Spring is beginning to arrive in the Northern Hemisphere and while the warmth is much appreciated, it’s not keeping us away from the games! What are you all playing this first month of sunshine?

Wendy B. is back in Thedas

Dragon Age: InquisitionDragon Age Inquisition - BioWare - Electronic Arts (November 2014)
BioWare, Electronic Arts
November 2014
PC

I finished this game with my Dalish elf (whose adventures you can follow in my Inquisition Diaries) and have finally returned to my dwarf archer so that I can explore the other options. Actually, first I went back to an old save with my elf so she could make out with Cullen. Yes I have saves specifically for the exploration of romance options. Anyway, I am playing my dwarf, Mieke Cadash, as an Inquisitor who intends to profit from her new found power and position of ultimate authority, as would be expected from any member of the ruthless carta. She’s not necessarily a bad person. She just knows what she wants and isn’t afraid to use others to ensure that the carta’s lyrium trade business remains lucrative. This playthrough stems from my Dragon Age Keep world state where a ruthless dwarf sacrificed herself to end the Blight in Dragon Age: Origins, and my slightly crazy Hawke sided with the templars in Dragon Age II.

The fun part is that my nine year old daughter’s interest in the game has expanded. She not only wants to play, but to learn more about the lore, as well, so we’ve been reading through Dragon Age: The World of Thedas.

Lindsey is feeling nostalgic

Dragon Ball XenoVerse
Namco Bandai Studios
27th Feb 2015
PC

I have been on a massive nostalgia kick this past weekend. While I can surely attribute some of my “feels” to the release of Gold Saucer in Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn (I‘ll admit, I fangirled and squealed when the music kicked in), there was another game that got this ball rolling —Dragon Ball XenoVerse. My affinity for anime started with Dragon Ball Z and Sailor Moon, which is why both will always hold a special place in my heart. In fact, my first foray into online roleplaying was with a DBZ fan character. Fast forward to 16 years later, and I’m still that giddy 10-year old when DBZ rears its head. This time has been no different. I tell a lie, this time has been even worse.

Dragon Ball XenoVerse, or DBXV for short, works on the premise that you are a Time Patroller summoned by Trunks to help fix discrepancies in time. The great thing about this is that you can both be a completely custom character and play all of the iconic moments of the show without technically breaking canon–in fact, you are fixing the canon.

So far, it’s been loads of fun. The XenoVerse server hasn’t been the most stable, but it is release weekend and there was an unexpected surge of interest right near release – I think some can be blamed on Curtis Annott aka Takahata101 of Team Four Star being a voice option in the game. What I’ve been really pleased to see is so many female characters! I’m not sure how many of them are actually girls, but there seems to be an interest in bringing the “fairer” sex into the ring and showing that they can whop on your face just as well as the next.

I’ve finally reached a point where the keyboard controls are just getting too difficult to use so quickly. Luckily, the game does support controller–it was built for it, really. But we only have one controller on the go and my other half is using it. But I am not going to let that stop me from Galick Gun-ing the Ginyu Force in the face.

Rachel Stevens is getting tactical

ShadowrunShadowrun: Dragonfall Director’s Cut
Harebrained Schemes
September 18, 2014
PC

I just can’t help myself, I adore tactical games. After having had Shadowrun Returns and the original release of Dragonfall in my Steam library for so long, and after the announcement for the Shadowrun Hong Kong Kickstarter, I knew it was time to actually play through it.

The setting of Shadowrun, similar to the 7th edition of my favorite tabletop RPG, Gamma World, had the Earth become extremely strange in the year 2012. While Gamma World had the Large Hadron Collider malfunction and fuse hundreds of Earths together, Shadowrun had magic return to the world, starting with people of Aboriginal/First Nations origins. Certain people became orcs and trolls during puberty, and others gave birth to elves and dwarves. Of course, genetic variations are your “race” choice in the game. Of course. (Race as a label for mechanical signifiers for biological differences  is something I’ve increasingly found iffy, not gonna lie.)

There are technically no classes in the Shadowrun tabletop game, but both Harebrained Schemes made Shadowrun games give you the option to start out with toolkits of stats called archetypes that equate to classes in other games. You can choose to be a Physical Adept, who punches people with magic, a Mage, who blasts people with magic, a Summoner, who draws nature spirits out of totems or the environment, a Rigger, who fights alongside mechanical drones, a Decker, who can access the digital world of Shadowrun, or a Street Samurai, the closest thing Shadowrun has to a martial/melee class in other RPGs.

Anywho, the world of the modern day in Shadowrun takes place about forty or fifty years after the Awakening, where countries aren’t necessarily around so much as megacorps, and mercenaries who work in the shadows called runners take jobs to survive in an increasingly strange, cyberpunk fantasy world.

Where Shadowrun Returns started out as a gritty noir mystery and ended up as a dungeon crawl with bugs in Seattle (Harebrained Schemes is based in Seattle, so it’s fun to see references to locations I know), Dragonfall Director’s Cut takes place in the world of Berlin, 2054 A.D. You start out with a gang of runners trying to take care of a simple job: a heist. Of course, the job is much more complicated than you’ve been told and everything goes south, leading to the death of a party member. You fall into a web of intrigue trying to determine the significance of the name “Feuerschwinge”, and travel across the Flux-State that the city’s become, mostly free of corp interests that nevertheless want to put a foothold where they’re not wanted.

You can either stick with the party members that the game gives you, or you can hire mercenaries depending on the job. Personally, I like most of the cast of the game, especially the troll sniper Eiger and the cyborg Street Samurai named Glory. The decker named Blitz, though, is written too effectively as obnoxious and selfish for me to actually like him.

I haven’t beaten the game yet, but I’m already enjoying it more than Shadowrun Returns. I haven’t played the original version of Dragonfall, admittedly, so I can’t name any of the new features in particular besides a different UI from Returns, and a more compelling cast of characters. Shadowrun Returns felt like the efforts of a developer trying to find their feet, but Dragonfall Director’s Cut feels confident and sure about what it wants to be. I actually care about video game characters without voice acting for the first time in a long time.

Jules Low is choosing some adventures

80 Days80-Days
Inkle Studios
July 31, 2014
Inkle Studios, Profile Books
iOS

An enormous wager, less than three months to accomplish it, four-thousand pounds in your pocket, and a suitcase. Go. This is 80 Days, a wonderful choose your own adventure text game on Android and iOS devices that I only recently found out about. I love history and science fiction, and this game blends the two so well. You play as Jean Passepartout, the valet to one Phileas Fogg, both fictional characters from the Jules Verne epic Around the World in Eighty Days. The game is not merely an adaptation of the novel, but a delightful twist that explores the more tense and questionable parts of history, as well as Western European societal perceptions during this period.

I’ll get right to it, it’s steampunk. For those of you groaning, yes I know, trust me. I’m not the biggest fan of steampunk, I feel like too much of it forgets the “punk” suffix and prefers to focus more on crank-operated revolvers and copper cogwork blimps. However 80 Days doesn’t try and stuff coal-powered top hats right into your face, in fact it’s only when travelling on your journey that you realise the majority of the fantastical technology exists merely in modes of transport and convenience. It feels much more grounded that way, filling any blanks to the atmosphere each new page of text brings, and letting you as the player and reader create your own story that doesn’t revolve around these machines, but more the characters you play as and come across.

The game also accomplishes what I feel a lot of alternate historical fiction lacks, in that it brusquely challenges both the notions of the time and our contemporary thoughts of that period. While playing as the proudly French Passepartout, you are given many dialogue options and narrative choices. These allow you to either plant yourself in Passepartout’s shoes, questioning fervent nationalism and exploitative capitalist tendencies, or simply be him and lean into being the naive inquisitory white man who has found himself anywhere from the harsh heat of Karachi to the jazz-filled streets of New Orleans. The story does not shy away from how the world was perceived back then, and still is nowadays.

With the game mechanics of travel and inventory management, every day that passes leaves you biting your nails as you scan the global map. As the clock ticks away you wonder if you should play it safe and take the Trans-Siberian railway through to Asia, where you could end up in jail for four whole days due to tampering with Imperial security, only to find yourself trapped later on in Acapulco as the French navy invades.

The game also has so much replayability, allowing you to discover this rich and vibrant world with each playthrough, the only restrictions on how you traverse the globe being your own personal choice and timing. I also love that the game does not end if your train derails, or if you’re robbed, or if you go over the eighty-day time limit. It just keeps going, leaving you with mouth agape at your circumstances, awkwardly sitting with Master Fogg to contemplate exactly what just happened. It’s daunting and downright cruel sometimes, but damn if it doesn’t give me the travelling itch.

Sarah Richardson is rolling the die

RPG_Marvel_Super_Heroes_ASMarvel Super Heroes
TSR
1984
2 10-sided die

My regular Tuesday night group has been playing this for a couple of sessions now that we’ve switched from D&D 5e. You build your very own superhero in this RPG, and we have characters ranging from a giant crimson cricket who can manipulate light to an alien with access to advanced technology to a rock star whose guitar does some pretty cool things with sound. They built their superheroes by rolling on the charts included in the book, and the results do remind me of the seeming randomness of early superheroes.

There are two exceptions to this. I used the Realms of Magic supplement to make my character, so I could see how the magic system works. Synthia the Divine Serpent has two biomechanical magical snakes and a suit of armor that eats batteries. I had ended up in the School of Scientific Magic, so Synthia is Dr. Strange with a healthy dose of Iron Man’s tinkering. The other exception is Alice the Wondergirl, who is a character class from A Red & Pleasant Land, which is a supplement for Lamentations of the Flame Princess based on the Alice in Wonderland via Dracula and some seriously weird (and amazing) shit. Alice is sweet and fun, and every time she reached into her pocket, our GM rolls on a random table to see what she pulls out. He’s using it for the adventure as well, which is why (I think) the torso of Bela Lugosi attacked us in the first session. That might just be our GM, who has set this in the 70’s in California, although now we’ve begun traveling through time, thanks to an appropriately cryptic Sphinx.

So far, Marvel Super Heroes hasn’t run me over, due to its clunky mechanics. It uses the FASERIP system, which is a set of seven attributes that have a rating of “Amazing”, “Incredible”, etc, based on the number rolled during character generation. Anytime a roll is called for, you check your stat, roll 2 10-sided die, then consult a chart that’s color-coded to see how well you did. This doesn’t work well for my brain, which is used to rolling one or two dice and maybe adding a number. All the chart does is take me out of the game with its blinding primary colors and awkward scrolling, so I have to try to get back into character after doing anything. Overall, it’s just not quite doing it for me, and I’m eager to see what system my Tuesday night group plays next.

Brenda is watching her game

wolf among usThe Wolf Among Us
Telltale Games
October 11, 2013
Steam, PC

Yes, I’m a little late to the party. I’ve wanted to play it for a while so was super happy when I won a season pass Steam key for The Wolf Among Us from the Academy of Interactive Arts and Sciences for tweeting about this year’s D.I.C.E Summit session with Never Alone’s Gloria O’Neill and Alan Gershenfeld.

The Wolf Among Us is an episodic series based on the Vertigo comic book, Fables. Fables tells the story of fairytale characters forced from their homeland to live in the real world, a world similar to our own. I’ve always loved the concept of Fables, but when I picked up my first trade seven years ago, they were already five years in and I felt behind the eight ball. It’s been around far longer than ABC’s television show Once Upon A Time, and it has a huge following.

In the game, you play as the reformed Big Bad Wolf, known as Bigby. He’s the law, keeping the peace and investigating nefarious activity. The Wolf Among Us can be a bit violent and gory, so if you’re squeamish, this might not be for you. Gentle spoiler, in an early sequence, you are attacked with an ax and there is blood.There is also a lot of storytelling in the game, where you’re just watching the events unfold. At certain points you can select responses from Bigby to other characters in the game, walk around and investigate or fight.  I’m not sure yet if my actions really alter the outcomes of the game.

For me, it’s like watching a Fables television show where every once in a while I, as the viewer, get to take part. The downside of that is that television in my house is a family activity and I don’t see The Wolf Among Us as something that we could all play together at once. It feels like it’s competing for my TV hours, not really my gaming hours.

I’m curious enough to play through the season and see where it takes me. In the future, I think it might be better as a game to play when I’m travelling alone for business. Something interesting but light, well except for the all that blood.

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