A few quick thoughts on Mark of the Ninja

this may become a review of my own, as I have spent a dozen or so hours with this since buying it. For now, a few things roiling around in my head.

This game is deserving of the praise it's getting. It may be the best thing I have played this year, combining an interesting premise (powerful-feeling ninja stealth), smooth and versatile controls, and extremely well integrated UI with Klei's stylized art. These elements put together so well in a full retail game would be an easy GOTY contender, and even in a downloadable, they hold up enough that this will make a high spot on my list.

It's close to as well put to together as Bastion, in my opinion, but is more of a game. Bastion's story and music made it a more emotionally charged game experience, where everything in Mark of the Ninja is slick as hell. This game should get played now if you have an XBox, and soon if it makes it to PC.

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An ME2 Insanity Run - Sister Act

Miranda's getting antsy, so we should roll on her loyalty mission, which involves keeping her sister away from her dad - apparently Miranda's family is southern or something. She's needed on Ilium, and we will have bigger fish to fry there soon anyway, so here we go. 
Miranda ran away from he old man, who genetically altered and trained her as some perfect human, I guess for espionage or fighting, or some such dark enterprise. He apparently wanted more than one model, so he had another kid popped out. Miranda took Oriana with her when she ran, and placed her with a normal family on Ilium. She has stayed out of Oriana's life and tried to keep her isolated from any trace of her origin, but it now looks like Miranda and Oriana's father is on to them, and Oriana's family needs to be relocated. The only link between Miranda, Oriana's new life and her father, is a man named Niket, who Miranda trusts totally, and will no way be the source of information that makes everything go bad. This kind of thing hasn't happened at every turn here. Ever. 
Our party drops in to the transport area, right on top of a bunch or mercs hired to take Oriana back. Some great bad pontificating by the second-in-commando is interrupted by our pistol, and our party opens up on the mercs before they can fire on us, and thus begins another roll of a mission with Shepard, Miranda and Thane.  
Insanity difficulty or no, our party is just too powerful for most enemies here. We just hit guy over guy with two doses of Warp and then Reave, and then follow up with our new favorite toy, Squad Cryo Ammo. I had totally been sleeping on this power-up through all my plays of this game, thinking that it wasn't very effective in comparison to Incendiary's ability to burn up armor. I was wrong, so wrong. Using Cryo ammo, along with the Barrier and Shield-stripping biotics we're throwing out there, serves to keep any melee focused enemies or mechs up off us. Enemies that are aggressive, like the LOKI's featured here, or the Husks, have caused me issues throughout this playthrough, since they come so quick and are carrying armor on top of their health. This new tactic puts and end to this problem in many cases.  
The toughest piece of this mission was the endgame, after a confrontation between Miranda and Niket, who shockingly betrayed her to her father, and is subsequently killed by the merc leader. When the battle commences, I didn't have a good sense of the shape of the field, and chose to move forward into cover, bringing my team with me, focusing on enemies on our right, including the mercenary leader, an Asari. 
I made this much harder on myself by not realizing I had plowed down the middle lane of three possible in the room. When Miranda got picked off by fire coming from somewhere I thought wasn't in play that I realized that a whole other crew of dudes was now behind me and moving freely to either end of the lane I was in. Whoops. 
I'm just lucky, tricky and badass enough to survive, stubbornly not using medigel, and Thane and I hunker down, switch fire to closer enemies, and keep moving to the far end of the lane in front of us, then continued around, cleaned up the rocket-launcher lady and the Asasri leader in front of us, and then looped all the way around to catch up with the guys who had been coming from where we first started. A fun little exercise in murderous aggression. 
Miranda says hi to her sister, and is now warming up to our cause. Her loyalty unlocks slam, which is a nice power, and will be something she tends to use when I'm not ordering her to constantly use Warp on Armor or Barriers. Through the rest of the game, all of a sudden, some enemy will get launched out from behind cover, causing me to pan toward them as a threat, and then get blasted to the ground. In our next long mission, she did this several times, sending people pinwheeling into the ether. Awesome.


An ME2 Insanity Run - Who collects the Collectors?

No matter how many times we try to send his calls to voicemail, or ask Jacob to tell him that we aren't here, we have to talk to The Illusive Man. When I realized that conversating with him would immediately send us on the next mission, I reloaded and tried to keep going somewhere else, but the game forces your hand. Fine. 
The Man tells us that there's a Collector Ship disabled in space, and we have a chance to get there and collect some info before anyone else gets there. Sounds kinda unwise, seeing as what happened last time I encountered a Collector ship in space, but this is what we do, so we walk into a likely horribly dangerous situation. Shepard's insurance company probably has no idea what do with him, he has to have a hell of a deductible. 

The Collector ship is an almost total duplicate of the crashed-Geth ship base from the Overlord DLC, in set-up and tone. The whole thing is totally dark and empty as we roll in, and our squadmates, Miranda and Thane, investigate creepy stuff with us all the way through, as we look for the main computer. Tension mounts as there are no enemies, and just as in the Overlord scenario, you just know things are going to go real, real bad on your way out. I happened to recall, unfortunately, that this running battle will be quite a bit longer, and has some significantly rougher spots in it. I can't wait.
Along the way, we find evidence that the Collectors are enslaved and extensively modified Protheans, and that the Reapers are definitely using them as agents. We also find out that in a low atmosphere environment, that Thane puts on a totally terrifying black facemask with red eyes, which served to surprise me twice during the mission into thinking I was being jumped by husks or abominations. It's a nice thing that friendly-fire isn't on, or Thane would have died a lot quicker than from his medical condition. 
Sh*t really jumps off when we hit the switch on the computer, or whatever EDI needs access to - a couple of floating platforms fly up to the one we are standing on, and they are full of collectors, and a couple of Scions. 
I've read thread on the boards here, lamenting that this part of the game is broken and impossible, and that Bioware should be firebombed, etc. The issues most have are familiar to those who have been following some of my difficulties in this playthrough (those problems which haven't be caused by my being stupid and lousy): The damage dealt by enemies being so ruthless that when the Scions use their shockwave, it knocks Shepard out of cover, and the recovery takes long enough that you're a dead man, or that the Squad AI gets itself pinned between the Collectors and the Scions, or takes terrible cover, and quickly get themselves killed. 
I sympathize, but had no such issues. I cruised through this, getting myself in good cover, right in the deepest part of the "V" of the half-wall cover on my platform, and ordering my squadmates to positions on my right, away from the heaviest of the action. From here, we went heavy after the collectors, with Warp, Reave, and incendiary ammo, picking off the regular guys as quickly as possible, and letting Harbinger just yell at us, and throw black-hole makers into the wall in front of us. 
The Scions, either since we didn't move forward, or didn't attack them, just wander back and forth a bit, and the shockwaves don't hit myself or my allies at full strength, not knocking us significantly out of cover during the heat of the main firefight, now murdering my squaddies. Maybe I got lucky, and glitched through, but I'll take it. 
The rest of the mission rolls on pretty well, with a lot of slow, cover-base encounters, which go well, although every once and a while Miranda or Thane get picked off, and I have to kill the rest of the enemies along with my other teammate, or by myself, since I suspect I'll need the medi-gels soon enough. There are only a few hiccups, in which I get killed, and those are really in the spots where Husks/Abominations show up - we still don't have the technique for dealing with rushing melee enemies well - in one hallway at the very end of the level, Miranda and Thane got curb-stomped to death by Husks before we really knew what was up. A qhole bunch just flowed up at us, and they were dead real quick, while I retreated, throwing Reave and Cryo-ammo out as much as possible. I will extoll the value of the cryo-ammo shortly, but I began to really appreciate it here. 
The other big battle, which comes maybe halfway out of the ship, is an encounter in a large room with a few Husks, a few Collectors, and another Praetorian. I hated, hated, hated, this part on my Normal difficulty run, and have been dreading it on this run. I either get overwhelmed trying to deal with the Husks and get thrashed by the Praetorian, or I can't deal enough damage to the Praetorian, and it gets a clear lane at me to laser-beam me to death. It didn't go well the first few times through here, either, especially with the Husks, who I am excited to not see for a good while after this. 
After 5 or so tries, I took a break, then got back at it, and pulled off a narrow victory on my third try. I would impart a strategy if I had one, but, I didn't really put one together: I used my squadmates to help with the Husks and Collectors, while I rained down some fire on the Praetorian from the ramp that leads down to the room, drawing it toward me - and then, when the regular enemies were gone, I just ran and ran and hid and tried to throw some little bit of fire toward it as often as possible. It took a long damn time as my teammates whittled it down, and I basically looked for anything to put between me and this horrible death-engine. As with the Scions before, I will take lucky if I can get it. 
We barley escape the awakening Collector ship, and after being appropriately pissed at the Illusive man for sending us into another obvious trap, we are back to being able to do our own thing. Boy do I have plans. I have some more business on Illium, a couple favors to try to please a couple of my favorite ladies, and then a wild ride after a dark force in the galaxy. Fun stuff ahead. 
- Nick

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An ME2 Insanity Run - The Square Root of Death (revised post)

Edit: I wasn't happy with the ranting blocks of text, so I split my previous entry into two pieces. I'm just happier with it split like this. 
Oh, god, we never should have come here. It's all bad. 
Ok, I'm exaggerating. Overlord is a damn good piece of side story, with some rough combat, and my first exposure to the Hammerhead, which, while it has it's Mako moments of frustrating vehicle-ness, is neat to mess with.  
We show up at this facility to find everyone dead except for the head researcher, Archer, who speaks to us over an intercom, telling us that they were experimenting with the Geth, who are, to recap these machine intelligences that became self aware and almost destroyed their creators. Well, they decided, here, to try to link these intelligences, to another computer, and were really surprised when it all went wrong. Even worse, they somehow linked up Archer's brother David, to the whole thing, and now he's gone nuts, as well, and is trying to upload himself off world, and into the inter-ether, where he may lead to all machines turning into murderous monsters. I'm almost sure we don't want that, so we should probably step in here. 
The first part of the mission is a combat run to bust up the facilities satellite array, which the evil AI is trying to use to get out. It's not rough getting there, or actually blowing up the dish when we get up top on it (Leading to an awesome little cinematic where we run off an exploding, crumbling array). In the middle, however, once we get inside the sattelite dish structure, there is a large, circular area in which a whole bunch of geth, among them the rawdog Geth Hunters and Destroyers, who suck, and a surprise Geth Prime, who I forgot was coming, and murdered me right away the first time, and then helped kill me a couple more times. I got beaten up pretty bad in this area, but with some successful retreating, I eventually got through, 
Archer then comes out and explains to us more of what's going on, and outlines to us that we'll have to go through a bunch of steps to try to put a stop to this whole thing, and that we'll have to use the Hammerhead to get there. Great. The Hammerhead stuff isn't great fun, but it's workable. We have to go through a bunch of popping in and out of hiding against enemy turrets, but it all works out. We have two intermediate bases to go to, a fiery lava base, and a crashed geth ship, to unlock parts of the big lock on the main base, and then that main base, where the crazy AI/David is. 
I'm not going to go over much of the rest of the Hammerhead stuff, except for the stuff outside of the base in the crashed geth ship, which is kind of fun, since the AI has enabled a shield and a huge goddamned cannon to try to kill you. That was fun, especially when you think you are out of range of the cannon, and it goes off. It's always fun to erupt into a fiery ball, but it isn't good for one's long-term prospects. 
The combat in all the bases remains fairly standard, with some mechs and bunches of reanimated geth. Some hiccups (deaths of my entire party), but nothing to serious, as we stick with our careful, cover/use abilities/retreat style of play. Where this DLC package excels, all the way up to the final encounter, and then after (I will speak about the final battle in a second) is with the atmosphere. At everyplace terminal you interact with, over most loudspeakers and in many windows, you see the sickly green eyes of the rogue AI and are often blasted with creepy, angry sound from it as you enter new rooms. It's kind of scary, even on a second playthrough of this whole scenario - the blasts of audio, which come out as either a howl of pain or an angry warning, and the representation of the AI's eyes watching you, appear at just irregular enough intervals to stay fresh and unnerving throughout, and there are terrific little touches, like with every security camera being under the control of the AI, and following your movements.  
This is to say nothing about the entire run through the base that is a crashed geth ship. You know - you don't suspect, you KNOW- that the whole structure is full of inactive geth, and it is going to scream to life at some point as you roam through, and having the whole thing build and build, with no enemies anywhere as you walk in, leading you to the switch you need to hit. Both times I played this DLC, I just sat there for a minute before hitting the switch, trying to rest and regroup, knowing that it was gonna get real, real, bad, and that I needed to steel myself for the fight about to jump off. This is great, because it puts you exactly in the mindset of Shepard and crew - they have to pretty much be feeling the same thing - it's a smooth piece of design which could otherwise seem corny (Edit: We will see this design again in a significant story mission a little later, but I hadn't replayed it at this point, so I had forgot it, and it makes this trick a little redundant, but still fun. Sue me). 
In the final base, you battle down to where the AI core is, to try to shut it down. At the core level, you enter a side-room to access something, I think the on/off switch to the AI, and then the whole thing goes a little stupid, as far as I'm concerned. I will break it down. 
Shepard hits this switch, then has some sort of spell, where he is either shocked by or infected by the AI or something. This is in no way described. But what happens is as follows - the entire environment gets kind of orangey and Tron-like in the computer-grid form, and Shepard zombie-walks out of the room and the door shuts behind him, locking out the rest of the party, who hasn't efficiently reacted to the zapping of Shepard, any weirdness in the immediacy afterward, or his spastic walk out of the room. Thanks guys, way to be on the ball when I need you. Remind me to feed your asses to the Reapers, dicks. 
Shepard is now on his own and although he sees some very evocative and well done animations which flesh out the story of Dr. Archer's autistic math-savant brother David and his ability to communicate with the geth, and how this led to his integration into the Overlord project, this whole part sucks. It sucks because Shepard is confronted with some Geth, which he can handle, but there are a couple of close-quarters encounters here, which really are hard on us in the difficulty and with our abilities, and then, right before the final fight, we get to summon an elevator which brings with it a Geth Destroyer and his two rocket-wielding buddies. There's one pillar to put between you and these guys in the room in which they come up, and the Destroyer comes right for you, nullifying that hiding spot. I got murdered a good couple times here, until I started experimenting with retreating back down the hall from whence I came, until the Geth came at me one at a time. It's a little cheap, but it worked. 
Now we're at the AI core, which has been causing all this trouble. I said earlier that I would continue to be honest, so here it is - I played this final battle 20+ times, over multiple sittings, and there were more than a couple of moments where I considered totally giving up on the whole thing, that there was no way for me to beat this thing. I thought it was too hard, not totally well-explained on what part of the battle was important, and that I just didn't have the combo of skill and character abilities to pull it out. 
I'm not kidding. I considered just outright giving up on this whole stupid thing, and two other times, I pulled up the Load screen, considering just carrying on with the playthrough, and never telling anyone what happened on this little side-trip, that it never happened at all. No one would have known, except me, and I've been living with the knowledge that I'm not a particularly good or truthful person for almost three decades so no big deal, there. 
But I persevered. Either out of some heretofore unknown sense of integrity, or for you, dear reader, or just because I'm a glutton for punishment, I pushed on, trying again and again. Finally, by bashing on the battle until I hit checkpointed parts of it, I was able to succeed, shooting the odd energy pulses from the AI that will allow itself to upload itself to the Normandy and then the universe, and then hammering on the shields and armor of the core itself until the end. All the while, I am barely holding out, shucking-and-jiving to avoid these Geth that the AI can now summon in, because were are in the Matrix or some crazy thing, which is never, ever addressed, before or after this. Really weirdly bad the more you think about it, in an otherwise well-plotted side story. 
The mission ends with the AI defeated, and the horrible reveal that not only did they connect David to the AI, they made him a part of it, string him up with tubres runnning in and out of him, and his eyes held open by probes. This reinforces our decision to take David forever away from his brother, Dr. Archer, despite his protestations that he has realized his horrible, horrible mistakes. We arrange for David to be put up at the Grissom Institute, named for CSI character and quirky investigator Gil Grissom, which is a place where people with special abilities and needs can be well looked after. We tell Dr. Archer that if he ever goes near his brother, we will put a bullet in his head. 
A really interesting story, with it's own ups and downs, quality-wise, but good enough, although the whole thing was really soured for me by the totally bizarre last section and rough boss-battle. The more I think about it, the stupider the whole thing seems, but I'm a bit bitter, reliving the whole experience on bashing my head on it. Let's move on. 
We took care of that situation, which didn't advance our cause at all, in the grand scheme, and now we have an urgent message from the Illusive Man. We'll see what he wants next time.  
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An ME2 Insanity Run - Okay, Okay, Scary Blue Lady

NOTE: I realize the last few entries, and this one specifically, are way, way too long. I will be chopping them up into shorter pieces after this one. Sorry.  
Edit: I split the original entry in two. It looked even stupider than it's contents.

Shepard is now running with a pretty heavy crew: We've got everyone except Tali, A mystery profile that we cannot access yet, and this Justicar person, who is apparently on Illium, where we're still at. We should probably take care of this while we're here. 
In the continuing spirit of total honesty, which will rear it's hideous head later in this blog entry, I initiated this mission on this playthrough by accident. The mission initiates from a conversation with an officer in one of the marketplace plazas in Ilium, and was buttoning through some of the dialogue, as I often can read the subtitles far faster than the characters speak. 
 I chose the option which I thought would release me from the conversation, and let me walk over to a stand to call a transport to the area to begin the recruitment mission, which is how I thought this would work. Instead, the "I'll hail a cab" option has you actually perform that action, and there I was in the next area. This, any young readers, is why you should never try to be smart and read fast, just let other people and programmed objects tell you what to do. 

The Justicar, Samara, is a powerful asari biotic who has taken a vow to live by a code. That code means she is obligated to wipe out injustice, of any type, when she sees it, and not in a kind way. Her code is an old school, fire-and-brimstone, murder everyone kind of code. It's rare for a Justicar to be out of asari home turf, but she's here on Ilium, looking for someone or something, and everyone we talk to seems terrified that she's about to go off and start killing everyone she sees, as Ilium is a kind of Space-Vegas, where everyone's a little dirty. So, she's probably not the most fun at a kegger, but so far, all we've got is hearsay from others, lets go see what she's investigating,, and she if she will mellow out by hanging with us for a bit. 
This mission transports you to a discreet area, a warehouse district where an Eclipse mercenary gang is running wild. There has just been a murder, a volus merchant, who was probably shady himself, was gunned down in an alley. The Eclipse and the merchant's partner are prime suspects, but the local cops seem more nervous that the Justicar is looking around - as I said before, apparently if she thinks there is any wrongdoing going on, everyone must die, so maybe they are justified in feeling a bit uneasy. We talk to the local detective, and get permission to look around the crime scene, which is so secure that there are GODDAMN KILLERS WALKING AROUND IT!. Some cops, no wonder you're worried that more serious lawmen will find you wanting- as we come up a set of stairs in this alleyway crime scene, which has supposedly been secured, we roll up on, and quickly over, a couple of mechs, a couple lightly shielded mercs, and the first of many barrier-having asari Eclipse. We survive this encounter without much incident, which is to say that I have to retreat down the stairs to put additional angles and cover between myself and the enemies, and Miranda gets herself knocked out, but in a big-picture sense, no big thing. 
There is then a pretty cool cutscene in which we first see Samara the Justicar, interrogating a Eclipse mercenary, and not apparently worried about some Justicar Internal Affairs investigation over due process: We get to watch Samara turn blue with biotic power, scare this merc senseless, chuck her out a window using powers, float down to her battered suspect, try to get more answers, and then end her. Someone should remind me not to try a lot of sarcasm with her, should she sign on with us. She just doesn't seem the type who would get it. 
Without a lot of preamble, or even describing the mission, if I read the subtitles right, Shepard asks Samara to join up. She pretty much says yes, except she needs to find more info first on this dangerous person she's hunted all the way here - apparently the mercs smuggled her target off-world  just in front of Samara's arrival. If we can find out where she's at, Samara will likely help us out, and not kill all of the local authorities, who, in an effort to keep everyone from being scared crapless that they will be struck down by this blue avenging angel, and to protect less-than-clean business practices, have taken her in to custody. Apparently by her code, she will cooperate for 24 hours, then break out, destroying all in her path. she;s a fun lady, great to have on long car trips, I'm sure. 
We talk to some people, get some hot info on where the mercs are, and take the conveniently only elevator to their base. This mission has a few twists in it's combat,which keeps it from being another of the battle-through-this-warehouse areas that we see a bunch in this game. The enemies here are a few base eclipse troopers and LOKI mechs, and a bunch of asari Eclipse Vanguards and some-other-class-name-I-can't remember, who are tougher, smarter enemies, who have combos of barriers, armor and shields to go with their health bars, making them far more robust and a bit more dangerous, since they use some biotic powers a little more often than normal enemies.  
The other twist is that there are containers of this noxious gas/drug that amp up biotic powers when they blow up into a cloud of gas, but if you hang out near the cloud too long, you die. I think they dissipate fairly quickly, but on this difficulty, it becomes worthwhile to avoid the clouds as much as possible, to lessen the chance of problems. In my case, these problems would mean freaking out about where damage was coming from, ducking out of cover to find a safer place, and getting dead. Graceful panic under pressure, that's me. 
There was really no significant combat issues here, I remembered the final battle here, with the Eclipse leader, some backup and a bunch of these fun crates of poisonous death, as being tough. This time through, it went fairly well, as I am much more versed in using my squadmate's abilities and stay well back from any potential damaging fumes or crossfire. The Eclipse leader was dead before the last of her minions.

We've got our info for Samara, so she agrees not to murder the local police force, and join up with us, as long as we remain good; if we do bad stuff, and survive our mission, she may have to kill us afterward. We'll try to avoid that, I guess, if we can. Samara is a cool character, but I didn't use her a ton in my first playthrough, and I don't know if she'll crack the rotation here, either, although she is powerful. 

After talking to sweet Kelly, and getting conversation prompts for Grunts and Garrus' loyalty missions, we head to a secret Cerberus facility that has gone dark to see what's going on. It's says "Investigate Project Overlord", which is probably some mundane facility where they cook up new shipboard meals, right? Not a death trap nightmare of humans linked to computers, more rogue mechs and lots of loose Geth? No way that's possible. Let's go check it out. 
- Nick
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Hey dudes, you wanna check out my smoked meat?

  This is what I did today in PA. A hickory smoked beef brisket, with a north Carolina style spice rub. No sauce needed. Delicious.
My girlfriend bought her dad a smoker for Xmas, and I gave it it's maiden voyage today with a 4lb. hunk of goodness.  The whole process, from setting up the smoker, to curing it by using it once without cooking anything, to getting, prepping and cooking the meat -  took most of the day, and all my clothes reek of woodsmoke, but the meat was goddamndelicious.
- Nick     

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An ME2 Insanity Run - The Thrillium on Illium

Illium. Wish we could see more of it (and maybe we will a bit later with the Shadow Broker missions), but it['s still every bit as cool a little area to run around in as the monstrous Citadel was in the first game. Illium has everything, lots of shiny lights, multiple merchants selling high-priced gear (we'll be broke almost immediately again -  Shepard needs a credit account - he's the savior of the Citadel, he should at least have an Amex), a couple of great recruitment missions (The Assassin and the Justicar), a bunch of great side missions, and a grip of encounters with minor and major characters from the first game. 
What clinches Illium as fantastic for me, and is one of the first things that I bring up when someone mentions this game, is the random conversations that you overhear while running around. There are a bunch of funny, well-written discussions going on that you can eavesdrop on that flesh out a bunch of information of the races, add a ton of humor and color to the universe, and even though these NPC's are always in the same place, no matter how many times you stroll through, what they are talking about makes the whole area, from the marketplace to the bar, feel like a vibrant area. Bioware just kills it with this kind of stuff, as they did in ME1 and in some of the random back-and-forth conversations between companions in Dragon Age. The bachelor party discussion in the bar here with a Turian, Salarian and Human talking while an Asari dances on the table is great, as is the Turian trying to console/pick-up his Quarian co-worker at another table, but my personal favorite is the Volus who is asking about high-end equipment from the Asari merchant, making himself sound rich and important, who then backs off when he actually hears the pricetag. A terrific piece of flavor that has nothing to do with the story, but gives a sense that there are so many other existences going on in this universe, outside of Shepard's hero -story. 

We land on Illium, and are greeted by a friendly blue lady who lets us know that our old flame, Liara T'soni, is here on Illium, that she's an information dealer, and that she wants to see us. You know she does, since once you go Shepard, you never go back. We'll go check in with her in a few minutes. First, we need some upgrades - ahhhh, yes, sweet upgrades, I need you. After indulging an a few, I think a medi-gel supplement, and a Assault Rifle damage boost, we're flat broke again, and there's more stuff we could use here. Shepard needs some cash, and he's got a former flame in town, so let's swing by and see if she can loan us a few buck. 
Well, we meet up with her, and she's kinds of distant and cold, and now she's hunting down the Shadow Broker. She won't just give us money, which sucks, but she does need some help, and will pay us a little for it. This sounds alright, let's just repair to the boudoir, and Shepard can work his magic - oh, she means actual work. We knew that. 
The tasks that Liara wants done involve finding a lieutenant of the Shadow Broker, known as The Observer. First, she asks us to hack some terminals, and then open access to some other terminals. After that, she needs us to mine some data from some other terminals, which will provide us pieces of a logic puzzle to help us narrow down which of four aliens - A Turian, A Vorcha, a Salarian and a Krogan, is the observer. 
This little mission set is a lot of fun, and I wish that they had done in other missions, such as the Kasumi heist mission we did earlier, had incorporated stuff like this. It was a nice change, to have the logic puzzle to try to decipher, after the more traditional hacking minigame. We figure quickly who The Observer is, tell Liara, and pick up some scrillah for our troubles. We do some other wandering and shopping, and then we go to check in with a woman named Seryna, who Liara believes knows something about our next potential recruit, the elusive assassin, Thane Krios. 

Thane is stalking a corrupt asari, Nassana Dantius, who is hiding out in her corporate towers, protected by mercenaries. She is tipped off that someone is coming after her, so she has locked herself up in the penthouse of the finished tower. We're going to have to bust our way up, through the unfinished tower, across a bridge to where she is, and then up to the penthouse, looking for an assassin, Thane, all the time. 
I'm trying not to be full of myself here, I but ran game on this mission, rolling through mercenaries like it wasn't no thang at all. Bringing Miranda and Mordin with me, we warped everyone we could, incinerated any armor, overloaded shields, and mowed people down with submachineguns. These mercs, the LOKI and FENRIS mechs with them, are just no ready for the tactical hotness we are bringing at this point. We're using powers in combo to strip harsher enemies or singularly to keep crowds of advancing enemies from coming on too quick,  and putting multiple pieces of cover between us and the bad guys, so that squadmates can be ordered to fall back to multiple positions, instead of staying where they are when enemies are standing next to them, shooting them. Even the areas that were supposed to be rough, such as an elevator that shows up full of shielded engineers and a jacked-up Krogan Bounty Hunter, or the bridge between the two towers that is under fire from two robot rocket drones firing down it's length? No issues, just the most fun this combat has been yet, feeling strong and confident, but still being careful, because that's how it has to be played. Good times had by all, expect those we killed. They had a less than good time. 
We reach the top of the finished tower, and walk in on  Thane's target, Nassana, and the last of her bodyguards. We've been wiping out droves of them, but we've also been running into groups of cowering salarian construction workers who have been locked into safe areas, or protected by an unseen assassin, who saved them from extermination at the hands of the mercs (Nassana is getting paranoid, and seems to have order her workers killed as her mercs swept the area, to ensure no one was in the tower.), so we know Thane is somewhere around. As we talk to Nassana, and try to convince here that WE aren't here to kill her, Thane drops in, takes out a couple of guards behind her, and then, as Nassana spins around, he unloads a shot right into her midsection, settling her dying body carefully on the console behind her - the man is an artist. After a little soft-talk and introspection, Thane joins up. 

Thane is my favorite. He's badass without being cliched, he's introspective without being a whiny turd, he's spiritual but practical, he's just damn cool. His backstory is a little confused, and we'll look into that a bit more in his loyalty mission, but suffice to say that Thane is very up front about his life as a killer, how he makes peace with what he is, and the culpability that he feels for his actions, even if they are merited. Also, the design of the drell character is familiar, yet foreign enough to keep surprising you; in conversation with Thane, his huge dark eyes, can be very unsettling, and every once in a while, when the membrane snaps over them when he blinks, it's odd, because he's so very humanly philosophical in his thoughtfulness that you often forget he's a new alien species to the ME universe. I think he's just a brilliant character. 
Thane is also useful in combat, as he commands two useful weapons, the submachine gun and the sniper rifle, as well as some useful biotic abilities in Lift and the ever-useful Warp, which we can upgrade to heavy Warp. Thane will be coming along with us on many of our adventures for the remainder of the game. 
Ok, some quick book-keeping items. One, I meant to post more the last few days, but I am away from home, visiting my girlfriend's family in Pennsylvania. As such, I haven't been able to find tons of time to write, as I have been eating local fried, baked and meat-filled cuisines, nor have I continued to play (although GB user Plague102, who is my girlfriends younger brother, was playing Mass Effect 2 on his own console, and bearing witness to his custom Shepard's was scaring the hell out of me - one looked like a dirtbag, older, paler Vin Diesel, and the other was a blond version of Keanu Reeves in Point Break. "Saren, bro, I'm a CIT-A-DEL AGENT!!").  
The good thing is, I did have some catching up in this blog, so I have one more entry to bring us to where I actually am in my playthrough, and it is rife with drama - I almost cheated out of the playthrough, or quit altogether, things were going so badly. I will try to get that one up before we head back, Friday or Saturday, but no promises. 
i should also tell you to check out my next post, especially if you are a meat-eater and grill hound. Thanks, 
- Nick


An ME2 Insanity Run - A little murder makes everyone feel better

Having clashed with the Collectors at Horizon colony, we are now flush with cash, and feeling good about saving (a few) of  the colonists. But now we're without a clear direction, other than being reminded by the Illusive Man that our team was going to have to be a well-oiled machine to survive, which is the game indicator that loyalty missions for the crew are going to begin opening up. And they promptly do, beginning with Miranda, Jacob and Jack, who now want us to jet around the galaxy to take care of personal stuff for them, never mind the horrible monsters that are abducting thousands of humans every time check the news.
Yeah, sure, guys, we'll run your errands so that you feel better. As long as we do this, you'll be ready to throw your lives away at my order. Cool. Deal. Let's kill whoever is bothering you, and maybe you'll be less moody. Also, this seems like a good way to earn some more cash. We're already tapped out again, somebody spent all our dough on upgrades, I'm not sure who. . . 
So Jacob gives us a buzz, and tells us he's gotten a message telling him that the ship that his dad had been serving on, the Hugo Gernsback, has begun broadcasting a distress signal after being missing for 10 years. The signal has been detected on an out of the way jungle planet, and Jacob, although he doesn't have any meaningful feelings for his dad, wants to check it out, to find out what happened. Another one of these scenarios where you know going in that there is absolutely no way that something super messed-up hasn't been going on, yet we decide to go head down there anyway. 

What we find is pretty disturbing. You quickly encounter the wreck of the ship, and several distorted partial recordings that hint at something untoward; confused entries, mentions of local vegetation being harmful to memory and mental function, and a particularly disturbing recording by a man remarking that it is less likely now that his unwanted advances toward some woman is less likely to be rejected now, since her memory is being affected, and she is still cute. . . creepy. 
You run into a confused babbling woman, and then are attacked by some hyper aggressive men, who she calls hunters. When they have been dealt with, you find the settlement of the remaining members of the crew of the Hugo Gernsback. Jacob remarks that all the survivors in the camp are women, and that all the men seem to be dead, or feral, like the hunters you battled earlier. Talking to the mentally-deteriorating women confirms the worst; Acting Captain Taylor (Jacob's dad) has been lording over this small community, eating the untainted food, running the mechs, and exiling or murdering opposition. He's only calling for help now that he is running out of resources. There is a very unfuzzy reunion between father and son as after we fight our way to him, and then call in the authorities to arrest him and rescue everyone. 
I enjoyed the storytelling in this mission more than I remembered - there is no good solution here, no twist that makes what happened here ok - Jacob's dad is a monster, the other officers were equally complicit in this murder and sexual slavery, the other crew who became the hunters are no better than animals, and the women of the crew are too addled by toxic food to fight back; it's an ugly little piece, with some tough combat to go with it - I actually got smoked right away in my first contact with the hunters, mostly due to not being ready for so many of them at once and them to be as aggressive as they were. I also bit it a few times through this mission, as most of the combat is with groups of mechs, and I still need work with enemies like the LOKI mechs, who just come up on you in groups. They  just walk and shoot, walk and shoot, until they are right up on you, or one of you is dead; in this case, it was often me who died. Still learning, I guess. 

With Jacob's personal problem out of the way, we can move on to resolving someone else's childhood issues - Jack's. It would be a lot easier if Jack's problem was that daddy was distant and mommy loved martinis and the poolboy - her problems are way deeper than that. Jack was taken as a child to a secret Cerberus lab on the planet Pragia, where she was subjected to torture, tests and forced combat with other children in an attempt to develop top-tier biotics. Jack broke out, rage-killed her way out, and never looked back - now that she has found the facility's location, she wants to go back and blow the old place up - and she wants us to come with. Sounds like a fun date, it's a great group of girls we roll around with. 
The Pragia facility is run down and overgrown, and mostly without resistance for the first half of it - Jack runs through he memories as you go area to area, and most of them aren't pleasant. Children were brought to the facility, and used as test subject to develop their natural biotic talents, and many didn't survive. As you continue on though, you find researcher logs of the project and the riot which precipitated Jack's escape that don't totally jibe with Jack's memories - it may be Jack was not  the guinea pig for experiments to be run on the other children, but rather they for her - that she was the special subject of the whole project. 
As you go deeper in, you run into some Blood pack mercenaries, who are a change from the Blue Suns we've been seeing a lot lately. The Blood Pack is made up of big, bad Krogan with shields, armor and shotguns, gun or flame-thrower wielding Vorcha, and a few dog-beast varren. The Krogans are stout opponents, but not too bad if you get your team to focus on them before get too close, the Vorcha are easy pickings if they can't roast you with the flames, and the varren are like any other ch raging enemy on this difficulty setting - they need to go down first, or they will knock you out of cover, if not bite you to death. 
There aren't a ton of enemies here - and the combat isn't too rough, especially using incendiary ammo and reave, which keeps the Krogan and Vorcha from regenerating health - as often as I could, I kept a couple pieces of cover between me and my enemies, and in the few cases where I couldn't, I would use my teams abilities to strip shields and armor and then lift, say a Krogan, and kill them while the pinwheeled through the air. One death through this mission here, but I'm going to write this one off a little as less of my fault than usual - I was in a room with a wall that went 3/4 of the way up to the ceiling, and an enemy up above on a catwalk was able to pick away at me over top of the wall, or through what had been a window in the wall - I couldn't see him, but he chipped away at me while I tried to find where I was taking damage from, and eliminating closer threats. Otherwise, little combat troubles.
On reaching Jack's cell, where she wants to plant the explosives to destroy the facility, we run into the guy who hired the mercs to bring him here. He's another former subject of these experiments, and like Jack, he's been haunted by it. He's thinking that there must have been some reason for what was done to him, so he wants to restart the project - Jack and I convince him it's not such a good idea by threatening to kill him, and he runs away, allowing us to plant our explosives. Jack pushes the trigger as we fly away, and some of her demons are consumed in the firestorm. 
That concludes the first two of our main crew side-stories. Jack and Jacob are now loyal, and we get their extra abilities and alternate costumes - Kasumi, the thief, is loyal after the heist mission that we did earlier. We will have to do more of these if we want our crew to survive the rest of our battles with the Collectors, but next time, we're going to do something we should have done earlier - we're going to go to a world of sexy blue ladies, see some old friends and recruit my favorite character in the game (no, not Kelly . . although I here she's great and handling a . . . nevermind), 
- Nick

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An ME2 Insanity Run - Picture me rollin' - oh God! I'm Dead!

Hey, wait, this isn't Space Vegas, or even Space Fortune City! This is a gross, brown garbage dump of a place. someone must have gotten lost, or Joker didn't get the memo.  
Ok, we're on Korlus to recruit a Krogan Doctor, which seems like an oxymoron. He's apparently being either held captive, or in league with some Blue Sun mercenaries, who we seem to run into everywhere so far, so they should either be running out of people, or be well aware that we tend to murder tons of them whenever they run up against us. We've killed Blue Suns all over Omega, on the Purgatory prison ship, in Donovan Hock's house and now here. You would think they would fear us by now. 
This mission doesn't have much of note in it. We kind of just roll along, Miranda, Mordin and Shepard. Picking guys off long distance with biotics and pistols, using cover cleverly, and taking it nice a slow. A couple hairy moments when you begin to encounter a long string of crazed Krogans on narrow ledge-pathways that offer chances for fire from all sorts of angles and directions, but sending Miranda out as a distraction/sacrifice to draw their fire worked well, then I just sat in a nice piece of cover and wailed away with an Assault Rifle and Reave, and used Mordin to incinerate their armor. 
As I stated when I started the running blog here, part of the reason to do the playthrough on Insanity was for the stupid achievements, as long  as i was gonna play the DLC anyway, and wanted a nice full, clear save for the next installment in the series. Just to update, I was missing very few of the base game achievements when I started, other than the Insanity difficulty-based one. I had left the Incinerate, Warp and Overload achievements, based on using those abilities. With the gameplay on this difficulty (not to mention my newfound caution) dictating extensive use of biotic and tech abilities, these have begun to rack up. I hit the Overload achievement during the Kasumi mission, and the Incinerate one here. Starting to see more barrier-ed enemies, so I guess I will be using warp more in the future. I wanted to get that little book-keeping type stuff out of the way. There, done. 
Yup, really not many issues throughout, as you access the Blue Suns research facility, where they are having Okeer breed krogans for some army, yet he seems to be doing his own thing. Then you run into Okeer, and he's made some perfect Krogan, genophage be damned, yadda-yadda-yadda, and then you have to take out the Blue Suns commander (at least this groups; seems like we've killed quite a few Blue Sun commanders so far). She ends up taking out Mordin and Miranda with a few well-placed missile strikes as they stand out in the open, but that's just a distraction, and she goes down pretty easy, especially once her guardian heavy mech has been scrapped. 
But the good Reptile Dr. has been gassed to death, and we've inherited his clone-super-soldier offspring.  Overall, a very surgical mission. The best, survival-wise for this run so far. Huzzah! Iced coffee for everyone!

This is weird, since I was just remarking to Garrus the other day about how much I wanted a Krogan in a tube, and now, I've got one. Life is funny like that sometimes. They tell us that we get to decide whether or not to keep him, but his mom probably won't take him back now that we've petted him and he smells like us. I think I'll name him Bubbles. . . or Grunt, if that's what he wants to be called. Fine. 
Now we have a little cutscene win which our buddy the Illusive Man tells us that the Collectors are at it again at a colony called Horizon, and that we can high-tail it there to try to stop them. Sure, an enemy that we don't yet know how to stop, I'd love to rush headlong to where they're at. 
Horizon also begins on a good note, combat-wise, as my same running crew continues to do well against the shielded and barrier-ed Collectors, we even do okay the first few time Harbinger, the Collector leader/Reaper consciousness, drops into one of the Collectors to say hi and try to murder us. 
Then it quickly goes bad. Pretty much from the 1/3 point of this mission, we're back to slogging slowly, battle to battle, dying for every small mistake, of which I make many.

some happy accidents occur though. After dying a bunch of times while getting rushed by husks and collectors (Armored Husks, really? Really? Crap.) We hid out from Harbinger and friends inside the bay where you talk to a mechanic who seems to have locked himself away to avoid getting frozen, and they kind of bugged out instead of coming to get at Shepard. The husks came through the door, but the collectors would just hang out, mostly in cover, near the to of the stairs and doorway, which let Ol' Shep get at them.  Then had to run out, take out the last two or so bee-men and our team came back to consciousness, asking if they missed anything. 
The mission ends in a long standoff with the collectors, Harbinger and f-ing Husks in a rectangular courtyard where you are arming some cannons to try to oust the Collectors from the colony. On entering the area, I caught sight of a Scion, a bulbous, roughneck super-husk, mostly in cover across the yard. by sending Miranda over there and using my pistol to hit while it was mostly behind cover, I was able erase it before it realized I was there. This tactic seemed to work each time. The second one, and the husks, that took some luck, some repeated running and hiding, and a bunch of repetition. 
You then fire up the cannons, and while they warm up, you have to hold of a whole other host of collectors and some husks. This checkpointed, thankfully, so it wasn't quite as bad as it could have been, but it still took a few tries, until I had a general idea of where I could position myself and my team to try to survive. If you aren't close by, the Collectors/Harbinger will try to pick you off from behind cover and won't come after you, allowing me to pick them off one by one, mostly by using reave. A few waves of this were survivable once the techno-zombie husks stopped showing up. 
Then, just as things are wrapping up, A big beetle-looking monster with human faces in it's mouth area drops in and begins firing blue death lasers at us. This little nightmare is called a Praetorian, it it murdered me right quick the first time I encountered it. Things went better the second time, as I just ran from the damn thing, and tried to hide behind whatever cover I could find. This went much better, but I couldn't run forever, and eventually the damn thing caught me. So, next time I loaded it up, I went right back to running, and tried to let my crew kill the damn thing as it chased me on laps of the area and in rings around pieces of cover I could use to hide until it glided around them, exposing me. 
Yay! This worked. The damn thing took forever to die, constantly re-powering it's shields with a ground-pound type attack, but Mordin and Miranda, who the Praetorian ignored, were able to finally whittle it down as I bum-rushed around like Shaggy and Scooby. Not the most butch of tactics, but it worked, and when someone asks how I beat that part, I'll tell them that is was easy, and I just stood toe-to-toe with the enemy. No one has to know, right, this can stay private. 
So I saved some of the colonists, and even so, one of my former crew members from the first game, the whiny snob, Ashley Williams comes up and tries to crush my buzz because I'm hanging with pro-human Cerberus, and didn't save everyone (What, some colonists is better than none! Where's my medal?"). I told her to pound sand and got back on my way. I have more people to recruit, things to buy, and trust to earn. Plus, I have to walk my Krogan. I left him on the ship for hours while I went out, and frankly, if I don't let him out in the yard - well, it's just gross. 
Next time: A little Lord of the Flies action, shopping, and some revengance (yup,  I know it's not a word). 
- Nick


An ME2 Insanity Run - Hey guys, let's go to prison!

When last we left our hero, he had stolen some machinery that had previously resided in a criminal's brain from another, worse criminal, in order to secure the trust of a third criminal, and was now fighting his way out of previously-mentioned worse criminals house, destroying priceless artifacts, ruining facilities and killing staff, since we gained entry under false pretenses. Shepard is the hero, but he's kind of a bastard of a house guest. 
We've reached the shuttle pad, and when we get out there, the bad guy in this scenario, Donovan Hock, he of the bad facial hair and worse accent (on review, it could be a New Zealand kind of thing they were trying to hit, but it still sounds bizarre), is waiting for us in a gunship, initiating this games version of the helicopter boss battle. Helicopter boss battles have been discussed extensively by better folks than I, so I will leave this topic be, and we will talk about this one, specifically. 
But first, a digression on difficulty and player-deaths: I have been honest so far in these little screeds about any difficulties I am having with the combat,  whether they be due to the game mechanics( i.e classes, weapons, cover wonkiness) the AI (teammate kamikaze runs, or super aggressive enemies) or in most cases, my own struggles with the way you have to approach the combat on the harder difficulty settings. I have said, and will say before, that careful, cover-based shooting is not something I have an innate knack for, and as we have seen so far, I have paid for my own aggression or errors with Shepard's life. 
This is the case in the battle out on the landing pad, but here we also see the fruits of the labors of our task here: I am learning what works and what doesn't, and there are already less cases of trying to brute-force my way through things than in earlier missions, such as the Garrus-shutter incident of a few posts back. Instead of repeatedly bashing myself against the scenario, I am getting super-cautious, changing tacts with my squad-mates, and leaning heavily on biotic/tech powers. Basically, I suck less, but it's still often a process. 
The layout of this battle is that Hock is hovering above and in front of you, and is heavily shielded. Waves of 5 or so enemies will come at you from center left or right. This isn't so bad, since you have plenty of cover, especially the initial piece you start behind, which is pretty much where I hung out for my (several) attempts here. Kasumi (in the last session, I realized i hadn't allocated her skill points - I told you I was deep in  a bottle of Maker's Mark - and  I dropped all her points into fully upgrading her Shadow Strike ability and upping her Overload skill)  is rather useful in going across the area to keep enemies off of me, though the Eclipse troops are not too rough to fight off, unless they start on your left flank, in which case they can quickly move up to an area where they can negate your cover and cause some significant issues. 
The big obstacle is the LOKI mechs, which don't share the merc's sense of self preservation, and walk right up on you, unless you get at them first. The four times i bit it here, three of them had to do with LOKI's getting close and either causing significant enough damage to kill me or to cause me to panic and try to find new cover, only to get myself killed. I said I was getting better, not that I was good, or perfect.
The way this goes down is slow and steady, using Kasumi and the reave ability to focus down the mechs for four or five waves of enemies, and then taking down the gunships shields, which regenerate, triggering Kasumi to comment that she can take the shields down if she can get close. At this point, I bum-rushed the landing pad, Kasumi does her thing, and then I retreated to my original cover to hack away at the armor of the gunship, while mostly letting Kasumi hold off the ground forces. All goes well, bad guy goes boom, and we're out. 
So now Kasumi's loyal, reunites in memories with her partner/lover and then, as is the good thing to do, we erase his dangerous memories. We now have a little more cash, but never enough, and now I lack clear direction on a next step, so naturally, the best idea is to walk into a fairly obvious trap on a deep-space super-max jail full of psychos that planets will allow themselves to be blackmailed into paying to keep them there. this has to go swimmingly. 

I have to say, i was totally surprised that this whole operation wasn't on the up and up and that the warden was evil and wanted to take Shepard hostage and ransom him off to his enemies. Shocked. I guess now our team will have to run roughshod over everyone between us, our new recruit, Jack, and the door.  
And that's pretty much how it goes. I don't want to sound cocky or nothing, but this is where it begins to appear that the tables have begun to turn on the whole skill vs. difficulty relationship that has had me slogging through some earlier missions. The only section that offers significant resistance here is the opening sequence, in which Shepard turns down a invitation to give up. He, Mordin and Miranda (my running crew of choice, I think, for the next good while), are at the far end of a room with a couple waist-high barriers, and a bunch of Blue Sun troopers and more heavily-shielded Legionnaires come piling into the room to try to get you to reconsider by shooting you to death. The troops aren't so rough to deal with, unless they advance up on you. The thing that did me in the first 4 goes I had at this were a couple of FENRIS mechs that roll on in after the first group of soldiers, and right in front of a back-up wave. These little dog-looking buggers act just like the LOKI's during the Kasumi missions, getting right up close and personal, and until I could manage to get at them from distance and get my team to prioritize them properly, they caused me some trouble, at the least making me focus less on the other enemies, who would do me wrong with bullets. 
Really, the rest of the mission goes great, proceeding through wreckage and holes in the wall that the newly-freed superbiotic, Jack, is ripping in the structure and fighting whatever guards and mechs are in the way. I remembered the battle with the warden, who is surrounded by guards, and under a shield which is powered by three generators you need to shut off to nullify it, as being a rough go in earlier playthroughs, but my new cautiousness, and use of reave, overload, warp and incinerate allowed my crew to engage and terrorize from a distance. I only lost Miranda once or twice when she wandered out into heavy guard fire, her ample bust taking an impressive number of rocket hits before she decided to lie down for awhile. that was funny to watch. I also incorrectly rallied Mordin once right into the middle of a group of enemies, but he didn't seem too upset about it, before during or afterwards, and I think we're still cool. 
So, with the Warden dead, and Jack talked out of tearing us and our ship to pieces with her mind and self-expressive body art and clothing stylings, we depart, now flush with 100,000 in credits two new crew members since the beginning of this entry and our next destination in mind: Space Vegas!

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