On The Division, Quantum Break, and self-awareness

My original intent with this post was to simply recap my experiences upon finishing both The Division and Quantum Break.  But having played two third-person shooters back-to-back – games which couldn’t be more radically different from each other despite existing in the same genre and coming out within weeks of each other – I think there’s something to be said for exploring the two, specifically with regards to their respective levels of self-awareness.

Still, in the interest of clarity, let me get my QB thoughts out of the way, given that I’ve already spent several posts and several thousand words talking about The Division.

The first thing that is immediately apparent is that QB is perhaps the most impressive-looking game on the Xbox One.  Character models are remarkably accurate and I never once felt the effects of the uncanny valley; nearly every combat sequence is spectacular to look at, especially since, as the game progresses, every enemy you kill dies frozen within time and space, often hurtling backward as frozen arcs of blood spurt forth.  There are also a few platforming sequences amidst collapsing environments that recall some of the more surreal dreamscapes in DmC, too; it’s rather astonishing stuff.  If you own an Xbox One and want to show it off to a friend, this is without question the game you want them to see.

The second thing that is apparent, especially just after sinking 50 hours into The Division’s bullet sponges, is that QB’s gunplay is far more streamlined: most enemies go down with a few accurately placed shots, but by the time you’re halfway through the game the bullets are really just there to augment all the super-time-manipulative powers you gain access to.  It’s almost reminiscent of Bulletstorm, in that you’re encouraged to be creative with your methods of enemy disposal; you can freeze them in a time bubble and then pour hundreds of bullets into them, you can throw a time burst at them and they basically just explode, you can even sort-of teleport around the environment and circle enemies and pick them off before they even know you’ve moved.

But the most important thing – the story – is where the game pretty much falls apart.  Not because time machines are an overused trope, but rather because none of the characters are interesting.  The big-name movie stars certainly provide adequate performances, I guess, though I couldn’t ever get over the feeling that the bigger names received paychecks with enough zeroes on them that they simply couldn’t refuse.  I’m not accusing Lance Reddick, Aiden Gillen or Shawn Ashmore of phoning anything in, as I would of Peter Dinklage in Destiny – but their dialogue is nearly impossible for them to be emotionally invested in.  And the TV Show half of the game really just feels like a low-budget version of Fringe, mostly featuring ancillary characters to the game’s story that I simply never cared about and was anxious to fast-forward through.  And the option to make timeline-altering decisions never felt particularly empowering, since everything ultimately winds up in the same place, and I’m certainly not interested in “seeing what happens” to play it twice and make all the opposite choices.

The game takes its story so incredibly seriously that its version of The Division’s collectibles – i.e., environmental doo-dads that you have to look for that provide varying levels of interesting backstory – are actually called “Narrative Objects”.  (And yet, despite the game’s self-seriousness, there is a bit of unintentional hilarity in that everyone – both good guys and bad – uses Microsoft phones and tablets; this is a very obvious bit of corporate synergy and it doesn’t break the fourth wall so much as it simply obliterates it.)

All this aside, it was really, really nice to have an excuse to use the XB1’s Elite Controller again; that thing is no joke.


So, back to the original premise of this post, which is about the relative levels of self-awareness in both The Division and Quantum Break.

To wit:  The Division is not at all self-aware, even when it’s being cheeky (like putting one of the safehouses in an abandoned Ubisoft office).  The Division is Ubisoft’s attempt at investment in a long-term product; having seen bits and pieces of the endgame, it is very clearly putting its own spin on Bungie’s Destiny.  (Ironically, though, my 50+ hours playing through the campaign reminded me much more of my experience soloing my way through the first 40 levels of Star Wars: The Old Republic; I did engage in a few PvP things here and there, and did some co-op raids and such, but mostly I kept to myself, and both games (to their immense credit) didn’t seem to mind all that much.)

That said, now that I’m a few days removed from it, I can’t honestly remember why I was doing what I was doing beyond certain mechanical rewards, like getting better gear and weapons and upgrading my base and the like.  The writing is incredibly blunt – which is odd, given that the narrative itself is rather thin.  (It doesn’t help that the voice actors who feed you context through your radio about each mission you undertake are the dumbest and most obvious NYC stereotypes you can think of – the nagging Jewish mother, the effeminate floofy dog owner, the reformed ex-mobster, the egomaniacal actor – and I stopped paying attention to their inane yammering as soon as I realized that nothing they were saying was particularly important.)  Nobody is spending hundreds of hours playing The Division for that game’s story, or even really exploring the abandoned city; after a while, the act of entering random apartment buildings and rummaging through apartments felt less of a violation and instead simply felt repetitive, especially as there’s only a few apartment models and once you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all.    The hundreds of collectibles that justify their existence by containing backstory are poorly written and poorly voice acted and once I hit level 20 (or so) I saw no tangible value, not even in XP, in bothering to pick them up.  Combat is the main focus here, and most enemies are bullet sponges, so your battles are tactical and slow, almost never even approaching something you’d call “explosive”, even if there’s a lot of grenades.

Quantum Break, on the other hand, is VERY MUCH aware it’s a game.  More to the point, it’s self-aware that it is a much-publicized experiment in synthesizing videogames with a television show, and it’s even more self-aware that it’s a Remedy game, with more than a few references to Alan Wake and Max Payne and such.  (In a parallel irony with The Division above, QB also reminds me, more than anything else, of David Cage’s games – Heavy Rain and Beyond: Two Souls especially – in their character-driven focus and narrative heavy-handedness.)

It also might be self-aware enough to know that Microsoft would really really really like it if it could also look spectacular and expensive and show gamers that the XB1 can be as graphically impressive as the PS4.  To me, though, QB’s stunt casting looks more and more like a large, easy paycheck if they can just get through a scene and exert a little energy.  (which could also explain while the filmed elements are almost entirely focused on this sub-plot and these characters that have almost nothing to do with the player character’s journey.)  As noted above, the collectibles in Quantum Break that justify their existence as containing backstory are referred to as “Narrative Objects”, which never stops sounding like a really weird thing to call something that is utterly disposable, even if some of them are actually and surprisingly interesting to read (even if doing so completely disrupts the game’s rhythm).  Combat is not the main reason you’re playing, but it is almost always the way you get from point A to point B.

It’s bewildering to spend so much time with two games that occupy the same genre – sci-fi third-person shooter – and have them turn out to be so radically different on every possible level.  This is neither a good nor bad thing; it’s simply an observation.  I don’t know that I’d call either of these games “successful”, but it’s interesting to see that there’s still a lot of room to maneuver within this specific space.


In case it wasn’t already apparent, I’m done with The Division.  Or, rather, I’ve done all I care to do.  I hit level 30, I fully upgraded my base, I visited every safe house, I visited where my day job should be, I finished all the side missions.  The Dark Zone is not my scene, and the rest of the single-player offers no loot worth grabbing.  Diablo 3 never needed PvP for me to stay engaged; there was always better loot just for doing what I was doing.  Not so in the Division; all the really good stuff is in the DZ, and I just don’t give a shit.  The few times I went in there I got ganked, either by real-life trolls or by elite AI squads.  You can’t go in there alone, it would seem, and I don’t have the patience to make the necessary friends.


Finally: dude, Rocket League?  Still awesome.  Hadn’t played it in months, but I gave it a go with my buddy earlier this week and it’s STILL SO GOOD.  I’ve gotten better at not totally sucking at it, which is always a plus.  There is nothing quite like the feeling of jumping for a ball and completely missing it and then just floating there in space, far away from the action, knowing that your miss has directly led to the opposing team scoring a goal.  There is also nothing quite like the feeling of being perfectly placed and nailing a shot into an empty net (because almost nobody plays defense).  The best?  Scoring in sudden-death overtime.  THE BEST, I say.

long overdue

Once again, I apologize for the lack of posts of late.  There’s a good reason for that, though – we were finally going to be launching the first-ever CouchCast this past week, and I wanted to have some stuff to talk about there.  Alas, we got held up at the last minute, and since I’m not sure when we’re going to be able to reconnect, I might as well get some of this stuff out of my brain.  Consider this a transcript of a solo podcast.

[cue “What Have You Been Playing?” music]

Old Republic:  My bounty hunter finally hit level 40.  And I was all excited to FINALLY start using my custom-build speeder, after spending hours and hours power-leveling my crafting skills just to be able to gather the materials to make it, only to find that the cost of training to use the damned thing is more money than I’ve ever had over the entire course of my playtime.  So, that was a little discouraging.  Also, Hoth is very white and boring to walk around in.  I ended up revisiting my level 3 Jedi, who I’d abandoned in the Jedi Temple for almost a full month – I quickly got him halfway to level 8, but I’d forgotten how goddamned SLOW the default walk speed is in that game.  Good grief.

Twisted Metal:  Does nostalgia matter?  And is it fair to judge a game based on your first 5 minutes with it?  I’ve never played the original games, and the only other David Jaffe game I played was God of War, and I preferred God of War 2 (and wasn’t he off to other things by that point?).  In any event, the game isn’t for me.  I watched the opening cutscenes (which looked like Sin City outtakes), and for someone new to the series, it felt a little distasteful for me to be excited about playing as a homicidal maniac.  I finally got into some actual playtime, and fought with the controls for 5-10 minutes, and turned it off and sent it back to Gamefly.  I will admit that I probably should’ve spent a little time getting used to the controls before writing it off completely, but it also would’ve been nice for the controls to have made sense (and also to have been in any way related to the way most driving games have been controlled for the last 5 years).  I also gather that the game is a lot more fun playing either online or with friends on the couch, but since I was renting it I didn’t have a code for an online pass, and there’s absolutely no way that my wife would be interested in playing with me.

Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning:  I am trying very hard to give a shit about this game, but it’s just not doing anything for me.  Everything about it feels borrowed and unoriginal.  I can’t get over how much it looks like Fable – but it should also be noted that Fable hasn’t looked good in years.  The inventory UI is bulky and cumbersome, which is a pain in the ass since there’s a TON of loot that needs to be dealt with.  I don’t really give a shit about the story, and the quests feel generic and contrived.  The best thing about the game is the combat, but if that’s all there is to this game, then, well, ugh.

Final Fantasy XIII-2:  It’s not like I can take FFXIII-2’s story seriously, either, since it’s completely insane.  A more interesting question to me, though, is wondering if it has any idea how ridiculous it is.  It goes out of its way to have the characters emote over every little plot development, but then it has Mog, one of the most annoying characters ever created by man – possibly more annoying than Jar-Jar Binks, for fuck’s sake – this flying little marshmellow beast who incessantly adds “Kupo” after every sentence like a nervous tic.  And I’ll be honest – one of my new favorite things to do in the game, now that I’ve unlocked this ability, is to throw this little thing off of every cliff I can find.   So, yes, it’s completely batshit insane and I have no idea what’s going on or why any of it matters, even though the characters go out of their way to explain what’s happening in every cutscene (of which there are dozens) – and yet there’s something utterly compelling about it, and I find it hard to stop playing.  The combat system is still as engaging as it ever was, and considering how much of it there is, that’s a good thing.  I’m a little stuck in the story right now, though, and as such I’ve found my attention wandering.

The Darkness II:  I’ll be honest – I liked the first Darkness game well enough, but didn’t really have any plans on playing this sequel.  I’m not even sure why I put it on my rental queue, to be honest.  And yet I did, and I got my copy on Friday, and while I’m only 2 hours in, I’m totally hooked.  The art style is fantastic – I don’t recall the original game having this quasi-cel-shaded look to it, but it looks great.  The gameplay is fun, fast and sometimes frantic – I’m fighting with the controls a little bit, but (to be fair) it’s a bit more complicated than just running and gunning.

Oh, and I gave the Mass Effect 3 demo a spin, which was maybe not the best idea.  I think I’d rather just wait for the full, final experience.

Most of what I’ve been playing lately, though, is on my iPhone – which is especially handy now that my gadget lust fot the Vita is peaking.  I’m way overdue for a Subway Gamer column, so let me just quickly run down some of what I’ve been playing:

  • Triple Town
  • Zen Pinball
  • Pinball Arcade
  • Fairway Solitaire
  • Ghost Trick

Those deserve a column of their own, but the short version is – yes, you should be playing them.  All of them.  Both pinball games in particular are outstanding, although they make me want an iPad because the iPhone screen is very small.

winter doldrums

These are lean times for a non-profit game blogger; there’s not a tremendous amount to discuss.

I’ve mostly been playing Old Republic, because what else is there.  I finished Act 1 last Thursday, and was going to write up a post here about it, but work got in the way.  At the time I was going to write it, I’d power-leveled from 32 to 35, but after this weekend my dude is up to level 37.   I’m itching to get the hell off of the planet Taris, which is dreary and dank and not all that much fun to romp around in.  The game hasn’t changed all that much since I finished Act 1’s story; it should feel a bit more open-ended from a story perspective, but I’m still basically staying on one planet until I’m powerful enough to handle my class quest without too much trouble, and then moving on – which is, more or less, what I’d been doing previously.  I am enjoying it as a time-filler, and I’m appreciative that there’s tons of content that I can access without having to rely on strangers, but I must admit that I’m not terribly engrossed in it any more.

Also: lots and lots of new iPhone content.  Most recently, I’ve come under the hypnotic spell of TripleTown (iOS), which is basically a reverse match-3 game crossed with Grow.  You are presented with an 8×8 grid filled with bushes and rocks and such, and your objective is to turn all that stuff into a city:  3 grass squares = 1 bush; 3 bushes = 1 tree; 3 trees = 1 house, etc.  It gets tricky because you need to plan ahead in terms of where your combination will take place; if you put 3 bushes together, you’ll get a tree but only on the square that you touched.  It’s very easy to build the wrong way, in other words.  There are other complications but it’s easier to explain if you just download it for yourself – it’s a free download, actually, although it only comes with around 1500 “turns”.  You’ll quickly get hooked, though, and you won’t have much choice in forking over $4 for unlimited play.  The whole thing is very charming and quirky and ferociously addictive.

My rental copy of Final Fantasy XIII-2 should arrive by Thursday, and I guess I’m looking forward to it inasmuch as it’s something new.  I was of mixed opinions regarding FF13.  (To date it’s still the only FF game I’ve played from beginning to end, and I know that’s kind of a blasphemous thing to admit.  If it makes you feel any better, I’ve downloaded FF7, FF8, and FF9 from PSN, and I’ll probably download FF6 at some point, too – and maybe, if you can play PS1 games on a Vita, maybe I’ll end up with a Vita.)  The battle system in FF13 was pretty great, and it certainly looked nice, but it was also completely nonsensical, and while there’s a certain amount of utter nonsense I’m willing to put up with (i.e., MGS4), FF13 required a time investment that was a bit ridiculous.  All the reviews seem to indicate that FF13-2 is a massive apology that fixes everything that was wrong with the first game, plus it’s a bit shorter and maybe not as graphically impressive, and, well, yeah.  As noted above, I’m playing it because it’ll be something new, although I won’t feel guilty if I don’t finish it.

Finally – there will really, honestly, truly be some SFTC podcasts happening up in here soon-ish.  I’ve got theme music picked out and everything, and as soon as I tweak the things that need tweaking and get some schedules squared away, there will be some SFTC in your ears as well as your eyes.  All in time for the apocalypse.

further adventures on Tattooine

I’m not big on New Year’s resolutions, but I was hoping to increase my writing output this year (on this blog, at least).  The problem with that, of course, is that January is generally a dead zone when it comes to new games that need to be talked about.  And it should also be noted that, for whatever reason, I don’t really have a backlog right now.  I suppose I could keep pushing on in Assassin’s Creed Revelations, but I don’t hate myself.

Still, though, I have continued to play the hell out of The Old Republic.  I hit level 28 last night, right before I logged off.  And that’s without doing any of the Heroic quests or the Flashpoints; I’ve just been cruising along on all the stuff I can solo.  I’ve developed a series of battle strategies that work for me, more or less – the only times I’ve run into trouble have been against Elite bosses with 10K+ health, because my companion stops healing me after a while and then it’s pretty much a race to see who dies first.

It’s funny – now that the game’s been out for a few weeks, the gaming podcast circuit is starting to talk about it.  And for the most part, everyone seems to be of two minds about it – they’re playing it a lot, but they hate it.   The space combat is stupid (although it’s gorgeous, and it really ought to be an iPad game).  The environments are pretty but also ugly and barren.  The conversations are engaging and well-written and acted but they’re also repetitive, and pressing “1” or “2” isn’t quite the same thing as actively participating in a discussion.  There’s So.  Much.  Running.*

I don’t hate it.  I’m generally pretty wary of MMOs (after having lost around 6 months to WoW), but I find that I’m able to log out of TOR without immediately going through withdrawal.   I go in, I kill some dudes, I craft while I wait for dudes to respawn, I advance my questlines a bit further, and then I log out.  It’s much like any other long-form Bioware RPG, and since Bioware makes great RPGs, that’s good enough for me.  I suppose I could stand for some fat-trimming; I don’t know that this story is so compelling that I need to play it for 100 hours, but that’s what an MMO is, and that’s how it sustains itself, and I’m having a reasonably good enough time (and there’s absolutely nothing else out right now that I’d rather play).

I don’t even mind the space combat stuff.  The thing that everyone seems to forget is that Bioware’s games always have stupid mini-games.  Remember the pod races in the original KoTOR?  Or the planet mining in Mass Effect 1/2?  (I can’t remember if there was one in Jade Empire or not, but I might be the only person on the planet who still likes that game.)  Anyway, the space combat stuff here is a pleasant diversion – it certainly looks amazing on my setup, and it’s an easy way to grind out some quick XP, and it’s only a few minutes long.

If I had one complaint about the game, it’s that there’s not all that much to do.  The entire game is basically 4 steps, repeated infinitely:

  1. Talk to quest-giver, who gives an objective
  2. Go to objective’s location
  3. Kill enemies, achieve objective
  4. Return to quest-giver

Sure, there’s the aforementioned space missions, and there’s also crafting and stuff, but you don’t even need to do that – you send your companions out for that.  And in a way, that’s unfortunate, because those mission descriptions usually involve heists and deceptions and explosive action, which is way more exciting-sounding that the 4 steps listed above; all you do is press a button, and then 5-10 minutes later your minion returns with some loot.  THE END.

I suppose I’d like TOR to have, well, other Star Wars-y stuff to do.  Stuff that doesn’t involve the same sort of combat over and over again – even though the combat is fun in its own rhythmic way.  There’s no sneaking around; there’s no explosive chase sequences; hell, there’s no pod racing.  There’s none of the card or casino games that KOTOR or Mass Effect have, which seems like a missed opportunity.  There’s no real way to interact with other game players except through joining in combat – and I’m not sure that the PvP side of things changes that.  Whether you’re a bounty hunter or a Jedi knight, you are still ultimately doing the same shit – just with different weapons.

In any event, it’s what I’m playing, and it’s what I expect will take up most of my time for the next few weeks.  I’m mildly interested in Final Fantasy XIII-2, and I’m curious about Kingdoms of Amalur, and I’m very hopeful for SSX, but I’m not planning on taking any vacation days until Mass Effect 3 arrives, which isn’t until March.

Bear with me, then, in the meantime, and I’ll do my best to keep things interesting.  Certainly there’s some iPhone stuff to talk about…

 

 

* Justin McElroy (formerly of Joystiq) had some interesting comments about this.   He’d been talking about Saints Row the Third, and how that game’s designers appear to respect the gamer’s time by not making you wait to get fun stuff to play with, and contrasting that with TOR, which (a) makes you run everywhere;  (b)  gives you a “sprint” boost at level 10; and (c) ultimately gives you a mount in your early 20s, which is essentially the game’s designers telling you that they know that walking sucks, but tough shit.

Happy New Year, etc.

I don’t mean to start 2012 on a down note, but here we are.

The main thing on my plate these days is The Old Republic.  My Bounty Hunter/Mercenary is now level 18; I’ve got a bitchin’ spaceship and I’m doling out death and destruction all across the galaxy.  I’m really enjoying my time with it.  As noted the other day, though, my wife is also a full-blown TOR addict; she, in fact, pulled an 11-hour marathon yesterday, which is something that even I haven’t ever done.  She’s having somewhat of a more frustrating time than I am, though, even though she claims she’s still having fun with it.  (I’m definitely going to do a podcast with her in the near future.)

So while she was Jedi-ing yesterday, I was left with my 360.  Normally this wouldn’t be a problem, except that I’m not really into anything at the moment.  As I said last week, I’ve started to sour on Skyrim, which is a bummer.  I finished the Civil War side-quest yesterday – or, at least, I think I did.  Maybe I didn’t.*    The whole thing was unclear, and in any event it was incredibly anti-climactic, riddled with bugs and strangely staged in-game cutscenes where the music was (a) louder than the dialogue, and (b) on an endless loop, which tended to decrease the tension with every subsequent replay.     Now that I’ve beaten the main story, and I’ve discovered most of the stuff that there is to discover, there’s really not a lot pulling me back to the world – it’s certainly not the narrative, which feels positively clunky and dead next to The Old Republic.

I also put some time into the Stranger’s Wrath HD remake on PSN.  The best thing about HD remakes – when they’re done well – is that they don’t diminish your memories of how those games used to look.**  The Oddworld games were always quite pretty, but they were running on primitive hardware (compared to today), and one only needs to look at the PC port that appeared on Steam last year to see how far graphics have come in only 5 or 6 years (or however long it’s been).  The PSN HD remake looks absolutely fantastic – they’ve re-skinned and re-textured pretty much everything, down to the last pixel.  The gameplay is still refreshing and inventive – the live ammo thing is still pretty clever – although the level design feels a bit archaic, with lots of canyons funneling you into small clearings, where the action is.

Finally, I continued to dabble in Assassin’s Creed: Revelations, which remains profoundly disappointing.  I feel terrible about saying this, but I think I’m gonna trade AssRev in.   I’ve played – and loved – each of the three previous games to death, and yet this game feels totally foreign to me.  The controls are far too complicated – there are two different buttons you need to press just to run – and it’s ridiculous that I’m fighting the controls at this point, being that I’ve already sunk probably 100 hours in the franchise already.  Does that make sense?   I used to know how to kick ass and run around and could stealthily eliminate an entire town square, and now I can’t even figure out how to climb a wall.  It should feel familiar, and instead it feels clunky and overly complicated and – most depressingly – uninspired.  I sincerely hope that the inevitable Assassin’s Creed 3 is more of a re-boot – this franchise needs a kick in the ass.

________________

*I got the “Hero of Skyrim” achievement for capturing Solitude?  I have a feeling that there’s yet one more piece to that puzzle, involving the Thalmor.

**  Microsoft might not have been wrong when they made the 360 not-totally backwards-compatible – some of those previous-gen games look kinda terrible running on today’s demanding resolution standards.  Just look at the recent iOS port of GTA3 – yeah, it’s great that it’s running on my iPhone, but it also looks kinda old.

weekend recap: holiday 2011

Here’s hoping you all had a wonderful, loot-filled holiday season.  I certainly did.

Lots to cover today, so let’s get to it:

1.  I finished the main story in Skyrim – almost by accident, similar to what happened at the end of Fallout 3 –  and I think I need a little time away from it.  Certainly I need to wait until a new patch comes out, because a whole slew of my side quests are bugged, and the problems they’re causing are rather serious.  For example:

  • There’s a civil war-related quest where one of the Jarls gave me an axe to give to another Jarl.  Problem is, there’s no dialogue option when I talk to that other Jarl to give him the axe; furthermore, the axe is heavy, and because it’s a quest item I can’t drop it.
  • There’s another quest where I need to retrieve a Forsworn heart in order to concoct some sort of recipe, and I need to kill a specific Forsworn dude in order to get it.  I killed the dude.  I looted him.  I didn’t get the heart.  His corpse is now listed as “empty.”  There’s a gaping hole in his chest, implying that I’ve already taken it.

As much as I’ve enjoyed my time with the game, there’s a reason why I couldn’t put it at #1 in my GOTY post.  Bugged quests are a pretty serious offense – especially since they’re still there, after 2 significant patches have already come out.

2.  I’ve hardly touched The Old Republic since I bought it, but that’s not the game’s fault – it’s my wife’s, as she is a full-blown addict.  She’s gotten her Jedi to (at least) level 10 – she crafted a light saber, acquired a companion and made it off the first planet, if that means anything.  It’s gotten to the point where it’s useless for her to ask me any questions, because at this point she knows more about how the game works than I do.  I’m thinking about running an interview with her, actually, since she’s a prime example of the audience that Bioware was hoping to reach – that of the hard-core Star Wars nerd who doesn’t play games.  This is my wife’s first real game-playing experience, actually – I mean, she’s played DS puzzle games on airplanes and she’s played Rock Band and You Don’t Know Jack, but she’s never actually said “I’m going to play my game now – see you in a few hours” and then strapped in and just straight-up disappeared for an entire afternoon/evening.  She’s never binged, I guess you could say.  But she played 2 or 3 marathon sessions this weekend, and last night she had some Star Wars dreams, which means the addiction is in full effect.  It’s a shame that her laptop doesn’t have a graphics card, too; there’s only one computer in the house that can run it, and it’s mine, and so we can’t play together.

3.  My wife got me a really nice pair of wireless, 7.1 surround headphones for Christmas.  This is great for everyone involved – it means I’m not keeping the house up late at night, and it also means that I get to truly experience the audio side of games for the first time.  As such, I kinda raided my library, wanting to hear the ambient soundscapes in Red Dead Redemption, the ferocious engine roars of Forza 4, and Cave Johnson’s cantankerous baritone in Portal 2.  But ultimately, I spent the most amount of time playing Rayman Origins (which my dad got me for Christmas).  I’d rented it previously and loved it, but I was so focused on Skyrim that I never really gave it proper attention.  And honestly, that game’s got one of the best soundtracks I’ve ever heard, and the headphones truly give it justice.  (This Kotaku feature is an excellent primer – correctly noting the brilliance of the Sea of Serendipity music, and “Lum’s Dream” in particular – and it should be noted I found and downloaded the official soundtrack this morning – for free, no less.  Do a google search and you’ll turn something up.)

4.  I should remember to start my 2012 GOTY post with a category called “The Best Reason to Wait Until January Before Starting a GOTY Post.”  For one thing, I’d be able to talk about The Old Republic at least a little bit, and I’d also be able to correct a glaring hole – that of Battlefield 3.  One of my oldest and best friends bought an Xbox360 last week, and he’d asked me what to get – he thought about picking up Modern Warfare 3, and I said “no no no, if you want to play that sort of game online, you should get BF3.”  And then I felt like a hypocrite, since I hadn’t yet bought it (and hadn’t yet planned on playing it, actually).  Anyway, I bought it, but none of my BF3-playing buddies were online, so I didn’t end up playing very much.  I gave the single-player a whirl, mostly just to learn the control scheme, but I don’t plan on sinking too much time into it – the general consensus is that the single-player campaign is pretty bad, whereas the multiplayer is the best thing going right now.  As I’m not really an online-shooter kind of guy, I’m not expecting to have that great a time, but certainly playing co-op with friends is always fun for a little while, at least.

5.  Finally, I decided to clean up some side missions in Saints Row the Third.  That game’s post-story world isn’t really all that compelling, but it’s still fun in limited doses, and some of the side stuff is fun in and of itself.  I’m not sure I’m ever going to 100% it, as I hate the Snatch missions (and some of the Mayhem missions are fucking impossible), but I’m certainly down for leveling up my dude and making him impervious to everything.

The Old Republic – the first hour

I had a plan.  And like most of my plans, it fell apart.

The plan was that I wasn’t going to even think about Star Wars: The Old Republic until at least a month had passed after launch.  That would accomplish several things at once:

  • It would let me finish Skyrim
  • It would give Bioware time to work out the launch bugs, since MMOs almost never launch in a working state
  • It would also give Bioware enough time to add more servers and reduce the queue hassles
  • A month would be enough time for the community to form a general consensus as to whether it was a worthwhile experience

Etc.

Well, wouldn’t you know – a whole bunch of podcasts came out on Tuesday talking about TOR, and the general critical consensus was that it was actually pretty good, even according to people who were not big Star Wars fans.  And it’s pretty obvious at this point that I am a consumer whore, and so guess what.

The installation was around 10gb, so while I bought the thing on Tuesday evening, I didn’t get a chance to play until last night (Wednesday).

I only played for about an hour or so.  I’m still not entirely sure how I’m ultimately going to roll, so I figured I’d roll a bunch of different characters and see what sticks.   Because my general inclination when playing a morally-guided RPG is to at least start out as a nice melee fighter, I started as a Jedi Knight.  But I’m also really interested in checking out the Smuggler class… and of course I’m interested in seeing what the Sith side is like.

Anyway.  As I said above, I am currently a level 3 Jedi Knight (named Hermano) on the Whitebeam Run server.  The server was lightly populated and I had absolutely no problem at all logging on and getting down to business.

First impression:  it felt very familiar.  Definitely takes a lot of cues from World of Warcraft, and why not.  It looks quite good – my PC is somewhat powerful and I’m running it on generally high settings, and I must say I’m impressed.  Didn’t run into any lag, and for the most part it plays quite smoothly.  I did get stuck in level geometry a few times, but there is a “Stuck?” button and that did help – although the first time I got stuck, it warped me into an area that was filled with level 10 enemies, and I was barely level 2 at the time, and it was all I could do to run like hell back to the starting area.  Good news, though: I learned what the death penalty is like!  And the death penalty isn’t all that bad.  Quite forgiving actually; instead of endless corpse runs, like in WoW, you can choose to respawn after a few seconds at the nearest safe point, or wait around 15-20 seconds and respawn exactly where you died.

I’m hearing from the critics that the game is very solo-friendly, which in my case is great.  I’m very much a solo kind of guy in general, and that certainly made my first days in WoW a pretty difficult slog – especially since I, as an MMO noob, had no idea what being a “tank” meant except that everyone told me I was doing it wrong.  I’ve nothing against groups, and hopefully, when I settle on the character I want to stay with, I’ll eventually find some cool people to play with.

Are you playing it?  What do you think?