(spoilers: Mass Effect trilogy, Dragon Age, Dragon Age 2)
Seeing as I have no money to actually buy video games coupled with the fact that Verizon's idea of "high speed internet" is 500kb/s , which means won't be able to [s]pirate [/s]wait patiently for a Steam sale, I've decided to begin my "Most Overrated" series where I take the things you all know and love and shit on them for no apparent reason. In keeping with the spirit of my blog, these posts will carry on my tradition of crippling negativity and hopelessness. I will begin this series with two posts; the one you are reading now, outlining everything I despise about the hype surrounding Bioware, followed by another post with a surprise topic, Bioshock Infinite (Oh yeah. Surprise!). So with Dragon Age 3 revealing more information, I figured I should remind everyone that if the prospect of another Dragon Age game gets you excited than you may qualify for disability.
I've never quite understood the reason Bioware carries a sort of seal of quality behind its name. If this was the mid 2000s or late 90s and the Bioware brand was still benefiting from the hype it's received from the KOTOR and Baulders Gates series, I could understand the trust that consumers put into the brand. However, in recent years we have seen the gradual, spiraling decay of talent coming out of the Bioware studios with the development of Dragon Age 2 and the complete fumbling of the Mass Effect series (And by the way, the ending wasn't even close to the only narrative issue) along with the revealed details about a new Mass Effect game, were starting to see the EA cycle work it's why into the once decent game developer. I hope you're ready for a Mass Effect: The Strategy Game, Mass Effect: The MMO and Mass Effect: The Dating Simulator (Joke's on them, Mass Effect is already a dating simulator).
Since Bioware loves stories so much allow me to tell you a tale. It's the story of a game developer who squandered RPGers trust and would prefer to talk more about their anti-marriage stance than actually addressing the issues that permeate throughout their games. It's the story of a studio who's arrogance alienated fans and destroyed beloved franchises. This is the story of Bioware.
Game play innovations, or lack thereof.
During the 90s, video games saw the largest amount of innovation since it's conception. The first RTS, the first FPS, the first grand strategy; all appeared in this relatively short time and continued until the mid 2000s when video games began seeing a stagnation of gameplay innovation that ultimately lead to modern gaming where the majority of major E3 reveals are sequels and rehashes.
And in this regard, Bioware has done little to alleviate the stagnation. Arguably, Dragon Age: Origins was one of the few innovative titles in terms of game play in recent years. The mix of action and strategy harkened back to games like Baulders Gate and Knights of the Old Republic. And yet despite the incredible reception to Dragon Age: Origins, Bioware and EA were not content to play by different rules; they weren't satisfied with having a game that didn't take the mechanics of another series and just replace the art assets and slap on a story. They instead chose the 'broader audience' approach and showed RPG fans that they're more concerned with how flashy they can make the combat look than they are to developing interesting game play that engages the player.
Dragon Age 2 was a cruel joke in terms of game play, a $60 dollar prank. The pitiful amount of challenge it offered only varied by its artificial difficulty where turning up the game from easy to hard simply increased health amount and damage done by the enemy AI. Rather than forcing you to approach situations depending on the positioning of the enemy and anticipating powerful enemies ability, you can simply wade into the fray without having the worry about your companions dying simply because the new equipment system of Dragon Age 2 had been so striped down that throwing on some basic armor and a ring or two would be enough to support your entire party of 3. And this is what Bioware wanted. They didn't want new players to have to concern themselves with carefully selecting companion gear. They instead tried to compromised by leaving a few ring slots that don't really mean anything while shifting all the focus on to Hawke and how 'uber' they can make him look.
Mass Effect, while better, was a marginable improvement. To its credit, the first Mass Effect had an extensive inventory system, unfortunately after the player reached a certain point in the game, the weapons became vastly superior to the enemies and hindered the challenge greatly. Regardless, there were spots where the player had to genuinely strategize. And then came Mass Effect 2, by far Biowares easiest game to date. Jumping from cover to cover to engaged enemies until your shield went down, ducked into cover until it recharged and repeated until everything was dead. Even the giant robot fetus at the end offered a meager amount of difficulty. The biggest mistake Bioware has made with the Mass Effect series was focusing so much on cover shooting. This isn't fun, Bioware. It isn't fun to hid behind a wall and pop out for half a second before diving behind cover again. And it doesn't get better in Mass Effect 3. The entire game is just a slow progression of diving behind conveniently placed walls and boxes.
Baulders Gate and KOTOR were by no means the pinnacle of great game play but it at least had some semblance of strategy. But today, Bioware is more concerned with emulating more successful games and slapping their own story over it while parading it around as original.
Are we ready to admit that Bioware stories aren't that great?
Yes, it's true, the one facet that Bioware claims dominance over is one of their weakest points. In fairness, Bioware does a good job at writing some characters (SOME, as in not Fenris and his angsty bullshit) and even then they tend to fit into an archetype that is shared across many Bioware games. The 'tough' character (Jack, Aveline, ), the mysterious character (Fenris, Thane), the 'witty' character (Isabella, Garrus), the 'cutesy' character (Merrill, Liara, Kasumi, Tali), the wise character (Samara, Wynne) and of course the boring characters no one cares about like Kaiden, Jacob, Anders (Yeah, thanks for ruining a perfectly good character, Bioware), really anyone who wasn't previously mentioned probably isn't worth mentioning with the exception of Legion who manages to not fit into an overexploited archetype.
As far as main plots go you can almost always (and I'm tempted to just say always) boil them down to 'ancient evil'. These are antagonists who border Saturday morning cartoon villain status, complete with illogical plots and lack of motivation. Mass Effect , for instance, tries to explain The Reapers motivation in a grand total of about 5 seconds. Essentially, The Reapers want to destroy humanity because humanity will eventually create Reapers that will destroy humanity, so in order to stop humanity from destroying humanity, the Reapers destroy humanity. I think the only missing plot device in this arc of a story is how much Bath Salt the writers injected their neck to come up with this shit.
I can thankfully say that Dragon Age 2 does not suffer from a convoluted main plot, not because the writing in Dragon Age 2 is good but because Dragon Age 2 has no main plot to begin with. I played that game twice and still can't figure out a single reason Hawke should even exist never mind be the protagonist of a story that spans 10 years. The most memorable part of DA2 is when you're family is escaping from the Blight and eventually you reach the city of Kirkwall. The reason this is so memorable is because it's the only part of the plot that isn't a crunchy cluster bar of nougatty fuck. Your first task is raise enough money to go on a scavenging expedition so you can raise money (I'm not even joking). And here's the fucked up part, the amount of money you get from the expedition is less than you raised to go on it in the first place. In chapter 2 something happens with the Qunari because someone stole their book or something, basically who-gives-a-shit is what happened in the second chapter. Nothing happened during that time period that matters to this non-existent story.
Eventually you get to the final boss fight where the main templar lady goes crazy and starts killing people. Why? Because fuck it that's why. Why WOULDN'T she go crazy and start killing everyone? That's what people with white hair and black armor do in Bioware games. After some more boring, uneventful stuff happens, Anders goes crazy, blow up a Chruch and declares Jihad against the Templars. Let me explain how bad this plot line has been. Bioware could have taken literally everything out of the game and left only the last 30 minutes in and it would have been enough to set the scene for the 3rd installment. Almost nothing in this game mattered. I never felt like my character progressed, the story meant nothing and the entire game was just a vapid build-up to Anders destroying a temple. And not to mention, the temple itself had maybe a dozen people in it and Bioware wants us to believe that would be enough to spark a world war between mages and templars?
Bioware used to create above-average stories like Baulders Gate (Of course this was back when they worked with Black Isle, a vastly superior studio), but even then they were overshadowed by games like Planescape and Fallout. They can make interesting worlds but they lack the resolve to give me a reason to progress through those worlds.
Don't like our game? What are you, a homophobe?
There are plenty of game companies, and companies in general, that support gay marriage. I would go as far as to say they majority of gamers also take this stance. But the fervency that Bioware takes with their pro-gay message in on a level I haven't seen in a company.
I would have no issue with this if it weren't for EAs obnoxious insistence that the reason gamers attack Bioware products is because of homophobia. I wish this was an exaggeration but a few months ago EA brazenly stated that a large portion of people who attacked the company were bitter homophobes. Keep in mind this is coming from a company that staged fake protests in order to promote their games and then have the balls to act insulted. There's also that little incident of EA forging digital signatures for their gay marriage petitions. I've never seen any other company so quickly use misogyny and homophobia as a defense against criticism. When Jennifer Hepler, a writer for Bioware, was attacked (in a lot of cases unfairly) one of her infamous Twitter post accused attackers of being jealous that she has "both a vagina AND a games industry job".
Bioware has been keen to use gay people and women if it means being able to worm their way out of criticism. In terms of activism, I have no issue with someone being pro-gay marriage, but to EA and Bioware these are just PR tools that lets them use gay people as mops to clean up their mess.
They're just assholes.
Ultimately, this all accumulates to Bioware developers just being absolute, unadulterated douche-canoes. Whether it's telling a fan to "Deal with it" because they complained about the hair not having proper physics or calling your entire forums "Toxic", Bioware developers and moderators never fail to take their place as part of a small elite who can proudly claim that they are among the biggest assholes in the industry.
It's a shame, I used to be a Bioware fan. Now they've been warped to the point where they're my most hated developer of my most hated publisher.
Oh well, at least David Gaider was kind enough to explain the stages of denial I was feeling before I came to terms with the fact that they've turned into an irredeemable trough of mediocrity.
Only at the end of this post do I realize I didn't even mention SWTOR or the blatantly paid reviews of Dragon Age 2 (Dragon Age 2 is what video games are meant to be. Right, Escapist? RIGHT?). But it's probably for your benefit, I could write pages dedicated to dissecting those monstrosities.
Anyone who pays close attention to the controversies in the video game community should be no stranger to the heated theory proposed by those who believe sexism is a permeating issue within video games and, in some cases, society itself. Unfortunately, this debate is remarkably one sided, with very few people on the other side of the fence who, in many cases are too afraid to take a contrary stance in fear of being publically shamed or called a sexist. But myself, being the low life with no self respect as it is, take no issue with arguing the contrary. Not that sexism doesn't exist in video games, of course it does, it exists in all facets of life and it effects both genders, not just female by the way. My stance, instead, is that despite the fact that sexism in video games exists, we should take no action toward stopping it. Open your mind and take a journey with me.
Drawing the battle lines.
In the thickest of fighting over the issue of video game sexism stands an icon of gaming feminism, Anita Sarkeesian, host of Feminist Frequency and champion of feminist gamers all over the world. She gained notoriety through her Youtube channel, speaking at several conventions (including TEDx) and most notably, the massive success of her Kickstarter project, Tropes vs Women, which raised over $150,000, well past the targeted goal.
Naturally, trolls from every corner of the world were quick to jump on the bandwagon and begin harassing Mrs. Sarkeesian and her followers. But instead of ignoring them like any sensible vlogger would, she instead dedicates entire speeches to denouncing the trolls and claiming they're part of a massive coordinated "hate campaign" . I've never, for instance, heard Anita address her alleged public shaming of Twitter users. The Youtube user, Thunderf00t, for instance, has put together a brilliant dissection of Anita's arguments, found here.
No sensible person has an issue with giving your opinion on an open forum like Youtube, but when you complain about how feminists are being misrepresented and then dedicate entire, syndicated speeches to misrepresenting your opposition, that's when you should reexamine your arguments and see if they would actually hold up to scrutiny without trolls to use as scapegoats.
You don't have a right to not be offended.
A few months ago, in the final week of last semester, I sat with two other game design classes and watched a great presentation by game industry veterans. At the front of the room they talked about their career history, what games they worked on and gave us advice in their respective fields before we plunged ourselves into the competitive world of video games.
One of the many moments that stuck with me, however, is when the speaker spoke briefly on the difficulty of joining the gaming industry. At one point he explained how few female game developers there were throughout the industry and that he doesn't know why it had "taken so long for the game industry to get more women". It was the way he phrased it that rubbed me the wrong way. Was he suggesting that the gaming industry is a conscious being that decides what gender ratio should be allowed to develop games? He seemed completely oblivious to the fact that there is absolutely nothing preventing women from obtaining a game design degree or starting an indie project. Instead he tried to push the blame on to the industry itself for being "anti-woman".
As I said at the start of this article, sexism in games absolutely does exist but people seem to forget the reason. Back twenty or even ten years ago, if you played video games, you were considered a loser. You hid it from your friends and you hid it from any girls you knew. You were afraid to reveal that you played video games. Video gamers were seen as nerds on the lowest rung of the social ladder and often times they were simply by virtue of the fact that throughout their young and teen years they were out caste by members of the opposite sex. Video games were a male past time, especially back then when most teens and tween girls wouldn't even touch gamers never mind pick up a controller.
Eventually these gaming nerds grew up and began making their own games. Entire game companies full of almost exclusively male developers. And knowing that at the time there were so few female gamers and even fewer female developers, they didn't have to worry about offending anyone and when left to their own devices, a male majority will create male centric products. It's nature. But now it's 2013 and the number of female gamers has increased dramatically and we are beginning to see developers walk on egg shells as not to offend any potential female consumers. But why is this a bad thing?
I think it is any developers artistic duty to offend their viewers. Provoking thought through expression is the only way to create compelling pieces of art. Instead what we see is an industry that is vastly more censored than any other industry. For some reason, in the past few years, comedy and video games have been under fire as the only artistic mediums that are not allowed to be offensive. When Mayor Giuliani proposed the closure of an art museum for containing works of art he found offensive, people were up in arms about how censorship is the death of art. But for some reason, going after game developers and comedians is considered admirable.
Censorship is the death of art. If you are reading a book, or watching a movie or playing a video game and you are not offended at some point in the story, than it has failed as a story telling medium. Without anger or objection in a plot line, whether by gender or not, the story will fail to engage readers or viewers.
And if your reasons for objecting to sexism in game is personal, that the story does not suit your tastes and you wish the developers took a different path so you could enjoy it more, than simply admit that is the case. I wish the Transformers series was more in line with my tastes, but I have accepted that Michael Bay's vision for Transformers is a vapid expression of art. I didn't start a Kickstarter to speak out against bad directors, I didn't make videos talking about how action movies have no place in the theatre, I simply did not watch.
Some may argue that sexism in video games promotes the 'rape culture'. This ties once again with comedians being shouted down for rape jokes. These people seem to miss the entire point of free expression. Free expression isn't there to comfort you, it isn't there for you to mold into your own personal soap box. Free expression allows for anyone to share their opinions and vision, whether it be in a public forum or through an artistic medium.
Harkin back to Mayor Giuliani trying to close an art museum over offensive content. Now contrast that with the fact that many gamers, myself included, consider video games to be a form of art. Are we, as gamers, so willing to restrict and censor a form of art simply because we are afraid of offending someone? If video games are an art as many of you say, than no amount of offensive content would be grounds for removal or alteration. No amount of sexism or racism or any content that one would deem offensive should be subject to censorship or, god forbid, legal action. For years gamers have tried convincing the masses that video games are a form of art, but how can they take us seriously when even we ourselves do not treat video game as a form of art? And if you deem that video games should be censored, than you have forfeited all grounds to call video games an art. Censorship is the death of art.
Some feminists may also argue that sexism in video games effect us as a whole on a societal level. This argument is not unlike the debate on whether or not we should ban violent video games. The proponents of this philosophy propose that the consumption of violent video games has contributed to the murder rate, mass shootings, suicides and crime rate despite the fact that the crime rate has seen a steady decline even as video game consumption increases. This also rings true for sexism. There is no study that suggests that sexism in video game has a direct correlation with rape or violence toward women and in fact the number of rape and domestic violence is decreasing with the overall crime rate. In fact, in countries where abuse toward women is common, particularly countries like Kenya, Pakistan and Ethiopia, the video game consumption rate is remarkably low.
It is logically impossible to take to the stance that violence in video games does not affect society but sexism in video games does.
The bottom line.
If, after reading this article, you still maintain the stance that sexism in video games is wrong, than you forfeit the right to call video games a form of art through virtue of censorship. If you call video games an art but still maintain your stance against sexism in video games than you must admit that it is for a personal reason and that the best course of action is to simply not partake in the purchase of said game.
If you maintain the argument that sexism in video games effects society negatively, than you must also take the stance that violence in video games also increases the murder and violent crime rate, in which case you have lost the empirical argument given that a magnitude of scientific studies has debunked this claim. This arguments house of cards cannot stand under scientific scrutiny.
Should you take anything away from this article, let it be this: Censorship is the death of art. Artists should be left to their own devices without fear of censorship or scrutiny. Any rational human being would not dump paint on a piece of art they found offensive, no rational human being would prevent people from entering a movie theatre showing a movie they found objectionable. No matter how offended you get, no matter how hateful the content of a piece of art is, nothing should drive you to actively work for its removal.
When a developer releases content you do not agree with, simply do not purchase it. Any further action against that product would be absolute selfishness.
I mentioned on one of my blogs that Company of Heroes is one of the best RTS games of this generation. Everything from it's robust graphics engine, it's AI, and it's unique approach to how battles play out on an individual level was a step in a new and brilliant direction. It felt like a fresh break from the average strategy game where enemies stand in front of each other and hit the other guy until he falls over.
RIP THQ. The show must go on.
So imagine my excitement when I heard about SEGA announcing that Relic Entertainment was making a sequel to the "highest rated RTS game in history". There was a few months there where we didn't know what was going to happen to the game series. THQ had filed for bankruptcy and was sadly no more after a valiant battle with financial troubles. But then SEGA buys out Relic and now Company of Heroes lives! Yes! I was so excited! Of course I'm going to play this game and proudly review it, it's the sequel to one of my favorite RTS games of all time!...
How about a nice cup of shattered dreams?
So... Are you waiting for the catch? Can you FEEL it in the air? Can you picture it hurdling toward you, about to slap you in the teeth? Well, my friends, when SEGA bought the rights of Company of Heroes, I was alright with it. SEGA publishes Total War, my favorite strategy series, what could go wrong? A lot actually. You see, the gaming community exists in a series of controversies. Before DRM, there was DLC, before DLC there was whatever people older than me can remember.
While the whole EA, Xbox One DRM train wrecks were being cleaned up, we suddenly seemed to not care anymore about day one DLC. There was a time, just a few months ago where day one DLC was in our cross hairs. Mass Effect's hilarious on-disk DLC for example had the internet in a fit and Bioware haters in stitches. But because the bloated tumor that is corporate interest continued to grow to the point where it over shadowed DLC, we've come to accept it as the norm.
"Alright. Fine. We have day-one DLC. It wasn't that bad, so why are you so angry?" You ask in a perplexed tone with your head cocked to one side. Allow me to illuminate the answer to your question, dear reader.
Let see, two dollar camouflage patterns that doesn't even effect all the vehicles. See the (L), (M), and (H) next to to the text? That means the pattern only effects the light medium or heavy class of vehicle. How lovely. Three dollar tactics. Tactics. I know some people might have taken it a bit far by saying day-one DLC was ripped off the disk, but I refuse to believe this wasn't slashed off the disk and monetized. They literally took a skill tree from the game and are charging three dollars for it. Not only that, they're doing it four times. The German Spearhead and Joint Operations and the Soviet Anti-Infantry and Conscripts Support doctrines. All yours for the low low price of 1/5 of an entire game.
$55.74. That's how much it will cost you for all the day-one DLC. That's less than five dollars from being a whole other game. Awesome. But hey, at least you can get all the DLC if you "upgrade" your game to the collectors edition, in which case it will only cost you $40. How nice of them.
What a disappointment to be faced which before I even buy it. But that's what happens when we let some things slip because we were paying attention to the newest controversy. Companies finally found a way to make us accept day-one DLC. They finally did it, guys. Which makes me wonder, what kind of monstrous, colossal frozen turd are they going to try to launch at our faces so we forget about console DRM?
People thought they had a victory against big business this week when Microsoft pulled their DRM. Instead what they got was a distraction that let other companies run profuse behind your back and put in yet another way to screw you out of more content and out of more money.
We all know the gaming industry has recently been inundated with throbbing hoards of garbage being passed off as "triple A" titles. The largest culprit of this perpetual excretion on gaming is the "broader appeal" philosophy. For those who don't know, the broader appeal philosophy is where you take your core fan base, the people who have supported you throughout your companies history, and tell them to fuck off. Now that you don't have those 'fans' anchoring you down, you're free to turn the game series into a thriving pile of cancer cells. And oh, my friends, there have been no shortage of broadening appeals in this years E3.
Curb your enthusiasm...
Ryse: Son of Mediocrity
Inaccurate armor designs? Tiny tower shield? Romans fighting by themselves? Romans with British accents? QTEs? QTEs you can't even fail? God damn, Crytek, it's like you didn't even try. Yes, the developer of the Crysis series, owned by the broadener of audiences themselves, EA, wants you to broaden your asshole and buy another DudeBro summer smash, God-of-War hack and slash press X to win clone. But this time it's Romans instead of Greeks. How. Fucking. Quaint.
Crytek couldn't even be bothered to make an interesting gameplay video. Instead, they took the opening scene of Saving Privite Ryan and replacing the soldiers with Romans. There is so much wrong with this game just from the demo. Like the armor. It's so over-designed and tries so hard to look uber for the CoD crowd. And the shields, why are they so tiny? I guess you can't pull off L337 executions with a realistic shield.
That covers the first 50 seconds of the game play trailer. There is so much that reeks of bad about this title, from the uninspiring Saving Private Ryse beach landing to the hilarious "formation" you pull before you assault the city.
I want so much for a good, realistic, game where you play as a Roman legionnaire that isn't full of #YOLOswag420 casual garbage. Oh well, I guess I'm sticking with the Rome mods for Mount and Blade for now.
Dragon Age III: Inquisition
Oh Dragon Age, what happened to you? You used to be so above decent. Oh right, broader audience.
Dragon Age: Origins was Biowares way of telling us that they still cared about dedicated RPG players. It had a decent range of classes, interesting characters and branching paths. But we should have known that the only reason it was so enjoyable is because DA: Origins had been in development before EAs acquisition.
I have never and will never understand the mentality of big publishers who believe they can garner more fans by trying to garner more fans. Do they really think World of Warcraft exploded in popularity because the developers said "Lets make a game that will get us 13 million subscribers."? Of course not, at least back then they didn't. Now the new Blizzard is more concerned with holding subscribers than they are with making good games. This is what happens when entertainment is melted down into a series of statistics and share holders.
These are the reasons I have no hope for Dragon Age 3. No matter how many gimmicks they can shove into the disk (right next to the on-disk DLC of course), no matter how open they claim the world is, I have absolutely no faith for this game.
Dead Rising 3
'Wooh wooh wooh' you're thinking, "Dead Rising are great games". Well, I have news. If you haven't noticed a recurring theme in this post, allow me to illuminate the mystery. Somehow, Capcom got lost up their own ass (again) and instead of trying to build their fanbase from the roots that made it popular instead chose to... That's right... Broaden their audience
Capcom seems to be going for a more "realistic" version of the Dead Rising games. Remember all that fun you used to have by killing zombies with golfballs and wifleball bats? Well that's not 'visceral' and 'dramatic' enough for Capcom, no, they want you to pick up an AK and stay frosty.
Elder Scrolls: Online
I actually had some hope for this game. I know that practically every singe MMO in the past 4 years have either failed spectacularly or has proven to be a mediocre vomit spewed solely for the purpose of profit. But I actually had hope, and what happened? They were dashed the second I opened the video for the game play.
The second the video starts you notice the first flaw. The Hero Engine. OH BOY, you mean the engine that proved to be a perpetual pain in the ass for SWTOR the first 5 months after release? Well were off to a roaring start, what else will this quality video show us? Well not much honestly, just your typical MMO trailer, killing things and trying to look flashy (Which they never do since MMO combat is almost always inherently bad). But for the the real dirt on why this game looks like a trash heap lies in the information given by the developers themselves.
Dungeons, third person combat, hotkey based, combo system. Really the entire thing looks like another typical WoW clone with a dash of Guild Wars 2 thrown in for shits and giggles. The lore is COMPLETELY fucked (Really. Nord working with Elves? Yeah, ok) and the combat looks just as boring and uninspired as every other MMO since WoW.
Abandon all hope.
Well that wraps up the games I'm pretty confident will turn out to be mediocre to terrible.
The games on the horizons undoubtedly have potential and a lot of them I WANT to succeed. But there are games coming that I didn't even mention that will turn out to be terrible. Halo 5 might be terrible, espeically considering the colossal box of disappointment Halo 4 was, Battlefield 4 will PROBABLY be terrible since it melting more and more into the COD cycle while EA shits out more funding for DLC packs that don't all get released before the next sequel is announced.
And to be honest, I love good games, but hating bad ones is almost just as satisfying.
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