Archive for April, 2017

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ME: AGAIN

What sold Mass Effect 1 (and its world) to me, was that moment on the citadel, still very early in the game. Shepard starts out in the human embassy. All embassies are in the same “wing” of the citadel, so walking into all the other embassies was the first thing I did. Some civilizations were deemed so unimportant, that they were stuffed into the same room even. One of them has the Elcor and Volus in it (I think) and the Volus ambassador complains, because the humans get bigger influence, although they arrived last on the citadel. Whether they are actually getting the short end of the stick wasn’t entirely clear to me, but just knowing that there are several factions with their own agendas, actual politics, made this world work. It gave this universe life. It made it interesting.

ME:A has none of that stuff. The helios cluster is an empty, isolated place in comparison. There are no new places/civilizations/cultures […] to discover. Even the ones brought from the old series were essentially robbed of their culture, because now, they all just blend together as AI members. They are empty faces without meaning now.

This even swaps over to multiplayer. In ME3, most of the maps were very beautiful, incredibly detailed, with many animated objects which made everything feel… if not alive then at least functional. It was always obvious at first glance, if a map was supposed to be on the Asari homeworld or if it was a Cerberus base. Everything was this well established. I wouldn’t go so far as to call the mp maps in ME:A ugly or anything, BUT in comparison they clearly belong in generic, boring categories. There is maybe one map that stands out for me, the rest is just serviceable. This is the complete opposite of ME3, because there they had one map I didn’t like, all the others were good or great.

I don’t want to do the dead horse thing and yet I can’t help to notice, that the faces of some of the mp characters look better than most in the sp campaign. So it’s not like they can’t do them right. The voices on the other hand… The Asari vanguard in ME3 was voiced by Laura Bailey (I’m quite sure) and therefore she sounds great, meanwhile the voices of mp characters in ME:A sound like various people “from around the office” recorded them and they forgot to re-record these placeholders with real voice actors. Charging with the human female vanguard sounds like the Wilhelm scream. I… just don’t know man.

What also let me down a little, is that the enemies were so much more fun to fight in ME3’s mp. The enemies in ME:A’s mp feel as if they just split into easy and hard and that’s it. ME3 had a relatively wide cast of easy, medium, supporting, annoying and hard opponents. For all 4 factions. I still remember the first time I encountered a Cerberus engineer placing his turret. Or how serious fighting phantoms could be (at least if you didn’t have stasis). ME:A can’t compete. Its enemies mostly look/feel same.

Also don’t read:

MP bugs
My main ME:A post
Faces

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Funny thing is, after playing Torment, I thought why not go back and play Planescape: Torment again? So I installed it, with all the mods and whatnot, approximately 1 day after I did that, this Enhanced Edition was announced. So I was obviously going to wait for it to come out. GOG even gave a discount to everyone who already had PST in their account…

As if that wasn’t a lucky break, it got even much better, because I only played PST once, like 10 years ago and I’ve forgotten A LOT about it. So there I was, playing this game about an amnesiac, who sometimes has flashbacks, as a sort of amnesiac who had flashbacks about his first playthrough. THIS is probably the ideal way to experience this game!

Story, characters, quests – all totally hold up. I can even say, at this point, this game was way ahead of its time, since there are games now which fail to pull off some elements as good as Torment did it 18 years ago.
I can only criticize the ending and the bit leading up to it. The game starts with enormous amounts of text (which is good because the writing is almost always quite remarkable – better than many current games, not kidding) for everything, so much in fact, that the ending just feels rushed in comparison – it might not have been as noticeable in a lesser game. I really wish it could have been elaborated upon a bit more.

Sure, it’s possible to piece the most important parts together, but again, in comparison with the detailed rest of the game, it’s “short”. It really made me wanna read the book, in hopes of reaching a deeper insight, but of course it’s not really available anymore. So scratch that. A nice moment like the one at the ending of Witcher 2 (a huge/long conversation about everything that happened in the game takes place :D), really would have been welcome here.

The EE itself is rather well done, I mean… full text search for the journal? Hello? It’s like a dream come true! It’s amazing (tab-highlighting is the best!). They introduced several features I was hoping for, all without really taking anything away (but to play it safe, they added options to shut down all the new stuff). It’s without a doubt the best way to experience PST now. It always pains me a little to say this, because I don’t want to undermine all the tremendous work all the modders have done over so many years – it’s beyond the shadow of a doubt their merit as well, that these games are still alive after all these years and yet there are just some things even all the mods couldn’t improve.

I had a single issue with this EE, the game would crash when opening the map screen in several locations (thankfully the game auto-saves with every map transition). This is definitely something I hope they can still fix. I could outright reproduce it in the drowned nations and it happened in inner curst and on the baator map too. In the hive, for example, it never happened, although I used the map there a thousand times. Other than that, this thing seemed to be rock-solid.

GOG Galaxy counted 49,5 hours, while Steam counted 63 hours for my Torment: Tides of Numenera playthrough. Of course these numbers aren’t exact, since I sometimes let them running without actively playing, but obviously they aren’t so far off that I could say Tides of Numenera was shorter (something I heard repeatedly which is why I’m considering this as debunked now).

PS: The thing with the screenshots is true about this game too, I was so immersed, that I forgot all about taking any, which is why I now have none of many interesting areas…

I’d definitely see TP as one of the games “we” owe to crowd-funding. Games of this nature just aren’t the norm, you know, with a little bit of character and all that. I’m just always wondering if this is clicking in any meaningful way with broader audiences. As a backer, I’m pleased with this game, this game did a lot for the people who get all the references actually, but you certainly can’t get rich off of ME. But then again, I already got what I wanted. But then again, if I want to play a sequel… I’m just hoping they get to do another one, doesn’t even have to be a direct sequel. These guys seem to be at their best if they just get to develop a true original, instead of being tied to whatever franchise.

Honestly, I don’t have all that much to say about the game itself. The only thing I absolutely want to point out, is that the puzzles weren’t as hard as they were in those old games. IMHO. There were quite a few, but they were always fair. The majority of obstacles were designed in a way, that had me knowing what I had to do on top of knowing WHY. From that position it’s never THAT hard to solve a puzzle. I never had to resort to combining countless items in sheer desperation, just hoping for something to happen at some point. That’s something I did all the time way back then. Well I did.

Another good sign for me is, that I took almost no screenshots, because playing the game had me so consumed, that I forgot all about that.

What? I’m supposed to throw in some criticism? No I’m not, I can do whatever the hell I want to here. :P But okay. The only thing that is at the top of my head, is how characters describe the world. There are 5 playable characters in TP and except for some unique situations, every character says the exact same thing when looking at whatever. This really disappointed me. The characters are very different people and there is no chance in hell they would describe anything 1:1. It’s possible to explain that away, even in the game’s own logic, but still. I would have loved it if Ray and Reyes, for example, would have had their own sentences.

It’s possible this has to do with budget, but The Cave also had these long stretches which were identical for all characters, no matter which you took inside – in other words this might just be a Ron Gilbert thing. I don’t know.

Continuing in this line of thought, it’s odd that these 5 characters kind of work together, although they never talked to each other outside the very ending, in which they suddenly start, I wish there would have been much more of that. Most of them never even meet until later in the game, so they shouldn’t even know each other, let alone collaborate. It would have been great if the story somehow would have offered an explanation for that. Sure, games back then certainly didn’t have anything like that either, back then people were happy they got to play more than one character, but this is certainly one of the characteristics of older games that didn’t need to be conserved for today. Especially in adventure games which are supposed to have a focus on story and such. Games like Oxenfree get a lot of mileage out of nicely written dialogs and character stuff, is all I’m saying.

But these are all minor nitpicks of course, so everyone who’s into this genre should have a good time. And it’s not as if everything is the way it was during these earlier days. There are more than enough moments, which underline how much can be done, even if the graphics appear to be this oldschool at first glance. I really loved how Ransom’s trailer “moves” depending on how Ransom shifts his weight. The game has several of these nice little “tricks” to offer.

Will this game have an effect like Monkey Island did? Probably not, but I never expected it to in the first place (this might sound harsher than it is supposed to; one of my awesome skills). The devs have also given the game great after launch support. I personally didn’t encounter any bugs during my complete playthrough, but they quickly fixed everything that could be a problem for someone anyway. :)

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MEAMP

I guess it’s time for a little addendum to my major MEA entry. This time I’ll focus on MP. Since I’ve finished the campaign, I played a little bit more of it.

It’s impossible to miss that there are quite a few crashes to desktop. This is worth noting, because I never had those during the single player portion of the game. And I played that for many hours. A lot longer than MP, for sure.

Trying to send strike teams on apex missions usually only results in this connection loss message and throws you back to the main menu, resulting in annoying waiting periods to get back into the game.

Suddenly I was in the dev console. I have nothing against those and often even like them – so it’s fine by me, still – usually those are disabled by default. It really matches the impression, that they shipped a preview build here.

Look at those weapons. Sniper rifles listed as pistols, pistols listed as shotguns…

The bar that highlights the abilities changes its length, so it sometimes doesn’t cover the whole line.

After Origin installed the patch, I couldn’t enter MP anymore and this screen was shown instead.

Once I selected this character, but when the mission started, I had a completely different character, one whose powers were missing (check bottom right). And apparently all the consumables were set to 0 too, although I had tons in my inventory.

It happened several times, that “debriefing” a strike team would lead to a results windows, which could not be closed. Not by clicking on the button, nor by pressing the shortcut. I could only end this deadlock by killing MEA’s exe in the task manager.

Oh and while I think the auto-cover system is a weird choice, I must say I have never seen it done so well. Another callback to Mass Effect 1 I presume (which did it a lot worse). The auto-cover system is one of the few things in Andromeda that actually feel kinda slick. It’s fast and easy to go into cover and it never feels like being glued to anything. I have very ambivalent feelings about this regardless, because I also like being in control, this auto-cover system conditions the player to avoid walking next/close to cover unless they want to use it. It’s something to get used to.

So, what else is new/different? The “promote” option I disliked a lot is gone, characters can’t be named anymore and character cards actually bump up… characters. No longer are those spammed endlessly and all their XP goes into nothingness. Even XP earned by level 20 characters isn’t outright deleted, by pushing up general stats like fast shield recharge, which apply to several characters. Those are really good changes.