss what makes the multiplayer of Gears of War so damn good. Much to my surprise, I’ve never really thought about it before.

From this brief revisit to Gears of War’s hellish online landscape, I walked away with a few mental notes on why it is, despite the unrelenting punishment it dishes out, such a great joy to play. Specifically, during the handful of hours I played the beta, I was drawn towards three focus points: Challenge, demand, and intensity. Three aspects of Gears’ online space that contribute to its resounding success. large_courtyard_xboxone-1467b351e1744811a5951b36a641fed3

The Challenge

The multiplayer environment of Gear of War is absolutely punishing. Well, initially it is. I’ve not played a Gears of War game for years, and thus the first couple of matches I played in this multiplayer beta were…frustrating, to say the least. Truth be told, I was getting my ass handed to me. Typical of a bad loser, I blamed various aspects of the game in my heated rage for my abysmal performances.

Of course, the game had nothing to do with it. My impatience was simply getting the better of me. And I guess, currently thinking about it, this is perhaps indicative of the impact modern-day shooters have had on me. Slight tangent incoming…

You see, no disrespect to the likes of Call of Duty, Battlefield, and Titanfall, but these titles are child’s play in comparison to the Gears of War series. Racking up kills on those particular video games is a walk-in-the-park. Gears of War, on the other hand, demands patience and team work, it demands constant vigilance.large_delta2_xboxone-582c10c417e347c88dd9a20920dc6db1In the other games I’ve listed above, to put it simply, it’s “gung-ho” warfare. To elucidate slightly further, the likes of Call of Duty and Titanfall do not require you to use your brain all that much. Seemingly, playing such games has made me impatient to the more skill-based games out there.

But back to the point: This challenging aspect of Gears of War leads to the creation of a greatly rewarding landscape. Like I’ve already touched upon, most newcomers and returning players to the Gears of War online space are in for a rough ride initially. However, once you start learning/re-learning the ropes, once you begin to really apply yourself to becoming a better player, you start to become the punisher instead of the punished. The feeling during such a moment, as I’ve been alluding to, is oh-so wonderful.

When you finish top of the table in a Gears of War match, it’s understandable if you’re then looking around your room for a roaring and applauding crowd. The bigger the challenge, the bigger the reward!

The Demand

The challenge of Gears of War multiplayer demands application. You are required to dedicate the entirety of your attention to the match at hand. To deviate from this requirement is to end up being obliterated by the opposing team. In Call of Duty — I swear I have nothing against this game, it’s just a good comparison — if you have a bad game, if you pause mid-game to make yourself a cup of tea and eat a quick snack, your absence is unlikely to be significant to the end result. large_gridlock_xboxone-9e530f49d9084e5fb8ac3700f3651f7cIn Gears of War, if you aren’t playing well, chances are your team is going to lose the game, and this ingrains a sense of tremendous guilt. Four players on each team is not many, thus if one player decides to shoot at walls and explore the nooks and crannies of the map as if they’re on some sort of bizarre vacation, it is always infuriating due to the negative impact on the team it inevitably has. Your team demands your best. Anything less, and you will feel like hiding under a rock until the game is done.

I’m certain some are intimidated by the demanding nature of this series, and I’m sure many have shunned this franchise as a result of that fear. For me, I relish both the demand and the challenge of the Gears of War series. Again, it links back to that notion of players using their noggin to think tactically and intelligently. The old “run ‘n gun” approach is easy and simplistic. Fun, but too simple for my liking.

The Intensity 

Together, the challenge of Gears of War and the demand that follows creates an online shooter of pure intensity. The bulk of this intensity stems from the individual confrontations you encounter during the game.large_hazing_xboxone-1e73d625110c43c5ae7c5670dbf24b19E3 2015 has recently concluded, and whilst planning out this post, I couldn’t help but cast my mind back to one of the Ubisoft games that was presented during the Ubisoft press conference – Ubisoft Montreal Studio’s For Honor. The reason I’m thinking of this game in regards to the Gears of War multiplayer is because of the individual battles you encounter within it.

For Honor emphasises one-on-one combat, combat that doesn’t end in a flash but persists and unfolds in a somewhat tactical, authentic, violent manner. Gears of War combat is similar to this. When faced with an opponent in Gears of War, this is when that intensity I mentioned arises. You need to think about this fight on your feet, in the heat of battle. You need to manoeuvre and avoid, whilst at the same time attempt to land that deadly shot and walk away victorious and profoundly satisfied. Battles can last mere seconds, or they can drag-out in a sluggish but heart-pounding manner.

From playing the Gears of War: Ultimate Edition multiplayer beta, I am drooling over the thought of experiencing next year’s Gears of War 4, but also tempted to lay down my purchase for Gears of War: Ultimate Edition right now. Are you a fan of Gears’ multiplayer? See it in the same way I do? Sound-off in the comment section. 

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E3 2015 – Top Five Showings/Announcements

1. Fallout 4 [November 10, 2015] *PC, XBOX ONE, PS4*

Fallout
When the charming Todd Howard, game director at Bethesda Game Studios, arrived on stage and began to show us various chunks of Fallout 4 and its gameplay, I couldn’t stop shaking my head in disbelief. Then, when Todd started to elucidate on the myriad of features and mechanics we were observing in action, I think the words, “get the fuck out of here” shot out of my mouth. I probably repeated those exact words over a dozen times during the entire Todd Howard segment.

Fallout 4 is the best video game of E3 2015 by a significantly large distance. At the time of this showcase, I believe I described what I was witnessing as a giant leap forward for the franchise. I’ll take that statement a step further and state how, if what was shown of Fallout 4 becomes a reality upon its release, it will also be a leap forward for the video game industry.

A seemingly elaborate crafting/building system, a notable visual upgrade to environments and character models, the addition of a voiced protagonist with many a line of optional dialogue, customisation above and beyond what has come before…the list of improvements and new additions is almost endless. All of this ingrained into that fantastic post-apocalyptic open-world setting makes this a game I am desperate to experience.

2. Halo 5: Guardians [October 27, 2015] *Xbox one*

Halo 5
Whilst the short co-op campaign demo shown of Halo 5: Guardians was nothing ground-breaking nor spectacular, as a Halo fan, it still managed to capture and sustain my attention. I find the premise of the the story intriguing, and the move away from the lone-wolf warrior tale to this more squad-based story is probably the thing I’m most excited for.

From what I remember, I enjoyed Halo: Reach and the group of Spartans the story followed. Simply put, I feel the more characters that surround you, the more story you’re going to get. Instead of caring about one or two characters, you’re going to be caring — depending on whether they are written well — about three or four.

The demo showed Spartan Locke and his squad — which includes Buck (Nathan Fillion) from Halo: ODST — as they battle their way through Covenant and Promethean forces to catch-up to the hunted Master Chief. This glimpse of Spartan Locke and his squad (Vale, Buck, and Tanaka) has me excited, and the issuing of commands to your squad is a nice, little addition. Also, the voice performances of the characters sounded great.

We were also shown some footage of the multiplayer, specifically the new game mode ‘Warzone’. Warzone will have you battling both players and AI. Two teams of twelve will battle over numerous objectives, attaining points that can be cashed in for better equipment. Halo multiplayer is always a blast, and I look forward to this latest take on it.

3. Xbox One Backwards COMPATIBILITY [This Holiday]

This was a great moment in the Microsoft press conference and, obviously by me including it here, one of the best moments of the entire E3 show. I don’t believe a news announcement has ever sent shivers down my spine before, but this one, as a result of the reception it received, actually managed to achieve exactly that.

Since taking over as head of Microsoft’s Xbox division, Phil Spencer has yet to make a mistake, and as a result, has developed a strong bond with both the Xbox community and the gaming community as a whole. Having the pleasure of making this announcement must have been a real joy.  

No one saw this coming. When it did, the roaring applause and cheering from the crowd was spectacular. I possess a vast collection of Xbox 360 games — most of which are digital — from Mass Effect and Assassin’s Creed 2 to Fable 3 and Red Dead Redemption, and thus I can’t wait to re-experience these great titles on my Xbox One console in a seamless manner. But this is not the main factor in my decision to include this in my top five list of E3 announcements and showings. No, the main reason is because Microsoft really didn’t have to do this.

As far as I can tell, Microsoft aren’t making any money from this, although I’m sure some people will purchase Xbox One consoles after hearing this news. What I mean to say is, it’s not like we are having to pay for a service to make use of backwards compatibility or pay for the games we already own on our Xbox 360 consoles.

The pursuit of backwards compatibility illustrates a commitment to gamers and a commitment to games. If the Xbox division had remained under the leadership of Don Mattrick, you can be sure that backwards compatibility would have never materialised, no matter the demand. So, credit to Phil Spencer.

4. Dishonored 2/Dishonored Definitive Edition [2016/August 25, 2015] *PC, Xbox one, ps4*

Dishonored 2As a result of a…blunder that occurred recently in the Bethesda household, we pretty much knew a new Dishonored was on its way. Even so, my body still responded in a surprised manner when Arkane Studios’ co-creative directors Harvey Smith and Raphael Colantonio walked-out on stage to announce the expected. I am still in a jolly-shock state at what was presented. As a big fan of Dishonored, this sequel is something I have desired since finishing the original way back in 2012.

The cinematic trailer that was shown-off during the conference depicted a more technological world, and also one in which returning character Emily Kaldwin takes a leading role as the game’s protagonist (or second protagonist, as it was confirmed you will be able to play as both Emily and/or Corvo). Of course, we would have all loved to observe a gameplay demonstration, but I guess the sole cinematic trailer presented is indicative that the project still has some way to go. [Update: I believe the reports are that Dishonored 2 is releasing Spring 2016.]

Emily is all grown-up now and has seemingly followed in the footsteps of the assassin Corvo (protagonist from first game). The Outsider — the returning supernatural being — is narrating the trailer, setting the scene of the narrative somewhat: A usurper has seized the throne from empress Emily, and it appears the core of the story will follow her quest to see it returned. The Outsider gave extraordinary powers to Corvo in the first game and has now done the same with Emily. These powers were integral to the success of Dishonored.

Alongside the announcement of Dishonored 2, we were also informed of Dishonored: Definitive Edition — a revamp of Dishonored, which includes all DLC and enhanced graphics — being released later this year. Now, where is my wallet?

5. Microsoft HoloLens 

The HoloLens has received quite the response since its announcement, and this response has been burgeoning for the past few months. I feel this to be primarily as a result of this device being truly different to the various virtual reality devices currently floating around out there. However, like with all the VR devices being showcased, from Project Morpheus to the Oculus Rift, I’ve also been watching the HoloLens cautiously. This augmented reality device is not on this list for the excitement it rallied within me, but instead due to the profound intrigue I feel towards it.

Microsoft employees continue to share their belief that this device holds great potential for the world of gaming, but I have yet to adopt that sentiment. Currently, the only game being associated with the HoloLens to illustrate this mass potential is Minecraft. Although, I did read an article on IGN earlier in which Ryan Mccaffrey described a Halo 5: Guardians HoloLens tech-demo. He seemed pretty impressed.

During the Microsoft press conference, we saw a live demo — which is incredibly brave — in which the user of the HoloLens engaged with Minecraft on the surface of a table. It was rather brilliant, and you can watch it in the video below. Overall, HoloLens still has a long way to go before I’m convinced by its potential on my gaming experiences, but as it stands, I am eager to see and learn more. 

There are many more games and news stories that brought a smile to my face and in which I will talk about in later posts. But, for now, this is my top five list of what I’ve seen at E3 thus far. Perhaps I’ll alter this list in the following days depending on what else springs up. What has captivated you during E3?

Fallout 4 Impressions (Reveal Trailer)

Fallout 4 has been officially announced. We can all breathe now. The never-ending and, on the whole, unfounded rumours circulating the web are over and done with…well, the rumours regarding the possible reveal of a Fallout 4 are now finished, but the rumours surrounding the story, world, and gameplay features of Fallout 4 are only now just beginning. Rumours…rumours never change…You’re right, that didn’t work. I apologise. THEY CHANGE ALL THE TIME.Fallout ProtagonistSo, what are my thoughts on that spine-tingly three-minute trailer? Well, children of the wasteland, gather around the camp-fire, put your pip-boys to one side, and listen closely to the tale titled “Fallout 4 Impressions”, of which I’m about to deliver. *Side Note* This will be rough, surface-level analysis. It’s only a reveal trailer, after all. When E3 arrives, I’ll dive much deeper into my thoughts and analysis.

This trailer opened up exactly how I believe we all expected it to, reminiscent to the reveal trailer of Fallout 3. The vibe and tone that the Fallout series has become renowned for was most certainly felt throughout the entirety of this trailer, which is incredibly important to note. Those 1940/1950 tracks playing as you wander the post apocalyptic wasteland have become iconic aspects of this wonderful series.

In the case of this particular trailer, specifically the opening section, The Ink Spots’ – It’s All Over But The Crying – played as the camera slowly followed a dog (companion) wander through a post-apocalyptic home, with flashbacks depicting the time before the “great war” sporadically appearing. It was a great opening that had me leaning back in my chair with a giant grin spread across my face. Fallout 3But I digress ever-so slightly. Reveal trailers/teasers do not tend to be all that revealing, but this trailer happened to reveal a fair amount. We saw multiple locations – which gave off the vibe that there will be an even bigger emphasis on open-world exploration in comparison to previous entries. Open-world is, after all, all the rage at the moment. As well as this, I felt it depicted a more brighter setting for humanity than what has been explored in the previous Fallout instalments.

Obviously the notably colourful nature of this game plays its part in painting this more optimistic post-apocalyptic environment, but it was more to do with the fact that we saw a few lively city environments, as well as a handful of ships taking to the sky. It had this “humanity reclamation” underlying message to it, I feel.

This now has me thinking if this could be more politically themed than previous titles, due to the fact it appears, from the trailer, that humanity is rising once more, gaining power. What I mean by “political” is governing bodies/factions battling one another, corruption, power cravings, etc. I realise I’m perhaps reaching with this speculative thought.

On top of this, it is also most definitely worth mentioning that our hero — I’m sure we’ll still be able to customise them — seemingly has a voice. A voice that sounds a lot like the constantly in-demand (Not that I’m complaining) Troy Baker. I could be wrong on this one. This obviously poses significance to the narrative of this game, but it’s also simply a nice, welcome addition. Furthermore, if choice of gender still exists, a female voice actress will no doubt exist alongside the male voice actor as an alternative. Fallout 4In terms of visuals, somewhat of a hot talking-point in regards to this series, I have to say that I picked-up on some noteworthy improvement. I personally saw this level of graphical improvement predominantly in that last shot with the protagonist and his dog companion.

The character model of the protagonist looked smooth, unlike the rough character models in the previous Fallout titles. I realise describing the character model solely as “smooth” is hardly singing from the rooftops at this great graphical leap forward, but for this series it’s kind of a big deal. However, with all this being said, it did still, at times, look a little rough. Fallout rough. Which is okay.

All-in-all, I thought the trailer was fantastic. Obviously much more will arrive during E3, but I felt we were shown — given the fact this is the reveal — a more than sufficient amount of information in the trailer. Most would have shown a cinematic trailer or a five-second uninformative tease. I could most likely continue on with speculation stemming from my consumption of this reveal trailer, but I feel that could be an endless, tiresome journey for both of us. ‘Till next time, vault dwellers.

The Year Ahead

Remember last year? Yeah, me neither. Actually, who am I kidding… I remember it all. From the broken to the delayed to the immensely hyped and ambitious video games that ended up drowning in disappointment. I’ve stated it in my previous post, and I’ll state it again now: I can’t recall — specifically in regards to storytelling/writing — a worse year than last year for this industry.

But the past is the past, and so let’s instead look ahead at what 2015 has to offer. Both excitement and cynicism await you in the depths of this post. You have been warned…but you’ve also been informed.

Halo 5: Guardians [Fall 2015]

Halo 5Starting with, arguably, the biggest video game release of 2015, Halo 5: Guardians is sitting comfortably at the very top of my excitement list. This does, however, come with its frustration, given the fact I won’t be able to play the game until Fall of this year. Patience is not one of my virtues.

However, more to the point of this section, the Halo franchise has been a huge part of my life since childhood. Quite frankly, very little has come close to the achievements in which it has conquered over the years. I’ve also recently re-experienced the four great Halo campaigns on Halo: The Master Chief Collection, from which I was temporarily knocked into a coma by a nostalgic upper-cut. I’m okay.

Oh, also, this will be the first Halo title tailor-made for our next-generation systems. Space is going to look magnificent…I like space. Shooting alien life-forms, I imagine, will also look spectacular.

Batman: Arkham Knight [June 2, 2015] 

BatmanThe Batman Arkham series has been a true pleasure to experience over the years. From the flawless, iconic, and engaging combat to the enthralling settings we’re taken to in each and every Arkham instalment, the Batman Arkham series has certainly cemented itself as one of the greats within this industry.

Batman: Arkham Knight will be, correct me if I’m wrong, the final entry into this superb and gritty series. Returning to its parent developer, Rocksteady Studios, having previously (Batman: Arkham Origins) been under development of Warner Bros. Games Montréal, fans can confidently expect an explosive conclusion of the highest quality. A return to glory, if you like. Personally, I enjoyed Batman: Arkham Origins — it seems most didn’t — but I feel there is no debate to be had when it comes to who produces the best Batman Arkham video games in the series.

I’m looking forward to fighting thugs, confronting iconic villains, and generally just immersing myself back into that renowned Batman Arkham atmosphere.

Tom Clancy’s The Division [2015…hopefully] 

The Division 2This one is somewhat concerning but, nonetheless, tremendously exciting. When Tom Clancy’s The Division was revealed at E3 2013, everybody, and I mean everybody — well, maybe not everybody, but a lot of people — was blown away by the footage shown on screen. Visually, it’s one of the best looking video games I have ever laid eyes upon. Perhaps the best. Then there’s the premise it pursues. An America in chaos following the rapid spreading of a deadly, crippling disease on busy Black Friday. It has that post-apocalyptic feel to it, and I love a post-apocalypse.

There is plenty to be optimistic about in regards to this hotly anticipated video game, but there is equally plenty to be concerned about. Ubisoft endured a dreadful year last year. They no doubt made a lot of money, but they also no doubt raised a lot of eyebrows in the process. If it wasn’t controversial comments/decisions, it was weak and uninspiring video game releases. For me, Far Cry 4 was not nearly as engaging as its predecessor, and Assassin’s Creed Unity, I hear, was/is almost unplayable.

However, it is Watch Dogs and the manner in which its build-up to release panned-out that has me concerned over Tom Clancy’s The Division. Watch Dogs, like Tom Clancy’s The Division, managed to create instant excitement during its reveal at E3. The marketing that followed created a hype like nothing I have ever seen before. Then the release occurred, from which many individuals were left unhappy with its failing to meet the hype in which it had created for itself. I just fear slightly that Tom Clancy’s The Division might follow suit and fall to the same mistakes. We will see.

*I have a handful of other areas I wish to cover in this post, so I’ll keep this next part as short and sweet as possible.*

Quantum Break [2015]

Quantum BreakRemedy Entertainment, the creators of Alan Wake and Max Payne, are the talented folk responsible for this ambitiously unique project. This, for me, is enough. I absolutely adored Alan Wake, and I believe it deserved so much more credit and popularity than it actually attained. I recognise Quantum Break is not quite in the same bracket as Alan Wake, but I feel the two do possess a few similar aspects to one another. Those aspects being mystery, intrigue, and imaginative writing. A solid foundation from which to work with.

Inside [2015] 

INSIDEIf you are unaware of this indie video game, I recommend watching the eerie trailer for it. Ultimately, the trailer is all that exists for this video game at this current stage. However, the fact that a single trailer, revealed at E3 2014, has managed to have such an impact on myself should say a lot about the actual product and its potential. It’s also worth mentioning that this game is being developed by the developers of the successful indie title, Limbo. Perhaps more reason, if you enjoyed Limbo, to watch the progress of this game in the ensuing months ahead.

ADDITIONALLY…

Besides the video game releases of 2015, I’m also excited for, as I am each year, E3. I could sit here and write for hours and hours attempting to predict what will show-up and what could potentially steal the show, but instead I’ll just throw a few video game titles up in the air for you to pick and choose as you please.

  • Fallout 4 – People want this video game, and they have been making that perfectly clear for a number of years now. Rumours have been flying around for a while also, so who’s to say that it’s not in the realm of possibility? Just a 5 second trailer is more than enough for myself.
  • Mirrors Edge – I’m a fan of the first, and I can’t wait for the reboot (It is a reboot, right?) Loved the setting, was enchanted by the music, I can’t wait.
  • Mass Effect – Mass Effect is my favourite video game series of all time. I believe last year we were provided with a teeny glimpse — more of a developer commentary — into what we can expect for the next Mass Effect. Again, like Fallout 4, anything will do.
  • NEW IP – Please, please, pleeeaase let there be some exciting new IP to drool over. It has been far too long.

My Concerns…

  • Delays – Need I say more? It’s a problem that seems to be getting worse and worse. I have no doubt that a great number of delays are incoming.
  • Lack of Greatness – I’ve made my opinion on last year perfectly clear. Greatness was completely absent. I haven’t experienced a great video game in over a year…I feel the end of days is nigh. Fingers crossed something rises above the pack.
  • Unfinished/Unprepared Products – I reckon we all experienced it at one point or another last year. Video games riddled with bugs. Dragon Age: Inquisition was at the top of the pile for me in this regard. We should all brace ourselves for this inevitability.

What are you EXCITED for? What concerns do you have? Feel Free to make a comment.

The Story of 2014… Or Lack of

The Video Game Awards was held recently and, if I’m not mistaken, took the form (once again) of a new layout. Admittedly, I did not watch it this year, but this was primarily because it was aired after midnight here in the UK, and I was too tired to endure the long hours inevitably ahead. On the whole, it appears the show was a success, managing to deviate from the shambolic approach pursued in previous years and, in the process, satisfy both gamer and developer. FC4ScreenShot_11_165473However, there was another reason for my lack of participation in this celebratory event. In all of the years that I’ve been gaming, I genuinely struggle to recall a worse year for the video game medium than the one we still, unfortunately, find ourselves in. I’m focusing specifically on the dreadful storytelling of this year, rather than the good variety of gameplay experiences produced. Quite simply put, it has been a year to forget in regards to the quality of video game writing and narrative. 

I’ve said it time-and-time again and I’ll say it again now: I’ve invariably and firmly believed that the video game medium not only offers some of the best stories in existence, but is also the absolute best place to experience story. This alarmingly disappointing year has shaken the foundations of this personal belief somewhat. 

I don’t know about you, but I can’t point to a single game this year that managed to deliver something special and memorable. Even the annually released triple-A games that always manage to deliver a reasonable level of quality have fallen drastically short of expectation e.g. Assassin’s Creed: Unity, Far Cry 4, etc. 

Don’t get me wrong, it has not been a total disaster this year. There have been plenty of good games produced throughout 2014, and there has even been a handful of very good games worth mentioning — The Wolf Among Us, Wolfenstein: The New Order, Dragon Age: Inquisition — but the industry has always been, at least in my lifetime, a place inundated in greatness. Video game developers pushing the limits and striving towards exceptional quality has been the norm for this wonderful medium for such a very long time. ONLINE_240214_ss11

Answering the question as to why story-focused games have been so lacklustre this year is a rather simple process: 

  • Great storytellers have become few in number – When I think of great, distinct storytellers within this medium, I think of Ken Levine and the team at Irrational Games, David Cage and Quantic Dream, Drew Karpyshyn and BioWare, Neil Druckmann and Naughty Dog. Some of these individuals have moved on to different projects and find themselves in a transitional period, making the list even smaller. The industry, if this year is anything to go by, is in desperate need of more individuals with strong, ambitious, unique visions for narrative-driven video games.
  • And then there’s the age-old issue always involved…money – New generation, new hardware, gamer desires/demands increase once more, and thus more money is pumped into video game development, which also applies more pressure onto the development scene. Publishers invest heavily and seek a hefty return from their investment. “What sells?” they ask. “Multiplayer, shared universes, massive open-worlds,” they all shout out in sync with one another. “Certainly not the risky business of storytelling.”

To emphasise just how below par this year has been in regards to storytelling, let me compare it to how previous years have tended to unfold. Typically, each year I will experience two, maybe three, truly great video games, and then a wealth of enjoyable experiences scattered throughout the year. Last year, for example, I had Naughty Dog’s The Last of Us and Irrational Games’ BioShock Infinite to satisfy my need for enthralling story. These two games are above and beyond most video games when it comes to narrative.

BioShock Infinite was my favourite video game of last year, in which it also became one of my favourite video games of all time. I also absolutely loved Quantic Dream’s Beyond: Two Souls. Alongside these great story-driven video games, I also experienced splendid titles such as Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons, Gone Home, and Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag.

From which, if we travel slightly further back in time to 2012, I was able to lose myself in the great stories of Mass Effect 3, Dishonored, Journey, and even the surprise hit, Spec-Ops: The Line. In 2011, I got to experience one of the greatest video games ever made, The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, in which I spent countless hours engaged with both the lore of the world and the innumerable amount of stories on offer. screenshot-122-omega-oAlso in 2011, I was able to battle iconic villains as the caped-crusader Batman in the excellently crafted Batman: Arkham City, and then, on top of all these fantastic titles, along too came the brilliant Portal 2 and Gears of War 3. 

In 2010, Rockstar’s wild-west success, Red Dead: Redemption, exploded onto the scene with mass critical praise. A video game of tremendous ambition, touching upon perfection in a lot of the areas it explored. Throughout that same year, special titles such as Alan Wake, Halo Reach, Mafia II, and Fallout New Vegas were also thrown into the great mix of narrative-based video games

I’m sure I could research even further back and find the same level of quality as the examples I’ve listed already. I feel most of us can agree, more so now having studied the previous years of this industry, that 2014 has indeed been a shocker in delivering the storytelling experience so many of us crave. If I’m honest, as it currently stands, the video game line-up of 2015 shares a similar story, or lack of, to 2014. Hopefully, this will not be the case.

Dragon Age: Inquisition – A General Discussion

The advent of BioWare’s Dragon Age: Inquisition is fast approaching. Only a few weeks remain until us Dragon Age fans will finally find ourselves journeying across the fragile world of Thedas, leading the Inquisition and vanquishing the evil that plagues the seemingly rich and beautiful open-world. I am excited, to say the least.

I’ll be frank, it’s been a number of years since I’ve felt such an intense level of anticipation for a video game. I believe the last game, for me, to cause such a wild storm of energy and joy in the lead-up to its release was that of Mass Effect 3. The quality of BioWare video games is, on the whole, unrivalled. Morrigan_WM_webBioWare is a development company I admire substantially. In fact, BioWare has been, since my encounter with the first Mass Effect instalment way back in 2007, my all-time favourite video game developer. BioWare almost always manage to deliver astonishing stories that feed my never-ending appetite for great narrative. They are renowned for their emotionally-driven adventures, of which are invariably filled with a myriad of memorably complex characters.

Anyway, enough talk of my fondness for BioWare. I wanted to write this post primarily to express my excitement for Dragon Age: Inquisition, as well as offering an insight into how I intend to approach it, e.g. what class and race will I pick, what will my character be like, what difficulty will I select, etc. I’d love to hear what you’re looking forward to with this upcoming RPG and how you will be playing through the lengthy and, no doubt, remarkable story on offer. Tell me in the comment section below.

So, first things first: what class and race will I choose to play as in my first playthrough? Initially, I was determined to create an elven mage. However, I’m now slightly torn between an elven mage and a warrior/mage Qunari. The Qunari, I think we can all agree, look the most…badass, and now that the opportunity to play as one has materialised, I’m somewhat tempted. The aggressive, towering presence in which they possess is always intimidating to others, and their stern decision making is something I can respect.

I feel the reluctance I hold in regards to playing as a Qunari comes due to the fact I’ve never, to my recollection, encountered a Qunari with a “human-esque” personality. Correct me if I’m wrong but every Qunari to have ever graced the franchise with an appearance has always been rather aggressive and monotone. Almost copies of one another.They’re, perhaps, too strict for my liking, both in terms of personality and appearance. Varric_01_WM_web
Of course, playing as a Qunari in Dragon Age: Inquisition would likely provide me with the opportunity to carve out a deep personality. However, unfortunately I just can’t see myself shaking this issue I’ve always held with them. I don’t particularly want to spend my time and energy creating a brilliant looking Qunari just to discover that the character in-game is excessively solemn and lacking in identity.

I believe, all-in-all, it’s probable that I’ll be going with an elven mage. Cultured, elegant in both communication and battle, and rather sharp looking…The Dalish, at least. City elves not so much. You can’t go wrong with an elf…except for the discrimination and oppression in which they suffer.

Now, when it comes to games that offer character customisation, whether it be FIFA, The Elder Scrolls, Saints Row, or Dragon Age, I always attempt – admittedly, not often successfully — to create the virtual me. Obviously trying to incorporate my exact image into the protagonist is never easy, but I always endeavour to include defining aspects of myself, e.g. hair style/colour, eye colour, cheek height, neck thickness, etc.

I’m interested to know how you go about making your protagonists in video games. Are you a random generator kind of person, or do you aim for the perfect, heroic looking character? I spend quite a ridiculous amount of time customising my hero/heroin.  Screen6_ENWith my race, class, and appearance discussed, let’s move onto my planned play-style. Firstly, in regards to how I aim to conduct myself within Thedas, I’m always the hero in such video games. Again, like my appearance, I try to insert myself into every aspect of the protagonist, this includes personality.

I’m a good, kind, moral guy in reality, but like everyone, I also have my flaws. My anger can get the better of me on occasion, as too can my ever-so trusting/sympathetic nature. I’m also very open and candid with people, certainly not deceitful. I’m an individual of pure intentions, who always strives to do the right thing.

Put into practice, let’s say my hero is given the choice of liberating an imprisoned mage or keeping them locked away. This mage comes across as an innocent person, arguing his case for being wrongly imprisoned articulately and convincingly. Being the foolishly trusting, nice guy that I am, I free the mage from his shackles. Later, however, the mage returns to kill a close companion of mine.

When the option to execute this mage arises, I take it without hesitation, despite the fact I have been recently informed that this mage belongs to a faction who will retaliate in an aggressive and brutal manner. The fact is, anyone who wrongs me faces my vindictive wrath. Mercy is banished from my vocabulary when I am confronted with injustice. Deep down I recognise more death will likely occur by killing this mage, but my thirst for vengeance can take over in heated moments. Dragon AgeSo, I’ll be the “good” guy during my playthough, helping the innocent whenever possible and crushing evil whenever it shows its presence, but I fear I will make moral missteps during my journey. I like the sound of this protagonist already.

Now, moving onto the issue of how I will actually play Dragon Age: Inquisition, well, I will be focusing my attention on being an extremely offensive mage. I’ll leave primary support duties to the likes of Dorian or Vivienne as I use the bulk of my mana to deal substantial damage to enemies. Support will be on my mind when the challenge ahead is great, but I’m of the mindset of striking as hard and fast as possible. I don’t want confrontations dragging out and leaving my companions in weakened conditions.

My three companions will likely consist of one ranged class, a “tank” (heavy damage dealer), and perhaps a rogue. I’m certain I’ll mix this group up from time-to-time, but overall, I think this is my preferred party of choice. At some point, I have no doubt Varric will inevitably force his way into my party with his glorious charm and wit.

Something I desire to hear an opinion on is whether I should play on normal or hard difficulty. These days, I seldom ever experience a video game on a hard difficulty setting. I feel that the challenge it will pose In Dragon Age: Inquisition will not only add more hours to the already, supposedly, lengthy game but also allow me to fully engage with the tactical design to combat. I love the tactical aspect that has been continuously emphasised in the build-up to this latest Dragon Age instalment. Inquisitor_02_WM_webMy only concern with the harder difficulties is facing enemies that demand a grinding attitude and many a spare hour, specifically enemies such as dragons and “bosses”. I’m confident I can handle the regular battles. You see, In Dragon Age 2, I endured a hard time facing the dragons and bosses, and this was on normal difficulty. How do you think I should approach this? Will the increased difficulty enhance the overall experience? I’m currently leaning towards this option.

Finally, I’d just like to conclude this post with a handful of things that have stood-out to me thus far in regards to Dragon Age: Inquisition. In no particular order: 

  • The explosions of colour during combat – It sounds slightly bizarre, but this aspect of the game has really put a smile on my face. Having watched numerous gameplay videos of Dragon Age: Inquisition, the explosions of colour during scenes of combat are incredibly satisfying to behold. It’s actually one of the reasons I wanted to be a mage, due to the fact that the mages are largely responsible for the visual spectacles that unfold.
  • Art design – Graphically, the world looks stunning. But I’ve always preferred the art direction of a game. I’ve talked about the usage of colour in Dragon Age: Inquisition, but the overall art style of the game is truly wonderful. From character models to environments, I can’t wait to immerse myself in the world of Thedas.
  • Scale – It’s obvious this game is going to be rather large. All these different places to visit and explore, innumerable side quests to pursue, the traditionally long campaign… everything you want from an RPG. I’ll be lost in the world of Thedas for countless hours, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
  • The high-levels of passion and effort BioWare have clearly poured into this game -Hearing the developers talk about the game in interviews and whatnot has shown me how desperate they are to get the Dragon Age franchise back on track. Rarely is a corner cut with BioWare, and I don’t expect that to change here.

Hatred – Thoughts & Feelings

“Hatred is an isometric shooter with disturbing atmosphere of mass killing, where player takes the role of a cold blood antagonist, who is full of hatred for humanity. It’s a horror, but here YOU are the villain. Wander the outskirts of New York State, seek for victims on seven free-roam levels. Fight against law enforcement and take a journey into the antagonist’s hateful mind. Gather equipment of the dead ‘human shields’ to spread Armageddon upon society. Destroy everything on your way of hunt and fight back when it’s disturbed…” – Destructive CreationsHatred ScreenThe trailer for this recently announced game was made public a number of weeks back, and if you’ve watched it, I imagine you share the same feelings as myself and the majority of others who have also watched it. I was profoundly uncomfortable whilst watching this trailer. On one hand, you can say the developer achieved their objective with the trailer – Capture attention. On the other hand, I wouldn’t play this game even if it was offered freely. Keep in mind that’s just my personal opinion. The studio behind the project are entitled to create whatever they want.

The chilling tone and brutal gameplay delivered through the trailer has created quite the stir within the gaming community, a stir that the development studio, Destructive Creations, is rather satisfied with. “We wish to thank all of our haters and all upset press for a great marketing campaign they’ve done for us”- The comment part of a larger post found on the developer’s official website.

Surprisingly, mainstream media has yet to fully dissect this game. With that being said, I’m sure the time will come in which the game is used by mainstream reporting establishments to condemn the industry in regards to its supposed encouragement of violence. I do realise my input on the title in question is slightly late, but, all the same, I’d like to share my general thoughts and feelings on it. Likely, I’ll just be repeating the verdict that many have already offered.

Firstly, the general consensus held in regards to this grotesque title is one of negativity. People, including myself, are not impressed with the focus of this isometric shooter – mass murder. Speaking candidly, it was obvious from the moment I watched the trailer that the game and its controversial theme had been created specifically to spark heated debate and, in the process, garner attention. This belief is validated more-so by the fact this is Destructive Creations’ first game. Controversy draws crowds. hatred_cops.0When it comes to that question many have immediately asked themselves upon consuming the trailer: should this game see the light of day? Well, yes it should. It’s violent, grim, and horrific, but there are plenty of other games in existence that possess, if not the same level of violence as Hatred, an increased level of violence. If games such as Gears of War and Grand Theft Auto can see release — GoW allowing you to cut people in half with a chainsaw, GTA V providing a torture gameplay sequence — then Hatred should be able to exist too. To prevent the publication of this game would be unjust.

Then we come to the question of whether or not I would I like to see it released? The answer to that is no, certainly not. A game such as this is only going to damage the industry’s image, and I love this industry. Violence in video games is always a hot topic, with individuals – mostly ignorant to fact – relentless in their attempts to see the crucifixion of the video game medium. As I touched upon earlier in the post, Hatred will be the go-to game for mainstream media after a mass murder occurs, and the perpetrator just happens to play video games.

In an extreme scenario, those in positions of power could enforce restrictions upon the industry as a result of such a game being released. As I said though, that’s an extreme scenario. I can’t see such an event ever actually occurring, especially from just the one game. The possibility, however, remains present for me. Just take a look at Australia’s stance on censorship. It’s a subject that ceases to disappear. 

Ultimately, the issue with Hatred comes in the form of its focal point. Playing as this dark, twisted serial killer – he’s certainly no Dexter – with the, seemingly, only goal being that of mass murder is just distasteful. No doubt certain individuals will continue to resolutely point the finger at GTA, GoW, Dead Rising, etc., and say, “why are those games accepted but Hatred rejected?” From which my only reply and justification is that with those other games I’ve mentioned, they focus on storytelling, humour, etc. GTA allows you to mow down, petrol bomb, decapitate (GTA Vice City) pedestrians, but that is not its focus. Its satirical-infused story is. Mass murder is Hatred’s only focus.