Assassins are never clean shaven

Probably the most recent title I've played, I got AC Unity preloaded on the box One.  That also makes this the first console game I've reviewed here, but I'm not really sure my play style really makes that relevant. Almost immediately after getting the Xbox One, I started following the development of a precision keyboard and mouse adapter for consoles, the XIM4.  As the number at the end indicates, this isn't the first of its line.  To be honest, I love having it.  This is mainly because I'm a worthless console game player when it's not something that lets me leverage the years of time I spent in arcades or arcade rooms of various facilities during my childhood years, like Soul Calibur or Marvel Ultimate Alliance. The only downside is that the context based help is all still in console speak, so those first few hours in a new game are made even more awkward by having to translate console input to keyboard input to making your hands move.  Needless to say, mistakes get made.

"Shit shit shit shit shit"

Regardless of my personal experience, Unity was another good step forward for the franchise.  As usual, the world they are able to create is as amazing and immersive as ever.  I can still remember playing first AC title and thinking about the worlds they created there being large, and now we are given a scale replica of late 18th century Paris.  To me this is absolutely insane.  I remember hearing that for the first time and thinking, "So that's why it takes me so long to get anywhere on foot."  To that, I was a little disappointed in the lack of alternative means of transportation.  Don't get me wrong, fast travel was great and is somewhat of a necessity if you want to get anything done in a reasonable amount of time, but the only way Arno could move around the city was that or walk/run/climb.

"If I start down now, I should be able to get across the street in two hours."

In some ways I liked the simplicity of that small element of the game.  You could look at previous titles and say that you had too many options: by foot, by horse, by wagon, by prototype flying machine, or of course - almost everyone's favorite - by boat.  This is something I have liked about the AC series; they are always changing things up from the environment to the gameplay.  I've discussed the environment, but there was a clear gameplay element that they raised the bar with, and that element was the multiplayer. It's not as though these kinds of co-op/multiplayer experiences are unheard of in games, but it's always in varying degrees in limited veins, like beat 'em up (Castle Crashers, Turtles in Time), shoot 'em up (Unreal Tournament, Mass Effect), military/FPS tactics (Call of Duty, Splinter Cell) or zombies (Left 4 Dead, Resident Evil).  This is the first time I've run into such a fun, tactically oriented multiplayer experience in the RPG gaming genre.  Counting down over a headset to simultaneous takedowns by all your party members to clear guards before sweeping into a target building in Unity  is one of my top, all-time gaming experiences.  You could certainly argue that other games out there allow you to do this same exact thing, but to me, doing it as an integral part of an RPG experience you are already involved with in a universe like Assassin Creed's sets it miles apart.

"Awesome."

The work Ubisoft is doing with the Initiates community is also very interesting.  These kinds of game-specific communities are generally not something I get into.  Still, I have to admit I was impressed with the work they've put into Initiates, down to the "congratulations on becoming a master assassin" email they send you after completing the single player game.  I'm sure that platform has been designed to move into future titles, but I'll be really disappointed if they don't provide some kind of time in.  I love games that provide the kind of meta data they offer through Initiates, and the things they do based on that data like analyzing your play style would be really cool to track over the lifetime of a franchise. To me, this combination of single player, multiplayer, in game and out of game features are what defines the next generation of games.  And Unity is one of the few games out today where we see all of those elements come together.

LAG – Tomb Raider

May 24th, 2015 | Posted by Emmett in Games & Gaming - (0 Comments)
Marvel's not the only one who can recast an icon

This probably doesn't need to be said for a title this old, but I also don't always have spoilers in my reviews.  So, warning: potential spoilers to come. Tomb Raider was another Steam sale pick up I got during the Square Enix sale I got Absolution in.  However, unlike Absolution, Tomb Raider is a game I was pleasantly surprised by.  The Tomb Raider franchise is another one I jumped into part way through the series, when they did their first reboot with Legend, Anniversary and Underworld.  Obviously that was a big step forward in the series, and I think their latest reboot with Tomb Raider was just as significant if not more so. With almost every TR game I've played, I've always felt like I was playing a game that just a little behind the times.  Being a late-comer to the series probably didn't help with that, but even playing one of the titles on release data tended to be accompanied by that feeling.  Tomb Raider has been the only exception, and it was even one of those titles that I got to late.  I think the origin story approach gave that degree of separation from the rest of the series that allowed them to break away from a stagnant past and create something new. Beyond the highly publicized changes in character design, another addition to this title is a meaningful story that you can actually get immersed in.  Stories in the earlier titles were either non-existent or all over the place, which makes it hard to stay engaged.  With Tomb Raider, we're actually given something that (ok, maybe not the stuff at the end) could have actually happened.  Sure, it's a little extreme at times, but it certainly wouldn't be the first time we've seen people build up a survivalist cult in an isolated area that's based in that area's indigenous culture.

"Never get out of the boat."

But I digress, another element that helped keep the story world cohesive were improvements made to the general game play.  Nothing takes you out of a story like having to battle against weird clipping points during a simple platforming puzzle or a crappy grapple mechanic you have to use just to move around.  The evolution of Lara's equipment also helped provide depth to the different areas of the world and how you were able to interact with them, and the journal entries Laura would read at key save points kept you immersed in the events around you even when you as a player were managing your equipment or skills.

Shhh...

The only downside I really experienced with Tomb Raider is more due to my own play style than anything.  If you give me a game with any kind of stealth element, I have to go full stealth, all the time.  This wasn't a problem at all for the early stages of the game where you are outnumbered and the focus really is survival.  Still, as the story progresses, guns become more important and you start unlocking melee combat skills.  At this point I did start using the guns I was able to pick up, but I really didn't dive into the combat skills until late game when there was nothing else for me to choose.  The story was almost completely run and gun at that point, so they were definitely useful then, but I feel like I missed out a little by not using them sooner.
ouch

Yeah, that's an ice axe.

I've talked with people who say the different takedowns seemed out of place when compared with the classic Lara from the earlier titles, and while I agree, I didn't see it as a negative.  It's just another pointed difference between this title and every other one that came before it.  Is it really necessary for Laura to unload an assault rife clip into an attacker that's close enough to touch?  No, it's not, and it's pretty grizzly when you think about it outside of the detached world of video games.  Still, I think these help further define the world you are put into and enhance the gritty survival-focused story that every other gameplay element, cutscene and plot point are driving at. All in all, Tomb Raider definitely exceeded my expectations.  So much so that writing this review is making me want to play it again.  Yeah, I'm going to do that.  You should too, and you can probably pick it up for pretty cheap about now.

LAG – Hitman: Absolution

May 7th, 2015 | Posted by Emmett in Games & Gaming - (0 Comments)
It was absolutely ok.

Gaming is something that hasn't suffered too much during my blogging hiatus.  For the most part, I've just been trying to work on that backlog of games in my Steam library that every PC gamer has, and for me, one of those games was Hitman Absolution. The Hitman franchise was one I jumped into with Hitman 2; and while Contracts was an interesting follow up to Silent Assassin, Blood Money was what really endeared me to the series.  Even though the story was pretty much non-existent in Blood Money, I loved the open nature of each mission environment, and it made the replay value of the game go through the roof for me.  Not like KOTOR or Dragon Age replay value good, but still pretty impressive for a game where the premise isn't much more than a bald guy who kills people. So about five years go by and there's a new Hitman coming out.  I go to PAX that year, see it there and think, "Awesome! Graphics have come a long way since 2006.  I wonder what they've put into the new game?"  So I stood in the Square Enix area to watch their trailer.  Did they feature any of the new gameplay mechanics?  No.  Did they setup the fact that there is actually a story to follow now?  Nope.  Did they show the improved graphics?  No.  It was a pre-rendered cutsceen-style trailer that showcased this:

They're called the Saints. Subtle, I know.

I understand why this particular approach is used when your fan base is made up predominately by straight males, but it was so blatant that I couldn't help but laugh a little.  Needless to say, I didn't fork out the premium price on release date to see if the nun-inspired assassin squad thing went anywhere, but I did eventually pick it up during a Square Enix sale day on Steam. It took me two moderately long sittings to play through the single player story, but you could probably grind it out in a day with some dedication.  In short, it was ok.  The main thing that turned me off was how you were made to interact with the environments.  It was a much more linear play through, which isn't necessarily bad, but I always felt like the game was rushing me along.  I never got the feeling that I was some master assassin that could complete a mission in any number of ways.  Instead, I felt more like I was some assassin intern just stumbling from one situation to the next, only running into those best-option scenarios by chance.  I appreciate that they still tried to give you options, but the pace felt too frantic to really understand and enjoy what those options were.
hitman absolution chicken.jpg

Don't worry, I'm a professional.

Still, it wasn't all bad.  The graphics were a lot better than previous titles, and disguises played a much more important role in this title than anything previous.  Actually, the whole character recognition mechanic that takes into account disguises, the kind of NPC and the weapon/object you're holding added a new layer to the game that was fun to plan around.  The amount of objects to interact with and use also added depth to the gameplay, although I was a little upset about not really being able to choose your equipment load out.  I understand how that fit into the story, but at the same time that nerfed some of that replay value I found in previous titles.  Going into a level a second time with better equipment and getting a different experience was no longer in the cards. I think in the end, if you're a fan of the franchise, you'll do what I did: buy it cheap, marathon and moderately enjoy the single player, think back to it with an element of fondness, but probably never play it again.
With my one day off this week where I was actually home, I was able to finish the last few chapters of Dishonored. So before I get too far into that, I'll issue a spoilers warning. They're coming. Prepare yourself. For starters, I was surprised how the story went. I know I shouldn't be, the spy being betrayed by his handlers isn't exactly a new thing, but I was. It was to the point that even when the world was getting all fuzzy during the party that I didn't go straight to being drugged, I thought it was the Outsider doing something that only I could see. There was no obviously sketchy Loyalist who you knew was going to rat the group out. Even Martin, who I was the most skeptical of, seemed genuine. I didn't even slightly suspect Havelock. He was always presented as such a firm believer in the cause; and even though your clockwork heart tells you of his ruthlessness, I assumed that honor and duty would win out. I really did enjoy the gameplay though. I went stealth the whole game, and attempted my no kills and no detects playthough first. Which would have been completely successful if not for the Granny Rags / Slackjaw debacle in the Flooded District that I couldn't avoid. It was a little tedious at times, but it was still a lot of fun. Even so, I feel like I am missing out on a lot of the game by not using half the tools I was given. There were a lot of situations where I could think of good power/equipment combos that would get me out of a tight spot, but would inevitably kill someone. I know I won't like the world that action will create (which makes we wish I took that approach first and could end on the happier note), but until then it'll be like I've only played part of a game. The environment created was also pretty incredible. There was no involved backstory that fed you the information you needed. Instead, the game gave you glimpses into the world though journals and books that you could read and from random NPCs talking to themselves or each other. These things gave you so much more insight into the dystopian world you're trying to fight against than the world your character is actually able to explore. Not that the gameplay environment wasn't great, but the context you were able to glean added so much to it. Which is what I'd expect out of a Bethesda game. All in all, I really liked Dishonored, and I'm looking forward to another playthough. I think they provided solid gameplay with a lot of cool mechanics and an environment that let you use them in unconventional ways. Combined with a solid, well-told story, this ranks up there as one of the better games I've ever played. So if you're on the fence about picking up Dishonored, my recommendation would be to go for it (especially if it's a Steam Sale day).

LAG – Dishonored – Day 1

November 28th, 2012 | Posted by Emmett in Games & Gaming - (0 Comments)

Breaking new! A few days ago I learned that my super-cool-reader-count has doubled since my last assessment. That's right, there are now TWO awesome people who visit this website with some semblance of frequency. Oh yes, these are exciting times! And in an effort to appease this new constituency, I was able to take advantage of the most recent Steam sale to acquire - and subsequently review - Dishonored. I realize this deviates a little from my usual modus operandi with these reviews and how they're supposed to be about old games, but let's face facts. Dishonored may not be old, but with the frenzy of new releases we've seen for the past few weeks, it's certainly no longer the new kid on the playground. In truth, it's more like the kid who sneaks around in a perpetual game of hide-and-seek against people who don't know they too are playing; and in any case, it's been completely worth breaking trend for. In a nutshell, Dishonored champions three elements that have been integral to my enjoyment of the game: story, gameplay, and environment. If you're wondering what else could contribute to a good game, the answer is not much. Bethesda is known for making good, well-rounded games, and so far, this is another. Even though I've barely scratched the surface with this game, I'm already interested to see whether these elements remain strong throughout and how they change over the course of a playthrough. I'll start with the story.

Good Heavens, just look at the time!

As I said, I'm not very far into the game so the story is still very infantile, but I can speak a little on the initial experience of being Corvo. The game doesn't waste any time letting you know why it's called Dishonored. In the first couple hours I went from being a championed grand protector to a wanted master assassin. Part of me thinks this happened a little too fast and a little too abruptly, but I can also see some reason and reality behind it. Your world has been turned upside down, and now you're forced to reconcile the person you were against the person you need to be in order to do your duty and - ideally - clear your name. There's a part before your first mission where a woman asks you to try and protect her father who works where you are going. She says, "You used to to protect people, didn't you?" At that point I remember wondering, "When did I stop doing that?" Suddenly I'm outfitted with all this gear, a creepy mask, and people are expecting me to be this great killer of men. There was a disconnect there; in my time as Corvo, I wasn't introduced to that capacity for killing within me. And maybe that was done on purpose. Maybe that change was supposed to be jarring, and at that point you have to decide what you are going to be, an assassin or a protector. Interestingly, the gameplay seems favors both approaches in conflicting ways. Combat consists of dual-wielding a razor-sharp knife in your right hand and a pistol, mini-crossbow, or magic spell/item in your left hand. You are never without something that can kill someone, and you are generally holding two somethings that can each kill someone. So far the crossbow has three different load-outs and only one of those is non-lethal. And everything works very well together. You can slow down time and simultaneously hack and shoot up a crowd of bodyguards. You can blink above someone and assassinate them from the air. All very cool and all seemingly encouraged. However, the environment you're in favors discretion over wanton slaughter.

So you're telling me that this is something that's frowned upon, but I'm never able to put my knife away... ok...

The environment actually gets worse with the more people you kill. The plague affects more people, there are more swarms of ravenous rats, and guard patrols are increased as the city falls farther into martial law. I don't even remember this being overtly mentioned in-game. I only noticed it in a random tutorial explanation for "chaos", which is one of your ratings at the end of a mission. Things like this make me really glad I picked this up, because I'm really excited to see how everything ends up working together and what the story evolves into. I don't know if it's going to be the game I've heard a lot of proclaim it to be, but it's off to a good start.

Something tells me this game
isn't going to be super serious...

This game really surprised me. Put simply, it's the most pure fun I've had with a game in a long time. I've gotten a lot of enjoyment out of a lot of different games over the years, but that enjoyment isn't always derived from the same kinds of experiences. Half-Life in its various forms provides an awesome mix of FPS and environmental puzzle elements that makes for great gameplay. In Arkham Asylum/City, you get to be bad-ass and explore the Batman universe; enough said. Dragon Age had such incredible character interactions and relationship building that you became seriously emotionally invested in your character and your other party members; I'm pretty sure I cried at one point. The Mass Effect series knitted itself into one amazing story that you got to be responsible for shaping. Those are some of my favorite games, and each has a special quality that make me really enjoy playing it. Saints Row wasn't insanely beautiful, and it didn't have an outstanding story or offer revolutionary gameplay, but it was fun. Like kid on a Toys-R-Us shopping spree fun. In my first post about this game, I said that the game was fun as long as you didn't take it too seriously. This remained true, and I think the developers did their best to make that happen. The game doesn't give you much opportunity to take it too seriously. Johnny Gat dies (everyone in-game says he's dead, so why not, right?) in the opening missions, but it's not used more than a minor plot device after that. You might say, "Hey! Gat's death is the whole reason they're fighting the Syndicate so it's pretty major," and I could agree to an extent, but it never really emerges as anything more than fuel on a fire that was already started. Look at Max Payne if you want a game that really revolves around revenge. In Saints Row, there's no real mourning, no flashback sequence as you execute his murderer, just the occasional "that one's for Johnny" or "Johnny would have wanted it that way" lines. So the one thing that could bring you down to a dark place never really reaches up to grab you; leaving your mind free to focus on fighting guys in hot-dog costumes or warding off zombies or Burt-fucking-Reynolds. Yes.

Can you imagine that election campaign?

Seriously, Mayor of Steelport is Burt Reynolds. And the Mayor isn't Burt Reynolds in the same way that the Joker is Mark Hamill; the Mayor is Burt Reynolds who is voiced by Burt Reynolds. This alone tells you that the game you are playing is fun and the people who made it were having fun. What's even more telling is that the Bandit doesn't even show up until you and another character voiced by Sasha Grey (yes, that Sasha Grey) go to his office to accept the mission to stop the zombie gas from spreading. There's another mission where it's just you and your friend driving to a clothing store, he starts flipping through the stations until he stops on Sublime's What I Got, and you and he sing along, in the car, for the whole song. I got to the destination early and actually waited for them to finish the song. In one of the final sequences when you're mowing through a bunch of guys to save Shaundi, Bonnie Tyler's I Need a Hero is playing the whole time. I know I'm going on and on with these examples, but the game is full of them; and that's the atmosphere that I'm trying to describe when I say the game is whimsical. I've been debating on whether my enjoyment was enabled by low expectations going in (which I had), but I don't think so. If I loved it because I thought it was going to suck and it turned out to be mediocre, my enjoyment would have subsided as I got used to everything and the mediocrity of it all became more and more apparent. But that didn't happen. It started off as being really entertaining and kept being just that. Even as the credits were rolling, showing pictures of the development team and having all the different main character voices sing What I Got at the same time, it made me think back to games like Warcraft III that had those same kind extras; and it was those little extras that really won me over. In my first post for this game, I also said that the entertainment level may not be sustainable over the course of the whole game, and so I talked about other elements that the developers could exploit to make it stay interesting. In reality, none of those elements really needed to come into play. From my standpoint, the development team made the game fun, and in the end, that's all they really needed to do.

After getting through the final cut-scenes of Fallout: New Vegas, I realized I wanted to play something different. The 60+ long hours of RGP gameplay made me crave a different format, and in my hunger I turned to Saints Row: The Third; a title in a series I had never touched. This was a rare move for me. Story lines are what I derive a lot of enjoyment from in video games, and jumping into a franchise at the third title is like picking up a book, skipping to the last few chapters, and just reading them. This works with very few kinds of books, like coloring books. Still, it seems like Saints Row is one of those kinds of books; and much like a coloring book, Saints Row can be a lot of fun as long as you don't take it too seriously. The game format is a lot like Grand Theft Auto games of that time, which you can surmise from any screenshot or gameplay video; no cover mechanic and vehicle controls that you can't decide are bad or are ones that you're just not used to. Still, there's something a little more whimsical about Saints Row. Given what your character does in-game, whimsical probably isn't the right word, but there seems to be an inherent naivety toward realism that ends up being very disarming when you try to critique it from that standpoint. The introductory cinematic is done like the Star Wars title crawls. The first tutorial sequence has you running around with a machine gun with unlimited ammo and a Johnny Gat mask that makes you think you're playing with Big Head Mode on. It's almost laughable, but it's nearly impossible not to have fun with it. The environment created by the game makes it so things that might bother you if they were in other games just don't matter there. I don't know whether it's done on accident of by design, but I'm all for it right now.

Oh Yeah! That makes TWO NLF Blitz references, everybody! TWO!

The only problem here is that there's a chance that feeling isn't sustainable. Eventually, the charm may wear off, and the player is left looking for a reason to continue. There are a couple ways they may be able to do this, one of which is through the story. I'm not sure how likely this is. These games typically aren't known for their storytelling prowess, but GTA IV really broke out in that way so there's always a chance to be surprised. I haven't played much past the opening sequences and a couple side missions, so I can't comment a whole lot on plot strength, but I don't think that will be what saves the day (assuming the day actually needs saving). A second way the game may be able to hedge against disillusionment is by exploiting the player's hoarding instincts. Saints Row appears to feature the ability to buy property and use those various properties to stash weapons, vehicles, and clothes. If Elder Scrolls and Pokemon have taught us anything, it's that we don't have a problem with collecting and storing things. Furthermore, the ability to upgrade weapons and even a character's abilities add additional areas where players can satisfy their need for measurable progress. Still, that simple, honest fun I felt in the first couple hours of play may never go away. The fall-back characteristics I just described may not even be necessary; they may just be nice additions to a good game. I'm anxious to be able to play more and find out.
I finished out New Vegas a couple days ago, and looking back, I have mixed feelings about the ending. It may be worth nothing (for the benefit of my one reader) that the rest of this post contains spoilers, so if you don't want to know what happens in the game but really want to know how I felt about it, we can talk about it this weekend. I like to start by saying that I really did enjoy the game. The observations I made in earlier posts held up surprisingly well, even after 60+ hours of play time. The hardcore mode was a good way to play though the game. Although it was a little frustrating at times, the extra elements added a bit of practicality that kept you from getting too lazy. The faction system was kinda cool, but it didn't add a whole lot to the game's experience. It essentially had you choose a camp, and you could get the people in that camp to like you and eventually the ones in the other camp wouldn't like you. I might be interesting to try and play it so everyone liked you, or play it so everyone hated you (I guess that would be the Yes Man route). I was also surprised by the number of companions you could have. I figured you'd get presented with a few at the beginning of the game, but new people kept randomly showing up. There's an achievement for recruiting all followers, but I didn't get it so I'm assuming there are even more of them out there. I didn't completely exhaust the game, there's still DLC I didn't get into and I haven't explored the whole map yet, but after completing the quests left in my journal, I was ready to move on to the end. I went the pro-NCR route, which is what I saw as the good-guy path. I have a hard time playing the bad guy in games unless that's your only option, and RPGs usually give you an option. I'd need a lot of extra hands to count the number of KOTOR and KOTOR II playthroughs I've done, and I didn't do more than one dark jedi playthough with each. I guess it's just not my style. Besides I didn't want to kill everyone in the Brotherhood of Steele, and Mr. House wasn't giving me that option. The ending itself seemed a little abrupt, and not super conclusive. Starting it, I thought clearing out Caesar's forces from the damn and their staging camp would be a kind of first step toward an invasion of the main legion camp with the help of Mr. House's robots. Instead, you just kill Caesar's lieutenant and his support, walk to the gate, and boom (literally) you're done. You have a few lines of dialogue with the general and then the game ends. You don't even get to continue playing post-dam-battle, you have to load a save that's before the final sequence. That was weird to me, because - again - the final battle doesn't really wrap anything up. Maybe they figured they would have to reflect the shift in power and consequences in the environment afterward, but it's not like that's going to happen right away; Caesar's still in his camp and pissed off, the robots maintain the strip, outlying pockets of remaining groups still exist where you haven't killed them, nothing really changes. That was really my only problem with the game; a lot of good gameplay building up to a kind of lack-luster ending. Still, I will likely return to my pre-finale save game when I'm feeling like playing another RPG. I know there's still a lot I could do in that world, and it would be interesting to see if taking some bigger steps toward the ending I wanted on my own has any effect on what happens after the end. It would be pretty impressive if it did.
Steam logs hours played and not days played, so hours are becoming easier to track in the long run. So, as the title suggests, I'm about 33 hours into the game; and to keep up the pattern, there are three things I'd like to talk about. The first is another gameplay aspect that's new to New Vegas, companions. No, not that kind of companion. Your companion options seems to be a pretty select list (if run into four so far), which may or may not be determined by what DLC you happen to purchase. The eyebot, ED-E, who is currently one of the maximum two that you can have follow you around seems to be a likely candidate for that last item. So far, they don't seem to be much other than extra guns that follow you around. Sure, each has their own little story, and perhaps I haven't gotten far enough to see where those stories become relevant, but so far they haven't added much more than some extra inventory space and firepower. Not that I don't appreciate either of those things, but it's not Dragon Age by a long shot. Then again, I don't think that's what they were aiming for either. The second item on my list is an update on factions, and holy shit are there a lot of those now. Their basic function hasn't changed since what I observed on day 1, but there presence and pervasiveness do have a notable impact on how I play the game. Primarily, this comes in the form of who you can talk to (and therefore accept quests from) and who starts randomly sending assassination squads to kill you. This is where that extra firepower comes in handy. The story seems to be shaping to a point where the various factions and your relationship with them may play a larger role, but I haven't found out for sure and I probably wouldn't mention it here if I had. You know, spoilers and all. My third and final item for today, is quests. Oh my god, quests. I finally get to New Vegas and suddenly, I've got new questions coming from all over the place; main quests, side quests, optional quests within quests, quests-that-don't-show-up-on-your-quest-list-type quests... we've got all kinds of quests going on. It almost at a point where it's overwhelming, not really because of the quest volume, but because it's nearly impossible to figure out where you want to start. There's something about this game that makes everything feel very connected. Very few side-quests seem like detached errands, and I think the various factions help with this. Suddenly you're not just doing something for someone, but you're also doing something against another group. I think it's also overwhelming in that I just don't have the time I'd like to devote to playing through the game. I can get in a few hours at a time here and there, but it's not enough to make any kind of rapid or even semi-rapid progress. Still I've been very impressed with the quests so far. Like I mentioned earlier, the side quests and everything feel very much a part of the game; they don't feel detached. Sure, the story behind every quest isn't amazing and exciting (e.g. Missing laser pistol, please find. K thnx bai!), but I get a really different feeling from them than say the side quests in the Elder Scrolls series. I remember reading a reviewer describe questing in Morrowind as a prolonged game of fetch, whether it's for some item or someone's head. Not to say that this didn't stop me from sinking what was probably close to a year of my life into the game, but that was a feeling I often had. I can even recall that same tediousness in Fallout 3, but this time it's different. I can't quite put my finger on why that is exactly, but it's better; and for now, that's what's important.
Like I mentioned in my day one post for New Vegas, not opting for the Hardcore mode was slowly wearing on me, and I decided to restart anew and be "hardcore", as the kids say. I have to admit, I was a little lacking in description of what hardcore mode entails, and so far, I've been impressed with the way it alters gameplay. The prompt for selecting the Hardcore mode could have just as easily said, "Would you rather play an RPG or a FPS?" In my option, Hardcore mode really makes you play the game instead of just running around and completing missions. In addition to needing water, your character also needs food and sleep on a semi-regular basis. When you sleep, you wake up hungry and thirsty; the same goes for waiting and fast travel, except that neither of those things helps your character get sleep. It's also interesting to see how consumables affect these three measures as well. Certain foods, like cactus fruit, decrease thirst as well as hunger, drinks like whiskey dehydrate you, and Nuka Cola reduces your need for sleep. I also left out changes in how you are injured and how you are healed. Stimpacks no longer instantly give you a bunch of HP; instead, the heal you gradually over time. Also, stimpacks don't heal crippling injuries. For those you need a doctor's bag or to actually see a doctor. Ammo weight was something I remembered correctly, but it's impact was a little more noticeable than I thought it would be. Not only do you have to limit what weapons you have on you, but it makes you scrutinize your entire inventory. You no longer just need to carry weapons, armor, and stimpacks. Now you have to strike a balance between weapons, ammo, armor, food, water, and medicines. There is a house in town you wake up in that you can sleep in and make use of; I thought it was abandoned at first, but I think it's Easy Pete's. I ended up using it to store things that I found and wanted to save, like weapons and ammo I wasn't using or parts and ingredients I didn't want to carry. I also started storing excess food and water there so it wouldn't weigh me down, and in a sense it became a home for my character. I don't know if a house is something I can actually acquire later in the game (I seem to remember owning one in Fallout 3), but for now this one is mine. Along with that, I'm starting to worry that a global event or change in the story line will destroy the town and everything I've saved along with it. I've even been considering finding places to stash stuff elsewhere in the game as a means to hedge that risk. It's these kinds of things that make me say that this mode makes you really play the game. Sure, some of these aspects exist outside of it, but the same risks aren't there and the ones that are don't really feed off each other the same way. It's the cumulative effect of each new element that, to me, creates an entirely different playing experience. When I played my first day in normal mode, I said the game was essentially Fallout 3 with a few different gameplay elements, but nothing really game changing. In that mode, I may have been right, but in Hardcore mode, I think they really brought something different to the table. It's something I am really happy to have found, and I hope BioWare can leverage something similar in future titles. That being said, I do have one gripe. The karma system is cutting into one of my favorite post-apocalyptic activities, looting. Perhaps this is done on purpose, but it appears to be a true karma system in that stealing of any kind, even stealing from bad people, is bad. It makes sense, but it's bothersome. I spent a good hour or two, clearing a prison of a gang that had taken it over; I had gone there to recruit a new sheriff for a nearby town, but the asshole I was looking for promptly shot at me the moment I walked into the room. However, I noticed that after I helped myself to the plethora of supplies in the now abandoned prison camp, everyone treated me like a bad guy. My reputation was affected by each item that was taken, so I effectively was a bad guy. However, I suppose this adds another aspect of realism that isn't attached to the Hardcore mode, and it is simply another choice you have to make as a character. I guess I was just hoping for a little more leniency in the dead bad-guy swag department. Oh well.