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!

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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.

Bethesda Honors A Quake-ing Audience

Before I truly begin to look into Bethesda’s 2016 E3 showcase, it would be a grievous mistake to not highlight what they started. As a sign of solidarity with victims, their families, and others affected, all speakers for Bethesda wore rainbow ribbons. Bethesda created a classy move that was followed by each conference that followed.

But, that sad event is not why you are here, you’re here to look at some fantastic games, so let’s get to it.

Screen Shot 2016-06-14 at 6.44.22 AMBethesda started their event with a wonderful homage to the old DOS operating system where they booted up a Quake trailer to marvelous applause. It was only a CG trailer for the upcoming Quake Champions. Now the big surprise given the present gaming landscape is that Quake Champions dares to be a competitive shooter only available for PC. It does follow the classic release plans for Quake, and it’s a surprising move. What isn’t a surprising move is that Bethesda is pledging to support eLeagues with Quake Champions. It’s been made for that kind of environment when Quake first premiered twenty years ago.  More is promised but it won’t be shown until QuakeCon in August.

Next, after a quick review of Bethesda’s successes, the opening cinematic for The Elder Scrolls: Legends was shown. Here, actual gameplay was shown, as well as some information on the single-player campaign. But, most exciting is that Legends is expanding it’s platform base to every iOS device, Android device, Mac, and PC. If you’re interested in the Beta, you can still sign up!

They quickly moved to a video that made several announcements including new DLC for Fallout 4. The Contraptions add-on will let you add things like elevators, sorting machines, armor racks, and conveyer belts to your settlement. It arrives next week. Bethesda also showed a Vault-Tec add-on that allows you to create your own Vaults in Fallout 4. That releases in July. Lastly, a new area was shown and may have a campaign for it. The tourist attraction of Nuka-World comes in August.

The video stayed on theme and talked about a new update coming for Fallout Shelter, a very successful mobile game that is making the leap to PC in July. All of these add-ons will ensure that Fallout 4 and Shelter remain popular for a while, but it does also sound like next year we could end up with a new RPG that’s similar to Fallout and the Elder Scrolls.

Screen Shot 2016-06-14 at 7.12.01 AMThen lastly, Bethesda owned up to the rumors and showed a trailer for The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim – Special Edition coming to PC, PS4, and Xbox One. This new version of Skyrim will feature new and revamped graphics as well as mods made available on console. Journey back to Skyrim October 28th. Personally I think it’s great to have that come back and I for one can’t wait to get back into it and stream it!

Bethesda next brought out Arkane Studios for one of the projects they’ve been working on. A trailer was released for Prey, a new psychological title coming to PC, PS4 and Xbox One. Some games are about zombies, but Prey is the game that won’t stop. This is now the second attempt at using the name and having it live on. Prey has a planned release in 2017 with more promised at Quakecon. I’m certainly intrigued and really enjoyed the trailer that was shown.

Next Bethesda went back to the familiar and talked about the latest entry in the DOOM franchise. They talked about free DLC in the form of new construction sets, props, and logic options for the SnapMap feature, which allows you to create your own maps. Unto The Evil will be coming later this summer and be the first premium DLC for DOOM. It’ll provide a few new maps, a new playable demon, along with more weapons and armor. Finally, they also announced that for the week, the 1st level would be available for free for everyone to try. More ways to play that are mostly free and a free way to entice new players like myself? That’s certainly a great way to expand your user base.

Bethesda quickly shifted gears to The Elder Scrolls Online, and I have to say this is where I was lost, but that’s more because I don’t play MMOs. But, the announcements were still innovative, including an initiative to have every player be able to join in every quest and with any other player regardless of progression. Also, a new Dark Brotherhood quest-line was revealed and as this was one of my fav parts of Oblivion, I hope players are excited.

Half expectedly and half surprise, Bethesda also announced plans to put DOOM and Fallout 4 onto VR with Fallout 4 being announced for HTC Vive. I’m intrigued in VR, but right now the price point is too steep for me but for those that have it this has to be a great announcement.

Screen Shot 2016-06-14 at 8.59.11 AMNext, Bethesda dove head first into a lengthy Dishonored 2 demo. Showing a new vibrant city to explore with two characters you can play as , Emily Baldwin, or the hero of the first title, Corvo. Dishonored 2 utilizes a new engine named VOID that allows the developers to create a vibrant and visibly historical city. Dishonored 2 will still focus on letting the player play how they want and the story changing based on your actions. Emily will have new powers, while Corvo’s utilize new skill trees. It looks to me like Dishonored 2 will be a natural progression of the mechanics of the first title, and the world that has been created is one I enjoyed before. Dishonored 2 is one title I will be keeping tabs on, and you may want to as well. Dishonored 2 releases for PC, PS4 and Xbox One 11.11.16

Overall, Bethesda had most of their big franchises on display at E3, with only Wolfenstein really left out. Unless you want to consider Prey as a new game, the presentation was also very light on any risk. Each item unveiled is sure to be a hit. Is this the sign of a publisher playing it safe, or hitting a golden age?

Regardless, it was a fantastic showing and will lead into the next conference I tackle, the rapid fire Xbox 2016 Media Briefing. See you then!

EA Phones E3 In

Hello everyone and welcome to another look at what’s happening in Los Angeles for E3. Let’s get right to it with EA’s conference.

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Titan SMASH!

EA kicked it off with the much-teased Titanfall 2 and was a great reveal showcasing the upcoming single-player campaign and the revamped multiplayer. The single-player’s story or campaign structure is largely unknown right now, but it’s inclusion is good enough to me for now. The multiplayer not only looks fantastic but can we talk about the grappling hook? Because wow that will change a lot of the dynamic when playing as a Pilot. The hook appears to let you grab onto ledges, Titans, and other pilots(for some sweet mid-air pummeling action too). So far it’s unclear if there are limits to the hook’s ability, but at the moment it looks like the most promising addition.  I can’t wait for the Open Beta which should be coming up later this summer ahead of the October 28th release date.

EA also talked, predictably about Madden and FIFA, and while I know the games have a strong following I can’t say I’m among them. But what I do find interesting is that, following the ever-growing trend, Madden is having a Pro Sports League. I’m hoping that it will end up having more understanding fans then some leagues have shown so far.

Screen Shot 2016-06-13 at 11.09.06 AMFIFA though had some surprises in store for fans including what looks to be a true story in a sports game. It looks as if the line between Sports and RPG game are growing ever blurrier. However, aside from the one notable addition, it sounds like any other annual release. I’m sure it’ll be a big release for EA, but outside looking in it doesn’t pull me in. Not sure what would though.

As ready as I am for the next entry into the Mass Effect universe, Mass Effect Andromeda, I’m supremely disappointed by the showing at EA’s conference. We didn’t get true gameplay. We don’t know anything new about the story, just a cinematic trailer with small details. We know that a Mako-like vehicle will be in the game, as well as at least one Asarian character. But aside from that? Nothing for certain. There’s still too many questions for a game that looks like it will be pushed back into 2017. The only thing we know for sure? It’ll use the Frostbite engine, which at this point is a requirement if you make a game with EA apparently. Here’s hoping Microsoft or Sony blow the lid off of the game.

Screen Shot 2016-06-13 at 11.11.31 AMAs a total surprise, after the success of Unraveled, EA announced a new program called EA Originals.The first game shown off as part of this program is Fe from Zoink Games. It’s a game without dialogue that will cast the player as a cub trying to find it’s way back to it’s own kind. In the game, the songs of the forest will guide the player to where they need to go. But, all the while “beings of silence” will be corrupting the forest. Visually it looks minimalist and very pleasing to explore. I’ll be keeping an eye on this one for sure. Oh, and that EA Originals program? All the money goes back to the developer. So, there’s that.

EA didn’t stop there in trying to be charitable. Multiple games including FIFA and Star Wars Battlefront will shortly have events meant to raise awareness and money for specific charities. Players will need to complete challenges in order for the money to be raised. When a game company gives money to charities, it’s great. When a company does it and gets the fans involved, it’s even better.

The biggest disappointment of the night came with Star Wars fan-fare. I know, totally unexpected. EA teased that seven developers are working on Star Wars content and showed us footage of the developers talking about what they are making and… that was it. No names of the projects, no firm dates aside from vague “2017” or “2018” markers. That may be the biggest achievement of this briefing: EA managed to make people disappointed with Star Wars. Only one other man did that in 1999.

Screen Shot 2016-06-13 at 11.13.39 AMLastly, Battlefield 1 was shown off, and it was announced that there will be a public beta later this summer as well as a live stream right after the show with Alpha gameplay from celebrities like Jamie Foxx and Zac Efron. That is the strangest sentence I have ever written. It’s nice to see celebrities are interested in it too, but at the same time it was unnecessary. In my mind, it would’ve had more impact if members of the audience were invited to participate in the stream.

But that was all that was announced. Notice anything missing? You should, because plenty of EA’s assets were no-shows. No talk of upcoming improvements to NHL or NBA Live titles. Nothing from PopCap Games, or Criterion, or Ghost Games. It comes as a surprise that some of the biggest franchises with EA were also never brought up. Not just the aforementioned sports titles, but no sign of Plants vs. Zombies, Bejeweled, Need For Speed, Dragon Age, Burnout, The Sims, and UFC. These are just the ones I assumed we could see announcements for, even if it was just DLC. I have the impression that EA didn’t have a whole lot lined up for their own conference and may be waiting to make larger splashes at either Xbox’s or PlayStation’s conferences. Time will tell.

But my general thought on EA’s 2016 E3 conference is that it was a lot of talk and aside from Fe, was generally lacking in true surprise. Aside from talking about Titanfall 2 and Battlefield 1, it also felt like most of the developers had little to show from their work over the last year. Next I’ll be talking about the Bethesda briefing!

Injustices of Watching Deus Ex Dogs

Even before E3, the announcements are already flying faster than Sonic in the Green Hills Zone. This last Wednesday saw two games have an official unveiling and one got more details.

injustice2

First up, the furthest to release, the newest fighting game from NetherRealm Studios: Injustice 2. Injustice 2 picks up where the first left off with Regime Superman locked up in a prison. Evidently he manages to break out and meet with loyalists which puts Batman and other “Insurgent” characters in a bind while they try to give Earth it’s freedom back. The trailer showcases a few of the heroes you can play as, like Superman, Flash, Batman, Aquaman, and the new fighter, Supergirl.

This trailer doesn’t give us much to go on. No lines of dialogue are spoken by the heroes themselves, but there is a narrator that makes a reference to a pit. And that each time he comes out of it he emerges stronger, like a monster in the night. That immediately makes me think of longtime Bat-nemesis Ra’s-al Ghul. For those who don’t know, he is a master of a group of ninjas that clash with Batman frequently and he re-energizes himself with Lazarus Pits around the world. Could he be a new villain in this alternate DC Universe?

Otherwise the armor coming on top of itself combined with the press release makes me think those are peeks into the customization of the heroes and villains that will be coming. Unfortunately, with only a trailer that is all I can gleam from it. So let’s move on to an in-depth look with some cybernetics on it’s bones: Deus Ex Mankind Divided.

Deus Ex had a LOT to offer so let’s get right to it. First, Square Enix saw fit to grant us another mobile game in the inspired GO series based on the recent Adam Jensen titles. Deus Ex GO will allow the player to use augmentations in combat and hacking scenarios to solve the puzzles laid out before you. It’s expected this summer on unspecified smartphones and tablets. It looks similar in style to the previous entries, Hitman and Tomb Raider, and will be more about careful problem solving then pure action. Having never played one of these games myself, I can’t gleam anything further from the teeny trailer they put out.

Next, a new mode was revealed called Breach that will be included with Mankind Divided. Breach appears to put a normal person into a VR setting to infiltrate a corporation’s mainframe and extract information it’s holding. While in this mode, you can unlock additional weapons, attachments and augmentations to combat the digital defenses. Also, it has it’s own story and art direction. Further, it also has leaderboards and challenges to add a layer of multiplayer over it. However, this doesn’t appear to add a traditional multiplayer mode to Deus Ex.

Personally, I’m excited for this mode. The base game is already going to have a variety of gameplay, situations, and possibilities, but adding another mode that doesn’t get in the way of the primary story is exactly how you add longevity to a game like this. It has been stated that Breach will be supported with additional content post-launch. I also appreciate the different art style so that at a glance you can easily tell what Jensen’s story is and what Breach is.

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After that wonderful trailer, they showcased a portion of the main game that sees Jensen waking up in his apartment in Prague two years after the events of Human Revolution. Jensen finds he has a problem with his augmentations, so calls a friend to get repairs, but finds he is surrounded by thugs. Jensen then has to go and rescue him. While exploring the environment, the demo shows us how a simple conversation with police could be handled plenty of different ways just as in Human Revolution. But what’s most striking about Prague is that there’s so much natural color to the city and it truly feels lived in, unlike Human Revolution’s Detroit which comparatively is barren. Additionally, the sight of seeing segregated lines marked “Natural” and “Aug” for a train stop is downright painful and echoes the Civil Rights Movement to a T. The art direction is truly impressive. The remainder of the demo showcases how the environment will play a big role in traversal as well as in planning your methods to resolving your encounters. The combat doesn’t feel much different, but of course we have a number of new augmentations for both lethal and non-lethal purposes. Human Revolution was a favorite of mine, and I am positively excited for what Mankind Divided has in store. But the last game I want to talk about? This one moves from Chicago to the sun-soaked city of San Francisco.

Watch Dogs 2 stars an all-new hero, Marcus Holloway in the city of San Fran as he is part of a hacktivist group named Dedsec. Right away the game feels very different from it’s predecessor because of the sun-soaked setting, having a black character, and being part of a group. In fact, it’s the group that adds a “always-on” multiplayer layer where you can see other people playing the campaign and engage in co-op missions fluidly. It looks like it could be a lot of fun, a graphic surprise, but I am left wondering what Marcus’ motivations are. As part of a hacktivist group they usually have a clear reason of why they do things, but the reveal hasn’t addressed that yet. Further, they gave Marcus a… unique weapon. It’s little more than a billiard ball with rope. Compared to Aiden in the first game that he has some jumping capabilities, Marcus is a full-on parkouring hero. Looks like he will have plenty of tricks and flourishes up his sleeve. But, perhaps we will learn more at E3. Still have to pick up the first game myself, maybe this will be the push I need to check it out.

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You can expect some analysis for each conference as it occurs, and I will do my best to crank them out as quickly as I can. Further, I’m also hoping to do some video analysis, but that’s very new territory for me. So, hope you can gleam some info from me as we all venture head-first into E3 2016.

Want to look at the vids I mentioned above? Here’s the YouTube channels for Injustice, Deus Ex, and Ubisoft US, home of Watch Dogs 2.

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Thanks for reading and I’ll be back with more!