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Main Story Sidequest

Against all odds, I remain playing FF14. Some days. For about an hour or two at a time.

Had I stuck with the Pugilist, I would have unsubscribed a month ago. Instead, I decided to try out the Archer and… I’m actually having fun. Usually. The mobility of instant-casts makes up for a lot of what I can only describe as the “jankiness” of FF14’s combat system. No attacks seem to have any weight to them – they are all high-pitched squeals and brightly flashing lights.

There is also an extremely noticeable delay in state-based attacks. For example, the Archer has a Kill Shot/Execute ability that’s off the global cooldown which triggers at 20% HP. Which is fine… except that it always lights up almost a full second after the target is below 20%. Combined with the default 2.5 second GCD, and enemy attack animations not being synced with their damage, the game feels like you’re playing with 250ms lag all the time.

I continue to slog through things though, because everyone talks about the fantastic story.

Know what I did on Monday? I /danced with some Sylphs to earn their trust. Then did some fetch quests for said Sylphs. Then helped out a bar owner, which involved talking to half a dozen people around the world to find out where a particular NPC went so I could return an earring. Then I helped the NPC make some liquor as a gift. Then went on a side quest to catch a traitor in the woods, ostensibly as something to do to pass the time. Finally, I found the the missing Sylph elder hiding (spoilers!) in another mandatory dungeon.

Best. Writing. Ever.

It really isn’t. I’m too committed to seeing this experiment to its conclusion, to see for myself if there is any redeeming value in playing FF14 for its story, to quit now. But I really, really want to. I have to imagine that SWTOR would be a better use of my time at this point.

Still, I shall overcome. With active, conscious effort.

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What is Dragon Age Even About?

I was trying to describe the Dragon Age series to a friend the other day, and failing miserably. You see, this friend is a huge fan of the Mass Effect series. Should be easy, right? “It’s like a fantasy Mass Effect. It’s even made by the same studio!”

Except that is not really true.

I mean, yeah, it’s made by Bioware. But the longer I look at the Dragon Age series as a whole, the less it looks like a coherent narrative and more a mishmash of one-dimensional fantasy tropes. Dragon Age: Origins was a breath of fresh air with the Mage/Templar relationship, turning Elves into wandering Gypsies, and otherwise subverting a lot of traditional fantasy. Perhaps the genre has evolved in parallel or the novelty has worn off, as these days I’m finding the Dragon Age setting floundering for an identity.

I liked the Grey Warden schtick in the first game, even if it ultimately meant you were fighting dragons and orcs. In Dragon Age 2, you really weren’t doing anything of note; things just happened around you. While there is still time for Inquisition to kick into gear plot-wise (no spoilers, please), I’m at a bit of a loss in mustering up the motivation to care about anyone around me. Don’t get me wrong, party banter is pretty much the reason someone plays Bioware games; I just find it hard to like someone when there’s no real context for their decisions or personality.

For example, I have lost all investment in the Mage vs Templar narrative arc. The concept of anti-mage knights overseeing mage initiation rituals was pretty cool in the first game. It evoked a sort of Wheel of Time “mad dog on a leash” image; I started thinking that perhaps a similar thing should exist in the Star Wars universe vis-a-vis Jedi. It gets the mental gears moving, you know?

But now we are left with insane Mage vs insane Templar generic fantasy 101. My next Inquisition plot point indicates I will need to choose between seeking Mage support or Templar support, with the decision being mutually exclusive. I’m honestly about two seconds away from looking it up on the Wiki and making a decision based on which side gives the better loot. Quite simply, the game hasn’t given me any reason to care about the outcome. Compare that to my utter agony over the Genophage decision in Mass Effect 2. Same sort of binary, morally grey decision, but Mass Effect managed to get me to care. Dragon Age doesn’t even try anymore.

If someone asked you to sum up the Mass Effect series, you could say “scrappy Commander gets ship, builds galactic coalition to defeat Reapers.” As for summing up Dragon Age… uh… hmm. “Series of unrelated scrappy heroes collects NPCs and fights mobs.” Obviously it’s a lot harder to come up with a coherent narrative when you change heroes every game, but I’m not sure how much slack Dragon Age deserves. The Far Cry games have nothing to do with one another, and yet I can feel the thread that binds them. Where is the Dragon Age thread? What is Dragon Age even about?

I think Bioware would have been a lot better off sticking to the Grey Warden angle. Having a new Blight every game would be pretty formulaic (and unsustainable), of course, but I would of loved to have seen a more nuanced exploration of what life is like for the condemned Wardens in the post-Blight period. Sort of like a subverted fantasy plot, wherein your coalition and party members start strong and then fade out, slowly ground to dust via political machinations that find the Warden treaties inconvenient once the world is no longer ending. Perhaps there is a schism that develops amongst Wardens that desire children and security for their families. Maybe the Mage vs Templar rebellion could have started by the Mages deciding to free themselves en masse by joining the Warden cause.

Shit, can you imagine? Do you allow the Mages to essentially subvert the Warden code to emancipate themselves? They get their freedom, but there won’t be enough safeguards amongst the Wardens to keep a check on their power. Plus, what of the nobles who suddenly see the Wardens become a stateless army whose treaties supersede their sovereignty? Do the Wardens become complicit in the subjugation of Mages by rejecting them, especially when the Templars crack down extra hard after the attempted mutiny? Meanwhile, an Archdemon stirs from the all the conflict and bloodshed…

That would be an interesting decision. Not choosing between two NPC leaders that I was introduced to 10 seconds ago.

Who knows, maybe Inquisition will turn out to be super interesting in the final analysis. It isn’t terribly interesting now though, and it will have a hell of a time matching the plot I just invented a minute ago. The game is still fun, but I’d rather be playing Skyrim 2. Since I can’t, Inquisition will have to do.

Bioshock Infinite DLC Cometh

I am not entirely sure how I feel about the news that Bioshock Infinite will be getting three DLC packs in the near future. Actually, I do: a distinct lack of fucks given.

Almost the definition of fan service.

Can this be considered fan service?

The first DLC is a story-less horde mode that will subject you to more of the banal combat system. The second and third are portions of a presumably expanded narrative, although who can really tell what is going on in a time-traveling alternate-dimension throw-everything-at-the-wall plot? But, hey! We’re going to see a pre-destruction Rapture! You know, a throwback to the games that were actually good.

To be fair, Bioshock Infinite did do some things right. The visuals were gorgeous, Elizabeth made the game feel more human, Columbia had brilliant imagery, the music was fantastic, and so on. It is just that Kotaku’s recent interview with Ken Levine boiled my residual bile concerning the plot back up into white-hot incandescent rage. I was fine all the way up until the final paragraph:

“I walked away from BioShock Infinite actually very, very satisfied mostly because of the debate that people were having, not just about what happens in the game, but about what the meaning of it was. That we gave something for people to argue about. We trusted the gamers enough to say, ‘You know what? There’s some room here for you.’ If people walk away frustrated that we didn’t explain everything to them, it probably wasn’t a game for them.”

That noise you just heard is the sound of an aneurysm.

Spoiler-Alert-Red

No, Levine, you do not get to fucking say that. As I pointed out months ago, the plot of Infinite is complete garbage. The “room” left for gamers is for them to refuse to apply critical reasoning to their experience, thereby passively constructing a better ending which doesn’t exist inside the actual game.

I can get behind a narrative that explores the descent of a man’s soul to the point that he believes unmaking his existence would be better for everyone involved. We can all probably emphasize with that, regretting having done things or failing to do so. That was not Bioshock Infinite’s plot. The real plot was this:

Finally, let me kind of wrap all these various ingredients up into one complete shit sandwich. What exactly is the message being conveyed here in Bioshock Infinite? What is the theme, the moral of the story?

At the beginning, I almost felt like Booker was trying to make up for his sins, to seek forgiveness and redemption, to put things right. But what is Booker’s actual crime that he is repenting? To stop a person he never turned out to be from entrapping the person he is into a crime a third version must now stop? Booker choosing to be drowned seems a noble sacrifice until you realize what exactly he is undoing: choices he never made. Or, even worse, stopping a man (Comstock) he had no choice into becoming. There is never any “good Comstock” because apparently being bad is a constant. Fate. Predestination.

What is the message here about personal responsibility, free will, and choice? You have none because Constants and Variables. And suddenly, infinite universes means you are implicitly responsible to consequences [of actions] that you never chose and never happened in your own universe. Do you remember when you donated to charity instead of setting a baby on fire? Well, you should feel real bad anyway because the not-you baby-arsonist is running amok and it’s up to you to stop yourself like you already did by not setting the baby on fire in the first place. GUYZ, DEEPEST PLOT EVAR.

There is no route from Infinite’s plot to a good story. None. The “grand redemption” is paying for mistakes you explicitly did not commit in this universe. Even in my most charitable reading of the game – that Booker acknowledges the potential darkness in his soul – leads to the same asinine moral conclusions. Because Booker can choose evil, and did so in an alternate universe, it’s better to kill all possible versions of himself before he can make that potential choice. O… kay? All of us have darkness inside; quite literally who we are is determined by how we manage that darkness. Simply choosing to have it never happen in the first place is an easy, childish fantasy.

And don’t get me started on how moral responsibility can possibly exist in a deterministic universe.

Remember to feel guilty for killing them in an alternate universe you weren't a part of.

Remember to feel guilty for killing them in an alternate universe you weren’t a part of.

But you know what? This is not even about Infinite anymore. This is about the hubris of an artist to paint his/her deficiencies as strengths, thereby negating any difference between good or bad works. It is me telling you that if you do not find this argument convincing, it is your fault. “If you don’t like this thing I made, it must not have been for you, and thus you’re an idiot for having bought it.” That’s not how this shit works! And besides, Levine, you already told us everything relevant in the game proper: namely, that you’re the next M. Night Shamalanananon. A couple of great works, followed by a more crappy one, and all of a sudden (spoiler alert) the trees are killing everyone.

The tragedy in all this is that we already know who ultimately wins the historical narrative. It has been four months since the debacle started, and all the comment sections in the DLC posts are filled with those gushing over the “deep” ending. And why not? Those who were disgusted as I am have long since stopped caring, or are embarrassed to silence that they still do, leaving the uncouth Philistines to drown in their Confirmation Bias echo chambers. And that is how this whole thing will play out: a great game with a good plot that sold millions of copies. Just like 50 Shades of Grey, Diablo 3, and EA’s Sim City.

Constant and variables, amirite? Christ, how depressing.