The (Dragon) Age of Anxiety

1.  I’m 20 hours deep in Dragon Age Inquisition now, and I think it’s fair to say that any doubts I might have had about BioWare following the 1-2 punch of Mass Effect 3‘s controversial ending and The Old Republic‘s failure to topple World of Warcraft can be put to rest; BioWare’s got their mojo back, big-time.

But let me qualify that “20 hours” first:  20 hours is a rather considerable length of time as far as games are concerned, and yet I’m still dickering around in the early areas of the game… because I haven’t yet decided to align with the Mages or the Templars.

I mean, the Templars were huge dicks when I met them, and the Mages weren’t, and it seems pretty straightforward to me that the Mages would be better for an alliance… but this is BioWare, and they’ve been known to throw curveballs before, and I don’t want to piss off Cassandra (even though she hasn’t been rolling in my party for the last few hours).

I guess the thing I’m most concerned about is making the wrong choice, even if it’s the one I believe is right, which is why I’ve been grinding sidequests for the last dozen hours and trying to gain more powerful equipment.

I could, of course, consult a walkthrough and see what happens; I could also manually save before making my decision and see for myself how things play out.  And I could also just arbitrarily decide to do one thing and then play through the campaign again as a different character (in all senses of that word) and then really play up every opposite choice I made the first time around.  But all of those actions feel like I’m simply hedging my bets; while I’d like to think that my Herald of Andraste is a woman who carefully considers her options before taking decisive action, I can’t very well believe that if I’m taking advantage of a design flaw of the medium itself.

Real life does not contain these sorts of loopholes.

It should go without saying that being afraid of making the wrong choice, even if it’s the one I believe is right, is a fear of mine that extends to nearly every avenue of my life.  Jobs, friendships, romantic entanglements; I get paralyzed by fear and doubt and anxiety and more often than not I end up simply treading water until something else happens, and then the decision is made for me.  In those instances where I do take charge and make a difficult decision, I actually do feel a bit empowered and accomplished; but it can be terrifying to make that leap.

In the game, however, I can essentially continue treading water forever; there’s no alarm bell ready to go off if I haven’t committed to a specific story-driven course of action by a certain time, and so I’m free to dick around in the Hinterlands until I’ve seen every single blade of grass.  And so I’m grinding because I’m procrastinating, so at least I’m being productive.

It is to the game’s immense credit that there is so much to do, and that so much of it is actually worthwhile, and – most importantly and refreshingly – that it treats its open world with a careful, considered grace, unlike the spatter paintings that become the Ubisoft maps in Assassin’s Creed and Far Cry.  I don’t feel the need to explore in those games, because more often than not, anything I come across is likely some variant of something I’ve already done.

I haven’t enjoyed questing like this probably since Oblivion or Fallout 3.  And even then, the writing is so much stronger than in Bethesda’s games; I love this world, I love seeing what there is to see, and I love that the game’s letting me see it instead of constantly reminding me of other stuff.  At some point I’m going to have to actually make a choice, though, even if only because there’s a lot more world out there that I’m going to want to see.

2.  I don’t mean to keep harping on Ubisoft.  The truth is, I did end up giving Assassin’s Creed Unity another go, now that it’s been patched rather thoroughly.  The patches have helped, I think; the game certainly seems to be running smoother, and now I’m in this weird state where I’m reluctantly finding myself wanting to finish it, even if it hurts.  At the very least, I fully levelled up the Theater Cafe and did all its missions, and so now I have a very healthy stream of income coming in.  I bought some bad-ass weaponry, too, and all my gear is 4 stars or better, and so now my enemies are cleaved in half like a soft pat of butter.  If I must proceed, at least the proceeding is relatively easy-peasy.

The thing is:  while I appreciate that the Paris of Unity is gigantic and really quite spectacular to behold, it’s also quite tedious after a few hours.   I rarely actually walk from point A to point B any more; if there’s a fast travel location anywhere near where I want to go, I use it.  Why bother walking?  So I can get chased by bad guys simply because I’m running?  So I can collect hidden collectibles that don’t actually offer anything worthwhile?  So I can open hidden chests that don’t contain anything useful?  So I can engage in those murder mystery side quests that are just mind-bogglingly dumb?  The only reason to walk from one side of the map to the other is so that the in-game clock continues to run and that I can collect more money in the Theater.  (Speaking of which – the fact that this money isn’t directly deposited and must instead be manually claimed is absolutely insane.)  The world may be historically accurate, but that doesn’t mean I want to walk every inch of it when so much of it doesn’t really matter.  GTA 4‘s Liberty City felt like New York, but it certainly wan’t an inch-by-inch recreation, and it was a lot more fun to explore in that regard.

3.  Speaking of GTA:  the more I replay GTA V, the more difficult it is to take seriously.  Let me rephrase that:  the GTA franchise is “satirical”, a playful poke in the eye of American pop culture, and so it’s not necessarily meant to be taken seriously.  But in light of what’s happening in Ferguson, it’s incredibly difficult to play Franklin’s storyline and not feel like it’s just a way for white kids to feel OK with casual use of the “n-word”.  Indeed, it’s almost as if GTA V was specifically built for people like Michael’s spoiled, privileged son Jimmy, even as it makes fun of Jimmy at every single turn.  It’s hard not to feel that Rockstar has moved from satire to outright contempt.  And while American pop culture is certainly deserving of contempt, it’s hard not to feel disappointed that the game’s writing is so lazy about it.

Here, Carolyn Petit said 1000x better than I ever could:

I don’t think the so-called satire in GTA is daring at all. I don’t think it “goes far” at all. I don’t think it takes guts at all to reinforce traditional notions of masculinity, to mock women and trans folks, to reinforce the status quo. I don’t think there is a single moment in GTA V when the average straight male player will find his worldview challenged, his notions about masculinity seriously called into question, when he will feel in any way threatened or caught off-guard by anything the game is saying about our culture.

It doesn’t take nerve to side with the powerful and to punch down.

4. Aside from my initial splurge, I’ve been trying to ignore the Steam sale, even if there’s a few things on my wishlist that I keep thinking about.  On the one hand, do I really intend to play Resident Evil 5 again – a game I might be alone in saying that I enjoyed far more than 4, and played to death on the 360 – even if it’s only $6.79?  On the other hand, knowing that my PC can run it but not necessarily run it well, do I even want to bother trying Divinity Original Sin at 33% off, especially while I have my hands more than full at the moment?

As it is, I tried playing Vanishing of Ethan Carter before I left on Wednesday night, and the damned thing crashed on me about 20 minutes in.  So that’s a drag.  Supposedly there’s a PS4 version coming in 2015; I suspect it’ll run much better there, but I wasn’t necessarily planning on buying it twice.

I’m also kinda debating whether or not I should get Geometry Wars 3 – and if so, what system to get it for.  It’s a little ridiculous that it’s not on the Vita, I think, which is why I haven’t already bought the PS4 version.  The reviews are on the lukewarm side of positive, which makes me more inclined to wait it out for the time being.  Again – there’s way too much on my plate as it is.

Random Ramblings of a Sad Bastard

1.  For various reasons, but mostly due to utter exhaustion, I’ve not played much of anything this week, and thus I’ve not written anything here.  But it should be noted that my day job has sort-of put me on notice that I spend too much time on the internet, and so you should know that this blog be somewhat dark for the foreseeable future.  The timing is terrible, of course, given that this gaming year is finally about to get interesting, and I’ll do what I can to keep writing; but a man’s gotta pay his bills, and The Man takes precedence in this case.

2.  Everything I said above is true (about why I’ve not played anything), but I’ll also say that ever since I hit the level cap in Destiny – and then saw what I had to do to level beyond – I must admit to feeling a bit repelled.  I’ll cop to putting in some time at the Loot Cave; and I’ll also cop to feeling a slight twinge of something when I heard that Bungie patched it out; and I’ll even admit that there’s a part of me that kinda wants to check out the new one.  But it’s a hollow sort of feeling, at the end of the day; I’m not being rewarded for any acts of heroism or prowess, but because I had the stamina to fire bullets into a cave for an hour without having to pause.  I’d much rather play strike playlists and get rewarded that way, but the results speak for themselves; I got more quality loot from 45 minutes at the Cave than I did in 2 hours worth of strikes.  And if the goal of the endgame is loot, then why not shoot at a cave?  Eh, the whole thing just makes me tired and angry.

3.  I almost bought an Xbox One earlier this week; Microsoft had sent me a special email that offered me 50,000 Reward Points if I bought one within a certain time period.  Beyond not knowing what Reward Points are (as I thought Microsoft had moved beyond their proprietary currency in favor of real US money), I didn’t, and I’m still not sure if I will or not – the jury’s still out on Sunset Overdrive, and that’s probably the bundle I’d buy.  But there’s a part of me that’s really itching to play Forza Horizon 2.  Furthermore,  I’m a little peeved that nobody seems to be reviewing the 360 version.  I’m getting the 360 version via Gamefly next week, but I’m almost positive that I’ll be playing it alone; I’m pretty sure that almost all of my 360 friends have upgraded to the One.  Oh well.

4.  Speaking of next week, I’ll also be receiving a rental copy of Shadow of Mordor, which is getting surprisingly great reviews.  Unfortunately, the way Gamefly works, I probably won’t be receiving it until Thursday, and I’ll be out of town until the following Monday, so basically I won’t be playing anything interesting until the week of October 7.

5.  I also really really really want to check out The Vanishing of Ethan Carter, but due to money/time issues, I probably can’t get to it as soon as I’d like.

This has been your weekly sad bastard update.

Also:  I’m on Ello as jervonyc.  But, as mentioned in #1 above, I don’t know how much I’ll actually be there.  Still, if you happen to get an invite, look me up.