2016 – A year in gaming

With the year almost over, it’s a good time to recap what games I’ve been playing so far and my thoughts about them.

January – March

Played: Elder Scrolls Online (PS4)

I picked up ESO in December and couldn’t stop playing for a couple months. As I might’ve written before I’m not a MMO player, and surprisingly it’s been a fun learning curve for me to learn to play with others. Coming from Skyrim I enjoyed the PVE a lot, managed to finish the main story and went post-completion to get Cadwell’s Silver. I was at Veteran 12 and midway through getting Cadwell’s Gold when I stopped playing regularly, because after hundreds of hours the quests sort of become tedious and I can’t even remember who’s who. I’m talking about the Daggerfall Covenant main story, after finishing the Aldmeri Dominion and Ebonheart Pact stories it’s starting to get a bit much of the same, and PVP doesn’t really interest me. Well, in short I had to take a break from too much ESO, and I was highly distracted by Witcher 3!

Retired: Assassin’s Creed Black Flag (PS4)

I loved this game, coming from the monotonous AC 1 (eat, sleep, kill, repeat) this was a game I could enjoy, the missions were interesting and engaging, the difficulty was just right (maybe a little too easy?) and the sea combat/exploration was the aspect I enjoyed the most. I just felt like sailing all day and being a bad ass pirate and forget the main story altogether. It was great while it lasted, but I had to dedicate more time to beating ESO, so I’m only about 50% done. I really do intend to get back and finish the game someday…

April

Played: Witcher 3 (PS4)

I love, love this game. I got it on Christmas and it’s been sitting on the shelf waiting for me to start, so I finally went all in on April and I realized I should’ve started sooner. Witcher 3 is great! I’m not an old time Witcher plan, only played Witcher 1 in 2014 and skipped 2 altogether (there’s no Steam port for Mac and I don’t own an XBOX), but somehow the charming universe, extensive lore, and the unique characters drew me in. Playing this game felt like delving into a fully fleshed fantasy universe not unlike LOTR. Awesome storyline, fast-paced battle system, a huge world to explore, and for once the side missions doesn’t suck as much as other RPG games. For me this is the standard that Elder Scrolls 6 should be and Bethesda better take note 😀

The base game alone consumed my spare time for a good 2 months. When I finished the main story I was left wanting more. I am seriously thinking of getting Blood and Wine once I’m finished with FFXV.

May

Played: Life is Strange (PS4)
Playing LIS was an experience I won’t forget. I marathoned episode 1-5 in a week and I’m glad I did because I wouldn’t do it any other way. The storyline was so engaging, and each episode would end with unanswered questions, cliffhangers and what ifs. (Remember episode 3?) I figured waiting between episodes to be released would be too much pain!

There’s so many good things about the game, the story, the game mechanics, the characters, and the art style. Playing this has inspired me to draw and paint again regularly, so I gotta thank Square Enix and Dontnod for that.

 June

Played: Dragon Age Origins (PS3)

I always wanted to get into the DA franchise and I’m glad I finally did. The bad:The battle system. Origins was hard as ***k, I regularly get my party wiped by normal mobs (why!) and it does nothing for my pride as a veteran gamer. And oh, the blocky graphics and long load times. But why should I complain? It’s an older game. The good: Everything else. Great storyline, universe, lore (ended up reading all the codexes!), so many likeable characters. Origins was a good investment of my time, but I’m not sure if I’m gonna play again…

Here’s my full review of the game.

July

Played: Dragon Age II (PS3)

Everyone’s been hating on DA II but I loved the game. Sure, the dungeons are repetitive and you ended up replaying the same area over and over – but there’s an explanation for that – this game spans over different periods of time! Sure the game is short, (beaten it in 2 weeks time) and it doesn’t have a large open world map. Of course, because it’s not about a band of guys uniting allies all over to save the world, but it’s a personal story about Hawke and friends, and his/her life journey from nobody to a hero. That’s the premise of the story and that’s why I enjoyed it. Get over it guys, and just appreciate everything else DA II has to offer.

Played: Dragon Age Inquisition (PS4)

DA:I was the game I enjoyed most out of all 3. It is a long-ish game but I enjoyed playing it so much, going through 100+ hours was a breeze.For me, this time around the creators (EA/Bioware) have done a lot of things right. I liked most of the characters, loved how they almost always have interesting random dialogue and interactions.This is something the team has always done right since Origins. I enjoyed the romance aspect of the game – gone is the mechanism from DA: O where you have to buy stuff to please your potential partner – this time it’s a lot more challenging to win someone over, and I found it quite interesting.  The storyline missions were interesting, especially the longer missions (Wicked Eyes and Wicked Hearts, What Pride Has Wrought). The open world is extensive and full of random areas to explore. You have no idea that you’d turn a corner and boom, there’s a huge dragon ready to wipe your party’s butt. That sort of thing. Lastly I’m also loving the customisation aspect where you can craft unique weapons and gear from enemy drops, and redecorate your castle, all of that makes sidequests/fetch quests less of a chore.

Not sure if there’s ever going to be a DA 4, but if it’s announced I’d be buying a day one edition.

August

Played: Mass Effect 1 (PS3)

Had to retire at 10 hours because I couldn’t stand driving around in the Mako. It’s such a shame because I know ME is a good game and I wanted to do a trilogy run. Maybe one day I’ll gather enough courage to try steering the Mako again.

Played: Beyond Two Souls (PS3), The Last of Us (PS4), Until Dawn (PS4)

After my failed run of ME1, I took a break from playing long games and I played 3 shorter games in succession, which were Beyond Two Souls, The Last of Us and Until Dawn, and I think all of them were great in their own ways.

Beyond Two Souls has an interesting storyline narrated in a nonlinear fashion. What’s interesting is since the story was told in short episodes, you had to progress the story for all these jumbled episodes to make sense next to each other in a coherent timeline. The gameplay is different from anything else I’ve played, I think it’s a fresh approach and I enjoyed it.

I had fun with The Last of Us, didn’t think that I would because I’m a bad shooter. It was frustrating having to survive with limited ammo, etc but I managed to pull myself through with blood, sweat and tears. The captivating visuals drew me in, the whole atmosphere of a post apocalyptic, semi abandoned world is just so awesome, and I just wanted to know more of Joel and Ellie’s story that I wouldn’t mind getting bitten by zombies over and over again. Oh, and by the time I’ve beaten the game I was semi-good at shooting.

Until Dawn was OK. I haven’t played any horror/shocker game for awhile, the reason being I just couldn’t handle jumpscares, and this game did a good job at that, building suspense after suspense and scares you when you expect it the least. My poor heart. Finished one playthrough in 3 days, but I don’t think I’d be replaying anytime soon.

September

Played/retired: Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate (PS4)

My playthrough of AC: Syndicate was great while it lasts. It’s lovely to see London in the midst of the Industrial Revolution and to be involved in history changing events. The two main characters were OK. Couldn’t relate much to the story, though. Are we the bad guys? Are we the good guys? I always enjoyed going back to the Assassins’ universe where a lot of the gameplay mechanism is familiar from the previous AC games, making it less of a learning curve. I managed to get to about 70% completion before I got sort of bored/distracted by the next game on my laundry list… Silly me.

Retired: Final Fantasy Type 0 HD (PS4)
This game looks interesting but I just couldn’t get into the mechanics – couldn’t figure out the battle mechanism, etc. Would be easier to just watch someone’s playthrough on Youtube.

October

Played: Gravity Rush (PS4)

Great game! While the graphics leave much to be desired, I loved the characters, story and the overall comic book style treatment. The gameplay/warping mechanism takes some time to get used to but once you get it down, it’s very enjoyable. Too bad it’s a little short. I can’t wait for GR 2 to be released next year!

November

Played: GTA 5 (PS3), GTA 4 (PS3)

For some reason I got into GTA 5 three years late. Does it matter? Maybe. But as they say, better late than never. GTA 5 occupied most of my spare time in November. I finished the main story with 76% completion or something. It was so fun maybe I’ll get the remastered PS4 version and do a 100% completion for the OCD completionist in me. Best part: The soundtrack! When i’m driving around in real life sometimes I could hear all the songs from Non Stop Pop playing in my head…

I started GTA4 late November, but I got really, really distracted when my much anticipated copy of FFXV shipped in… but I could say that I liked the main character so far, I think Niko’s backstory and character is interesting, so maybe I’ll get back to it later next year.

December

Played: Final Fantasy XV (PS4)

I’ve been playing FFXV on and off for the last 3 weeks. I’m 30 hours in and I’m nowhere near finishing the game so I couldn’t write a proper review, but here’s my impression so far…

The good: Not grindy (you get lots of AP and XP just by doing regular quests and random encounters, huge open world, cooking system that is actually useful because you get stat buffs through food, fishing system/mini game that’s a lot of fun, the mechanism of leveling up through camping/staying at inns, which for once gives me motivation to end the day, camp and hang out with my buddies.

The bad: Fetch quests. FFXV has lots of these. Find X item, kill X monster, return to quest giver. Of course you don’t have to do all of them side quests, but sometimes I would pick up the quest accidentally and my inner OCD just couldn’t leave them unchecked on my quest list.

I’m only in Chapter 5 and I’m in no hurry to beat the game, so I can’t complain much about the story pacing that’s pissing everyone else off… so we’ll see about that.

Well, that pretty much sums it up, thanks for reading and stay tuned for 2017… I think I’d still be playing FFXV 🙂

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Dragon Age: Origins, an incompetent gamer review

Welcome to Dragon Age: Origins, AKA: TIFU, I had to break up with my hot boyfriend who turned out to be a crown prince, (what a loss!) so that I could save the world, and experiment with dating girls, while he could go making a demonic soul infused baby on a one night stand with my best friend, no strings attached.

Shit just got real.

Background info:

It’s June 2016. I was neck deep in job hunting, and art training, which takes up most of my 9-5 time. I’ve just finished Witcher 3, and I had nothing better to do with my free time. So I took this opportunity to tackle one of RPG’s biggest franchises: Dragon Age.

At this point some of you are going to say: What do you mean, you’re a self proclaimed RPG fan and you haven’t even played a single Dragon Age game? You’re 7 years too late! …OK, feel free to smack me for my ignorance, but things are gonna change very soon. I might be late to the party, but I’m trying to catch up… #noregrets

For the record, I’m playing on PS3 ($9 used at EB Games, score!), I’m a human mage, playing on normal difficulty but sometimes I switch to easy on boss fights because I’m a stupid noob.  

(And don’t say that I didn’t warn you. I might unintentionally spoil the plotline so if you haven’t beaten the game, read on your own accord.)

Without further bullshit, here’s my review of the first game: Dragon Age Origins.

Storyline 9/10

The storyline is one of the strong points in this game. Sure, at first glance it might sound like a generic game plot – You’re a normal ordinary person stuck in extraordinary circumstances by fate. You’re a hero. Gather your party, kill baddies, save the world. But what matters is that it’s done and told nicely. There’s a couple unique prologue stories depending on your race and class, and I started as a human Circle Mage. Right off the bat you’re plunged into this exciting world, with interesting, comprehensive lore and backstories, and immediately faced with hard decisions to make. I got hooked in the first couple hours.

It might be a generic “save the world” plot, but what separates DA (and other Bioware games so I heard) from the rest, is the people you journey with and how you interact with them with dialogue options. Hello, decisions. You make up your character’s personality. You can be nice, or you can be a jerk. You can put effort and help people, or choose to ignore the needs of others around you, and unlike Skyrim, it actually affects the game’s plot. I’ve made countless reloads to avoid disapproval, or just to see what’s gonna happen if I pick a different convo option. I can see why this game have a lot of replay value, with so many different plot variables, this almost plays like a choose your own story game.

Characters 8/10

Another strong point is the companions. And the dating system in this game, which I think is awesome in its’ own right. I dated by accident Alistair. It wasn’t my intention. I ended up being his girlfriend just by being too nice. I treated him nicely as a friend, and out of the blue he gave me a rose, a symbol of his love! This gets too close to IRL. Some guys just won’t take your #friendzone hints. 

TL;DR I broke up with him. It was a sad breakup. I’m sorry, but as the heir apparent he’s better off with Anora for political reasons. I ended the game dating Leliana. It was all good and it worked out in the end. I didn’t try dating all the other companions, but being a nice girl warden, I tried befriending all of my teammates. Some of them started off being standoffish assholes, who tends  to disapprove every decision you make (hello Morrigan, Sten!) and it’s hard work winning them over, but in the end when I earned their friendship, I felt that it’s worth making the effort. 

Gameplay 7/10

I’m playing a 2009 game in 2016 and I’d say the gameplay has not aged very well. Let’s talk about the gameplay mechanics. The battle system, it’s party based, it’s a mixture of tactical and action oriented, that I can live with. It’s real time but you can pause when targeting AoE, which I found to be great for incompetent, clumsy gamers like me. It’s an interesting mechanic that you can switch to control other party members at any time, and I love that. (It disappointed me later when I played Mass Effect and found out that I can’t do this!) So you always wanted to have a go at playing a warrior, but can’t be f’ed to create a warrior character? No problem.

The battle pace is much, much slower than Dragon Age II or Inquisition, which made me glad that I played this installment first. I’d say the battle mechanics are “clunky” and no tactical view in PS3 makes it awkward to target specific enemies in the field.

Load times are slow-ish, but I can live with it. Bear with it, it gets better in Dragon Age II.

I found the normal difficulty a bit too hard for the uninitiated. I know I’m less skilled than the average gamer, but at times I was tempted to give up! It doesn’t help when I switch the difficulty to “easy” the game becomes too easy and poses no challenge!

Having played and beaten all 3 Dragon Age games by the time I’m writing this review, I’d agree with most people that Dragon Age Origins has the highest difficulty out of all. I got my ass kicked by regular mobs, not to mention bosses. Enemies don’t respawn, so there is no grinding. Which is, in retrospect, maybe a good thing. The Deep Roads story arc was painful and I spent unnecessary time replaying because I got wiped every 10 minutes. It’s quite a challenge to learn to play the game well, and know your strategy, how to utilize your team’s abilities, etc. Which is the point of the gameplay, I suppose.  This game had a steep initial learning curve, but when you get better, you’ll die less and you’ll enjoy it.

(I can proudly say that after the Deep Roads I have learned a lot and didn’t get wiped out as often anymore.)

Potions and healing spells have a ridiculously long cooldown time, which contributes to my overly high number of game overs/injuries.

The level design leaves more to be desired. When you get to a dungeon, most of the paths are linear. Go in, kill mobs, go further in, fight a boss. Three quarters into the game this grind can get a bit tedious. But I can’t complain because I hate missing out on loot because of some stupid obscure nonlinear path, so it’s a win-win.

Let’s talk about the leveling up mechanics. Every time you level up, your party, including the inactive members that you recruited then ignored, level up too, and you have to divvy up skill points on all of your party members.

There’s so many skills and abilities to unlock, not including “specializations” which you’ll get on level 7 and 14. It’s really easy to lose your focus and waste precious skill/ability points. I found that a lot of the magic abilities are overlapping and not necessarily all are useful to make a build that suits your gameplay style. Plus, at one time you only get to shortcut/map 6 of them anyway.

I had to really plan ahead to invest my leveling up points in order to avoid screwing up my build. Which was difficult on a blind first playthrough of the game. My regular party has 3 mages and a rogue (more mages, more OP!) and by endgame I had some overlapping abilities between the 3 mages. Maybe this game is meant to be played more than once… if you can stomach going through the Deep Roads again. But all that being said, I really enjoyed playing as a mage and wouldn’t have it any other way.

Visuals 7/10

This is a PS3 game, so coming into the game with the system’s limitations I didn’t expect that much. But I’d say there are many PS3 games with better visuals. The 3D graphics looks too dull and/or too contrasty, the character renders look bloated (lack of textures?), but I could live with that. User interface and the inventory system is clunky and it could be done better. Lots of small text… I have bad eyesight, playing on a 24″ monitor I found myself squinting a lot…

This game came out awhile ago, so the visual direction/ interface design still has a brownish, ye olde medieval flavour to it. Direct comparison, Oblivion vs Skyrim. It’s ridiculous that before Skyrim, nearly every fantasy game has a medieval themed interface. But we’re not here to talk about Skyrim, so let’s get back on track.

I love the character designs. I love the weapon/equipment designs too, except the hats… why do mages get all sorts of ridiculous looking chef hats? And why do all the robes (except the ones for Morrigan) look like a recolor of the Circle Robe? Mages can’t look good.

This was my first trip to Thedas. I can say that I’m enjoying the varied environments and the team did a great job building the world. Being a RPG veteran, everything looks strangely familiar. Playing this game I simply can’t wait to see all of it re-rendered for PS4 in the later games.

Total time spent: 35 hours.

Playing casually, I finished the game in about a month. Sure felt longer than 35 hours. Leaving the game, there’s a couple loose ends to deal with. I’ve only killed one dragon. I skipped some minor side missions because I can’t wait to play DA II. But all in all, it was a satisfying playthrough, but having made all the decisions I wanted to make, I’m not too sure if I’ll replay immediately. To be honest I’m still traumatized by the Deep Roads. Maybe in a couple months’ time I’ll create a human warrior and date Alistair and be the queen.

Overall verdict: Recommended

If you’re a RPG fan, if you’ve been playing some Elder Scrolls, Witcher, Final Fantasy, it’s worth taking the time to get to know the DA world, and play this game. You’ll have a lot of fun. If you’ve played Dragon Age Inquisition, go give this a try, too. Just don’t compare the two games apple to apple. It’s worth your time.