Welcome to Smugglivus 2014! Throughout this month, we will have daily guests – authors and bloggers alike – looking back at their favorite reads of 2014, looking forward to events and upcoming books in 2015, and more.
Who: Andrea K Höst, author of fabulous Science Fiction and Fantasy novels including the Touchstone Trilogy (which we both read and loved this year), the Darest books, the Medair books and more.
Please give a warm welcome to Andrea, everyone!
A little light gaming
On profiles I describe myself as “reader, writer, gamer, gardener” and this was definitely a year with an emphasis on the gamer, with plenty of hotly anticipated games and pleasant surprises (along with a few disappointments). [It was also a year for passing 700 levels of Candy Crush, but I usually don’t list that one when reeling off reasons my next book won’t be out until 2015.]
Don’t Starve is a happy combination of quirk, style and addictive gameplay. Alone in a wilderness, you must find food, light and heat before night falls. And then you must Science! your way to surviving winter. I loved the dark humour of this little gem and the game is also enormously replayable, with unlockable characters to pep up your survival attempts.
Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII-3:
After a rather mediocre first in this trilogy, I skipped FFXIII-2 altogether (and from what I hear of the plot, can only be glad I did). But I checked out Lightning Returns and ended up powering through it.
It’s a fairly melancholic story, but Lightning is one of my favourite character types (stoic and competent female soldier). However, fair warning that Lightning Returns is also an excellent example of the treatment some games give even otherwise well-done female characters: Lightning is a super-serious soldier making hard decisions. One of the plot points is how she should lighten up a little. Meanwhile, the game rewards you with outfits like the miqo’te (FFXIII catgirl) or the moogle plush toy.
Perhaps one day we’ll see Halo games where you can treat Master Chief as a dress-up doll?
I’m a big fan of adventure games (these are puzzle and plot-based games, with little to no combat) and so leaped at the chance to back three kickstarters from classic adventure game creators. After much patient waiting, the first instalments of these came out this year. [I’m a little so-so about this trend of releasing bits of the game at a time, rather than completing the whole thing before releasing, since I end up forgetting large portions of the plot, but whatever it takes to get me quality new adventure games!]
Of the kickstarted adventure games I played this year, both Broken Age and Moebius were well-produced without 100% capturing me. [Though, problematic treatment of voodoo aside, I had a good time playing the 20th Anniversary remastered Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Fathers, wherein Gabriel is as sleazy as ever, and Grace’s snark about him is still the best reason for playing. :D]
But the big stand-out of the adventure games was Dreamfall: Chapters, third in the Longest Journey series. The second in this series, Dreamfall, ended in the hugest of cliff hangers…over ten years ago. But the bottom had fallen out of the adventure game genre, funding went nowhere, and all the fan base could do is wait and hope – until this whole kickstarting revolution came along.
And, yay, the game does the series justice! Or the game so far – the plot is suitably full of twisty intrigue and decisions. And I was fascinated by the mechanism at the end of telling you how many other players made the same choices you did – particularly how only 12% chose to kick ‘Mr Controlling and Disapproving’ to the curb. The forum discussions about why players made this choice were fascinating.
For lovers of plot and puzzle games, I recommend grabbing The Longest Journey + Dreamfall package edition before embarking on Dreamfall: Chapters. While you could technically play D:C without all that backstory…you so shouldn’t.
Without a doubt my most anticipated game of the year was Dragon Age: Inquisition. The Dragon Age franchise has been putting the R back into RPG through your quest companions – people with complex back stories who will counsel you, watch your back (or stab it), irritate the heck out of you, love you, hate you, or, quite possibly, hate-love you in torrid firelit scenes.
Being third in a series, DA:I had quite a fanbase and a lot of expectations riding on it. Would the gameplay be less restrictive than DA2? Would the plot feel less on rails? Would X favourite character show up?
Character creation is where we all start, and had some amazingly realistic skin textures and feature modelling, but rather poor hair and eyebrow options. Bioware, gamely trying to be as diverse as possible, is leagues ahead of most other games, but still disappointed a little on this front. [And you needed fairly high spec to get rid of the plastic hair issue.]
The primary plot was a combination of standard beat the big bad and this. Entertaining enough (I particularly enjoyed the cutscene sequence from the catapult through to the walk to Skyhold), but there was a level of emotional disengagement because your character is pretty much swept up by circumstances and the Inquisition rather than having a driving emotional cause.
Most of the really interesting stuff was going on in the background with companions and returning characters. A heap of thought has been poured into these, although I admit that with the exception of Cassandra (fabulous), I was not overwhelmingly captured by the new characters. Part of this may be because of the “party chatter” bug giving me less chance to get to know them. Part of it was this particular collection just not being the right characters to snag me. [And I’m also a really voice-focused player – a character (including some of the player character possibilities) can really shine or fall flat for me depending on their voice actor – if we’d had a Qunari with Arishok’s voice, for instance… 😀 ]
I did, however, avoid a couple of MAJOR romantic pitfalls by not warming to X or Y. Not quite Anders level of romantic nightmare, but I’m so glad I didn’t go there.
Gameplay and level design was a huge step up from DA2 – the opposite of restrictive. I started out intending to play the way I usually do: fully clear the first zone, go on to the next, clear that, etc. That method does not work in DA:I. Give up the idea. The game is huginormous: I think I only managed to fully clear the first zone, and my attempts to play in my normal “do every quest” method led me to nearly outlevelling the main plotline.
95 hours played, and I only saw half this game.
So, overall I enjoyed this a lot, was disappointed in a couple of things, and am hugely looking forward to any expansion packs that resolve that end-of-credits scene!
Final Fantasy XV: Boy Band
Okay, okay, it’s not really called “Boy Band”, but that’s becoming a fairly common reference for Final Fantasy XV. There is, apparently, a major female character somewhere in this game, but at first glance it looks like the Broody Boyz 2015 Tour.
But hell, it’s Final Fantasy! I’ve played elevenbillionty hours of the franchise so far (particularly because I was a hardcore FFXI player) and will inevitably look forward to throwing away another hundred.
More revived RP goodness
Back before Dragon Age, the twin pinnacles of RP gaming were the Baldur’s Gate and Torment franchises – games where party snark and plot were half the reason for playing. And Kickstarter being the gift that keeps on giving, we have coming up from the BG team Pillars of Eternity, and from the makers of Torment, Torment: Tides of Numenera.
I am very interested to see how these games turn out. While I love the current generation of games for their gorgeous character creation and scenery, a step back to past gameplay styles will work fine for me so long as the plot and characters are interesting. [Although I’m hoping we won’t necessarily be stepping back to the 90s entirely – after having a rich and fascinating all-female party in DA:I, my expectations for gaming diversity and storytelling have risen.]
There’s also tons of other stuff coming out next year – Elite: Dangerous. [Will The Blue Danube play? Very important to know.] The Order: 1886. [A little wary of Smurfette Syndrome here.] FF Type-0 [Because Final Fantasy was the least appropriate name for this franchise.] No Man’s Sky. [But hopefully some women in this space exploration game.] Persona 5. [I haven’t played the previous four, but I keep hearing good things about this series.] Rise of the Tomb Raider. [I wasn’t too impressed with the death porn and whimpering of the last outing, but otherwise enjoyed the game.]
What are you all looking forward to? Any recs?
Estara SwanbergDecember 21, 2014 at 2:44 pm
As I said on your post about why no new book this year: I’ve always liked Dalish Elves (rogues as a choice) and so my DA:O character also had the least of all stakes in the development of Ferelden, bar save the world and her clan on the way.
There is a party chatter bug? I have the PC version so I hope they rectify that. I thought we had fewer banter BECAUSE the game is so huge.
I’m still going for exploring it ALL!! At 120 hours and enjoying it. The two pitfalls (I think I know who they are, one made less sense the better you knew him, one will probably be drawn to the dark side by his ultimate dream – but I don’t want any confirmation) I have avoided – but I went with romancing Mr. Nice and really has deserved a break. Should I replay the game, I would break tradition, play as a male character for the first time in any game where I had the choice and go for Dorian (or Riding Bull).
I loved Krem and Scout Harding, they should have been choices ^^. Cassandra has by far the best developed personality quest, I think. Varric should not have been a companion but maybe a chronicler/advisor – he has no stake with the inquisitor whatsoever and is consistent in not personally caring about her.
My second big pleasurable surprise:
Elder Scrolls Online – my is that mmorpg getting flayed after a really faulty start and MY have the developers continued to make it better and improve and communicate – as a matter of fact I keep comparing it to DA:I in graphics and gameplay mechanics – action combat is much better in ESO, crafting is similar, graphics are similarly beautiful, zone quests and npcs are better – HOWEVER no companions or romanceability or feeling of needing to go for endgame content – and of course lots of stuff to explore after endgame content (otherwise people would stop playing). The guild on the EU server I am in has a lovely amount of grown-ups, males and female gamers – and while the game isn’t perfect, it is so enjoyable for so many different style rpgers it’s amazing.
I can see myself playing this for years to come. Haven’t done that since my very first mmorpg in 2000-2005.
Jessica CrawfordDecember 21, 2014 at 10:58 pm
I just finished DA:I the other day, and although I enjoyed it very much (because I don’t think it would be possible for there to be a Dragon Age game I didn’t like), it’s my least favorite of the three. Like you, I usually prefer to clear an area before moving on. I felt completely overwhelmed with how many open quests I had going on at once! Still, I probably would have met them one by one as I came across them, except that some are clearly too difficult for the player’s current level and you need to return to it later.
In past games, you would encounter a person, they would tell you their tale, and you could offer to help, opening a new quest. It seemed like the vast majority of quests in Inquisition were introduced via notes you just happen to find lying around. And I’ll be honest here, I did not even bother to read them! I’d click through them, then the quest showed up in the journal, a spot was even marked on the map for me, and I could complete it without even having any idea why I was doing what I was doing. I missed feeling the connection to other characters, NPCs, and actually wanting to help them.
I felt way less of a connection with party members, too. It seemed like there was much less interaction with them.
So many of the quests seemed just to be busy work. There would be hours of busy work just to get to the point where you could trigger a few minutes of actual plot advancement. Overall I felt like the actual main storyline wasn’t very long, the majority of it was “filler.”
I was disappointed in the romance options, overall.
As far as the snippet after the credits – I had NO clue what that was about, and had to search the internet to try to figure it out. The one character I never paid much attention to because he bored me and creeped me out in equal measure. Any time I did try to talk to him, there never ended up being any “special” discussion options, and so he really wasn’t in my game much at all. And then that…
Don’t get me wrong, I still had quite a bit of fun with this game, but I definitely preferred the first two installments.
Also, I really need to pick up Dreamfall: Chapters! I’m not sure if I love the episodic style either, but fans of the series have only been waiting, what, 9 years for the story to continue?! Your comments on the first chapter has me intrigued.
I was a huge Gabriel Knight fan, but not sure if I need to play a new version of it. Maybe if I had money burning a hole in my pocket. Am I missing out?
I’ve heard BioWare is working on a new Mass Effect game, so I’ll definitely look into that one. Have you played any Quantic Dream titles? Fahrenheit/Indigo Prophecy, Heavy Rain, or Beyond: Two Souls? I love love LOVE those games, too. The story for Beyond: Two Souls is pretty amazing.
AndreaDecember 22, 2014 at 2:59 am
Yes, DA:I (with the exception of Cassandra, who I thought wonderful) was enjoyable but not my favourite of the series. And I kept not connecting with characters (I see Solas is very popular, but he was so condescending that I didn’t have much interest chatting with him).
[The “chat bug” where most of the general party chat simply didn’t happen for a lot of people may be a reason for this.]
Since the main storyline of DA:I is a pretty straightforward “evil happening, identify evil guy, stop evil guy” it’s not tremendously compelling on its own. All the stuff going on in the background is where the interest lies.
I really recommend playing the first two games before embarking on Dreamfall: Chapters. It’ll still be enjoyable, but also very confusing! Gabriel Knight is a tiny bit different in the gameplay, but not so much as to make it a must replay.
I haven’t played any of the Quantic Dream games (various reasons) but will probably catch them eventually.
tanitaDecember 23, 2014 at 4:30 pm
I just got the latest in the series of Andrea’s books I haven’t yet read – glad to hear from her here! Happy Smugglivus!