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“Se7en Favorite Gaming Moments in 2010” or “Yes I Know This Post is Late, Shut Up!”

January 20, 2011 Leave a comment

Note: I know this post is very late, but hey, I started putting it together about two weeks back and constantly got sidetracked. The following are some gaming moments in 2010 that had me sit back and just marvel at the developers for putting together such incredible set-pieces.

Mass Effect 2 – The Ending Sequence

Despite a lackluster final-boss (what the hell was that all about anyway?), the ending of Mass Effect 2 was one of the greatest moments crafted in any game ever made. Granted the final cut-scene had zero input from the player, but you could see all of your actions over the course of the game reflected in that sequence. The fate of your teammates, crew-mates, and even your own survival would be revealed in a cut-scene that was crafted out of the very choices you made throughout the game. The final cacophony that leads to Shepard’s breathtaking leap of faith was the icing on the cake. Topped with a stellar musical score and superb dialogue, the ending of Mass Effect 2 continues to live on in memory as one of the most powerful video game endings in history. I had goosebumps!

World of Warcraft – Killing the Lich King

Nearly eight years in the making, the final blow to the Lich King was a triumphant moment in 2010. Even since his betrayal at Stratholme, and subsequent departure from humanity, every Warcraft fan prayed for the day when we would stand toe-to-toe with the arch-villain and sink in his fine-honed blades. Now I didn’t get to experience the moment on my main character, and I wasn’t there for the three week struggle against the fight that led to the eventual kill, but the moment was nevertheless cathartic. We had killed Arthas, and all was right with the world.

Little did we know…

StarCraft II – Fight To The Death

StarCraft II had very intelligent missions. I don’t think I have ever played a pure RTS where I never felt like I was playing an RTS. Allow me to explain. StarCraft II, for all intents and purposes, is a true RTS. You collect resources. You build a base. You pump units. You annihilate the other side. However, despite the fact that you do this in nearly all missions, each mission felt different and played out in a distinctly different tone. In each mission there is some gimmick or some additional obstacle that you must overcome to advance, and the RTS underpinnings are silently turning in the background, almost as if you aren’t even playing an RTS. When the truth of the matter is that you are playing an RTS all along! Do you see? Oh forget it! One of the most memorable moments in 2010 was a Protoss mission.

SPOILER START.

This is the final Protoss mission, a vision of the near-future where all intelligent life in the universe is being systematically annihilated. The Protoss make their last stand, with the Zerg pouring into a massive base from all directions. Your job as a player however, is not to win. Your job is to lose. You need to hold out the assault for some time, but eventually it will overwhelm you no matter how you do it, and then you need to fight till the last Protoss is alive, including the most iconic figureheads of the enigmatic race. The winning condition, you see, is to fight till the last Protoss and this eventually lose the base. That is awesome. I had a blast in that mission, and I had adrenaline pumping through my veins as I tried strenuously, albeit foolhardily, to stand my ground. Well done Blizzard, well done indeed!

SPOILER END.

Red Dead Redemption – Rescue my Wife

Red Dead Redemption was a jewel in the gaming line-up of 2010.

I am riding on my horse down the dirt-path carved into the terrain by frequent travelers. I am minding my own business, on my way to meet a new contact who goes by the name of Irish. I am contemplating if I should just fast-travel to the location; in retrospect, I am glad I didn’t exercise that option. You’ll see why in just a second. Suddenly, I hear someone in the distance say:

“Please sir, would you help me? They’ve taken my wife!”

I pause, wondering if this was a mission marker that I missed on my map. The rider who has sought my help turns up as a blue circle on my mini-map. As I contemplate my response to this stranger’s query, he simply takes off in one direction, eager to get to his wife. As the blue circle grows distant, I get a message on my screen suggesting I follow the rider. I think a second longer and decide to follow the poor guy, and see what this random encounter has in store for me.

The man rides at top speed down bushy knolls and grass highlands for a little bit, and then he stops short of a posse of hooligans. His wife sits atop a horse, with a noose around her neck. Before I can even so much as gauge the situation, a firefight breaks out. I take out my trusty Winchester Repeater, and over the next few seconds, gun down the three perpetrators.

Then I realize I was too slow. They have already killed the husband, who lays crumpled next to his dead horse. I look over at the wife. The shooting has scared off the horse atop which she sat, and she is hanging from the tree branch. I panic. I run over to her increasingly limp body, but even as I am closing the distance I get a message on-screen that says matter-of-factly: “The victim has died.”

I am utterly devastated. Had I been a few seconds faster, both in the decision to follow the man and in the shootout, I could have saved their lives. I know they are digital beings in an artificial world, but the sense of loss is still palpable.

I came across this encounter a second and then a third time. The second time I ignored it altogether, because it was late and I just wanted to finish one last story mission before calling it a night. The third time I immediately followed the man, this time to a different location, with the kidnappers using a cart as cover, and the wife already hanging. I managed to save the husband, but the wife perished. The husband collapsed at the hanging, limp body of his wife and wailed.

A few things to remember:

  • The mission was completely optional
  • If you chose to take on the quest, you simply followed the husband, there was no mission log to keep track of the mission, and no prompt saying that you were now on this mission. In fact, you could abandon course at any point and just go your way if you so chose.
  • There were multiple outcomes: you could save both husband and wife; you could save just the wife; you could save just the husband
  • In any of the scenarios above, you weren’t penalized for failing (unless you take into account being emotionally penalized); if you failed, that family was dead, you were responsible for it, and there was nothing you could do to change that

A living breathing world indeed.

Lord of the Rings Online – The Joy of Deeds

In 2010, I also returned to LOTRO, after a brief stint with the original beta and a briefer stint with the live game. The game seems to be much more streamlined and the option to play for free is extremely tempting. After finishing the starter area for elves, I was questing near a lake when something popped up on my screen: “New Deed Unlocked”, it said. I was confused. Since I had not played the game in so long, I had no idea what they were talking about. When I looked it up, I realized how that tied into Turbine Points, and how much I actually enjoyed the idea of pursuing deeds to not only earn rewards, but also Turbine points for the store. As I have mentioned on a few occasions, I have a penchant for completing every last objective, title, achievement and knick-knack a game throws my way, so the discovery of deeds was a very joyous moment for me.

Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood – My First Kill Streak


The third major installment in the series featured several improvements over the previous iteration, the most significant of which was offensive combat. Instead of sitting there with the block button pressed, you could actually attack offensively at will, and killing an opponent allowed you to unlock chain-killing enemies in rapid succession. When I first came across this ability, I couldn’t figure it out. The in-game prompt, and even websites where other people had posted their frustrations with the mechanic, suggested that I press LS to kill the next victim. I took me a whole week to realize that “press L2” does not equal “press L2 down”. You simply had to swivel the stick in direction of the opponent you wanted take out next, preferably close by, and then execute. The first time I accidentally figured this out was during a rescue mission where you engage a large army of guards to buy Catarina Sforza some time to get away. That first kill streak was orgasmic, because once I figured it out, I took out over 30 guards in a series of quick, fluid and outright sexy maneuvers without having to play defensively.

Alan Wake – The First Miniboss

Alan Wake was not on my top list for games in 2010, mostly because the game became too formulaic with its gimmicks after the first hour or two. That being said, it had some truly eerie and at times downright creepy moments. One of these moments was the final ‘boss fight’ at the end of Chapter One. This was the being that zipped around at a frightening speed, only to stop a mere few feet from you, when your eyes haven’t even adjusted to the sudden change in momentum, and attack! That was a terrifying encounter, and set the mood for several of the following hours of gameplay. Aside from Dead Space, that is the only game to date that truly shivers me timbers!

That’s my list, what were your favorite gaming moments in 2010?

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“Se7en Favorite Games of 2010” or “Sheppard Plants Assassins Northrend Explosions Protoss Bada-Bing-Bada-Boom!”

January 3, 2011 3 comments

Note: Sorry this is a day late, I got caught up in some work stuff / my cat swallowed a hairball / my dog ate my blog post.

2010, much like everything else in life, had it’s ups and downs. The gaming industry continues to grow, and with growth comes more variety and better quality games. On the flip-side terrible games also stick out like sore thumbs when juxtaposed against lauded AAA titles. All in all, I had a blast in 2010 playing video games, and despite some fairly horrid titles, botched reboot attempts, and sub-par production values in some otherwise solid titles, I was quite pleased with what the industry had to offer.

I didn’t play as many MMOs in 2010 as I did in the years prior. I quit Eve Online. I finally said goodbye to World of Warcrft, despite a stellar new expansion (I was in the beta). I started dabbling into LOTRO and realized it was a completionist’s wet-dream, and I have been having a blast on my novice Elf Hunter (yes, I know that race/class combo is real original). I tried out Perpetuum and was turned off by how similar it was to Eve Online in terms of systems, UI and looks, and how much it paled in comparison in actual execution. I also tried my hands at World of Tanks, a game that really took a lot to get used to, and so far it hasn’t been entirely disappointing. SynCaine’s ramblings finally made me cave in to Darkfall and I have been getting my ass kicked ever since. But all things considered, I spent the least amount of time with MMOs in 2010, especially when you contrast that against 2-6 hour daily sessions with World of Warcraft and EvE Online in prior years.

At any rate, the following are my favorite games of 2010, in no particular order:

Mass Effect 2

What a stellar experience this game was. I found myself thinking of the game weeks after I finished it, always intrigued by what could have happened if I had played a particular fight with another set of allies using different tactics. Mass Effect 2, of all the games I have played in 2010, had the most powerful ending I have experienced in a video game, despite a terrible “final boss” fight and holes in the story regarding the final set pieces. Mass Effect 2 gave me goosebumps, and I am ever thankful to BioWare for making such a fantastic title. It speaks volume for a title that has quite a few flaws, but those flaws completely pale in comparison to the rest of the package.

Related posts:

Starcraft II

This game is the primary reason my MMO habits suffered so greatly in 2010. (The other reason being a lack of interesting MMOs to play in 2010 – just my opinion, disagree all you want). Twelve years in the making, this title had the kind of hype that eventually leads to inflated expectations, which, inevitably deflate with rancid disappointment because no title can live up to such high hopes. Starcraft 2, however, shocked fans and critics alike when it launched, not only meeting, but in some cases exceeding expectations. Couple this with the fact that the title shipped with no LAN support despite resounding disagreement from the core fan base, and that this is only a third of a trilogy that will be released over several years, and still the title did so well both commercially and critically. The single player campaign was phenomenal, and there was a hardly a mission where I felt like I was playing an RTS. It was immersive, innovative, the missions were varied and featured a plethora of objectives for you to accomplish and the production values were incredible. It took me nearly 40 hours to get through the single-player portion of the game. But the multiplayer is where I find myself losing hours on a daily basis: 386 hours to be exact (that’s over 16 days in real-time – sheesh!). I love the 1v1 match-ups and a friend and I have been tearing through the 2v2 rankings for several weeks now. This is a game I will be surely playing well into 2010.

Related posts:

Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood

Talking about completionists’ wet-dreams, Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood hit the (digital) shelves in November. I have already shared my thoughts on the title, so I will spare you the re-iteration, but suffice it to say AC:B was hours upon hours of fun, featuring huge improvements over the previous titles, and kept me happily occupied for days.

Related posts:

Split/Second

A racing game? Yes, I was surprised as well. A colleague at work first recommended this title and then demanded that I play it. I have never been a big racing sim fan, so I was a little skeptic. But then I lost a bet the following week to the same colleague and my “punishment” was playing this title. God I wish all punishments could be like this. Expecting a racing sim with questionable production values and a botched, convoluted “career mode”, I was completely blown away (pun-intended) by what I saw. One of the most satisfying games I have ever played, Split/Second is a fictional reality TV show in the ‘near future’, where drivers compete on tracks laden with explosives and traps. These obstacles can be triggered by any of the drivers as long as they have power, which is earned through air time, drafting and drifting. There was no major car customization, no excessively ‘real-time’ mode, just the directional pad, an accelerator, a brake and two buttons for small and large explosions respectively. It is deceptively simple and shockingly involved and deep. You can win/lose in the final few moments, and the music is so well done, it actually gets your adrenaline pumping for those final precious few seconds of a hard-fought race. Check it out if you haven’t yet, and look on YouTube for some of the soundtrack.

World of Warcraft: Wrath of the Lich King

My love-hate relationship with WoW continued to grow/dwindle in 2010, but finally fizzled out towards the end. Despite the fact that I am no longer playing it, I had a lot of fun playing WoW casually in 2010. I learned what it was like not to raid for 4 hours a night, 4-5 days a week. I learned the fun in creating and pursuing your own little goals, such as going after a particularly elusive reputation, or earning the Chef’s Hat. I ran heroics with strangers and 10-mans with old friends and guildies, and I had a blast. I was also in the Cataclysm Beta from quite early on and played it for nearly three months. I experienced most of the new content and enough of the revamped world to know what Cataclysm had to offer. Eventually I realized it wasn’t enough to keep me around, but I had a great time nonetheless. And who knows, maybe I will find a reason to go back at some point in the future.

Related Posts:

Plants vs. Zombies

PopCap hit gold with this title. This game seems so simple on the surface, but as the levels progress and the various types of zombies and plants unlock, it turns into one of the most complex, strategic and exhilirating titles I have had the pleasure of playing in recent memory. I was initially skeptic of the title, Bejeweled and Peggle (the other smash hits from the developer) aren’t exactly what you would call my cup of tea. So imagine my surprise when I played the game and realized what an incredible experience it was. Not that the title needed any additional critical acclaim, but it has now been immortalized in WoW as a series of quests in the Hillsbrad Foothils starting with Brazie the Botanist.

Mafia II

And finally, we have the crime drama. The game didn’t get very high reviews from most gaming authorities, getting an average rating around the mid-70s. I am not disagreeing, I don’t think it was as good as it could have been. But the original Mafia, a game I played start to end three times, holds a special place in my heart. And even though the characters didn’t have much cross-over between the two games, I loved every minute of Mafia II, even the abysmal driving controls and the long rides between mission points. Mafia II didn’t live up to its predecessor, but it was a hell of a ride, and I am glad for it.

Honorable Mentions

  • Metro 2033: Great game, supremely atmospheric. Horrendous AI that breaks the game in my opinion.
  • Call of Duty: Black Ops: Excellent single-player campaign, especially when juxtaposed against MoH. Awful PC multiplayer ruined my experience.
  • Borderlands: Released in 2009, I kn0w, played it well into 2010, lots of good DLC content, had a blast.
  • Darkfall: SynCaine was right, it is difficult to go back to WoW after experiencing Darkfall in all it’s brutal, unforgiving glory, still learning, still trying to wrap my head around it.
  • Machinarium: Actually can I have eight favorites of 2010? Yes, it’s that good.

“Mass Effect 2: A Matter of Numbers” or “I’m Special!”

November 25, 2010 2 comments

The Cerberus Network just released this infographic about statistics tracked for their every popular Mass Effect universe (courtesy Kotaku). According to this infographic, I am in the minority in just about every category:

  • I did not change Shepard’s face at all (17%), but…
  • I played the default female (18%). No offense Shepard, but if I am going to look at someone’s buns for the next 40 hours, I’d prefer a female avatar!
  • I played an Infiltrator, I loves my Tactical Cloak and my Sniper Rifles! (35%)
  • I love Garrus’ character, I hate his abilities. I normally had Mordin/Miranda, or later on Miranda/Tali.
  • I never let Grunt out of his tank (10%)! I killed Wrex in the first game, never really favored the Krogan after that.
  • This isn’t a minority/majority statistic, but I was in the 50% of players who fully upgraded the Normandy.
  • This is probably the only statistic that I match with. Tali died at the end when I sent her back with the survivors. I had Samara, Miranda, Jacob, Thane, Legion, Zaeed, Tali, Mordin, Jack and Garrus, with Grunt never out of his tank. So with one of ten dead, I lost 10% of squad mates in the end-game. That’s pretty close to 14%.
  • I did side with Cerberus in the end (36%). The Illusive Man may be a douchebag, but I am all for advancing the interests of humanity by any means necessary.
Categories: Mass Effect 2

“Why I am Excited about Dragon Age 2” or “The Importance of a Central Character”

July 26, 2010 4 comments

Mass Effect 2 and Dragon Age: Origins – Two of the Greatest RPGs Ever Made

Mass Effect 2 was one of the greatest triumphs in RPG gaming in recent memory. BioWare created a universe that was believable, sucked you in and made you realize the importance of solid, gripping storytelling. Part of the reason the game stood out for me was because it was the continuation of the previous iteration, using a familiar cast of characters and led by Sheppard as the protagonist. This was the single most effective facet of the Mass Effect universe: getting the players emotionally involved in the trials and tribulations of one Commander Sheppard and deeply caring about all the conflicts he (or she) was mired in.

Dragon Age: Origins was also a great game. Part of the reason was the concept of the origins stories and how they inter-weaved throughout all the main story campaign and part of the reason was the rich detail of the universe, which has become a hallmark of BioWare games.

Why I Enjoyed Mass Effect 2 More in the Long Run

What I am trying to say is that I tremendously enjoyed both video games, but my relationship with both over the course of time morphed in diametrically opposite directions.

For Mass Effect 2, each additional piece of lore and DLC added to the universe and pulled me deeper into the ongoing conflict and the lives of the main cast of characters. I was intrigued, unable to put down the Firewalker, Overlord or Kasumi DLCs, because they continued to advance the story of a familiar character we had grown fond of, a character who had suddenly become the most important human being in the universe, an unsung hero by the name of Commander Sheppard.

Dragon Age: Origins, on the other hand, in the larger sense, failed to do so. The biggest problem Dragon Age: Origins faced was that there was no central protagonist to hold the narrative together. Sure each of the six starting stories inter-weaved and essentially boiled down to the same larger arc and Ferelden-spanning conflict, but there was no singular name you could identify the game with. Dragon Age: Origins was essentially about six versions of the same exact story, and any of those versions may have been the truth. I am not saying the characters were not well-developed, or that the stories were not intriguing in of themselves. I am just saying there was no central glue that held it all together because there was no central protagonist.

Then came the expansion: Awakenings. This new content further deteriorated my sense of involvement in the series by giving m a new protagonist to play with. Sure you could import your existing character, but the problem here is that the Orlesian character added, effectively, a seventh origins story to the mix. Thus I started losing interest in the universe. Put simply, I just didn’t care enough about the predicaments of the Dragon Age denizens, which is a sad thing to realize about a game you spent 112 hours, 13 minutes and 56 seconds playing.

So when I heard that a sequel was in the works, I was less than intrigued to give a rat’s ass about it.

Why I am excited about Dragon Age 2

What has piqued my curiosity now is Hawke. BioWare’s Chris Priestley said the following on the official forums a few weeks back (I know it’s several weeks later, the new job is kicking my ass!):

“While I do enjoy having fun with our fans, I am not joking about this. The player character is a human (either male or female) with the last name of Hawke. Dragon Age 2 is the story of Hawke.”

This immediately had me interested in what else he had to say about the upcoming game.

Dragon Age 2 thrusts players into the role of Hawke, a penniless refugee who rises to power to become the single most important character in the world of Dragon Age. Known to be a survivor of the Blight and the Champion of Kirkwall, the legend around Hawke’s rise to power is shrouded in myth and rumor. Featuring an all-new story spanning 10 years, players will help tell that tale by making tough moral choices, gathering the deadliest of allies, amassing fame and fortune, and sealing their place in history. The way you play will write the story of how the world is changed forever.”

Hawke, my friends, is the new Sheppard. Like Sheppard, you can select a first name and decide if the character will be male or female. And most importantly, the series will now have a central character that everyone who talks about the game can relate to. I, for one, after waning interest in the series, am as excited about Dragon Age 2 as I am about Mass Effect 3.

Footnote: Another human male in another universe filled with alleged equal opportunity and various races. Kind of makes me think BioWare is a bunch of xenophobic sexists!

They Said Whaaaat?: “Mass Marketing Ploy Effect” or “1000 Variables”

June 16, 2010 Leave a comment

I’m a huge Mass Effect fan and will surely by the third installment. That doesn’t bar me from seeing through marketing ploys like this one.

– Commenter Richard S @ Joystiq, commenting on BioWare’s announcement that Mass Effect 3 will pull in over 1,000 variables from Mass Effect 2, if you load your saved game from the previous iteration.

“Explicit Gamer: Beginnings” or “Firewalker Review”

April 5, 2010 5 comments

Head on over to Explicit Gamer, where I have started contributing recently. My first piece is a brief review of the Firewalker DLC for Mass Effect 2. Read on!

Categories: DLC, Mass Effect 2, Review

“Massive Side-Effect” or “Shepard’s Shanenigans”

March 22, 2010 6 comments

A ton of news regarding Mass Effect 2 has been circulating in the last few days.

Appearance Pack DLC

BioWare tweets about a DLC getting released tomorrow, March 23rd, that includes new costumes for Thane, Jack and Garrus. Although the change is purely cosmetic and does not include any new gameplay, story or lore elements, it does add some much needed flair to the characters, especially Jack, with her S&M leather straps, and Garrus with his shattered armor after the gunship fight. I do wish they would release a costume that would get rid of Thane’s coattails though. The DLC also reinforces BioWare notion of consistent and varied DLC for their space opus.

Too sexy for our pants!

It seems developers these days apply an increasingly loose definition of what constitutes as a ‘DLC’, especially if it is free. I am not complaining about the DLC, I just don’t understand why simple costume pieces were held back only to be released as DLC later in the year. Or a gun that shoots electricity. Or a bigger bulge in Shepard’s pants. Actually, come to think of it, I’d probablypay for that bulge.

I digress. In contrast, Borderlands’ DLCs, although far from perfect, and certainly not free, added a significant amount of additional content, gameplay, weapons, story elements and lore to the game. Is it just me, or do you also prefer strong meaningful content for a price, instead of additional character costumes for free?

Firewalker DLC

Of course BioWare being the mind-readers that they are, decided to give players the best of both worlds by providing free content that adds the hovering Hammerhead, new missions featuring the vehicle, and new locations to explore in yet another DLC that will release tomorrow as well.

Let's hope this one doesn't bounce.

As I am sure you would agree, a horse carriage with square wheels, being dragged by a crippled horse, piloted by a dyslexic mad man would likely handle better than the ever-bouncy Mako from the first game. So the Hammerhead sounds like a welcome addition (I think). I suppose we’ll find out tomorrow how well the damn thing actually handles.

Dark Horse Comic

Via Joystiq, following the immense success of Redemption, Dark Horse has now announced a new monthly Mass Effect comic series, penned by Mac Walters and John Jackson Miller, writer of the original comic mini-series.

Redemption - Cover Art - Issue # 3

The plot of this new series will follow the second game. I am not sure, and neither is Joystiq, if the events will run parallel to the game, precede it, or take place after the main ending of the game. Perhaps it will be a combination of all three.

At some point, I would love to see some of the historic lore depicted in the comic series, such as the Krogan-Rachni wars, the Batarian conflicts, and especially the Geth destruction and eventual occupation of the Quarian homeworld. That’s the great thing about the Mass Effect universe: its background is rich and complex, ripe with stories that can be expanded further and elaborated upon. I for one am really looking forward to the new comics.

BioWare Mission Statement

Stephen Totilo of Kotaku recently sat with the team over at BioWare to try and ascertain the vision behind the design of some of the most visceral, engaging and complex RPGs ever created. In two words, that vision was “emotional engagement.” BioWare says they try their earnest to provide the players with a believable world that pulls you in at an emotional level, and constantly challenges and tickles your moral compass. Adrenaline during intense firefights, sadness at the loss of a squad mate, anger when a team mate has been wronged, excitement at facing an increasingly difficult challenge, connecting with the sacrifice needed to complete the final suicidal mission; all of these are emotional bridges built to immerse the player in the universe.

I can certainly attest to this. One particular example stands out. In Dragon Age: Origins, I decided to play all the origins stories prior to playing the main campaign as it picks up from Ostagar. I finally settled on the City Elf background, because it was such an interesting take on the perpetually noble, elegant and immortal elves as seen in just about every fantasy universe ever constructed. Upon reaching Orgrimmar, I had to choose which tasks to undertake to ensure a king of my choice would succeed the recently deceased ruler. Having played the origins stories, I was aware of the ruthlessness Bhelen was capable of through the Dwarf Noble origins story. However, logic, at least for me, dictated that he be made king. I remember saving the game and quitting for the day, just to mull over who I should put on the throne.

If engaging players in choices and events that trigger complex emotional responses is BioWare’s vision, then that is a vision well accomplished!

Categories: Comic, DLC, Mass Effect 2