Mass Effect: A Conspectus

In the wake of the release (an in my opinion, subsequent disappointment) of Mass Effect: Andromeda, I feel like it’s time to go back, and replay the franchise in its entirety and examine exactly what this series does right and wrong.  I’ll be playing and writing about each game from the original trilogy, plus Andromeda and cataloging my thoughts along the way.  Stay tuned!

Missing Persons

Destiny, part 18

After playing the beta, I decided to compile a list of all the NPCs from Destiny that I will update as I play Destiny 2 once we are aware of their whereabouts.  Until we know, I will consider them missing or killed:

The Tower

  • Master Rahool
  • Banshee-44
  • Xander 99-40
  • Tess Everis
  • Eris Morn
  • Lord Shaxx
  • Arcite 99-40
  • Ikora Rey
  • Cayde-6
  • Commander Zavala
  • Roni 55-30
  • Arach Jalaal
  • Amanda Holliday
  • Lakshmi-2
  • Eva Levante
  • Executor Hideo
  • The Speaker

The Reef

  • Petra Venj
  • Variks, the Loyal
  • Master Ives
  • Brother Vance
  • Sentha 55-30
  • Berg 99-40
  • Mora Sov

The Iron Temple

  • Micha 99-40
  • Shiro-4
  • Gabi 55-30
  • Lord Saladin
  • Tyra Karn
  • Lady Efrideet

Life Is A Suicide Mission

Do you ever wonder why people kill themselves? I used to.

Way back in school, when I was first introduced to the concept of suicide, I couldn’t for the life of me understand why someone would do such a thing. I get that your life is currently in a shit place and things are bad, but are they really that bad? Little did I know that in a few years, I’d learn why in a very difficult life lesson.

When I was young, I used to listen to all the grown ups in my family talk, I loved hearing their life stories. One story always stuck with me through the years. I don’t remember his name, but mama knew a man that she described as ‘always happy and funny and cheerful.’ She had a picture of him with my sister Regina when she was young. She told me that he had killed himself. Being so young, I had no idea what that meant or why it made her so sad.

Not long after high school was finally over, life decided to really take a turn for the worst. I’d be willing to go so far as to say that it’s the darkest period of my entire life. First, my mother died a couple months after I graduated after a nearly year long battle with cancer. My birthday and Christmas meant nothing to me that year. Then my friend Wendy’s grandmother died at Christmas. Then my father died the following March. Then his mother died a month later. Then on top of all that, I was forced out of my home by my father’s piece of shit sister since it was now legally hers. So I ended up living with my sister. Those were very dark times.

Did I think about killing myself? You bet, and often. I had nothing really to live for, I was merely existing. I often look back on it all and wonder how I made it. I suppose I never gave up hope that things would get better, and I guess in a way they did. Every time I thought about killing myself, I remembered what I was taught in health class in high school:

Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem.

It pretty much became my mantra for years, said silently to myself when the voice within became too loud. I had friends, sure, but eventually they all turned out to be a bunch of fakes except one (he knows who he is.) In retrospect they weren’t really worth living for, but it was all I had. Life got better. Life GETS better, that’s why I’m still here.

Those times I entertained the thought, I weighed the pros and cons carefully. It would all be over; all the daily misery, the suffering, the anxiety, the sleeplessness, the fun and games, the sex, the music, the voices within, the noises without. Would it hurt my family? Probably, but I didn’t really care if it did or not. The ones that it would hurt the most were the ones that kept me from doing it, I stayed alive not for myself but for them. They are why I’m still here.

Those times I entertained the thought, I thought about how I’d do it. Pills? Not 100% effective. Guns? Too much of a mess. The answer came to me at work one night. I had an accident where I hit my right shin on a metal guard and ended up cutting open a vein. There was blood everywhere; every beat of my heart brought me closer to oblivion as I watched my life force drain from me. All I wanted was to sleep. All I wanted was to lay down and die. I was so tired. This was the way out, this was how I’d go out. I was taken to the ER and sewn up and drugged. I felt fine the rest of the night thanks to the wonders of modern medicine. Now that I had chosen a how, all I needed was a reason. An impetus for my destruction.

The years have passed since that night and while I have the occasional bad day here and there I still don’t have a reason to do it.  I like to think about it the same as this guy:

I don’t fear death and/or suicide. Whenever I get low I look at it as a very far off option if things don’t get better. They always do so I’m not worried about it. For me a quote from Neil Hilborn illustrates it best, “I think a lot about killing myself, not like a point on a map, but rather like a glowing exit sign at a show that’s never been quite bad enough to make me want to leave.”

I see suicide as an option, especially if you’re terminally ill.  An option that not everyone agrees on, but it’s an option nonetheless.  Do I still wonder why people do it?  Yes and no.  Why they do it is still a mystery, a case by case basis, but I think I have an inkling.  They just feel hopeless, like there’s no escape, like this misery is going to be endless.  But I don’t wonder about it as much because I feel I’ve lived through the why.

Destiny 2 Beta

Destiny, part 17

So today is the first day of the Destiny 2 beta for those of us that pre-ordered the game for PS4.  I've been chomping at the bit all day at work to get home and give it a go and after being lucky enough to leave 30 minutes early, I've finally had a chance to sit down and play.

After watching the opening cinematic that was shown back at the Destiny 2 reveal, it was finally revealed that our guardians weren't even at the tower when the Cabal hit us: we were out on patrol.  Playing through the opening mission – Homecoming – was both a joyous moment and one filled with sorrow as I witnessed firsthand my home of the last 3 years reduced to ruins at the hands of these bastards.  It was also very much a shock to witness the trap the Cabal set for us when they put up their shield around the Traveler thus cutting us off from his Light.  My only hope is that my Ghost isn't dead…watching it fall from Gary's ship was a definite punch in the gut.

I'm definitely loving the new user interface, it seems very slick.  I like that I can get to the sub screen much faster by simply pressing down.  Switching weapons and sub classes and class abilities works like it did before, only it feels a lot smoother.

Each class has 2 sub classes that I plan on trying out before the beta ends.  I've tried Dawnblade first, then Arcstrider and then Sentinel last.  This time around I might actually play a Hunter because they seem pretty fast and the Arcstrider super is definitely overpowered (I'm sure those assholes will nerf it once the Crucible babies start complaining about it.)  The Dawnblade super is a lot of fun and is very powerful, but it only seems to last about 3-5 seconds but it sure feels good to rain down fiery swords on the Cabal.  I felt pretty dumb trying to figure out how to use my 3rd ability (the healing circle.) When random button pressing didn't work, I finally thought to go into my sub class menu and actually read the instructions. You know, like a smart person would. I can see that the healing circle is going to get used a lot when we finally start raiding and running strikes frequently. The Sentinel I'm not sure about.  I tried to use its super a couple of times and I guess I fucked it up trying to throw the shield because all I was ever able to do was use it like a melee weapon (or the way you use the relics as a melee weapon in the Vault of Glass).  I'll give the other sub classes a try tomorrow after work.

The Inverted Spire

The only other thing (for me) to do in the beta is the new Inverted Spire strike.  Set on the Vex controlled planet of Nessus, the Cabal have been digging around for stuff when they stumbled upon a very powerful Vex that is reminiscent of Atheon from the Vault of Glass.  We like to refer to him as Atheon on crack.  I love the new environment!  It's so lush and there's so much to see and do and find.  I can't wait to start my new journey in this land.  Anyway, back to the strike.  You're basically tasked with going down a very deep cavern and fighting off a lot of Cabal and even more Vex.  We also saw some Fallen and I gotta say that everyone's updated character models are amazing!

After falling down into the caves for what seemed like forever, we finally stumbled upon the infamous drill we all saw in the preview trailers. I managed to jump glide around the perimeter of the pit, narrowly avoiding the drill…until I fell into a small alcove and was ambushed by Vex and a few of the Cabal "dogs" though I managed to fight them off. After that it was another careful jump glide to the exit and we were at the boss's chamber.

We were barely prepared for this fight.

I was not pleased to see the return of the Vex Harpies (though they do look cooler now) at the start of the fight. The fight had 3 phases. The first was fairly straightforward, just deal damage to the boss and do add control as necessary. Phase 2 was a bit scarier. This time the boss would energize the floor and if he did you either had to jump and float or stand atop pillars in the room. Phase 3 was where shit really hit the fan. In the last area, the boss moved around a central platform surrounded by Vex goo and would occasionally blind us. As he neared death, he would send in Vex Fanatics like the ones from the Vault of Glass. It was pretty terrifying seeing them rise from the liquid and approach us. In the end we were successful.

I was a bit disappointed that there was no end screen as there was in Destiny with additional loot; what we picked up from killing the boss was all we got. Maybe the finished product will be different but I'm not going to hold my breath, I'll just wait and see when the time comes.

A World Without Light

I'm pretty angry about what the Cabal have wrought. They've killed our friends, destroyed our city, and scattered the rest of us to the four winds. But we'll come back and we'll come back hard for these fuckers. We may be without our light and powers from The Traveler for now, but that's not going to stop us. I'm excited to enter this World Without Light and see what new mysteries it holds.

Sometimes all you need is twenty seconds of insane courage, just literally twenty seconds of embarrassing bravery.  And I promise you, something great will come of it.

What I’m Playing, part 18

Guardians: Royal Journey

What does this game do right? What does it do wrong? Let’s examine…

You keep pestering me to write a review.  Well, to quote Bianca del Rio, here’s your fucking moment!

Towers and Enemies

At first glance, Guardians Royal Journey is deceptively cute with cartoony enemies and cartoony towers.

The three towers in the first row (Cannon, Trident and Shuriken) along with the big blue crystal in the middle of the second row (Electric Gem) are the only ones that can be upgraded with Vermarine.  More on that later.

None of these can be upgraded with Vermarine except the Boomerang (third tower on the second row) and the Battery (middle tower on the third row, just above the spider)

At the beginning of the game, you are slowly introduced to the different tower types and what they do and how they can be used.  You are also introduced to the enemies that you’ll be defending Mogo against.

Fuck these guys.  All the regular enemies in the game are basically miniature versions of these minus the crowns.

And fuck these bitches with something hard and sandpapery.  They sit on the track and spit out the little one eyed rocks continuously until killed.

And then there’s this asshole.  In certain levels not only do you have to defend Mogo, but you have to kill this fucker in order to complete the level because the waves of enemies just keep coming (and get progressively harder) until he is dead.

The World

The over world map is divided into 15 level segments with an overall theme for that segment. There are exceptions to this, however. The first and second world are only 9 levels, the third and fourth is 11 and worlds 5 and 6 are 13. After that every world has 15 levels.

Oddly enough, this is the only section of the world with this theme.  Perhaps because this was the tutorial zone?  Who knows.

The first 12 worlds also have a “secret” 3 level map (as depicted by the gold mushroom in the screen shot above) that you can reach once you get to the end of the world. However, even after unlocking the “secret” map, you must possess the required fruit to play the level (apples, bananas or coconuts) and to get pieces of fruit, you have to win levels.

99 fucking stems and NO seeds, because that’s fair.

After the first 12 worlds, this feature no longer appears and I don’t know why.  I’m guessing the developers realized that requiring you to earn so many stars before being able to unlock the next world was not a good idea and can be off putting for some players. This was a wall that I struggled to get around in the first few months of play but I have not encountered this problem since the last big update. I hope to not have to deal with this bullshit ever again.

Either that or the developers couldn’t come up with anymore fucking bullshit maps that are insanely hard to win let alone get 3 gold stars.  Or it could be that I suck so bad at this game that they’ve locked the “secret” maps away.  Honestly I don’t care either way, but this game seriously lacks any kind of consistency and the missing “secret” level maps are just the tip of the ice berg.

Also, after passing the first 8 worlds, the developer’s solution was to endlessly recycle the same backgrounds for the rest of the game. That world 8/9/10 stretch of looking at nothing but Sky was very tiresome.

The border between worlds 8 and 9…

…and the border between worlds 9 and 10.  Boooooriiiiiing.

Gameplay

Each level consists of a varying number of waves (anywhere from 4 to 25 is the highest I’ve encountered) and you can usually tell how hard a time you’re going to have based on how many waves are displayed in the box at the bottom of the screen.  Fewer numbers of waves usually mean that you’re going to have to build up your defenses in a hurry because the waves are going to be long.

Like this fucking horse shit for example.  I may have quite a few level 3 towers on the field but I had to build them in a damn hurry.

You start the first wave with some gold (how much depends on the level) and usually zero magic and you can either immediately pause the game to formulate your strategy or just wing it and hope for the best.  Protip: winging it is usually not a good idea.  You build up a stash of magic over time (you gain 2 points every few seconds) but gold is usually going to be what you use to build your defenses.

In early stages of the game, you are given plenty of space to build your towers where ever you’d like, but as the game progresses you must clear away obstacles in order to build where you want.

Like this crap for example.  Your only options are to build to the right of the tree stump or to the left of the boss monster.  Oh and Mogo’s little heart with the amount of health he has left?  That always takes up prime real estate next to his stupid face making trying to defend him that much harder.

Beyond this, it’s your standard tower defense affair with each successive wave having harder and harder (read: enemies with more health) enemies to deal with, after which you get an arbitrary grade based on your performance.  If you happen to lose a level – which for me is often because the difficulty spikes as I said before are all over the place – you are met with a 10 second countdown and a choice: restart the level from the beginning OR pay 9 gems to continue from the point where you fail.  If you decide to pay the gems however, that’s the only continue that you get even if you have enough gems to pay the cost a second time.  I think that’s a load of bull because this is one of the ways in which the game tries to gouge you for real world money – paying real world money for in game money.  This is one of my biggest pet peeves with mobile gaming (and gaming as a whole as of late, but that’s a rant for another post) because I know there are people out there that will simply pay to win if they are able to.

Also, every single time you lose a level you’re met with an advertisement. What the fuck? Sometimes it’s ones you can just X out of but sometimes it’s bandwidth eating videos that are unskippable. At first I just let it go but lately I’ve just closed the app and restarted it to get around such bullshit.  I don’t know what kind of advertising deal these bastards have going on, but if you’re going to force me to watch an ad in your poorly designed game then I think you should help pay my damn phone bill.

As the game has progressed (at the time of this writing I’m up to level 386) I’ve noticed that the developers have begun to reuse maps that I’ve previously played on before.  I guess they’re so desperate to keep the game going that they’ve done nothing but rehash several previous levels and change which towers you can build, and most of the time it’s towers that you can’t upgrade through the enhance menu.

It also seems the developers fell into the trap of making a “theme” out of each 15 level segment. For example, there was a 15 level segment that had indestructible obstacles on every single map.  That’s not good game design and it’s not fun.  It really makes me want to just delete the app and never be bothered with it again.

This is a level type that I’m pretty neutral about.  You are given a small amount of currency at the beginning to uncover “cards” on the map that may or may not have a tower underneath for you to use, or more currency or in most cases nothing at all.  I managed to get through all the waves without Mogo losing a single hit point…

Only to be given 3 silver stars.  What the fuck?  (I also got 1 piece to make another fruit.  One.  How generous.)

Back to this level that I posted before.  As you can see, I have several towers all over the map – ranging from level 1 to level 3 which is the highest level you can go – and Mogo didn’t lose a single hit point again.  This was my result:

I don’t get the grading scale in this game at all.  I use as few towers as possible and I get silver.  I use enough towers to nearly fill the map and I get gold.  It doesn’t make any sense.  This game has no consistency what so ever.

The Social Network

One of the biggest issues I have with this game is it’s social aspect. If you want to have stronger towers, you have to upgrade them with a resource known as Vermarine. Vermarine can only be gained either by completing tasks from your daily task list or by requesting it from people on your friends list. The weird thing is, giving it to people doesn’t deplete the amount you have AND you can only get so much of it from people in a 24 hour period. What I don’t understand is, why the limit? I have issues with getting Vermarine from other players because it seems the majority of my friends list has abandoned the game. As of late, only the same 6 people are responding to my requests. I don’t really blame the others for quitting because the difficulty spikes in this game are all over the place.

My other issue with the social aspect is being pestered every 24 hours to share my invitation code (QR code) on all my social media accounts. The options listed are Facebook and Twitter and 2 others that are only applicable in Asian countries: WeChat and QQ, so there again your ability to get resources is halved if you don’t live in those areas. In an effort to not have have a Facebook feed filled with this irritation, after getting my daily resources from sharing the code, I immediately delete the post thereby circumventing their bullshit.

That’ll teach you to give me a code that spells “to be late” bitches

Achievement Unlocked

At the time of this writing, I’ve finished all the in game achievements except 1.  There haven’t been any new achievements added in several updates.  At this point it feels like they’ve run out of fucks to give about their own game, which is sad.  Achievements are how you are able to get the majority of the pieces that make up your fruit along with how you get pieces that make up the modifiers that you can enable before beginning a level.  So without these achievements, getting these pieces takes a ridiculously long time because you’re totally at the mercy of RNGeezus when you finish a level.  Oh, and forget replaying a level you’ve already completed in an effort to try to get these items, the only thing you’ll get is energy to play another level, if that.

Final Verdict

It started out as a fun game but at this point I’m not playing it for enjoyment on any conceivable level, I’m coming back every day out of stubbornness to try to reach the end so I can call it quits and move on to the next thing.  What started out as a fun, quirky and seemingly different type of tower defense game quickly gives way to endless frustration, nagging, unfair punishment and very little in the way of a sense of accomplishment.

 

What I’m Playing, part 17

GAMES!

Since I’ve played quite a bit this weekend, I decided to cram all the things I’ve played into one post, so let’s get started:

Little Nightmares

This game is, so far, pretty eerie.  It’s like what would happen if Tim Burton decided to make a side scrolling video game.  So far I’m a huge fan of the art style (it looks like Nightmare Before Christmas) and how well the game plays, but I’m not a fan of how the game doesn’t tell you how to control the character.  I personally hate it when any game does that to be honest.  Don’t want me to play your game?  Don’t tell me the controls and that will be that.

RiME

Think The Witness meets Journey meets ICO in this graphically beautiful, yet somewhat frustrating, puzzler.  The number one rule about this game is that your perception of things is not what it appears at first.  The game is highly dependent on it’s visual and audio cues, making for a memorable experience if not a bit frustrating (in terms of not being able to jump high enough)

Blade & Bones

Imagine what it would be like if the Souls games and Rouge likes had a kid.  At least that’s the vibe I’m getting so far from Blade & Bones.  This is yet another game that does not explain controls to you in a good way, it took me several minutes and random button presses to figure out how to get in my inventory to change weapons (pro tip: it’s not even a button press, you have to click in the left thumb stick and go from there.  So annoying.)  The story is a bit cheesy, but lays out your objective in order to beat the game – find the 7 swords.  There’s a day/night cycle that you can manipulate which is cool.  Here’s where the Rogue like aspect comes into play: you start the game with 7 Purity and when you die you lose one.  After you re-spawn, you get a pop up that tells you that if you lose all your Purity, you lose your save file.  I can tell this is going to be a very frustrating game for me to try to complete.

Friday the 13th: The Game

Friday-The-13th-The-Game-Logo

Definitely a game better suited to playing with friends instead of a pick up group.  It’s both fun and a little scary at the same time since it’s so campy but it’s hugely entertaining and has a decent replay value, but those trophies…ugh.

 Killing Floor 2

Another game that’s a lot of fun and best with friends (and a full compliment of 6) I’m definitely looking forward to more nights of making fun of the French weapon vendor and being the only German guy in the Motorhead reunion tour.

Polarity:  Ultimate Edition

Managed to finish this one in one sitting!  It’s a satisfyingly short first person puzzle game that does collectibles the way I like:  there’s only 3 in each level and you can see them all in plain sight, you just have to figure out how to get to them.  The bare bones story here is that you’re a hacker working for a mysterious benefactor and the levels represent the computers that you’re hacking (similar to Deus Ex: Mankind Divided‘s intense Breach mode, only without any stealth elements).  The only thing left for me to do in this game is get the co-op trophies and I’m finished!