A Spoilerific Look at Breath Of The Wild

Well friends,

it’s been a ride waiting all these years for the release of The Legend of Zelda Breath of the Wild. Not only is it finally here, but some have finished it — myself included. My original plan was to play a bit of it, give my impressions, and then do a spoiler-filled post about it. My plan fell through completely as I was simply enjoying the game itself far too much and kept wanting to come back for more. Having recently finished the game and having seen the credits, I do feel a sense of closure. No, I didn’t get every last shrine or armor nor did I fill the Hyrule Compendium, and I didn’t even find every Korok. What I did do however was climb every tower, free each Divine Beast, and reclaim all of Link’s memories. In this post I am going to bring up moments and sequences that can be called spoilers therefore you have been warned that I may discuss events that you may not have seen.

Still here? Wonderful. Let me first address the Vah Ruto in the room: Breath of the Wild is a remarkable open-world game. Some worlds, including Oblivion or Assassin’s Creed, never felt inviting or offered a sense that I could explore and be rewarded for it. Breath of the Wild offers this in spades thereby instating my belief that this game should be regarded as a masterclass of open-world design. Even ruins had tantalizing prospects of treasures hidden in them. Everywhere you go in Breath of the Wild there are both enemies to combat or wildlife to hunt. The game simply never feels barren or desolate.
Yet despite this, it makes for one of two things: either an imperfect Zelda game or a reimagining of what a Zelda game can be/is. Consider for a moment the beginning of the game: you are stuck on a plateau where you are tasked (among other things) with clearing four Shrines that each gift you with a rune that you use for the entire game to solve puzzles. This means that once you receive the bombs, magnetism, stasis, and cryonis runes, most if not all puzzles found in the game can be solved with these abilities. During my playtime the only times I felt like I couldn’t complete a Shrine were when I came across the combat-oriented ones. Furthermore, the Divine Beasts (which are game’s equivalent of dungeons as we have known them) don’t have boss keys and can be completed in any order you desire. You can even choose not to complete them at all. Breaking from Zelda conventions is one of the things the developers wanted to do and they did so with aplomb. Does this mean we have a new kind of Zelda game? Yes, absolutely. This is the most risk Nintendo has taken with Zelda as a franchise since Zelda II: The Adventure of Link. While I do believe that Breath of the Wild isn’t perfect, I do feel that the risk paid off and this will be a title that brings in plenty of new fans.

But for the returning fans, there is plenty to love. References to multiple games can be found (nevermind which timeline this may or may not be in) but no title is referenced quite like Ocarina of Time. Dialogue throughout the game points to the various races being very aware of who were made Sages, going so far as to say that the Divine Beasts were named after Ruto, Nabooru, Darunia, and Medli. Medli being the lone sage reference to Windwaker. Additionally, Urbosa, the Gerudo Champion, speaks about the legend that Ganon once assumed a Gerudo form. Even the music while working my way to Hyrule Castle itself was very reminiscent of the organ playing that Ganondorf plays in Ocarina of Time.

Speaking of Hyrule Castle, I tweeted that I had a lot of thoughts about one room in particular. While climbing the Castle Walls, it’s very possible to run into Princess Zelda’s room. Aside from a bow and sword I hadn’t seen before, I found Zelda’s diary which was very eye-opening. In the pages of her diary, Zelda expresses resentment towards Link at first. She quickly changes her attitude on him once she witnesses his courage first hand and then appears to develop feelings for him. Among the entries, Zelda discusses a conversation between herself and Link about why he is so quiet and doesn’t usually express himself. Somebody please correct me if I’m wrong, but doesn’t this give characteristics to an avatar Nintendo typically left purposefully blank? I’m intrigued to learn if fleshing Link out further was ever discussed during development.

While on the subject of Zelda herself, I am absolutely thrilled with how she is characterized in Breath of the Wild. In the game, all of Hyrule is not only aware of Ganon, but actively takes steps to prevent the Calamity his arrival brings. This all weighs heavily on Zelda, who through the course of Link’s memories, is unable to summon forth the power that is expected of her until a dramatic climax. This understandably brings forth feelings of anger, jealousy, fear, and ultimately, failure. Why am I so thrilled with a downtrodden heroine? It’s another breaking of convention for Zelda as a character. In prior games, Zelda was usually featured as someone who understood her place in guiding Link to his duty against Ganon and sometimes also as a damsel in distress. In Breath of the Wild, Zelda is trapped in Hyrule Castle with Ganon, but is there willingly holding him back from taking control of the rest of Hyrule. She has some real gumption y’all!

Now, on the bosses, I think it’s a great idea to have the random bosses strewn about the environment. You don’t need to face them at all, but they do present solid challenges, and offer some great loot if defeated. But of all the bosses I encountered, none were as challenging as the version of Ganon in Vah Naboris. During this encounter, the boss moves quick as lightning and is difficult to counter due to the sheer speed at which he moves. I’m still not certain how I beat them, but it is the most memorable.

In addition to the subject of bosses, I love the design of Ganon, it looks very much like his exposure to the Guardians affected him as he attempted to assimilate the technology and use it as a means to achieve a physical form. I was intrigued by his spider-esque form as well, but it was something positively new for him. And I really enjoyed how the fight against this form was varied enough that it felt as though I could use any of my weapons and skills against him, and they weren’t “wrong”. I will say that I was disappointed by what was a by-the-numbers form in Dark Beast Ganon: a hulking beast that is very much like older forms of Ganon. Furthermore, to make things even more generic Link is required to shoot at glowing spots on his body highlighted by Zelda with a special Light Bow. We’ve seen that segment a few times over, and I was surprised after such an inspired first form that we would have that segment to fight.

Now these are just my thoughts on the latest Zelda, but they may change with the DLC that is expected to release this Summer and in the Fall. But what are some of your thoughts on Breath of the Wild Right here is a great outlet to be as spoilerific as you’d like, so go ahead and leave a comment and let the words flow.

Mass(ively) Effect(ive)

This Tuesday sees the release of the latest entry to the Mass Effect franchise, Mass Effect: Andromeda; a game where players get to explore the Andromeda galaxy. Given that Andromeda begins following the conclusion of Mass Effect 2, I wanted to offer an overview of the series in order to add context.

In 2007, Bioware – opting for their own take on sci-fi after making Star Wars: Knight of the Old Republic –  released Mass Effect, their take on a third-person shooter/RPG hybrid. What’s very notable, is that not only were they creating their own mythology and universe, but actively envisioned a trilogy of games from the very beginning. Additionally, Bioware focused on creating a system for player choice to be a vibrant component to facilitate true impact from these choices. The player assumes the role of Commander Shepard, being able to determine how the character looks, acts, his/her background and specialty, all based on user preference.

Personally, I am a huge science fiction fan and Mass Effect seemed to be an experience I couldn’t pass up once I heard about it. As I began to explore the Mass Effect games, I was quick to realize that childhood sci-fi favorites like Star Trek had nothing on the lifeforms created for this franchise.

Mass Effect‘s alien species feel very alive and most of that comes from the shipmates you encounter on your journey. Through characters like the weapons specialist Turian Garrus Vakarian, the Asari Dr. Liara T’Soni, the Quarian engineer Tali’Zorah nar Rayya, and the Krogan warrior Urdnot Wrex, each of the major races you encounter feels more fleshed out, allowing the player a more personal connection to some of the large scale conflicts happening in the game.

One of the larger aspects of the game is the in-game character-to-character dialogue one can choose to engage in. Speaking to your shipmates will reveal conflicts and point you in directions to solve them. Black Market trades, war atrocities, and issues stemming from belief and religion rear their heads during play. It was common in my own playthrough to have my morals challenged knowing full well it would affect not only the characters in the vicinity, but would undoubtedly create unforeseen circumstances later in the game(s).

With Mass Effect giving the player a way to control their own future, it gives true weight to the decisions you make as Commander Shepard by having them be reflected and recounted by NPCs. The story of the game does traverse along a path, but the player has the ability to add variances to the story and in this way make it their own. Before Mass Effect, I had not experienced a video game that accomplished such a branching story to such a successful degree. During my own playthroughs, it felt like I was getting closer to these characters and doing my own self-discovery. It ended up being that much more rewarding since I had to bide my time and ask these characters questions in order to dig a little deeper and learn more about them, their motivations, and what makes them tick.

Mass Effect is truly a fantastic introduction of a living and breathing sci-fi world that isn’t perfect. That imperfection drives a lot of the drama, and from there arises an interaction and experience that blew me away. Coming up on the 10th anniversary of the release of the game and given that no game is without flaws, I would say that it is one of the best RPGs to have come out for the last generation of gaming consoles. Since release, Mass Effect has earned 12 awards including RPG of the Year (2007, TeamXbox), Best Original Score (2007, IGN), and Best Story on PC (2008, IGN).

If you are interested in trying Mass Effect out for yourself, here are some links to get you started:

Steam on Windows for $20

EA’s Origin Service for $15

PlayStation 3 for $15

On Xbox 360 and Xbox One for $20

In addition, a box set of Mass Effect is available for $16.95 – $29.99, depending on your preferred platform on Amazon. Or, as always, check with your local used game shop!

Switch Previews

On March 3rd, Nintendo will launch their latest video game console, and for all of the hype, there’s an awful lot of question still lingering around it. I can’t answer a lot of them just yet, but what I can do is go over the launch titles expected to be available in retail or as a download once the Nintendo Switch goes on sale. Let’s get right to it with the most hyped title – The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

The Legend of Zelda has long been a series of certain expectations, you go through the story of the game, visiting dungeons and collecting items that you all of a sudden conveniently need. Well, like it or hate it, that and other conventions for the series are thrown out the window. Once the game begins, it’s expected that you will have very little to tell you where you should go. Instead, Breath of the Wild will encourage you to pick your own path and carve out your own adventure. This may very well be the game Zelda fans have been waiting for, and previews of the game tell of a game that packs a wallop. It’s being called the greatest Zelda title since Ocarina of Time, and possibly the game that will force Ocarina to settle for 2nd best Zelda game. All of this praise means even more once you understand that the developers wanted to bring back that feel of wonder and exploration that the original Legend of Zelda on NES gave. If there is a must-own title at launch, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild looks to be that game. Breath of the Wild is a $60 grab physically or digitally.

1-2-Switch

It would be easy to dismiss 1-2-Switch as “just” another collection of minigames, but these are designed for parties and to be the center of everyone’s attention. Not only that, but they showcase the Joy-Con controllers of the Switch with extensive use of each feature. The game packs in 28 different mini-games for you to choose from, or you can have the CPU choose games for you. Previews so far have compared 1-2-Switch to the Warioware series, suggesting a lot of the minigames are relatively quick and simple to play through. But it has already attracted criticism for not being a pack-in title for the Switch. While the title is tailor-made for party or game night scenarios, there is no sign of a single-player mode. All signs point to 1-2-Switch being a hard sell unless you regularly have friends over. 1-2-Switch will be a physical or digital purchase for $50.

Fast RMX

Little seems to be said of this indie racer, but you’re most likely be able to find videos on YouTube. But, Fast RMX is a racer that is best described as a cousin to F-Zero. It’s a futuristic hover racer that emphasizes speed above all else. Fast RMX has 4-player split screen and 8-player online multiplayer options. Further, this is the third game in a series that has been only on Nintendo consoles since the Wii. This is a digital-exclusive offering and will be a $20 purchase.

Snipperclips

Snipperclips is a unique co-operative title where up to 4 players re-shape each other to solve assorted puzzles. Expect this game to be a source of equal parts fun and frustration depending on who you get to play with. Players will need to work together to come up with inventive ways to solve puzzles, and sometimes combine shapes to create something else. This may be the most inventive puzzle game in years. Expect this to be one of the most downloaded titles of the launch lineup. Snipperclips will be a $20 purchase.

Just Dance 2017

It shouldn’t be much of a surprise that Just Dance 2017 is coming to the Switch, which will support up to 6 players for your latest dance party. Featuring over 40 songs included with the game, and over 200 through a subscription based service. Just Dance 2017 for the Switch will utilize one Joy-Con per player, and features the same gameplay you either love or love to hate. Just Dance 2017 will be a $60 physical or digital title.

Skylanders Imaginators

Just in case you don’t use Amiibo enough, Skylanders are here to get you to buy more figures! A starter pack will be in retail that offers two figures, the game card, and a portal for use with the figures. For the uninitiated, Skylanders is a combination action and platforming game that has a pretty loyal fanbase. Also, this version adds in a Crash Bandicoot cameo and allows players to make their own Skylanders. The Starter pack will roll you back $60.

Super Bomberman R

Super Bomberman R is the return of the Bomberman series after an absence of seven years. In this edition, up to 8 players can compete and cooperate towards laying bombs down in order to progress through levels. Some previews have painted the picture that the game is a tad clunky, but of the launch lineup, this may be the most accessible multiplayer game around. Further, expect this to be a general pallet cleanser compared to the monstrous size of Breath of the WildSuper Bomberman R will set you back by $50 in physical form or digitally.

I Am Setsuna

I Am Setsuna is an RPG made in the SNES-era fashion, and has it’s roots deep into the classic title Chrono Trigger. When Setsuna is selected as a sacrifice to appease demons, what should be the end of her life turns out to be the beginning of a true test. I Am Setsuna takes plenty from classic RPGs including passive bonuses, and a combat system almost taken from Chrono Trigger itself. I Am Setsuna and it’s classic RPG experience will run you $40 as a digital download.

Shovel Knight

Shovel Knight already was on the Wii U, but it will be coming to the Switch on launch day with every piece of DLC in tow in Shovel Knight: Treasure Trove. In Shovel Knight, you guide the titular character through an 8-bit adventure on a quest to rescue his beloved from the clutches of the Order of No Quarter. Shovel Knight: Treasure Trove also boasts up to 4-person multiplayer, and 3 additional campaigns involving different characters and abilities. Lastly, a new mode of play will allow you to alter the body and pronouns of each playable character. Meaning, if you want, your Shovel Knight can have the appearance of a woman but be referred to with he/him/his pronouns. Shovel Knight: Treasure Trove will be a $25 digital download.

There you have it, the nine titles confirmed to be launching on March 3rd alongside the Nintendo Switch. There’s plenty of other titles coming soon like World of GooMr. ShiftyMario Kart 8 Deluxe, and Stardew Valley, plus more games are coming every week for this brand new system. What will you plan on grabbing? I’ll hope to see you back here to see my thoughts on two of the titles, Super Bomberman R and The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.

Why It Pays To Take A Step Back

Yes, the Nintendo Switch launches in just a week, and the gaming world waits to hear about how the system and its launch games fair. But for right now, most are reacting to the news that the Virtual Console won’t be available at launch. 

For those that don’t know, Virtual Console is a service that made its way to Wii, Wii U, and 3DS systems as a way to play games from older set ups. However, you had to purchase them again from Nintendo. It’s important to note that only the Wii has enjoyed Virtual Console games from the very beginning, with 3DS and Wii U getting the service within a few months into the hardware of the lifespan. 

So what does this mean for Switch’s Virtual Console hopes? Just wait a bit. Based on how long it took for 3DS and Wii U to get them, I would expect the service to launch in the summer. June, perhaps as an announcement at E3, would be ideal. 

In short my recommendation is to enjoy what games you will be getting (The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and Super Bomberman R myself) and keep your ear to the ground for when the games of yore start to arrive.

 Once the Nintendo Switch launches I have every intention of posting impressions of the hardware as well as the aforementioned games and what services will be made available. Happy gaming everyone! 

25 Years of Blizzard

Growing up, there was always a lot of gaming going on. Day to day, it could’ve been a table top classic like Monopoly or Dungeons & Dragons, or one of the many games we had on consoles. Those naturally would be more varied, but in the mid 90’s my family brought home a PC game that hooked my Dad, brother and I. That game was Warcraft II: Tides of Darkness. And it ended up starting a life-long love affair I didn’t even realize I had with a development house with one of the best records in gaming: Blizzard Entertainment.

Original known as Silicon & Synapse, by 1995, Blizzard hadn’t had a big hit yet and had done some smaller projects for both Computer gaming and consoles like the Super Nintendo. While the original Warcraft garnered critics praise, it had not become a big hit. That is not until the sequel popularized online Real-Time Strategy gaming. And that is what managed to hook my family into it, that after the story, and the baked-in scenarios, there was still more to offer that could be different every time.

But, it was more then just online gameplay. That was a bonus. The game itself was relatively easy to understand, even for a kid who was in first grade. The game also had personality in spades. Through the house while playing Warcraft II, the sounds of many a loyal peasant and footman could be heard. “Yesh m’lord,” “For the Alliance,” and even special phrases like “Don’t you have a kingdom to run”?  The fact that the people under your command had such a personality made it fun and not quite as serious as other games in the genre were. But Warcraft was blown out of the water with a release in 1998 by the name of Starcraft.

Where Warcraft II was about Orcs vs. Humans, Starcraft had a more complex plot line involving three races, the Terrans, Protoss, and the Zerg. These three races become locked in a struggle to control the galaxy that sees members of government trying to stop the heroes at every turn, or rising up against their superiors. But even despite the serious plot, it still retained it’s charm by giving distinct personalities to primary characters and the races overall. But looking at Starcraft itself, it’s apparent now to say that Starcraft laid the groundwork for eSports. Starcraft ended up becoming a huge online behemoth that was in constant play at homes and in tournaments worldwide until about 2010. And that is perhaps it’s greatest legacy. My family never participated in any of these tournaments, but we did have LAN matches between ourselves that ended in one of two ways. Either my brother would launch what’s known as a Zerg rush, crippling his opponents early, or Dad would be methodical in his approach and have me fail an attack only for him to retaliate before I could recover. It was good times that seem far away now. We enjoyed it so much, we even eventually picked up the Nintendo 64 port. Wasn’t a bad way to experience the game but it was… harder without a mouse.

A few years after the release of Starcraft came, my Dad picked up a sequel to one of Blizzard’s games that I hadn’t been allowed to play, but had watched some of: Diablo. Diablo II was a game that I didn’t connect with as well, and I imagine that’s because it was such a different game. In the Diablo series, it’s up to you to lead a charge against the demons and lords of Hell itself. And along the way you get a lot of loot. I didn’t understand the mechanics well enough to really grasp the game or get far into it, but it would influence me enough later in life to get excited for Diablo III and to pick it up.

The games of Blizzard continued to be influential as I continued to grow up, as I played the games I already loved over and over again, but the only game that released before I graduated High School after Diablo II was Warcraft III in 2002. Warcraft III brought the series and Blizzard into the 3D realm, and they added two more races, the Undead and the Night Elves. It made for a much more layered and challenging experience, one that I would love to get back to now that I may have a better grasp of the mechanics.

After High School, I ended up getting a job with Wal-Mart’s electronics department in 2007, and ended up working with a couple of guys that were big into another game that changed my perception of what a game could be: World of Warcraft. I wasn’t into it near as much s they were, but it was so crazy to me to have this entire other world to explore and actually see other people roaming the land of Azeroth and be able to interact with them. It was especially mind-altering for me as before I had played online games where you might meet someone for a game and then never hear from them again. But World of Warcraft actively encouraged you to meet with people, and not only get to know them but trust in their abilities. It’s a feeling that has carried over to the newest games I’ve played from Blizzard, like Diablo III and Overwatch.

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While Diablo III was more of the same, but prettier for the series, it had an ease of use about that made it so anyone could play it, and the barrier I experiences all those years ago with it’s predecessor was gone. The console release made it even better by having multiplayer on the same couch. But I haven’t felt as connected to a game as I have lately with Overwatch.

On paper, Overwatch feels like another shooter. But like with so many of Blizzard’s games, the characters make the biggest difference. In it, you have men and woman of different backgrounds and ethnicities, robots, and even a gorilla to choose from. and each of these characters has it’s own abilities and weapons. The maps you play in also look lived in, with visual clues sprinkled throughout that hint towards events in the game’s lore. But it also exemplifies that teamwork aspect I first felt in the raids of World of Warcraft. You aren’t the lone soldier able to do everything on your own, but someone that must rely on the abilities of your team to achieve a common goal.
Since 1991, Blizzard has crafted wonderful games that emphasize characters and gameplay before anything else. The games have shaped what I expect out of games, and have given me a plethora of memories related to playing them. It didn’t occur to me that Blizzard had been such a big part of my gaming life until this weekend when Blizzcon (they’re own convention) showed a retrospective video that you can see here. (Opens a new window/tab to YouTube).

If you haven’t played one of the games in the Blizzard library, do yourself a favor and fix that now. Below I have links to where you can download a variety of the games mentioned here as well as some of the other popular games available. I hope you enjoy
them as much as I have. Happy gaming to all! And to Blizzard: thank you for all of the memories past, present, and still to come.

Starcraft – (PC Only) $15 with expansion

Diablo II – (PC/Mac) $10 + a $10 expansion

Warcraft III – (PC/Mac) $10 + a $10 expansion

Heroes of the Storm – (PC/Mac) Free

Heathstone – PC, Mac, iOS, and Android Free

Starcraft II: Complete Trilogy (PC/Mac) $60

Diablo III Battle Chest (PC, Mac, Xbox One, Xbox 360, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 3) – $30 [Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 will not receive new content!]

Overwatch: Origins Edition (PC, Xbox One, PlayStation 4) $60, includes bonus goodies for most of the newer games on this list!

World of Warcraft (PC/Mac) $20 to start, free to try

I Warped Into Star Trek Online and All I Got Was a Starship

These days, it seems that Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games (MMORPGs) are a dime a dozen. You have juggernauts like Final Fantasy XIV, World of Warcraft and the Elder Scrolls Online, but this barely scratches the surface of what all is available for a gamer to choose from. Lately most have gone free-to-play, making it too easy to slip into one, but the question remains about whether it’s worth your time. I recently stumbled into playing a bit of Star Trek Online and have raised a character up to level 10 on the Federation side. Star Trek itself has been about exploring the human condition and a future where humanity works to better itself. Star Trek Online, however, doesn’t always reflect the mentality of the franchise.

 

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The U.S.S. Kershaw

Long story short,  Star Trek Online is a solid Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game at odds with itself. Short story long however, when you create a new character (out of a surprising number of established races and an option to create one yourself) you find yourself a Cadet about to graduate from Starfleet Academy in San Francisco roughly thirty years after the events of Star Trek: Nemesis. You pass a test and find yourself enlisted as the First Officer on a shake-down cruise on a Miranda-class vessel. Klingons strike your vessel, kill your captain and leave you as Acting Captain. Then somehow you manage to fight off a Borg invasion. It seems a tad far-fetched, but your actions grant you the rank of Lieutenant and the official command of your vessel.

 

The next missions have you fighting the Klingons as they have started war with the Federation. You have some slightly different scenarios while you strike at the Klingons, but personally I felt there was very little challenge. Even then, the challenge truly comes from ship-to-ship combat. It feels right, perfectly balanced, and feels as engrossing as even the best of Star Trek’s battles. However, on the ground things change. You have to take out groups of enemies and conduct bonus objectives when they arise, like venting plasma to eliminate a group, or heal wounded along the way, but it’s unclear to me if you are killing the enemies or simply stunning them as is historically what the Federation prefers doing.

Now I don’t know if it’s the mission, or if it is indicative of a larger issue, but so far there hasn’t been much in the way of negotiating, or conducting explorative activities as is what the Federation usually does. Most interestingly, aside from your bridge, it appears that you can’t explore the rest of your ship. It strikes me as a big surprise only because it seems like a feature that would be on the list of most Trekkies. But, aside from these issues about the activities you do in the game, it is a very well made title.

As you traverse the quadrants, it’s easy to stop and stare and the magnificent ships flying past, or at the surrounding galactic phenomena peppering the environments. Truth be told, the only graphical hiccup I’ve seen on my Xbox One is that when a communication window pops up, sometimes the character model lags behind the dialog box. Other than that, everything appears to run smoothly.

Further, it’s impressive how much of the game has been added since it’s debut in 2010. While on the Federation side you start out cooling off the Klingons, eventually you start fighting the Breen, Borg, and dealing with temporal anomalies bringing less then friendly foes to your doorstep. And all of it is free. Currently, the only thing to spend real-money on is customization items, things that enable your bridge to look like the classic Enterprise’s or to get the uniforms as seen in a movie or TV series.

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The Bridge crew of the Kershaw on a Cardassian flagship, led by Vulcan Lt. Commander T’Pia (middle).

Notably, once you hit level 10, further customization becomes possible, where you gain control over what ship you are the captain of, and what she looks like. For example, when I hit level 10, I gained a Constitution-class refit vessel. Think of it as being similar to the Enterprise-A and you’re on the right track. Along with the ship, you can customize your bridge crew to be in the shape you want it to be.

All-in-all, I believe Star Trek Online is a good MMORPG, featuring solid gameplay, but lacking in a sense of immersion that feels at place in the Star Trek universe. Still, if you enjoy the franchise, it’s difficult to say no as a fan. See, the game manages to do something that so far hasn’t been accomplished in a visual form: it continues the lore. Since Star Trek: Nemesis, there hasn’t been a movie taking place further in time. And the upcoming TV Show, Star Trek: Discovery reportedly won’t either, so for those that want to know what happens to the galaxy after the Romulan sun goes nova will find a treasure trove of scenarios and information to dive into.

So who is best served by Star Trek Online? Trekkies looking for an expansion of the lore and for a good Trek game, of course, though I hesitate to suggest that it is any better than other MMORPGs out there.

X (Box) Marks The PC

Microsoft had their Xbox briefing Monday morning, and talked mostly about games and then a little bit of hardware and about Xbox Live itself. Let’s not dawdle, there was a lot going on.

First and foremost, Head of Xbox Phil Spencer opened the show with condolences for those affected from the Orlando attack. It’s especially a surprise for Xbox to do it very first thing, as historically they cut to an opening demo.

But after that it was to the usual business and Microsoft wasted no time in confirming the rumored Xbox One S. The slim model is 40% smaller, moves the power brick into the box, plays 4K Blu-Ray discs and 4K streaming, and is ready for HDR gaming. However, this also removes the Kinect port. Now if one wants to use it, there’s and adapter for a USB port. Further, the controller has also seen a slight upgrade with Bluetooth functionality and a new textured grip. It’s priced at $299 for a 500GB model, $349 for 1TB, or $399 for 2TB. It’s a great offer for anyone new to the Xbox One, but I’ll explain later why it may not be good for the biggest of gamers.

Then, the first game, Gears of War 4, was shown off while also showcasing a new initiative for Xbox. Like with Quantum Break earlier this year, Gears of War 4 would also be coming to Windows 10, but would also be the first title to feature the new Xbox Play Anywhere. Xbox Play Anywhere will let people buy a game digitally on both Xbox One and Windows 10 for one price. These games aren’t just cross-buy, they are cross-save and cross-play as well. I for one, see this as a fantastic new initiative for those gamers that can play own both, or for PC users that were interested in an Xbox title but didn’t want to make the plunge. Let’s hope it works better then Games for Windows Live.

Screen Shot 2016-06-15 at 7.12.42 PMBut Gears of War 4 is also going to have support for the new High Dynamic Range that the S is going to offer. This will create better colors and greater visuals. I’m always happy for prettier titles, but the catch is you need a compatible TV which means you need a recent probably 4K TV. Will it matter when most haven’t bought in or is the thing that gets people to? A gameplay demo was also shown, and the biggest takeaway I had was that Gears of War 4 looked to be a lot more colorful, but still played like Gears. Surely that’s great for fans but if you haven’t paid attention to it, I doubt this game will change your mind. Gears of War 4 comes out October 11th. Is that not enough Gears for you? There’s a specially designed Elite controller for Gears 4 coming at the same time too. It’s assumed that ti’ll be the normal $150.

Is that STILL not enough Gears? The fighting game Killer Instinct is also joining the Xbox Play Anywhere program and is getting a new character, General Raam from Gears of War. General Raam is free to play this week.

Screen Shot 2016-06-15 at 7.20.22 PMAnother Xbox Play Anywhere title was unveiled next, as Forza Horizon 3 races to the Australian coast. I’m not a big fan of racers myself but holy cow this game is gorgeous to behold. Instead of focusing on gameplay mechanics (which is a smart move to me) a stage demo instead focused on the cross-platform multiplayer. They had two PCs on stage, one using a race wheel, and the other using  a gamepad playing along with an Xbox One and Xbox One S. Having not played a Horizon title before, I am interested after watching the gameplay, but but maybe it’s just the multiplayer aspect I like seeing. Forza Horizon 3 is coming to Windows 10 and Xbox One on September 27th.

Screen Shot 2016-06-15 at 7.28.52 PMYet another Xbox Play Anywhere title, a gameplay trailer for Recore was finally shown. From the creators of Mega Man and Metroid Prime, gameplay has you traversing a far future Earth and using robot companions to overcome various challenges. I’m interested in this because of the pedigree behind it, but also as a great alternative to all of the multiplayer titles. It releases _________ on Xbox One and Windows 10 for $40 and gives you Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts for the Xbox One through Backwards Compatibility for free. Strangest bundle offer, but if you don’t have it that’s a great way to get it.

Next title shown at the Xbox conference is… not exclusive. They showed a Titan boss battle in Final Fantasy XV. Certainly not complaining that it was shown, but there was no commentary during the gameplay. It created a very confusing segment that I wish was expanded upon. No exclusive features for the Xbox One were mentioned or announced, which really makes me question why it was shown in the first place. I mean, we’ve known that Final Fantasy XV was coming to the console for a good while now. It felt out of place. Don’t get me wrong, still interested in the title though.

As an example of a good third-party appearance, Tom Clancy’s The Division showed off a new upcoming DLC for June 28th named Underground. Having not played it, I don’t have any opinion on it but for fans, I’m sure more DLC is always good news. Also, we kind of already knew it, bit Battlefield 1 can be played on Xbox One earlier than other platforms through EA Access. You can play it starting October 13th if you are a member of EA Access. What I don’t approve of though, is a showing of the exact same trailer that EA’s own conference showed just the night before. At least bring something a little different or even extended hm?

At this point, Xbox Live took a break from showing games and talked about the Xbox Live service itself and announced some new features coming. One, Clubs, will allow you to create your own communities to find friends and players easier then ever. True, this feature is already on the PlayStation 4, but this feature has been long overdue and I’m excited. Next, was Background Music. I know some like it and have waited for a long time for it, but personally, I prefer to listen to the game’s own music when playing. You can also select your preferred language for your home console. So, if your family is more fluent in Spanish, this would allow you to make all games and apps display the Spanish language by default. I don;t know of anyone that will take advantage, but it’s a good move in my book. Further, Xbox Live started to branch out. As a service, it’s now available on iOS and Android devices as well. Still another feature, Looking For Group, was announced and explained as “a wanted ad for gamers” where you look for gamers that are going for a particular goal or achievement. Lastly Arena is a new tournament platform for eSports or those that just want to play against each other. It’s not bad, but I’m not really that concerned myself.

Minecraft also made some waves and showed off that multiplayer can now be engaged over different platforms including Xbox One, Windows 10, Oculus, iOS, and Android. Notably, there’s no PS4 or Wii U. Also, you can ear achievements or invite people from your Xbox friends list. I wish that the other networks would reach out and bridge the gap. Still, pretty cool announcement.

Oh, remember those controller upgrades? It’s also possible to get your own custom controller. For a bit of a premium over the original, you can mix and match colors and have them engraved at the Xbox Labs website. Not a bad service, but it’s on that seems inconsequential.

Screen Shot 2016-06-15 at 7.50.11 PMPlayhead’s latest title, Inside is almost here! They announced with a trailer that it’s coming out June 29th. But aside from that, LIMBO is now free for Xbox One owners. And free is always great news. But aside from that, Inside has been greatly anticipated because of how well LIMBO was received. If you haven’t tried it before now is the perfect time.

Being that Inside is an ID@Xbox title, it should come as no surprise that a sizzle real started highlighting some big titles on the way like Cuphead, Below, Outlast II, and Stardew Valley.Eagle-eyed observers of the sizzle trailer will have noticed that four titles; Cupped, Slime Rancher, The Culling, and Everspace are also Xbox Play Anywhere titles. Also right after the trailer, Ark: Survival Evolved was announced as another title in the program, and that it would honor previous purchases was well. Could this be a sign that any 3rd party publisher could enable the service too? I hope so. The more people that play these gases, the better.

Screen Shot 2016-06-18 at 11.54.48 AMA demo was also showcased for an upcoming ID@Xbox title that would also be making it’s way to Game Preview: We Happy Few. Personally I’m excited for it and I get a very Bioshock-ish vibe from it with the characters being controlled to some degree by a drug called Joy. I for one know I’m going to play when it comes to Xbox Game Preview on July 26th.

But my guess is that the next game will get a lot of people excited. CD Projekt Red, the folks that made the Witcher series wold be creating a spin-off based on the very successful card mini-game, Gwent. Gwent will feature a single-player campaign, and cross-platform multiplayer between PCs and “consoles”.  A closed beta will be coming to Xbox One and Windows 10 PCs in September 2016.  Interested? You can register at playgwent.com.

Why stop the competition at cards though? Next up Microsoft showed that Tekken 7 would also be coming to Xbox One and Windows PCs simultaneously with the PS4 release in early 2017. On stage, a demo showcased the story mode that would switch between cutscenes and actual fighting gameplay. But why stop there? Tekken Tag Tournament 2 was also made free for all Xbox Live Gold members through Backwards Compatibility. Again, free is great.

Moving right on to the next title is another game coming to Xbox One and Windows 10, but notably was not labeled as an exclusive. Dead Rising 4 will release this holiday on both Xbox One and Windows 10 and could eventually make it’s way to other platforms in the future. Dead Rising 4 will feature Frank West as the main protagonist again as he bashes and shoots his way through hordes of zombies 16 years after the first game.

Screen Shot 2016-06-18 at 12.21.49 PMNext up though was a demo for a game coming in 2017 from Platinum Games, Scalebound. In the demo, 4 players worked together to bring down a massive boss. It could be fun, but it didn’t seem like fun to me. I’m hoping that I will be proved wrong when it releases. Scalebound is yet another title that will be Xbox Play Anywhere.

Now as for something I am excited for, the upcoming Rare title, Sea of Thieves was shown with some gameplay of “real gamers” playing it. It came across as genuine and really spoke to the goal of “play how you want” that they’re going for. Sea of Thieves will be coming to Xbox One and Windows 10 as a Xbox Play Anywhere title. Sea of Thieves unfortunately does not have a release windows yet.

Was Dead Rising 4 not enough zombie mayhem for you? Good, because State of Decay 2 is coming to Xbox One and Windows 10 as another Xbox Play Anywhere title due to come in 2017. Just the trailer was shown.

The final game on display is a big one for Microsoft, Halo Wars 2. It’ll be coming to Xbox One and Windows 10 as a Xbox Play Anywhere title and bring back the RTS gameplay to console on February 21, 2017. Halo Wars 2 also launched a public beta that ends on June 20th. I’m excited for this only because I haven’t tried the first one yet, but I loved titles like Age of Empires and Starcraft.

With all of the games shown off I thought that was it. But Phil Spencer hit the stage again and with a trailer introduced “Project Scorpio” publicly. This is why I can’t decide if the Xbox One S is worth getting right now. Project Scorpio is going to be a very powerful console that will allow for 4K gaming, VR support, and HDR gaming. Project Scorpio will release sometime in 2017. There’s been a lot of talk this last week over wether it makes the S obsolete before it releases, or if it will create a fractured user base. Unfortunately, right now I don’t think the answers are all there. I feel like Scorpio will be the biggest story at next year’s E3, but for right now, it leaves more questions then answers.

But Scorpio, aside, the Xbox conference was almost more about Windows 10 being welcomed back with open arms into the Xbox family, and that can only be a great thing. My only concern is that it will give people less reason to pick up an Xbox One and just beef up their existing PCs. Time will tell.

But there’s my admittedly long-winded look at the Xbox show, lots of games, some added features, some new hardware and even some free games. I’ll be working on the Ubisoft briefing and I’m hoping that I’ll get that out sooner then later.