ME3: Would you get rid of multiplayer if it improved campaign?

We had a really interesting question submitted to us by a viewer. Do you prefer ME3 as it is, or would you have wanted a better single player campaign at the expense of not having multiplayer? We know that the two were developed by separate teams, but it's still an interesting topic to discuss theoretically. I would definitely discard multiplayer to get a more polished campaign, but my answer would be reversed for other series like Assassin's Creed. Curious to see what others think.

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Mass Effect 3 In-Depth Podcast

The audio podcast I co-host just recorded a Mass Effect 3 podcast special. It features over 2 hours of in-depth Mass Effect 3 discussion, including coverage of Mass Effect multiplayer and the very controversial ending. If you haven't you finished Mass Effect 3, don't worry. The first part of the episode is entirely spoiler free; spoilers start just past the 42 minute mark, but there is ample warning within the episode.

The easiest way to listen is subscribing on our iTunes page, and it helps us out a lot! You can also use a streaming player found on our website here.

If you have questions, comment or any feedback, leave a comment here on Giant Bomb, or send an email to hex19show@gmail.com.

Thanks for listening!! :D

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Halo: Reach - January Playlist Update Review

This was originally a blog post over at a website I run called Hex19.

The start of a new year brings the start of a new month, which means yet another Halo: Reach multiplayer matchmaking playlist update. 343 Industries is continuing to gradually change the multiplayer landscape, and hasn't made any radical changes this time. I've had a bit of time to fool around in the revamped playlists, and these are my thoughts.

The biggest change this time around is the introduction of a new playlist, Squad DLC. It is a 6v6 slayer playlist that requires the installation of all Halo: Reach DLC. I don't understand why this wasn't introduced immediately after Premium Battle was removed. People like having a way to immediately try out the maps they have spent their hard earned Microsoft points on. I'm sure many people received points cards over the holiday break and used them to buy the map packs. These maps are playable in most of the playlists, but only if every player in the lobby has the DLC installed. Changes were introduced to the matchmaking algorithm in December to try to match DLC players more often, but the effect of these changes was not very noticeable. The Halo: Reach player base in each playlist is small enough that it would add a considerable amount of time to matchmaking search if this behavior was very strict.

Slayer Pro on Breakpoint. Noobs need not apply.

BS Angel (community manager at 343 Industries) clarified that Squad DLC is a playlist on probationary status, and will only survive if the population playing it is large enough. This angers me a little. I really like playing objective games on some of the new maps, and these are not an option in the slayer only Squad DLC playlist. The fact that a single DLC playlist might not even survive is frustrating. If there can only be one DLC required zone, I would prefer that it offered both slayer and objective gametypes, akin to Squad Battle from Halo 3.

The games I played in Squad battle performed as advertised. I was treated to 6v6 slayer, including Team Snipers and Slayer Pro, on a variety of maps from the Noble, Defiant and Anniversary map packs. It is worth noting that the skill level of this playlist seems to be slightly higher than most others. It is a more hardcore group of players that has purchased all the DLC, so don't be surprised if you have a bit of tougher time than in Team Slayer.

Grifball now ends once a team reaches 3 points.

My favorite change for this update has to be that the early win behavior for Grifball has been fixed. Grifball has always been a best of 5 rounds game, but Halo: Reach allowed the game to end once a single team reached 3 points. This eliminated a lot of useless rounds of play, that usually were devoted to K/D whoring and spawn killing. It made losing a less frustrating process, and didn't take any of the joy away from winning. For some unexplainable reason, this behavior was removed in the December update, and the game once again forced players to take part in all five rounds. I don't know why it took 343 Industries this long to switch back the setting, but I'm grateful that it plays how it should once again.

Although it looks similar, the new Abridged is revamped and improved.

The Abridged map, a community Forge World creation that often appears in the Big Team Battle hopper, has undergone some significant changes. The flag spawns have been moved, teleporters have been added to make traversal better, and it is now possible to fly under the massive bridge without triggering a kill zone. My favorite change is that the gravity lifts in each of the bases have been moved inside, which means that it is not possible to get floating vehicles permanently stuck in them. It was really annoying to have your Mongoose trapped 20 feet in the air when you're trying to drive a flag back to your base. However, I will miss noobs jumping into the lift, only to get instantly splattered by a hovering Warthog.

January also brings the slow spread of Title Update settings to more playlists. Team Arena, Big Team Battle and Double Team join in on the TU party, along with Team Objective, Squad Slayer and Multi Team, which were changed over in December. The changes include 85% Bloom, Armor Lock alterations, the removal of sword block, damage bleed through on partial shields and Active Camo modifications. I don't have a big opinion on full bloom vs. 85%. I still have fun playing the game on either setting, so I don't care too much about these changes. What I don't like is that the playlists are so fragmented, so I guess it's a good thing that the changes will eventually be on every playlist. It's confusing to keep track of what settings apply to each game. I'd rather have all of Reach be a consistent experience, leaving us only to worry about the gametypes and maps.

The rest of the changes in the update were just rolling out maps to playlists that previously didn't have them. Zealot, Countdown and Penance are now available in Team Snipers. I have no idea why these maps weren't in there before. I know that they're small, but that doesn't make them any less fun for sniping. Expect a lot of awesome no-scoping to be going on when playing these maps. Double Team has been blessed with the addition of two Anniversary maps - Solitary and Battle Canyon. Again, why weren't these added in last month's update? All of matchmaking was supposed to have a bigger emphasis on DLC, so why weren't these maps even available?

Infection. People play this? Willingly?

Living Dead also received a ton of new map variants for Infection gameplay. I'm not a big fan of the playlist, so I confess that I haven't given it a try this month. I don't understand why it is consistenly one of the most played gametypes in Halo: Reach. I prefer playing Infection with people I know in custom games, so it will be nice to have the new clever and spooky map names to use, I suppose.

In case you missed it, you can read about last month's matchmaking alterations here. Also, BS Angel has the full details of the January update over on the Halo Waypoint site for those who are curious. I want to thank 343 for remaining dedicated to improving Halo: Reach. Although their focus is on Halo 4, I'm glad that they're taking time to try to meet the needs of the current Halo player base, even if the changes they're making aren't exactly what I'd want. Anyways, I'm sure I'll be back in a month to discuss the February update; right now I have some Squad DLC I've got to play!

(Title Image by xRyderx Rgnt444)

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"My Xbox Live" for iOS First Impressions

I wrote up a quick review of the new official Xbox Live app for iPhone and iPad on my personal website. I really like it. It's very slick looking and easy to use. I find it even faster than the Xbox 360 itself for sending messages and editing my avatar. The app is available for free download today.

You can read my full opinions here. Thanks for reading!

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How To Get Married in Skyrim

Here is a short video I made that explains how to get married in The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. I will be making some more tips & tricks videos in the near future. Thanks for watching, and best wishes to you on your wedding day! :D

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Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary Review

Last Tuesday, 343 Industries shipped their first retail product ever - Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary. Released to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Halo franchise, it features the original campaign remade with all new HD graphics, as well as 7 classic Halo environments remade for online play in the Halo: Reach engine. I've had some time to sit down with both the campaign and multiplayer, and this is my review.

As a preface to this article, I'd like to familiarize you with my history with Halo: Combat Evolved. I never owned the original Xbox, but that didn't mean that I was locked out of the Halo: CE experience. I've many fond memories of playing Halo: CE in friends' basements: making split screen legendary runs and pistoling buddies on Chill Out. I later purchased Halo for PC, which was my first foray into the world of online gaming. Seemingly endless games of CTF on Blood Gulch were a regular weekend occurrence. As a whole I've played through the entire Halo campaign 4 times, and spent countless hours in multiplayer. Since the first Halo, I always tried to get my hands on everything related to the series, whether it be the games, books or anime series. In the last five years, my most played games have been Halo 3 and Halo: Reach.

I played through the Halo: CE Anniversary campaign on normal difficulty. I figured that it wasn't so important to review the gameplay that I'm already so familiar with. I mostly wanted to get through the game to experience all of the updated visuals, as well as the new added content, such as skulls and terminals.

A graphical comparison of the two games side by side. The upgrade is stunning.

I have to state that 343 Industries has done an impressive work with the graphical overhaul in Halo Anniversary. Just minutes in to the game, the difference is overwhelming. The amount of work that they've done on textures, lighting, animations and skyboxes brings this game almost up to par with modern first person shooters graphically. All of this was achieved while still preserving the original CE gameplay perfectly. The artists at 343i have also given Anniversary a very unique visual feel. The art showcases vivid colors and high contrasts. It echoes the established Halo style, while being something special in its own right. The music is just as it was written for Halo CE, but completely re-recorded with a new orchestra. The result is a fuller and better quality sound throughout the game. If you prefer the classic music, that option is in the menus as well. The sound effects are also all new, and they make the weapons of Halo click better than ever.

Anniversary becomes a truly magical experience when you press the back button on the Xbox 360 controller. The display suddenly transforms back to the original graphics that the game had in 2001. It’s fascinating to compare how much graphical improvement there has been in just ten short years. Playing in original graphics mode is actually quite pleasant as well. It’s by far the best Halo: Combat Evolved has ever looked. The graphics are up-scaled to HD, and the game is presented in a 16:9 format.

Anniversary's beautifully animated terminals offer deeper insight into the Halo Universe.

I felt that the features 343 Industries has added to the game enhance the experience without taking away from the original game. Finding skulls and then activating them is a ton of fun, and makes the game slightly more re-playable. The terminals have been included in a way that they make sense within the Combat Evolved storyline. I found them to be less cryptic than previous Halo terminals. Rather than being obscure references to names and places most people haven't heard of, they actually reveal some interesting new details about the Halo timeline, as well as some possible Halo 4 hints.

There are some bonus features included in Halo Anniversary that I did not get to try. I don’t own a Kinect, so I couldn’t access the “Analyze/Encyclopedia” or voice control features. Also, I don’t own a 3D television, so my gameplay was limited to 2D. I did see a demo of the 3D at PAX; it looks good, but it didn’t make me want to rush out and purchase a new TV. What I can confirm is that these extra features are not at all required for enjoyment of the game. I haven't yet tried campaign co-op online, but Glenn Meyer and I played some split screen co-op and it functioned as expected.

This ain't your daddy's Halo LAN. The multiplayer component of Halo Anniversary uses the Reach engine.

I have seen a lot of hate directed towards the multiplayer side of Anniversary, and I can understand some of it. There definitely is a market of gamers that want to re-experience the original Halo multiplayer. I think the decision to go with making more Reach maps is neither a great one or a bad one. Many people associate Halowith that classically overpowered magnum and the steep cliffs of Blood Gulch, neither of which are in this title. The simple shock that the multiplayer is a completely different game might be a major turn off.

Utilizing the Reach engine for multiplayer wasn't without its advantages. First off, the multiplayer in CE is a little dated now. First person shooter games have progressed a ton in the last ten years, and have become more balanced, exciting and fun. I don't think that original Halo multiplayer would hold up as well to repeated playings when there are superior products on the market. The nostalgia factor is undeniable, and it would be really awesome for a while, but there is a reason that newer games are much more popular today. Having all the strengths of the Reach engine at your side is also a huge plus. All of the maps are editable in Reach's forge mode, saved films work as usual, your stats are all still logged automatically on Bungie.net, and you get to play with probably the best netcode in all of video gaming. It's stuff that you don't think of right away, but it's a huge deal.

The new "Anniversary” gametypes are an interesting twist on Halo: Reach multiplayer. They feature tweaks to the weapons (mainly the pistol), and player attributes that make the game play a little bit more like Combat Evolved. It's still very far from that original gameplay experience, but I liked it for a little change of pace. The blend of slayer and classic objective gametypes evoked a ton of excellent memories from previous iterations of the included maps. Default Reach set ups are also playable in the new playlists, and they are just as fun as Reach has always been.

Hang 'em High is one of the most satisfying multiplayer maps ever created. Now it's also one of the most gorgeous.

I have a somewhat unique opinion, because I believe that Halo: Reach is the beast multiplayer FPS of all time. As a result, I'm very glad to have more maps to play with, especially layouts that I've come to adore so much over the years. I really enjoyed playing Reach on the new maps. Both Timberland and Headlong provide premium "Big Team" experiences. Hang 'em High and Battle Creek are among the best maps for 4v4 ever created. Damnation and Prisoner play exactly as they should. It was also nice of 343 to include slightly altered variants of their maps featuring some extra passage ways and tunnels, but it's nothing that a little forging couldn’t have accomplished, albeit a little uglier. Halo geeks will get a little kick

out of the names of the maps, as they match the theme of the original maps. For me this game has injected some new excitement into the Halo: Reach sandbox, which I was already having a great amount of fun with many times a week.

Installation 04 brings co-op Firefight action to the ring world where it all started.

The single new Firefight map, Installation 04, is pretty standard co-op fare. I'm actually a little surprised that they hadn't turned this exact forerunner structure into a Firefight map earlier, as it's one of the most iconic structures in all of Combat Evolved. AI controlled marines are a new addition, but they don't really have much of a noticeable effect on gameplay. Occasionally an Elite will chase after one, allowing you to snag an easy assassination.

The technical way that the Anniversary disc functions is actually a really cool trick. When you launch into the disc, campaign functions as any other Xbox retail title, but when you select multiplayer, you're actually transported into a miniature version of Reach. Your Xbox Live status reflects the fact that you are playingReach, and you can join Halo: Reach parties regardless of whether or not the other members are playing from the Anniversary disc. You even have access to the newly updated Halo: Reach achievements. The only way it differs is that you only have access to play the subset of maps that are bundled with Anniversary, and the playlists that support them (it also has a slick new background image).

Kill the Reds! Kill the Reds! Kill the Reds!Included in the box is also a code that can be used to download the new maps to your hard drive, so they can be accessed by Halo: Reach. Doing this is the best way to play the new maps, as it integrates them seamlessly into your current Reach experience. If you don't already own Reach, I'd recommend picking it up, as you can find it now for bargain bin prices.

Overall, I believe that Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary is a must own product for any Halo fan. If you’ve never enjoyed Halo, this game isn’t going to change your mind. If you’ve never tried the original Halo or if it’s just been so long that you’ve forgotten about it, Anniversary is a worthwhile purchase, especially at 40 bucks. It's not going to command a lot of attention during this year's crowded holiday game season, but it's a solid game and I have no major complaints.

by Yuri Walkiw - Hex19.com

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The Five Most Forgettable Games of 2011

There are a lot of reasons why a game might fly under the radar, or be forgotten shortly after release. These are the games that usually aren't good or bad enough to attract much attention after dominating the news cycle in the weeks leading up to their release. Sometimes they are forgotten simply because they launched at an awkward time, like very early in the year or right after another high profile release. Even a publisher doing a bad job of marketing a game can doom it to eventual obscurity. Here is a round-up of the five most forgettable games of 2011.

Little Big Planet 2

For me, Little Big Planet 2 is mostly forgettable because of its awkward date of release - January 18th, 2011. This was a time of year when most people aren't in the mood for buying games. Not only have they spent a ton of money during the holiday season, but they probably have a big stack of games waiting to be played at home. I was so into Halo: Reach, Assassin's Creed Brotherhood and Civilization V to really care about LBP2.

Little Big Planet 2 also had a major flaw. It looked far too similar to its predecessor. I'm not saying that it was; I do know the game had a ton of new features, especially regarding content creation. To the uninformed, this Sack Boy adventure was pretty indistinguishable from the first one at a brief glance. Lastly, I think Playstation Move support for LBP2 was an unfortunate path to stumble down. When I heard it would be in the game, I was tempted to get the Move along with a copy. However, I decided against it when I learned the support would only be patched in. The update didn't come until September, and that definitely wasn't soon enough to save the Movefrom large-scale failure. (Who am I kidding? It wouldn't have anyways.)

Duke Nukem Forever

Duke Nukem Forever is probably the only game on this list that deserves to be forgotten. The ratio of pre-release hype to post-release discussion relating to this game is astronomical, considering we had to put up with 15 years of the former. Duke's latest romp is forgettable just because it ended up being a pretty terrible game. The title was universally panned by critics, and nostalgic Duke fans were mostly disappointed. I'm sure a lot of them are happy to forget this one.

Crysis 2

Crysis 2 shouldn't be a forgotten game. It made many refinements to the original Crysis from 2007, while also bringing it to the masses via console versions of the game. Ultimately, I feel that the heritage of Crysis was its biggest downfall. Console players were a little hesitant to get into a series that hadn't debuted on Xbox 360 or PS3. PC players were disappointed that they were "sharing" the game with the inferior consoles. I can also understand difficulties marketing the game, as it's tough to make a faceless metal robot man relatable.

I only got 10 hours into Crysis 2, but I thoroughly enjoyed what I saw. I didn't forget about Crysis 2 because I didn't like it. I'm not really sure why I did forget about it. Just when I was leafing through games to write this article, I saw it and thought "Oh yeah! I completely forgot that came out this year!!" That's not generally what developers want to hear about their games.

F.E.A.R. 3

F.E.A.R. 3 became forgettable for a number of reasons. The first is how incredibly average the game is. It achieved a 75 on Metacritic, an almost perfectly average score when it comes to video games. User reviews weren't far off at a 7.3/10. Nobody raved about how good this game was, and nobody ranted about how bad it was. This is partially because most of the gamerverse was too busy tearing apart Duke Nukem Forever or was just confused by the release of a new Alice game.

Rift

Rift was a victim of entering an overcrowded and quickly evolving genre with a game that wasn't ready to be a rockstar. For an MMO to attract a substantial and lasting player base, it either has to be close to perfect, or very good and also free. While choosing one of these routes, you also have to somehow prove you're unique from the 800lb gorilla in the room, World of Warcraft.

Rift accomplished neither of these things. While it was very good, it wasn't perfect and it wasn't free. That last bit is pretty important; free-to-play games have rocketed upwards in popularity over the course of the last year. One of 2011's other high profile MMOs, DC: Universe Online, just recently decided to switch to a free-to-play model. It also shares way too much in common with World of Warcraft. Glenn Meyer from Hex19.com compared Rift to "a skinned version of WoW". It did have plenty of it's own innovations, such as on the fly instances and a very unique skill system. Rift also received very positive reviews. In the end, none of this could save the title from being forgotten by most gamers.

Are there any other games released in 2011 that you'll soon forget? Was one of the titles on this list personally memorable to you for some reason? Share your opinions in the comments below! Also - definitely don't forget to check out The Hex19 Geekcast, the official podcast of Hex19.com.

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GOTY 2011 Preview

Once again, it's that time of year that game journalists and enthusiasts everywhere pick their "Game of the Year." It is kind of a silly exercise. Games are a very diverse medium, and it is sometimes very difficult to compare them directly. Add to that the vastly differing personal opinions of individual gamers, and the arbitrary GOTY pick is a little pointless. However, it's still a lot of fun to discuss and deliberate on the topic. So for those of you looking to get started early, here are the leading contenders for Game of the Year, as well as their ups and downs.

Minecraft

Pros: Mojang's Minecraft is certainly the indie darling of the gaming world. Arguably, no other game has had a greater impact on gaming culture in general than Minecraft. This phenomenon has infected gamers everywhere. You can't spend five minutes online without accidentally stumbling across a video of a Minecraft build, impressive mods for the game, or a music video about Creepers

I learned this year that Minecraft is incredibly addictive. It is also very flexible, allowing you to get what you want out of the game. You can play just to build, just to be creative, just to go after monsters, or even just to fool around. I can say with confidence that I've never had so much fun playing with blocks.

Cons: There are quite a few things that might cost Minecraft the highest honors this year. First of all, the release date of the game is a little confusing. Although many people have been enjoying Minecraft for years, it's official release was just last week. Mojang has been completely open during the entire development process of the game, letting people pre-purchase the alpha and beta versions of the game. As a result, some people even placed Minecraft on their game of the year lists last year. I personally think that only the final release should be considered, so this would be Minecraft's year.

Additionally, it can be argued that more of Minecraft's success could be attributed to the work of the community than the work of the developer. For most, Minecraft is really more of a creative tool than a game. They don't hand out Oscars to the cameras and recording equipment. (Actually, they kind of do. They're called theScientific & Technical Awards, and 95% of people don't give a shit about them)

Batman: Arkham City

Pros: Lots of people were shocked when unknown developer Rocksteady Studios burst onto the scene with Batman: Arkham Asylum. It has been regarded as one of the best super hero games of all time, and was almost undisputed as the best Batman game of all time. This year's follow-up - Arkham City - adds an open world environment and more playable characters to the already excellently refined combat system and engaging story. It's also loaded with tons of bonus content to keep players coming back, a good thing during award voting season. It's also worth noting that Arkham City is the last chance to catch the excellent Mark Hamill as the Joker.

Cons: For a game that received very high accolades, it got a little overshadowed during it's release in October. It sold an impressive sounding 1.5 millions units, but got dwarfed by other heavy hitters like Battlefield 3, Modern Warfare 3, and Skyrim. Did enough people play Arkham City for it to rise to the top of GOTY lists? We'll have to wait and see.

Rocksteady and publisher Warner Bros. also faced many complaints regarding the DLC for Batman: Arkham City. The one DLC was confusing, and altered the game experience for many players that for some reason couldn't pick it up (they either bought it used, don't have an internet connected console, or ran into errors when they tried using their DLC codes).

Battlefield 3

Pros: Battlefield 3 is like candy for the eyes. Running on a well equipped PC, the Frostbite 2 engine is very realistic and buttery smooth. The new engine takes full advantage of 64-bit processors and DX11, allowing for lighting effects, destruction and physics that are more impressive than any other game on the market. Preserving the classic team-focused Battlefield online gameplay is a huge plus as well.

Cons: Despite its technological prowess, Battlefield still got its fair share of criticisms this year. DICE scrapped an open Battlefield concept, and crammed this game full of on-rails experiences and lousy "Quick Time Events". The launch was also plauged by a slew of technical issues, both in the campaign and multiplayer sides of the game. The multiplayer, traditionally the strength of the Battlefield series, has also been criticized as being not as good as its predecessor, Bad Company 2.

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

Pros: Bethesda promised one of the largest and most immersive RPGs ever with The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. They totally delivered. Skyrim is a game that is bigger and more beautiful than any other entry in its franchise, while also being simpler and more accessible to new players. Skyrim excels in so many ways: a truly open world concept, sharply written quests, immersive environments and interesting enemies. Oh, it also has ALL THE DRAGONS!

Cons: Skyrim hasn't completely escaped all criticism. Many players are frustrated with the game, and their rage is fueled by very real problems. The interface has received many complaints, especially from PC gamers that find it very ineffective. The in-game map is a perfect example of form over function. It's a beautiful 3D representation of the world that is entirely impractical for finding your way around. The difficulty is erratic, the AI is far from impressive, and the speech system is boring and unrewarding. Like any other Bethesda game, it was shipped with a boatload of bugs and glitches. They're mostly aesthetic only, but they're still very annoying. You can read about my Skyrim complaints in detail here.

Another possible downfall of Skyrim is that there is no way critics will be able to see all of the content in the game before awards season. As of this writing, Hex19.com's Glenn Meyer has spent 96 hours with the game and still hasn't completed every quest or visited every location.

Assassin's Creed Revelations

Pros: Ubisoft's Assassin's Creed series has very quickly rocketed to success. The original game received mixed reviews, but since then they've just gotten better and better. Revelations just builds on Brotherhood by adding more weapons and mechanics, as well as a conclusion to Ezio's epic storyline. Assassin's Creed has always been an impressive look into historical cities that look and feel real, and they've once again nailed it with 14th century Constantinople.

Cons: Ubisoft probably could've given this franchise a rest this year. Fatigue may be setting in for some players, who have now purchased a new Assassin's Creed adventure every holiday for the last 3 years. Assassin's Creed has lost some of its creative spark, and is now starting to feel quite repetitive. One can only try so many mini games and escort missions before getting incredibly bored.

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3

Pros: More copies of Modern Warfare 3 flew off store shelves into the hands of excited gamers this year than any other game. Almost everybody has already blasted through the heart pounding campaign and invested hours into addictive multiplayer matches. Enthusiasm for Call of Duty has not wavered a bit, and that makes it a constant candidate for a "Game of the Year" nod.

Cons: The Call of Duty engine is really starting to show its age, especially against stiff competition in Frostbite 2 and CryEngine. The lighting effects, animations and physics just aren't comparable to games with cutting edge graphics. The difference may be slight on console, but it's very noticeable on PC. Journalists are also starting to get fed up with the frequency of releases in the series. With every new release in the franchise, Activision is draws closer to "Tony Hawk-ing" this franchise.

Portal 2

Pros: Valve doesn't release a game until it's ready, and Portal 2 is no exception. This sequel took 2007s quirky little puzzler and fleshed it out into a full fledged gaming experience, with a longer campaign, co-op and DLC content. Stephen Merchant and J.K. Simmons headline a voice cast that brings one of the most interesting video game universes to life, which is slowly becoming more and more entwined with the Half-Life story.

Cons: Will Portal 2 even be remembered by video game journalists? It seems like it came out ages ago, and the newer games of the holiday season are the ones we have on our minds. Portal is almost impossible to compare to other games, as none really exist in the first person puzzler genre. Also, people may be a little fed up with Valve as they grow impatient waiting for Half-Life 2 Episode 3. Maybe it would be out by now if they spent less time creating hats for Team Fortress.

The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword

Pros: Skyward Sword is the first major console Legend of Zelda release since Twilight Princess in 2006. Also, this is the first title designed solely with the Wii in mind, as Twilight Princess was available on both the Gamecube and the Wii. The demand for a new Zelda is incredibly high, and this is a series that definitely isn't suffering from "yearly release fatigue." Skyward Sword attempts to perfect combat with motion controls, and many reviewers say it has done just that. It is also a very deep game, offering 50 hours of compelling content to play.

Cons: Skyward Sword may be held back by being released on the Wii. It's a very beautiful game, but many people may be turned off because it isn't on a more technically advanced console, let alone the PC. Gaming in standard definition is right on the line of not cutting it anymore. Unfortunately, we'll have to wait until the Wii U to play a Zelda game in HD.

Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception

Pros: Uncharted is probably the most successful new IP this console generation, and for good reason. With Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception, Naughty Dog has decided not change their winning formula. The game is very similar to Uncharted 2, which is a very good thing. This game is the most cinematic experience you'll have in a video game this year, and it's definitely not a waste. The characters and plot are some of the best written ones in video gaming. The constant blend of combat, exploration and puzzle solving creates a pace that is highly satisfying to most gamers. A better multiplayer with more modes and full 3D support round out the feature list on this AAA title.

Cons: Some reviewers had a negative reaction to Uncharted 3, just because it borrows so much from it's predecessor. Innovative new features are key in an industry that evolves so quickly. I think that the mechanics of Uncharted 3 aren't in danger of going stale any time soon, but are they still "Game of the Year" material?

Gears of War 3

Pros: Epic ships really well polished games. They felt they needed more time to perfect Gears of War 3, so they took it, pushing back the game from last spring to this fall. The extra time really shows in this title, which doesn't have nearly as many bugs and problems as the last two entries in the franchise. Gears of War 2 popularized "Horde mode" in video games, so much so that we often use this moniker for similar modes in other games. Gears 3 features an even better Horde mode, alongside a new "Beast Mode" which puts you in the shoes of the bad guys. The campaign is entirely designed to support 4 - player co-op, and multiplayer introduces more new modes than you can shake a stick at. Even though this game is overshadowed by military shooters in terms of competitive player base, it is definitely no slouch.

Cons: From the start, reviewers have lamented the "Dude-bro" mentality of the Gears campaign, and this game is no different. They did a better job of creating a compelling story, but it's not up to par with the other major releases this year. The genre of Gears of War also puts it in a tough spot. It's extremely difficult to get recognition as a shooter when you're released with Battlefield and Call of Duty close on the horizon.

There are countless other titles that have brought new innovations to table in 2011 and also could be considered. They include Bastion, The Witcher 2, Crysis 2, L.A. Noire, Dragon Age 2 and Deus Ex: Human Revolution. Now that most major titles have been released, it's time to play them all so you can join the debate. Will one of these games take home Hex19's Golden Hexagon this year? Bookmark Hex19.com or subscribe to our RSS so you can find out as soon as we announce it. We'll also be discussing these games and many more on future editions of The Hex19 Geekcast.

Note: I've included the current Metacritic rating on the leading platform for each game. I don't believe that Metacritic is a definitive source for judging games, but it is useful to judge the general opinion of the game. If you actually need purchasing advice for video games, I suggest finding a site with talented authors that share your personal preference, wherever that may be.

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Skyrim Complaints

It is exceedingly easy to find the highest praise for The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim online. I don’t believe that Metacritic is the be all and end all of video game journalism, but it’s notable that Skyrim for Xbox 360 is sitting at a 96 right now, nonetheless. Frankly, it completely deserves the praise. I personally feel that it’s one of the best video game experiences that I’ve ever had, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have my own qualms with the game. This is an article expressing a few of the complaints that I’ve had during my first week with the game.

A Difficult Task

Bethesda has constantly had to deal with complaints regarding the difficulty of their games. The studio has never wanted to punish players for exploring and experimenting throughout their rich game worlds. In order to be as unrestrictive as possible, they employ a sliding difficulty system that will adjust the enemies and loot of quests relative to the level of the player. While I agree with this sentiment, I don’t think that they’ve perfected this method in Skyrim.

Run away immediately if you want to live.

At points in the game, I found the difficulty of enemies to be very sporadic. It’s expected that the difficulty of the main quest would slowly escalate as the player progresses, but this really didn’t seem to be the case from encounter to encounter. Immediately after clearing out a dungeon of relatively easy combatants (I focused on one handed melee combat, and most my foes dropped dead after a few hits), I was tasked with climbing a mountain to engage in the next part of the story. On the way up, I came up against a brutally difficult Frost Troll. His strong defense, deadly attacks and regeneration ability were unlike anything I had seen in the game up to this point. He was many times more difficult to defeat than even the Dragons I had faced. After many unsuccessful tries, I was able to trap the troll in the geometry of the mountain, and slowly hack away at him until his life was depleted. Now I know that it’s quite simple to either run past the troll or push him off the mountain, but it was still an event that broke the pace of the game for me.

Even within specific areas and dungeons the difficulty curve can be nonsensical. I witnessed this in a quest in Mistfall Keep of the Eastmarch hold. The middle level of the keep had a fight against three bandits that was moderately difficult. It took me three tries to figure out the right combination of archery, magic and melee to defeat them. At the top level of the keep, the boss was incredibly easy to defeat, and only required a generous mashing of the right trigger to repeatedly slash my Orcish sword. I understand that surprise and mystery are essential elements, but they shouldn’t be emphasized over the flow of the game.

Speaking of Problems…

Another thing that angered me was the complete tear down of both the Mercantile and Speechcraft skills. They have been united into a single, less satisfying Speech skill. In The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion,players hoping to persuade somebody to take their side had to engage in a speechcraft game involving rotating a disc of pie pieces. While it was kind of strange and very unrealistic, it at least added a small level of challenge and interest to persuasion. Rather than improve upon this, Bethesda has completely removed it from the game.

It's kind of sad that I miss this. [Oblivion Speechcraft Mechanic]

There are Persuade and Intimidate dialog options, but they are simply pass/fail based on your current speech skill. The primary way that this skill is leveled is buying and selling goods. This system is very unrewarding, and still doesn’t make very much sense. I would have much preferred a separate mercantile skill, as well as a more advanced speechcraft system.

Bugsy Malone

When Bethesda Softworks ships one of its massive games, it’s now almost expected that it will be packed full of amusing bugs and glitches. The release of Skyrim has been no different. Much of the Skyrim reddit has been devoted to posting these hilarious bugs.

The proper way to sleep in Skyrim. [via YouTube user MasterRiion]

I think that they’ve done a fairly good job of keeping serious game breaking issues out of the release, but the amount of visual annoyances is staggering. It’s no easy task to track down and find all of these, but I think Bethesda should be better than they are at it. It’s been over 5 years since the last game in the franchise was released. That should have been ample time to create a product that was at least a little bit closer to being bug-free.

Simplicity over Complexity

Lots of RPG style games are significantly scaling back their complexity in order to appeal to a broader audience. In countless series, like Dragon Age, Mass Effect, and The Elder Scrolls, each of the iterations removes some skills and mechanics in order to streamline the experience. In Skyrim, this generally improves the experience, but I feel they’ve gone a bit too far in a few categories.

Skyrim character creation has less depth and more face paint.

For starters, I don’t like that they’ve completely removed player attributes. As a result, your character begins as a completely blank slate that can branch in any direction. The openness is nice, but it destroys some of the believability of the world. You’re supposed to have a past shrouded in mystery, but this isn’t that interesting when you realize it has no effect on your future. I like being gently guided towards choosing a specific style of character to play. It makes the experience more plausible, and makes playing a second time with a different character more unique and interesting.

When levelling, you can choose between upping your Magicka, Health or Stamina, as well as choosing a single extra perk to add to your character. However, these decisions are not at all affected by what skills you improved during that level. By grinding your alchemy skill, you can increase your character’s stamina and grant a heavy armor perk. It doesn’t feel at all like the reward is tailored to your experience at all. In Oblivion, the player could choose to enhance any aspect of their character while levelling, but was awarded bonus points if they chose attributes that were associated with the skills they had improved. I liked this system, and felt it was an appropriate award for what you had accomplished.

Companions

On paper, companions seem like a good idea. Having a loyal follower along for the ride to lend a helping hand is fantastic! However, I have found them to be a bigger frustration than a help. They seem to always be blocking the doorway that you want to walk through. In battle, they almost always seem to be standing between you and the guy you want to swing your sword at. They also constantly shout repetitive dialogue, and have a bad habit of fainting early on in combat. It’s a neat addition to be able to pick and choose different ones, but I really feel that the feature is lacking overall.

It's not the nicest place for a wedding, but the price is tough to beat.

Another new type of companion is a husband or wife. For the first time in the Elder Scrolls series, you can engage in the vows of eternal love with a partner. In my opinion, this feature was seriously half-baked for a franchise that prides itself on a deep and engaging world. Video game series that I consider to be mediocre in comparison to The Elder Scrolls have presented much deeper and more satisfying marriage mechanics. For instance, marriage in Fable II involved wooing a prospective partner, buying them gifts, making love, and even having children. In Skyrim, you can win the love of your partner simply by wearing a special amulet, and once you are wed, they serve as a glorified general goods merchant.

Although I have all of these problems with Skyrim, it is still one of my favorite games of all time. The sheer joy that having a new Elder Scrolls game brings to me vastly outweighs any issues that I’ve run into. I can’t wait to explore the rest of the game world, and see what DLC and mods will extend my experience.

Looking for more Skyrim content? Check out our Skyrim Podcast Special and other Skyrim articles!

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