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Dénouement 2017: The Disappointments

By Shamus
on Tuesday Dec 26, 2017
Filed under:
Video Games


A year is a long time, but sometimes there just isn’t enough time to complain about all the things that need to be complained about. I do what I can, but the world is a never-ending onslaught of mild annoyances and trivial slights that need to be pointed out and cataloged. Sometimes the end of the year comes and suddenly I realize there was a bunch of stuff that bugged me without telling anyone about it.

Obviously that just won’t do. If something sucks, or if it’s just inadequate, or maybe it’s less awesome than it was supposed to be, or if it was awesome but it was awesome in a different way than anticipated, then we need to make note of the shortcoming. Otherwise, how can the industry improve? This is the seventh year in a row I’ve done this kind of retrospective, and after all this time I’ve orchestrated exactly zero industry-wide improvements. Obviously this means I’m not complaining hard enough.

So let’s get started!


I LOVE the chunky art style. Too bad about the gameplay, though.

I LOVE the chunky art style. Too bad about the gameplay, though.

People who anticipated Good Robot and were then disappointed should consider themselves avenged. STRAFE disappointed me in exactly the same way, and for the same reasons.

It’s a roguelike that severely punishes mistakes, built around what is supposed to be action gameplay. It’s a game where you can’t afford to take damage, and yet the most fun way to play – and indeed how the marketing suggests you should play – is recklessly. It’s a game that begs you to play fast and crazy and then punishes you for doing so. If you actually want to get anywhere then the most expedient way of doing so is to move slow, peek around corners, funnel foes through choke points, and never dash out into the open.

The developers said they intended the game to be played fast, and that you just need to “git gud”. And it’s true! If you “git gud” then your chances of making it through the game alive do go up and you’re more likely to survive engagements where you’re attacked from all sides. However, no matter how gud you git, cautious play will always be less risky than reckless play. In this game, enemies hit hard and health is very hard to come by. All it takes is one foe to blindside you to turn a promising run into a doomed one.

The game is divided into four sections. The first is a Quake II-style industrial space. The second is twisting caverns that I really, really hated with a passion. The third is a sort of quasi-residential area that’s a bit like the Hong Kong section of Deus Ex – it doesn’t actually look like a city, but it can sort of remind you of one if you squint. The final one is a high tech science lab.

I missed par by one second. Drat the luck.

I missed par by one second. Drat the luck.

Given that this is a roguelike, you die a lot. So you start over a lot. So I played for ages in the first area, for a brief time in the second, rarely saw the third, and saw the final area only once. With every death I realized I’d have to repeat the now-boring first area, the miserable second, and then after a good half hour or so I’d be back to the interesting bits of the game.

“But Shamus, that’s how roguelikes work!”

True. But not all roguelikes are created equal. Some get boring faster than others. STRAFE got boring fast.

But what really ruined it for me is the teleport system. Like Spelunky, you’re supposed to be able to unlock a shortcut so you can begin a run in one of the later areas to avoid exactly the problem I outlined above. However, in all my dozens of games I never managed to unlock any of them. The game doesn’t explain what you need to do AT ALL. But even once you read the forums and someone explains it, you learn the whole thing is tied to random drops. I spent hours walking around the early levels, hunting for the last teleport bit. What am I looking for? What does it look like? What are the odds of it appearing? How will I know I’ve found it and how can I tell it from all the other random unexplained crap your character picks up?

Probably the best nod to the 90s: A bathroom with a reflective mirror. Remember mirrors? Now games put a panel of brushed steel where a mirror would go and they somehow think we won't notice.

Probably the best nod to the 90s: A bathroom with a reflective mirror. Remember mirrors? Now games put a panel of brushed steel where a mirror would go and they somehow think we won't notice.

I was enduring boredom now, hoping to spare myself more boredom in the future, and I had no idea if I’d need to play one more game or a thousand to get what I needed.

STRAFE was a cool idea for a game and I love procedurally generated spaces, but it wasn’t fun to play. I’d much rather have a non-roguelike version that just played like Quake II, which is what the advertising and styling seem to suggest you’re in for. The game is supposed to be a love letter to the classic run-n-gun shooters of the 1990s, but it punished you for playing the game that way. It was a complete contradiction in the design that basically drove the whole thing into the ground. Doom 2016 did a much better job of capturing the frantic, high-speed action STRAFE seems to be aiming for.

What a shame. I really wanted to like this thing.

The Decline of BioWare

I like the generic space marine vibe I'm getting here, but is there anything we can do to make exploring distant galaxies LESS interesting?

I like the generic space marine vibe I'm getting here, but is there anything we can do to make exploring distant galaxies LESS interesting?

I didn’t play Mass Effect: Andromeda. Yes, I heard the game was a disappointing grind wrapped around a lukewarm story full of paper-thin characters and conveyed via cringe-inducing dialog. But I couldn’t bring myself to play it and I didn’t have the heart to tear apart another Mass Effect game. Whatever kind of science fiction they were trying to tell in BioWare Montreal, it’s not the kind of sci-fi I’m looking for.

EA closed Bioware Montreal after the disappointing launch of the game. I imagine this is the end of the Mass Effect brand. After Mass Effect 3 painted the entire setting into a corner with an ending everyone hated, it wasn’t clear where the series could go next. If anyone had thought to ask me I would have suggested wiping the slate clean and using the Mass Effect name as a kind of stylistic brand, similar to how Final Fantasy works. But instead they tried to build on the crumbling foundation that is the Mass Effect universe, which saddled the writers with a bunch of additional obligations. This was their one chance to resuscitate the brand, and it ended in humiliation and failure.

The EA meatgrinder is almost done digesting BioWare. Anthem is their hail-Mary pass. It’s evidently trying to muscle in on the niche Destiny has created. Ignoring the fact that Destiny already exists and the world doesn’t seem hungry for another, I don’t know that the team known for dialog wheels and morality meters is the right team to bring a Destiny clone to life. From where I sit it looks like EA has the wrong team working on a game nobody needs, in pursuit of a trend invented by someone else. That is so very EA.

Wolfenstein: The New Colossus

I THINK BJ is supposed to look badass here, but he looks like he's about to cry. Is it just me?

I THINK BJ is supposed to look badass here, but he looks like he's about to cry. Is it just me?

Spoiler: This game also made my 2017 “best-of” list. How could a game make my list of favorite games of 2017 and yet also be a disappointment? Part of the problem is the wobbly technology that had the game running very poorly – or not at all – for a lot of users. The rest of the problem is more complicated to explain, which is why I’m going to give this game a long-form write-up. My New Colossus series will start when my Borderlands series ends in about a month.

I realize I usually don’t analyze games until at least a year after release, but I have a few reasons for covering it early in its lifecycle. I realize this might limit the appeal of it. Most people prefer to play through a game before reading a long series on it, and Colossus is too young to go on sale. Sorry.

Shadow of War

I knew Middle Earth personally, and you sir are no Middle-Earth.

I knew Middle Earth personally, and you sir are no Middle-Earth.

Okay, I need to get this off of my chest: I hate the entire idea of Shadow of War. I hate the game from conception to execution. I hate its design, I hate its marketing, I hate its sophomoric story, and I find the entire work to be a disgusting, infantile bastardization of one of the greatest works of fiction of the 20th century, and probably one of the greatest works in the English language.

At the very heart of Lord of the Rings is this idea that power is fundamentally dangerous and corruptive, and that you can’t overcome evil through the use of cunning, violence, and death, but instead it must be overcome through love, compassion, mercy, and self-sacrifice. This sets the universe apart from most other works in the same genre. Sure, sometimes you’ll get a story where the hero has to eschew power in order to avoid corrupting themselves in the process of overcoming evil, but in the world of Lord of the Rings this dynamic is built into the fundamental assumptions of the world itself. Compassion isn’t just how you defeat evil without losing yourself, it’s the only way to defeat evil at all.

I hate how they used this setting as a vehicle for a boring-ass dude to begin a self-indulgent campaign of slaughterYes, I’m aware we’re supposed to see Talion’s actions as “evil”, but it’s all hollow lip service. The audience is never fearful of using this power and they’re never made to feel regret for doing so. The writer pays lip service to the themes of LotR while holding them in contempt.. I hate how they turn the dreadful and loathsome spider Shelob into a hottie so they could have some tits to put in their trailerYes, I’m aware they probably have nuanced excuses for this move, but let’s call a spade a spade. This change wasn’t about worldbuilding, it was about marketing.. I hate how this single-player game was designed to incorporate pay-to-win loot boxesYes, I’m aware that you don’t “need” them to get through the game. This doesn’t make them okay.. I hate how people always respond to these objections by telling me how fun the Nemesis System is, as if that made it okay to spit on this story I love so much. And most of all I hate how this story pretends to revere the source material in superficial ways while holding in contempt the very things that made the source books so profound and uniqueNo, I didn’t play Shadow of War. MAYBE the author turned it all around and redeemed Shadow of Mordor, but I wouldn’t bet on it..

Yeah, just in case you missed the whole “Shelob is a lady now”…

Left: Shelob. Right: Some dumb bimbo.

Left: Shelob. Right: Some dumb bimbo.

Note also the plain art style, the overuse of color filter that drains the contrast out of the scene, and the too-shiny skin shader so typical of videogames these days. It’s one thing to turn Shelob into a sexy lady, it’s another to do so with such a profound lack of skill and imagination.

But really, Shelob is a minor problem with the game. If they nailed the basic vibe of the world – or even if they got within one or two astronomical units of it – then I might be more forgiving of the compromises made in the name of marketability. Then again: Since when is Lord of the Rings “unmarketable”? Jackson’s trilogy was a culture-wide blockbuster. How little do the developers think of us that they feel the need to “make LotR cool” for us?

“Hey Shamus, you know you don’t OWN Lord of the Rings, right? Authors aren’t obligated to to make all their stories for you. That’s the whole point of adaptations – to do something new with them! Lots of people love this game even though it doesn’t follow your peculiar Middle-Earth orthodoxy!”

All true. And I’m glad for the people who enjoy Shadow of War. The developers paid for this license and they’re free to do what they like with it. But I’m allowed to have an opinion, and if they were hoping to please Tolkien fans like me then they whiffed about as badly as you possibly can. I find the game, gross, offensive, and base. Look, I like Bulletstorm, but I wouldn’t want to see someone make Bulletstorm using the universe of 2001: A Space Odyssey. I’m not against base art, but I am against literary vandalism perpetrated in the name of marketing. To quote another famous work of fiction:

To the last I grapple with thee; from hell’s heart I stab at thee; for hate’s sake I spit my last breath at thee. Thy game is shite. 0/10.

Next week we’ll talk about the good stuff of 2017.


[1] Yes, I’m aware we’re supposed to see Talion’s actions as “evil”, but it’s all hollow lip service. The audience is never fearful of using this power and they’re never made to feel regret for doing so. The writer pays lip service to the themes of LotR while holding them in contempt.

[2] Yes, I’m aware they probably have nuanced excuses for this move, but let’s call a spade a spade. This change wasn’t about worldbuilding, it was about marketing.

[3] Yes, I’m aware that you don’t “need” them to get through the game. This doesn’t make them okay.

[4] No, I didn’t play Shadow of War. MAYBE the author turned it all around and redeemed Shadow of Mordor, but I wouldn’t bet on it.

Comments (188)

  1. MichaelG says:

    “stuff that bugged me without you telling anyone about it.” Without ‘me’ telling anyone about it?

  2. Mephane says:

    The EA meatgrinder is almost done digesting BioWare. Anthem is their hail-Mary pass. It's evidently trying to muscle in on the niche Destiny has created. Ignoring the fact that Destiny already exists and the world doesn't seem hungry for another, I don't know that the team known for dialog wheels and morality meters is the right team to bring a Destiny clone to life. From where I sit it looks like EA has the wrong team working on a game nobody needs, in pursuit of a trend invented by someone else. That is so very EA.

    I was actually looking forward to Anthem because I think we could definitely need more games like that. I say “was”, however, playing Destiny 2 myself now has not changed that for me. What did change that for me is the whole BF2 lootbox debacle. I fully expect Anthem to be designed entirely around lootboxes in pretty much the same manner as BF2.

    • Phill says:

      Is never played destiny, because it seemed rather shallow and more shootery than I like, but I was intrigued by the possibility of Anthem: it sounded like it had potential to be a destiny clone changed in ways that made it more appealing to me.

      But given the recent lot box controversies, I don’t think there’s any way in buying it now while EA are in any way connected to it.

    • Bloodsquirrel says:

      The real problem is that Bioware is not Bungie. Destiny’s success has been built off of having shooting mechanics so fundamentally solid that they can have players happily running the same missions over and over again to grind for gear to advance a storyline that was, at launch, completely incoherent. The entire structure and format of a game like Destiny requires that kind of mechanical expertise; you can get a player to re-play a level over and over again because it’s fun, but story doesn’t have the same kind of power.

      Bioware is not that good. No matter how much they’d like to be, they’ve yet to create a game that encroached on the top-tier shooters’ territory. When Andromeda failed in the areas that were traditionally Bioware’s strengths, their combat was not good enough to make the game successful anyway. If they can’t manage that, they have no business trying to make Destiny clone.

      • King Marth says:

        As a Warframe player, this finally gave me the reasoning to why those two games are compared beyond the shallow “both sci-fi” which you’d think would apply just as easily to Mass Effect. Warframe’s run and gun is just fun to play, so the long grind to get and max out new weapons and warframes (not just level to ‘max’, but Forma/prestige/NG+ them) is really there to ensure you have a reason to enjoy the gameplay.

        Until devs mess up with spawn/drop rates and produce an area with several orders of magnitude more rewards than anything challenging in the game. Perfect example of extrinsic motivation replacing intrinsic.

    • BlueHorus says:

      I fully expect Anthem to be designed entirely around lootboxes in pretty much the same manner as BF2.

      I’d…be surprised at that, given the outcry over SWBFII’s lootboxes. I’d be willing to bet the game started out with that design brief – ‘lootboxes make all the money, put lootboxes in it!’ – but now there’s ben such an outcry, EA/Bioware may well backpedal over it.

      Which means my money’s on a hastily-reworked game that’s been fundamentally changed halfway through production. Look closely and you’ll be able to see the point where they changed their minds and tried to make it something else.

      • AdamS says:

        So, exactly like Destiny 1, then.

      • Sleeping Dragon says:

        Oh trust me they are not going to give this up, definitely not for a multiplayer game. Maybe, and that’s a huge maybe, they’ll drop the lootboxes for the initial release planning to introduce them later, and maybe the game will die before they’re introduced but I’m willing to bet lootboxes* are still very much in the cards. Most likely they’ll act along the lines that the current lootbox issues are purely a matter of marketing.

        To be fair my current MMO had something akin to lootboxes since launch (about 5-6 years). the contents are generally unbound and so available through the auction house, there is also an exchange of in-game currency for the premium currency. The community has occasionally grumbled about something being in the lockbox but seems generally content with this solution.

        *My personal theory is that we’ll see a strong push for “resource packs”, something that will give players resources to cut through the grind but will not be randomized and so avoid the gambling association. Again, not a new idea but it’s all in the execution and how predatory the implementation is, of course mileage varies. That said I doubt EA has the reaction time to go that route in Anthem.

        • Falterfire says:

          Resource Packs sound like a pretty good bet, and although they don’t offer quite the same level of potential for exploits, I think you could get a lot of people through a pretty simple system:

          1) Have bosses/events randomly drop blueprints for new weapons
          2) There blueprints need resources that also drop from various enemies or events throughout the game
          3) Sell the resources for real money
          4) Sell timed boosters that increase the drop chance on those blueprints
          5) Have it take a certain amount of real-world time to finish building the weapons, but they can be rushed for a fee. Bonus points if you have to be in-game for things to build.

          The best part about this is that the predatory nature is heavily number dependent, so you can defend it by pointing to games like Warframe that are generally accepted as ‘doing microtransactions right’ even if in your game farming the resources to make a new weapon is far more time consuming than it is in similar games.

          And you can also defend against claims that you’re Pay 2 Win by pointing out that the players still have to beat the boss to get the blueprint in the first place, so it’s totally legit that spending some money massively increases your chance to actually get the meaningful reward.

          A final way to Maximize Profitsâ„¢: Have some bosses that can only be fought a limited number of times per week to really heavily push players into buying those drop chance boosters.

    • I’ll be sad if there isn’t another Dragon Age game, that’s for sure, but at no point from announcement to release did Andromeda manage to inspire the slightest hint of interest from me. I watched the Anthem announcement video trailery thing for about 30 seconds, went “meh” and got on with my life.

      Oddly, Obsidian seems to be doing quite well for itself: they’ve got Deadfire on the way and just announced YET ANOTHER not-yet-titled game that they’re working on in partnership with Private Division.

      I’d kind of like it if they’d do a new Fallout game using the Fallout 4 graphical improvements. That, I would play.

      • BlueHorus says:

        It would (probably) be amazing – if anyone could get it to run ;) .

        They just need to prise the rights to Fallout from Bethsda’s clumsy hands…

        • Matt van Riel says:

          Never happening. Fallout makes way too much money for Bethesda. What I’m hoping for now is simply a spiritual successor by Obsidian. Post-apoc of course, the same black humour, but a new world not so limited by what Fallout has become (like oil being scarce, something Bethesda completely missed the memo on).

      • Somniorum says:

        “I'd kind of like it if they'd do a new Fallout game using the Fallout 4 graphical improvements. That, I would play.”

        You and everybody else, ma’am! I was kinda crossing my fingers the moment I started playing Fallout 4, like “…. okay, good warm-up for a better Obsidian game, right?”

        But unfortunately, not too likely to happen I fear : (

        • SKD says:

          It would be nice if Bethesda/Zenimax looked at it along the lines of “You know, last time we gave them permission to make a Fallout game they made one that was a hit with fans (even if they couldn’t hit an absurd MC milestone). Can’t hurt to license the new engine and Fallout name to them again to keep public goodwill in the series and make us some money while we work on the next Elder Scrolls installment.”

          I mean honestly, which game is more talked about and played today, years after release? Fallout 3 or Fallout: New Vegas? Personally, I have more fond memories of FONV than I have of FO3. Although I enjoyed both games I found the storytelling of FONV more engaging than that of FO3. And the DLCs for FONV were much better imagined and realized as extensions of the main story and setting than those of FO3, one of which was almost literally nothing more than a response to fans complaining that they weren’t able to continue playing on completion of the main quest. FONV doesn’t allow you to play past main quest completion either, but at least it has the excuse of there being so many extremely divergent paths which the world could go. Did you wipe out the NCR for Caesar, Caesar’s Legion for the NCR, both for Yourself, or did you follow House’s plan for thee Mojave? What were the possible endings for FO3? Did you sacrifice yourself or Sarah to turn on the Purifier? Did you or did you not insert the modified FEV? Even with the release of the Broken Steel DLC the changes in the Capital Wasteland are minimal at best and the only real “ramifications” are whether or not Sarah survived, maybe Mirelurks are “dying off”, and you may or may not choose to eliminate the Brotherhood from the Capital Wasteland? None of which are mentioned in FO4 (Canon would appear to be that the Vault Dweller destroyed the Enclave at the end of Broken Steel) which occurs ten years later, a only a couple hundred miles away, and close enough that 2 main quest characters from the CW are currently living and working in Boston.

          Of course this all depends on whether or not Obsidian even wants to create another Fallout installment at this time.

  3. Shen says:

    I’m still struggling to figure out WHY the nemesis system – the only thing remotely interesting about those games – had to be in a Lord of the Rings gig. What, does a fun innovative system HAVE to come at the cost of literary vandalism now? There’s pretty much no property LESS suited to the games’ goals than LotR.

    • Raion says:

      How about Shadow of War but Dune?
      Beat up the Naibs, take out the Harkonnens, excuse the Arkham combat with prescience.

      • Asdasd says:

        Seems like an uncannily good fit to me. Might take a few tweaks to the canon to explain the mandatory tundra and jungle biomes though.

        • Steve C says:

          Set on more than 1 planet. Done.

          • Kylroy says:

            How much of the Dune series has ever *not* Been on Arrakis? Hell, some folks would accuse you of literary vandalism for that alone.

            That said, you’ve got a setting that allows SF “magic” while still having a place for melee weapons, political intrigue that makes raising an army of subverted foes somewhat logical, and your story doesn’t fundamentally undermine the realpolitik ideas behind the original books. I approve.

            • guy says:

              Not counting the non-Frank books, a third were primarily set off Arakis, and it was destroyed in the fifth book. The first book also had a noticable chunk on the Harkonnan and Atredies homeworlds.

              • djw says:

                As an addendum, book four was set on Arrakis, after it had been terraformed into a non-desert planet with an earth like climate.

                To be fair, book six was set on a different planet that was being intentionally desertified (sp?) by young worms.

                I don’t think that anybody who has actually read the entire series would bat an eyelash at a different planet as the setting.

                • Nessus says:

                  Also there’s that whole galaxy-sweeping jihad that happens “off screen” between books one and two, wherein Paul leads his Fremen legions offworld to conquer and subdue everyone who didn’t ratify the accord struck at the end of book one. You could make an entire series just exploring all the shit that must have gone down in that period alone.

      • guy says:

        I keep saying they should take the mechanics over to Warhammer. It could even still be about Orcs.

        • BlueHorus says:

          My vote would be that, too – or Warhammer 40,000. There’s loads of ‘horde’ style enemies (Orcs, Lizardmen, Skaven/Orks, Tyranids, Necrons) in those settings that could provide endless, adaptive, Nemesis enemies for your murdering pleasure.

          Also fun would be a superhero version. Shadow Of Mordor/War games already have Batman-style combat, so why not have a nemesis system based on randomly-generated supervillains? This guy has ice powers AND mind-control telekenesis! have to think up a new way to kill him…

          • Sleeping Dragon says:

            Warhammer, either Fantasy or 40k, would be a great fit for this. It’s a ridiculously over the top world bathed in violence, chock full of giant armies that have their individual character despite being comprised of legions of faceless mooks with a sprinkle of colourful individuals.

            • guy says:

              The other edge with them is that they have factions with variable individuals who can be beaten or impressed into compliance, potentially by theoretically “good” characters (not official policy, but Radical Inquisitors will totally bind Daemonhosts) rather than requiring playing as a Chaos Lord or Warboss.

          • Sartharina says:

            If they go classic Warhammer, I hope our hero’s a Dwarf – We can fight the Greenskins through both amazing surface biomes (Frozen mountains. Alpine forests, craggy badlands, rolling plains), but also the Deep Roads – Lost Dwarven fortresses, twisting caves, and bioluminescent caverns.

            And, respawning could be handled through some sort of ancient ancestor magic! Heck, it might twist the lore a bit, but instead of capturing Orks for our side (Which wouldn’t make too much sense), we can awaken ancient dwarven warriors to fight by our side. (And, honestly, that would probably be more rewarding gameplay than “Facegrab all enemies to turn them to your side”)

            For Warhammer 40k, we can go with Imperial Commissar Yarrick, fighting against Orks in the Warp in an attempt to finish off Ghazghkull and escape the Warp. While he would be able to convert individual orks, he can also take command of entire forts by converting or killing the commanders. And, he has to fight his way out of the Warp by leading his WAAAAAAAGH! against the forces of CHAOS blocking the way – Demons and space marines galore!

            • guy says:

              I’d want to keep the facegrabbing enemies mechanic in some form, actually. The ability to defeat and convert someone who’s been a thorn in your side and be all “YOUR TURN, SUCKERS!” to his former allies is really fun in a way that getting to spawn in allied captains isn’t.

              The main problem I have with the existing mechanic is that things become boring when you’ve subverted a whole region and Shadow Of War’s efforts to counteract that were kinda dissatisfying and felt more punitive than corrective.

            • Sunshine says:

              Even simpler for “Shadow Of WAAAARGH!!!” would just focussing on the orks. You start as a runty gretchen and work your up through the gretchen, then the small orks, then ever bigger orks until you're the Warboss of your clan. Lead a Waaagh! against the other clans, maybe as a finale, the Imperium or Chaos (or both) invade and take all the orks to fight them.

              • trevalyan says:

                I… don’t think I’d actually need to buy another game, if Monolith and Games Workshop showed this kind of vision. In place of a good/ evil system, your main character’s personalities would be evil/ really fookin evil/ green cockney yob out on an intergalactic pub crawl and looting spree.

              • BlueHorus says:

                I’ve long thought that being a lowly ork in a Waaagh would fit a Saint’s Row-style crime sandbox game perfectly.

                The GTA games had the problem that the gameplay (do whatever you want sandbox/Do It Again, Stupid-style missions) clashed horribly with the ‘cinematic’ story aspects that seem to want to be serious.
                The Saints Row games did it better, but still, (even in the game set in a simulation!) your character is just…an awful, awful, awful person who does terrible things for bad reasons.

                But with orks? Fighting and doing dumb shit just for the hell of it is what they do, all day every day. There’s no good guys, everyone’s looking for a fight: the tone is perfect for the gameplay.
                Throw in a load of silly side games, like trukk racing, face-eating,, squig-herdin’, ‘nid-hunting, tank-lootin’, grot-lobbin’ and any other daft, over-the-top orky pastime you can think up; a story about becoming the bestest, ‘ardest, ork around (because that’s just what orks do) and you’ve got yourself an awesome Warhammer 40k game.

    • Merzendi says:

      I really do think it could fit in Tolkein’s work, but the Third Age probably isn’t the best, and I don’t think Talion was the right character. In fact, I don’t think there’s a need to create a new one at all. Based on the themes and gameplay of the two “Shadow of X” games, I’d say that Feanor and his Sons would fit pretty well – and I’d suggest Maedhros as the protagonist.

      I mean, you have betrayals (such as the Kinslayings), a dead father and grandfather for motivation (with some creative license, you could even have Feanor’s ghost sticking around because of the Oath in the Celebrimbor role), battles both great and small against the forces of Morgoth (maybe play up Sauron’s role from the Silmarillion, so people have a more recognisable antagonist) and finally, Maedhros’ suicide as he realises his evil deeds have prevented him from fulfilling the Oath and protecting the last Silmarils.

      I’m not sure if the “Shadow of X” team could actually do the story justice, but even with some simplifications and adjustments, it’d be more satisfying and appropriate than Talion becoming a Ringwraith…

      • Merzendi says:

        And actually, this could work very well to show the real themes of Tolkein: On one hand, you have Maedhros and his brothers, who only bring ruin – then the other elven heroes (such as Fingolfin), who at best are delaying the extinction of the Noldor – and on the other, there’s Earendil, who succesfully defeats Morgoth by compassion and humility, asking to be forgiven by the Valar.

      • John says:

        I’d use Turin Turambar rather than one of the sons of Feanor. He’s the one character in the Silmarillion who is deliberatley grim, gritty, and badass (and, y’know, sort of doomed). You could set the game during his outlaw-guerilla-bandit phase or human-village-leader phase. (His warleader of Nargothrond phase would probably not work.) Glaurung, the first dragon, would be the final boss. And then, in the final cutscene, Turin falls on his sword after he realizes that he’s killed or caused the death of everyone he’s ever really cared about. The one problem is that Turin does not canonically respawn after he dies. The only characters in Tolkien who do are Gandalf, Sauron, and Morgoth, and I don’t think that even they don’t respawn infinitely and without consequences.

        • guy says:

          If the respawning is a story issue, drop it from the story. Have him crawl away with the aid of some form of Elven magic and spend an indefinite time recovering from his wounds when downed.

    • BlueHorus says:

      Yeah – I’ve only played Shadow of Mordor, but I was really baffled by the sheer effort put into the story and background of the LOTR setting, including the vandalism.
      Guys, you made a perfectly fun, casual, murder-parkour sandbox for me to play in. I liked that you could listen to orcs singing about how they love to kill and eat people, then go on an effortless murder spree. Simple, shallow, power-fantasy fun.
      Why have you dragged all this (probably painstakingly researched) LOTR lore in here and put it in dumb cutscenes?

      Someone like me – who doesn’t care – just skips through it all because they were boring and stupid and not what I was there for: ‘Just get to the point where I can stab orcs in the face again, dammit, spare me the fanfic.’
      Someone who DOES care (like Shamus) has to put up with a cliched murder-revenge story that offends him because you’re doing LOTR wrong, dammit.
      Just…why did you bother?

      • Sleeping Dragon says:

        Sheer tone deafness. I have one very dedicated Tolkien geek among my friends and this is, what I’m told, literally what a lot of them were afraid of when the movies came out. I myself used to joke that “next they’ll make a TV series happening after Frodo sails away into the west, and it will be all the usual adventure series tropes, like ‘today Frodo is on dinosaur island, last week he had amnesia on amazon island'” now that doens’t seem so far off.

        I may be suffering from selective amnesia but my best guess is that WB aren’t that into original franchises, they make (almost?) exclusively licensed games, and they had this hot LoTR license on their hands, and there was already swordfighting, and acrobatic combat and Legolas sliding down the stairs on a shield* and to people who ARE tone deaf and are NOT into figuring out literary themes of a book but are only interested in the last major franchise… the ringbearer’s trials DO play a secondary role to the “awesomeness” of the war story.

        *Low blow, I’m aware.

      • baud001 says:

        Also greenlighting a project like shadow of Mordor is much easier when you can say “Hey, remember that 9-hour long New Zealand commercial that everyone loved?”. I mean, it’s kinda expensive, you’ve already have the license, so why not stick a well-known name on it? The game(play) would have worked just as well without the license, but it might have been harder to market.

    • Falterfire says:

      For what it’s worth, other devs have taken note of the system – XCOM 2’s developers said that the Nemesis System was a large inspiration for the mechanics in the recent War of the Chosen expansion, where they perhaps fit a bit better.

      In that expansion there are recurring mini-bosses called the Chosen who have a similar system of slowly acquiring traits that can vary from playthrough to playthrough while also having a back-and-forth with the player that references previous encounters.

      So even if the origin of the system is in literary vandalism, now that the idea exists other devs can borrow it for their own projects since fortunately it’s not something that can really be patented or sued over.

  4. Asdasd says:

    Interesting to read about Strafe and the developers’ reaction to the ‘correct’ way they designed it to be played meeting the reality of players selfishly wanting not to die. This is a phenomenon that arises with many games, especially ones where the challenge is non-trivial and permadeath is in play. Here’s an interesting example regarding Dead Cells, which RPS recently crowned Game of the Year.

    • Daemian Lucifer says:

      Dead cells is awesome in that it rewards you whether you try to play it safe or if you try to rush it.There are timed doors that have lots of goodies in them,but getting to them requires you to skip most of the loot found elsewhere(and from killing enemies).On the other hand,going through the game slowly awards you with all the stuff you get from dead enemies,stores,etc.Plus there are a bunch of ways in which to kill enemies.So ultimately you pick the style that suits you the most,not the most efficient WUN UND ONLEE WUN correct way.

      • Falterfire says:

        Dead Cells was interesting to me because it felt like the sort of game where you really could play much faster if you were good at the game. I am fantastically bad at the game, but it’s very well designed in a way where I could usually tell where my mistakes were and was usually able to see ways that I could have played better.

        So even though I’m not good at the game, I feel like a more skilled player would be able to play much faster and more aggressively than I was playing without really suffering for their aggression, I was just not good enough at managing enemies or reacted to attacks to personally play in a non-cautious manner.

    • evilmrhenry says:

      This made me curious, and I found a developer video of Strafe. It turns out the devs aren’t that great at the game using the “full speed ahead” approach either. The video had two runs, and both died rather quickly.

      I hear you regarding wanting a non rogue-like version of the game as well. Personally, seeing rogue-like in a game’s description is an instant turn-off. Far too often, it seems to mean “there’s only 2 hours of content in here, but we made it super-difficult to make sure that most people don’t see the ending”, and that’s just not fun. I’d much rather have the 2 hours of content than endlessly repeating the first hour of the game.

    • Falterfire says:

      To paraphrase Mark Rosewater (long running Magic: the Gathering head designer): Players naturally gravitate towards doing things that work. As the game designer, you can use this to lure them into doing pretty much anything so it’s your responsibility to guide them towards playstyles that are fun.

      Another thing Mark Rosewater often says is that as a designer if your players are repeatedly trying to do a thing that goes against how the game is designed, it might be worth considering the possibility that your design is fighting with human nature, since that is a battle that human nature will always win.

      I feel like both of those really apply in rogue-likes, at least if the dev is interested in appealing to more than a very specific subset of fans. Most players are not great at games (especially if you’re talking about games they’ve just started) and roguelikes are especially punishing for failure for pretty much the reasons that Shamus describes with Strafe – If the stuff you can’t beat is thirty minutes into a run, you often can’t repeat a sequence quickly enough to really practice the thing you failed, which even more heavily encourages cautious play.

      I do wonder if this might just be a ‘flaw’ with how roguelikes as a genre line up against general audiences – It’s entirely possible that no matter what you do, roguelikes are just never going to be played aggressively by a very specific subset of the audience. Which as a designer leaves you with a choice you have to make: Do you try to ensure the game is enjoyable even when played cautiously, or do you just accept that most players are going to play ‘wrong’ because you know you’re designing for the minority?

  5. Robbert Ambrose B. Stopple says:

    I am somewhat surprised to learn you haven’t actually played Mass Effect Andromeda, Shamus, given your commitment to an in-depth analysis of the original trilogy I would have definitely expected that Andromeda was on your list of games to play and write about this year. It is a bit disappointing to see that your views on the game appear to be formed solely on second hand observations.

    Admittedly so much has been said about the series by now that it is not strange that people appear to be suffering from ‘Mass Effect fatigue’, in fact one of the reasons why Bioware Edmonton delegated the development of Andromeda to Bioware Montreal was because they’d just finished working on the trilogy for almost a decade and understandably desired a break.

    • Viktor says:

      Eh, he hated the writing of ME2. He gave them another chance and they used it to make ME3. Why should Shamus try ME:A after that? If there were good reviews, he might be willing to take the risk, but when even ME3 fans think it’s terrible, there’s no reason he should expect it to be good.

      • Mattias42 says:

        Have to admit I just bought ME: A (and a guide) just hours before reading this…

        But yeah, I’ve got no hope for the story what-so-ever, and I’m if it wasn’t for the game-play I’d probably never even bothered.

      • Robbert Ambrose B. Stopple says:

        All true, I’m not demanding that people should go against their better judgement. It’s just that I’d hoped that Shamus had some insightful commentary on the game itself and how it compares to the trilogy.

        • Mistwraithe says:

          Too right!

          I no longer have time to play any significant number of games myself so I am playing games vicariously through Shamus – how dare him not play ME Andromeda? How will I know now what exactly was wrong with it and the various ways I would not have enjoyed it if I had played it?

          It is only through Shamus that I know I would have largely enjoyed the original ME trilogy, but been very frustrated by the changing tone and the final scenes, if I had actually played it…


    • WWWebb says:

      I would want to hear Shamus’ take on the narrative just because it’s right up his alley of things to critique. Sure, there were the bad writing and animation parts that everyone talked about, but the game was huge and you can’t have your A-team on every side-quest.

      The things that still bug me are the larger plot arcs that just feel off and I can’t quite decide why. There are many parts that feel unfinished, and I can’t tell if they were cut during development or being saved for DLC or a sequel. The characters (main and side) try to have ME2-style arcs…sometimes successfully and sometimes not. There were so many references to things in the original trilogy that it felt like you spend more time discovering things from the old galaxy than exploring the new galaxy.

      Then there’s the plot twist(s) towards the end that are totally robbed of their drama if you play like most players and complete all the side quests before going back to the obvious “move the plot” missions. I can almost see a great game in Andromeda, but it takes a few too many wrong turns. A good Shamus treatment could probably show how if they’d cut a different third of the content, it could have been a great new start for the series.

      • Daemian Lucifer says:

        Couldnt Shamus watch a lets play and write a critique from that?There are extensive lets plays of it that have no voice over,just in game sounds.Of course,they dont explore ALL of the branches,but that gap can be filled in with wiki knowledge.

      • Gethsemani says:

        Andromeda had a rather shaky development, where the woes of being forced into the Frostbite-engine seems to have been just one of many significant problems that caused cost and time overruns. You can definitely see the skeleton of something great in Andromeda and some parts are genuinely good, but too many things are bad, haphazard or mediocre that the whole game suffers.

        It is a shame that EA seems poised to can all of Mass Effect, because I believe Andromeda 2 could have been a really good game if the studio had been allowed to iterate.

  6. Is this where I should admit that I thought Andromeda was ok? It didn't have the soaring highs of classic Bioware, and I hated that all the human characters looked like they were constantly high, but I felt it at least tried to avoid the pitfalls ME2 and 3 (and presumably the later Dragon Age games) fell into.

    Of course, I had the benefit of playing after the worst bugs were ironed out.

    • Viktor says:

      The Dragon Age games all pretty much avoided the serious problems that the ME series fell into. Not saying they were perfect, there are definitely reasonable complaints about all 3, but in general the games were well-written, fun to play, and built a consistent world with characters you cared about.

      • Nimrandir says:

        I got to the threshold of completing DA:O, but the arrival of our son made me gun-shy about its content. Now the disc drive on our Xbox won’t spin long enough to reinstall it. It’s a shame on some level, as I had a full-on program for seeing all the game had to offer.

        Never got terribly hyped for the sequels, because I was ankle-deep in Bethesda titles by then.

    • Attercap says:

      I thought Andromeda was OK, too. Not great, but definitely worth a play-through. That’s the problem, though. Like DA:I, I have no desire to replay ME:A. I have a multiple play-throughs of ME1 and DA:O, a handful of ME2 and DA2, a smattering of ME3 (just for completionist sake of some of my Sheps), but DA:I and ME:A were passable enough to finish but I’ve yet to get beyond the prologue on any replay attempts.

      • Potsticker says:

        I also thought Andromeda was fine, though I wonder how we’d feel about it if it didn’t have the Mass Effect label on it, with all the baggage that carries.

        That said, replay is… rough. A bunch of the decisions you make have no effect whatsoever, and the replay makes that clear. Cora’s loyalty mission [Spoilers ahead] has you make a choice between two asari for the role of Asari Pathfinder. If you choose the other one the second time through, she acts precisely the way the one you chose the first run through did. Maybe a half dozen lines change, and the Asari Pathfinder character model changes, but she still backs you in all the same ways the first one did.

        I know that this is the same as choosing to save the Council in ME1 or not: The Council are still dicks/ineffective in the sequels regardless of what you choose. But the fact that in ME:A some of the changes are just so superficial really sours the experience. When you establish the first outpost on Eos, the game pours it on how important your decision is whether to make it a Scientific Outpost or a Military Outpost. I think if you choose Military, the only difference is that your militia fighters show up in the final battle for a line saying “We got your back, Ryder” or something like that.

        Also Elaaden is still horrible. Why they thought a second sandy desert world was what this game needed is beyond me.

    • Nimrandir says:

      My wife picked up Andromeda at launch in vainglorious hope, but she hasn’t quite gotten to the point of playing a 3D shooter herself. As such, I think the plan is for us to tackle it over the summer in our traditional mode of “I play a game while she watches a movie.”

      I’m not holding out hope of a return to glory, but I figure it will be a reasonable evening activity.

    • Falterfire says:

      I agree, but it’s honestly kind of damning with faint praise. For me ME:A falls pretty perfectly into the pit of forgettableness. It’s less that ME:A was bad and more that it really failed to evoke any emotions at all for me, not even indignant rage at an awful story. It was just sorta… there, going through the motions.

      The whole thing just felt like so much bland mush, with everything from the gunplay to the story to the characters to the weapon crafting and skill trees feeling like they were good enough to not be insulting but lacking enough depth to make them worth really talking about.

  7. Savage Wombat says:

    I wonder how many internet denizens are decrying “peculiar Middle-Earth orthodoxy” because they love the game, and simultaneously bemoaning TLJ for not meeting their expectations?

  8. Misamoto says:

    Ehh, Shamus, you actually did complain about all that during the year :)?

  9. Steve C says:

    Speaking of Forums and Disappointment… the forums are down:

    General Error
    Illegal use of $_COOKIE. You must use the request class to access input data. Found in /home/shamusyo/public_html/forums/cache/production/twig/fc/fcb621f8ef1ce749c79101e84becf9044c3932d44276fda6f89655899aec2e35.php on line 1. This error message was generated by deactivated_super_global.

    • Daemian Lucifer says:

      Its the revenge of the cookie monster.This time the dark theme works fine,its the light theme thats broken.

      • Steve C says:

        Ah. Can someone throw a note into Peter’s thread about it please?

        • Peter Olson says:

          There’s something that’s corrupting the phpBB forums cache, so far it has been hitting the folders that the Apache web host user can modify and adding some of its own php code. ?thankfully? it just breaks the page instead of actually delivering its payload, but we need to ferret out the source of these files as I did a pretty clean reinstall when I upgraded from phpBB 3.1 to 3.2. Currently the forums are down pending Shamus’s host completing a scan.

  10. Dreadjaws says:

    Probably the best nod to the 90s: A bathroom with a reflective mirror. Remember mirrors? Now games put a panel of brushed steel where a mirror would go and they somehow think we won`t notice.

    Hey, yeah, what’s up with that? You’d think reflective surfaces would be easier to make now. Granted, it’s likely a way to avoid sudden double resource consuming, but still, that’s far from a solution.

    Anyway, disappointed that you’re not playing Andromeda. Now I’m gonna have to do it.

    Speaking of which, when are you releasing your Mass Effect Retrospective in book form? You teased that months ago and still nothing. I’m gonna have to put that in my own Dénouement list.

    • Viktor says:

      If Shamus wants to write a history of mirrors in video games, the programming roadblocks they’ve overcome, tricks they’ve used, etc, I’d be all over that. Super Mario 64 was the last time I saw a mirror in a game that wasn’t broken, which is strange as hell to me.

    • Daemian Lucifer says:

      You'd think reflective surfaces would be easier to make now

      Actually,they are harder.Not only do you have to render the room twice(and invert half of it),you also have to render the protagonist,the probably most detailed model in the entire game.

      • Viktor says:

        Yes, but it’s a bathroom. These games have lots of wide-open areas or crowded markets with a ton of NPCs and discrete items, whereas a bathroom is tiny and bland. If a game can’t handle rendering the PC and 2 bathrooms, that seems very odd to me.

        • Daemian Lucifer says:

          In older games,yes bathrooms were bland.In modern games,they are tiled with tiles of varying reflexivity*,making the problem even harder than putting a mirror in a hallway.

          *Unless its a broken down bathroom in an apocalyptic world,in which case there wouldnt be any mirrors anyway.

        • Lame Duck says:

          Mirrors also tend to be a black-hole of game-crashing bugs; it may be trivial to reflect a small bathroom but if the player can move objects and get a reflective object in front of the mirror or lead multiple enemies into the room or any number of other weird corner-cases, it suddenly becomes a problem.

          Plus, you’re never going to sell more copies of a game on the basis that you have working mirrors, so they’re just problem-generators with very little reason to spend development time on.

          • Ciennas says:

            You’d sell a butt ton of games to curious game coders if nothing else if you could do actual mirrors even in spite of those edge cases.

            Easy fixes though- in a Bethesda engine style game, all bathrooms with this feature would be their own interior cell, though small, to encourage fast load times, and to give the processor enough wiggle room to not crash.

            The mirror in Tomb Raider 2013 was a pretty cool moment, so maybe it could show up more often in linear games?

            Besides, the mirror puzzles were fun back when the mirror puzzle just involved another sprite, and they would be great for all kinds of visual symbolism.

          • Sleeping Dragon says:

            Let me put it this way, remember when in Portal one of the things you did as soon as the game let you was create an “infinite corridor” of two portals, then stare into it? Remember how your computer reacted at the time? I assume it was the same way most machines did, especially if you did it around launch on what was then not a top-range machine.

            • Daemian Lucifer says:

              And portals were the major draw of that game,the very thing everyone was buying the game for.Mirrors arent the main draw of any game.They are just as important as a random mug,or a pencil on an office table.So why invest all that work into such an insignificant detail?

              • Dreadjaws says:

                Because it’s actually a notorious detail? Sure, if your game is set in the sewers or in the middle of a forest, people are not going to miss a reflective surface, but if you let the player enter a bathroom and there’s nary a mirror to be seen, people are going to notice. Then it becomes significant.

                Besides, developers spend time in small details all the time, even when they’re less noticeable. Remember those melting ice cubes from Metal Gear Solid 2? How about the individual “intelligence of cockroaches in Half-Life?

                • Sleeping Dragon says:

                  Which is precisely why developers put in the “sheet of brushed steel” or use other options to signify the mirrors are there, just effectively non-functional. I think at this point it’s become enough of a convention a lot of players don’t even notice and devs don’t bother thinking about pumping resources into working mirror creation unless they specifically want one.

              • Tom says:

                Only if you don’t TRY to do anything creative with them once you’ve got ’em.

                I still very fondly recall that one crazy level (well, OK, they were ALL crazy…) in MDK with a jumping-puzzle room where the FLOOR was made of mirrors (and done remarkably well, I might add), it screwed with your eyes and the mechanics of judging your jumps in a rather playful way. (“playful” in the same sense as the giant wrecking-ball they also put in that room to knock you off the ledges if you didn’t also keep an eye on it…)

    • Thomas says:

      There was a mirror in the game I played yesterday (Life is Strange: Before the Storm). They still pop-up to show off as ever.

      I assume that the hardcore AAA games are optimising so much that mirrors are still a huge cost. I wouldn’t be surprised that when they show up they’ve done something special to the area (or the mirror) to make it work.

    • Mephane says:

      I always assumed it was because singleplayer first person games tend to not even have a full player model. In Half Life 2, for example, there is not a single model of Gordon Freeman’s head. We know what he looks like only from drawn concept and box art.

    • Amstrad says:

      As far as I remember many instances of mirrors in video games arn’t even actual reflective surfaces, but instead an entire additional room placed on the other side of the mirror surface with a second actor prop that duplicates your movements.

  11. Xeorm says:

    In support of Shadow of War, I’ve always seen it functionally as “what if we gave Boromir the ring?” Why don’t you try to fight Sauron with force and wit and whatnot? Answer: because it doesn’t work, and can’t work, and whatnot.

    Especially as the primary goal for much of the game is “defend the people”. Same with Boromir. Goal is to defeat Sauron and save the Gondorians that have been fighting so hard and long to stop Sauron.

    • Thomas says:

      Even if you justify that (and to be fair I think they are on a “becomes corrupted and bad” arc), it’s still completely wrong tonally. Shadow of Mordor is all about blood, gore and muscle – I’m surprised they haven’t added sex.

      It’s basically got the attitude of a 90’s dark age comic. Which is about as far away from Tolkien as you can get.

    • Dreadjaws says:

      Yeah, but the problem with the game is that it clearly glorifies that behavior. Even if you were supposed to infer that the protagonist’s actions are wrong, there’s nothing in the games that clue you to that.

      Imagine they did a Saint’s Row film, for instance, and it was played straight (no comedy or over-the-top action), it was made from the point of view of the police and there was no moral ambiguity of any kind, it was clear that the Saints are villains that need to be taken down, and they are.

      That’s what this game is. You can rationalize the motivation behind it, but the presentation tells an entirely different story, and it’s one that goes against everything the source material stood for.

      • trevalyan says:

        I get how Do Not Do This Cool Thing defines Shadow of War’s gameplay, but the symbolism in the sequel is relentless in subtly and overtly condemning the actions of its protagonists, and is particularly harsh on the Wraith. Celebrimbor goes from morally dubious anti-hero into full on villain: not only does he become treacherous to even his allies (especially yourself), and outright bigoted against non-elves, but the orcs start looking down on you for your savage behavior. Which is absolutely earned. And the lies upon lies. Dear God. What floors me is how many game reviews note Celebrimbor’s supposed demarcation between noble men and savage orcs while debating the ethics of domination, yet none point out that he tries to enslave one of the most tragic and noble humans ever in his pursuit of power. And then has the gall to turn on you for standing against it.

        How much harder did SoW have to drop this anvil?

        • David says:

          I actually think that the gameplay being really-fun is important to the theme here, because it helps to sell the power-corrupts aspect. It explains how you can see yourself doing terrible things, acknowledge they’re terrible, and yet keep going back and doing them.

          Now, arguably the flaw is that, much like Spec Ops: The Line, there’s not any way for the player to not be complicit in this other than just stopping playing the game. Which, although thematically valid, doesn’t really work as a message for people who just bought a $60 video game.

          That said, asking the developers to include an entire parallel path through the game where instead of power and dominion you employ love and compassion, presumably through wildly different game mechanics, is tricky. So instead we get a more linear story where you experience Talion’s fall, without a presented alternative.

          • trevalyan says:

            I understand how such a path offers an alternative, but at any point besides the very beginning? Not a chance. I’ll let a character from an even more profound game explain why…


            • Syal says:

              …so I know it’s not from there, but with all the Mass Effect talk I can only picture Harbinger.

              THIS HURTS YOU, TOLKIEN.

            • Tom says:

              What game is that from?

              • Syal says:


                (Spoilers Spoilers Spoilers)

              • trevalyan says:

                Undertale. One thing I do like about SoW, compared to Spec Ops or Undertale, is that the worst aspects of the latter can be stopped simply by your walking away from the computer. One could argue that you’re morally obliged to not play Spec Ops (setting aside its inferior gameplay). In Undertale, there is an obvious incentive to play with compassion, but you can stop the worst results by walking away- and the game explicitly begs you to do this in no uncertain terms.

                In Shadow of War, Celebrimbor will cheerfully use your corpse as his meat puppet until it is time to abandon you. If anything, the player’s choices are the only thing standing in the way of the Bright Lord’s eternal and total triumph. The consequences of inaction dog Shadow of War, and the idea of resisting evil against all odds- even when doing so is self-evidently futile- make it appeal to me more than some other games with similarly strong moral centers.

            • BlueHorus says:

              I dunno, I think after a bit Undertale’s plot fell in upon itself and thus just stopped being profound – and the Genocide ending was one of those points. It took a couple of clever jokes/winks about game mechanics too far and subsequently fell into nonsense.

              I remember looking up a fan theory about the ‘real’ backstory and just found myself thinking ‘WTF? Would this make more sense if I put on a tinfoil hat?’.
              From the time-travelling skeletons (named after a species of flower!!!!!) that protect the timeline, to the magic power of DETERMINATION to who the hell Chara is and who’s REALLY in control of the protagonist…
              I think it ends up like a JJ Abrams movie: lots of mystery, lots of promise, but it all falls apart under scrutiny because there’s not actually anything there beyond the lights and sound.

              • Daemian Lucifer says:

                To me,the genocide is actually the point where the game makes more sense,and gets the real resolution.

              • trevalyan says:

                A few points of order:

                1) Only one of the skeletons protects the timeline because of his side hobby of quantum physics. He hasn’t actually time-travelled since his time machine broke. No one can fix it: believe me, he tried.

                2) Determination involves the power of spiritual essence and using it to accomplish miraculous (or anti-miraculous) feats. Just a neat fantasy element.

                3) Chara is a little girl/ boy who was probably trying to commit suicide by climbing a mountain, only to be taken in by a family of boss monsters. Opinions differ on whether they was a traumatized child who hated humanity due to extensive abuse, or if they made Joffrey Baratheon look like Little Orphan Annie. I believe these facts are not mutually exclusive. After committing suicide through buttercup overdose, and it is as gruesome as it sounds, their revenant piggybacks on your soul after you landed on their grave.

                4) Despite Chara’s taunts and taking control of your body to bypass the puzzle defenses, the main theme of the game is that you are wholly responsible for your actions. Indeed, all of Chara’s decisions involve holding you accountable, especially if you pussy out in the endgame.

                I hope this has been a helpful explanation, and it didn’t sound even dumber than what you described!


                • BlueHorus says:

                  So the problem I have is less in understanding the ‘plot’ points; it’s wondering why they’re there.

                  Usually, the magic (or science, in science fiction) in a story is done in service of the emotional core. The conflict. Put people in a different situation, give them an ability in order to highlight something about humanity that you want to say.
                  Mass Effect wasn’t about the Mass Relays or Element Zero – they were there to make interstellar travel possible and linked directly to the story about Reapers coming to kill everyone. The characters, the complex situations like the Genophage, interacting with the universe, was the point of that game.

                  Now Undertale is a Drama-first story. The world is just inconsistent: there’s spear-wielding knights and men made of fire and pun-flinging birds and singing robots and a dinosaur scientist with no clear laws or logic to any of it – but that’s fine, because it’s all in service to jokes, winks to the audience, and – crucially – the emotional lives of the characters. Great.
                  And that carries you through the first two endings.

                  But then it starts to try and build on the details – and the world is so inconsistent that (to me) it’s like trying to build a house on top of a junk pile. Between the time travel, the acknowledged in-universe magic of Save[ing your game] and the magic power of DETERMINATION (It’s always caps in the game, I think) that does…well, I’m not sure. Anything can happen.
                  The ghost of another, more evil child who killed himself via buttercups is piggybacking on your character, but only bothers to really act if you pursue the Genocide ending. There’s a time-travelling skeleton, but his time machine broke. You’re in total charge of your actions, until you’re not. That character named after a text font isn’t what he seems!
                  I just shrug, and go ‘sure, why not?’

                  The emotion, the care for the characters, the drama that held the story together up to that point just sort of evaporates along with the stakes. A story made of jokes, references and cute ideas decided to then try and build on that and well…
                  Here’s someone’s take on it.

                  • Daemian Lucifer says:

                    Heres my interpretation of it:
                    No matter how many times you complete the game in a regular fashion,nothing happens.You just reset the world,and its always the same.So the neutral and good endings arent real,your path through the world is inconsequential.You can do it any times you like and you wont impact a thing.

                    But if you go full evil,you destroy the world completely.The game closes after that,bringing the finality to it.And if you try to undo it,unlike with the other two,the fracture of your action remains.You actually do something to the world itself,something permanent.

                    So the only way to actually finish the game is to willingly go around killing everyone in it,destroying the world entirely.That is the true ending to the game.

                    Also,one other very interesting thing,if you look in the mirror on a regular playthrough,the game says “Its you”.But if do it in the genocide route,it says “Its me,PLAYERNAME”.This furthers the idea that the true protagonist has always been the evil kid.

                  • trevalyan says:

                    BlueHorus, you recognize that magic follows rules that serve the emotional core of the game. I will try to explain some of the rules of magic- relatively briefly, huge serious forum posts on Undertale are so 2016.

                    1) Determination, SOULs, and saving are all related. The most determined being in the underground uses that power to SAVE the state of the universe. Human souls possess massive amounts of determination, which is why the human souls turn Flowey into an unstoppable superpowered being with multiple save files. The royal scientist might be a fraud who watches anime all day instead of working, but that’s because her “successful” experiments with determination ended so horrifically she is seriously contemplating suicide. If anything can happen, it is because the power of seven willing souls can turn a monster into a godlike being- but a similar circumstance only happens once, in the Pacifist route, and I thought you would find the resolution of that power thematically satisfying.

                    THEME: The magic of a human soul has incredible power, therefore some would argue you should do the right thing with that power.

                    2) Sans and Alphys are both very intelligent and almost certainly have a prior work relationship. Both suffer from extreme depression because their knowledge and powers aren’t enough to restore their greatest failures- in Sans’ case, not even a Pacifist route can bring back the friends he lost before you ever arrived. He can teleport, maybe even have contingencies for time travelers and an incredible ability to read people, but he can’t actually time travel anymore. And that knowledge utterly crushes his motivation, no matter how cheerful he otherwise appears to be. A quantum physics book, hidden inside a joke book, hidden inside a quantum physics book… it’s an Escher painting of a silly skeleton with a broken spirit, extending forever.

                    THEME: Even though we empathize with depressed people, facing up to the consequences of your actions and moving on with your life is the best thing for everyone. It won’t be as bad as you think it will be! Either way, it might not be something that can be solved… though gosh, I sure wish I could help you.

                    3) Chara only acts when you teach them that violence is great and that it is the only solution to problems. So when they makes you skip puzzles, it’s because of the teaching- your teaching- that only violence matters. When they kill the last three characters of Genocide, it’s because they felt it was appropriate to do so. But they only follow your example, and are more than a bit pissy when you back out of destroying the world, which is what Chara thought was the point of the whole exercise.

                    THEME: People learn from your example, and if you must live like a psychotic, eventually someone is going to want to hold you accountable.

                    4) The “good ending” only matters as much as you let it. If you uninstall, the underground is empty and the characters have gone on to live their lives on the surface. If you choose to reset… well, that is your choice. It’s what Final Boss Asriel was trying to accomplish, and what you were supposedly trying to stop.

                    THEME: Completion is overrated. Destruction can be final and brutal, whereas compassion and goodness require a constant desire to maintain. (A theme the Star Wars Republic should have remembered, but meh)

                    Anyways, my previous points of order were a bit jokey. I want to help and hope that I have, but I do understand if you don’t agree. Undertale is a very detailed piece but there’s room for disagreement over its success in making its points. I don’t think anyone can argue that Toby Fox tried to have a very detailed and emotional game, even if execution arguably fell short in some places- even I have complaints about Asgore, but I admit that might be due to my own biases.

                    But by God, speak against that soundtrack, and I will fight you. On the beaches, and in the streets.

                    • Daemian Lucifer says:

                      But by God, speak against that soundtrack, and I will fight you. On the beaches, and in the streets.

                      I will.Its not bad on its own,but its not that amazing either.But the game commits one of the worst sins of them all:It does not allow you to adjust the volume from inside it,rather you have to use windows’ sound mixer.Even the music I adore I still want to adjust or mute on occasions,and preventing me from doing that is bad design.I almost stopped playing it because of this.

                    • trevalyan says:

                      Huh. That surprises me, I’ve never had a problem just using the mute and volume control hotkeys on my laptop.

                      Ah well, sorry to hear that.

                    • Daemian Lucifer says:

                      Huh. That surprises me, I've never had a problem just using the mute and volume control hotkeys on my laptop.

                      That works if you dont want to listen to something else while playing the game.Which I often do.

                      Its a testament to the quality of the game that I still played through it two and a half times despite that.

                    • Syal says:

                      Seconded on internal volume, a lot of the time when I’m playing a game I’m also trying to listen to an online course, or a podcast or an LP, and you can’t do that if you can’t lower the game’s sound specifically. Even an on/off toggle would be okay, but there’s got to be an option for silence.

                  • BlueHorus says:

                    Eh, it’s probably just personal preference at the end of the day. I never intended the walls of text that came of my original reply. And you’re right, this discussion is very 2016.
                    So briefly – main complaint: ‘Just Because’.

                    -You can reset everything in the game except the Genocide, just because.
                    -DETERMINATION resurrects dead monsters, but not really. But it works differently when applied to a flower. Just because.
                    -There’s a ghost piggybacking on your character; you fell on their grave. It only acts after it sees you kill almost everyone. Just because.
                    -You also just happen to look almost identical to the kid that died, whose ghost piggybacks on you (I think?). Just because.

                    You can draw themes and meanings out of all this, but since consistency and internal logic was never really what Undertale was about, why bother? It held together not because of the well-established universe but because of the humour and emotional attachment. Take those away, and you’re left with ‘Just Because’.
                    Though I suppose if you still have the attachments, then you might care.

                    It did have a good soundtrack, though.

                    • Daemian Lucifer says:

                      -You can reset everything in the game except the Genocide, just because.

                      Its not just because,its a message about the genocide route(briefly:you cant undo stuff that hurt people).

                      -DETERMINATION resurrects dead monsters, but not really.

                      Because its not their innate property,but was artificially infused into them in the lab.

                      But it works differently when applied to a flower. Just because.

                      Its because the flower holds a soul of a human,unlike other monsters.

                      -There's a ghost piggybacking on your character; you fell on their grave. It only acts after it sees you kill almost everyone. Just because.

                      Not quite.You acting the way it acted before wakes it up(sort of).

                      -You also just happen to look almost identical to the kid that died, whose ghost piggybacks on you (I think?). Just because.

                      Not quite.The appearance of things is not that important,but it does reflect their actions.And you acting like the evil kid makes you look more like that kid.

                      You can draw themes and meanings out of all this, but since consistency and internal logic was never really what Undertale was about, why bother?

                      You not seeing the internal logic does not mean it doesnt exist,rather that it just doesnt mesh with you.

  12. Grudgeal says:

    I agree 100% with you about Strafe. I eventually managed to bull-headedly finish the game, and at the time of writing I’ve done it twice (I think), but the game isn’t designed to be played the way it seems to want you to play. I have never gotten a ‘par’ rating once, and more to the point I’ve never been less than 2 minutes behind getting one because of the game’s pace.

    It’s a game that promises to be a blow-back to classic shooters, and yet the shooter it reminded me the most of is Doom 3 — reload mechanic, weapon sway, sparse ammo and armour and enemies that teleport in to kill you the moment you pick up a keycard or progress past a certain point.

    At one point I joked that the game should have been called ‘advance cautiously while checking lanes of fire’. It’s certainly something I did a lot more in-game than ‘strafe’.

  13. Daemian Lucifer says:

    But I couldn't bring myself to play

    EA closed Bioware Montreal after the disappointing launch of the game.

    So you are the reason all those talented developers lost their jobs.You should feel ashamed.

  14. ElementalAlchemist says:

    The thing about Shadow of War I found most interesting is that they actually held back on the whole sexy human Shelob thing. Not even a hint of cleavage, which surely should have been the whole point of it. I’m not really sure what the point of it was. If you are completely bastardising the IP anyway, you might as well go the whole hog.

  15. Daemian Lucifer says:

    To be fair to the shadow of war,shelob is a goddess,so making herself look like that isnt far fetched.Plus,when she is in her woman form,she is a conventionally beautiful woman,which is precisely what someone capable of altering their appearance would do.And youd think this obvious thing would not need to be said or praised,but then we live in a world here this is a thing.Compared to a sexy corpse,sexy shelob is merely uninspired and bland.

    • Gaius Maximus says:

      If you’re referring to Tolkien’s actual work, Shelob is definitely not a goddess. That isn’t even suggested anywhere in Tolkien’s writings.

      • djw says:

        Well, she descends from a long line of spider… things. Her mother Ungoliant was born in the first age and allied with Morgoth so that she could eat all of the light. She destroyed (by eating) the great trees from which the silmarils gained their light, and would have eaten the silmarils themselves if Morgoth hadn’t betrayed her so that he could keep them.

        Not technically a diety, but something that monstrous and that long lived is more than “just a big spider”. That said, rendering her as a humanoid is a gross mischaracterization.

    • djw says:

      Girl Shelob is a travesty. Lich with boobs is just stupid.

  16. Christopher says:

    RIP Bioware

    I was never the biggest fan, but I like parts of their games. When they inevitably get executed by EA, I hope Weekes and Karpyshyn get together with the good concept artists and just make good dating sims or something.

  17. djw says:

    Antidote(?) to horrid Shadow of Mordor appropriation of Tolkien’s legacy?

  18. Philadelphus says:

    I know FTL: Faster Than Light is a bit of a ludum non grata around these parts, but reading your complaints about STRAFE’s replayability reminded me of it, and I think that’s one of the things FTL did right: having randomized sectors each play through. I’m playing another rogue-lite called Okhlos: Omega right now (about taking down the Greek pantheon with the power of good ol’ Athenian-style democracy, i.e., a furious mob destroying everything in its path*) and it has this linear progression where you go through Delphi, then Ephesos, then Sparta, then Atlantis, etc., etc., and while I love the gameplay and the game’s aesthetic sense, it gets a bit boring having to replay the opening levels over and over again in a bid to get to further ones (I’m 11 hours in, and have gotten to the seventh out of I believe eight levels a grand total of once so far).

    FTL, in contrast, doesn’t have you doing an Engi sector, then a Zoltan sector, then a (*shudder*) nebula sector, etc., it just randomizes them so you get a different mix of things each time (and on I’d say maybe 90% of playthroughs there’s a route that will allow you to avoid those annoying nebula sectors entirely, thankfully). This helps keep it fresh, even 350 hours later.

    *It’s basically angry ancient Greek mythological Pikmin.

    • Droid says:

      Ludus non gratus.

      …sorry. Deeply sorry.

      Also, why would FTL be that?

      • Philadelphus says:

        Don’t apologize! My Latin is terribly rusty and I appreciate having mistakes pointed out. Now I know for the future. :)

        As to the question, well, usually when I see FTL brought up in these comments it’s in a negative light.

        • Droid says:

          I, for one, found FTL to be a great game that focused on one particular game experience that they successfully implemented according to their design/vision. Now, where was that GDC talk they did, it must be somewhere over there… *starts rummaging*

          Anyway, the gameplay loop is good for a Roguelike (come at me, purists!) and most of the weapons in the base game are solid, while the ones in the Advanced Edition are fun and exotic. And they earned major sympathy points for releasing said Advanced Edition for free for everyone. I am very picky when it comes to procedural generation and I usually prefer deterministic and story-focused content, but FTL managed to nail gameplay focus and randomness just the way I like it. Namely, they give you enough tools that you can do something about the procedural content and respond well even to outlier situations.

          Also, the FTL developers are currently working (last I heard, anyway) on a new game called “Into the Breach” that is basically “What if XCOM, but as a tactical puzzle game with all the randomness stripped out?” aka “XCOM 2 Challenge Mode, but done well” Very much looking forward to that.

          And since I’ve already gone off on a tangent anyway, I’ll also recommend Bionic Dues, a “tactical, turn-based roguelite with mech customization” that I was heavily reminded of when I saw Into The Breach. (it’s also currently 2,50$ on Steam and the opening music alone is worth that)

          • Daemian Lucifer says:

            while the ones in the Advanced Edition are fun and exotic.

            Chain and charge laser variants are pretty good actually,especially with the pre igniter.And mind control is a gread addition to the boarding ships.

            but FTL managed to nail gameplay focus and randomness just the way I like it. Namely, they give you enough tools that you can do something about the procedural content and respond well even to outlier situations.

            I think that the most important thing is that you dont have to rely on wiki,unlike in stuff like isaac.What stuff does are described pretty well,and the only exception to those are random text events,in which you still get the “blue=good,white=risky” shorthand.

            (come at me, purists!)

            So with that in mind:

            turn-based roguelike


            • Droid says:

              Chain and charge laser variants are pretty good actually,especially with the pre igniter.And mind control is a gread addition to the boarding ships.

              There’s some pretty sweet (aka overpowered) synergies to be had, for sure.
              -> Double-Vulkan Pre-Igniter Full Cloak Artillery Ship. – OF DOOM.
              I think I actually got close to getting that once, iirc, the only thing missing was a Chain Laser instead of the second Vulkan, and I don’t remember whether it had an artillery beam. On easy, I think, since everything just seemed to fall into place on that run, and that just never happens on hard or normal.

              • Philadelphus says:

                I think the most overpowered weapon combo I’ve found yet is to just have a ship equipped entirely with flak guns, two II’s and a I (for eight power total); that cuts through the flagship (and everything else) like a knife through hot butter. It went down so fast it didn’t even get a drone wave off in its second form, and that was one of I think a grand total of two times (out of hundreds) that I’ve beaten the flagship without taking a single point of hull damage.

          • Echo Tango says:

            What, precisely, is the point of fighting to keep using “roguelike” to describe games not like Rogue? It’s barely useful to describe games that are actually like Rogue in the first place. Wouldn’t it be easier to talk about, and tag on Steam, with actually descriptive terms, like “random levels” and “perma-death”? Those are actually the only two constants in the whole set of games described with this word, so you already need to use real words to talk about the rest of the games anyways. Also, off my lawn, you filthy youngster.

            • Daemian Lucifer says:

              Same can be said for rpg.The name itself is not important.But if everyone knows what you mean by the term,whats the point of inventing another one?Its not like the term is being used to describe something opposite of that it means.

              • Echo Tango says:

                Actually, I’d argue that RPG should also be abandoned as a term. Leveling mechanics are in most games now. Story choice is in many different types of single player games. Loot mechanics are in games, in either gameplay-only or a meta-game/loot-crate sense. The only thing that’s fairly unique to RPGs is long, overly-verbose text blobs for a story, and indie text-adventures are a better vehicle for that content anyways.

                • Droid says:

                  This sounds more like you don’t like RPGs rather than the term RPG, to be honest.

                  Also, a game does not belong to a certain genre solely based on its gameplay feature list. Well, that might actually be true about FPSs and the like, but much about the term “RPG” has to do with how much focus is on immersing yourself into a story instead of it being tacked on, which of course only works if both the dev and the player are willing to do that

                  • Echo Tango says:

                    As an extremely broad category, I can’t say that I like or don’t like RPGs. I like some RPGs[1], and I dislike others[2]. Regarding immersion in a story – is a game like Firewatch an RPG? Is Gone Home an RPG? Is Portal an RPG? I was heavily invested in the story of all of those games, the devs were trying to tell an engaging and immersive story, but none fit the conventional definition of “RPG”. What useful information is actually conveyed by this term, that justifies its continued use?

                    [1] Super Mario RPG, System Shock 2, Chrono Trigger
                    [2] All of the Diablo games, many of the Final Fantasies

                    • Daemian Lucifer says:

                      In video games rpg means a different thing from its pen and paper counterpart.It means leveling up a character,whether its through experience points,money,or another system.

                    • djw says:

                      I hate the way the acronym “rpg” is used in video games, but at this point complaining about it is just pissing into the wind.

            • Droid says:

              Because (composite) words can have meanings other than that of the two or more words that compose them, and even singular words can have metaphorical meanings that have become so standard that everyone is supposed to recognize them.
              – Not every game is an action game, despite the fact that every game requires actions.
              – The fact that you can plan your play doesn’t mean candy crush is a strategy game.
              Further compare:
              “This movie has elements of film noir…” (so it’s … sometimes black?)
              “The piece of art on display here shows clear postmodernist influences.” (so it was … influenced by something that chronologically came after the modernists?)
              “The Left and the Right…” (so … directions are shouting at each other over the internet?)

              • Echo Tango says:

                Just because a certain combination of words might be ambiguous isn’t a good reason to give up and use an even looser term that’s even more ambiguous. Yes, “action” is somewhat ambiguous, but its intended meaning is still very much related to the word “action”. To understand “roguelike”, somebody has to understand what “Rogue” was, and then also understand what it means now after its become detached from that original name.

                As for your other examples:
                – Candy Crush is a tactical game, not a strategic one
                – noir is still very much about dark films in shady alleys
                – that definition of postmodern is still correct
                – I think Left and Right are also non-descriptive and vague, and should also be discontinued

                • Daemian Lucifer says:

                  To understand “roguelike”, somebody has to understand what “Rogue” was, and then also understand what it means now after its become detached from that original name.

                  No,they dont.Ask a gamer born after 2000 what a roguelike means and theyll know,but chances are theyll have no idea what rogue is.

                • Droid says:

                  My point was not “there are other words that are also non-descriptive, let’s just give up now”, my point was “this is how people use and form new words and it’s a normal part of every language that doesn’t go away just because some users of said language don’t like it” (*).

                  At this point, the combination roguelike has become its own word, with another meaning than “like Rogue”, because people needed a term to talk about roguelike games and this was one that naturally evolved. The fact that the word has become so all-encompassing might mean that we need to split it up more with either qualifiers/adjectives or completely new terms. People seem to be more comfortable going the former route, but there’s nothing in principle that’s stopping you from going the latter. It’s just that the former is easier to do, you have to be smart about using the latter or you’ll just end up having to explain your new lingo to everyone anyway, which is what you tried to avoid in the first place.

                  So TL:DR: while roguelike might be a particularly egregious example, it’s just its own word by now, devoid of any meaning inferred by its constituent words it might have had once. This is a natural part of language drift that you seem to be opposed to on principle. Please reconsider. Our language would be much poorer without all the words that have already undergone this transformation and were accepted despite their drift away from the words that make them up.

                  (*) I could go on for a while about how this is necessary if we don’t want our language to become really unwieldy and bloated, and how this is one of the main reasons why English is, on average, a “shorter” language than German, (i.e. you need more letters to express the same thought in German than in English, generally) and how no one seems to notice that we’re doing the exact same thing with practically every Latin word in the English language (video -> “I see”, audio -> “I hear” etc., you can scroll through this list of phrases in particular if you think I’m just picking out outliers, and look how long the more literal phrases are compared to the idiomatic ones).

              • Sunshine says:

                “Left” and “Right” in politics are, I believe, inherited from Britain's Parliment, where the Members sit facing each other with Labour or the Liberals on the left and the Tories/Conservatives on the right.

      • Daemian Lucifer says:

        Ludus non gratus.

        And now I have the image of you as a centurion while Philadelphus is the poor brian.

    • Silfir says:

      One of the main reasons FTL actually works, despite it punishing mistakes with hull repair costs, is that it’s not an action game. Real-time pausability makes it a back-to-front strategic affair, and roguelike players are strategists first and foremost.

      If you want an action roguelike that is rewarding to play in an actiony way, there need to be mechanics that mitigate or reward aggressive playstyles, otherwise the methodical peek-around-the-corner approach always wins out. Good Robot would be infinitely better if there was a free source of repairs, for example.

      The main reason FTL appears as ludus non gratus on this blog is that Shamus doesn’t like it, which to some extent is a shame – it’s one of the deluge of “roguelike-like” games released in the last seven years that actually managed to do it right.

  19. LCF says:

    “Wolfenstein: The New Colossus”
    Yaaay, long-form analysis of interesting work with flaws and troubles and nazis to be gored inside-out!
    Spoiler: It is a nice movie to watch and an annoying “game” to try playing.

  20. Daemian Lucifer says:

    On the subject of wolfenstein:Shamus,you have played all of them,right?Why not do a whole series on the whole series,rather than just the latest game?Theres definitely a lot to be said about (almost) every one of them.From the innovation of the first,the magic of the first reboot,the blandness of the reboot/sequel/whatever that thing with the hub town was,the awesomeness of the second reboot/sequel,to the disappointment of the new colossus.

  21. Darren says:

    Actually, Bioware isn’t a bad choice for a Destiny rival, because the element most missing from Destiny is decent writing. The lore is good, but the stories Destiny runs players through are disposable garbage, which I think is a contributing factor for why so many people find Destiny’s expansions to be so lacking; there is nothing to compensate for how meager the actual amount of content is.

    And on top of that, Bungie consistently bungles the execution of the game. Weapons are too powerful until they are viciously nerfed, and while the gunplay is excellent the actual weapons are mostly dull as dishwater. The increasing focus on lootboxes has left a bad taste in players’ mouths, and the limited character build options, tiny environments, and small roster of enemies continue to be problems that Bungie hasn’t been able to work around.

    I don’t know that Bioware is the company to step up to the plate, but there are plenty of areas where Destiny is extremely vulnerable.

  22. BlueBlazeSpear says:

    Since late March/early April, I've been quietly circling this site like a vulture, waiting for Shamus to drag the corpse of Mass Effect: Andromeda into the light of day so that we can all pounce on it. So imagine my heartbreak to learn that not only is this dissection as unlikely as an Andromeda sequel, but that Shamus hasn't even played the game to be able to talk about it.

    As far as I'm concerned, his Mass Effect retrospective should be required reading for anyone who wants to make a story-based RPG. I find that I re-read it every four months or so just for the pleasure of it. While I wasn't expecting anything quite as novel-length about Mass Effect: Andromeda, I was still hoping to get this one remaining Mass Effect morsel to chew on.

  23. Liessa says:

    I'm disappointed to hear Shamus won't be doing a Mass Effect: Andromeda retrospective, but I can't entirely blame him for it – I know how painful it is to watch the slow decline of something you used to love. Personally I bailed on the series the minute I heard the setup for ME2 (i.e. Shepard coming back from the dead and working for Cerberus), and given how everything turned out, I'm eternally glad of it. At least I was spared from further disappointment that way.

    Looking forward to Wolfenstein: The New Colossus, anyway…

  24. Redrock says:

    Andromeda defense rant incoming. I think that Andromeda never got a fair shake. While it had its share of problems, especially at launch, it’s actually pretty fresh in terms of themes and tone, both for Bioware and the industry in general. Now, mild spoilers from now on.

    First off, Andromeda borrows its tone from the Citadel DLC for ME3. It’s much more centered on comedy and the relationship between your crewmembers. Secondly, very much unlike the ME trilogy, Andromeda ficus on one theme – family. The characters from the trilogy mostly followed a pattern when it came to family – they were either lone wolves or had teenage style antogonistic relationships with their parents. With some exceptions, like Thane, for example. Miranda and Jacob had straight up villanous fathers. Garrus had a teenage conflict with his father. Tali was stuck fixing her father’s mess. Shepard had, at best, his career-driven largely absent parents. Liara had to murder her mother after being estranged for years. Samara was all about hunting her daughters. Jack was an abused orphan, etc. There is a pattern here of broken background relationships.

    Andromeda, on the other hand, brings the characters’ relationship problems front and center. From Ryder having a living sibling (a Bioware protagonist with an actual present family?! what sorcery is this?!). Vetra is a constantly worried big sister. Drack, far from being a stereotypical krogan as some called him, is actually a very old, very hurting and worried and loving grampa, who has an incredibly sweet relationship with his granddaughter. Jaal and his species are all about family. That’s basically their whole thing and it gets a lot of screen time. Peebee is stuck in an abusive relationship, both horrible and relatable.

    Andromeda does a number of other things very right. It’s one of the few RPGs where it makes sense for the main character to be running around doing chores – it fits the narrative of scrounging for every resource, it fits your in-game role, it works. Unlike, for example, Dragon Age Inquisiton. Ryder, especially the female version, is a pretty unique protagonist for a AAA game. Male Ryder is a poor man’s Nathan Drake, but the female version is funny, quirky, curious and enthusiastic and, by god, not driven by a personal tragedy or an Elektra’s complex (cough-TombRaider-cough).

    Now, in terms of gameplay, yeah, it’s pretty grindy and MMO-y at times, much like Inquisition. But, unlike Inquisition, it actually plays great. Andromeda, once you think about it, is a pretty unique third-person shooter. You have great movement with your jump-jet, you have extremely kinesthetically pleasing physics-based powers, you have a huge arsenal of highly modifiable guns. You can make a shotgun that shoots a swarm of slow homing pellets. You can make a one-shot sniper pistol. You get very satisfying melee weapons. And as for poorly written small quests – again Inquisition was far, far worse, with a lot of quests just being given to you by scraps of paper you found in a generic fantasy wilderness.

    I can go on and on. The thing is, I think that Andromeda’s reception wasn’t about Andromeda. A lot of it was residual bitterness from ME3’s ending mixed paradoxically with sky-high expectations that had nothing to do with any actual promises. It feels like most people went into the game looking for things to dislike and yeah, you can find plenty, from the animations to the UI. But Andromeda does a lot of things really, really well and can often feel fresh and different from the ME trilogy. It really deserves to be seen with fresh eyes.

    • Potsticker says:

      I think a lot of this is true, but it’s impossible to discuss Andromeda without comparing it to the Mass Effect trilogy because Mass Effect is in the name, and it was intentionally put there to pick up sales from fans of the original trilogy. And it doesn’t really deliver on that hook that brought you in. Sure, you can hang out with Krogan badasses sleep with hot Asari, but you don’t really learn anything new about those cultures that you didn’t already get from the trilogy. And so you’re always going to be at a loss when discussing the game because the title promised something that the game didn’t deliver.

      The gameplay is great, though, as you said. I would have liked to have a fourth (or even fifth) ability to use in my loadout, but the jump jets worked really well and I loved how the game innovated from the Pause-Power Wheel gameplay of the trilogy. And I agree that the weapon customization is a lot of fun.

      Ultimately I feel like the script really could have used at least two more drafts, either if you’re looking at it as a Mass Effect game or as something else. Drack is a great example. You object to people saying he’s a stereotypical krogan. The problem is that a lot of his dialogue, especially if you drive around with him in the Nomad is very stereotypical krogan. He complains about being old and talks about how he likes fighting. Many of his lines could be given to Wrex and you wouldn’t notice. He has some great dialogue – I would argue that the discussion you have with him towards the end where he talks about just how old he is and how many surgeries he’s had and redundant organs he’s lost puts him past Wrex in terms of pathos. But there’s just so much mediocre stuff surrounding that.

      • Redrock says:

        I kinda felt like Drack was a continuation of the Citadel DLC version of Wrex – a kindly old grandpa krogan, something that wasn’t actually all that apparent in his character in ME or ME2. I’d still say that Drack’s interactions with the asari doctor (forget her name) and with his granddaughter give him a pretty unique twist compared to Wrex. And the way characters react to him is also different – again, I found the asari actually worrying about him because he is so old and hurt all over to be touching in a way that the original trilogy rarely was.

        The main conflict sucked, though, no doubt about. The script had problems, sure, lots of them. But the game tried a number of new things when it comes to story, which is overlooked by most critics, I think.

    • Gruhunchously says:

      “A Bioware protagonist with an actual present family?”

      In Dragon Age 2, the protagonists’ family are not only present but also heavily involved in the storyline. This is definitely a step that Bioware has taken before, for better or worse.

      • Redrock says:

        Yeah, my bad. I kinda completely forgot Dragon Age 2 existed. Still, I think the point stands. It’s a rare thing for RPGs in general and a notable departure from ME, at least.

    • BlueBlazeSpear says:

      As a massive fan of the original trilogy, I quickly boarded the hype train when Andromeda was announced. I was up in the engine. I was shoveling coal and pulling on the air whistle chain. I wrote off the initial wave of negative reviews as the nu-wave Youtube contrarians who were invested in the narrative of EA destroying another franchise. I can't say that anyone was 100% right, but I suspect that history will lean more in their favor than in favor of the views that I held before having even played the game.

      Those janky animation memes didn't help one bit, but as Shamus often says, if you get the big things right, it's easy to forgive the little things. Skyrim had backwards-flying dragons, but it survived the memes by being a pretty great game. Now having played Andromeda, I'd say that it actually gets a lot of little things right, but that gets undercut by some big things it got wrong.

      I agree that Andromeda's tone was an attempt to capture the magic of the ME3 DLC Citadel. But the reason it worked so well in the DLC is because it had three games' worth of characters, plot, setting, and inherited fan wisdom to draw upon. And beneath the humor, there was a lot of heart. And, most importantly, it was only a DLC. Maintaining that sort of tone for the duration of a 70-hour game I think is… problematic. Suddenly, it becomes very one-note. The reason that Tali's “emergency induction port” scene in ME3 worked so well wasn't because it was one scene in a line of Tali knee-slappers. Had she been a jokester the whole time, that scene would've just got lost in the static. For me, all the joke-y-ness in Andromeda quickly became an annoying background noise because of how frequently it happened.

      To me, the characters of Andromeda were one of the bigger issues. People are quick to point out that the original trilogy had three games to flesh out their characters and that it's unfair to compare three games' worth of character development to just this one game's character development. So I always like to make a more apples-to-apples comparison between the characters of just ME1 and Andromeda. It's true that the original Mass Effect squad was a bit bland and were a bit one-note. The characters in Andromeda are downright colorful by comparison. But the ME1 characters do something that's way more important: They actually matter to the story. They're essentially walking Wikipedia articles that lay all of the important groundwork to the story being told in ME1. Kaiden is the biotics Wiki. Ashley is the First Contact War Wiki. Wrex is the Krogan Rebellion Wiki. Tali is the Geth Wiki, and so on. These are all things important to the story being told. This is storytelling 101. And the characters from Andromeda don't even do this. Cora and Liam could just as easily be Initiative Mook 1 and Initiative Mook 2 and nothing is lost. Cut out Vetra, Peebee, and Drack and nothing is lost. The only squadmate who actually adds anything to the story is Jaal because he's the bridge between what you're trying to do and his people. No matter what you think of those other characters, they're all completely expendable and that's a problem.

      Andromeda was an ambitious undertaking that included a lot of the Mass Effect conceits going back to the drawing board. The idea of an open world game was new to the series. The combat got completely overhauled, the Paragade dialogue system got replaced with something that almost worked. The themes, tone, and story were all different. And this all could have worked beautifully if the game had been worked on during the reported five years instead of the rumored 18 months it was actually completed in. It's an absolute marvel that this game came out and was even remotely playable of the reports are true, but I can't sign off on the idea that this is a great game.

      If you enjoyed Andromeda – right on. I can dig it. But for me, it sort-of satisfied me as a video game fan. But it did not satisfy me at all as a Mass Effect fan.

    • C__ says:

      So, Andromeda is pretty much like Fast and Furious on space? Ok, i can work with that

  25. Sunshine says:

    “It's one thing to turn Shelob into a sexy lady, it's another to do so with such a profound lack of skill and imagination.”

    I never saw a picture before, and you are completely right. Off the top of my head, she could be draped in spider-silk, or wearing jewellery that invokes multiple arachnid eyes, or have her face partly obscured by a cobweb veil. But no, nothing remarkable at all.

    • BlueHorus says:

      She could be draped in spider-silk, or wearing jewellery that invokes multiple arachnid eyes, or have her face partly obscured by a cobweb veil.

      Now that – that would have been clever. Like, clever enough to justify the inclusion of her in the game. Make it seem like she really is a spider, using magic to appear human.

      But, no. That would be too smart, apparently.

      • Daemian Lucifer says:

        Hey,they had to spend the moneys on animating the greedy orc!Priorities!

        • trevalyan says:

          I choose to believe that the art direction, which to its credit does not try to make her actually look over-sexualized, is to make her a generically bland human with some “mysterious darkness.” She can’t hide it, being the descendant of one of the most evil and powerful Maiar that ever existed, but putting on a human guise makes her more approachable to Talion. As opposed to the player constantly yelling at the screen: “You’re taking orders from a giant spider! Look at your life, look at your choices!”

          I’m fine with Shelob’s portrayal, though I think making her a spider would have been even cooler. Eh.

  26. Nick Powell says:

    Well that is just a perfect description of Shadow of War’s setting.

    I imagine Christopher Tolkien digging a grave for himself just so he can start rolling in it whenever these two most recent games come up.

  27. Zak McKracken says:

    Typo: “you can't overcome evil though the use of cunning” –> “you can't overcome evil through the use of cunning”

    …and that principle holds not just in the LoTR books but also in the real world, a lot more than too many people realize.

  28. ThaneofFife says:

    FYI to those looking to buy Wolfenstein: The New Colossus, it’s been on sale for 50% off twice in the past two months (including the Steam holiday sale). So, there’s a good chance you can pick it up at a discount if you keep an eye on the price.

  29. Fade2Gray says:

    I see you squeezed a Star Trek quote into a LotR discussion. Much nerd cred.

    ^The above is sarcasm.

  30. PPX14 says:

    Gosh this description of Shadow of Mordor/War is so close to how I feel about the Disney Star Wars films (bad prequel trilogy notwithstanding)

    I hate the entire idea of [Disney Star Wars]. I hate the [films and new fictional universe] from conception to execution. I hate its design, I hate its marketing, I hate its sophomoric story, and I find the entire work to be a disgusting, infantile bastardization of one of the greatest works of fiction of the 20th century, and probably one of the greatest works in [film].

    And most of all I hate how this story pretends to revere the source material in superficial ways while holding in contempt the very things that made the [originals (and extended universe)] so profound and unique

    Okay not necessarily thematically profound or unique, but that perfect confluence of simple story and enchanting universe that people find so magical.

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