Category Archives: Observations

Dragon Age 2 is a Better Game than Dragon Age: Origins

After playing Dragon Age: Inquisition, I had the urge to replay through the Dragon Age series. I started with Dragon Age: Origins and I have to admit, it was a little rough going. I think part of the problem was my choice of class. 2H warrior combat consists of pressing an ability button about 3x per minute, it’s really dull. Then I started Dragon Age 2 and I have to say, it’s a much better game.

Oddly, many people don’t agree with this. From a critical perspective (at least a metacritic perspective), DA:O has an average review score that’s a bit higher (8-9% depending on platform) than DA2. As far as user reviews go though, DA2 received a deluge of really bad review scores and has an average score of 44% compared to DA:O’s 86%. Because gamers are spiteful creatures, a little like Hurlocks.

That’s not to say DA:O is bad. It’s a good game and I like it but DA2 does almost everything better. Like…

Dialogue is better

  • Going back to DAO’s voiceless protagonist is very strange. The Warden doesn’t feel like an actual character, she’s an empty vessel. This is a huge downside to DAO.
  • The dialogue wheel is much more interesting and effective than static response options.
  • In DAO the mean/negative/renegade? conversation options just make your character sound like an asshole, while in DA2 the conversation options are more snarky or direct. Playing through the Dwarf Noble origin story, most of the “bad” dialogue options basically amounted to “Get away from me you lowly peasant.”
  • In DAO, despite women being present in all the major battles, and in positions of power and leadership throughout Thedas, female Wardens are still subjected to “What? You’re a woman? How shocking!” reactions all the time.

Relationships with your party members are better

  • No trading random gifts for sex or acceptance.
  • Each of your party members has their own life, it’s not 100% about the player character. You can visit them in their homes, they can visit you at yours. They can have relationships with other party members or NPCs which can grow over time.
  • Other characters can disagree with you, but still stick around.
  • In DAO it’s really easy to miss or even kill possible party members. If you didn’t know Zevran was supposed to be a party member, all you need to do is make one choice and you kill him and miss a lot. Likewise with Wynne – agree with Cullen in the Tower? She attacks you, you kill her, no healer for you this playthrough.

Combat is 700x better (I did the math)

  • From an animation standpoint, everything is faster and slicker.
  • You can move around the battlefield much quicker, rather than feeling like you’re wading through quicksand.
  • Talent trees are bigger, more interesting, and allow you to customize your character much more.
  • By the end of DAO you pretty much have every talent you can use so your choices meant very little.
  • Your companions get enough tactic slots for all of their abilities.
  • You can take your dog into fights with you without having them take a spot in your party.
  • When you tell a character to take a potion, they take the damn potion.

Story is better

  • I enjoyed the story from DAO, especially the first time around, but it’s a fairly generic fantasy.
  • DA2 has a lot more depth. There are more politics, there’s more nuance. Elements from other parts of Thedas get incorporated into quests or character back-stories rather than just referred to in one of the 7 billion codex entries.
  • Since the story takes place over a number of years, you can see how Hawke is making a difference in Kirkwall and in the lives of its people. The scope of the location is small, but the scope of the story and timeline is much bigger.

UI, inventory and controls are better

  • Having your party members have a single set of armor that can be upgraded, makes inventory management much less tedious. You can still customize their weapons and accessories but don’t need to worry about armor, boots, helms, and gloves. It’s also easier to tell when something is an upgrade.
  • Besides gear, there’s less junk to manage. At once point in DAO I had 20 gift items taking up space in my inventory, there’s none of that anymore. Also, quest items you pick up can’t be accidentally junked or sold.
  • Runes are much simpler to manage. Their effectiveness depends on the level of gear you’re adding them to so you don’t have to worry about different rune levels like journeyman, master, etc.
  • It’s much easier to tell your other party members to stay put, or move as a group. They get in your way a lot less often.
  • There’s more useful stuff to find, like items that start side-quests, recipes, or armor upgrades. This makes looting everything much more useful – you have a chance to pick up something other than yet another damn Darkspawn Dagger.

So that’s that. I know the big complaint is that DA2 recycled dungeon areas which, I’ll admit, isn’t good but in the grand scheme of things is rather minor.

The 10 Best Games Ever (according to me)

Today I stumbled across a post on I Hate Loading Screens about her top 10 games, and thought it was a great idea for a blog post.

So here is my list of the 10 best games I’ve ever played.

Planescape Torment

1. Planescape Torment – I talk about this game a lot. And there’s a reason for that – it’s fucking amazing. I’ve always been a fan of isometric RPGs and Torment is the best of the bunch by far. The story is great. The characters have backstories and personalities and feel as real as video game characters can get. The game is full of lore, every object you pick up can have it’s own story that sends your imagination on a joy ride. It’s text heavy and the text is beautifully written. Gameplay is also strong, and allows you to master different classes and switch between them. It also allows you to choose how to approach situations, with brains, brawn, or subterfuge.

If, by some chance, you like RPGs and have not played this, I can probably hook you up with a GoG code. Comment/message me if you want one.

Pandora Directive box art

2. Pandora Directive – Of all the adventure games I’ve played over the years, this one is the one I’d call the best.  Pandora Directive puts Sam Spade-inspired PI Tex Murphy on a missing person’s case that soon unearths a vast conspiracy. The gameplay combines point and click mechanics with first-person exploration to great effect. During the course of the investigation Tex solves puzzles, makes contacts, and shares wisecracks about everything. Pandora Directive has sharp, funny writing and allows the player to shape Tex’s character through branching dialogue trees (way before Bioware made this popular), which can lead to a number of different endings. All the Tex Murphy games are great, but this one is the best. The combination of noir setting with humour really works for me.

Beyond Good and Evil

3. Beyond Good and Evil – Besides having one of my favourite protagonists of all time, Beyond Good and Evil has an interesting story and really solid, fun gameplay. As Jade, you need to take on the DomZ, aliens who are enslaving humans. The game world of Hillys features a really cool combination of sci-fi and fantasy elements and features stylish visuals and a really cool soundtrack. Gameplay is diverse, featuring action, combat, stealth, platforming, puzzle solving, and hovercraft racing. All of these elements are done really well. It also features a photography mechanic which is used both to gather evidence about the conspiracy going on and to catalogue all the species of Hillys. I’m a sucker for photography in games when it’s well done.

Shadow of the Colossus

4. Shadow of the Colossus – There’s a certain beauty to exploring a vast and empty land and having a story that isn’t really spelled out for you. Shadow of the Colossus is one of the most moving gaming experiences I’ve had. It’s technically an action game, but the action is confined to one very specific thing – battling colossi. Each battle is a puzzle, where you need to find the beast’s weakness in order to defeat it. As the game progresses these fights become no less exhilarating, but take on an aspect of sadness and you start to wonder why you’re killing these magnificent creatures.

XCOM Enemy Within

5. XCOM: Enemy Unknown/Enemy Within – Set during a global alien invasion, XCOM puts you in the commander’s chair of an elite organization that represents humanity’s last hope against the invaders. It expertly combines tactical turn-based combat with resource management and strategy. Managing your base is a balancing act of researching alien tech so you can adapt it for your own use, building items and facilities which aid in combat, and reducing worldwide panic by deploying satellite coverage and shooting down enemy UFOs. Everything about this game is compelling, and while I generally play through games like this once then declare “I won,” XCOM is a game that I’ve played through multiple times. Just turning on Ironman mode makes this an entirely new experience.

Shadow Hearts: Covenant box art

6. Shadow Hearts: Covenant – The PS2 was an amazing console for JRPGs and of all of them, Shadow Hearts: Covenant is the one that won my heart. Set during WW1, Covenant takes an unlikely group of protagonists across the globe in order to stop a group of sorcerers intent on world domination. Admittedly, it’s not the most unique story, but it’s the game’s execution that makes it special. Shadow Hearts introduces some really likable characters and puts them in some seriously goofy situations. It’s the humour that really sets this JRPG apart, and there’s a lot of it. It also gives some unique character abilities, from having a character who uses tarot cards and aromatherapy in combat, to a puppetmaster whose doll gains abilities from new outfits, to a vampire who changes forms from golden bat to muscle-bound pro wrestler. From a gameplay perspective, one of the best things about the game is the Judgement Ring, which turns turn-based combat into something much more active and interesting.

Star_Ocean_Second_Story

7. Star Ocean: Second Story - Another amazing  JRPG. Like many JRPGs, the story is a bit of a save the world cliche (though it does add a lot of sci-fi elements to the usual fantasy tropes), but it’s the details that make this game great. First, you get to pick your main character. You can be the attractive, broody, sword-wielding young man with spike hair OR you can play as the naive young woman with magical abilities. Okay, I’m doing a bad job selling this. Your choice of character makes subtle changes to the story, including which other characters you can recruit, and changes some of the story that you get to see, so that’s cool. Second, crafting. You can write, you can blacksmith, you can cook, or compose music or create art. It’s a really robust crafting system that lets you create a ton of usable and special items. If you get good enough at cooking you can even compete in an Iron Chef-like tournament, which is amazing. I’m not generally a fan of crafting in games, but in Star Ocean it is so much fun. Third, the combat is really interesting. Rather than turn-based, combat is more active with you controlling movement and actions on the battlefield. Also, 4 characters participate in each battle, and 4 is better than 3. There’s also an emphasis on building relationships with the other characters in your party and Private Actions let you talk to each character individually.

Mass Effect - Commander Shepard

8. Mass Effect – I refuse to pick one game, Mass Effect is best looked at as a series. Why is Mass Effect awesome? Well, primarily because of Commander Shepard and Jennifer Hale. Shepard is an amazingly kick-ass space action hero and Mass Effect is one of the few games where I enjoy both the Paragon and Renegade character development track. In a lot of games the renegade/dark/evil options just make your character into an asshole, but Mass Effect gives options that are pragmatic and direct rather than just being jerky. Character development is great, relationships in the game get into your head and never let go, choices are hard. Mass Effect features some really memorable characters and the trilogy as a whole is an experience that covers not only the thrills and dangers of saving the entire galaxy but also has a ton of smaller, quieter moments that make the games special. Also, it’s a very solid 3rd person shooter.

Vampire The Masquerade: Bloodlines

9. Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines – Set in White Wolf’s World of Darkness, VtMB and is an atmospheric and immersive RPG. As a freshly sired vampire you need to navigate through an eternally dark Los Angeles, making friends and enemies, feeding on mortals, fighting foes, and surviving vampire politics. The game is not without flaws, there are some pretty nasty bugs, but the story and interactions in the game more than make up for them. The lore of the game is deep, each vampire clan has its own strengths and motivations. You can choose whether to abide by the rules of the Masquerade and what clans to align yourself with. The writing and voice acting in the game is top notch, and there are some truly creepy moments.

Final Fantasy x-2

10. Final Fantasy x-2 – Final Fantasy X was a great game, and X-2 leveraged the great world and characters it had set up and added some amazingly fun new gameplay. Yuna becomes the heroine and teams up with Rikku and new character Paine to spread girl power throughout the land (and save the world, obviously). Though there are some cringey bits (I find serious musical numbers in games to be immensely uncomfortable), the sheer amount of fun this game offers more than makes up for it. Combat has evolved past that of FFX. It’s faster, it’s slicker. Characters can use numerous different dresspheres which offer completely different sets of abilities and a snazzy new outfits. The mini-games like Sphere Break and Gunner’s Gauntlet are amusing diversions and the quest-focused story works really well.

Well, that’s my 10 (right now). I seem to have a thing for RPGs. And here’s a video where I share some more thoughts on what makes a game good enough to be called favourite.

What are your top 10 games?

It’s Not Personal

Why do people take things so personally? Why are comments made by others internalized and dwelled on? Why do they cause some people to lash out? So much of the hubbub that’s taken place in the gaming community over the past months can be blamed on people just taking things so damn personally.

Why do we do this?

From LookHuman.com

From LookHuman.com

From a psychological standpoint, it’s because humans are egocentric animals. Some more than others. We think the world revolves around us. We think that what we deem good, worthy, or correct, should be that way for everyone. We like to be right. When someone else’s viewpoint or experience doesn’t line up with ours, they are wrong. They have some bias they aren’t overcoming, some emotional issue, some intellectual dishonesty. What’s important to me should be important to everyone. What I don’t care about or know about should be ignored.

Egocentrism (and maybe narcissism) turns Carolyn Petit’s otherwise glowing review of GTAV that docked it a single point for sexism and character inconsistencies into an outright attack on the people who love the game. Well, I loved this game and had no issues with it at all and if you disagree with me, the problem is you and you should never review a game again.

Egocentrism is what makes a person read an article suggesting that the small segment of the most negative and immature gamers, the outdated stereotype of a gamer, doesn’t need to be the audience that gets catered to; and take away the message that ALL gamers are fucking terrible people. That they are under attack. They think Leigh Alexander, a gamer herself, is not advocating for more and better gaming with a broader audience, she’s calling them an asshole. Prime example of egocentrism and likely an unhealthy dose of insecurity and lack of reading comprehension.

Those same things are the reason why someone can watch a series of clips taken directly from games and listen to Anita Sarkeesian say something like “…game creators aren’t necessarily all sitting around twirling their nefarious looking mustaches while consciously trying to figure out how to best misrepresent women as part of some grand conspiracy. Most probably just haven’t given much thought to the underlying messages their games are sending… engaging with these games is not going to magically transform players into raging sexists. We typically don’t have a monkey-see monkey-do, direct cause and effect relationship with the media we consume. Cultural influence works in much more subtle and complicated ways” (source) but hear “ALL games are sexist! Game developers are sexist! If you play games YOU ARE A MISOGYNIST! Games and gamers should be DESTROYED! AAHAHAHA /wailing of banshees /cha chinging of cash registers.”

No one is immune to taking things personally. I’m not. The difference is how you act on it.

I just watched Leigh Alexander’s talk on culture and though I found the talk great, she did say a thing or two that made me bristle. Near the end of her speech she mentions the AAA games and how they may not be worthy of the praise they get. We can do better. It put my back up a little. I like AAA games, I love my XBox. Don’t talk down on the things I like or say that meaningless fun isn’t worthwhile in a game. But what did I do? I didn’t immediately send her an angry tweet or record a 10-minute YouTube rant about how she should stay the hell out of my games, she doesn’t speak for me. I kept listening. I thought critically, considered those couple of sentences that rubbed me the wrong way in the context of the rest of her speech. I realized that her having different opinions on some of the things I like is not a personal attack.

I’ve obviously spent too much time in the wrong corners of the internet lately, but it’s just depressing how many people are so quick to take opinions that have nothing to do with them so personally. And rather than taking a second to calm down, contextualize, consider “does this opinion affect my life in any way?” they get defensive, which can quickly turn into offensive vehemence.

I sort of doubt anyone who reads my blog needs this advice (at least in this context), but please, just slow down, think, and don’t take things so personally.

Tips for This War of Mine

This War of Mine can be a very challenging game, especially when you first start playing. Here are some things I learned that may help you. When I play, I focus on avoiding combat as much as possible, so keep that in mind.

To Start…

  • Collect all the items from around your house.
  • Build a metal workshop, and use it to craft a crowbar so you can get into all the locked doors in the house.
  • If you find lockpicks, don’t waste them here as they are single use and can be traded or used while scavenging if you need to be quiet.
  • Other items to prioritize crafting are: a stove (which can and should be upgraded when possible) and a bed. If it’s cold (check the temperature in the top left of the screen) a simple heater is also very important.
  • You don’t really need a shovel to clear rubble. It makes it faster, but it’s not like your social calendar is full.

Scavenging

  • The descriptions of each area on the map are quite accurate – they’ll tell you if you can trade, will be in danger, or may need to steal.
  • When visiting a location for the first time, don’t bring anything with you, as it will reduce the number of inventory slots available to bring things back. Look around, figure out what tools you’ll need to collect everything, and bring them next time you go.
  • It’s best to clear out a whole location before moving on to the next, especially at the beginning of the game.
  • Avoid fighting when you can, and leave yourself a clear way to the exit in case you need to run away.
  • You can tell when someone is near you by red radar-like blips in their location. If the movements of the red circles are erratic, frequent, and small it’s likely just a rat.
  • Head home by 3 or 4am, otherwise you risk being shot by snipers.

Characters

  • Many characters have special skills that will help you out. Make sure you’re using the correct people for each task to make the most efficient use of your resources.
    • Boris is strong but slow. He has 17 inventory slots making him a great choice for scavenging. His strength will also help if you get into melee combat.
    • Bruno is a good cook. Use him to cook food, distill moonhine/alcohol, and make medicine.
    • Katia has bargaining skills. Use her for trading.
    • Marin is a handyman. Use him to craft things in the workshop and metal workshop.
    • Marko is a good scavenger. He has 15 inventory slots and scavenges faster.
    • Roman is trained in combat. He’s a good choice if you expect to have to fight on scavenging runs, or for guarding your house. Roman can get into fights with your other characters resulting in injuries, which is a big downside to a playthrough with him in it.
    • Zlata can bolster spirits. Give her a guitar or have her talk to other characters to cheer them up.

Keeping people Healthy and happy

  • If a character displays icons above their head, another character can talk to them to give them the items they need, or comfort them.
  • If the Hospital is a location option an injured or sick character can be healed for free.
  • Keep the temperature up in the house to avoid sickness.
  • The best way to heal an injury or sickness is to give a bandage/medicine then let the character sleep in bed for the night.
  • Having books and armchairs available will make characters happier.
  • Helping neighbours or friendlies you run into while scavenging will increase morale for most characters.
  • A quick and easy way to boost morale is to trade the doctor at the hospital and let him get the best of the deal (this will be considered a donation). He wants medicine or bandages.
  • Cigarettes and coffee will relax the characters who like these things (it will say it in their profile).
  • Stealing from or killing friendlies, or refusing people help will decrease morale.

This War of Mine crafting

 Weapons

  • Even if you don’t plan on fighting while scavenging, you will need weapons to defend your house from raids.
  • A knife is a good thing to make with your first weapon parts.
  • When you can, you’ll also want to build/get some kind of gun.
  • Crowbars, shovels, and hatchets can also be used for house defense, but aren’t as effective as a knife or gun.
  • Once you have a hatchet you will also see that you can chop up furniture in your house for wood/fuel. Be careful that you don’t use the hatchet to destroy furniture you’ve built.

Food

  • Canned food is very valuable for trading.
  • Set an animal trap to for a semi-regular source of meat.
  • Get vegetables whenever you can, as they will make cooking much more efficient.

items

  • Bandages and medicine are very valuable for trading if you have extra.
  • Don’t trade away your electrical parts, unless you’ve built everything, they are limited.
  • Build each type of crafting table when you can, and upgrade them so you can be more self-sufficient.
  • The exception is the two stills which I didn’t find to be worth building, unless you plan to do a lot of trading at the military base.
  • Wood and components are needed to build pretty much everything, but only stack to 2 and 4, making it hard to get enough from scavenging. To get a bulk supply of these, you can trade Franko when he comes to your house.

Other Tips

  • The Hospital will get attacked through the game and you can find medicine in the rubble. This will not be considered stealing.
  • During winter, make sure your heater is upgraded and full of fuel all the time.
  • Build a radio and check it all stations daily. It will tell you if raids are likely and you should put extra guards on, or what the weather will be like. It might give you an idea of when the war will end. It can also be left on a music station to relax the survivors.
  • Board up your house to keep it more secure from raids.
  • If you don’t have any smokers or coffee drinkers you can trade in these items.
  • You only lose if all of your starting character die or leave. You can still make it if some of them do, though morale will be affected.

That’s all for now! Let me know if you need more info, or if you have any tips for me.

Last Year, Next Year

Another year is over, and Cannot be Tamed has just turned 5 years old. While it wasn’t the most positive year for the gaming community as a whole, I think it was a pretty decent year for games. It also marked the year that I quit World of Warcraft and started writing about a much wider variety of topics in gaming. How has that worked out? It’s a bit of a mixed bag. I’m enjoying writing more, and I get to play so many more games now. On the other hand, this has been the worst year for Cannot be Tamed in terms of traffic, other than my first. In part this is due to how sparsely I was posting for the first half of the year, but I also think I had carved out a pretty successful niche for myself in WoW that I just haven’t managed to do outside of it. It’s a bit depressing to see that 2 year old gear guides are still being seen more often than new posts that I pour a lot more of my heart and soul into. It’s not all about views, but I like when people read my stuff, and like it even better when I get feedback.

I published 57 posts this year. The most popular was my Tips for Dragon Age: Inquisition. Exciting that it’s not a WoW post, but the next dozen popular posts are all WoW guides.

And what about my favourite posts? Here are a few.

Monkey on My Back – I wrote this about WoW and, though I never actually use the word, addiction. These are all the things that kept me playing for so long. Articulating these thoughts and reading them out loud was pretty much the moment I decided I needed to stop.

A History of Control(lers) – Alright, I’m a geek, and this post probably won’t appeal to many people who don’t feel as passionately about console controllers as I do. I thought this was a fun look back at all the consoles and controllers I’ve shared my life with.

This is the Way the World Ends – A troubling look at how one of my favorite genres, dystopic and end of the world fiction, treats women.

Doing it Right: Remember Me – It’s easy to criticize games for the shitty way they treat women (because, let’s be honest, the ways in which games do this are endless), but I also think it’s important to compliment the ones that are making improvements and doing things right. I meant for this to be a regular feature, and though I only ended up doing this twice last year, hopefully I’ll be inspired to do it more in 2015.

Quality vs. Enjoyment – A look at some of the games that manage to both drive me completely crazy and make me fall in love with them.

Feelings – Probably one of my favourite posts I’ve even written, this is a look at the games that have made me feel the most.

Incidentally, my favourite posts are the ones that got the least attention, but I guess that’s just how things go.

I’m also pretty proud of my Gamer Questionnaire and was really excited at how many responses it got. It inspired more than 50 blog posts and even a few podcast episodes. If you haven’t done it yet, and are looking for a post idea, check it out. I was also happy to be a guest on Justice Points twice this year, once to talk about Tomb Raider, and once to just chat about games. Discussing games on Twitter or in comments is great, but it’s always really nice to actually get to talk about them with smart, awesome people. I was also briefly on RT news, who interviewed me about the GTAV ban in Australian stores, which was both cool and bizarre. It’s so strange to hear a 6 minute interview get put into a 12 second soundbite.

What about next year? I have a few goals.

  • I’d like to experiment with videos and streaming more. I’m not sure those things are really my jam – I don’t think I’m exuberant or talkative enough to make people want to watch me play games – but I’d like to give it a shot.
  • I’d like to write more. I think every blogger says this every year.
  • I’d like to interact more with other gaming people. I love getting comments and feedback, so I feel the need to put more of those things out there myself.
  • I’d like to make a game. After discovering sortingh.at  I realized that this is something I can do, despite my lack of artistic ability. It won’t be big, or complex, but I want to make something.

Anyways, Happy New Year, thanks for reading. Here’s to a great 2015.

Best Games of 2014

It’s that time of year when everyone writes about the best games of the year, and thought I’d add my 2 cents. This list feels a bit disingenuous since I currently own or want a number of 2014 releases that I just haven’t had time to get to yet, but I can only play so many games in a single year!

I think 2014 has gotten a lot of flack, as many consider it a weak year for gaming. I disagree. The beginning of the year was a bit weak – the PS4 and XBox One had just come out, and there are always growing pains and a lack of games to play on brand new systems. Also, a number of games that came out this year were remasters of games that had come out over the last couple years as well. But as we got closer to the middle and end of the year, a number of real heavy hitters started getting released, and I think the year ended on a good note.

So here are my top 6 games released in 2014.

Tomb Raider

I struggled with giving a best of 2014 award to a game that actually came out in 2013 and only got a remaster in 2014, but Tomb Raider was so much fun that I just can’t resist. Crystal Dynamics rebooted the Tomb Raider franchise with aplomb. We got a Lara Croft origin story that was thrilling and Lara herself got her best makeover ever. I’ve written about all the things I felt Tomb Raider did right from a feminist perspective but, when it comes down to it, Tomb Raider takes one of the top spots because it was just so much fun to play. Set pieces and quick time events sent my heart racing. I flinched each time Lara took a blow. Gameplay was fast and smooth with super slick controls. Taking out enemies with my bow, traversing rock faces, swinging down ziplines, all felt so natural. The controls  were so impeccable they actually ruined a number of other PS4 action-adventure games for me. I just couldn’t get into AC: Black Flag and Infamous: Second Son – where the characters moved oddly in comparison. I had to fight the controls to get Edward or Delsin to do what I wanted, whereas Tomb Raider made Lara feel like an extension of myself.

Valiant Hearts: the Great War

2014 was not a great year for Ubisoft’s big releases. However, in June Ubisoft Mountpellier put out a lovely puzzle adventure about love, survival, and sacrifice during World War One. The game puts you in the shoes of four different characters whose lives have been intertwined in strange and sometimes heartbreaking ways by the war. Though the game contains no dialogue, I always knew what each character was feeling, in part due to the excellent animation and music. Games often put us into the role of soldiers, but not many do it like this. Valiant Hearts is not a power fantasy, but a history lesson and an experience that makes us question war from an emotional and philosophical standpoint. It was really refreshing to see war from from a non-American view, as the whole game takes place in the period before America joined the war effort. It did make me tear up a few times, most notably during the Battle of Vimy Ridge.

Valiant Hearts - The Great WarMechanically the game is very enjoyable as well. Gameplay is quite varied, yet still manages to fit into the context of the story. It covers everything from operating machinery to turn off chlorine gas pipes, timing-based movement to sneak between enemy patrols, rhythm based medical procedures, and car chases set to amazing orchestral music. A number of the puzzles involve Walt, a casualty dog, who can help to fetch items from tight places and find injured soldiers. And who doesn’t love games with dogs?

Valiant Hearts is one of those rare games that combine both fun gameplay and a meaningful story to give a great gaming experience.

The Last of Us: Left Behind

Left Behind is not really a game on its own, but DLC for The Last of Us. Regardless of this, it’s an amazing experience that deserves a place on game of the year lists. It was great to step into Ellie’s shoes and see her past, as well as expand upon the Winter chapter of The Last of Us. Left Behind is a perfect 2-hour gaming experience that did everything the main game did, but did it better. The pacing is perfect, the dialogue is endearing and on point. It’s not as action-heavy, but it wastes no time – every scene matters. My emotions ran the gamut while playing this, from pure joy to absolute heartache.

PT

I don’t play a lot of horror games, but PT showed me how great they can be. Though it’s really just a playable demo for the new Silent Hills game, it was one of my best gaming experiences of the year. PT created a taut, terrifying experience that delivered not just jump scares, but a truly unsettling environment and disturbing audio and visuals and wormed their way into my psyche. Perhaps it was partly the context of playing the game (I was with great company and a couple bottles of bubbly), but PT managed to keep me so engrossed and curious for more that I played it 3 times in a row. The fact that each playthrough was subtly different was just the icing on the horribly creepy cake.

PT hallwayI think PT was more successful as its own game than it was as a trailer. While PT was exceptional, I don’t have a lot of faith that a horror game can be 12 hours long with more involved gameplay and still be as compelling as this was.

The Vanishing of Ethan Carter

This was one of the few games whose development I followed closely before it was released, and I’m glad to say it did not disappoint. The Vanishing of Ethan Carter is a narrative experience that does not hold your hand, and is a refreshing take on the weird horror genre. It’s also one of the most beautiful games I’ve ever played, with photorealistic environments that put many AAA games to shame, and a gorgeous and moody soundtrack. Ethan Carter is a murder mystery that hints towards a greater darkness. It lets you explore the beautiful world and solve puzzles at your own pace, while still managing to maintain tension throughout its whole 4-5 hour playtime.

Dragon Age: INQUISITION

Four of the previous games on this list are there at least in part due to their short playtimes, which created a tight and well-paced experience. Dragon Age: Inquisition is the complete opposite of those. To be honest, the pacing of the game’s first 10-20 hours was complete shit. However, the game more than makes up for it with its huge, deep, engaging story, wonderfully written dialogue, and sheer enormity of the world. While the size of the game can be a bit overwhelming, this installment of Dragon Age had a sense of place and a real, living world like no other. Once I hit a certain part in the story (which I could have reached way earlier if I had just left the fracking Hinterlands), I was completely enthralled and immersed in the world. The characters, from those in my party, to my advisers, to the people hanging around Skyhold all felt like real people, who I wanted to talk to and learn about. The addition of the War Table made me feel like I was the actual head of an army, who had to make decisions and delegate, rather than a lone adventurer who needed to personally slay every demon and settle every petty dispute myself. I sunk a good 200 hours into this game, and besides those initial 10 or so, I loved every minute of it.


 

Those are my games of the year, what are yours?

 

More Tips for Dragon Age: Inquisition

I just recently finished Dragon Age: Inquisition, so I thought I could share a few more tips of things I learned along the way. Based on keyword activity there are a few things my last tips post didn’t answer.

These tips are as spoiler free as possible. I name quest names, but don’t give away any actual events.

Taming Dragons

  • You cannot go out and tame a dragon from the Hinterlands or anything. You can’t keep a dragon as a pet. I’m sorry.
  • There is one very specific scenario in which you can make a dragon friend, who will aid you in a fight at a specific part of the game. This is decided during the quest What Pride Had Wrought. If you want to “tame” a dragon, you (the Inquisitor) need to do the thing at the end of that quest. Don’t ask a companion to do it. Don’t refuse to let anyone do it. You need to do it yourself.

Shopping and Castle Decor

  • Val Royeaux is full of interesting shops that are really easy to forget about.
  • In the top level of VR (you need to fast travel to it), there’s someone selling a mystery item for 10,000 gold (or whatever the currency is). This will give you access to a war table quest, which will give you some exotic mounts.
  • You can buy customization items for Skyhold (like beds and windows) in a shop in the southern part of Val Royeaux.
  • You can also get some Skyhold upgrades (the throne upgrades you need for the Regal achievement) through the region resource gathering quests on the war table.
  • You can buy new mounts right outside of the stables (at Haven or Skyhold). New ones become available as you progress through the game.
  • If you’re getting near the end and are still missing a few mounts – they’re probably from the deluxe edition DLC, you’ll have to buy them.
  • You can buy your way to greater influence and more Inquisition points from the book vendor in Skyhold (near the stables)

When to progress the main quest

If you’re anything like me, you’re afraid of missing things in such a big expansive game like this, so here are some tips on when and in what order to do some things.

  • While you’re on The Threat Remains quest, don’t spend too much time in the Hinterlands before visiting Val Royeaux.
  • Recruit all missable companions  (Sera, Blackwall, Iron Bull, Vivienne) before you start In Your Heart Shall Burn.
  • It doesn’t matter if you do Wicked Eyes and Wicked Hearts or Here Lies the Abyss first.
  • Complete Cullen’s sidequest Before The Dawn before you begin What Pride Had Wrought.
  • The point of no return in the game is Doom Upon all the World. It warns you right in the war table text that this brings on the endgame.
  • Once you’ve completed the game, you are able to continue playing if you still have quests or collections to finish.

Achievements

There are only a couple achievements that I had to go out of my way to work towards.

  • Master Alchemist – Upgrade your potions, tonics, or grenades 30 times. Because this takes a lot of herbs, I suggest you don’t go crazy with the repeatable requisition quests that use up a lot of herbs too (unless you really like gathering). You can also take the Trainee Herbalists perk (under Secrets), which will give you 50 Elfroot, and some other common herbs, which will help with this a lot.
  • Botanist – Harvest 50 herbs from Skyhold’s garden. You can only grow 6 herbs at a time, so make sure you’re visiting your garden often between fieldtrips.
  • Regal – Completely upgrade one throne. Upgrades are obtained through the region resource collection quests on the war table. They get applied to the throne automatically.

Good luck, have fun!