That Feeling When Your Child Goes Next-Gen Before You

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So it’s been over a year now since next-gen became current gen and I’m still waiting for an excuse to embrace it. PS4, Xbone. Xbone, PS4. PS4 has better specs and Xbone has that Orwellian Kinect spycam that you have to pay $100 extra for. PS4! But Xbone has Halo, Dead Rising, and then they ditched the Kinect. Xbone! But the same games on PS4 are better….but what if Xbone gets the zombie game of my dreams? Well, I guess it doesn’t really matter right now, as all the best games are still coming out for the last gen and I’m still getting caught up on my PS3 exclusives, having been a Xbox warrior most of the last decade. I can wait for Sony and Microsoft’s latests to justify my love before I huck most of a paycheck their way for new hardware.

But hark! ‘Twas Christmastime a mere fortnight ago! And on that blessed morning what before my wondering eyes did appear, but a Nintendo Wii U (but no tiny reindeer). Lest we forget, the current gen technically started over TWO years ago when everybody’s favorite old school game company dropped their “last gen technology for this gen!” console waaaaay back in November of 2012 and we pretty much forgot about it (at least until the latest Smash Brothers came out). But the fact is that the Wii kicked the crap out of its competitors the previous gen in spite of its comparably low horsepower so Nintendo was clearly doing something right. And they’re still more or less doing it.

Sure, the Wii U is a glorified tablet that comes with a console, but tell me what current system has more quality exclusives? There you go. I may be warming up to this idea of going with the baby console for babies for a while. Yeah, old Nick’s gonna play up some Nintendo just like old times. Oh, wait. The gift was for my son. I’m stuck here with my broke ass playing old last gen games while writing a weekly video game column on the internet (I’m SOMEBODY dammit!) and my spoiled brat of a child who’d rather watch Stampy Longnose make YouTube videos of The Hunger Games on Minecraft than actually play with any of the dozen odd Disney Infinity figurines he’s collected or many games he’s accumulated has gone next-gen before me.

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Eff. Em. Ell.

Well, I didn’t want to play video games on a stupid iPad thingy anyways. Wait, he also got a GameStop gift card and bought a sweet light-up Xbox-style controller too? And there’s a Marvel game involved? Well, I do love my superheroes, and that little plumber fellow always knows how to have a good time. Wanna co-op, kid? I shall teach thee of the ways of the great Mario, his verdant brother Luigi, the noble Toad, and the Princess of Peach. A fine tale indeed. Also, I’m going to rub it in when I get the high score. You see that, boy? I’M wearing the crown! ME! In your third grade FACE! I’m such a good dad.

But on the plus side, Lego Marvel Superheroes is more complex than you’d think and I’m happy to help him figure out the puzzles. Right before I blast his ass dead with repulsors, that is. Builds character, you see. Family time is all well and good, but now that little red dude on my shoulder is telling me I’ve got to figure out how to get Mini-Me out of the picture and rock some real deal shit. I want some Monster Hunter 3 and Bayonetta 2. Is it bad parenting if you look for excuses to ground a child just so you can send him to his room and play his video game console? Nah. When in doubt, just say it builds character.

It’s an interesting time in technology. One with a lot of unforeseen headaches like when everything uses a HDMI cord now and your television only has one port, two at the most. Or when you try and bring up Netflix and you can’t because the kid has made such a mess out his Nintendo ID’s that you just keep spinning in circles trying to match the right email and password and the right Mii. Damn it, kid!

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I swear, all of this awesomeness is wasted on the young. Or maybe it’s just time for me to grow the hell up and let the next generation of gamers do their thing without me standing over their shoulder shouting about how gaming is MY generation’s thing and mocking their Let’s Play internet celebrity heroes’ Spongebobian speech mannerisms. Nope. Saddle up the hate train. Or horse. Shut up.

In all seriousness, I’m pretty pleased to be the father of a future gamer. I can almost hear him questioning other players’ sexualities through his headset now. Wow, that “all seriousness” thing never lasts long with me, does it? But hey, any time with my son is quality time and it’s actually pretty cool to break in a new generation of consoles with my son sitting next to me.

Sure, I’d rather be doing adult stuff like decapitating virtual noobs and whatnot, but I’ve still got my PlayStation for that and stomping Goombas in a Tanuki Suit isn’t really something that ever gets old, you know? Plus, there’s like a million unlockable Marvel characters in that Lego game and who wouldn’t want them all? Ooh, Black Widow has stealth mode! Growing up is way overrated. Part of the joy of parenting is reliving the things you loved in your youth through sharing them with your offspring. Let’s play some more Super Mario 3D World, little man. We’re in this together now. Sony and Microsoft can wait.

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Six Nintendo Sequels that were Radical Departures from the Originals

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Back in the day when the Nintendo Entertainment System almost single-handedly rebuilt the video game industry after Atari shovelware nearly buried it, carbon copy sequels were not the norm. In fact, very few games ever got sequels at all and many of the ones that did saw the follow-up completely break away from most of the factors that made the original such a sensation.

To contrast, we’ve see nearly 15 variations of Call of Duty in the past decade and eight Assassin’s Creed games in seven years, almost all of which are variations on the same basic gameplay. But it was Nintendo that really perfected the art of the sequel, and sometimes they were just plain unwilling to stick with the winning formula. The results were some really classic NES sequels that some people didn’t appreciate until their respective franchises were forced to revert to same ol’ same ol’ and one sorely underrated DS RPG, which I’ve compiled for you here. Let’s take a look.

Zelda II: The Adventure of Link

No matter what generation gamer you are, you can hum the theme to The Legend of Zelda. Youzelda 2 know why “it’s dangerous to go alone! Take this.” And you know what “this” is. The original game was a sensation and represents a lot of gamers’ fondest childhood memories. You’d think a sequel would do its best to recapture that amazing feat of digital entertainment.

You’d be wrong. The classic top-down view was relegated only to a map where you chose which level to travel to, similar to old-school RPGs. When you encountered an enemy or entered a town or dungeon, the game went sideways. Literally. The Adventure of Link was a side scroller. A side-scroller that featured a really excellent combat, experience, upgrades, and magic. It may actually be the only game I’ve ever played where you could control your shield (blocking high and low) and duel enemies with similar capabilities. In addition to the new action-based approach and RPG leveling, the game featured NPC’s to converse with as well.

While a lot of gamers expressed disappointment at the abandonment of the previous game’s style, Zelda II sold massively and maintains a cult following to this day as there have been few game that are anything like it. I didn’t complain when A Link to the Past returned the series back to its roots as that was one of the best games ever made, but I’m still a little disappointed that Nintendo hasn’t chosen to bring back Zelda II’s style.

Godzilla 2: War of the Monsters

godzilla 2 nesGodzilla’s first foray into video games, Godzilla: Monster of Monsters, was a side-scrolling action game where you played as the titular radioactive dinosaur and Mothra on a mission to destroy alien bad guys and their stable of monsters. Being a massive kaiju nerd, I played this game longer than any other NES title I can think of. What kid could ask for more than to control Godzilla?

The sequel was a different story. Not only did you now play as the military tasked with defending the world from the titular kaiju menace, his gargantuan buddies, and alien invaders but it was a turn-based strategy game to boot. This marked my introduction to that particular genre (which I still favor to this day) and it was a memorable one.

Each level was an increasingly large map where you had to locate resources and defend your cities from the encroaching monsters who would appear at different times and places. Mothra was an important part of your defenses, but you had to scour the map to find her egg before she’d appear, and your most powerful weapon, the Super X, is split into different components which must be transported and assembled. That’s just poor military planning.

The strategy game concept was an extremely creative and rewarding one, but it didn’t exactly pay off. I never saw the game on store shelves and had to settle for rentals in order to play it. I’’d venture to say most people didn’t even know it existed, which is a shame because I’d love to see something like it again.

Valkyrie Profile: Covenant of the Plume

The original Valkyrie Profile was instantly one of my favorite role playing games of all time when I played it on the valkyrie profile covenant plumeoriginal PlayStation. Maybe someday I’ll expand on that little factoid because God knows it deserves its own article, but today we focus on its DS sequel. The first sequel, Silmeria, remains mournfully unplayed by me (help me, PSN, you’re my only hope…) but I eagerly snapped up the portable sequel and what I found was nothing like the original, but was actually a pretty amazing game in its own right.

You may notice that this is the only game on this list from beyond the 8-bit era. Pretty crazy, right? If nothing else, it shows that in the post-NES world, game developers have almost never deviated radically from their successes without making a full spin-off series ala Dead or Alive Xtreme. There are exceptions in the Final Fantasy series, but for the most part, this is the only modern game I could find. It’s also the only third game. The other games on this list will surely pick on it.

Valkyrie Profile was so original it’s hard to describe in this space so I’ll just say that the combat in Covenant of the Plume was more top-down tactics-style whereas the original was the classic side-view, both with a real-time combo twist. In the original game, you play as Lenneth, the titular Valkyrie who searches for valiant deceased souls to add to Asgard’s army. In the DS sequel, you play as a boy consumed with vengeance and Lenneth is the target of that bloodlust. Your mission is to murder the title character.

While the original story focused on the stories of the dead warriors you search for and recruit, your protagonist in Plume gathers allies to hunt Lenneth down and the choices you make in-game influence the route you take, the people you meet, the faction you join, and the battles you face. This varied, branching, morose storyline about vengeance from a reversed point of view is what really sets it apart. I wish more games would take these kinds of chances.

Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest

castlevania 2 simons questWhile not as big a departure as Zelda II was, Simon’s Quest was an immensely different animal from its classic predecessor in spite of sharing the same basic gameplay style. Castlevania was another defining game of the era, although a simpler one than Zelda. You side-scrolled, platformed, picked up the power-ups, and killed the beasties what need killin’. But for Castlevania II, Nintendo stalwarts Konami decided to try their hand at some real world-building, adding towns, shops, day and night cycles, and other RPG elements. Having bought it blind, it took me quite a while to figure out what the hell I was even doing since the original game was just linear levels and this one was about exploration.

What I really loved was the day/night feature. When you walked through a town during the day there were people to talk to and shops open, but at night villagers shut themselves away and ghouls roamed the streets. Very atmospheric. Also, in another bit of trope reversal, Simon’s actual quest is not to take Dracula down, but to bring him back. Sure, you’re bringing him back to take him down due to some curse on your line, but I liked that you were searching for parts of your foes body to bring him back to life. It was an interesting twist.

Simon’s Quest baffled gamers at the time, not only because it was way different from the first title, but because it was crazy hard. Not in the Mega Man 2/Battletoads sense, but because the game made it pretty tough just to figure out where the hell to go or what the hell to do next. In theory, you were supposed to get clues from villagers, but they weren’t always very helpful. “Hit Deborah Cliff with your head to make a hole”, anyone? Yeah, in the 1980’s Japanese to English translations weren’t exactly awesome. What it wanted you to do was take a red crystal and duck in a specific spot for several seconds until a tornado took you away. I can’t for the life of me remember how I ever figured this out. I should probably thank Nintendo Power.

Plus I recall a villager telling me that the ferryman who gave you a life across a lake loves garlic (which function like awesome land mines for monsters in the game). I spent waaaaay too long throwing garlic cloves at him and waiting for him to do something. What the hell, bro? It’s not a surprise that by the third game, the old Castlevania format was back, but like Zelda II, this one is remembered very fondly as being way ahead of its time.

Double Dragon II: The Revenge

This one is actually very similar to its predecessor in premise. Bad guys commit violent act double dragon 2against woman. Good guys beat the shit out of every last one of them. Even the women. In the arcade version, what threw me for a loop was the radical change in the control scheme. The original Double Dragon had a button to punch, a button to kick, and a button to jump. Simple. Classic. But for The Revenge, they switched it up so that you still had a jump button, but you now had front and back attack buttons. This threw me for a loop because you could only kick backwards and this was at odds with every video game ever. Muh combos!

For the NES versions, the divide was much bigger, but that’s because the original Double Dragon was a shameful shadow of the arcade classic that spawned it. It was single-player (although there was a pretty cool versus mode tacked on) and required the player to earn experience to unlock new moves. The sequel brought co-op play to the table along with 2D platforming elements. It was easy for me to forgive the weird control scheme when I got to finally play Double Dragon at home with a friend.

Double Dragon II was probably one of my most-played NES games due to the co-op feature, but fans kind of cooled towards the series afterwards. Maybe it was the massive glut of beat ‘em ups that followed that saw the series’ star fade, or maybe people were really that salty about the control scheme change. Who knows.

Super Mario Bros. 2

super mario 2And here we are at the franchise that put Nintendo on the map as the one gaming company to rule them all, and is credited with saving the industry. The original Super Mario Bros. set the standard for platformers that continues on to this day. It was fun, simple, loaded with secrets, and featured one of the most iconic scores in entertainment history. It was a very rare instance of a video game that was literally perfect. Why mess with perfection? Because you can.

Actually, the original Japanese sequel was apparently pretty similar to the original. Too similar, if you ask the North American branch. And too hard as well. So they reworked an entirely different game named Yume Kōjō: Doki Doki Panic into the Western sequel with pretty great results.

Super Mario Bros. 2’s best feature was four playable characters with differing skillsets. Mario was your all around guy, Luigi had a crazy vertical leap, Princess Toadstool could float for long distances, and Toad was really fast. Instead of jumping on enemies and bashing bricks, the main combat mechanic was picking up and throwing objects, including enemies. The levels were lush and varied and there were no recurring enemies from the first game. There was, however, a minus world equivalent known as sub-space. But otherwise, this was pretty much an entirely different game with Mario skins on the playable characters.

The original is obviously a timeless classic that set the standard for 8-bit gaming, but the sequel has aa special place in a lot of Western gamers hearts too and I can’t help but notice that Super Mario 3D World has the same four playable characters with the same skillsets. So although most aspects of Super Mario 2 have not been carried over as others have, it’s still left its mark on the series.

BioWare Should Totally Spin-off Dragon Age: Inquisition

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We’ve probably all spent way too much time allowing the most massive RPG in memory to devour our lives by now. Game of the year? Maybe. I put nearly a hundred hours into Dragon Age: Inquisition before finishing the story and am still not anywhere near clearing all of the side-quests. I haven’t even unlocked all of the areas yet. This game is BIG in every possible sense. Consequently, it’s also full of the variety of lore and memorable characters that we come to expect from this developer. BioWare could easily take some of the less-explored concepts they put in this game as minor diversions and expand them into something really amazing. Let’s look at a couple possibilities.

It’s a little insane that I’m already snowed under by the incredible amount of content in this game and I’m already crying “moar” but I kind of am. Some of the cooler and more creative aspects have left me wanting to fill in the blanks and further immerse myself into the world of Thedas. Following Dragon Age II, we got the animated Dawn of the Seeker film which kindly filled in the back-story of Cassandra Pentaghast, and Felicia Day’s Redemption web series about her DLC character, Tallis. Both were pretty cool. I definitely think the latest story opens up some very interesting avenues that are screaming for a continuation.

The first thing that came to mind when considering a spin-off was a prequel chronicling the rise of the Bull’s Chargers. While hanging out with the Qunari spy/mercenary Iron Bull, he introduces you to his crew of misfit badasses headed up by the snarky Krem and including an aloof Dalish elf dragon age inquisition chargers(creatively named Dalish) and a dwarf sapper, among others. While the meeting is a brief character moment in an epic story, it combines with Krem’s tavern tales of past Charger glories to outline a really interesting picture. One that could use some expanding on.

A game where you could play as Iron Bull and the Chargers in their formative years could function almost like a playable medieval Guardians of the Galaxy. The diversity of the crew and charisma of their leader alone make it a sure win, but what form should it take?

Stand-alone or episodic DLC would be easiest route since they already have the game engine built. Throw in some new locations, flesh out some of Bull and Krem’s stories, and it would be a great addition to the Dragon Age universe. A television or web series would be great too. It feels like there’s too much there to cover in a single film.

One of the best missions in Inquisition was “Wicked Eyes and Wicked Hearts”, where the player finally gets a chance to play The Game that Leliana is always on about. Basically, the Game in question is politics and espionage, so you have to keep up appearances at the Empress’s masquerade ball and say all the right things while attempting to bend other players to your will by gathering incriminating information and manipulating them through any means necessary.

The mission was a really great break from the usual “go there, find/kill that” missions (although there was plenty of finding and killing) that are the bread and butter of RPG’s and it forces you to think before you speak. I actually had to reload a save because I went through my usual routine of exhausting every conversation option and then realized that I had told everything I knew to the people I was supposed to outwit, which was moronic. I really love the idea of challenging RPG tropes this way and making the player think before they act in order to succeed instead of simply doing everything that’s put in front of them. I think making a full game out of this concept would be amazing.

dragon age inquisition celeneA role-playing game that’s about more than running around killing stuff for a hundred hours? OUTRAGEOUS! But Inquisition really put the idea in my head that this could be a really great thing. To do away with the focus on combat and massive worlds and instead really focus on subtle characterization, decision-making, setting, and even fashion would be a brave new world I’d like to explore. Deciding who to dance with, who to blackmail, and who to kill and how would be great, as would building a network of informants and spies to help do the dirty work. Leveling up your social skills for new dialogue options, gaining different boosts from your fashion choices, people reacting to your reputation and past deeds; these are all things that have been done in games before to some extent, but never combined into a primary focus.

Not only would this be a breath of fresh air for the genre, but I think it could be something that appeals more to female gamers more as well. The game could work as a prequel starring Leliana in her days as a bard of the Orlesian court, but the best option might be an all-new character during that same time period in order to leave the option for endings more wide open. “Wicked Eyes and Wicked Hearts” has several possible endings depending on the player’s choices and the thoroughness of their investigating, so a blank slate for the player to impose their will on the social scene in any way they see fit would be good so as to not step on the toes of canon.

So there’s two options for BioWare to expand on the immensity that is Dragon Age: Inquisition that I’d love to see happen. There’s so much left to explore in the universe of Thedas; the societies of the Qunari and the Dalish, for instance. We’ve seen a lot of glimpses, but Dragon Age is a bottomless pit of lore that constantly begs for more expansion. What aspect do you think warrants its own spin-off game/film/series?

Great Moments in Comic History: The Walking Dead in Color!

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This is the fifth and final entry in my limited edition miniseries covering some of my favorite landmark stories from modern classic comic books. For those of you who don’t want to wait for the trade paperback collection, the back issues are here, here, here, and here.

At first I was looking at the 80’s and 90’s, but then it occurred to me that if anything we’ve probably got more comics than ever with better art and writing, and more diversity in those titles. Great moments are still happening on a monthly basis so why wait a couple decades to acknowledge them?

I’m breaking form for this final entry in a few ways. Previous titles were the big dogs at Marvel and DC; this one is from the always up-and-coming and increasingly impressive Image Comics. Also, I defined “great moments” as stories that represented game changers in their respective worlds, set a benchmark for quality, or stood out as a defining moment for a classic character. But some things you just can’t categorize, so today I’m remembering The Walking Dead #75, in which Robert Kirkman trolled his entire readership, gave me one of the most memorable and unexpected issues I’ve ever received in the mail, and created possibly the only genuine “you had to be there” moment I’ve ever been privy to in the medium. I don’t think this counts as spoilers.

There’s a fan backstory leading up to this issue and what made it so special, but we’ll get to that later. The issue begins as a typical continuation of the ongoing arc in which Rick’s motley crew is settling in a new community named Alexandria. Rick himself has resumed the sheriff duties of his previous life and the story features The Walking Dead in classic form as Rick struggles with balancing justice against the common good. In this case, his feral nature from the hardships of his previous experiences gets the better of him and he becomes the threat he’s supposed to be protecting the Alexandria from. That’s when Michonne clobbers him from behind with a rock and the issue ends.

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….or does it?

After the traditional Letter Hacks section in the original print of the comic, the story picks up on the other side with Rick waking up and finding himself in a strange new world in full color, which was an absolute first for the black and white comic. From there, it’s nine pages of complete WTF.

Rick is inside of an alien spaceship, where they have replaced the hand he lost at Woodbury with a cybernetic one. After suiting up in a superhero costume, he falls out of the ship into the middle of a warzone filled with zombies, aliens, and deceased comrades come back to life as superheroes. Michonne shows up wielding a lightsaber and explains that this was the plan all along. The zombies were just the beginning of an alien race’s nefarious plan to harvest the Earth’s water supply.

And then BAM! A robotic arm reaches out and crushes her skull. It’s the Governor’s head mounted on a robot body with Rick’s dead wife Lori clinging desperately to his leg demanding that Rick join the alien overlords or die! Now, at this point I genuinely feel sorry for people who thought this was all canon, but they were out there.

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If nothing else the “not to be continued” on the last page should have clued everyone in, but humor is lost on the humorless. To be fair, this was a doozy of an in-joke, though. Since the beginning of The Walking Dead, the letters section had been inundated with demands to reveal the source of the zombie infection. Kirkman glibly claimed that aliens did it which was satire on several levels, not the least of which was the fact that Image threatened to pass on the comic when he pitched it unless there was more to it than a zombie apocalypse. He pulled the alien concept out of his ass to get the publisher to green light it. After the comic was an instant smash hit he didn’t really have much fear of cancelation and it was pretty obvious to readers from the tone of the book that no, there would be no goddamn aliens.

Still, Kirkman joked repeatedly that maybe aliens would arrive in issue 75. It was clearly a joke. Clearly. But that wasn’t all. Foreshadowing the gag even further was the variant cover for issue 50, which was a joke cover portraying the characters as superheroes like so:

That’s two years in advance, kids. Rest assured no readers thought this shit was really going to happen. So when issue 75 rolled around and it was just another issue, it was quite a shock to finish the letters and then find complete insanity on the other side. People who’d been reading the comic complete with fan mail from the start would probably be the only ones to fully appreciate the hilarity of the bonus story that closed the issue, but those of us who did laughed until we died and rose again, still laughing.

As a bonus on top of the bonus, The Walking Dead #75 closed with the first official look at the primary cast of the then-upcoming television show, but what made this one the most memorable issue for me was the complete audacity and years-long build-up that led to the creation of the bizarre alternate universe story that also marked the first time the biggest black and white comic in the industry appeared in color.

Sadly, this little slice of weirdness has been expunged from collected editions of the comic since trade paperback collectors probably wouldn’t really appreciate what went into it and would see is as a pointless affront to their super-serious “graphic novel” series. The only way to read it is online or in the original issue. Nonetheless, for those who were there and got the joke, this was a one of a kind experience for a comic that was only known before and since for dark and gritty tales of horror. And in my book, that makes it a great moment in comic history.

Great Moments in Comic History: Pryde of the X-Men

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The history of modern comics has been an interesting one for sure, and it’s only getting better. So far during my ongoing limited-edition miniseries about unforgettable and influential stories from comicdom’s past I’ve focused on past decades, but the medium continues to grow and evolve and comic history is still being made today. So for my last two entries are going to focus on more recent events that will likely be looked upon fondly by the connoisseurs of sequential art narrative for decades to come.

A great moment in comic history is made up of storytelling landmarks of resounding significance, definitive moments for classic characters, or of sheer artistic quality. This week, I’m going back a mere 6 years to Giant Size Astonishing X-Men #1, which served as the grand finale for Joss Whedon’s brillliant run writing Marvel’s premiere mutant superteam. If nothing else, John Cassaday’s artwork assured its place in the hearts of comic fans, and the story also debuted Marvel’s SWORD organization (Sentient World Observation and Response Department – kind of like an intergalactic SHIELD) but the reason I’m choosing this issue in particular is to highlight one of the most underrated characters in Marvel’s stable. Because what Whedon’s Astonishing X-Men did more than any of the other awesome things it did was show that Katherine “Kitty” Pryde is the coolest member of Marvel’s coolest team. There will be spoilers, as always.

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As with most any good comic story, the groundwork for the big splash was laid out well in advance. Absolutely anybody looking for a great comic series to test Marvel’s waters would do well to start with Astonishing X-Men: Gifted and carry on all the way through the 25 issues ending with the Unstoppable arc, which we’ll be dealing with today. Knowledge of the X-Men definitely helps one appreciate the story more for sure, but the run is pretty much designed to welcome relative newcomers as well. It’s hard to do that since the X-Men represent possibly the most convoluted mess in all comicdom, but I’d say this pulls it off as much as could be expected.

Writing the X-Men was a dream job for Joss Whedon, who (before The Avengers) was best known for creating Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Seeing that he’s on record as saying Kitty Pryde was a primary influence for that character, it was no surprise that she ended up on his 2004 rebranding of the team after a long absence. The storyline picks up after Grant Morrison’s New X-Men run that saw former Hellfire Club White Queen Emma Frost join her former enemies and the mutant island of Genosha completely destroyed, among other things. The run started small and slowly built up to cosmic world-ending proportions before the big finale which put the fate of Earth entirely in the hands of arguably the X-Men’s weakest member from a power perspective.

Kitty’s abilities are limited to phasing through solid objects, and she can only do that for as long as she can hold her breath. The misconception here is that she’s just a girl who can walk through walls, and with a lesser character that might have been true. But Wolverine used to be just a dude with claws too. She went through a lot of phases and codenames before settling on plain old Kitty Pryde, has been the new girl, been dragon punched by Deadpool for laughs while playing as Wolvie’s sidekick, had her role in the classic 90’s cartoon handed to Jubilee, was recently wasted in the film adaptation of Days of Future Past in spite of Ellen Page being perfect for the role, and has just too often been discounted as a character.

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….aaaaand now you’ve pretty much seen her entire role in the last film. Even Ratner did better by her.

The theme of Whedon’s run was ultimately Kitty becoming a true independent badass of a woman by resolving her outstanding issues on the team, including her romance with Colossus and bitter past with Frost. Becoming intangible may seem like a novelty when you’re amongst titans who can control the weather, level buildings with eyebeams or your fists, enter minds from across the globe, or whatever, but Kitty shows that it’s not about the size of your powers, it’s how you use them. Her resilience and intelligence made her a force to be reckoned with when the Hellfire Club took out the rest of her team in their own mansion and it was up to her to rescue them alone. And when all of the world’s greatest heroes combined were rendered useless against an unstoppable world-destroying threat, it was left to Kitty to stop the Earth from destruction.

The grand finale had the X-Men on a planet called Breakworld, which was planning on destroying Earth by firing a massive bullet called the Retaliator through space because of a prophecy where Colossus is destined to destroy their planet. Oblivion loves company, I guess. Unable to stop the launch of the world-shattering projectile from outside, Kitty Pryde phased herself inside of it before it launched and found herself trapped hurtling towards the destruction of her home planet, leaving her team facing a genocidal madman bent on using Colossus to destroy his own planet.

Meanwhile, back on Earth the other X-Men, Avengers, Fantastic Four, and Earth’s other heavy hitters are made aware of the threat and gather themselves to save the planet, but they are stopped by a signal being sent out from the missile that targets their minds and leaves them stuck in their own world-saving fantasies, unable to act in real life. The Sentinel that destroyed Genosha –which has since become sentient and is experiencing great regret at its past actions- attempts to make amends by placing itself in the path of the bullet, but nothing can stop it.   

Kitty’s exhausted, and the unique properties of the intergalactic projectile seem to have fused to her when she phased through its mass. She feels like she’s got nothing left. She shares a touching personal moment with her former enemy Emma Frost via telepathic link and says a little prayer just before the bullet hits New York City…..

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….and goes straight through it without leaving a dent as she phases the whole goddamn thing through the entire planet. That’s what you call a show-stopping moment.

The tragedy is that with her sacrifice, Kitty is lost to the X-Men, still hurtling through space to god knows where, but that’s a hell of a way to go out. On the plus side, the X-Men saved two world from obliteration, Logan has a new protégé in Armor, and Beast is invited to join Lockheed and Agent Brand in SWORD (who would get their own spin-off), and Scott and Emma are still happy together after a major test. After the long, hard, crazy road Astonishing X-Men wound through, it was a fantastic and memorable way for Whedon and Cassaday to ruin the comic for the poor suckers who had to take over the title by being too freakin’ good an act to follow.

The initial run of this series was an instant classic recalling the glory days of Dark Phoenix Sagas and other stories that have stood the test of time. It was technically four arcs with great stories and character journeys and moments for the entire cast, but at the end of the day it’s paced as one story about Kitty Pryde evolving from the X-Men’s kid sister to a true heroine of epic proportions in her own right. And rarely does a superhero comic so truly live up to the adjective in its title.

It’s a fond wish of mine to see the whole thing on the big screen someday. If only there was a major film writer/director who was a proven hitmaker and had experience making blockbusters about Marvel superhero teams who could do this title justice…

 

How The Legend of Korra Restored Balance to Media Politics

Legend of Korra

Man, it’s really over huh? In spite of a rocky start filled with Avatar fans complaining that the new show isn’t enough like The Last Airbender or was trying too much to be like the previous show or that Korra wasn’t as good as Aang or whatever, The Legend of Korra built an amazing narrative over the course of four seasons, endured being kicked off of its own rerun-packed kiddie network to become a mere webseries, and recently brought it all home with a closing scene that should probably qualify as an American animated television landmark even though it was never broadcast on television. Not too shabby.

Yeah, I’ll admit it, the first season started off with an amazing concept of abandoning the feudal-era setting of The Last Airbender by kicking the narrative two generations forward to an early 20th century steampunk setting, but kind of let me down with characters that didn’t seem as fresh as the previous series. I wasn’t crazy about the pro-bending storyline either. But during its run, Korra built up a lot of steam and made is seemingly unmemorable cast unforgettable by the time it was through.

Not only that, but it bested its parent series in terms of philosophical themes by presenting one of the most nuanced and frankly mature depictions of politics I’ve ever seen. The emergent theme of the show was never good versus evil, just like the Avatar isn’t about fighting evil. It’s all about balance; something we almost never see in the modern era. That makes the ending of the show especially bittersweet, because in spite of (or because of) its artistic merits, we’ll likely never see anything like it on television again. There will be minor spoilers

lokpolitics1

Most shows are pretty complacent when it comes to their villains. You take a mean-looking dude
or perhaps a femme fatale and you have them do really bad stuff in the name of badness. They want to kill people because people are good and they’re bad. They want to take over or destroy the world and laugh maniacally while they do it because they’re so eeeeeevil. They’re businessmen who want to destroy all that’s good in the world because money. They’re oppressive governments run by Nazis and sadistic tyrants who want to rape damsels, lock people up, and do other bad stuff because that’s how they roll.

But let’s look at Korra’s gallery of rogues for a minute. Season one featured Amon, an Equalist fighting for the rights of those who were born without the gift of bending and are rendered second class citizens because of it. That’s….not evil at all. That’s a just cause. It’s just that he was planning on doing it by eliminating bending altogether and destroying someone else’s gift is a dick move.

Season two brought about Unalaq, Korra’s own uncle who was in touch with the world’s spirits and didn’t believe in their imposed segregation from humans or the abuse of their territories suffered at human hands. His goal was to reunite the estranged Northern and Southern water tribes via spiritual portals and restore balance by setting the spirits free to roam the world once again. Again, unity and equality. Too bad his religious devotion to balance included civil war and unleashing and embodying ultimate evil to counterweigh the Avatar’s goodness. Too much goodness isn’t a reason to do bad.

The third season unleashed a group of Red Lotus anarchists whose goal was to eliminate the social order that puts people in a place where they can oppress other people. Just like in our world, oppression relies on authority and on the artificial divisions of country and culture that inspire people to treat one another as enemies over superficial differences. In the past, they had attempted to kidnap Korra from her traditionalist teacher so that they could attempt to educate her in alternate worldview instead of the traditional status quo perspective each Avatar has had formally instilled in them without fail. A noble goal, but not one worth accomplishing by slaughtering world leaders to incite chaos or kidnapping children.

lokpolitics2

Now you may have noticed that the first three seasons had antagonists that skewed heavily towards the leftist values of freedom and equality. Most of the time, it’s extreme conservatives and their desire to control people’s behavior and enforce order at the cost of freedom or to exploit others for personal gain (the “virtue of selfishness” as Ayn Rand called it) who end up being the default villains. Three consecutive seasons with liberal villains is just about unheard of, particularly in a series as progressive, modern, and philosophical (hippy dippy, if you like) as Avatar.

But then there’s the final season, in which an Earth Kingdom general named Kuvira attempts to pick up the pieces of the chaos brought about by previous seasons and return order, first to her country, and then to the world, whether they want it or not. She’s portrayed as a powerful, reasonable, poised, and extremely intelligent woman; not a maniac. In any other show, a character like this would be a heroine. Yet even Avatar Korra and her newfound lust for peace and willingness to compromise were unable to dissuade her in another excellent lesson that sometimes giving peace a chance just isn’t enough, as much as we wish it were.

So we finally get our traditional conservative villain. But when you consider what came before, you can see Legend of Korra’s brilliance shine through, even in utilizing a cliché. With Kuvira anchoring the parade of big bads, the overall arc of the show becomes a microcosm of history in which extremists ironically bring about and strengthen the very things they were trying to prevent or eliminate by their own actions.

Kuvira’s rise to power is precipitated by the Red Lotus’s assassination of the Earth Queen. The Red Lotus were former co-conspirators of Unalaq that escaped when the spirits were set free and their leader gained airbending abilities as a result. Add in Amon’s terroristic social agitation and you’re looking at a world where people are afraid and looking to a powerful figure promising to keep them safe, even at the cost of their own liberty. Chaos begets order, which will cyclically devolve back towards chaos. One extremity inevitably rises up to push back against the other. Balance.

It’s still very unusual for shows to make their villains as human and relatable as Legend of Korra did. It was a refreshingly realistic, complex, and adult look at the human mind and the way it processes politics and morality without regard for the consequences of bringing those beliefs to fruition. All of these individuals were looking to correct perceived unbalances and do what they thought was best for the people. The same as the Avatar. They had friends, they had family, they had lovers; they had lofty goals based on respectable ideals. But where each of them turned the corner was in using their higher purpose to absolve themselves of personal accountability for their actions and ignore the people they hurt on the way to accomplishing their ends.

Four Great TV Characters Who Are Gamers

tvgamers

Gamers are pretty used to turning on the television and finding entire worlds where everybody has better things to do with their time than play video games. You know, saving the planet, falling in love, fighting crime, and whatnot. And when it isn’t that, it’s shitheads on the news blaming all of the world’s evils on us. A lunatic shot up a school. Video games often feature shooting. Coincidence? I think NOT!

Considering we make up a near-majority of the population, you’d think gamers would be better represented in American media, but considering the media purveyors consist mostly of a generation who fears the hobby on both a personal and professional level, we shouldn’t be surprised. But that doesn’t make the ban on representations of gamers a blanket one. Here are four awesome characters from television that are shown to actually enjoy playing video games. And only one of them is pure evil! I’ll take it.

Jimmy Shive-Overly

jimmy youre the worst

FX’s You’re the Worst is probably the most underrated show on the air right now. In fact, I can’t think of anything else on basic cable or network television that makes me laugh out loud half as often. This is the kind of comedy show that reminds me that television can still surprise me with unexpected humor when I thought I’d seen it all. But we’re not here to talk about the state of sitcoms.

The show’s co-protagonist Jimmy is…well, he’s kind of a British me. Snarky, cynical, obsessed with brutal honesty, and utterly unwilling to bother with petty social graces when there’s so much horrible shit in the world. He can often be found playing up some Borderlands while wallowing in his own misery. And yes, this is what I consider positive representation for gamers. Or at least relatable representation. Okay, I take what I can get.

One of his funniest scenes involves a child offering friendship to the depressive adult, who responds with a lengthy rant about the absurdity of the notion of him relating to a mere child when his mind is so full of deep, soul-crushing, intellectual thoughts about the nature of big important stuff. Then the kid points out that his father gets early review copies of all the new games and Jimmy quickly reconsiders the offer. Irony attained.

Logan Griffen

logan moonlight rock band

Alright, Gamemoirers. Close your eyes. Not literally because then you won’t be able to read the words, but picture you are now an immortal creature of the night. Drink a little blood here and there, and you can live FOREVER! What would you do with all that time? Damn straight, game like crazy. Being a vampire or a classical geek means you don’t get along with sunlight or other people and have no life anyways. It only makes sense for Logan Griffen to consolidate and be both.

Moonlight was a one-season wonder show that set out to retread all of the popular vampire-crime-fighter-meets-girl tropes. Not the most flattering description, but for what it’s worth the show was actually pretty good (and sparkle-free!). While the tall dark and handsome lead Mick was kept busy being all dreamy and manly and stuff, when he needed some help cracking his case he knew the value of nerd power.

Logan would usually be found in his vampire man-child cave playing some Halo or slamming on his Rock Band set-up. I’m sorry, Mr. Dark Romantic Hero, did you need something hacked before you get back to your slo-mo superjumps and torturing yourself over your impossible and dangerous love with that hot mortal girl? Sure, I’ve got a minute. I’ve got ALL the minutes.

Logan’s best moment comes in the series finale when he did something I would never have expected to see on a network television show clearly aimed at the female demographic. After spending the series just being the laughable loser that the romantic man of action uses as a means to an end, Logan finally leaps into action with the epic battle cry that shall resound in the hearts and minds of gamers forevermore: “Leeerooyyy…Jeeenkiiinssss!” I’ll buy that for a dollar.

Tim Bisley

tim spaced gaming

By now you might be noticing an early emerging trend that these gamer characters are not necessarily the best role models. That may be true, but neither are you. Or anyone else, if you look close enough *cough*billcosby*cough*. Actually, I kind of like this trend. Idealized characters are lame and unbelievable. They aren’t people, they are symbolic fantasies who are occasionally played by real life rapists. On some level, I think most of us prefer the warts and all approach to character development. It’s why socially incompetent heroes like Batman and Spider-Man will always be cooler than shining beacons of perfection like Superman and Captain America.

And that brings us to Spaced, where Simon Pegg’s character Tim deals with a break up by playing Tomb Raider and deliberately killing Lara Croft over and over in an amusing and slightly disturbing fit of misogynistic impulse. This is a particularly humorous illustration of the way people often displace their emotions in inappropriate ways. How much you want to bet those shitheads tweeting threats to online females under false pretenses are not really fueled by a lust for journalistic purity at all but by displaced romantic frustration? No takers? Thought so.

One sign of a really great show is that its characters are all messed up and you love them anyways. In fact, this is kind of what geek-flavored shows tend to be about. With all that social non-acceptance out there beating us down, we’ve had to focus on ways to love ourselves as we are and you can’t do that while you’re lying about who you are. Tim and his friends may be prone to insane neuroses, but at the end of the day, they’re still awesome people. Awesome people whose arguments occasionally become live action representations of Tekken matches.

Frank Underwood

house of cards gaming couch

How do you even define what constitutes a villain anymore? Fire up your Netflix and watch House of Cards before you attempt to answer. Following in the morally questionable footsteps of Breaking Bad, this one decides to go one further. Walter White was a teacher with the good intentions of providing for his family from the start, but when we meet U.S. Senator Frank Underwood he is already a nasty piece of work with one and only one goal in mind: crush everybody not aligned with his own self-interest. And after a hard day of political intrigue, sex, and murder he likes to wind down with a little Call of Duty. You know, just to focus on that last one for a while.

A gamer in the Senate? Say it ain’t so, ’Murica. Actually, within a couple decades, it’s likely a big chunk of our government will be made up of gamers. Don’t rejoice just yet though, my geeky brethren and sistren. Have you not played online? The gamers who rise up to inherit our awful government probably won’t be lovable Zelda girls or harmless Final Fantasy fanboys. We’ll still be wasting our lives doing the things we love as often as we can. The winners are always going to be the ones willing to sell their souls and ruin the things they love most to get what they want.

Senator Underwood may play Call of Duty, but I’ll bet my PlayStation he is a spawn-camping piece of shit. Think about how the guy lives. He’s never given a fair shake in his life. Every person he meets as he climbs to ladder towards the White House is nothing but one more way to add to his score. Kind of the way people use each other in multiplayer gaming.

But while some of us are more than willing to play fair and enjoy a well-played match for its own sake win or lose, there are always the modders and the glitch-exploiters and other people who are willing to suck all of the enjoyment out of playing the game as it was intended because beating other people is the only object to them. Fun is a buzzword for losers. These are the people who will rise to the top. And that’s Frank. He already has everything he could ever need or want in life. All that’s left is the thrill of destroying another human being just because he can. He’s the hardest core gamer of them all.

Their Generation: Is Gaming Becoming a Spectator’s Sport?

generation

Being a parent is a great tool for learning life lessons. I know I’m the one who is supposed to be imparting life lessons to my progeny, but I’m a gamer and I don’t want to grow up. Anyways, there are those moments where you realize that the things young people do make no sense to you at all. When you cluelessly say something to your kid that makes you sound like your own clueless parents did when you were young and with it and they just didn’t understand. Only now it’s you, gramps.

My son always had access to video games, but he never really started playing them for reals until he discovered Minecraft. I was really pleased because out of all the available games, that one personifies limitless creativity the most and if there was one thing I could will into my child, that would be it. Creativity means never being bored and always looking forward to the next adventure with a positive outlook on how you can make it yours. So craft your mines, kid. Craft ‘em like there’s no tomorrow.

But after a few months, he wasn’t so much about playing Minecraft anymore. What he really wanted to do was watch other people play it on Youtube. For hours. All the time. As soon as he woke up. Until he went to school/bed. Just watching people play Minecraft. Did he want to play it anymore? Not really. My reaction?

that boy ain't right

“Let’s Play” videos are a handy tool. On occasion, I’ve used them to pass a particularly troubling platforming puzzle, check out an alternate RPG timeline, or demonstrate a section of game in a post. Other people use it to explore older games or gauge whether a title looks good enough to buy. But it was always a means to the end. It never occurred to me that people would choose to watch other people play a game in lieu of playing it themselves.

I remember the nightmares of youth , waiting for your turn to play that awesome new game at your friend’s house and then having your parent tell you it was time to go home just as it came up, having just barely laid hands on the controller. This was life-ending trauma back in the day. I was a bit concerned when my son decided it was more fun to spend hours on end watching a zany Brit play a game he could himself be playing at that moment. It just didn’t compute. But the videos didn’t seem to have any content I could object to other than it being boring and stupid, so what’s to be done?

Eventually, he started splitting time between watching the constant stream of videos being uploaded by his favorite professional Minecraft players and re-enacting them. He was only building whatever he saw the other guy build. So now my joy at seeing my son blossoming into a creative-minded gamer was being smothered by the celeb-obsessed human centipede culture that is our internet. And here’s me being the broad minded idealistic dope who doesn’t want to stifle his child’s hobby of choice by trying to force him to do things my way: THE RIGHT WAY! [clears throat]

stampy minecraft

Oh my God, he’s PETTING the dog! PETTING IT! What’ll Stampy think of next?

Up until last week’s episode of South Park I thought the kid was just a weirdo like his dad. I’m an old school nerd; liking stuff nobody else gets way too much is the story of my life. I’m not going to oppress my child into not enjoying things he loves. Fuck those people. But watching that episode showed me that he’s not a weirdo at all. This is a big thing and a lot of children would rather watch videos of other people gaming while acting like they are auditioning to be Nicktoons characters than play actual games. The only thing worse than being weird is being normal. God help me, my son is normal.

And it was right in front of my face all along. It then occurred to me that when we have other kids over, there are conversations about this. A neighbor kid came over once and started watching Grand Theft Auto videos on our wi-fi, which was awkward. In fact, all of my son’s acquaintances seem to be into this.

And that’s the moment where I realize I’ve become a clueless adult who is terrified that insignificant youth entertainment trends are going to ruin a world that was already being ruined by my own parents and theirs before them. The world is in a constant state of being ruined, but never seems to actually get ruined. All in all we’re all just bricks in the wall. And now I’m quoting fifty year old songs. Fetch my dentures.

stampy fanart

This is the competition for my son’s love. I am so screwed.

But personal reflections aside, what does this mean for the future of gaming as a medium? There are few things I think are less fun than watching other people play video games when I have the same game and could be playing. And yet people make a living releasing these videos and garnering viewers and subscribers by the hundred thousand. I found fanart dedicated to these people. FANART!   In my day, you made fanart for the video games, not for people who post videos of themselves playing the video games. And that’s how you’re supposed to do fanart. Kids these days don’t know nothin’….

If the games themselves are no longer the main event, where does that leave the industry? It shows how behind the curve I am that I raged when companies attempted to purge the net of Let’s Play vids. I mean, what a petty thing to do. It’s not like people are going to watch videos of a game rather than play it. Except what if they are? Pressing buttons and aiming cursors and figuring stuff out is haaaaard. And if there’s one thing the internet has done steadily, it’s make people lazy on a grand scale.

What if any challenge is too much of a challenge? Why go through all that trouble of getting good at stuff when you can just experience it vicariously on Youtube? People educate themselves politically on Twitter now and any attempt to explain the concept of metaphor when discussing a story in a manner that isn’t regurgitated from a celebrity blogger is met with slack-jawed derision. I suppose it was only a matter of time before the idea of actual fun became passé too.

Like Prince said, it’s a Sign O’ the Times. Wait, that song is how old? Surely I can find something more up to date. How about “haters gonna hate, hate, hate, hate, hate. Baby, I’m just gonna shake, shake, shake, shake, shake”? I don’t care if I’m old and my ideas about gaming are dated; your music is shit, Generation Z. But your games are awesome. WHY DON’T YOU WANT TO PLAY THEM!?

But ranty time is over now. More likely than any of this signaling a descent into the Wall-E-esque dystopia I’m picturing, gaming is transitioning to the mainstream the way other forms of competition and expression have and this will all balance itself out. I wonder if there was a point back in the olden days where people who grew up playing baseball or football on the playground scoffed at the notion of crowds gathering to watch other people play their sports. I mean, what kind of loser wants to watch a bunch of dudes toss balls around when they could get their own ball and be doing it themselves? And televised dance competitions? GTFO.

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Gaming is never going to be something I‘d rather watch than do, but nobody is Clockwork Orange-ing me in front of Youtube either. I always tell people there’s no wrong way to game (usually while silently raging about somebody doing it wrong), but I always assumed that gaming would involve the actual playing of games. But who the hell am I to tell people how to enjoy any entertainment medium? Plus I’d kind of like to see the first Halo and Street Fighter gold medals awarded at the Olympics some day.

With society having left me behind, I reckon I’m only a few years away from arthritis and dementia demolishing my headshot and combo skills. What will I do with myself? I was planning on staking out my front window waiting for some punk kids to accidentally throw a ball or frisbee onto my property so I could quickly hobble out out there and claim that since it’s on my property, it’s mine now like old timers did when I was a kid, but now that everybody is busy on Youtube that plan’s shot. This is why the Who hoped they’d die before they got old.

Maybe I could knock on their door and shake my fist and shout “get on my lawn you daggum kids!” so I could regale them with tales about how in my day you had to put cartridges and discs into a gaming console and use a controller to play the game yourself. We didn’t have fancy videos to play the games for us. We knew the value of hard work in the good ol’ days.

lazy gamer

The amount of dedication it takes to properly manipulate a plate of Cheetos with no hands will never be truly appreciated.

It’s kind of funny that with all the leaps and advancements gaming has made in the decades since it became a thing that I never foresaw the culture taking this kind of turn and becoming something I can no longer relate to. But that’s alright. In the grand scheme it’s not any more ridiculous than anything else about our popular culture. The fact that gamers are becoming increasingly vacuous is nothing so much as a sign the medium’s widespread acceptance, which was pretty much inevitable from the get-go.

So get your game on, Youtubers. Or, you know, watch other people get theirs on. I’m not personally pleased about a branch of entertainment where interactivity and expression is the whole point moving towards becoming a spectator’s sport, but it stands to reason that sooner or later gaming would follow in the footsteps of other recreational activities where most people’s consumption habits have gone from active to increasingly passive. Who knows, this could be trend that leads to us one day finding ourselves routinely gathering to cheer prime time televised League of Legends broadcasts with plates of wings in front of us and beers in our hands.

Five Epic Wins and Fails in Dragon Age: Inquisition

It’s that feeling again. That don’t want to write on the internet/don’t want to socialize/don’t want to go to work/don’t want to eat or sleep feeling/DVR is filling up with unwatched shows feeling. There must be a new Bethesda or BioWare RPG in town. Wait, it’s a BioWare title with Bethesda elements? Mein gott! What life-devouring chimera has gaming wrought?

A game as big as Dragon Age: Inquisition comes packaged with expectations, not the least of which is finishing a trilogy that has spanned this console generation and is bleeding into the new one. Some of them are going to be met or exceeded, and some are not.

So, fellow gamers, do you want the good news or the bad news first? Lets’ go with the good news. If I start negative my fellow Biodrones may toss bee grenades at me before I can get to the good stuff. Here are five features in Dragon Age: Inquisition that make me say yay.

Good God, the SCOPE!

This is how I look every time I open up my map.

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Holy shit, this game is big. Not necessarily in literal surface area, just….in everything. So much to do, so many free-roam locales packed with hidden depths; you could literally eat away as much time as it takes to play through an entire action game’s campaign just aimlessly wandering and collecting materials as soon as you finish the prelude without giving a damn about any quests at all. You also get an entire town crammed with characters with lots to say at your disposal.

And when you earn your official Inquisition hideout? Well, refer back to that gif. I had no intention of spending five hours just walking around it seeing what there was to see, talking to recruits, and perusing the facilities, but I did. It took me about that long before I even stepped outside of it. And I don’t think I’ve seen it all. YOUR HEADQUARTERS HAS ITS OWN FAST TRAVEL STATIONS. That’s just your base. Think about that. I’m about 40 hours in and I’m not even very far into the narrative as far as I can tell and I still have more active sidequests than I can keep track of. And I’m not even looking for sidequests. They just fall out of the sky. You will not be bored or underwhelmed with the amount of places to go or things to do in this game. I promise you that.

 

NPC Love is the Truest Love

It’s all fine and dandy romancing your companions, bonds forged in blood and all that. But I’m the hero. The whole world loves me! I shouldn’t have to fraternize with my battlemates. Nobody wants a spurned lover with a sharp object covering their six. In Inquisition, you get a couple more options in the form of advisors. It could be a really good thing for future games to litter more romance options aside from the playable cast across the game. It makes the world feel more alive and gives you someone new to visit.

This was kind of great for me because I wasn’t really feeling my companions that much. I love me some Sera, but who could date that? Girl’s cray. It’d be like going out with a female Deadpool. Or me. And Vivienne may be gorgeous, but I don’t heart the stuck up attitude. I had my longing sights set on the lovely and demure diplomat Josephine, but she’s not a fighter…is she a lover? I got a bit of a thrill seeing her actually respond to my advances against odds. It was an unexpected treat, for sure.
>ariel gif

 

You Can’t Fight in Here, this is the War Room!

The War Council is one of the coolest new features in Inquistion. You have your advisors enter a room and look at your war map, where you can send out teams of diplomats, soldiers, or spies to help with your pacification of Ferelden and Orlais. The missions are combinations of alliance-building favors, side quests for your friends, and more story missions and areas to explore which can be unlocked based on how much power and influence you accumulate for the Inquisition.

In addition to that you have a list of perks offered by each of your advisors which can be unlocked as you gain influence and can get you things like rare equipment and materials, new dialogue options, and various other bonuses. The whole setup is really damn cool and adds a new wrinkle to the series. Plus, the missions take place in real time and not game time so if one takes several hours to complete, you can start it before you turn in for the night, and wake up with it already completed. It’s pretty much the only way to convince myself to get sleep anymore.

 

Combat is About Compromise

I’m of the opinion that the original Dragon Age: Origins is still the best of the series in terms of combat. The sequel made the grievous mistake of going for the less RPG-ish button mash approach while eliminating a lot of my favorite things like badass kill animations and booby traps.

Inquisition finds a very nice medium between the casual and hardcore RPG by allowing the player to button mash if they wish, or simply hold down the attack button and let the turn-based do its thing. Although there’s still no kill animations (whyyyyyy?) there are some traps and the game offers some pretty great grenades and really effective status ailments. Also, being able to shoot arrows and walk at the same time is badass. Sometimes it’s the little things

If you don’t have Sera armed with bee grenades, you are playing this game wrong. I can hear her giggling at the baddies fleeing with arms flailing even though she isn’t. I should probably see someone about that. Pitch grenades allow you to coat the ground in tar and slow enemies down so you can hurl laughter at them. Also arrows, bees, and hellish infernos. Have I mentioned the hellish infernos? Before just now, I mean. Fire has never been more fun in an RPG. Sooooo prettyyyyyy….

pyro gif

 

Do it Yourself Awesomeness

I’ve been known to whine about excessive looting in games and how it takes away the joy of really earning and cherishing your gear in favor of constantly farming and praying to get something better. Inquisition throws a crapton of loot at you at all times, but the vast majority of it is just to sell off or discard. The real game is in crafting and personalizing your gear.

cool gif

While you will eventually need to upgrade, you usually spend a lot of time with your chosen loadouts before that happens and that is great. In addition to the core weapons and armour, which you can build to your own specifications depending on which materials you choose, you can craft, find, or buy additional components and magical runes which you can then mix and match to build the gear of your dreams. And the best part is that the components are reusable so you don’t have to worry about attaching them to one weapon and then finding a better one; you can just remove it from the old and busted and add it to the new hotness. This should be the shape of RPG’s to come.

 

So I’m pretty pleased. Dragon Age: Inquisition has taken most of the things I loved about the first two games and amped the scope of the narrative and the explorable world to truly epic proportions. And as you may have noticed, they have learned a lot from the Elder Scrolls games. If there’s any concept better than a BioWare/Bethesda mash-up, I have not imagined it. But it’s not all flowers and sunshine. Here are five things that make me want to strangle a nug with my bare hands.

Stop Glitchin’!

I think I can say with some confidence that Inquisition was instantly the buggiest thing I’ve ever played. And I once gave myself a headache trying to kill a backwards flying/teleporting dragon who wouldn’t leave me alone to let me fast-travel in Skyrim for an hour before quitting. While I haven’t encountered anything game-breaking (yet), things like my character’s hair turning gray in cutscenes, NPC’s walking waist-deep in the ground, conversations stalling (every time Loghain speaks especially…another reason to hate that asshole), and not being able to switch characters has been typical, as are enemies that respawn at the same time you kill them, or possibly before. I’m pretty sure once I was fighting the same bear twice at one time.

The most persistent bug I’ve found is in the radial menus where you select potions, grenades, and the like. I have to close it and re-open it every time I switch characters or it doesn’t work. This is a constant thing, not a random glitch. But the big one is the nastiest thing that can happen in a game: a full freeze. And it happens a lot. Once the whole console froze on me five times in one day. It was possibly God telling me to go outside or talk to my family or something, but still. If you want that, set the house on fire or something. Don’t mess with muh vidya.

Oh, and the freezing usually happens during a save or load operation, meaning that when you restart, the last save is corrupted and my PS3 has to spend several minutes recovering memory before I can play again from the one before that. So don’t play on only one save.

 

Where Princess Mononoke At?

Dragon Age Inquisition mount

I’m not at all opposed to mounts if they are done right and granted, it’s pretty badass that my Dalish heroine can ride into battle on the back of a trumpeting elk beast. But unfortunately once you get to said battle you have to stop, wait a second or two to climb down, and then wait for your party to appear out of thin air before you commence asskickery. The uses for a mount are just not really fleshed out in this particular game.

One of my favorite features of BioWare games is the random dialogue between various combinations of party members. These spontaneous little conversations and interactions between characters do so much to make these virtual people real and contain some of the funniest and most memorable moments in their games. But those don’t happen when you are riding. You party just kind of….vanishes. I miss them already.

Another reason is that the world is so full of crafting materials and lootables that you either have to ignore them all or hop off of your mount so often there’s no point in having one. You may as well just walk and see how Iron Bull and Dorian or Solas and Cassandra will get along together. Plus, you can’t fight when mounted, which sucks.

Mounts are a good idea, but the execution here is flawed. Maybe if your whole party could have their own mounts and engage in combat from horse/halla/lizardback and you could snatch materials from there, it’d be pretty epic to explore the landscape that way. But as it is, it’s often more trouble than its worth unless you are just looking to get from point A to point B as quickly as possible while ignoring everything else.

 

Artificial Unintelligence

I love games that give you the option to micromanage, but it shouldn’t be a necessity. And when the games makes it a necessity, but won’t let you do it right……grrr. Previous Dragon Age games let you go to crazy lengths programming each individual character on how to react to any combat situation. When to go for the combo attacks, which enemy to target, etc. I cannot for the life of me understand why they took that away.

Now your AI combat options are as follows. You may tell them to “follow” a specific character or whichever you’re controlling, or you may tell them to “defend” ” a specific character or whichever you’re controlling. I’m not sure I even get the difference. When I attempted to turn AI behaviors off and just have them just fight without goddamn following anyone, they stopped doing anything at all and just stood there.

craig flip off gif

Thanks, guys. Seriously.

And since they also took away the ability to switch between ranged and melee weapons, I find myself wading into the fray to support my tank and then find that my archer and/or mage have run right up on us and are getting creamed by the giant hammer-wielding maniac I’m flanking when I had positioned them elsewhere. I shouldn’t have to slow-mo the entire battle to babysit my ranged attackers into staying at range. Maybe if I tell them to follow each other? I haven’t noticed if that even works, but even if it did I shouldn’t goddamn have to when I already told them where to go.

 

Loathing Screens

Sometimes I feel like BioWare is trolling us with these load times. Just firing the game up takes way too long. When the “press start” screen comes press starting doesn’tregister for a few seconds so you end up mashing it until you’re sure it was read. Then it will make you wait for it to connect to the Dragon Age servers. Sometimes over a minute. Dude, even my phone can connect to my wifi in seconds and it’s not even close to up to date.

Then it must “enumerate” your save files which took a really long time until I realized it was taking all day to individually read the data on each of my 25 saves (the maximum allowed) because it…actually, I don’t even know why it was doing that. And if you select “load” it enumerates them all again. It got much better when I deleted the extras, but still: what the hell? I’ve never had this be a thing.

Then you get to the actual loading screens, which feature three text cards you can cycle through. Some of them are of the usual “gather stuff to have more stuff!” and “if you kill all of the enemies, you will win!” variety, and some are giant walls of involved text lore that require you to scroll down. Except that halfway through the load time, the screen blacks out, usually when you are not done reading the thing they put there for you to read and you spend another 30 seconds or so fuming that they are showing you a black screen instead of the wall of text they expected you to read in the thirty seconds previous but you couldn’t even focus on because you were worried that they were going to black out the screen before you were done. The fuck, BioWare? The fuck.

 

Thank You, Herald, but Your Loot is in Another Level

rage gif

This is not exactly a Dragon Age-specific problem, but Inquisition is the worst example I can think of. Getting loot drops for equipment that you can’t equip because your level isn’t high enough is just about the most annoying thing I can think of, and a sign of shitty loot design. You have limited space in your inventory, why the hell would you want it clogged up with stuff that would be killer to have now but will likely be mediocre by the time you reach their stupid arbitrary level requirement?

What really makes this one a problem is that the level advancement in Inquisition is slllloooooow. Making you work for every level isn’t a bad thing in and of itself at all; in fact, I applaud it. But when it takes hours of gameplay to gain each new level and they are giving you equipment multiple levels above you, it’s an unnecessary annoyance. Make it so you get loot that’s appropriate to your characters’ level. Why is that so hard?

 

Just to reiterate, I am obsessed with Dragon Age: Inquisition. I raged, quit, and determined never to buy another Team Ninja game when Dead or Alive 5 froze as often as this one does. So why does this one get a pass? It’s just that good. Even though the game feels broken at times, but it is so goddamn massive and fun that quitting it is simply is not an option. It’s one of the deepest and most involved video games I’ve ever played.

Further evidence? I haven’t even fired up the multiplayer. I am so immersed in the adventure and story that I can’t even consider tearing myself away from the single player. I don’t even want to be writing this right now. On that note: I’ve got to go.