You know when grown-ups tell you everything's going to be fine, and you think they're probably lying to make you feel better?
Yes.
Everything's going to be fine.

Saturday, April 30

Cool

Mass Effect 1.9

I haven't finished Mass Effect 2 yet, but I've played enough of it to form an opinion:

It's a damn good game.

There are some changes I'd rather they hadn't made - stripping out the inventory system rather than fixing it, removing two thirds of the skill tree, the galaxy-wide technology downgrade, the omnigel thing, the tragic loss of the Mako.*

The game and the story it tells are somewhat uneven, and feel disjointed at times, but when it's good it's very good indeed.  The settings are generally more varied and more effectively used than in the original - the spaceship interiors in the new game are so much better than before that there's really no comparison.  And the combat, once you've adapted to it and stopped getting shot all the time, is fast and fun.

How does it stack up against the original?  I can compare a few aspects:

Environments: Mass Effect has a few environments that were extremely well done - Eden Prime being a good example - but also a lot of dull concrete bunkers.  Mass Effect 2 matches it in awesome moments but delivers them more consistently.  Definite edge to the sequel here.**

Combat: Where Mass Effect is a shooter, Mass Effect 2 is specifically a cover shooter.  Enemies in the new game have insane fire rates and unlimited ammo, and your armour and shields won't stop them from turning you into hamburger if you get caught in the open.  Both combat systems work well, but the difference is jarring at first.  I've had a lot of fun with combat in both games; but in Mass Effect 2 incendiary rounds can actually set things on fire, so it automatically gets my vote here.

Vehicles: Mass Effect has the Mako, a six-wheeled all-terrain vehicle made out of rubber and concentrated awesome.  It has GPS, radar, a detailed engineering console, and four-level telescopic zoom on both the main cannon and the machine gun.  It can climb a 60° slope and survive a fall down a mountain with only minor damage to the paintwork.  There's nothing like taking out a geth sniper by blowing it 30 feet into the air and setting it on fire, or scooting backwards away from a thresher maw while taking alternate shots with cannon and machine gun.  Mass Effect 2 has the Hammerhead, a flying tank that can neither fly nor tank, and both sounds and handles like a soup can in a washing machine.  When it's a relief to get out and walk, you know your vehicle has a problem.  Original game all the way here.

Story: Since I haven't finished the sequel yet, I can't say for sure, but the story of the original seems both deeper and more focused.  There's a sense at times with Mass Effect 2 that you're just going through the motions, playing through a series of set pieces that, while individually excellent, don't really form a coherent whole.  The original was greater than the sum of its parts, but I get the feeling sometimes that the sequel is less.  So far, edge to the original.

Equipment: In the original, you carried four weapons: sniper rifle at your left shoulder, assault rifle at the right, a compact shotgun at the small of your back, and a pistol at your hip.  All characters had access to all the weapons, though non-combatants were generally hopeless with anything but a shotgun at point-blank range.  You also had grenades for when the enemy decided to hole up behind a wall.  The sequel adds a heavy weapon to the mix, which is all a bit much, and you can't choose not to carry one of the weapons just because you never use it.*** 

The original had far more diferent weapons and armour options, and far more upgrades, but in the sequel the different weapons are more distinct - the machine gun is not just an improved assault rifle; it sounds and handles completely differently.  On the other hand, in the original you could get a better weapon that was just plain better; if you had the cash you didn't always have to trade off between firepower and accuracy.  By the end of the game I could basically fire non-stop and on-target; of course, by the end of the game I was facing heavy turrets and giant alien robots that could kill me with two shots if I was lucky (and one if I wasn't) so being able to whittle away at their armour and shields with steady small-arms fire didn't remove the need to run and hide.

In the original, all the weapons were railguns, firing tiny hypervelocity rounds and effectively providing infinite ammo, but having a constant overheating problem, requiring short careful bursts of fire to prevent a meltdown.  The sequel has ammo clips - it calls them "thermal" clips and claims they're used to cool the weapon down, but that's just a lie.  They're ammo clips, and they make no sense given the technology established in the first game.  And where in the first game after wiping out a squad of baddies you could loot the corpses and take their weapons, the sequel has you running around after every battle looking for dropped clips.

Oh, and where in the original special types of ammo (armour piercing, incendiary, explosive and such) were clips that you could find or buy and fit to specific weapons, in the sequel they're character skills.  Which works great as long as you never ever think about it.  Original game wins here.

Characters and Continuity:  Hmm.  Let's see.  In the original, the Citadel Council were democrats a bunch of arrogant jerks who couldn't see past the ends of their noses (and two of them didn't have noses) and threatened the entire galaxy through their idiocy.  In the sequel after you have they act exactly the same.  In the original, Cerberus are a bunch of smug, arrrogant, criminally insane lunatics out to destroy the galaxy in the name of saving mankind.  They're also not terribly bright.  In the sequel they're just the same, only now

Of your original team, only two rejoin you as permanent crew members, though all who survived the original game do show up at various points.  One nice touch in the continuity between the two games - and there's four different possible outcomes, and the sequel adapts appropriately.

I played through the original game almost exclusively using Ashley and either Liara or Tali, as the mission required.  If you needed a tech for a mission, you needed a tech, and that was the end of it.  In the sequel, you don't need techs, though they can be useful.  That does mean that you can choose pretty much anyone for any mission, at least once you've progressed into the game a bit and everyone's at a decent level.  I really like Kasumi, the thief from the Stolen Memories expansion; her ability to sneak up behind people and shoot them in the head is even better than a sniper.

I think the characters are actually better characterised in Mass Effect 2, but I'm not so convinced that they're better characters.  I much prefer characters who are in over their heads but do their best to get the job done to ones who are hyper-competent but complain all the time.

You know, I think that's actually a key difference - in the original game, at all times you felt that you were in over your head.  Every time you thought you had an angle on things, they shifted and grew more complex and more dangerous.  I'm not getting that feeling from Mass Effect 2.  Compare Liara the archaeologist from Mass Effect to Liara the information broker from Mass Effect 2.  That's what I'm talking about.

Anyway, edge here goes to the original.

Number of Crew Lost: Mass Effect:    Mass Effect 2:       No question, Shepard I ran a tighter ship than Shepard II.

Ending: In Mass Effect, running the spoiler down the spoiler past all the spoilers firing at me, through the spoiler and into the spoiler where it crashed into a wall and left a flaming wreck was completely awesome, and then I got to save the galaxy.  The ending was entirely satisfying, and I sat and watched the credits all the way through, the way I do when I've seen a particularly great movie and don't want to leave the cinema just yet.  Haven't finished Mass Effect 2 yet, so we'll see.

While Dragon Age II was a train wreck and no sort of sequel to its inspired predecessor, Mass Effect 2 is a solid and very enjoyable, albeit imperfect, followup to a very good game.  The third part of the Mass Effect trilogy is due at the end of the year, and I'm definitely looking forward to that.  There's a Dragon Age III due out at some point too, but I doubt I'll be buying that one at all.

Oh, and both games are set to spawn anime OVAs.  I predict that they will be awful, but I'm willing to be surprised there.

* In a lovely touch, one of the expansion modules allows you to find your original Mako and hold a memorial service.  Another module gives a nod to the omnigel thing.

** I was disappointed with the interior of one of the derelict ships you visit the first time I played that particular mission.  However, when I came to go back and replay it (for reasons I won't go into, because they involve spoilers) I realised that the scenery I'd been looking at - the boring catwalks and dull banks of machinery - was stuff that had been installed by the human research team, and that if you looked around a bit more you could see the weird alien architecture behind it all.

*** Actually, in the section I'm currently playing through, I've had reason to use all five of the weapons I'm carrying.  But that's partly because I put away the machine gun because it's too inaccurate - and too noisy when playing late at night.  The machine gun is the second-best weapon for any combat situation, but it does have a huge amount of ammo and lets you bull your way through most fights by sheer weight of metal.

**** Well, I did.  I wonder how it plays if you make a different choice there.

***** In the original, at one critical moment you went and stole .  If you had any sense, this is the first thing you'd do in the sequel too.

Posted by: Pixy Misa at 06:53 AM | Comments (4) | Add Comment | Trackbacks (Suck)
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Friday, April 15

Cool

The Heavens In Their Glory

This is a slideshow of astronomical photographs made by one of the members of the JREF forums through homemade telescopes.

The pictures are beautiful in themselves, but the fact that he built his own 16" Newtonian telescope to take them is inspirational.


Posted by: Pixy Misa at 06:38 PM | No Comments | Add Comment | Trackbacks (Suck)
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Tuesday, April 12

Cool

Master And Collector

Adobe has just announced Creative Suite 5.5 and it looks like their subscription program has gone global and now also includes the other suites rather than being limited to Design Premium (when what I wanted all along was Web Premium, since I don't exactly do a whole lot of DTP work).

I could actually get their entire Master Collection and not really have it cost me any more - I need a copy of Contribute to test integration with Minx, and the cost of buying that outright equals the difference in subscription costs for the first 12 months.  Or I could drop InDesign which I have never used once and save myself fifty bucks a month.

Only it's not actually shipping yet, and you can't order the same subscription under CS5 and wait for the upgrade to ship out to you. 

I also wonder if it comes with a new icon set because after the clean style of CS3 and 4 the icons for 5 were hideous.  I actually went through and changed them all on my computer back to the CS4 icons because I couldn't stand looking at them.

Probably not.

Posted by: Pixy Misa at 04:12 PM | Comments (1) | Add Comment | Trackbacks (Suck)
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Saturday, April 09

Cool

Dragon Age: Origins, A Belated Review

Good: Doesn't quite hold up to Planescape: Torment in its storytelling.  But almost.  Which makes it one of the best RPGs ever.  Also, the first time Leliana jump-stabs an ogre.

Bad: Tends to crash when you fire off multiple flashy spells at once - in other words, right in the middle of desperate combat scenes when you can't save the game.

Ugly: Shame they never made a sequel.

Highly recommended.

Posted by: Pixy Misa at 10:31 PM | No Comments | Add Comment | Trackbacks (Suck)
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Cool

And So It Came To Pass

That Pixy saw the breadth of his saved game, and wept, for there were no more darkspawn to rend limb from limb.

Also, the main character was spoilered, which kind of puts a damper on things.*

So, that's Dragon Age: Origins finally done.**  That just leaves Dragon Age: Origins - Awakening, Dragon Age II, Mass Effect, Mass Effect 2, Fallout 3, and Fallout New Vegas on my must play list.  Oh, and Bioshock and Bioshock 2.  And Jade Empire, which I've never got around to playing.

Oh, and Civilization V, which I haven't even looked at yet.  And the whole Dawn of War saga.  And...  Um.  Curse you, Steam!

Update: I've now played through Witch Hunt and started Awakening, the two expansions to Origins that are outside the main adventure but follow on from the story.  The funny thing is, according to events established in the main story, either Witch Hunt can be true or Awakening can be; they stem from opposite turnings of a particular plot point late in the game.  Actually, if you make the same story choices I did, neither can be true.  In which case it only makes sense to play both.

Update: I've ditched the Awakening expansion: It's narratively broken. 

In Origins, you start off as a talented but inexperienced young whatever, and work your way up to become the hero of the kingdom.  Your companions stay with you through your travels and likewise earn their new skills and powers.

In Awakening, most of your original companions have left to take up their own lives, and instead everyone you meet starts out as strong as you became over the 60-80 hours of Origins.  That just cheapens the whole experience of the original game.

Also, it apparently doesn't have Morrigan, Leliana or Shale in it, and only a cameo of Alistair.  They contributed most of the flavour of the first game, and without them it's just not fun.

Well, on with Dragon Age II then!  Though I doubt I'll get as wrapped up in this one, since I've finally had my RPG fix after a four year dry*** spell.  (I finished Planescape: Torment in 2007.)

* That twit spoiler had to go and fall 300 feet onto solid rock leaving me to clean up his mess.  Next time maybe I'll just leave spoiler and spoiler to make spoilers on the eve of the battle and see how that works out.

** At least for one playthrough, in which I apparently only covered 40% of the game.  And leaving out at least three of the expansions.

*** Mostly.  I started playing Dragon Age and Mass Effect previously, but never got even half way through either.

Posted by: Pixy Misa at 06:42 AM | Comments (2) | Add Comment | Trackbacks (Suck)
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