Electronic Arts has closed the original Maxis studio (although the brand lives on). Maker of some of my favorite game franchises Sim City and The Sims, the studio's long history of making excellent simulation games is one that cannot be denied.
So I finally got around to beating Dragon Age: Inquisiton this week and here are some of my thoughts about the game.
Setting up your world state in Dragon Age Keep is totally worth it. For a series that wasn't originally designed for tracking the world state, Inquisition finally lets you see the effect your actions in the previous games have had on the game world.
I'm glad Inquisition took a lot of cues from DA: Origins since it gives you a wider view of the world instead of sticking to a single city.
The supporting cast of characters are pretty varied and well written. Iron Bull, Dorian, Varric and Cassandra are all pretty interesting characters.
The ball sequence is probably the most unique section I've played in a rpg in a while.
I'm disappointed that one of the early game choices involving the Mages and Templars really hints at you to pick one choice over the other.
Someone at Bioware figured out how to make things shiny or wet and they pretty much applied it to everything.
After introducing the main villain the game pretty much sidelines him for random lackeys which is pretty disappointing.
I could do without having to return to your base to deal with the timed war table missions. What makes it more disappointing is there are a few (luckily not many) that have direct tie ins to quests.
Don't expect many references to Dragon Age: Awakening (first game expansion). Although some of the other DLCs from both games are referenced.
All in all, I found Dragon Age: Inquisition to be a really good game. If you got scarred away from the series after the 2nd game but liked the first I recommend checking this game out. Oh and nothing beats dealing justice from your throne in Skyhold against those who have wronged you.
2014 was a strange year for videogames. Even with the promise of new consoles, games struggled to find their place among them. Many series faltered in either not living up to their initial promises or just not working correctly. Despite the setbacks some real gems arrived this year including a banner year from Nintendo, the best licensed property game since Batman: Arkham Asylum and several sequels that lived up to their predecessors.
Best games of 2014
1. Mario Kart 8Mario Kart 8 features some of the best racing I've had in Mario Kart in years. Rather than try and reinvent all its features, MK8 instead focuses on making sure the core gameplay, tracks and music are given a great level of polish. While the new feature anti-gravity is a bit underused in the base game it is given its time to shine in the first dlc pack. The only negative being the reduced battle mode, Mario Kart 8 and its DLC packs still delivered the most fun I've had in a game this year.
2. South Park: The Stick of TruthIt took years but South Park finally has a game worthy of the tv series. Featuring animation that looks exactly like the show and the full voicework and story from the show runners, South Park succeeds where so many other licensed games have struggled in the past.
3. Dragon Age: InquisitionNothing stops the Inquisition and Dragon Age is no exception. Connecting Dragon Age 1 and 2 together was no easy feat but Inquisition does a good job of not only that but also telling its own story. Taking several pages from the first Dragon Age game, Inquisition has you crossing the world, building your forces and making decisions that will affect 2 kingdoms. The companions you can recruit are still the highlight, each one coming with an interesting backstory and motivations. Interacting with them is the highlight of the game, although dealing medieval justice from your throne is also kind of fun. If you loved Dragon Age 1 but weren't a fan of 2, don't shy away from Inquisition.
4. Gods Will Be WatchingTake the most intense choice decision of any recent Telltale game and ramp it up by 100%. Gods Will Be Watching is a series of intense scenarios as you attempt to survive a variety of situations. Unforgiving difficulty, random events that can force a restart and crazy twists highlight a game that asks you to make difficult decisions with limited resources.
5. Far Cry 4The sequel to my goty 2012, Far Cry 4 is still a fun romp through the war torn country of Kryat. Featuring a very open ended design philosophy (including the easter egg to beat the game in 15 minutes) Far Cry 4 puts the player in control and gives them the tools to do whatever they like.
6. Wolfenstein: The New OrderIf you would've bet me at the beginning of the year that Wolfenstein would be on my top 10, you'd be much richer right now. Wolfenstein comes through as an excellent first person shooter combined with an overly ambitious story compared to many other fps games on the market today.
7. Hyrule WarriorsThe Legend of Zelda meets Dynasty Warriors could've gone wrong in so many ways but Omega team manages to pull off a competent mixture of the 2 series. Giant bosses add some variety to the stages and every character controls differently enough forcing you to change your strategy.
9. TowerFallA crazy competitive couch game Towerfall is easy enough to understand and a blast to play with friends.
10. Super Smash Bros.While it doesn't have the ambitious story mode of the last Smash Bros game, the core of the Wii U version is just as fun. The return of challenges (both coop and single player) are a mixture of being fun, varied and creativity.
11. inFamous: Second SonOf all the Sony exclusives this year infamous was the one I was looking forward to the most. It delivered a solid open world game and had some really cool lighting effects.
12. Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIIIThe end to the FF XIII saga, Lightning Returns is borderline good and bad all at the same time. While weighed down with the story of the past 2 games, the gameplay systems are quite fun and different (it helps that it reminds me of Majora's Mask one of the best misunderstood Legend of Zelda games).
13. Metal Gear Solid V: Ground ZeroesGround Zeroes teases the idea of what the next Metal Gear game will be like and shows a lot of potential but doesn't go far enough to show the true potential of a next gen Metal Gear game.
It's hard to believe that it's been 20 years since one of the greatest jrpgs ever was released in North America. Final Fantasy III (although it's proper number is VI) was Squaresoft's final SNES Final Fantasy game but it cemented Squaresoft's place as one of the best jrpg companies in the market.
I remember waiting almost half a day at the video rental store for someone to return the game so that I could rent it and play it. And the game did not disappoint me in any way.
Final Fantasy III was one of those moments in videogames where a developer takes everything they learned and maximized the potential of the console and the combined knowledge of their past entries to deliver an outstanding product that I consider my favorite Final Fantasy game in the series.
From the sprite work, to the music, to the gameplay systems and its hidden secrets Final Fantasy III was full of secrets and gameplay that was easy to pick up. Characters were all given their own motivations and sub plots just waiting for the player to discover. Villains are equally memorable like the goofy octopus Ultros and his constant run ins with the party. It goes without saying that the game includes one of best transformations from a bumbling sidekick introduction to supervillain for the character Kefka. The pre-recorded laugh that would mark his introduction would mark some of the most memorable scenes in the game.
The set pieces are equally praiseworthy. While today's modern games usually resort to destruction or an explosion to mark a setpiece, Final Fantasy III had numerous crazy sequences including: an opera sequence, diplomatic dinner, even an attempted suicide! There are so many moments I love in the game from its epic introduction:
To one of the finest endings ever created for a jrpg.
At the time when most videogame endings were a few sparse minutes with a congratulations screen, Final Fantasy VI had an ending that dedicated itself to wrapping up every individual character arc (well those that you found) and had some of the best music to accompany it (the way one character theme moved into another blew my mind as a kid).
If you have the time I suggest watching Gametrailers excellent Final fantasy retrospective part about Final Fantasy VI here. It covers everything from development, moments and a multitude of other things that make Final Fantasy VI stand out.
Here's to you Final Fantasy III, one of gaming's most classic games, and a well deserved 20th birthday.
I can't believe it's been 10 years since the first Katamari Damacy game was released. From its quirky visuals, jamming music and weirdly satisfying gameplay; Katamari Damacy is one of the weirdest games I ever enjoyed. Part puzzle game and part action game the idea of rolling up everyday objects to recreate the solar system is just as wacky as the characters and their parallel storylines.
2013 saw some great games. A lot of great sequels with 2 series returning to form and a lot of fun indie games. The PlayStation 4 and Xbox One also launched this year and while I only got the PS4, the swan song games of the Xbox 360 and PS3 showed how much developers have mastered this extended console cycle.
Best of 2013
1. Grand Theft Auto VGTA is back with a vengeance. After a more serious approach with IV, V returns to form and very strongly. 3 characters with overlapping narratives and motivations works very well and keeps the pacing flowing nicely (well excluding near the end of the game which feels rushed). The heists are the icing on the cake which have big risks and big rewards. GTA Online is also a fun diversion and adds a whole new level of gameplay after completing the main story.
2. State of DecayProbably doing the only remaining thing I wanted in a zombie game, it added a survival layer. A survival based open world zombie game which added balancing the search for supplies and survivors along protecting your base and keeping your fellow survivors alive. Permadeath also keeps you on your toes, as any wrong move can hurt your group when you lose your strongest survivor. The negative I found was narrative being weak and a lot of plotlines end abruptly or don't seem as well thought out as they could have.
3. Far Cry 3: Blood DragonThe stand alone expansion/DLC to my 2013 GOTY Far Cry 3 it streamlines elements from that game, adds in an 80s flair and crazy techno laser future. A goofy open world first person shooter that plays up 80s cliches and probably has my favorite game ending on-rails sequence taking the action up to crazy levels as you ride a titanium plated cyber dragon.
4. Papers, PleaseBeing a border control agent has never been this fun. While the gameplay is simplistic, the bureaucracy, characters and branching plotlines make this game a lot more enjoyable than I thought. The day to day events are never boring as dealing with smugglers, revolutionaries while trying to make enough money to pay for your family's well keeps the pressure on you while increasing rules and documentation add new twists to your job everyday.
5. Assassin's Creed IV: Black FlagAssassin's Creed is back with and it's a pirate game. A huge turn around from AC III, the tropical setting, refreshing storylines (both real world and ingame) and tweaks to gameplay made this Assassin's Creed fun to play again. The Templar setting and focus offers a different view to the conflict seen in the last few games and the open world Caribbean make this the Pirates of the Caribbean game I wanted to play since Legend of Black Kat.
6. Retro City RampagePart tribute, part demake and all fun Retro City Rampage is an 8 bit styled open world game that honors tons of 8 old Nintendo games.
7. The Last of UsThe Last of Us surprised me with interesting characters and great gameplay. After a slow start, The Last of Us's story is as intriguing as it is insightful providing a nice counter to the upbeat nature of the Uncharted games. The ending sequence is one of my favorite of this year and a powerful conclusion to a journey that takes almost a year to complete.
8. NES RemixMinigames based off of old NES franchises? While the price may seem high, the mixture of nostalgia and some surprisingly difficult challenges captivates my friends and I whenever I boot this game up. Sometimes based on the best moments of games (nothing like beating the original Zelda in 5 minutes) or all new challenges and twists for existing games. The stand outs are the Remix stages that challenge everything you know about these classic games keeping it refreshing and in short enough bursts to prevent a lot of frustration.
9. The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between WorldsI remember after playing New Super Mario Bros, really hoping Nintendo would give the same treatment to The Legend of Zelda. A Link Between Worlds feels like that game and presents the portable Zelda experience that I felt missing from the DS games (I could never stand the stylus control methods). The nostalgic overworld but changes to the classic Zelda formulas keep things from feeling stale.
10. Metal Gear Rising: RevengeanceShort enough to not wear out its welcome but crazy combos and a take of the Metal Gear formula that takes itself both seriously and acts like a parody all at the same time. A great action game, nanomachines son.
11. Tomb RaiderThe reboot to Tomb Raider is beautiful and fun. While it borrows a bit too heavily from Uncharted, Tomb Raider does offer more exploration opportunities and a decent enough origin story.
12. BioShock InfiniteWhile the gameplay wasn't that great Bioshock Infinite's ending provides a fitting end to the Bioshock series or a way to provide infinite sequels.
13. Dynasty Warriors 8A refinement of the already great improvements to Dynasty Warriors 7, Dynasty Warriors 8 improves the combo system and adds the great town building minigame from DW7: Xtreme Legends.
With 2013 over its time to reflect on what a great year it was for games and soundtracks. Soundtracks have the difficult task of complimenting what we're seeing onscreen, to get the adrenaline going or make us feel a certain mood when the time is right. From happy and energetic to high tempo intense action, original to licensed, 2013 certainly had its fair list of soundtracks that I'll remember long after I beat the game.
1. TearawayTearaway's soundtrack stood out to me since so many tracks slowly build up for an audio treat. Pilgrimage is a great example of this. The way it starts with just 2 instruments before kicking up a notch is great. It really complimented the unique nature/feel of the world.
2. The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between WorldsComprised of remixes of older Zelda tunes and new ones, A Link Between Worlds has the right mix of nostalgia and updates to make it a fun soundtrack to listen to. Hyrule Field 2 stands out to me as a grand version of the Zelda theme .
3. Grand Theft Auto VWhile GTA games have always had great licensed soundtracks, this is the first one to include actual ambient music during gameplay sections. Used particularly well during the heist sections, my personal favorite is A Haze of Patriotic Fervor. It compliments the frantic action paced nature of some of the missions really well.
5. SimCityAfter hours of waiting and patches and ultimate disappointment one thing that I did really enjoy about SimCity was its fantastic soundtrack.
6. BioShock InfiniteBioShock Infinite probably contains one of my favorite character moments in 2013. Will the Circle be Unbroken's moment of calm and yet subtle hint at the narrative was a perfect choice for the game's soundtrack.
Compared to Sony's baby crying, head scratching PS3 advertisements the new ones are a work of art. The mix of nostalgia and hidden elements make this advertisement a lot more fun than it should be. With PS4 only a month out I hope that Sony continues to do great ads like this one.