Category: Xbox 360 Feature

SPOILER ALERT FOR FALLOUT 3

Seeing as how the Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim releases in a little over a week (Vote for what console you want Kat to play Skyrim on!), I wanted to take a look back at another game brought to us by Bethesda, Fallout 3.  I know that this game is old news; heck, even the full game expansion pack is likely old enough to be under $30 at your local retailer.  But I wanted to take a step back and examine what made Fallout 3 great.

When Fallout 3 first came out, I was only mildly interested, if that.  A game about a post-apocalyptic, war-torn land, with crazily mutated beings wasn’t exactly up my alley.  A friend brought the game over and showed me the gory head explosions (or whatever limb you happened to target) and seemed even less likely that I’d want to try it.

Fallout 3 Centaur

Yeah, this is really NOT what I picture when I think 'Centaur'.

Months later, the Game of the Year edition went on sale at Target.  I decided to purchase it and give Fallout a try.  After all, Bethesda had also given us the Elder Scrolls games, so that should say something good about Fallout.  Fallout 3 starts off pretty safe, with you growing up as a child in a vault that has protected you from the ravages of the radiated Wastelands.  Escaping the vault was both nerve-wracking and thrilling.  And stepping out into an eerily empty town with partially or mostly destroyed houses set a great, lonely tone.  It was a relief to finally make it to Megaton, knowing that there actually were survivors out there.  I decided to keep up with the ‘Following in His Footsteps’ quest.  I wanted to see Liam Neeson *ahem* – dad – again.  Unfortunately, since I’m such a Scaredy-Kat, going into the tunnels caused me minor panic attacks (Feral Ghouls, Super Mutants?!!!  Limited ammo?!!), and I gave up.  You have to admit, some of the creatures are very creepy.  (Centaurs!!?)

A month ago, I decided to pick the game back up, and was sucked in.  I found Dogmeat, and having a companion by my side made me feel much better about traversing the Wasteland and even… tunnels.  Once I had this confidence, I was able to see Fallout for the great game it actually is.  There are so many aspects to Fallout, so much to do and see.

Fallout 3 Couple

*ahem* This couple was clearly enjoying themselves when disaster struck. And the creepy part is, you still have the option of sleeping in that bed...

For one, this certainly is no kids game.  There’s the more obvious limb exploding and violent deaths, but there’s also a lot of rough language, sexual aspects, and just plain horrific events.  Visiting Minefield and seeing a smaller skeleton than most in a room that contains kids toys is just heart wrenching.  The whole deserted mood of Minefield is haunting (no pun intended).  Did anyone else pick up through their conversations that Jericho raped/attempted to rape Jenny Stahl?  And of course, there are the perks:  Lady Killer, Black Widow.  There are actual sex benefits to choosing this perk (at least for a woman as a Black Widow), and one being a threesome, in fact.  Nova is there for more than just viewing pleasure.

Fallout 3 Springvale

Telephone Poles: Built to Last, even through Nuclear Catastrophes!

Another is that this game, the whole Fallout series, presents a unique idea that hasn’t been explored as much as a genre like fantasy has.  And they do it damn well.  The vistas, while fascinating as a torn apart and gritty world, don’t exactly make me want to live in such a world.  But they speak strongly for what the game is portraying.  The mood created in the game is often lonely, always eerie, and deserted.  Most of what you encounter in the Wasteland is going to try to kill you.  Finding a town might be a safe harbor, but you can’t rely on that.  In fact, a lot of the towns will have something nasty lurking inside; Raiders, mines, fire ants, super mutants.  But in a world like Fallout, that fits perfectly.  It’s to be expected.

The story of Fallout is great because, while there is plenty of tension waiting around every corner, and you never know what you’ll encounter next, but there’s hope in this dark world.  There’s hope that life will continue, despite all the hardships, and that what’s been destroyed can be rebuilt.  And that’s really what keeps me playing.

-Kat

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Rating: 4.3/5 (3 votes cast)

As I come home from work I’m struck with the humor behind the fact that I’m about to attempt to relax with Dark Souls. This is, after all,  a video game that most people look at with some sense of woe and fear. However there is something calming about it. It’s a game where you pace yourself and take it slow. It’s not a game to rush headlong into. It takes thought, observation, and an overwhelming “never say die” attitude. It is this attitude that will continue to bring us back into the game.

As the second day begins in  Dark Souls we find ourselves sitting at the Firelink Shrine. When we previously found a bonfire we were met with one option: Leave. Now we can level up, reverse hollowing, and kindle the bonfire. To kindle the bonfire we need specific items that we presently do not have, however when we do we will be rewarded with having more Estus Flasks filled. We don’t really need this at the moment so we can go on without worry. To reverse hollowing means your spend “Humanity” that you may have acquired to become human again. I couldn’t help but think of Bleach while seeing this.

Dark Souls Knight

Wait...a barrel that doesn't explode? What's going on here?

We find that there is little to no direction other than a nearby NPC telling us that we can either go up to ring a bell or down to ring a bell. Judging by the NPC saying something along the lines of “I wouldn’t go down there. Even if I had to I would avoid it,” then it would appear as though venturing downward would not, at this juncture, be prudent. With no map and no direction other than up or down we begin to survey the Dark Souls landscape.

One direction appears to be a series of ruins with that crow that brought us here sitting atop. Just to right of the ruins lies a mountain with a staircase going up. In the distance just beyond this staircase is an aqueduct. In the distance are glowing balls of light. This can only mean one thing. Goodies await. What treasures these are remains to be seen, however we know that no matter what they will remain there until we claim them. This is the direction we must be intended to venture toward.

Since the only direction thus far has led us to believe that we should climb upward in the direction of the aqueduct we decide to venture downward to see just what it is we’re supposed to avoid. As we navigate carefully down the spiraling walkway next to bonfire we find a small open section with a woman behind a metal gate. The gate doesn’t open and the woman doesn’t talk. What she does do is fortify Estus Flasks. Given that the materials required to do so are not with us we make a mental note of this and move forward. As we descend the side of this mountain we take note of just how narrow this walkway is.

This seems to be the case in Dark Souls more often than not. We don’t have an abundance of wide open spaces. For this reason we have to be mindful of our weapon selection. I made the fateful error in Demon’s Souls of not minding my weapons. I would just swing them wildly without a care in the world. My weapons would bang against any wall I came to. Eventually they broke. I did not have the souls to repair them. So there I am stuck in a harsh and unforgiving world without any weapons and no way to get new ones. I wasn’t strong enough to punch some souls out of enemies so after 15 hours of play…I had to start over.

This is not a mistake that anyone wants to make twice. Take my advice when I say be very careful where you swing your weapon. So far we have one longsword and a sword handle. While it’s not ideal, the sword handle is our default close quarter weapon. When need be we tap the right arrow button and swap weapons.

dark souls dragon

Okay, this time I'll try dancing for it THEN stab it in the neck.

Dark Souls is a video game that excels at making the gamer paranoid. Every tight corridor or open sided mountain is a potential for death. This downward spiraling mountain side pathway is no exception. After a very short walk we come to a level waiting just outside of a circular room. In the interest of exploring we enter the room. As we walk across the center we activate a switch in the floor and the walls around us begin to move up. We’re on an elevator moving further down. This won’t do at all. Once we reach the bottom we move right back up. There is exploring and then there is asking for an ass whooping.

During the ascent we notice a message on the ground that we hadn’t before. It seems to be facing off the side of the path. Expecting a “Nice View” message we are shocked to find “Ring Ahead”. Knowing that sometimes in Dark Souls paths are hidden right in the open a downward glance is made. Below us appears to be a small and very narrow path. Edging to the side careful not to overshoot the path we fall. To our death. We have just learned two lessons. 1.) You’re going to die. 2.) Not all messages tell the truth.

Once we come back at the bonfire we quickly work our way back to where we fell to touch our bloodstain and collect our souls. On top of this we plan to leave a scathing message declaring that one to be a liar. As we arrive at the place of our first demise, we scan our options to hunt for our message list and we notice that this time around, we don’t have one. We search high and low and find no way to leave a message.

Moving back up the mountain we are met once more with the option of “which way to go”. We could go the direction that we are lead to believe we should (up the mountain) or go explore the ruins. Once more we through caution to the wind and go exploring. Inside the ruins, tucked behind narrow corridors, and atop numerous stairs, we find multiple souls and something more important: our first Covenant. It takes talking to a him a few times but we are able to form our first Covenant in Dark Souls. This is important because in doing so we can begin to learn new miracles. At this stage we must not have met some prerequisite since we are unable to actually learn anything. But now we know where this man is.

As we pass through the ruins and through a rather serene looking pool we are met with a stairway overlooking a graveyard. As we stop and pause for a moment to survey what lays before us we wait for any hint of movement. There is nothing. The graveyard is strewn with shields, swords, and bones, but nothing is moving. Then suddenly we catch a glimpse of movement. However it is not something with the intent to harm. It is in fact the opposite. In Dark Souls, as in Demon’s Souls, you will see the actions of those that came before you. Those that do well are shown to you while those that perish require you to touch their bloodstain. What we see in the graveyard is the reassuring blue glow of a successful run. Atop a pile of discarded shields and bones we see a brave soldier slash his way to victory. We don’t know what’s out there yet. We just know that whatever it is, we are going to have to kill it.

dark souls flaming enemies

Let's hope my sword kills flaming evil.

Slowly down the stairs we creep since moving too hastily into any situation can result in being surrounded with angry enemies. As we approach the bottom we see the bones start to move. This is what was being fought. We couldn’t see it because Dark Souls didn’t want us to yet. Once more we learn yet another lesson. Dark Souls will trap you. You have to be strong enough to take it on. With a few swings of our longsword we come to the realization that we aren’t strong enough to take on the two skeletons that are now before us with swords and shields. There is however a glowing orb that we want. Greed gets the best of us and we run on to collect the souls. As we grab for it more skeletons come to life and we double back rolling out of harms way. Then once more we see another glowing orb and make a mad dash for it sprinting all the way. As we run past the stairs that will lead us out we notice that even more bones are bouncing up to life. We are now being chased by multiple groups of skeletons that are far stronger than we. There is no making it out of this in one piece. Our only hope is make it to the NPCs on the off chance that they will help us survive.

We grab the last orb and once more roll to the closest thing we have to “safety” and find our way back to the initial stairway, skeletons hot on our heels. As we run through the shallow pool and into the ruins we look behind us to see if the skeletons have given up or are still in tow. As we figured they would be, they are behind us. We make our way back to the man with the miracles with whom we made our first covenant. He just stands there and watches as we fight a losing battle. We can either attempt to persevere or accept our fate and die. We never accept death and go down swinging as we are overrun with skeletons.

We soon come back to life at the bonfire nearby with a noticeable lack of skeletons. Having been two directions and not liked what we have found, we make our way up the mountain towards the aqueduct. Slowly once more we creep as we see three enemies. As the closest sits back and wanders on his own, another who was descending a set of stairs sees us and charges. We take a few steps back and wait to parry his attack. Success! Parry was made and riposte was successful. One down, two to go. We move to engage the closest enemy. He moves to take a large swing at us, opening up his chest for attack. We swing our sword in a flurry of sharp death. He falls and we focus on the knight sitting in the background next to the aqueduct.

What we don’t see is the enemy raining down fire from above. We are engulfed in flame as the knight approaches so we sprint back and take a hit of our Estus Flask. Once we engage the knight he is already swinging. We attempt to parry but are met with failure. He is going to town on us and the best we can hope for is to swing our sword and hope for the best. We somehow manage to bring him down but not before being brought near to death. Once more we must partake in the Estus Flask before turning our attention to the fire ball throwing villain atop the mountain. We wait and time our charge between his throws. As we run up to him and swing we notice that we didn’t pay attention. From behind us comes an enemy wielding an axe while from above comes another with a sword. Once more victory comes as a shock but not without a price. We cannot press forward like this. We can however see a few bright bulbs of light that offer us hope. We climb the aqueduct to collect souls and then see more down by the base. As we navigate back down we notice a third glowing orb in the distance on the far lower end of the aqueduct. Careful inspection of the nearest entry point to the structure yields a gap. Perhaps we missed a tutorial message, but at present we don’t have the slightest idea of how to jump.

But we know there is a way to get there. We climb back up and see a slight outcropping overlooking a narrow ledge in the structure. We drop onto it successfully and slowly and carefully work our way over to the body with the souls. We arrive there and to our surprise it’s not souls at all. It’s a ring that allows us to keep our souls on death. The caveat is that the ring will break once it’s used. One use, no more. We slip it on since we have a sneaking suspicion that we are not going to be making this jump to land successfully.

Once we respawn at the bonfire we know that we have a long way to go. We have died three times today but only once was it by the hand of an enemy. Tonight’s endeavors are at an end. Once more real life steps in and the dogs need tending to. Given the effectiveness of tonight’s performance day 3 will undoubtedly contain a fair amount of grinding.

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Dark Souls Playthrough Journal

There are few games that illicit the reaction that Dark Souls does with video gamers. It is feared and played with an overwhelming sense of trepidation and abject fear that some people vote to simply not play. In fact half the fun of Dark Souls is the sheer overwhelming emotion that can build up in the player. For this reason we’ve decided to document our reactions and feelings as we play Dark Souls.

As we pick up the collectors edition they were nice enough to upgrade every preorder to we initially notice that it is in fact a giant metal case. I find it strange that a video game that spends so much time telling you that it’s going to kill you doesn’t attempt to design it’s collectors edition into something resembling a casket. Dark Souls design notwithstanding the packaging presents us with our first challenge. While I may be alone in this I immediately had to resort to sharp implements to gain access to the game itself. The first challenge was met with a blade and we proved victorious.

Once the PS3 has been fired up and the game has been updated we find ourselves ready to create our character. Having played Demon’s Souls so wrongly by starting with a Wanderer as my first character (was not ready for the pain that ensued) I know better than to pick this class again. As I look through the list of what is available I settle on something simple: the Knight. Through the limited customization options I quickly get into the action. Granted this is not something to be considered a negative in that soon I’m sure I’ll be forgetting that I even have a face.

Dark Souls Bonfire

Little does that other guy know, I've been kicking his ass in a staring contest all night

As the game starts we find our character already dead and chained to a wall in a jail cell. The irony of this is as palpable as the smell of despair and sorrow in the prison that I am contained in. A game that tells you to prepare to die, even going so far as to claim that as the URL for the Dark Souls Website, starts you off already dead. Where Demon’s Souls starts you with weapons Dark Souls chooses to start you with nothing but the hilt of a sword. I am immediately paranoid as to what may wait for me as I leave my dank cell.

I am immediately comforted in knowing that the controls are virtually identical to those in Demon’s Souls. It’s like picking up an old RPG and being given a whole new story. I also see the familiar sites of messages strewn on the ground and as I read through one after the other it becomes abundantly clear that this is the tutorial stage. I’m learning how to swing my “weapon” at creatures who aren’t even attacking back. It’s okay though since the souls they give me on death are what I’m after here. After quickly dispatching three easy beings I’m met with a ladder and my first bonfire. Since we know that enemies respawn at bonfires we decide to explore the surrounding area a bit before resting. There is a large wooden door and a smaller metal door. The smaller door we are unable to open and nothing good can come of a large door so we sit and rest. Now comes time for a little grinding. Running from bonfire to starting cell and back we continually respawn enemies just to kill them. A sorrowful life they lead, to be sure, but their death serves a purpose. We don’t know what’s behind the large wooden door. We just know we want to be ready for it.

After twenty minutes of grinding we are ready to press on. As we open the door we’re struck with how well illustrated the weight of it is conveyed to the player. It is in this that Dark Souls does a phenomenal job of depicting the world around us. There is nothing simple and nothing easy. Even opening a door requires effort. Suddenly a large demon appears and slams the door behind us. In the distance we see another door open and messages written on the ground. “Run” they tell us so we do just that. After all we are armed with nothing but the handle of a sword. This is not known for its damage ability. We flee.

After fleeing the door behind us slams shut and we’re met with another bonfire so we rest for good measure. You never know what’s ahead so better safe than sorry. As we look around the room we see a small unassuming door with a message in front of it. Lessons learned in Demon’s Souls tell us to always be cautious of all new areas and don’t go running in.

We peer around the door while nestled safely next to it to find an archer taking aim at us. The message reads “get your shield”. On the ground a short run from us is a dead soldier with a light above him. This means he has something for us. It has to be the shield. We time our run between the arrow shots and as we get closer to the soldier we see a room next to him coming into view in the narrow corridor. Sanctuary. We dive into the room escaping a potentially harmful arrow. Sure enough the soldier has a shield for us. While not the greatest shield in the world, it’s still a shield. As we run back out to face the archer we charge him with our shield up and ready to take whatever he shoots. To our surprise he turns and runs. As we give chase he makes a sharp left and we give chase knowing that rushing headlong into anything is suicide.

Dark Souls Dragon Fight

And then we just make a tiny cut here, and here, and look! The dragon is now a bunny.

To our surprise this time it wasn’t. It was an easy kill and we backtrack to do some exploring. Through our exploring we find a longsword that is going to come in handy. Once we find all we can we make our way back to where the archer died and find the opening in the wall that was behind him. As we peer down through the drop before us we see the courtyard that contained the first bonfire.  We see a very small drop so we take it and come off unscathed. We look at our new surroundings not fully confident that something isn’t about to come out and stab us in a very brutal way. As we stand overlooking the courtyard to our left is a corridor that leads to nothing more than a dead end. While we do not trust this “dead end” to be truly an end we do not know how to open it. To my right is two sets of stairs, one up and one down. Since down surely leads to the previously locked door in the courtyard we look up and begin our slow ascent up the stairs. Lessons learned from Demon’s Souls teach us that no stair case is without potential for peril.

Suddenly a flurry of curse words comes out as we see a boulder bearing down on us. We do not evade it. We also do not die. This boulder is needed however since behind it it has opened up a wall that contained a dying knight. He gives me a handful of Estus Flasks and tells me a tale of a dead man chosen to come back and save the world. We think he means us. We make our way out of this newly opened hole and we are met with the same two staircases. This time we choose down since last time up seemed to hurt. As I rest at the bonfire my health replenishes and my Estus Flasks fill up as well. Thanks Dark Souls for making this easier on us. These Estus Flasks contain health in times of need and the bonfire replenishes them for us. This kindness is unexpected and appreciated. After another 20 minutes of grinding from bonfire to starting cell we decide it’s time to see what’s up the stairs.

As we climb the stairs we see an enemy waiting for us with a sword in hand. Time to see if we can still parry and riposte. By waiting for the right moment we are able to deflect his attack with L2 and respond with a normal attack with R1. The enemy falls dead. It’s nice to know we can still pull that move off. As we press forward we see a message overlooking a view. Sure to know that it says something to the effect of “nice view” we see it as a trap but still move toward it regardless. Sure enough behind us we can hear the stringing of a bow. We dodge as quickly as possible fearing an arrow in the back. Two enemies with swords come charging at me. As we engage them real life steps in. My dog Maddox has taken my wife’s shoe and is now hitting me with it asking me to give chase. Since I can’t pause Dark Souls I do a dance between melee on the screen and commanding the dog to leave it. Maddox is an asshole. He doesn’t listen. He just wags his tail and looks at me lovingly. He’s lucky I love him so much. As we finish off the two sword wielding enemies and the archer we run back quickly to a point on the level where we know we won’t be hurt. I can then take on Maddox.

We’ve lost a little health so we take hit from an Estus Flask and press on to where we killed the Archer. As we overlook his corpse we read a few of the messages. One tells us that we can have a big hit on someone if we hit attack while falling. We can also do a jumping strong attack. Interesting. To our left is a layer of white fog while before us is an open room. We peer into the room to see a lone knight in the corner. As he approaches we attempt the parry and riposte move again only meet with total failure. He deals a heavy blow, but one we can recover from. After a close battle we dispatch him. We know that our path back to the bonfire is open so we take it and replenish health. We can only guess we are not going to like what’s about to happen through the foggy door so we grind for another 20 minutes. All this grinding is being done yet we have no way to actually level up. This is becoming increasingly frustrating. The pressing need to level up is becoming apparent however the lack of ability to actually do so is rather irritating. Since we can’t level up we now grind to work on timing and combat maneuvers. It’s never too soon to start getting better.

Dark Souls Bonfire

Fancy meeting you here.

Finally it’s time to go through the foggy door. As we push through below we see that large demon that we ran from earlier. Only this time all exits are sealed. We do our strong leaping attack off of the overlooking balcony on which we stand and it connects perfectly. Half of his health is now gone. The fight is going to be manageable. That is until he swings his club. It’s about this time that dodging and rolling becoming a necessary tactic. The moves on the screen are actually being translated to movements in my own physical body. My dogs are watching me. They seem to be judging me. I don’t care. I’ve come this far without dying and I don’t intend to start now.

After working our way behind the demon and dealing a few hits he spins and swings his club. Once more dodging and rolling must be done until we can work our way behind him once more and attack. This battle isn’t as hard as I felt it should be. Once he is dead we collect a key and return to the courtyard bonfire to heal.

Underneath the balcony where we launched our initial attack is another large door for us to move through. Once pressing through here we see a wide open world before us. We however are on a very narrow cliff. Messages tell us to keep moving. Atop the first hill and to the right is a baby bird asking us for “warm and soft”. Duly noted young feathered friend. With some exploring we’re able to find some souls and move toward the very top of the cliff on which we stand. Suddenly a giant raven appears and tells us we’ve been chosen. We’re taken away from this world and onto the next. With the prologue concluded I’m left to wonder just what the hell we were supposed to give that baby bird. I know we missed something but there’s no turning back. I’m fully engrossed in Dark Souls at this point.

We are dropped at a new Bonfire that finally allows us to level up. All the grinding has payed off for us. We’re now ready to kick ass and take names. But since the dogs need to play that shall have to wait until tomorrow.

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Okay, okay.  So we all know how incredibly excited I am for The Elder Scrolls: Skryim to come out.  I literally cried a little when I watched those developer gameplay videos.  So yes, I am ecstatic for Skryim.

However.

You know what?  I’m also a little afraid.  Aside from the obvious ‘My social life is going down the drain for a month or so after Skyrim drops’, there’s another issue here.  Sometimes, I feel like an overwhelmed video gamer.

Oblivion's Open World

Over the river, through the woods... Damn, must've taken a wrong turn somewhere.

What exactly is an overwhelmed video gamer?  Well, since we’re talking Elder Scrolls, let’s take Oblivion, for example.  Oblivion, I’m sure, is a great game.  I own it, in fact.  I just never played very much of it.  Sometimes, when I’m playing a game with a massively open world, I get overwhelmed with the amount of sidequests and optional content there is available.  I get distracted.  I get overencumbered faster than you can accuse my character of stealing.  I feel… almost lost.  Directionless.  With no major push towards the main quest, I can look at the game as a whole and go, “Wow, I can’t see actually finishing this”.  So I don’t.  With Oblivion, you don’t necessarily have to immediately begin doing the main quest.  In fact, it’s very open ended.  Bethesda is adamant about not forcing you into doing the main quest.  But to me, in a way, that can be harder to deal with.

Okay, sooooo... where to next... ?

Bethesda is known for making their games open ended.  In Fallout 3, once you escape Vault 101, you don’t have to follow the main mission you were given.  In fact, you could walk out into that deserted wasteland and immediately being exploring the opposite direction of where you’re vaguely pointed to check out in the main quest.  And this would be perfectly acceptable, welcomed, in fact, by Bethesda.  But to me, a “I’ve gotta finish every single side quest” type of gamer, this is actually overwhelming.  I think it’s easier for me to be pushed in some way towards a main goal, and then side quests and additional content seems more manageable.  In Fallout 3, I can get easily distracted by a new quest that pops up.  Continually starting a new quest and finishing (maybe) 1 in 5 can be frustrating.

On the flip side, I feel that a game like Dragon Age: Origins or Mass Effect 2 balances the amount of drive you’re given towards your main goal in the game and still gives you freedom to go where you want, to complete optional side quests.  Despite the epic proportions of those games, I never felt overwhelmed by the amount of possibilities of where to go next, or of how many side quests I was receiving.

The Elder Scrolls Skyrim Logo

This logo strikes both awe and fear in my heart.

I’m like this in real life as well.  I have a tendency to look at the big picture and get overwhelmed by the whole thing, rather than take it and break it down into manageable chunks.  It can be enough to turn me off from large projects.  I would never make a good project manager.  A college report, for example, could be incredibly stressful for me, because all I could think was, “I need to write HOW many pages?!”.  (By the way, let it be known that I am not currently in college; the example is simply that – an example.)

With Bethesda stating that Skyrim will be loaded with additional content, packed into approximately the same size map as Oblivion, I’m scared of getting that overwhelmed, disoriented feeling.  I don’t want to end up frustrated with how many open quests I’ve started and how few I’ve completed.  Hopefully I can push through and keep playing, because Skyrim is definitely going to be incredible.

Anyone else ever feel like this?

-Kat

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Dragon Age Origins Morrigan

Recently a rather interesting conversation broke out at Polish the Console about video games and relationships. While Kat has a less than secret crush on BioWare (and by crush I mean stalking)  I have found myself with a wanting for something more. Maybe it was playing a video game with the adult themes of Catherine that got me thinking about this but isn’t it time our relationships in video games grew up?

When I say “the adult themes” I don’t mean the sexual nature of the relationship. What I mean is the importance placed on the relationship and the value that it possesses and the effects that these relationships have on the outcome of the game. As a video gamer I want my game to have real consequences to my actions. In BioWare video games the only real consequence to a relationship is “I don’t get to see the sex scene with that other character” and anymore let’s be honest what are we really missing?

mass effect 2 mirands

Behold! The awesome rewards of a relationship...

Now to preface this let me just say that this does not have anything to do with writing or emotional attachments to NPCs. One thing I will never criticize or bemoan in any way is the writers ability to genuinely make me care about my party members. Who among us hasn’t agonized over one stupid little decision in a game that, in reality, had no real bearing on the outcome of the game? What I mean is that in games like Dragon Age: Origins and Mass Effect the relationships you enter into make little real and meaningful difference to the outcome of the game. You can still have a 98% identical experience in the game without a relationship; all you miss out on is a little smooching and a few dialogue options that will still give you the same ending anyways. While you may personally feel more passionately towards the outcome based on your emotional connection with the characters, you could still arrive at that outcome without being in that relationship.  In Dragon Age: Origins being in a relationship with Morrigan or Alistair does not mean you will live or die. It does not mean anything other than a small chunk of text at the end of the game.

In my life I am a 31 year old married man. I have a wife, two dogs, house, and no picket fence. I genuinely enjoy my life. However I look at my companions: my college friends, work friends, people I meet. I see my wife and my dogs and the life I have chosen. If this were Mass Effect 2 I could very easily flirt with my companions who were willing and suffer no real ill effects. If this were Dragon Age II then I could literally flirt with everyone I shared more than a passing conversation with regardless of sexual orientation and it would be okay.

In my real life I can almost certainly promise you that if I were to flirt with the girl at the local GameStop my wife would not be at all happy with me. In fact I would think that what would ensue would be a 4 hour impassioned apology from me and a well deserved lifetime of distrust from her.

But there’s more than just my ability (okay let’s be honest I have no ability I got lucky) to flirt with people. I have chosen a companion that I will put before all others. In my relationship I have said “I choose your missions before anyone else’s.” I looked my wife dead in the eyes and said “I voluntarily choose to miss out on a cornucopia of potential companion missions with friends and acquaintances to forge life with you and do your missions.” She then gave me a sword. Dead serious. She had a custom forged katana made for me. I’m that lucky. She also had my wedding ring made from sword. Again I’m very serious. She knows me.

Miranda Mass Effect 2

She's not even shooting something because for me.

In Mass Effect 2 when you choose to be with Miranda Lawson all you miss out on is a sexy video with another crew member and bit of “I want to be with you” dialogue. You still get to do all of their deep companion missions. You still get to fully complete the game. Hell Miranda doesn’t even give you anything that helps you. Come to think of it when you gain her allegiance SHE’S the one that gets something. They all do. Why didn’t we get a fancy new suit? We’re the ones risking out asses to help your families. Where’s my fancy pants?

But more than this nobody seems to care that you’re potentially in a relationship. In Dragon Age: Origins when Morrigan gives you a ring or Alistair and you become Ferelden Royalty what really changes? Do you miss out on any part of the game because you’re in a relationship?

This is what I mean by adult themes. It is the decisions that have significant weight in the world. It is saying “Yes I want this. This is my decision and there is no going back, there is no middle ground, and I have to stick through this.” In Catherine it was the seemingly inane questions that created a very black or white picture of the world. Ultimately you decided between Catherine or Katherine. That was your decision, it sucked, it was difficult, and it was one of the most gratifying and real experiences that I have had in gaming all year, because of the consequences.

This is what other games need to bring in. Make a relationship mean that in return you get some real and deep companion mission. Make a relationship mean that you are not, in fact, running around with everyone doing whatever you want. You have consequences for your decisions that will carry through the entire game based on who you choose to be in a relationship with.

The additional benefit to this is a terrific increase in replayability. In all likelihood I’m probably never going to replay Dragon Age II. With two play throughs I was able to do almost everything I wanted to. There is no more story to surprise me or grab my attention. However uncovering more about Isabela or Merrill would absolutely bring me back for another go-round if the stipulation was that I had to be in a relationship with them.

While this would certainly rub a lot of gamers the wrong way it’s something that would both intrigue and beguile provided it’s done correctly. Video gamers are growing up. Isn’t it time our in game relationships do the same?

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