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.
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?