Fair warning: Major spoilers for Mass Effect as a trilogy, and also (interestingly enough, and you'll see why) for the Lord of the Rings trilogy. First, may I say this, because it needs t ...Read More
SOME SPOILERS What I'm seeing in blogs, comments, and all forms of social media about the ending to Mass Effect 3 is what I'm feeling--right up to the end this is the best game I've ever ...Read More
Check out the world premier of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3's Multiplayer, then read our analysis: Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 Multiplayer Reveal Trailer Premier! ...Read More
I'm in the middle of my first playthrough of Rockstar's Team Bondi's "L.A. Noire"--and the game impresses and frustrates. You are Cole Phelps, a rookie cop on the beat in ...Read More
Fair warning: Major spoilers for Mass Effect as a trilogy, and also (interestingly enough, and you’ll see why) for the Lord of the Rings trilogy.
First, may I say this, because it needs to be said: I have a greater level of interest in, attachment to, and love for the Mass Effect series BioWare has made than any other book, movie, short story, piece of music, or game I have experienced. I write this after pausing to consider–can it be true? It is. As someone who holds a bachelor’s degree in Literature, as someone who loves a wide array of music and song, as someone who has played the best of video games (and some not-so-good ones), and seen countless hollywood and some indie movies, I still will say that Mass Effect is better than all of them.
Why is this? How can that even be possible? On the level that traditional media (books, movies, visual arts, music), Mass Effect is an incredible blend of all of these. This is the power of a (good) video game.
The story behind Mass Effect delves into classic philosophical issues in its themes, explores science and theory, reflects on prior thought and literature, and ultimately, provokes thought and emotion from those who experience it. This is what the best of Literature does.
The presentation of Mass Effect evokes the best of movies; it has cutting-edge technology, right down to the fantastic motion capture and facial animations accompanying the dialogue. Like a movie–which Mass Effect has been compared to over and again by critics, gamers, and reviewers alike–Mass Effect packs an immediacy of experience that is true to life through its visuals. It compresses the often-boring and lengthy exposition of traditional stories (books) into the format of real life; the visual, and the auditory.
Speaking of the auditory, Mass Effect again achieves a very high bar of excellence. The ambient noise of the places you travel, the sounds of gunfire and explosions, the play of distance and proximity on the terrifying ‘screams’ of the Reapers, and the wonderful voicing performed by the very-talented, experienced, and fairly high-profile voice actors puts it in a field of its own. Topping off this experience is the original score for the games, composed by a team of talent headed by Jack Wall for the first two games and joined by Clint Mansell for the last. The soundtrack evokes the setting, being both new and fresh and invoking classic science fiction works like Blade Runner. I listen to it at home and on my MP3 player alongside my favorite classical and modern songs.
Mass Effect achieves a very high level of excellence in all of these traditional forms of media. As a video game, however, it goes beyond them in a way that makes me wish I had a term to coin for something new–as calling it a ‘video game’ will, for many, automatically define it as something less.
At the core of Mass Effect, what drives it forward, is cooperative storytelling. You, the player–in many ways, more like an actor, or director, or some strange synthesis of the three–work with the writers to define the story. They provide you with a setting, a background for the story, characters to interact with, what I will call “action points,” and a protagonist and a last name, “Shepard;” you provide the actual story. Acting as the protagonist, you drive the story forward through your interactions with the characters, through the choices you make at key action points, and through the personality you choose for your Commander Shepard.
BioWare designed this as a trilogy from the start, with the belief that your choices as a player mattered. They saw this through; in the first game, there are two choices amongst many that stand out. The first is an impossible choice: which of two of your squadmates–people you have begun developing friendships with, possibly more, and people for whom you are directly responsible for as their commanding officer–which of the two do you choose to save, and which do you allow to die? You cannot save both.
The second choice is less personal, but with far greater ramifications. The galactic stage has three key players when the humans come on the scene: the Asari, the Turians, and the Salarians. These three races govern the Council that wields the bulk of political power in the galaxy. Humans are a younger race, eager to prove their worth and earn a seat on that Council. At the end of the first game, you may choose to sacrifice thousands of human lives and severely damage the military power of the human Alliance’s Navy to save the current Councilors and many aboard their flagship. Or, you can sacrifice the Council, and save those human lives and resources. The first choice maintains the status quo in the second and third games, but does earn humanity a seat on the Council for their sacrifice, and the goodwill of many in the three dominant races. The second choice allows humanity to force the Council to give them a seat, but earns the enmity of many of the races, including the powerful Turians. Your choice resonates throughout the second game, and also affects the third.
Just as an example of other choices and their effects: you may save the last of a once-powerful, but dangerous race long thought dead and allow them to live again, or to finish their genocide. You may choose to preserve the horrific result of millions of humans processed and combined with a machine, with the aim of gaining the military strength needed to defeat your foe, the Reapers, or you may choose to put a stop to it and forego that possible asset. You may romance one of your crew; you can befriend them, or lead them with a ruthless, iron fist and a get-it-done attitude. It goes on, and your choices are echoed in the words, attitudes, and reports of the people you see, hear, and work with.
The choices you have made by the third game form very different situations the galaxy may be in when the Reapers finally invade. They determine who may agree to be your ally, and how powerful they are. They determine the tone and fates of many you have met, and some you never had. By this time, Shepard is not only a military figure, but a powerful political figure; your words in the third game, and your choices, show immediate results–both good and bad ethically and morally, and militarily as well.
Which brings me to why I am writing this article. Before I continue, let me be clear why I am writing this: I am writing this blog because I care. Because BioWare’s trilogy Mass Effect was so good, it made me care. For that, BioWare’s employees deserve both recognition and thanks. Thank you. Thank you so much for the time and talent you have poured into Mass Effect. Commander Shepard’s story has been an incredible, emotional, th0ught-provoking ride.
…Right up to the end. If you are reading this, I am sure you knew the next part was coming, given the whirlwind of player response seen on the internet. When I played through the highly-polished masterpiece that is Mass Effect 3, the ending at first caught me off-guard. The choices given to you in the end cinematic made me stop and think for a long time on what my Shepard would do. My conclusion was, even injured, that at least 4 out of the 5 Shepards I intended to play through the last game with (and had played through the first two with) would tell the little boy, “To hell with you and your choices! I’ve brought the combined might of a galaxy to this battle, and we will win it.”
He (one ‘she’) would say this because it was true, but also because the choices were unacceptable.
Allow me to summarize two articles, both of which are compelling reads with compelling arguments. The first article has some unnecessary vitriol in it, for which I apologize. The points the makes are good ones, though, which is why I include it.
The premise of the first article is that the ending does not make sense within the context of the Mass Effect universe, or the story that BioWare and the player have been making together up until that point. The writer draws an analogy to Lord of the Rings; what if it had been a video game trilogy, not a movie, and if the ending was made analogous to the Mass Effect 3 ending?
He concludes that it is tangential at best, nonsensical at worst. This is very true; we’ve learned that this ending was not even the intended original ending, unfortunately leaked months before the game was released, resulting in it being changed. The endings that we have relate to secondary plots, questions brought up by the series, but tangentially; they do not flow naturally from the arc presented by the three games. This is why the endings caught me off guard, and why they caught so many other players off guard, too.
Furthermore, he argues that within the context of the endings we are given, the choices we’ve made in the rest of the series don’t matter. This is, again, a valid and compelling point–judging on fan responses and their scale, most people felt like all the work they had put in, playing as Shepard, had been wasted effort. Shepard fights to preserve the galaxy, but no matter what resources you bring to the fight, no matter what you choose, the ‘intergalactic glue,’ the Mass Relays and the Citadel that allow travel from one solar system to another at any reasonable speed, are destroyed. All the planets that were decimated during the conflict are left decimated, their inhabitants doomed to starve and die. Earth itself, if not destroyed, is in ruins, with thousands of people in the combined fleets of the galaxy orbiting it. How are those people all supposed to live on a planet ruined by the Reapers without the ability to work together with the galaxy that Shepard united?
Finally, he points out what most people who argue (and this, more than anything else I take issue with) that gamers are simply “entitled,” choose to ignore: the huge, gaping holes in plot and logic of the rushed ending cinematic sequences following the three choices you are pigeonholed into. First, regardless of whether or not they were with you in the final push to the device that teleports you up to to Citadel, the crew member you romanced is seen leaving a crash-landed Normandy (your ship) on some far-away planet. How did they get there? Moreover, other crew who were duking it out with the Reapers on the ground, on Earth itself, are seen also leaving the Normandy. How did they get there?? Why did Joker and EDI (the ship’s AI) choose to turn tail and run from the battle with the Reapers in the first place, so that they could even try to outrun the explosion of the Citadel?
Then, there is the figure of the child-antagonist you meet in the last two minutes–the one who forces you to choose. First… why does he look like the boy you met back on Earth, who dies with you unable to save him, and who has been in your dreams since? This is never explained. Secondly, he explains with complete illogic that the reason he has had the Reapers destroying all non-synthetic life every 50,000 years since time forgotten is because otherwise, synthetics would destroy organic life. I wanted to ask him, “You mean exactly like they are right now?” Let’s grant that there is a glimmer of logic there, in that the Reapers don’t completely destroy organic life each cycle–they leave a few undeveloped races for the next one. That being granted, the next question is simple: my Shepard has already proved that organics and synthetics can live together peacefully–he just brokered a peace between the Geth and the Quarians, after all. How does the antagonist-boy’s view of the galaxy stand up to that, logically? It doesn’t.
The one theory that has been put forth that explains some of this is being called the “Indoctrination Theory.” Basically, it posts that Shepard is indoctrinated, and the boy is forcing Shepard into a choice he approves of. The signs of Shepard being indoctrinated, as Saren was, and as the Illusive Man is, are subtle indeed, if they are there. However, in the greater context of the ending sequence–like the parts about your crew somehow teleporting to your ship, and your ship somehow leaving the fight I already mentioned–this does not explain away the issues that the ending has.
In particular, it does not explain the complete lack of follow-through of the ending. We see very little of the consequences of our actions from any of the three games in the finale of the third. In fact, in its brevity, we see almost nothing at all. If we choose a specific one of the three endings, and if we had a high enough “readiness rating,” there is a brief cutscene of Shepard emerging from the rubble of the Citadel. Later, we see an old man finishing a story to a little boy on a future-Earth. More characters introduced for the first time at the end of the game, this is likely to annoy, not resolve anything.
The second article has a singular focus: to explain why players had a near-universal response of feeling angry or even almost ill after the ending. The cultural weight of thousands of years tells us that stories have a structure: Motivation, Act, Consequence. Mass Effect follows this brilliantly–again, except for the end of the third game. The final sequence leaves us frustrated (which is an “antithesis of being,” as the writer phrases it). It does this by defying both the reasons humans have for engaging with stories on a fundamental level (the satisfaction of feeling the sadness of loss with a tragedy as we failed, or succeeded with a cost, or the joy of a successful resolution of tension. Instead, because the final sequence does not fit with the themes, or the main story arc, we are forced to choose an Act that does not flow from our motivations (to save the galaxy, our race, our friends, the people we’ve met, to be with the people we’ve come to care about).
Nor does what little Consequence we see revealed grant us resolution, because it is so laced with completely illogical happenings that we have to reject it. HOW did your squadmates get on that ship, and WHY did Joker and EDI leave the battle? As touching a moment as seeing at least Joker and EDI together would have been, that is denied us because of the illogic of the situation. It forces us to reject our suspension of disbelief that the rest of the series does such a tremendous job of upholding thanks to the level of detail and engagement the player sees and has.
Some closing remarks:
Many people–most ranklingly, critics who admit to not having even played the rest of the series, or who are very casual gamers, or who have not even finished the game itself!–have called people who have asked that the ending of Mass Effect 3 be improved “childish,” or “entitled,” or “ungrateful,” even “foolish.” This serves only to fan the flames of frustration and disappointment so many fans have felt into anger and attacks. These “critics,” as much as those few fans who have chosen to engage in personal attacks and non-constructive criticism, ought to be ashamed.
BioWare, and other reviewers who support the ending (often, again, admitting to not having played the ending, or the rest of the trilogy) have spoken of the “artistic integrity of the original story.” In fact, it is the main, and one of the only defenses offered of the current endings. BioWare’s talented designers have elevated video games to a new level, as I have spent some time lauding them for. They deserve that recognition and appreciation. But I feel they are wrong to think of what they are doing in the terms it seems they are viewing it.
As I talked about already, BioWare’s spokespeople have repeatedly talked up the interactive aspect of the Mass Effect games. More than that, those who have played it have experienced what it is like to be a partner in the process of writing the story of Mass Effect first hand. To say that Mass Effect is “not art” would be a disservice. But to say that it is traditional art would be an even greater one; Mass Effect is something new, a true collaboration between artist and those who interact with the art. Thinking of it in terms of inviolable artistic expression goes beyond simply wrong–it shows poor business sense.
To the designers, let me say this in addition to the praise I have given: Mass Effect is as much our story, and our game, as it is yours. We respect and appreciate you for the beautiful galaxy you have created; we ask only that in return, you respect our part in the Mass Effect story, and work to improve the endings.
For my part, I would ask the endings be improved in two ways: 1) The endings be extended, so we can see–and help choose–what happens after. Showing us the consequences of our actions will help give us closure, and satisfy the need to see our choices mattered. 2) The existing endings be modified to fit logically within the story arc up to this point, and the setting itself.
The original endings outlined in leaked documents are closer in line to these than the current ones.
My pie-in-the-sky dream? I don’t see any of the current endings as “bittersweet,” just bitter. I would love to have an ending added where Shepard is able to save the galaxy. Losses I get; bittersweet I get. I wouldn’t mind if you had to be the most ridiculous completionist out there (I already am with BioWare’s games) and drum up every scrap of support in the galaxy to get this ending. I wouldn’t mind if you had to play some multiplayer to get it. I’d even buy it as DLC.
In my head, Shepard has lost enough. Shepard has lost friends, sacrificed much of her/himself, even died once to see this through. I want to live in a world where not everything has to be lost for something to be saved. Just maybe Shepard survives, just maybe the love interest does, too, and they can be together… And in spite of incredible losses, the galaxy that Shepard united together, while lying in ruins, can stay united and start to rebuild.
That is nowhere near possible in the current endings.
The real world is dark enough without the games I play and the stories I engage in being all darkness, too.
Here is the link to the first article: First Article
Here is the link to the second article: Second Article
What I’m seeing in blogs, comments, and all forms of social media about the ending to Mass Effect 3 is what I’m feeling–right up to the end this is the best game I’ve ever played in the best series I’ve ever played. I personally love it more than any other fictional setting in any medium I’ve encountered. Which is why the ending hurts and confuses me. I didn’t feel like my choices mattered, or like all the work I put in uniting the galaxy together mattered.
I didn’t feel like the three possibilities you could choose were ones any of the several Shepards I had ready to play through ME3 with would choose. The endings you gave us weren’t coherent with the universe as presented thus far, and seemed very forced and rushed, with little player interaction. Further, there was next to nothing of context as to what comes after the final choice, of how it impacted the galaxy.
I had hoped to play through the game with different Shepards. One Shepard barely survived ME2 and got most everyone killed because of his brash decisions and go-it-alone attitude. Obviously, he would have died, along with most everyone else and everything else and would have left a broken galaxy. I wanted to see that. Another Shepard survived ME2 with most of her crew and companions intact, and was a good soldier. I had imagined she would sacrifice herself to keep as many of her friends alive as possible. She was fighting for them, not for the galaxy–that was too big for her. She would have done well, probably died, but not left the galaxy a smoking ruin of randomly colored explosions.
The third Shepard was not only a soldier, but a brilliant tactician. He brought unity and coordination to the galaxy with tolerance and patience. He was my favorite, and I made the mistake of playing him first. I had imagined he would unite the galaxy–which I did–like no one else could have done. Without playing any multiplayer, I was well off the chart for readiness. I had hoped he would take on the reapers, feel the sting of loss as he had not before, but safeguard the galaxy from the worst along with his companions. I had thought perhaps he would be able to lead a grand alliance to victory and maybe survive, though injured or scarred. Maybe he would be required to make the ultimate sacrifice, and maybe that would be okay if written well, but this… I was hoping for at least a possibility of a Babylon 5 style ending, and was so very disappointed.
This is a link to a very cogent analysis of what is wrong with the ending of the otherwise brilliant Mass Effect trilogy: http://www.gamefront.com/mass-effect-3-ending-hatred-5-reasons-the-fans-are-right/
Check out the world premier of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3’s Multiplayer, then read our analysis:
At 0:42, we have a SAM turret take out the helo. It’s huge! Killstreak, or part of the map?
At 0:55, we’ve got a lot of peoples’ favorite bolt-action sniper rifle returning!
At 1:20-1:40, listen to the sounds. Looks like a lot of work has gone into improving environmental sound and character sound positioning and quality. Still not Battlefield sound, though I prefer the actual content if not the delivery system. BF weapons have always sounded… off.
At 0:58, notice the dogtags he picks up. One pair of gold (enemy?) one pair of red (friendly?). Is that what he’s doing? Perhaps this is a new way to get points of some kind in the game. Would encourage more close-up gameplay and campers would be forced to leave their spots to get the reward. Could be a great addition to the game.
At 2:40 we have an awesome automated mobile turret show up. I want one! Killstreak?
Game Type: KILL CONFIRM3D – Perhaps some sort of team deathmatch with highest performing enemies being targeted, ala Homefront?
Primary: M4 – no attachments. Looks very much like the IW M4; a solid, middle-damage low-recoil high ROF assault rifle.
Proficiency: KICK – Clearly a new addition to the game, proficiencies appear to be part of your class that lets the developers separate out some things from the Perks system. Not sure what this one does?
Secondary: M320 GLM – I really missed the machine pistols from MW2 in Black Ops. It’s great to see useful secondary weapons return!
Equipment: Flash / Frag Grenade – Your useful, traditional grenades.
Strike Package: ASSAULT – This looks to be the new “class.” We get to have different killstreaks for different classes!
Strike Chain (Killstreaks):
3 kills = UAV.
9 kills = AH-6 Overwatch. They show this one off in the video. Seems pretty intelligent and useful, if perhaps a bit easy to take down? 9 kills may seem like a lot for it, but keep reading…
15 kills = JUGG3RNAUT (Yes, E is replaced by three because this is MW3.) – We get to call in Juggernauts to back us up! Sounds sick, could be far better implemented than Treyarch’s dogs and certainly more logical.
ELITE: Clan name, and note it shows him as clan leader. I’m wondering what new features will revolve around this? Will enemies see he is the leader? Will he show up differently on the mini-map to your clanmates?
Perks: FourZeroTwo has said they’ve completely revamped this system, and it definitely looks like it. All three of these are new: RECON, QUICKDRAW, and STALKER.
Game Type: CTF.
Primary: M4 with ACOG sight.
Profici3ncy: FOCUS – Shows some sort of mini-map image or heat detection?
ELITE: “Optimal Bootleg CQB Class Pushed To Game.” I’m thinking this means that you can set up class variations for different gametypes with the Elite service, and it will automatically adjust the class from the service when you go into the different gametype. Cool!
Equipment: Bouncing Betty and EMP Grenade – YES! I love BB’s! Looking way forward to using them. The EMP grenade looks pretty useful, too, especially given all the equipment and machine-based killstreaks we’re seeing.
Strike Package: SUPPORT – Notice it says below this “Kill Streaks-Not Reset After Death.” It looks like maybe we don’t get to specify our 3 killstreaks, but choose packages? That would be a touch annoying… but it is nice that the killstreaks that help your team rather than advance personal score keep going after you die. Hopefully resetting once you reach 11… Unless what this is saying is that normally, killstreaks go away if unused when you die and this prevents that… which is a terrible idea. If you earn it, it shouldn’t just go away.
Strik3 Chain (Killstreaks):
7 kills = AIRDROP TRAP – Bad care package, like booby-trapping in BO with Hacker PRO. Fun, but probably only going to get 1 kill for you. Is it really worth 7 kills?
9 kills = REMOTE TURRET – If this is that sweet little machinery we see driving around with a big gun on top, I’m all for it. It doesn’t look like it in the image, though. Notice that this is the same spot as the Overwatch helicopter…
11 kills = EMP. Just 11? Hmmm. Especially if my first interpretation of what the fine print under the Strike Package words is correct, this is insufficient, unless they decreased the usefulness of EMP, which would also be sad.
Perks: EXTREME CONDITIONING makes a triumphant return! ASSASSIN could be the new NINJA? SITREP has the same emblem, but does it have the same effects?
Side note: Notice the bottom right of the still image. It shows boxes with sequential numbers, and the M4 underneath. It is counting up to your next challenge completion? Some reward? An unlock?
Game Type: Team Deathmatch
Primary: ACR 6.8 with RDS. I loved this gun! Can’t wait to see if it is still the gun of accurate doom-bringing.
ELITE: “KM25 Tactics Video Viewed” Maybe some sort of ELITE service that gives advice and tips, similar to what many of the major gaming sites do now. Not sure how useful this will be.
Secondary: XM25 – looks like a mini-Famas…
Equipm3nt: Claymore and Portable Radar – Oh no… I now have to choose between BB and my precious Claymore! Maybe there is some perk or Proficiency that lets me take both.
Strike Package: SUPPORT – No mention of killstreaks not resetting, here.
Strike Chain (Killstreaks):
5 kills = BALLISTIC VESTS – It appears to reduce explosive damage. Wonder if it is temporary and if so, how temporary. Could be a powerful reward.
10 kills = RECON DRONE – Perhaps similar to the SR-71 blackbird from BO? Seems like a lot of kills otherwise.
14 kills = STEALTH BOMBER – Erm… Lot of kills if this is at all similar to previous COD games. It is shown in the video, but not in a way to tell what it really does.
Perks: R3CON, BLAST SHIELD, DEAD SILENCE. So here we have another COD4 perk making a return. Neat! And a perk for those who hate explosives.
Game Type: Ground War – There have been rumors of up to 32 players. If true, this would be the mode they’d do that in.
Primary: ACR 6.8 with Hybrid Scope and Heartbeat Sensor. Lot of people will be pissy about the HBS making a return. It is a good addition to the game… great against kids who camp in corners all day long. I’m glad it is back.
Proficiency: ATTACHMENTS = 2 – Woot! I like that this is a proficiency, though it would be good to know what the others are and what they do to compare against.
ELITE: “Posted Game Mode to Elite. Highest Rated Mode Posted.” Auto-posting of good gameplays?
Secondary: DRAGUNOV with variable zoom. Wait… Why does he get a primary as a secondary? Ahh, Overkill makes a return in the Perks section! But no 2 attachments on the secondary?..
Equipment: TROPHY SYSTEM and THROWING KNIFE – It appears the “trophy system” kills explosives before they can reach you?
Strike Package: SPECIALIST – apparently this type lets you take extra perks as your killstreaks? That could get interesting.
Strike Chain (Killstreaks):
2 kills = SCAVENGER PRO – It appears to reduce bullet damage, or am I seeing things in the video? Wonder if it is temporary and if so, how temporary. Could be a very powerful reward.
4 kills = ST3ADY AIM PRO – Perhaps similar to the SR-71 blackbird from BO? Seems like a lot of kills otherwise.
6 kills = MARKSMAN PRO – Erm… Lot of kills if this is at all similar to previous COD games. It is shown in the video, but not in a way to tell what it really does.
Perks: BLIND EYE PRO – Maybe this is Steady Aim for snipers? OVERKILL PRO – Not sure about the PRO part, but this is another COD4 perk. SITREP PRO?
I’m in the middle of my first playthrough of Rockstar’s Team Bondi’s “L.A. Noire”–and the game impresses and frustrates. You are Cole Phelps, a rookie cop on the beat in late 1940’s L.A., recently returned from the war, where you were a gung-ho officer. Phelps is determined to climb the ranks of the police force and do some real good on the streets of L.A., and he isn’t afraid to step on toes to do it.
I received my Razer Onza in the mail yesterday–finally. It. Is. Sweet. Check this out:
The game has been out for long enough now for us to give a fair post-release review, and we’ve been meaning to get to this for a while, so here it goes.
Call of Duty: Black Ops is an M-rated, multi-platform game that broke release and sales records, just as its predecessor in the popular COD series, MW2, did. ROC gamers are, of course, Xbox 360 (and occasionally PC) gamers, so we’re reviewing the 360 version. From what I’ve read, the PS3 version is a touch worse off, but we can’t verify. This particular game’s flaws and glories almost write the review for us, so we’ll simply do a quick summary review and then explain why it gets what it gets.
Overall Score: 8.5/10
Call of Duty: Black Ops is coming this holiday season, and it’s looking to be the best game by Treyarch in the genre to date, maybe the best period. Industry vets got to sit down with Treyarch today at a Multiplayer Reveal Event and see a presentation of the multiplayer aspects of the game (not Nazi Zombies, though; not the co-op). We listened in to some of their reactions and have distilled down and organized some of the awesome multiplayer features in the game.
There are more playable modes than ever before. A neat one is completely new to COD, called “Combat Training.” In this mode, players match against bots—either alone or with friends—to practice tactics and explore maps. Treyarch designed it to appeal to offline-only players, much like Modern Warfare 2 made SpecOps.
Another possible new mode called Sharpshooter gives players all the same weapon. The weapons cycle. Sounds like an old-school style deathmatch mode minus weapon pickups?
There are other new game modes, including some that are separate from standard progression of ranking up in online competitive multiplayer.
Create-A-Class is hugely expanded, especially for customization of your appearance. It looks like your character model will show in menus so that you can see each change you make reflected on your character. Also, as part of this, your tier 1 perk will be reflected in your character’s appearance—enemies will be able to know at a glance what it is…
Players now get differently painted guns with customized decals and targeting reticles. As you play you earn or unlock new things and all your guns, possibly other gear, can be customized with these unlocks. There is also an emblem editor, where you can place decals and such–with backgrounds–scale, layer, and rotate them.
There’s an interesting-sounding new monetary system—yes, a currency system in Call of Duty—where you earn points as you play. These points can purchase contracts—time-limited challenges, in 3 types: Mercenaries, Operations, and Specialist. Your styles of play and what achievements you earn are attached to these contracts.
And, naturally, where there is money, there is gambling. Players will be able to ante up their points and wager on matches they play in. The top three players split the pot at the end of the game. I’m a bit skeptical about this whole monetary system, but details are a bit vague just yet, so we’ll hold off on jumping to conclusions.
Weapons and killstreaks are sounding sweet. Some weapons mentioned: flamethrowers, sniper rifles, shotguns, and guided missile launchers, amongst others. Apparently you are equipped with a Crossbow and Projectile knife—though whether that is everyone at all times, or you must choose between equipment wasn’t clear. Let’s hope it isn’t everyone at all times…
There is a new category for equipment like Motion Sensors and a Signal Jammer. It sounds like the former will be less like a heartbear sensor, and more like a sort of personal UAV. I’m thinking the Motion Sensor is the camera spike we saw in the preview trailer.
Killstreaks sound crazy. You can get Napalm Strike, Gunship, Mortar Team, RC C4 Car, SAM Turret (apparently an anti-chopper streak), and others. From the Care Packages, making a return with improvements, you can get a bunch of new special weapons like a “Death Machine,” a mini-gun and a “Grim Reaper,” a vicious grenade launcher.
Finally, there is Theater Mode. It’s the new replay editor and, from the sound of it, a whole content management system to boot. You can switch player perspective between 1st and 3rd person or move freely within a 3D space. Also, you’ll be able to tag and edit your saved videos, or search videos others have made.
All in all, a sweet reveal. Hopefully lots more tidbits of information come out. If we come across any nuggets, we’ll pass them along.
You can comment here on the forums.
UPDATE: Check this out:
Yes, a PC game. Why? Because I still play PC games when a good one comes along. I started out as a PC gamer, after all. 🙂
StarCraft 1 was a game that rightfully has been called one of the greatest strategy games of all time. I would say it is probably -the- greatest strategy game of all time; no other strategy game has endured as long with a living, thriving community or weathered time so gracefully graphically. I still get as much fun out of a SC1 LAN party as I did back in the day.
This is the legacy that Blizzard has to live up to with their sequel trilogy, StarCraft 2: Wings of Liberty, StarCraft 2: Heart of the Swarm, and StarCraft 2: Legacy of the Void. Criticism has been leveled rather rampantly on this first aspect of StarCraft 2 by fans worldwide since the announcement came down that the game would come (and sell) in three parts, perhaps years apart.
Whereas SC1 we can judge retrospectively at this point, it may be 2014 before we can fully judge SC2. However, I believe that because Blizzard chose to make three separate games, rather than one full game and two expansions, comparisons between SC1 and SC2: Wings of Liberty are valid. So let’s take a look at the latter on that premise.
Wings of Liberty includes the full multiplayer experience—you can play as any of the three races. At one point in time, there was rumored to be a fourth race. I suspect we won’t see that until the third and last installment, and that it will of course be the Xel’Naga. SC1, in both the full game and the Brood Wars expansion, came with a full campaign for each race. Wings of Liberty, like its forthcoming counterparts in the “sequel trilogy” as I am calling it, has one campaign: the Terran one.
As mentioned, this generated a lot of buzz on the internet. I was one of those buzzing. Having played the campaign, however, I am willing to admit my annoyance was unfounded. The campaign was the most fun I’ve ever had playing a strategy game campaign. It was beautifully-crafted, and so much was added to make it a full experience. You get a command center, from which you can customize your game by choosing technology paths to research and unit improvements to buy. You also get to interact with the people around you (and by you, I mean Jim Raynor, whom you are playing as. Mostly—there is a bit of occasional narrative confusion).
The missions in the campaign are varied and interesting, offering a very good balance of fun and challenge, without ever varying wildly (Normal difficulty is always what you’d expect; if you are good at strategy games, it will occasionally challenge you somewhat, without ever causing you to reload. I had to reload once my whole playthrough, and that was because I got a phone call and had to step away for a half hour). That in itself is a shining triumph. The only criticism I do have of this campaign is that it did feel a bit short mission-wise, if not story wise. I wanted more games toward the end where I got to use all my toys I’d earned.
All in all, the campaign experience was great. Good enough to balance out the fact that without the Zerg and Protoss campaigns, there really was very little playtime in the campaign. I might have been at 15 hours or so. I’m not convinced the replayability value would be there, in spite of the fact that there are several instances where you have to pick sides and this determines which of two missions you get to take. The campaign’s strength is also its weakness; it is so focused and driven that it wouldn’t offer a greatly varied experience on second playthrough.
There is another aspect to the game. The more important one, judging by the standards of today’s games and indeed, the predecessor to SC2: multiplayer. In this instance, Blizzard has a long way to go to making this game as fun, balanced, and accessible as SC1.
Let’s take a look at the three races’ strengths and weaknesses with an eye toward understanding why, in both North America and in Europe, the top 200 players would have roughly the same imbalanced ratios for which races they play (this disparity is anecdotally borne out in my experience playing 2v2 and 3v3 online). Roughly, this is the ratio set: 43% Terran, 38% Protoss, 19% Zerg. Obviously, if the game was balanced better, the ratios would be closer to 1/3s. Why is this?
First, let’s start with the Zerg, the least-played and least-appreciated race. Late in the Beta, Blizzard beefed up the Zerg in an attempt to balance them against the other races. Apparently, they did not go far enough.
The Zerg in the first game were the best rushers. If you were good and the map wasn’t too big, you could get 6 Zerglings into an enemy base and either wipe the base out, or seriously set them back by destroying most or all of their resource gatherers. This same rush strategy and early dominance of Zerglings is gone. The maps tend to be a bit larger in SC2, making it difficult to get your units to the enemy quickly enough to be effective in a fast zergling rush.
To balance this out, the Zerg have a new early unit, the Roach. This is a heavy ground-hitter with the neat ability (with upgrade) to move underground. It takes researching two techs for that, though, and the good luck that by the time you can get them in play with both techs the enemy doesn’t have some method of detection (which is unlikely). Without the underground movement, the Roaches are still pretty strong. They’re roughly comparable to terran Marauders—only without the range, which makes them slightly disadvantaged against Terrans. They are a good counter to Zealots, however.
Hydralisks are slightly weaker than in the first game, which creates a problem for the Zerg as far as ranged attacks go. It is further compounded by the need to upgrade Overlords into Overseers to get a detector unit. Air, and in particular, Terran cloaked air. The new arrangment of air units for Zerg somewhat ameliorates this problem. Mutalisks no longer morph into other air; a second air unit, which starts as a strong anti-air can be morphed instead into the new version of the Guardian, the Brood Lord. This makes the Zerg a stronger air presence—but only if the player lasts that long. And, both Terrans and Protoss match the Zerg for late-game air, between the Void Rays of the Protoss and a good Battlecruiser/Viking mix for Terrans.
Overall, Zerg are now no better than the other races at rushing in the early game and at a clear disadvantage in the later game. Good Zerg players have to excel at micro gameplay and take advantage of quick expansions (300 minerals for an outpost rather than 4) to gain a resource advantage early, followed by unending attacks with the support of special units with special abilities like the Infector has, or the Overseer’s spawned Changelings for scouting enemy bases. Macro play can succeed with the Zerg—only if the player is left alone long enough to mass overwhelming numbers. Zerg defensive structures tend to crumple much too quickly.
In StarCraft 1, Protoss were a balanced race clear through the game, a little weak in the mid-game maybe, but the most powerful if allowed to get a good Carrier group going. In fact, 12 Carriers with one or two Observers and one or two Arbiters behind never failed me in online play. It was getting them that was hard.
In StarCraft 2: Wings of Liberty, the Protoss bafflingly have decided that Carriers are obsolete(?!), no longer use Arbiters at all, and now are switching over to a new capital ship, the Void Ray. This ship is on the one-hand, very overpowered. It is mid-upper range on cost, but hugely effective against buildings and other big/expensive units; once the ray charges up, it starts to inflict massive damage, quickly draining health or shields. On the flip side, it is extremely easy to defeat by either Terrans or Protoss. In the case of the Terrans, all you need is a medium-sized group of their basic military unit, the Marine. The Marine’s low health means the Void Ray never really gets its ray charged up, and the Marines quickly cut them down due to their middling health and shields.
One fairly effective strategy I’ve found is Void Rays plus Mothership—the new cloaking unit. It is super-slow, however, so you’re likely to get your base destroyed while you attack. Better hope it is a Zerg or Protoss you’re fighting! The Mothership can also temporarily remove a stack of enemies from play with its Vortex ability, or Recall friendly stacks to its location.
As an example, I saw a group of 20 or so Marines supported by two Medivacs wipe out 10 healthy Void Rays with few losses. Hmmm. Best to use them very carefully—that is, micromanage them for hit and run. The Protoss replacements for Dragoons, lost when Aiur fell, are Stalkers. This is one change I love, and it makes the Protoss a bit more unpredictable and useful in the early-mid game. Stalkers can “Blink” from one place to somewhere nearby. Much like the Terran Reapers, this lets them get places… unexpectedly.
Protoss Zealots have more units that counter them, now, so it is best to avoid massing them, even for rushes, without support. I’ve found that the best armies include Immortals (to soak damage from heavy hitters) and Collossi to wipe out ground armies. Be ready to micromanage every combat, though, for this strategy to work. Also, a rush with these two units is really not a rush at all, as to get them deployed we’re talking mid-game. Since most people online either rush or do special unit/ability BO (Build Order) rushes, this often isn’t feasible.
Overall, the Protoss are now a contender through the entire game—but like the Zerg, they are not a race easily done with macro as your playstyle. That leaves one race the clear winners thus far in Wings of Liberty: Terrans.
Terrans have always had the best defense. It ain’t easy to beat a bunker filled with Marines in the early game, especially with the support of Marauders. Can’t beat it if they get Siege Tanks behind it, unless you have air and they don’t. Even then, Marines are good anti-air, and most players quickly get their Command Center outfitted with Orbital Command for radar and MULES, so cloaked is a no-go.
Terrans have a number of effective rush strategies; Reaper rushes against the mineral line in enemy bases, cloaked Banshee rushes for the same or most anyplace if the enemy is a Zerg or Protoss without Phase Cannons up. Not to mention, with the Marauder the Terran dominates early rush gameplay as well. Four or so Marauders with a group of Marines is hugely effective for rushes. Throw in a Siege Tank and you can wipe out an enemy base effectively, and all your allies need do is keep the rest of the enemy team at bay until you reach the mineral line.
Later in the game the Terrans have Vikings for all purpose warfare, nukes for specialty if you want to micromanage with Ghosts and wipe out outposts, Medivacs for Marine/Marauder mass-rushes in the midgame (very hard to defend against that strategy unless you’re Terran, too).
Finally, Terran Battlecruisers are now the most powerful unit in the game. A small fleet can handle most anything, as they do good anti-air damage, have massive health, and also do really great anti-ground damage. Only specialty anti-air or anti-capital (Void Rays for Protoss, Corruptors for Zerg, Vikings for Terrans) seem really effective against them.
Overall, Terrans are strong throughout the game, and you can play them macro or micro as you see fit, quite effectively. That is probably why when you play online, typical 2v2 configurations are either Terran–Protoss, Terran-Random, or Terran–Terran. 3v3 is almost always Terran–Terran–Protoss. It is very rare to see anyone choose Zerg, and only occasionally is the split Protoss–Protoss–Terran. I did see one game where it was Protoss–Protoss–Protoss, though.
To wrap up this review, I’d just like to make a few quick observations on the nature of online play. In StarCraft 1, a strong defense was a good, even smart opener to the game, even on team melee. Not so in StarCraft 2. One player, even with good early defense, quickly crumples under the weight of a three man team rush. A two man rush is enough, really. Most maps for team play are too large to quickly reinforce an ally, so if you aren’t the first ones to get a rush in, as a team, the game is usually over. If you lose a teammate early in the game, it is nearly impossible to recover. I’ve seen it once out of 30 games in 2v2 and 3v3 so far.
What this means is that you better strike first. On the rare occasion where the enemy doesn’t rush at all and neither do you, it generally goes one of two ways. If you built up defense, they’re probably doing a special attack rush, in which case you’re still screwed. They’ll Reaper or Void Ray or cloaked Banshee your mineral line and that’s that. Very cost-effective. If, on the other hand, you work hard for your own specialty rush, it is once again a question of who strikes first and better.
Defense is no longer a valid option in the early and middle game, so be prepared. The possible exception to this is… yes, that’s right… Terrans. I can only hope that as the game continues, Blizzard will work to balance the races out for online play, as it is pretty frustrating to play the Zerg, who used to be beast at rushing only to find they’re now second-best at even that. It’s also frustrating that everyone and their brother (and mom, these days) plays 2/3 Terrans to a team. If you don’t match, you’re going to lose the majority of the time.
Chances are, the Zerg campaign with Heart of the Swarm will be when Blizzard brings them up to par. Probably then I’ll be complaining about Blizzard going too far with the Zerg. I do remember the early days of StarCraft 1 and the brutal rushes of Zerglings with no reprieve, so maybe we’ll see some changes sooner rather than later.
So I’m willing to give Blizzard the benefit of the doubt and hope they patch to balance things out before the second game. If not, I guess I, too, will stop playing my beloved Zerg and Protoss, and just be another guy Terran up the night.
As any good writer in the modern era will tell you, losing your work is just about the most frustrating thing imaginable, especially when it just came together perfectly.
Losing work that has been complete for some time because you overwrote and lost it is perhaps a problem more unique to coding, yet I find it to be equally frustrating.
I just lost a substantial chunk of work because it appeared that a file I thought might be in a directory wasn’t (a customized file version of the source in our Magento store; Magento has you save these customizations of base files in a separate directory so they are not lost during upgrades). Only it turns out the file had been there and either it didn’t show for some reason, or I just didn’t see it. Regardless, it got overwritten.
I can assure you, it is as if not more frustrating than lost writing. I have spent one of my few mornings off–mornings being the time when I feel creative and can tackle larger jobs on the business project–recovering lost work. I’ve had to re-learn all the associated files for the changes I need to remake and how they all work together, retrace my thinking and my steps, etc…
Which brings me to a lovely reminder of the first rule of writing: save often and backup your work. I’ve been keeping a log of what I’ve been changing and how, but not the actual code. That’s about to change… After the work I lost today, I’m saving the customized source files to my local drive from now on.
The humorous part is that I’ve now invested over fifteen hours in trying to solve a trivial issue: using Magento’s built-in WYSIWYG editor, bullet points don’t show up and extra spaces are added. I’ve stubbornly decided that this simply will not make for the best presentation of product descriptions, and doggedly continue to pursue fixing it. I think I know how, finally, and will try to implement the fix following my resuscitation of the proper product view layout.
Wish me luck.
So yes, a lovely start to the morning. I’m still hoping today to get a number of customizations in.
My good friend Alex and I have a running joke about how no means “double kill” in Latin. One day we were gaming together on our Xbox 360s, playing Modern Warfare 2, and I was having a really rough streak. I get a bit mouthy when I have a rough streak.
This particular match I started out a lousy 3 and 7 kills-deaths. The smack talk was in full swing. I wasn’t quite to “longshoreman” stage yet, but I was definitely talking up my game, trying to psych myself into better playing. “No way! Oh, that’s great. Spawn behind me. Totally fair, yeah. I’ma hafta throw you a beatin’, son.” I died again and decided it was time to pull out my trusty BoomBoom class:
Primary: ACR with M203 Grenade Launcher mounted
Special Grenade: Stun
Perk 1: Scavenger Pro
Perk 2: Danger Close Pro
Perk 3: Steady Aim Pro
Rounding a corner with the ol’ trusty noob tube at the ready, I started taking fire and matter-of-factly told the man shooting me, “No!” Standing in the middle of a chunk of airplane, looking toward the alley with the moving truck on Scrapyard, I fumbled my way back out of the deathtrap and waited ’til I recovered behind a cement block. This guy was about to be in a world of pain.
I stood up, went left, started taking fire. It was time to teach this fine fellow that, in point of fact, no means “no.” I peeked around the wreckage just long enough to lob a noob tube; it exploded just to the left of the staircase he was standing next to, just as I was saying, “no means–”
“Double kill?” Thus, no means “double kill” was born. Naturally, it must mean that in Latin, Alex and I determined.
Today, I worked a full day, came home tired, and did some work on my business site (here!). After lunch, I decided to play some Modern Warfare 2. I’ve done most everything, gotten all the way to 9th prestige with a respectable if not amazing 2.35 K/D, but I’ve never tried for a nuke. Today was the day, I decided.
First I finished getting my last two AC-130s for the challenge, then swtiched my Killstreaks to 7-11-25 (Harrier, Chopper Gunner, Tac Nuke). As luck would have it, the lobby I got plopped in was devoid of talent–save me, and my soon-to-be nemesis, MacX5077 or some similar combination of letters and numbers. When the first game on the new Resurgence Map Pack map Oil Field loaded and Mac proceeded to beat me to my favorite spot, killing me not once or twice, but thrice in a row–I knew this would be a worthy opponent to my nuclear ambitions.
I managed a Chopper Gunner, and Mac managed two Pavelows that match. Sadly, my CG came right at the end. No TacNuke for me. Several more matches went by with Mac and I leading our respective teams. Then, spoon of chunky Adams peanut butter in mouth, I watched Wasteland load and recalled two facts about this map:
A) I find it intensely frustrating
B) My best games have been on Wasteland, including my highest streak of kills (33).
Mac, as I was about to learn, was even better as a sniper on Wasteland than he had been as a running, stabbing, silenced rifle-firing stealth-ninja on Oil Field. Rounding the starting berm from the statue/church side, heading right, I plopped down by the busted tank nearest the turrets and got ready to snipe some of the brash people I could see up along the center brushline, making a beeline as several players always will for the bunker in the center. Too late I saw Mac’s outline by the corner of the small building on the outside of the map; too late I scoped and fired, my hasty shot of the M21 clipping his shoulder. His silenced Barrett .50 Cal made a lovely sound as the bullet passed through my cranium. Great start to the match.
Several more exchanges like this occurred, each with me doing my best to end Mac’s killstreak he was building, each with Mac sniping my face. My face doesn’t like being sniped, no sirree.
The other team was holding the bunker, and I was excelling at being mediocre along with my team, resting at a superb 5-4 when Mac managed to sneak up behind me–I’m quite certain I had a teammate there moments before, but such is the fickle nature of TDM teammates–and knife me in the ankle.
This stirred the wrath of the great Doigey (yes, that’s my Gamertag). Time for some ‘tube, just like any other time I get too annoyed and someone needs to -pay-.
The bunker became a killzone quite quickly under my reign of fire: noob, RPG, noob, RPG, scavenge, scavenge, noob, RPG, noob, RPG… A lucky RPG got me a double kill, which earned me my Harrier.
Even luckier, I watched with excitement as the same conditions began to set up as when I’d got my best killstreak (the same as my friend Steve got on his best, too, same map and everything): first, my team forced them out of the bunker. Second, they pooled up together away from any buildings or cover. And third, my Harrier got the requisite 4 kills I needed. It was clobberin’ time.
I found a safe hiding place by laying down next to a stand of trees and brush on the side with the busted tanks: Chopper Gunner away! Just as I’d hoped, they were still away from any cover. Right away I started building up double kills and spawn kills, and either nobody had a Stinger equipped, or they died too quickly, because I soon earned Crab Meat and a number of other challenges.
“No… means… TACTICAL NUKE! Oh YEAH!” I struggled with my impulse to keep going with the Chopper Gunner, maybe try and break my killstreak. I didn’t know how many kills were left, so I decided I’d let them shoot me down. They managed, and I rewarded their efforts with some plutonium.
The last name on the list of enemy dead was my nemesis, Mac. Eat it, Mac; you’re radioactive. And remember: No means “Tactical Nuke!”