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Released: December 20 2011
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Over the last few months, I’ve slaughtered Sith, Jedi, jawas and a couple of Hutts. I’ve brought worlds to their knees, become best buddies with a hideous force eating monstrosity and called countless people “nerf herder” (including Liam and Andy). Yes, I’ve been playing a lot of Star Wars: The Old Republic. Enough so that I have a big ol’ mean Sith Assassin sitting pretty at level 50 and fair few alts climbing their way up the leveling pole, anyway.
There’s a lot to like about BioWare’s contribution to this increasingly saturated MMO market. I’m a sucker for a good story — which makes my love of MMOs all the more bizarre — and the narrative is probably one of The Old Republic’s strongest elements. It’s no wonder that it took so long for us to get our hands on the game as it contains eight fairly well written, fully voice acted stories intertwined with the over arching tale of the conflict between the Galactic Republic and the Sith Empire.
In other MMOs my investment in my characters never goes beyond the amount of time I’ve put into them, but in this space opera my investment stemmed from the fact that my Assassin, Soluum (I was really scraping the barrel for Sith Lord names), was a campy psychopath with a fetish for electrocuting everyone. He was wonderful. He had personality, lots of it, that’s not something I ever imagined saying about a player character in an MMO.
These slow burning tales of deceit, adventure and possibly even romance feel very disconnected from the rest of the game, unfortunately. The moment you step into a story instance, signposted by a giant green forcefield, you’re playing a character with a past and his or her own motivations. Outside these instances you’re often relegated another Assassin or Bounty Hunter, spouting canned — sometimes rather amusing — phrases while participating in a boring war. There is a mind boggling amount of dialogue, however, so the canned lines are forgivable much of the time.
PS3, Xbox 360, PC (Reviewed)
Released: March 6 2012
Publisher: Electronic Arts
It’s been just over four years since Commander Shepard became a household name, at least in my household. In that time I’ve turned away from my initial skepticism and fully embraced the Mass Effect universe, let’s just say I’ve become invested. When I discuss the series — something that happens a lot — it’s always my Shepard that I harp on about.
I honestly don’t care what happened to the countless Shepard clones that you lot play, I care about Augustus Shepard, best buddy to Garrus Vakarian and Urdnot Wrex, lover of Liara, savior of the Citadel and even the Rachni; a fine chap who just wants to save everyone even if he has to throw his life away to do so. He might sound a lot like your Shepard, but he’s not yours. So bugger off.
With Mass Effect 3, BioWare hasn’t just ended a massively popular video game trilogy, they’ve ended the story of a character I’ve been shaping for years. That’s a big deal, which should be pretty clear from all the drama that has surrounded the game since it launched. It’s hard to say goodbye, but last night I managed it. I still feel a bit sad.
PS3 (reviewed), Xbox 360
Released: February 7 2012
Developer: 38 Studios, Big Huge Games
Publisher: 38 Studios, Electronic Arts
I confess that I was not particularly excited by the prospect of playing yet another fantasy RPG. Not because I have a particular problem with the genre, far from it, it’s just that years of finely honed cynicism has made it hard for me to believe that elves and fairies are remotely interesting now. Kingdoms of Amalur’s demo did not allay any of my fears. After several sleepless nights spent unraveling the threads of fate I’ve washed the demo from my mind and this cynic stands corrected… almost.
After 15 hours — still early in the grand scheme of things — into my package holiday to magical Amalur I noticed something unusual. I was running around on autopilot, ignoring the dialogue, sprinting to quest markers without pondering the context of my adventures, mindlessly crafting and only perking up when I got loot, which was actually quite frequent; I was playing an MMO. After I spotted this I immediately put a stop to it, instead trying to give the game my full attention, but I could never shake off the feeling that at any moment other players would appear and spam an imaginary LFG channel. The elements that frustrate me about these online part time jobs are not present, however. 38 Games and Big Huge Games have managed to distill a lot of what makes players give up huge chunks of their time, without leaving the nagging doubt that they might be getting a bit ripped off.
X360, PS3 (Reviewed)
Released: June 21, 2011
Developer: Grasshopper Manufacture
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Suda51 and Grasshopper Manufacture have the wonderful ability to create games that fans will absolutely adore, but they have virtually no chance of appealing to the mass market. Killer 7 and No More Heroes both offered experiences that were uniquely Suda, with captivating art styles and a disregard for conventions and, in an industry drenched in sameyness and supposed sequel fatigue they managed to sell as well as a pork roast on Hannukah. If any of his games would have a shot at mainstream acceptance, it should’ve been Shadows of the Damned.
Suda’s trademark attitude is pushed to the forefront immediately as Garcia “Fucking” Hotspur is confronted by the (first) death of his girlfriend Paula. While I wasn’t exactly surprised by her death, but the event is handled with so little ceremony it can be more than a ltitle disarming. Suda treats her death, and subsequent deaths, with such disregard. This plays into what is easily one of Shadows’ biggest strengths: the atmosphere.