A thoughtful and personal exploration of games

Posts tagged “XCOM

Heading to PAX East

This week I’m heading off to PAX East in Boston.

There’s a lot less I’m interested in this year than last year. Last year, XCOM was new and turn-based strategy games were the major topic of conversation in several panels. This year, not so much.

As of right now, I’m hoping to sit in on a few panels:

Friday

– Noon: Rooster Teeth

– 4:30: Future of PC Gaming

Saturday

– Either the 10:30 PA Make-a-Strip panel or the 11:30 Firaxis Games Mega Panel and I’m leaning towards the latter

– 1:00: ExtraCredits

Sunday

– 10:30 Inside Gearbox Software

– 1:30 Live D&D Game

And that’s about it. I’m hoping to spend a bunch of time on the expo floor checking out booths and just generally relaxing and enjoying the convention overall. I don’t expect to be going back next year since it’s so expensive and the sign-up for passes this year sold out so quickly.

I’m hoping to see some Star Citizen at the convention and I know that Chris Roberts is sitting on the Future of PC Gaming panel. I think Awesomenauts will be there again and I’m hoping to swing by to see Lord of the Rings Online and a few other games.

I’m quite excited for the trip, but I’m concerned I won’t be interested enough in the convention this year. In future years I’m looking to go to local conventions instead as a cost cutting measure.

Anyway, I’ve got a lot of Diablo 3 to get to before the convention. I’m hunting for great loot!

Until next time!

– Elorfin

P.S. “I’m on the hunt.”  – Montross, Star Wars: Bounty Hunter

Advertisements

A Different View of XCOM

Yesterday I took advantage of a Steam sale to pick up The Bureau: XCOM Declassified and I’ve been playing it quite a bit. That said, I think I’ve almost beat the game and it’s only my second day of playing it.

I’ve noticed a few things about the games construction – mainly, it’s built with obvious inspiration from other games. Aside from the direct connection to the XCOM series and the obvious stuff that comes with that (Sectoid, Muton, Sectopod, Silicoids that don’t look like anything I’m used to, Laser and Plasma weaponry, the Vigilo Confido logo), there’s definite influence from Mass Effect (a squad of three people with different abilities and you can choose the two who go with you, as well as the dialogue wheel), but I’m also seeing a bit of Batman: Arkham Asylum in there (pretty linear storyline with a set progression of things you get to make your job easier) and a touch of Assassin’s Creed (mainly the later games where you can send assassins out to do odd jobs). The third person perspective is also evocative of the Mass Effect/Batman/Assassin’s Creed influence.

I’ve got a few small problems though. The main issue I have is that everyone seems to know what everyone else is talking about. It’s like everyone agreed to call the enemy communication network Mosaic, including the aliens. One of the major bad guys is named Axis. There was an Elerium-115 mine on Earth (which is a surprise to me and probably Doctors Shen and Vahlen in the XCOM Enemy Unknown game). Instead of this being a quiet background invasion, it’s full scale (as far as we in the United States know) and it feels… not rushed. Like, you have the time to walk around the base and talk to people and there’s no real sense of urgency except in the missions and even then I basically take my time. Much like in Mass Effect, every fight is kind of easy to predict since the battefield will be littered with cover objects. Oh, and the dialogues don’t seem to be scripted properly in some places… for example, the person you’re talking to will say one thing and the response just won’t fit right. Maybe that’s just me being weird.

A lot of things were nailed down pretty well. Combat is fairly robust (wish grenades were easier to use), the squad command system is pretty fluid and straightforward, the abilities do exactly what you think and tend to ignore terrain restrictions in a good way  when it really matters (the sniper critical strike goes through terrain but turrets have to be placed properly). The guns feel powerful and the ammo is plentiful.

A note on the weapons: I like the looks of them and stuff, but why do the aliens have laser weapons? XCOM designs them in Enemy Unknown. I shrugged my shoulders while I played, but still. Also, it doesn’t feel like there’s enough difference between weapons, and for that matter, the backpacks you get. Seriously, I got the Guardian Pack that lets you have more ammo and (I think) do more damage and I haven’t looked at any other pack since. They’re too spread out, the ones you find in the field, and they’re not significant enough. Mainly, my issue is, I have a problem with not seeing numbers or quality comparisons between items and it makes it difficult to care about the different pieces of equipment. I know this was released for consoles, but at least you got some ballpark comparisons in Mass Effect 3 when you were equipping a different gun or swapping out an armor component.

Oh, and why don’t we have some body armor? That’d be cool. Maybe medkits for the support soldiers? I’m just spitballing here really.

I remembered the early work they were putting into the game when it was supposed to be during the 1950s and mostly happening in suburbia (shifted to the 1960s in the final product) and I’m seeing all that stuff still there. The black globs are Silicoids, the big dish thing that shoots lasers was actually a boss for a stage, and the stuff leaking out of peoples faces and the like is some sort of alien disease they’ve put in the water supply. Pretty awesome seeing that now after seeing it way back during the initial development.

Anyway, I’m enjoying the game and I’m looking forward to playing the Hangar 6 R&D DLC later. I really hope someone revisits this model for the XCOM franchise, mainly because being able to walk around in my own base ala wandering the Normandy in Mass Effect and talking to people on my team is really freaking cool. All the throwbacks to the TBS XCOM games like calling the helicopter you use the Skyranger and the experimental ship you’ll use to take the fight to the aliens the Avenger. Pretty sweet.

Until next time!

– Elorfin

P.S. BTW, the voice actors for some Mass Effect characters are also in The Bureau. Namely, Brandon Keener (Garrus Vakarian) and Courtenay Taylor (Jack). No quote this week because I can’t think of anything super relevant.


Gaming Inside of my Comfort Zone

I was going back and forth yesterday on Twitter with a friend of mine and the concept of playing outside of one’s comfort zone came up. That said, I want to talk about playing INSIDE the comfort zone first, so I’ll get to the outside part next time.

There are a lot of games out there. The ones I feel most comfortable playing are the ones I can pick up and just run with without a second thought. When I sat down to play Dragon Age: Origins, for example, it was like pulling on a new pair of shoes that looked and felt extremely similar to my last pair. I still needed to break them in, but I was already familiar with the process and it was pretty quick since I wound up doing a lot of walking in a very short period of time.

So there are games that are, in and of themselves, within the comfort zone. For me, it’s a space flight simulator, a turn-based strategy game, a Baldur’s Gate derivative. These are the kinds of games I grew up playing.

Well, what about the games that don’t fit inside the comfort zone automatically? I can still be in my comfort zone even then, given the right opportunities.

For example, I love playing self-sufficient characters. My favorite D&D character was a Psychic Warrior who, with proper power choices, I was able to fight effectively, defend myself against a myriad of potential harms, and heal myself. To this day, I still play that way where I can. My Captain in Lord of the Rings Online is one such character. When I played Star Wars: The Old Republic as the Smuggler, I chose to be the Scoundrel and went straight down the healing tree. I did the same thing as a Mercenary Bounty Hunter and a Commando Trooper.

If I don’t have just one character, I believe distinctly in the balanced party. While Dragons Age is wholly within my comfort zone, I maintained a solid party of a rogue (for lockpicking primarily), a mage (for healing), a warrior (for tanking), and anyone else (for DPS). Yes, that restricted my play a bit, but it made decisions really easy when I went to make party choices. In XCOM: Enemy Unknown, I always had the four types of soldiers represented and then the two extra soldier spots would be where that particular playthrough was different from earlier ones. I’ve had those two spare slots taken up by a heavy and a support and an assault and a support before and that allowed me some considerable latitude in play style.

In Civilization IV, I set up the environment if I can so that my civilization is totally contained and secure before spreading out and taking new lands. I focus on infrastructure so that I can develop a powerful military at the drop of a hat and a few turns. In Star Trek Online, I chose a ship type that can take a lot of damage, then I proceeded to make it deal a lot of damage and be able to handle every situation that could come up. A long time ago when I played the Yu-Gi-Oh! card game, I built a deck that was affectionately referred to as “Whatever you do, I stop and make you regret it” or something like that. Essentially it was a balanced deck that countered many things the other player could do and then could crack them on the knuckles for doing it.

For me, it’s all about the balanced approach. Mixed arms and combined tactics to provide a well rounded and quality experience. I suppose I’m the kind of guy who likes to dip into every style to ensure an approach that can respond to every issue that might arise. In some games it’s just the simple “just shoot them” strategy. In others it’s more nuanced. My particular comfort zone playstyle is a kind of go-with-the-flow thing and it totally works for me.

The real trick for me is finding that comfort zone in each new game I pick up. Sometimes I’m lucky, like with Borderlands 2 where I started playing the Mechromancer and was pleasantly surprised how it flowed with my playstyle. Other times I’m not so lucky, like with Neverwinter where I played a long time as a Cleric before realizing that the Guardian Fighter was where it’s at for me.

An odd little thing: the Mass Effect series started in, I think, 2007 (yup). When that game came out, I played it for a week straight and loved it. Truly loved it. Turns out, I’d played its predecessor, a little game from 1986 called Starflight. Now, it’s quite a stretch to go from Starflight to Mass Effect, but the ship shape was kind of similar, the ground vehicle was (aside from armaments) was remarkably similar, and the stories I developed for my Starflight crew in my head was rivaled neatly by the stories developed for the crew of the Normandy. Look it up. Starflight inspired Mass Effect. Mass Effect has essentially been in my comfort zone since I was 4 years old. How about that, huh? Oh, I beat ME2 and ME3 each in a week as well. I’m that kind of gamer, just can’t put a good game/book down.

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with finding and playing inside your comfort zone. It allows you to kick back, relax, and just play.

Until next time!

– Elorfin

P.S. There are no quotes I could find quickly about the benefits of staying in your comfort zone because everyone’s trying to be all inspirational on the internet and encourage people to do stuff that’s new and “outside your comfort zone”. I maintain that you need to be aware of what your comfort zone is prior to stepping outside of it, hence why I started with this piece instead of the next one. If you know your comfort zone and you stray from it, you always know where it is for when you need to get back to it for whatever reason.


Recovery Gaming

This past week I was mostly too sick to focus on games. Around Thursday I was able to play a little of Borderlands 2 and I also played a bit of Starbound. Friday it was more Borderlands 2 and some XCOM Enemy Within. Saturday it was mainly XCOM Enemy Within, and Sunday I played more XCOM, a bit of Borderlands 2, and some Dungeon Dashers.

I’m still pushing along in True Vault Hunter Mode in Borderlands 2, but as I’m done with the story, I have all the DLC to work through. I polished off both of the holiday DLCs I have and made a start on Captain Scarlett and Sir Hammerlock as well as doing the initial run of Digistruct Peak. I’m now level 53 on my lovely Mechromancer.

Starbound is a lovely game that’s still in a fairly early beta (or late alpha depending) state. The easiest way for me to put it is… it’s like Minecraft but viewed from the side. I enjoy it, but I’m really looking forward to the inclusion of more quests.

XCOM Enemy Within is an amazing expansion to the Enemy Unknown game. Adding MEC Troopers and Genetic Modifications to the mix really changes up how I approach the game and the introduction of new aliens really mixes things up. Further, there are some incredible additions to the mission layout… like the Covert Operations missions, that one mission with nothing but zombies and Chryssalids, Operation Progeny (that has a really cool dam mission), invading the EXALT base, having my own base invaded by the aliens (incredibly fun), and on and on. Just so cool. Tragically, I have to play at least one more vanilla Enemy Unknown game because I missed some tech the first time around and missed an achievement, but it shouldn’t be a big deal. I’m almost done with my first EW playthrough and I started a second last night to get it underway.

Dungeon Dashers is another indie game that is right up my alley. It’s essentially a turn based dungeon dive with a party of four adventurers. It can be difficult if you don’t pay attention, and it’s still in its early days (early beta) but it’s playable and a lot of fun.

I’m going to go play some more XCOM Enemy Within and maybe some Borderlands 2. Until next time!

– Elorfin

P.S. “Enemy Within has an entirely new set of achievements. I actually think achievements are pretty easy to create, if you have good gameplay systems and a lot of new content to add. This certainly was the case for XCOM: Enemy Within! The harder part is naming them with appropriate puns and Science Fiction references.” – Ananda Gupta, Lead Designer, XCOM Enemy Within.


My Let’s Plays

I’ve really been enjoying my Let’s Play videos. It’s a fundamental nature of who I am though. I love to share my experiences, either by showing people what I’m doing or by relating the story of what happened.

With my Let’s Plays, I get to let the game speak for itself. You get to experience things with me as I’m experiencing them (more or less). My reactions are absolutely genuine.

Thus far I’ve done several Let’s Play series. Let’s have a look:

Star Wars: The Old Republic – Bounty Hunter Story-Only: This 84-part series is my entire experience playing as the Chiss Bounty Hunter Saya’fida in Star Wars: The Old Republic. From beginning to end, every Bounty Hunter specific story mission and all the companion conversations. I made a real bond with this character and the experience of making these videos is something I really enjoyed. Sometimes I like to sit and play through a few videos now and then. The memories in video form are something that I treasure.

Star Wars: Republic Commando: This 38-part series is an entire run through of Republic Commando, one of my most favorite squad-based first person shooters. The story is wonderful, the combat straight-forward, and the characters are my brothers in arms. I even got to express my gratitude to Raphael Sbarge at PAX East 2013 for his portrayal of “Scorch” in the game and got his signature.

The Secret of Monkey Island: Special Edition: A 25-part series of the classic introduction to the Monkey Island series by beloved LucasArts, I didn’t provide much commentary because I genuinely believe that the game speaks for itself. A real favorite of mine.

Monkey Island 2: LeChuck’s Revenge: A 23-part series of the sequel to The Secret of Monkey Island, I had a bit more fun with this one as I couldn’t entirely remember it like I did the previous installment. Also, I used a walkthrough. I’m not sorry.

Currently I’m doing a Let’s Play of XCOM Enemy Unknown, the 2012 update to the 1994 classic that helped define my gaming experience growing up. I’m thoroughly enjoying myself and to date I’ve uploaded 39 episodes. They’re not in playlist form yet, but as soon as I’m done with this playthrough, I’ll be making a playlist and sharing. For fun, here’s the traumatic Episode One.

I’m still contemplating what to do a Let’s Play of when I’m done with XCOM. I have a couple of horrible ideas (I don’t think anyone wants to sit through a Let’s Play of Civilization IV or Sins of a Solar Empire) and a couple of ideas that might work out (Star Trek Online, Neverwinter, another story-only of Star Wars: The Old Republic).

I truly enjoy doing Let’s Plays and I wish I could make that a full time job or something. Alas, I don’t think I’m interesting enough to swing a Rooster Teeth style experience. If you have any recommendations for a Let’s Play that you think I might enjoy or something, leave a comment and I’ll consider it!

Until next time!

– Elorfin

P.S. “Shared pain is lessened; shared joy, increased — thus do we refute entropy.” – Spider Robinson


Whacking Things With A Stick – Satisfaction In Gameplay

There are days where I just want to hit stuff with a stick. Seeing as that’s not entirely socially acceptable, I poke through my catalog of games to find the experience that fulfills that desire best. Sometimes I come up with a winner, sometimes I don’t. Here’s a short list of games that I find give me that great “hitting someone” satisfaction in order of most to least satisfaction.

Mass Effect 3 multiplayer – Seeing as I’ve finished the single player game, the multiplayer component provides replayability and a pile of stuff that I still need to improve upon. Oh, and my favorite weapon, the M-37 Falcon, is a micro-grenade launcher. Satisfaction guaranteed.

Lord of the Rings Online – My captain has a variety of abilities that just FEEL good. He screams and does damage, he swings his halberd and you hear the slicing, cracking, crunching of contact. Yeah, it gets tedious, but by then, my thirst for whacking things with a stick has been sated for at least a couple of hours.

Diablo III – On my Wizard, it’s just satisfying to voip people. Yes, that’s the sound things make when you just erase them from existence. That said, it’s more satisfying to do this during the earlier difficulties as Inferno has a habit of pissing me off repeatedly in a 30-minute period.

Awesomenauts – It’s starting to get up there, but there’s something eminently satisfying about playing Leon and popping out of stealth to land a killing blow on some unsuspecting ‘naut. I mostly enjoy playing Raelynn though. Sniping has never been this fun for me. It’s a bit of work and sometimes I cry out in frustration.

XCOM Enemy Unknown – The satisfaction of crushing an alien squad is quite palpable. Delicious even. That said, XCOM games are pretty cerebral and I always feel a little removed from the “satisfaction zone”, so these games (new and old) are fun, but less viscerally satisfying. Strategy games on the whole share that same removal sense, so that’s nothing new.

Star Trek Online – I don’t know what’s wrong with me these days, but I just have no drive to play this right now. I don’t know if it’s the high end grinding that’s in the game or anything, but I just haven’t been in the mood to command the Iowa lately. Thus, the satisfaction of playing has dropped. There is something to be said for lots of torpedoes, but that’s a bit of a gimmicky approach and isn’t practical in the long run (says the guy who has a character with a Caitian carrier that has nothing but torpedoes up front and turrets in the back; verdict: hilariously fun, but gimmicky as all hell).

Star Wars: The Old Republic – Right now it’s not super satisfying to play, but I’m building up a good craving and waiting until it turns into an out-and-out need to play the game. I’m thinking I’ll play a Knight soon because I love hitting things with Lightsabers, but also because the day I got the game I made a Knight and turned to my Mom and went, “Mom, I’m a Jedi Knight!” So, yeah. It’s not satisfying NOW, but it will be.

This list is forever in flux and I’ve left a few games off to help keep it short. Games will go up and down the list as my whims dictate. This is just a snapshot of my current thoughts.

Right now though, it’s the deciding which stick to whack on what target that’s the tough part.

Until next time!

– Elorfin

P.S. “Enough is as good as a feast.” – Joshua Sylvester


A Seeming Lull in Game Development

Is it just me or does it seem like we don’t have much to look forward to in the near future regarding AAA game titles?

It’s certainly understandable… this year saw the wrapping up of the  Mass Effect trilogy AND Assassin’s Creed “trilogy” with their penultimate installments. Further, Star Wars: The Old Republic has just finished its first year (bumps and all), XCOM Enemy Unknown finally launched and became PC Game of the Year, and the next “super game” isn’t going to drop until 2014 at the earliest (Star Citizen).

I know we’re to look out for more in the Mass Effect franchise (a fourth installment has been announced) and I’m thinking it’s a safe bet that Assassin’s Creed isn’t entirely done yet. For me though, the near future is kind of empty on the game release front.

I’m looking forward to more SWTOR updates and I’ve already pre-ordered the expansion that’s set to drop in Spring 2013 dealing with the Hutt Cartel and adding 5 more levels to the cap and more storyline for every class. Star Trek Online has a story heavy Season 8 coming up with apparently 9 new ships ready to go by February (some are fleet variants though, so that number is probably 5 actual NEW ships).

I haven’t heard anything about the next DLC for Mass Effect 3 or XCOM Enemy Unknown, but I know they’re on the way. Further, I haven’t heard much about the game Neverwinter, I just know I’ve got beta access eventually thanks to my lifetime STO account.

It feels… quiet on the gaming front. Too quiet. I suppose every company is taking a bit of a break after they finally dropped their big titles and everything’s running kind of smoothly. Maybe.

Until next time!

– Elorfin

P.S. “The future will soon be a thing of the past.” – George Carlin