Gaming Chez M

Last month I was locked in to Skyrim as game of choice. I haven’t completed the game by any stretch when talking about the DLC options, but I think I reached saturation levels recently.

That’s why I took advantage of a recent sale and bought Mass Effect: Andromeda. I have to admit I didn’t buy it when it came out for two reasons. Firstly it was bloody expensive. Secondly my news feeds were full of muttering about animation glitches and lackluster reviews.

This sale brought it down to half price for one of the digital deluxe editions, so I thought it would be rude not to now, especially when there had been ample opportunities for patching updates. 

We also found a gift card that Lady M had got from work, so we picked out a couple of games for her – one of which was Steep (and it’s Season Pass) – a snow sports game with more than few nods towards her favourite game series: SSX.

As I am currently working a bit closer to home this month, I’m often back before she is, so I’m grabbing an hour or so of Andromeda a day. Then after we’ve eaten and caught up on some shows, it’s Lady M’s turn to create some virtual havoc of her own.

So – Mass Effect is… Rather appealing actually. I’ve described it to a couple of people as space opera with heart – not just for the usual Bioware diverse dating options for characters – but for its themes of family, loyalty, and building a future. This (so far) is in stark contrast to the original stories with had an almost Lovecraftian horrors to the struggles of the characters against literally monolithic and uncaring alien entities intent on consuming whole species without care for the individual.

In this iteration there’s more of a Wild West feel of building from the rubble of shattered dreams and the formation of new chances. Yes there are uncaring lyrics aggressive alien machines and a mystery of godlike technologies to unravel, and all new alien races adjusting to your arrival on the scene. At every turn you are reminded that humanity is the invader here and it’s your choice as to how you take things from there.

And that appeals to me – along with the hugely open world maps that are, frankly, gorgeous and full of things to discover.

Yes, there are elements that bug me: not all scene animations are skippable, but enough are to not be too much of an issue. In addition, unlike many games, it’s not possible to boost past dialogue to get tot the decision points. I read a lot faster than the characters talk, and so while it’s a minor gripe it has got me sometimes tapping my fingers and willing the characters to just hurry up – oh and some of the idling animations while characters talk are a bit limited and don’t seem always suited to where they are and what they’re doing. It’s small things that generally I can handwave, except when I can’t. 

No biggie.

Steep, by contrast, caters to Lady M’s adrenaline junkie side with snowboarding, skiing, wingsuits, sleds, and more all available for her to use to throw herself down virtual mountain tops. It’s an unforgiving game with some truly unpleasant sound effects and ragdoll animations when her avatar hits the ground/snow/rocks/trees/buildings at speed, awkward angles, or both.

But visually it’s a feast, and when she overcomes the urge to rage-quit the skill challenge has her gripped and determined to win.

Which frees me up to write more. Because I’m not too proud to distract her when a story is rattling in my skull…

So yay, gaming wins all round at our place.

Book Review: The Devil’s Detective – Simon Kurt Unsworth

I picked this book up on a whim, and after a couple of false starts I was able to devote some time to this dense police procedural set in Hell. I’m glad I persevered with it.

Hell, as depicted here, is definitely other people. The days of burning brimstone are long gone, and instead a crushing and labyrinthine Bureaucracy exists. The Damned don’t remember why they are here, only that they deserve the brutality of demons and crushing banality and squalor around them. 

Our protagonist, Thomas Fool, is one of Hell’s Information Men, tasked with solving or at least reporting on crimes committed against humans. There’s usually no resolutions or punishments and it’s another thankless and unending task that is as much a punishment as anyone else’s.

Brutalised bodies start cropping up, an angelic delegation is in town on an inspection and to administer a lottery of souls to be released from Hell, and Thomas knows that all eyes are on him.

The violence is grisly and the misery unrelenting, and yet like Dante’s Inferno there are new visions and even a beauty in the unfolding structure. I feared I was in for an extended short story by someone who had read too much Neil Gaiman, but I was relieved that instead there was an individual voice and inventiveness at play. This is a story that puts it’s own stamp on the tone and narrative.

There’s some intriguing world building here, and I was pleased that it wasn’t spoon-fed to me, leaving room for ambiguity and inquisitiveness to match that of the weary narrator and protagonist. Not every plot twist was a complete surprise, but by the same token nothing felt entirely pulled from a hat, staying in keeping with the established rules of the setting.

What was a pleasant (for lack of a better word) turn of events were the changes to the status quo along the way that served to underline the treacherous nature of Hell. I’m torn between wanting more books in this setting and being happy with it as a standalone tale.

Over all, an engaging read once I got to grips with it, with unrelenting misery that serves a purpose. Four out of five pitchforks.

Dust 514 Beta

With the universe’s typical sense of timing my laptop has died a glorious Final Death just as my invitation to the Dust 514 closed beta came through. With the aid of my trusty smart phone though I was able to confirm my registered address and gain access so with little else to distract me this morning, here are my first impressions of the Dust 514 closed beta.

It’s good. I’m rarely this enthusiastic about betas but this has very much got that “one more go” factor. As a longtime EVE player I was wondering how it would translate to a console environment but the more I see, the more intrigued I am.

The very first thing you are invited to do is create a character – and all the EVE races and tribes/families are here. The only difference is that instead of choosing what style of pilot you want to be, you are choosing effectively between scout/recon, rifleman/general brawler and heavy weapons/anti vehicle specialities.

The genius is that you are not locked into those careers. You spend skill points on buying skills exactly as you do in EVE so can buy the other skills later, or specialise in the weapons, electronics, engineering and suits of your original race. The interface for suits and vehicles will be very familiar to EVE players, essentially being the same, and I fully expect sites like Battle Clinic to start comparing Dust 514 fittings and advice amid mutterings about CPU and Power restrictions and the wishes for “just one more slot”.

And yes, you accrue points over time as you do in EVE, but in Dust 514 you gain them even faster by jumping into firefights, killing people and taking objectives.

The in-game explanation for respawns is that, in a similar way to the EVE capsuleers, the Dust 514 mercenaries are clones. This has a tactical effect in that you may, depending on game-type, have only a limited number of clones, and the opposing forces are able to target and eliminate your clone banks.

Dust 514 uses the Unreal engine, and does so smoothly. I’ve so far had no issues with lag on my residential BT Internet connection, and it’s interesting that as my skills and fittings change I am noticing gameplay effects such as speed and ranged accuracy.

The one thing that’s giving me pause is the ability to use Aurum to buy game-affecting gear, implants and boosters. I’m not a fan of pay to win schemes, and CCP got badly bitten by subscribers last year over this.

That said, I suspect the more monetized and casual Dust 514 gamer audience will be more relaxed about it, and as far as I can tell the advantages are slight enough and cosmetic enough that experienced gamers won’t be overshadowed. All the same it does put my teeth slightly on edge, and I’ll post more as I see the effects in-game.

In general then my reactions to my first 36 hours in Dust 514 are favourable and I think they’re on to a winner.