As someone who hasn’t been gaming since they came out of the womb, like some of my other friends have, I’m always interested in hearing their opinions about how older games hold up compared to other games we have now. Do the graphics still look good? Is the game still an enjoyable experience to play like the day they first played it? My friends always have something to compare it to, while I simply don’t. I became a late bloomer kind of gamer and most of the games I play now have better graphics and technology to work off of. It came as a surprise to me when I actually found a video game I have an opinion on when it comes to how well it holds up as it gradually ages. Which game is this? Dragon Age, of course!
With almost every video game I play, I find my music collection expanding more and more each time. From musical scores to songs being played during the end credits of a game, I always want to own and carry a piece of the game experience I have loved and enjoyed with me.
It’s November 18 and it’s a special day for all Dragon Age fans. And if you’re not a Dragon Age fan and have no idea what I’m talking about, then I’m surprised you’ve been able to steer clear of all the video game news bits leading up to this day. Dragon Age: Inquisition has finally been released in stores in North America and it’s literally like Christmas for the whole lot of us.
The buzz and excitement around E3 may have died down, but my own personal excitement over the presentation Bioware gave at the conference for their next installment of the Dragon Age series, Dragon Age: Inquisition has not. A new game trailer for the game has been released and its spectacular. Fans of the series are cautiously excited from the comments I’ve seen in articles pertaining to the game. Understandably, some are still sore over how the ending to Mass Effect 3 was handled and Dragon Age 2 wasn’t exactly the strongest installment of the series, but I’m particularly confident about Inquisition.
Not having grown up on video games, I missed out on a lot of Japanese role-playing games — games like the Final Fantasy series that involve loads of grinding. In games like this, it’s pretty typical to get to a boss that you just cannot beat unless you have some extra leveling. This means that if you’ve only completed the main quests, you’ll be under-leveled; you need to explore the world to take on some random enemies so you can level your character more.
JRPGs often make this task easy to tackle, because they scatter enemies all over the place and give you random encounters with them. As you’re traveling from one town to the next, your protagonist is bound to run into a dozen (or more) minor enemies who attack on sight, and you must defeat them to move forward. There’s no running away; a lot of JRPGs have a separate “battle arena” that you enter whenever you encounter an enemy, and you can’t leave the arena until you’ve beaten your opponent or used some special skill or potion that allows you to run away — if you’re lucky.
These parts of games are extremely repetitive. A recent example of a JRPG that has lots of these random encounters is Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch, a fun game with a great story that nevertheless manages to feel tedious at times. And that all comes down to the grinding.
But some people love the grinding. They love the separate battle arenas and the random enemies popping up and the extra chances to level. They grind their way through game series like Etrian Odyssey, Tales of, and Final Fantasy. Though I haven’t played a ton of MMOs, I’ve heard they can be similar, and some people love the repetitive calm or the realistic adventure involved in “happening” upon enemies all over the wilderness. Grinding can be fun, but even more fun is the reward of leveling your character.
However, when I know a game could involve lots of grinding, I purposely keep the difficulty low so I don’t have to do much of it. On lower difficulty settings, games usually let you get away with characters who could be considered under-leveled — so there’s no need to whittle away hours and hours of your life replaying what feels like the same battle over and over again.
At first, I thought Fire Emblem: Awakening had the right idea about the whole leveling/grinding issue, because it has lots of optional side quests that act as the “grinding” part of the game. However, the further you get in the game, the more you need to drop Reeking Boxes around the map to conjure enemies. It’s more traditional grinding, and even on the easiest difficulty setting, I’m learning that grinding is an absolute requirement to get through the game. The plus for Awakening is that you can at least choose where you want to battle, which gives you control over the scenery and the difficulty of each fight.
I got started on Western RPGs that don’t involve as much grinding. Games like Dragon Age: Origins are usually forgiving to players who don’t run around leveling; in fact, they’re not even set up for that sort of grind. There’s no place to run in Dragon Age; you just click on where you want to go on the map, and you’ll either appear there magically or get “stuck” for a single random battle before arriving there.
Instead, Western RPGs often have side quests that let you level if you want. But the main appeal of these quests is not the leveling; it’s the extra immersion in the world, the character conversations, the story deepening, and the special loot you get that act as rewards. There’s no meaningless grinding if that valuable leveling takes place while enjoying well-constructed side stories.
Open-world games like Batman: Arkham City and Elder Scrolls: Skyrim have several actual quest lines that you can pursue, either with multiple objectives for the quests or with one quest rolling out after another. This gives you the power of choice in how you develop your characters.
I would love to see this become more involved in future games. I’ve always liked the idea of avoiding combat through other means, such as stealth or hacking into systems. Whenever I can bring a squad along in a game, I’m happy when they can take a lot of the fire while I do other things. I also enjoy strategizing my way through levels (though I get pretty impatient with stealth in the long run).
An example of what I’d like to see is a quest line that’s very specific to the type of character you want to create. Already, Skyrim levels your character based partly on how much your character uses each skill type — so do lots of blacksmithing, and you’ll get extra smithing points to spend in the skill tree if you so choose. I would love to see this type of specialization expand to quest lines. For instance, in a science fiction game, your character could pursue a certain type of training depending on how you want to level your character. You might choose weapon-based combat to jump into fire fights, or systems engineering if you prefer to act as a hacker who spits turret fire on enemies while finding secret shortcuts.
This is just one potential alternative to grinding that could give a video game much more depth. As we see games becoming much larger in scale, I hope the addition of side quest lines can be rewarding not only with extra story, but also in granting the player better control over how they take on the gameplay.
As an adult with jobs, lives, and responsibilities outside of our geeky hobbies, time can be our enemy. Being an adult gamer requires mastering the skill of time management. We have more concerns we have to deal with in our daily lives, but carving out at least 20 minutes or an hour of time to play a game is possible. The only time playing a video game where time can be an issue is when you want to replay a game you’ve already finished.
It’s kind of old news now, but did you guys see the design document for the next Mass Effect game?
That is one massive bible, and I am so excited to see where BioWare takes the next Mass Effect game now that Commander Shepard’s trilogy has come to a conclusion.
BioWare has always been known for story-driven games with strong character development, but I’m placing a bet that Mass Effect 4 (for lack of a better title) will be open-world. That seems to be the future for gaming: more exploration, more customization, more player choice. And since it’s sharing core systems with the upcoming “multi-region” Dragon Age: Inquisition, it makes sense that Mass Effect 4 will also have open world elements. It might not be entirely open-world, but I like the idea of expansive maps and lots of non-story content à la Knights of the Old Republic.
Already we know of some changes Mass Effect will undergo, besides just moving on to a new story. After fans flooded Mass Effect executive producer Casey Hudson with ideas for the next game, he tweeted to acknowledge one trendy topic: playable alien races. And that leads me to the first thing I’d like to see in the next Mass Effect game, particularly if it’s going to be a more open-world game with some sandbox style gameplay:
1. Origin Stories
The origin stories in Dragon Age: Origins are some of my favorite things in any video game ever. They are little adventures (1 or 2 hours long) that kick off your character’s journey in the video game, with six different origin stories available depending on which character class and race you chose. My first was the human noble origin story. They all lead to the same place: Your character meets Grey Warden Duncan and is asked to join the Grey Wardens to face the upcoming Blight. But having that personal story at the beginning made the rest of the game feel so much more grounded and relevant to your character.
I would love to see that in the next Mass Effect game. It would be an exciting way to kick off the new feature of playable races, and it would help players get a sense of alien cultures. For instance, if I end up playing as a turian, I might spend an hour or two on the turian homeworld of Palaven, getting to know the culture and getting a feel for what my turian character values. It would also be cool to peek into a day in the life of an asari or see what a krogan childhood is like through origin stories.
Let’s be honest: Lots of loot is never a bad thing in video games. And collectibles are a big part of open-world games, because they encourage exploration, interaction with NPCs, checking out shops, and undertaking quests in hopes of looting dead bodies for goods. And you know what you can do with all those collectibles and loot? Put them in:
3. A House
Red Dead Redemption, Grand Theft Auto, Elder Scrolls — they all have houses you can go back to if you want to save your game or rest from your adventures. Personally, I dig the Elder Scrolls style best, because you can actually decorate your houses with your loot. Sometimes, I would go on a Skyrim quest specifically because I wanted the reward at the end of it to hang above my in-game bed, and having houses made me want to keep things instead of selling them or replacing them all the time. When I out-leveled a piece of equipment, I would throw it on a mannequin or sword rack to remember my adventures. (You heard about what happened to my Skyrim puppy, right…?)
In the Citadel DLC for Mass Effect 3, Shepard gets an apartment from Anderson. The decorating options are pretty disappointing, but the fact that a (slightly) personalized pad has already been introduced in a Mass Effect game is a good sign!
4. Customizable Ships
You know what could be even cooler than a house? A customizable ship. If the game has my character commanding a ship like the Normandy, it would be a dream come true to be able to select which type of ship I want, paint it, and decorate the inside of it. I would also like to be able to hire my staff, but that’s another thing altogether.
In Mass Effect 2 and 3, players were able to personalize their quarters — however slightly — with model ships and small pets like the fish that never seemed to stay alive. A personalized ship in Mass Effect 4 could easily be my character’s permanent home, and it would work well if the story has players jumping around space like the trilogy did. Plus, it’s a subtle way to keep the spirit of the original Mass Effect trilogy alive… because that Normandy was everything.
Everybody loves pets, right? A lot of games I’ve played have included pets, such as the horses you ride in Red Dead Redemption and Skyrim and the dogs of Dragon Age: Origins and Fable II and III. Being able to adopt a pet and keep it at your character’s house or ship would be a fun, personal touch to the next Mass Effect game, and the designers can come up with all kinds of exotic alien creatures for players to adopt. Maybe they can be mabari warhound-ish so I can take my pet into battles with me. Or there could be more of those dog-mechs.
I’ll take any kind of pet except a fish.
I’m not talking about the Mass Effect 2 mini-games that have players hacking doors and stuff. Those can be tedious. What I’m talking about are card games like Pazaak or Triple Triad. It’s fun to immerse yourself in the fictional world by playing fictional games that are popular in the fictional cultures you’re exploring. Plus, card games can mean collecting cards — the best kind of collectible! In Mass Effect 4, I’d love to run my character around challenging NPCs to card games, collecting cards everywhere I go, and even earning achieements based on the size or style of my card collection or how much I’ve been playing the card games. And if I can gamble for loot like you do in The Witcher 2, so much the better! (See “Collectibles” above. This is a vicious cycle of loot here, guys.)
Speaking of games within games, I want to know what sports people play in the Mass Effect universe. Characters in Mass Effect 4 could attend sporting events and bet on the results — a simple, realistic diversion that lets players make (or lose) some extra money while learning more about the fictional world. We had that in the run-down Tuchanka of Mass Effect 2, where players could bet on varren fights. But something like Star Wars‘ pod races could be even more exciting… or heavy mech arena battles. Remember the swoop races of Knights of the Old Republic? Maybe our Mass Effect 4 characters could participate in the sports once in a while to earn some extra credits and earn reputations as athletes or racers.
8. Factions to Join
You know all those factions you could join in Skyrim? Mass Effect could absolutely do that, and it would be a fascinating way to explore the vast wold and various cultures that make the Mass Effect universe so detailed and realistic. I might not personally want to join the Blue Suns, but something like that would be awesome. Being able to work your way up in a faction to become one of its more important members would feel rewarding, and some factions could be unique to wahtever race you choose to play as or the planet you call home. (That would also mean more replay value!)
The trick is to make each faction’s quest line mean something to the player character — so I’d like to see more consequences for actions that what we see in Skyrim. For instance, if you join one faction, you can’t join its rival faction too. Except as a spy. That would be cool.
9. Character Missions
Mass Effect 2 was all about the character missions, and I loved them. An interesting way to create more content for an open-world, sandbox style game would be to include quest lines that follow squad members and other important NPCs. Finishing a quest line might be necessary to fulfill a romance with an NPC, for instance — and it would be an awesome way to get to know the character better. I would love to see new missions for characters unlock throughout the game, so you can keep learning more about them as you go. Maybe gaining the trust of certain characters would even unlock more areas to explore, such as little colonies or home worlds typically off-limits to outsiders. There could also be one-off missions when a squad member asks you to join him in a battle on his home planet (rather like Garrus’s recruitment mission in Mass Effect 3), an assassination (for a character like Thane), or even a research project (for a character like Mordin or Tali).
When I play an open-world game, I tend to specialize in something almost as if it’s my in-game career. Some people got really into blacksmithing in Skyrim; I got really into alchemy. Other people are miners and go look for new mines all over the map. In the next Mass Effect game, I would love to try odd jobes on different planets. The game could even introduce certain jobs you could do over and over again to become an expert, such as researching biotics, building weather domes on remote worlds, constructing colonies, or mining for element zero. It wouldn’t be as tedious as just scanning planets in Mass Effect 2 (worst mini-game ever) if you can actually plant your character’s feet on the ground and feel a part of the world as you perform these duties. The jobs could also have collectibles and achievements attached to them to make them more enticing, and I sort of love the idea of setting up a shop somewhere to sell the weapons or medicines my character makes…