Tag Archives: Skyrim

Different Games for Different Moods

Video games have all kinds of effects on me. Some help me unwind at the end of the day; others totally stress me out. Some are easy, while others are so difficult I end up rage quitting. But this is why I love games — there are so many different genres, I always manage to find a game that suits my mood.

Weekend Morning Games

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The Wolf Among Us

Specifically, I have weekend morning games. These are extremely special to me, because they are easy to play. Sometimes that’s exactly what I want. My favorites for weekend mornings are the episodic TellTale games, such as The Wolf Among Us, and dating sims. Immersing myself in the dramatic world of Fables or just goofing around with Chrono Days — that’s how I like to burn a morning while I have a pastry and some coffee on the couch.

Games With Rewarding Combat

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DmC: Devil May Cry

I also have games that require quick skills and concentration, and I love those for how rewarding it is to get them right. It’s all about the gameplay style — and for me, that’s hack and slash combat. I like beat ’em up combat as well — it’s so similar — but hack and slash is my favorite because it feels much faster paced and looks so glamorous.

Devil May Cry is my favorite here. The series offers a challenging combat style, but it’s the only one that I have had so much fun with, I actually replay missions over and over to improve my score. And then I go on to play the more challenging modes you unlock after beating the game once. I may not be the most skilled player, but it’s a gameplay style I find really rewarding to practice. That’s why Devil May Cry has become my go-to series for when I feel energetic about my gaming.

When I’m Stressed or Tired…

When I’m feeling stressed or tired, indie games are a much better fit. I love playing little offbeat platformers or just burning up toys in Little Inferno. The less skill required, the better — I’m more interested in an unusual atmosphere that sparks my imagination. It’s actually been a while since I dug into these types of games, partly because my PC burned out on me. (I used to get all my indie games on Steam…) I will have to remedy that soon!

Immersive Games

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Mass Effect

And then there are the games I like to play when I really want to game: RPGs and adventure games. They’re my favorites for their immersive worlds, epic storytelling, and compelling characters.These are my go-to games when I have lots of time to immerse myself in another world. I find myself replaying my favorites over and over — games like Mass Effect and Skyrim. I can’t get enough of those, and I have to admit, I’m pretty particular about them. While I have enjoyed exploring the rich worlds of Red Dead Redemption, Assassin’s Creed, GTA V, and Tales of Xillia, at the end of the day, I have only a handful of absolute favorite RPGs and adventure games that I just can’t get out of my head. Those are the games that really make me a gamer, and without them, I probably wouldn’t have the job that I have now or be blogging here today!

— Ashley

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Less Grinding, More Strategic Side Questing in Video Games

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.

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I love the Final Fantasy XII story, but it can be HOURS of tedious battling between cutscenes.

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.

One of the first things you do in Skyrim is choose a Guardian Stone to begin your character's leveling path.
One of the first things you do in Skyrim is choose a Guardian Stone to begin your character’s leveling path.

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.

— Ashley

Video Games: What I’ve Been Playing Lately

The past couple of weeks have been pretty busy, but that just makes me treasure my video game time more than usual! Taking an hour or two to dive into a favorite game has been my retreat. Here’s what I’ve been playing lately:

Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

Kharjo, my newest follower...
Kharjo, my newest follower…

I’ve played Skyrim a couple of times before, but I’m vowing to keep my new character as my main and try to level up much more with her than I have with past characters. She’s a Khajiit named Sabe, and at the moment she’s around Level 22. I got the Hearthfire DLC last weekend and purposely jumped into the Dawnstar quests (“Waking Nightmare”) so I could become thane of Dawnstar and build the Hearthfire mansion in the Pale. It’s the snowy location, and on a clear day you can stand in a tower and see Dragonsreach in Whiterun, which is pretty cool. But now that I’m building, it makes me want to get out there and complete some more quest lines so I can decorate the house!

Also, can I just say that this new playthrough has been tiding me over until Elder Scrolls Online comes out… =)

Fire Emblem: Awakening

fire-emblem-awakeningWhen did I first start playing Fire Emblem: Awakening? According to my blog, it was sometime last March — which means I’ve been playing it for almost a year! And that’s the same playthrough. Which is crazy. It is an RPG, and it is long, but the real reason it’s taking me so long to play to the end is that I keep picking it up and putting it down. It actually works well that way. I’m savoring it as long as it lasts.

The Wolf Among Us

the-wolf-among-us-1With the second episode of Telltale Games’ The Wolf Among Us out this week, I’m super excited to be playing through more of the story tomorrow morning. It took what felt like forever for this episode to be released, but I don’t want to replay the first episode quite yet. I want to have one playthrough — no chance to go back and “fix” mistakes or try things a different way. As with The Walking Dead games, I like to have one canon playthrough before I redo any single episode!

I really enjoyed the first installment in this series. The Telltale Games format works really well with a mystery, and I love the art style of the series. I’m reading the Fables comics (The Wolf Among Us is based on them) this month to learn a little more about this world.

And speaking of Telltale, I’m looking forward to playing The Walking Dead season 2, too! I might wait until all of the episodes are out and play them all at once, though. Waiting so long between The Wolf Among Us episodes is hard enough!

Game of the Month…

I’m also getting started on my New Year’s Resolution to play and actually finish one new game a month from now on. (I’m going to say one two-hour episode of The Wolf Among Us doesn’t count!) I have a few possible games in mind, but I think a Phoenix Wright game might win this month… I will keep you posted on my blog and publish a review when I’m finished with the February game. =)

What’s everybody else been playing lately?

— Ashley

Listmas 2013: Snowy Environments in Sci-Fi and Fantasy

It doesn’t snow in California. I’ve come to accept that, and having lived in places where it does snow, I comfort myself with the firsthand knowledge that as pretty as it is, snow can be a hassle too. But around this time of year, I find myself gravitating towards video games, books, and movies that feature cold winter weather. For some reason, the snowy settings help set the mood for the holidays. That’s why my computer backdrop for the season is this:

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It’s Skyrim. And that just happens to be my first choice for my favorite sci-fi and fantasy worlds that make awesome wintry vacation spots, even if it’s just in my imagination.

1. Skyrim

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It might be a dangerous place if you’re on the wrong side of the civil war or facing an unexpected dragon attack, but Skyrim is the most beautiful video game landscape I’ve ever seen and would make an amazing vacation spot. Though parts of it are sunny — a ‘crisp autumn day’ type of sunny, that is — much of it is covered in snow. In fact, Windhelm can look downright bleak with its gray walls and murky skies, but it has an intense atmosphere that draws you in. Personally, I love climbing snow-topped mountains and looking for ruins partially buried under the snow when I play Skyrim. And when I came across a little village along the way, the chilly atmosphere only makes ducking indoors feel cozier.

2. Narnia (Chronicles of Narnia)

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The world of Narnia felt so magical when I was a kid, and I still love it. This place is one where animals can talk and magic abounds. There are witches and centaurs and unicorns, and the change of seasons feels important. For instance, there was a time when the White Witch covered Narnia in ice and snow for 100 years, which caused all kinds of hardships for the people. But winter is exactly the time I would want to step through my wardrobe into Narnia, just to experience that thrilling chill of discovery in an atmosphere that so suits it.

3. Pandora (Borderlands)

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Pandora is another video game setting that oozes charisma. It’s not always the prettiest of places, but its dingy settlements, psychos, and monsters have a visual appeal that’s part art style, part amazing atmosphere. When I play a Borderlands game, I completely lose myself on the planet of Pandora, and my favorite areas are always the snowy ones. Seeing massive glaciers and tramping through snow with crackling ice nearby is the perfect way to start off a playthrough of Borderlands 2.

4. Hogsmeade (Harry Potter)

Hogsmeade

Who wouldn’t want to get away from school and drink butterbeer in Hogsmeade? That’s what Harry Potter and his friends do when they get to spend a weekend day in this little all-wizard village of snow-covered cottages and shops. Hogwarts students bundle up in their coats and scarves to make the wintry trek to the village — and then they escape inside where it’s warm. Plus, enchanted candles nestle in the trees during the holiday season to make the place festive. It might be wizards-only, but this town would make a cozy winter getaway for anyone’s imagination.

5. Noveria (Mass Effect)

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Noveria is cold — so cold that people stay inside pretty much all the time. When you first visit the planet in the first Mass Effect game, there are severe storm warnings, but of course you brave the weather to complete your mission before it’s too late. While I enjoyed exploring the industrial-looking facilities built on Noveria to shield the people there from the elements, getting into the snow outside and seeing the glaciers up close was even better… even if it did involve driving the Mako.

— Ashley

10 Things I’d Love to See in a More Open-World “Mass Effect” Game

It’s kind of old news now, but did you guys see the design document for the next Mass Effect game?

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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

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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.

2. Collectibles

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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

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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

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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.

5. Pets

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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.

6. Games

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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.)

7. Sports

HeavyMech

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

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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

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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).

10. Jobs

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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…

— Ashley

Drooling Over Elder Scrolls Online’s Character Creator

I’m not a big MMO player. The only one I got into was Star Wars: The Old Republic, and I’ll admit I haven’t touched it in nearly a year. But when I think about the top three games that have me excited for the new year, the ones that spring to mind are Dragon: Age Inquisition, The Witcher 3, and the MMORPG Elder Scrolls Online. And to get started with an expansive game like ZeniMax/Bethesda’s ESO, you need to create a character who will represent you in the game for many hours — even months or years — of exploration and gameplay.

The footage of the character creator in Elder Scrolls Online is stunning. I was already impressed by The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim‘s character creator, but the thing about Skyrim‘s is that every character you create looks a little war-torn and ugly. That’s not necessarily a bad thing; I don’t mind the realism. But it inevitably led to a ton of mods aimed at making characters beautiful, and that’s something that ESO devs might want to consider when working on the next character creators — a shallow something, maybe, but not a small something.

From early videos on the ESO character creator, it looks like they’ve addressed this. Orcs still look tough and toothy, Argonians still have that rough lizard-like skin with spikes, but everything looks absolutely gorgeous — and it seems it will be a breeze to make your character easy on the eyes and not Skyrim-style tired.

Hot elf.
Hot elf.

But going beyond the superficial in the superficial, the sheer number of customization options and the level of detail are impressive. You can choose height and weight, the build of the shoulders and waist, skin color, tattoos, and lots of facial features. Each gender currently has 24 hairstyles, with some of these specific to a character’s race. There are other customization options specific to races as well; for instance, black-colored eyes is an option uniquely available to Wood Elves. The same goes for body markings, with Dark Elves getting House sigil tattoos, etc. You can read more about it in a developer Q&A here.

Your character will also be able to wear any armor in the game, which is pretty awesome the more you think about it. Some armor is done in the style of a certain race — I immediately think of the glossy, heavy dwarven armor that I just loved to put all over my mannequins in my first playthrough of Skyrim — but your elf can rock Khajiit armor if you want.

The reason I like this is the extra opportunity for character depth this creates. For one thing, you can wear armor that means something to your character — like wear Nordic armor taken from a fight against a Nord. It’s natural to assign meaning to loot in games like Skyrim and ESO. But you can also take it one role-playing step further and say that your elf wears Khajiit armor because she was raised by cat people. Or her first love was a Khajiit. Or she just has an affinity for the Khajiit people and culture deep down in her soul. That’s cool.

Plus, it sounds like ESO will be rolling out new customization features in content updates after launch. Devs say:

“Over time, players want to change their appearance as they develop their characters, so we do have plans to release additional hairstyles, tattoos, adornments, etc. in post-launch content updates.”

I, for one, would love a barber shop feature, even if it’s just for changing hairstyles once in a while a la The Witcher 2. (Geralt can really rock a braid.) Whatever the case, I appreciate that devs will allow us to adjust our characters in some ways, however small, later in the game.

Look at those Argonian abs.
Look at those Argonian abs.

The thing about MMOs is that you don’t want to create new characters all the time; you want to stick with one and level him/her for a long, long time. It’s a journey that can take years and a relationship with a character you’ll never forget. Being able to create a character from scratch is the first step on that path, and it’s important to be able to fine-tune your avatar’s look in as many detailed ways as possible. ESO is definitely putting the reigns in players’ hands there with customization.

I’m already drooling over the Argonian skin colors, spots, and spikes for my future character…

— Ashley

Full Force: Relationships in Video Games

Full Force is GFN’s weekly look at some of the biggest news in geekdom, from video games to anime to movies and everything in between. We also welcome your comments below, if you want to join the conversation. This week, our panelists examine the newly announced Nintendo 2DS.

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Romance is becoming a more prevalent option in modern video games, especially as storytelling evolves in series like Mass Effect, Elder Scrolls, etc. Do you think the introduction of relationships into video games is a benefit to the industry? Why or why not?

Chris: I think it’s a positive overall, because anything that helps people become more immersed in the experience is a good thing. Being able to marry someone and have my own house in Skyrim added to this feeling that I was capable of doing anything I wanted to within that world. Conversely, watching my romantic interest in Mass Effect 1 melt to death made me feel more invested in saving the rest of my crew.

Cary: As someone who likes doing mundane things in games, I’m all for the addition of “real life” qualities to them, including romance options. They absolutely help me become more invested in not only my character but others as well. With the current trend of (mostly indie) games moving away from video games as “games” and towards video games as interactive and social experiences, romantic relationships in games will probably become more prevalent. Sure, we’ll all want to keep stomping on koopas and throwing hadokens at each other every now and then, but having games that include the chance to form deeper connections between characters is necessary to growth and evolution of the industry as a whole.

simpleek: I naturally love good stories and characters, so when I saw that Bioware’s Dragon Age: Origins is not only a really involved story that you can shape however you want to, but you can also romance a number of the characters in the game too? I was sold. I became obsessed with the game because a lot of the characters were really well-written and I had such a strong emotional response to every single one of them as I kept playing. The romance system in Dragon Age: Origins isn’t perfect, especially since you can win almost any character’s heart over by just giving them the right gift or picking the right lines they want to hear, but overall, it gives video games a personal touch for each player. It’s a benefit to include these relationships because it adds another layer to the story and you get to learn more about these characters if you choose to romance them. Games like this one might appeal to those who are interested in compelling stories and characters. It’s like reading a really great book, but the only difference here is you can actually participate in the story and interact with the characters. It’s the ultimate role-play experience.

Crystal: This is one of my favorite topics simply for the fact that I love how BioWare integrated romance options inside of Mass Effect and Dragon Age. They became my favorite games because of the romance system and the relationships you could build or destroy. I like it when I’m able to invest myself inside of a complex character, so being able to mold something deeper and more intimate is always something I enjoy. Adding multiple romance options also heightens the replay value.

Ashley: As others have said, being able to pursue a romantic relationship in a video game as your character adds another layer to the story and deeper character development — so I love in-game romances! The cool thing about having control over it is that you can create a character who is a romantic or a character who pushes people away, and then you can kind of destroy the relationship for the sake of your character’s personal journey. So yeah, I get really into it. =)

LadyCroft3: I think it’s important in context. I don’t really want to make these choices in every game I play, but in games like Mass Effect or Skyrim I think it can only benefit the player. Romance and intimacy are ways in which we bond with others on a closer level in reality, it’s that line between friend and more than friend that we cross. Having this in video games that call for it is not only fun, it helps the player further establish a bond with a character they care for in the game.

Jason: I think anything you can add to the industry is a benefit. I mean sure, not every game gets relationships right; but those games only help make the ones that do get it right even better. Now I’m sure there is an argument floating around on the internet somewhere saying that “reducing relationships to a simple game robs them of their complexity” or some such nonsense. Like somehow games are going to ruin real life relationships in ways that romance novels and movies haven’t over the last century or so. I think every medium of entertainment deserves to touch on every aspect of human life; and that goes double for our social and romantic relationships.

Shaun: So, apparently I’m going to be the odd man out here, but while I agree that romance in games in good (because every sort of storytelling medium in games is good), I prefer something that is totally scripted that I can explore, rather than being given the decisions and dialogue tree to build this. I become as immersed in Mass Effect as anyone, but for some reason, the romances fell flat for me – I just wasn’t sold on the progression, and the build up felt really “gamey” to me (which is also a little weird because I felt like the “bromance” in my case with Garrus was as real as the streets). With that said, I’m still glad it’s something that’s being explored in the genre, because it’s only going to get better with time.

If you had the chance to romance any one character from the wide world of video games, who would it be and why?

Cary: Without a doubt, Lowell from The Last Story. Sure, I love me a good Bioware romance any day, but Lowell was more than just an interesting guy with a nice voice — he was downright captivating and sexy. Don’t think such a thing is possible in a JRPG? Well, The Last Story isn’t just any ol’ JRPG. Its writers wonderful wove together an adult story about friendship with romance at its fringes. Sure, it also involved terrible monsters, fate and fantasy, and all that, but all of it revolved around the bonds formed between the core group of characters, one of which was Lowell. He had quite the wacky and witty way with words, and he was a joy to be around. Plus, he was as great with magic as he was with a sword. Win-win if you ask me!

simpleek: This is a tough choice and I’m always fangirling between Kaidan and Alistair, both from two different Bioware games. Big shock, right? I think between these two, my choice would be Kaidan from the Mass Effect series. I know a ton of people, especially guys, tend to hate on the Bioware men, but I think Kaidan has a lot of depth and complexity as a character. Aside from being gorgeous, he has a sweetness and sensitivity which is, thankfully, different from the usual military men type of characters who are portrayed as being solely tough and macho. It’s as if being a soldier means you can’t have any deep emotions. And just because Kaidan is the sensitive guy type, it doesn’t mean he can’t hold his own in a battlefield. I always take Kaidan with me on missions because his powers come in handy in a fight, at least if I’m not playing a Shepard that is already a biotic. I also think the writers wrote Kaidan in such a way to make the player feel as if a guy like him could actually exist in reality. He has the whole package for me as a romance: sexy, sweet, and strong. As much as I love Alistair, he’s more of your fantasy romance type that wouldn’t exist in real life, as much as you want him to.

Chris: I’ll go with a pick from when I was younger: Celes Chere from Final Fantasy VI. To me, Celes is the most compelling character in a cast that isn’t exactly lacking for interesting stories. Her time on the island with Cid is either a little heartbreaking or a lot heartbreaking, depending on the speed of the fish that you catch. Thanks to some genetic enhancement, she’s more than capable on the battlefield. She’s certainly not tough on the eyes. Best of all, she’s a general, not some opera floozy.

Ashley: Definitely Garrus Vakarian from Mass Effect. I always thought he had it all — a great sarcastic sense of humor, a badass side, an awkward side, loyalty. He’s one of the most well-rounded characters ever. And it’s totally okay that he’s an alien.

LadyCroft3: I’m going to have to go with Ashley on this one and say Garrus Vakarian. The last time I played through the entire series (a few months back) I tried to analyze why I like him so much/ Sure, he’s sweet. Sure, I have a thing for aliens with sexy voices and a bad-boy attitude – but what is it really? I learned that he and I happen to share a lot of the same ideals and morals. I mean, I’m not flying around fighting Reapers or anything and he isn’t sitting around in his PJ’s playing video games all day, but we both have similar qualities. We both love justice, we both like distance weapons, we are both trustworthy friends, we both love Shepard (wait, what?), and we both are realists. I may be looking to far into this though. *Zoidbergs out of room*

Jason: God, is it terrible that I too want to list off a Bioware character? I mean, there are certainly a lot of other great ladies out there… bah, screw it. I pick Jack from Mass Effect. As far as I’m concerned, she’s got it all. She’s a BA, she doesn’t take sh!t from anyone, and deep down she’s a big old softy. I mean, I won’t lie; she’s got a rock’n body and I’ve always had a thing for ‘crazy’ chicks. But it goes deeper than that. Jack has overcome a lot in her life and still manages to make the best of it. I admire that kind of adversity. Likewise she’s got a soft spot for kids, and passing on what she’s learned to the next generation. As someone who’s spent a large part of his “professional” carrier working with kids/children, that’s a trait that really gets me right in the feels. Of course I have yet to actually FINISH a romance playthrough with Jack, (cause ya know: Femshep 4 life) so Jack would probably just tell me to **** off and then toss me out an open airlock… and I’d probably enjoy it.

Shaun: God…so hard. Annnnnd that was a very poor choice of words. My gut would initially go to someone like Jill Valentine, because she’s awesome – brave, beautiful, resourceful, adaptive, calm under pressure…but she’s seen some s*** and that might be hard to deal with…but if I could help her through it that would be so romantic…

Then I go to Cortana, who is witty, wicked smart, and more genuine than most of the female characters in gaming (who also happen to be, you know, alive). But the fact that she is a computer might be a deal breaker.

So then I go to Tifa Lockhart, but not for the reasons you’d think – I actually prefer the Advent Children version, with the reduction and more emphasis on her pretty face than her sex appeal. She’s stood by her comatose bf through thick and thin, she’s great with kids, super sweet, and also a grade A badass. But she’s SO stuck on Cloud I don’t think I have a chance really…and that blonde spiky hair…

So my answer is Jill.

What is one game or series that you wish would include some kind of relationship element? Or, conversely, what game or series do you think has butchered relationships and you wish they would stop?

Cary: Is it wrong of me to wish that something this side of temptation, or hell, just steady feminine friendship had been set into John Marston’s story in Red Dead Redemption? One of the first people he met in the game in the game was a rancher named Bonnie, and I really enjoyed bonding with her. Not that I expected anything to happen between them, what with all of John’s professions about his wife, but their friendship just fizzled out. (Not that there really were any chances to form extended relationships with any of the characters in that game.) Did I want John to end up in bed with a prostitute? Not at all. But it wouldn’t have been out of line to add a strong, tempting female character to his world. The era of the game was as much about the push and pull between the sexes as it was about the government’s desires concerning the West.

simpleek: I haven’t finished the game yet, but I kind of wish Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning had a relationship system. As much as I like having my character fight through bad guys and create her own destiny, it’d be nice if she had someone to come home to after a long day of slaying creatures and saving the world.

Chris: I kind of wonder what would happen if games from our past had been made today. For example, what if you had the opportunity to make your silent protagonist choose between the love triangle of Marle (canon), Lucca (best friend syndrome) or Ayla (rule of life, no change rule) — or any of the cast? Would it add to the game, or detract from it? On the other hand, the Mass Effect series has done relationships extremely well, but I wonder how much would be missed if that element didn’t exist at all. It’d be a less complete experience, for sure.

LadyCroft3: There are plenty of games that have relationships that I hate or don’t have relationships where I want them, but when reading this question the first thing that popped into my mind was Metro: Last Light. There is a really awkward relationship that seems to have just been thrown in for nudity’s sake and to be honest it kind of ruined the game for me. Luckily it was towards the end so I got to enjoy the great gameplay and intriguing story for a good while before being disgusted. Without getting to deep into it, I can really just say that is was one of those “WTF WHY ARE YOU DOING THIS IT MAKES TO SENSE” kind of moments and I wish it was just never added into the game since it demeaned the female and had no real benefit to the male (other than pure, carnal sex I suppose).

Jason: OK so, I love me some Skyrim. It’s really the only Elder Scrolls I stuck with playing. And I love my waifu Aela, she’s the best werewolf woman a man/woman could ask for! But if there is one game that REALLY needs to start upping their game when it comes to relationships it’s the Elder Scrolls. I mean, they have almost literally turned “significant other” into a type of resource. You put on a necklace, they say they like you, you get married. DONE. Want to start a family? Well, better adopt than. Wanna spend time with your wife? Well I hope you like generic conversation wheels where she makes you food you don’t need or buys junk off you. And don’t even get me started on the “Lover’s Comfort” buff you get from sleeping in the same bed as them. Relationships in Skyrim are seriously the most 1 dimensional things ever.

Shaun: KINGDOM. HEARTS.

Okay, look. I know it’s a game that also has to appeal to kids. And I’m not saying I want a sex scene between Sora and Riku. I meant to write Kairi, but you know what, that fits too.

But seriously – all we’ve gotten to this point is that every character is just really great friends. NO! Young peeps are allowed to be in love, even if it’s puppy love. And let’s remember, these characters have saved the world like two dozen times already. Is it too much to ask for them to start exploring a little more complex feelings than “basic friendship?”