Welcome to the Dark Side

One of my most memorable gaming experiences was the final choice in the Imperial Agent quest for Star Wars: The Old Republic. Not long being free of my “attachment” to World of Warcraft, I had decided not to play SWTOR. I didn’t want to get sucked into another MMO. But my husband bought it, and my resolve lasted for the thirty minutes I watched him play.

Even though I caved and bought the game and a six-month subscription, I never really got into the MMO part. While my friends were swinging their lightsabers around and apparently saving the galaxy I decided to explore the dark side. I chose the Imperial Agent story because it sounded interesting. Also, the voice actor for the IA sounded pretty sexy. I loved the story for all its twists and turns, but more so, I enjoyed the discovery that a universe famous for being black and white was really all shades of gray. Continue reading “Welcome to the Dark Side”

Ooh, Shiny!

My first impressions of Dragon Age: Inquisition, spoiler free.

About every two years a game costs just a bit more than the cover price. A new video card is required, or your power supply conks out, or you need a new fan…or, in the case of Dragon Age: Inquisition, a new motherboard, processor (DA:I requires a quad core) and, sure, let’s grab some more memory while my wallet is open. So I had to wait a couple of weeks to throw myself back into the world of Thedas. During those two and a half weeks, I successfully avoided all spoilers but one. I kept reading about shiny hair. Apparently, despite the fact the WORLD IS IN PERIL, everyone has had time to apply product to their hair.

A devout role player, I selected a skull trim for my first Insquisitor. I often play nearly bald male characters because the choices of hair are always awful, not to mention the fact ponytails never stir in the breeze and a more elaborate ‘do just isn’t practical when the WORLD IS IN PERIL. So Maxwell Trevelyan entered Thedas with a smattering of freckles, deep blue eyes and a pleasing lack of shiny hair—only to confront Cassandra, whose hair reflected the light of a thousand suns. Andraste’s flaming sword, her hair was so shiny, it cast a glow upon Maxwell’s lips.

I soon realised that his lips would always glisten, regardless of available light.

The Frostback Mountains are cold. There is snow everywhere. Frozen lakes groan beneath the rime. I would have cautioned Max against licking his lips in such temperatures, but I never actually saw his tongue swipe his glossy mouth. Something else was making his lips shine. Sensibly, I could assume he carried a tub of rendered animal fat (no cherry Chapsticks in Thedas). He was rather a pretty boy and obviously preferred not to let his lips chap. But I was going for realism here. I couldn’t have Max halting the Inquisition to reapply his lip gloss.

In a desperate attempt to adjust the lumen rating of everyone’s hair, I turned to the ‘net for advice and stumbled across a very good, spoiler free article on Kotaku, Tips For Playing Dragon Age: Inquisition. There I learned how to adjust the mesh setting, thus stealing the blinding highlights from everyone’s hair. Unfortunately, the only fix for Max’s lips was to abandon him in Haven and start afresh. Seeing as I had spent two hours swearing at the combat system “improvements”—why, oh why do developers need to tweak the combat in each and every installment of the game?—I happily returned to the drawing board. Sorry, Max.

Say hello to Felix.

Felix Ingesson Trevelyan
Felix Ingesson Trevelyan

I dialed the “lip shine”—really, BioWare?—down to zero, chose a hair style that didn’t suck, dotted his face with freckles, because he’s kind of a ginger and that just happens, tweaked the inner and outer iris colour to achieve a green that’s probably not really possible in real life, and then played with his nose and chin until they looked no different from when I had started. Honestly, you could spend hours in the character creation section. BUT, to my dismay, you are given very little choice regarding class.

One of my favourite aspects of Dragon Age: Origins was the dual wield warrior. A DW warrior is the perfect example of why the DA:O character creation was so awesome. I generally like to play a rogue, with daggers, please. DA:O not only allowed you to train your rogue in a mind boggling number of ways, but you could also play a warrior who functioned very much like a rogue—less tricky, but with more hit points, which could be handy if you were the only man standing near the end of a fight. You could design a true scrapper, and that’s a role I relished through my umpteen playthroughs.

Leveling involved spending points—as it does in Inquisition—but those points could be spread over a number of skills that further specialised your character. You could make a stealthy/sneaky rogue. A persuasive warrior. A pickpocket and thief. Add enough points to dexterity and you could master dual swords. Two swords! Throw enough willpower behind a warrior and they refused to be knocked down in a fight.

The new system of character creation and leveling is easier, I suppose…

Combat has been tweaked again. I had a hard time maneuvering Max during combat, so much so that my party kept dying in the first boss fight, which occurs before they even splash the title of the game across the screen. Ridiculous, right? Now and again in my gaming career I have come across that one fight that stalls my progress for days. I’ve even had to abandon a couple of games there, knowing that I’ll never get beyond that point. To have that happen before a game truly got started was a little disheartening (no, I did not want to turn the difficulty down, generally I enjoy challenging combat).

I figured out the problem. The A and D keys on the mouse have been mapped so that your character looks from side to side. To actually move side to side, you need to click and hold with the mouse. Doing so while using a mouse button during combat is…hard. I’m forty-six, and I’ve just never been that coordinated. You can strafe using the Q and E keys, but teaching my fingers to dive up and to the side when they’ve been trained to WASD for years is beyond me. So, I remapped my keyboard. I now strafe using A and D and if I am struck with the urge to actually look side to side, I can use Q and E for that.

The difference is amazing. Felix suffered no more than a flesh wound up until four and a half hours into the game when I approached a rift I wasn’t quite ready for. My party died a horrible death. I did try to follow the on screen prompts for resurrection with the last remaining party members, then I tried to run. I was cut down without mercy.

I have yet to play with the party combat tactics. That’s next on my “to do” list as I start to engage in battles that require a little more than pointing and clicking. Then I’ll continue exploring this gorgeous new world.

Now that I’ve stumbled through the first couple of hours, I have very few expectations for the game. I’d like to see the story started in Origins brought to a convincing close, and that’s about it. I know Inquisiton will be fun because it’s a BioWare game and I usually find them both playable and entertaining. I’m delighted by the return to Ferelden, even though it makes me nostalgic for characters I role played on a forum four years. My writing partner, Jenn, and I talked about what our boys might be doing now, some elven years after the Fifth Blight. We decided they are happily retired and blissfully unaware of current events. Some characters deserve a happy ever after, don’t they? Speaking of which, Felix takes his name from my hero in our upcoming book Chaos Station (Carina Press, March 2, 2015). When I showed him to Jenn, she created his counterpart, Zander, who is her hero in our book.

Zander Damainos Anatolius Trevelyan
Zander Damainos Anatolius Trevelyan

These characters owe their inception to Dragon Age: Origins and the years of role play we participated in afterwards, so it seems only fitting that my first proper playthrough pays homage to that heritage.

Review: Mass Effect Foundation (#8)

MEFND8CoverThe beginning of the eighth issue of Mass Effect: Foundation deals with the aftermath of Kai Leng and Agent Rasa’s failure to capture Jack in the previous issue. The tension between them seems worse than the repercussions of their failure. Kai Leng’s facial expressions here are so well drawn! Between that and his posture, his fury is clearly evident and somewhat reminiscent of the Kai Leng fans will remember from later in the game.

The pair return to the Minuteman Station where Leng is ordered to depart again, right away, to attend a summons by the Illusive Man. Rasa is introduced to the Lazarus Project where she learns the value of the intel she has gathered on Commander Shepard.

We get a glimpse of Shepard here, and it’s not pretty, neither is the suggestion about how they restored his body. In order to complete the project, however, they need more information. Agent Rasa is dispatched to the Citadel to steal classified records from the Spectre’s offices. The assignment is one of an all but impossible nature and it turns out to be as difficult as she expected. With a little help from a mysterious drell assassin, she might survive.

mefnd8p2
Preview the comic at Dark Horse.

This is my favourite issue so far. The flagging momentum as the pieces of the story are collected in previous issues really picks up as we learn the purpose of Agent Rasa’s research. Her own difficulties–the rivalry with Kai Leng and the mission to the Citadel–kick the story into high gear. The hint regarding Shepard’s recovery delivers an emotional punch.

The art didn’t distract me this time, either. There are a few panels where I had a hard time figuring out what was going on, but in general, the action is portrayed well and there are lots of lovely close ups of emotional expressions that are very nicely done.

With only three issues remaining, Mass Effect: Foundation is finally delivering on its promise. Now they just have to keep the momentum going.

Written for SFCrowsnest.

Review: Mass Effect: Foundation (#7)

MEFndtn7CoverFinally, it’s the of ‘Mass Effect: Foundation‘ comic I have been waiting for. Number seven, or Jack’s issue. Jack is a companion and possible love interest for the main character, Commander Shepard, in the game Mass Effect 2. She also appears in Mass Effect 3.

Jack, formerly known as Subject Zero, is a powerful biotic with a tortured past. She was ‘acquired’ as a child by Cerberus and subjected to terrible experiments aimed at producing a human biotic with exceptional power. A biotic has an element in their bloodstream that allows them to move matter with a gesture and a thought.

In the comic, Jack breaks into a Cerberus training facility. After dealing with the administrator, she attempts to liberate the students, most of whom believe they are orphans. Given Cerberus’ tactics, they probably are. Jack shares a snippet of her past in order to motivate the students to move.

Kai Leng and Agent Rasa are dispatched by the Illusive Man to pick her up. Rasa notes the Blue Suns have been sent in as backup, which seems unusual, until she discovers exactly what she is up against with Subject Zero. In Mass Effect 2, Kai Leng proves a difficult (and annoying) foe. In this comic, Jack tosses him around like a toy and there’s a certain sense of satisfaction to be gained from seeing it.

I’m not sure how this snippet of Jack’s past ties in with the over all story arc of the series. Perhaps there will be some mention in a later issue.

On to the art. I like the cover, but the first image of Jack inside makes me cringe. She looks too baby-faced and unless you know her torso is covered in tattoos, you’d think she’s wearing a chaotically patterned jumpsuit. Granted, her tattoos are hard to draw and quite often throughout the comic, artist Garry Brown suggests rather than paints. That seems indicative of his style, in fact. A lot of the panels lack details such as faces and attitude engraved with thicker lines. I don’t mind the style; it suits the busier panels and with the features of so many characters being less distinct, there is less fault to find.

Over all, this is one of the least satisfying issues in the series, thus far. I learned nothing new about my favourite companion, Jack, and the adventure did not advance the greater story arc. Still, I will doggedly continue with issue number eight in the hopes my persistence will pay off.

Written for SFCrowsnest.

Review: Mass Effect: Foundation (#6)

MEFND6Cover Mass Effect: Foundation by Mac Walters (Writer) and Matthew Clarke (Artist).

Mass Effect: Foundation is a series of thirteen comics that explore the back stories of the companions encountered by Commander Shepard, the hero of the video game series Mass Effect.

In the previous issue, Miranda and Jacob set out to collect intel regarding the whereabouts of Commander Shepard’s body. Issue 6 picks up that story. Miranda is captured and Jacob is wounded. The plucky street kid from the last issue comes to the rescue, providing Jacob with a place to rest up, information on the whereabouts of his partner and the weapons to pull off a rescue. Her assistance costs a little more than cash. The Batarian thugs are holding her aunt as well.

Jacob gets to play the hero in this issue. Miranda, the damsel in distress. She doesn’t do distress well. In this particular instance, however, there are too many names to take, so she has to sit back and wait for rescue.

The story is all action and reasonably satisfying for it, especially as it’s a matter of all’s well that ends well. If you’ve played the Mass Effect games, that is not a spoiler. I did get the sense Mac Walters wanted to give Jacob a chance to shine. Might be too little, too late, though. The game is done and no amount of back story and previous heroics is going to make him more interesting. Then again, with the more details of his recruitment to Cerberus, he might flesh out a bit more in game.

What really lets this comic down is the art. It’s not bad art. The proportions are great, anatomy is spot on. The Batarians are really well-drawn, the panels convey action well enough. What’s missing is emotion. The faces are a bit simplified at times. The most disappointing aspect, however, is that Jacob still just doesn’t look like Jacob and Miranda doesn’t look like Miranda.

Mass Effect has an almost, no, a verifiably rabid fan base. There is a tonne of fan art out there. Comics, too. A good number of them have better depictions of all the companions. Still, as a dedicated fan of the non-rabid variety, I will continue to read these comics. Jack’s ‘Foundation’ story is coming up and that is one I do not want to miss.

Written for and originally posted at SFCrowsnest.