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

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