Enslaved: Odyssey to the West, which would have been better named just “Enslaved”, is one of my favorite games of 2010. Don’t let the above-average critic reviews fool you. This action adventure game is one for the keeping. The following are some of the reasons I absolutely loved this novel, innovative game in a sea of over-hyped, over-budgeted, over-saturated AAA titles:
- The Setting: The game is set in a post-apocalyptic New York; except its been hundreds of years since the city fell, and unlike Fallout’s arid landscape or Metro 2033’s dreary tunnels, this version of New York has been overrun by nature. Vegetation is abundant and has spread itself to every crevice, corner and edge. The whole city gives the vibe of a true urban jungle, and the effect is gloriously gorgeous.
- The Story: In simplest terms, the story can be explained as “protagonist helps secondary protagonist get home”. But Enslaved story is like an onions, layers peeling away to show additional layers and complexity. The characters are real, their tragedies are heartfelt and profound, and their quest unbearably daunting and seemingly impossible. Again, in the simplest terms, it is a story about getting from point A to point B, and the two points are filled with further iterations of mini-quests requiring you to get from point A to B. But at the end of the day, as is so often the case in life, the journey becomes the legend, and the destination and purpose only serve as fringe concepts to drive the plot forward.
- The Lore: Anyone who puts themselves through the trouble of reading my blog knows that I am a huge lore buff. I live for lore. So it is a bit strange that I am in love with a game that gives you as few elements of the background story and how the current world cam to be. There are subtle hints strewn across the landscape. Missing person posters in Grand Central Station, vestiges of prominent landmarks, and the dialogue in general give you a very vague idea of what might have happened to the world as we know it in 2010, but they don’t offer much else beyond that. I normally get cranky in a lore-starved game, but in this one, the scenery itself was the lore, and the lack of in-your-face walls-of-text lore was quite alright by me.
- The Characters: The characters reveal themselves in bits and pieces, leaving much of the construction to the minds and imaginations of the players. The main characters don’t even exchange names a good hour, hour-and-a-half into the game, an homage to the slow but steady appreciation and respect they develop for each other. The voice-acting is phenomenal, the facial expressions are perfectly molded to the character’s psyche and emotional strain. Hell even the gait and mannerisms are well thought0out and character-appropriate.
I am not trying to sing unending praises for Enslaved, for it certainly has its flaws at time, such as unclear mission objectives and frustrating puzzle solving. But all in all, when considered as a whole, it is the sleeper hit of 2010 that wasn’t, and I can’t wait to get more of this bold new IP.
Speaking of which, the game has an upcoming DLC, starring the game’s playable sidekick Pigsy. You can watch a trailer, or screenshots from the upcoming DLC, Pigsy’s Perfect 10, below:
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.
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?
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.
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.
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!
Mass Effect is categorically my favorite RPG of all time. My loyalties have oscillated considerably between BioWare and Bethesda for some time now. But most recently, Mass Effect 2 has significantly tipped the scales in BioWare’s favor. The saga (in both the new story and continuation of your past decisions), character development, locations, and twitch-based tactical gun-play are, in my opinion, unparalleled. The only other game that comes close was KOTOR II, and that too doesn’t remotely fall into the same category. I can’t remember the last time I was this emotionally vested in a game, its characters and its lore. Losing teammates in the final struggle had a subtle somberness and a lasting impact, the results of your decisions reverberating through the crescendo event, reminding you every step of the way that what you do ultimately matters.
The DLCs through the Cerberus Network expands the universe further in both tangible and intangible ways. New weapons and armor are cool, but they do little to advance the storyline. Much as I hated Zaeed and his ‘my veteran dick is bigger than your rookie dick’ attitude, his loyalty mission was quite a lot of fun. Firewalker promises to add a ton of new content and continue to expand the universe.
Most recently at GDC, the name of the first DLC outside the Cerberus Network was released, named Kasumi’s Stolen Memory. Here is what we know about it:
- Approximately 90 minutes of content
- Kasumi the thief, a new character with her loyalty mission, story and background
- A suave disguise to undertake a secretive mission, Casino Royale-esque infiltration and espionage and a run in with a corrupt art dealer
- ‘Locust’ SMG, flash-bang grenade loyalty power, new achievement
What intrigues me is that you can play this DLC during a current playthrough, or you undertake this DLC after the completion of the main storyline. This is where things get tricky. What if the choices you made resulted in Shepard’s death? How would you engage this content then? In that case, can you only enjoy this DLC if your Shepard makes it through? Because that’s just lame.