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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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!

Looking Back -Jedis and Outcasts

I remember the lead-up to this game pretty fondly. That wallpaper image of Kyle Katarn dragging his lightsaber through a wall was my desktop wallpaper for some time even before the game came out. I distinctly recall showing it to my Dad (bear in mind that I was 14 when the game came out) and asking him if he thought it was cool or not.

In true to himself fashion, my Dad simply stated that it seemed like a “grossly inappropriate use of a lightsaber.” But what does it matter? IT’S COOL! My teenage mind was pretty easy to please. But Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast was a game that I fell head over heels for.

But that also was how I felt while playing the game. In it, you continue the story of Kyle Katarn, former Imperial soldier, turned mercenary, turned Jedi, turned mercenary again. Katarn has given up his Jedi abilities out of fear of going to the Dark Side and with his pilot more-than-a-friend Jan Ors to investigate some disturbances on the planet of Kejim. What unfolds is plenty of excuses to shoot stormtroopers, bounty hunters, and more along with some of the best lightsaber-based gameplay this side of Yavin.

But aside the combat were some, at the time, ingenious force powers. You had your normal powers like Push, Pull, Speed, Jump, and Lightsaber Throw, all of which were considered neutral abilities by the game. But the one power I had the most fun with was Mind Trick, a Light Side ability.

With Mind Trick, you could get an enemy to leap off to his doom, and others would get disoriented or believe they heard a noise. At the time, it was a revelation to me to have an ability change depending on the current situation. But the one thing that the game will be remembered for best to me are the lightsaber mechanics.

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You could do a lot with the saber, especially once you mixed Force Jump into the mix. The game allowed you to enter a Saber Lock with enemies (where the sabers clash and there’s a struggle), or you could perform a slash as you are flipping the air off of the nearby wall. It was combat that felt truly fluid and caught the energetic style of the prequel saber fights.

But the one thing I recall not liking, especially after the rich and branching story of Dark Forces II, was the linear story and forgettable villain. The main villain was Desann, who, as far as I can tell, wanted Jedi to be strong. But, he felt those that didn’t match his definition were to be killed. As such, he didn’t last long as an apprentice under Luke Skywalker. But after that it was unclear what his motivation was. Could’ve been power for power’s sake, but it never seemed like he had any grand designs or plans. To me, the story fell a lot flatter then the build up Dark Forces II had.

Dark Forces II had a bigger reliance on guns, but it had very distinctive enemy Dark Jedi, and a story that would change based on your actions and chosen Force abilities. It also crafted a story that made Kyle Katarn’s destiny deeply intertwined with the Jedi throughout his family’s past.

Point is though, if you want a fantastic game where you are a Jedi and you feel disappointed by Battlefront, this game (and Dark Forces II) should be at the top of your list.

Jedi Knight: Dark Forces IIGOG.com (Windows only), Steam (Windows only)

Jedi Knight II: Jedi OutcastGOG.com (Windows only), Steam (Windows and Mac OS X)