Fallout 4 – Location, Location, Location

Fallout 4 Box ArtDipping back into the bottomless well that is Fallout 4, today I want to talk a little bit about the Commonwealth itself. Going in, there were plenty of posts all over the web from people worried that the game looked too colorful, or too vibrant. And sure enough, it’s definitely a much more colorful world than Fallout 3 was, but coming right from New Vegas I can definitely see the progression that I think Bethesda is going for. If you look at the three games that they’ve published, there’s a clear progression of nature returning to the wastelands. Those three games take place over the span of ten years, starting with Fallout 3. Going beyond that, they take place in three very different locations in regards to the actual targeting of the bombs.

The lore of the game spells out most of the bombs hit out west, which makes sense since it was China that launched them. Of the three Bethesda games so far, Washington D.C. is the target that makes the most sense for an East Coast target. That’s why Fallout 3 looks so bleak – it got hit hard by the bombs. New Vegas (the city, not the game), despite being a symbol of American decadence really only exists as an economic location, and self-contained at that; which means that, compared with the California targets, probably wasn’t a very high priority target. Which brings us to Boston. Boston, to me, is in the same class as New Vegas. It’s not the biggest East Coast city – NYC is – and it’s not the most pertinent political target – Washington D.C. would be. Of course it’s still a cultural and economic target, plus it’s a huge city. That to me, more than just the time difference since the bombs fell, is why the Commonwealth is in relatively good shape. If the bright colors turn you off, you’ll really be missing out on one of the best games in a few years.

Fallout 4 Boston Skyline

That isn’t quite all I want to talk about with regards to Boston though. One thing I keep finding myself saying as I explore the actual ruins of Boston is “damn, look at that ____.” Every corner seems to reveal some kind of awesome building or encounter to check out. The very nature of Boston makes it more fun to explore than D.C. to me. Boston has the same density of buildings and roads/alleys that D.C. does, but in 2287 has a lot more high rises that survived. There’s a hell of a lot more verticality to the Commonwealth than in the Capital Wasteland. Add in the updated graphics, and the more varied looking locations and, to me, Boston is the winner so far.

You’ll note that I didn’t mention New Vegas there. That’s because to me, New Vegas is much more about the wilderness areas. New Vegas itself isn’t quite the same hub style city as the greater Boston or D.C. Metro areas are. Where I think you can compare New Vegas to Fallout 4 is in those smaller outlying settlements. New Vegas is chock full of them – Goodsprings, Primm, NoVac, Red Rock Canyon, The Fort, McCarran – the list goes on. Fallout 4 has a similar list, they just are a lot smaller, and more spread out. The smaller cities like Cambridge, Lexington and Concord don’t quite fill the same role, but instead it’s places like Sanctuary Hills, Tenpines Bluff, Sunshine Tidings Co-Op, The Castle and so on. That’s a direct result of the addition of the Workshop system – taking places and making them into towns that function how you want them to. I’m still figuring my way around the Settlements mechanics, but I want to get something up this week about them.

A huge part of any Bethesda game is the in-between moments – those times when you aren’t going through a quest location and are wandering around the over world. Whether it’s Cyrodil, Skyrim, The Capital Wasteland, The Mojave Wasteland, or The Commonwealth, Bethesda might be the best developer/publisher at filling those empty spaces with value. Hell, the only developer that I even put in the same category is BioWare. Between the myriad different individual locations that can contain their own little stories, the very alive wilderness and the random encounters that always populate the world, there is always something exciting going on out there.

Advertisements

My Fallout 4 Wishlist – Based on My Experience in Fallout 3 and New Vegas

Fallout: New VegasI was looking through my Xbox 360 play history last night before I started a new Fallout: New Vegas character. Going back over the last three years, right around this time of year, I’ve loaded up a Bethesda RPG and played it through the summer. Last year, it was Oblivion – I went and perfected the achievements for it finally. Two years ago I did the same thing with Fallout 3. This year, in advance of Fallout 4, I’m doing the same with New Vegas. I’ll probably have a few posts down the road as I get into sections of the games I never played the first time around, including one on why I actually didn’t get into New Vegas back in 2010 this week. But today, based around revisiting my Fallout characters and worlds, I want to talk about a few things I would love to see Bethesda do with Fallout 4.

Fallout 4 Box Art

COMBAT SYSTEM UPDATES
Going back to New Vegas really shows how slow that engine handled gun play. It’s far from being terrible, but after playing games like Destiny or Borderlands, it is a little bit of a shock going back to Fallout. Now, I don’t want to see it be a full switch to that style – those games are much more hybrids of shooters and RPGs, while Fallout has always been more RPG than anything else. It can’t really be that fast with the V.A.T.S. system in place, combined with the way the skill system is set up. Knowing that we’re going to be getting a new engine opens up the possibility for a smoother combat engine, in addition to the graphical/practical upgrades.

I’d love to see more emphasis on specializing too – one of the biggest “drawbacks” from the older games is that it’s super easy to get overly powerful, especially in later levels. There’s really no incentive to focus on one style of weapon, which does allow you to be super flexible, but maybe takes away from focus at high levels. Now, I don’t want to see the leveling system change too much – I prefer the Fallout style over the Elder Scrolls system, since it forces you to pick you skills and live with them for a full level; as opposed to leveling them by usage. What I’d really like to see are more perks added in – New Vegas reduced the perks by making them available every two levels. I’d prefer to see them every level, but have more total perks available.
Fallout Sniper PerkYou can balance them by having the ones that are dependent on skills have more stringent skill requirements. For example, a classic guns perk is Sniper, it’s appeared in every game. In the modern games, it amounts to a +25% chance to hit the head in V.A.T.S. targeting. However, the requirements are pretty low to pick it – there’s no skill investment required. Instead all you need are 6 points in both Perception and Agility, and level 12. In the classic games, the requirements were more stringent, with both S.P.E.C.I.A.L. stats needing to be 8, as well as an 80% small guns skill value, plus a level requirement (18 or 24). All of that for an increased chance at critical hits. That’s more what I would like to see for the modern games – since V.A.T.S. really takes a lot of the misses out, skills that impact it should be tougher to take. It would also really force a player to specialize in guns to get it. Hopefully Bethesda has looked at the perk/trait system in the last couple years, both in Fallout and Skyrim really, to see how they can change it up.

TAKE ADVANTAGE OF THE NEW TECHNOLOGY
This is the first Bethesda RPG that really is being built for the Xbox One/PS4/PC only. I wouldn’t say it’s Elder Scrolls Online, just because I see that as a PC game being ported over. I think that Fallout 4 is being built with the new consoles in mind, and with that should come some pretty substantial changes. Do I think the new consoles will completely get rid of all the loading in the game? Not really – but I do think that the power is there to limit them. For example, I’m fine with towns having to be loaded in as new cells – much like how Megaton is a separate cell in Fallout 3. But I think with the new consoles, the power is there to load in the houses in those towns in that cell – it’ll limit the load times, while also helping with immersion at the same time.

In the Wasteland, which we know is the greater Boston area, I’d love to see more details put into variety. It looks like that’s going to be the case – in both previous games, the wastes were pretty much the same environment, with a few exceptions. It stood in stark contrast to the Elder Scrolls games from the same console – Oblivion had a ton more variety in the world, with snowy mountains up north, and coastal ports in the south, along with a thick, wooded forest in the western heartlands. The Boston area really sets up perfectly for that – it’s the farthest north we’ve ever been in a Fallout game so I’m curious to see what kind of climate we’re looking at. There’s bound to be some coastal areas – Boston is right on the ocean after all, but from the trailer shot of the USS Constitution, it looks like the shore may have receded a bit. I’m assuming that we’ll be getting a pretty new graphics engine, so hopefully the world looks a lot more lifelike – especially the human/ghoul models. It’s no secret that the engine used for Oblivion/Fallout 3/New Vegas didn’t have the prettiest looking NPC models; and it really didn’t help that conversations pulled you in real close. Skyrim had a much better engine, which I believe ESO uses a modified version of; but I really want to see Fallout 4 take it farther. Skyrim had the right idea – increased detail for objects, while also increasing draw distance and world realism. That should continue to be the direction they head in. The trailer does look like there’s been some progress for sure, but until I have my hands on it and can see it in action, it’s hard to tell for sure.

CLEAN IT ALL UP
One of the biggest concerns I have going in is that the previous games have had engine issues at launch. There were all kinds of weird bugs and glitches – both in the Oblivion/Fallout 3/New Vegas engine, as well as in Skyrim, albeit a lot less. New Vegas also suffered from some really bad loading times, that were compounded by how much loading there is in these games. If Bethesda can clean these kind of issues up a bit – not necessarily all of them, because I understand just how big this game must be from a development perspective – then I think that will go a long way to make the launch smooth and better financially.

There’s still a ton to talk about with Fallout 4, and that list will probably grow a whole lot after this weekend when E3 kicks off. Bethesda’s press conference is Sunday evening – 7:00 Pacific, 10:00 Eastern. The expectations are already pretty high, and I expect them to stay that way over the summer. Sunday will be a big night – I fully expect a longer trailer, along with perhaps a gameplay demo, playable or not. Bethesda has a whole conference though, and I doubt they’ll devote the whole show to just Fallout, even if I think they probably could. Believe me, we’ll be talking Fallout all summer long.

Fallout 4 – The Hype Train Has Officially Left the Station

Fallout 3 CoverHype. Hype never changes. Yesterday was one of the more exciting days I’ve had in gaming in a while. Just in case you were completely away from the internet yesterday, let’s review. Bethesda finally confirmed, and gave us the announcement trailer for, Fallout 4. Some info we knew going in; but seeing the game with my own eyes made it all real. Add in the timing – only 11 days before E3 – and it really gets my blood pumping. Because we just got a trailer, with a pretty sparse press release, leads me to believe we’ll probably see a hefty gameplay presence at E3. There’s a lot to digest – but just watching the trailer immediately got my nostalgia going. Let’s take a look at my impressions of the trailer.

The trailer opens with another song by The Ink Spots, much like the intro to Fallout 3. The Ink Spots have long been associated with the franchise, going all the way back to the original game. Opening with a song of theirs – “It’s All Over but the Crying” – is a great way to immediately get the Fallout vibes going. Moving forward a little bit in the trailer, we get a little different take on the typical Fallout trailer. Thinking back to the reveal for Fallout 3, that trailer opened with a radio playing the song, before pulling back to reveal the total devastation of the Capital Wasteland. With yesterday’s trailer, it starts similar – a tv instead, but very similar feeling – but instead of pulling back to show the wastes of New England/Boston, we get quick cut backs to right before the bombs fell. That’s a pretty big deal – especially if we’re assuming that this is set after Fallout 3. The bombs fall, and the Great War ends in 2077 – and Fallout 3 is set 200 years later. This trailer is the most we’ve seen of pre-war life in the Bethesda era. Now, there’s no real info about when this game will be set – but generally the time between the bombs falling and the end of Fallout 3/New Vegas is pretty well filled in by various sources.

That said, I think there are a couple hints in there that might suggest that we’ll be playing post-Fallout 3. First, there’s the early reports that Three-Dog is returning; if that’s the case, that pretty much settles it. But beyond that in the trailer we get a couple different looks of multiple towns and cities. That in and of itself might not seem big, but in the world that Fallout large settlements tend to be few and far between. Seeing multiple ones, in an area that probably would have been hit pretty hard by the bombs. Ignoring that major landmarks survive – that’s a gameplay/story pass for me – I would think given what the games have told us, major cities like Boston and NYC (which are so close the number of bombs probably would be pretty high) would be hit hard. That society has revived as much as it has, at least based on the trailer, says to me that we’re looking at least a date in the late 2200’s, possibly pushing into 2300; which could be a nod to the generation of console moving on too.

Fallout 4 Box Art

A lot of what we really see in the trailer is super fanservicey. There are tons and tons of little details that anyone who’s played any previous game will notice. From obvious ones that are up front – Mr. Handy, Mysterious Stranger and the strong presence of Power Armor; to the little ones that are pretty prevalent, there’s a lot going on. For the most part, I think the details – like the presence of skill magazines, nuka cola, energy weapons and so on – just really serves to reinforce the setting. What I think is maybe a little hidden beneath the surface is some details that could hint at story direction. The iconic Power Armor from the series is all over the trailer. It’s a little unclear in some shots if we’re looking at Enclave or Brotherhood of Steel, but I think from the tone of those shots, I think that helps clear it up. For example, the shot from inside the Vertibird seems to me that it’s most likely a Brotherhood ship. In the past they’ve been the more friendly of the factions with access to that level of technology. Contrast that with the shot of the huge airship over the Paul Revere statue, and that seems more like an Enclave shot. Both from the extra level of tech – the Enclave having better access to the pre-war work – and the way that shot is framed, with dark tones and classic storytelling elements. With those little details, it makes me think that the main storyline will possibly revolve around a relatively major conflict between the Brotherhood and the Enclave, similar to Fallout 3‘s conflict around the Water Purifier. Whether this conflict is tech based, F.E.V. based, or purely political in nature is way more speculation than I want to get into.

By the end of the trailer, we get one last pretty nice confirmation. The dog that, really, is the focus of the trailer clearly looks like a companion (Dogmeat) and is addressed by the player character. Not only is the player character voiced, but will again be a former denizen of a Vault. This time is Vault 111 – which is a Vault that we haven’t seen yet; which opens up all kinds of lovely possibilities for what kind of nasty Vault-Tec experiments were going on. These Vaults are fantastic settings to compartmentalize the prologue/introduction sections – the Fallout 3 intro is actually a great beginning section I think. In the trailer the Vault looks a little different – usually the Vault doors are vertical, like most doors; Vault 111 looks like it opens like a manhole.

Yesterday’s trailer was ultimately just a reveal trailer. It just happened to be for probably the biggest game (potentially) this year. As a fan of the franchise, it felt really good to see the familiar world again. There looks like there’s plenty of little tweaks to the formula to make it intriguing for longtime fans, while looking like it’s still going to have that (new) classic gameplay. Will it be faster paced? I hope not – Fallout benefits from a slower paced combat I think, especially with V.A.T.S. Will it be bigger and better looking? I think that’s a sure bet – Bethesda only announced PS4, PC and Xbox One, which is really the way it needs to be. We’re now two years in to the new console generation, it’s time to move on fully. I’m assuming that we’ll get a whole lot more info in 10 days at E3 – including a release date.

Other Series That Deserve an Anthology like Halo

Fallout 3 CoverWhen I was thinking about the potential ideas for a Call of Duty collection done in the same style as the recent Master Chief Collection, one of the things that I was mulling over was what other series I would like to see get that same treatment. So with that in mind, I thought I would hit a couple of the major ones I would like to see.

FALLOUT
This one is a little tricky, just because of the license issues within the franchise, but I think there’s got to be some way to make it happen. I would love to see something that puts the main entries in the series in one product. My thoughts were shaped a bit from the old Warcraft War Chest collection, but going a bit further. I think it would be awesome to put Fallout, Fallout 2, Fallout 3 and Fallout New Vegas, plus their expansion content all in one package. It would also be totally possible to update the older two games graphics engine to run smoother. It would open up the older games to totally new audience as well, fans that came into the franchise with Fallout 3, which I include myself in. I would really be interested in playing the older games – especially in one place with achievements for all the games. Plus all of the games are really awesome too.

BioShock Cover

BIOSHOCK
Another great single-player experience that I would love to see all in one spot – the three BioShock games. The first game was just recently re-released on the iPad of all consoles, and I think within the next year or so there will be enough demand to see the games put out on current-gen consoles. In particular it would be awesome to go through the two Rapture games – especially with upgrades to the visuals to run at 60FPS and1080p.

Rock Band Blitz

ROCK BAND
This one is a little different – the games aren’t really a coherent story across the games or anything. Instead, I want to see all of the setlists put onto one disc – and also on current-gen consoles. This would definitely not be a quick turn around, since they would need to get the songs all relicensed. But I think it would be lots of fun to be able to play through the whole catalog on one disc – and play some of the older songs with the full Rock Band 3 treatment.

Mass Effect

MASS EFFECT
This one is the one that has the best chance of actually happening. I’ve seen a few articles that say that a trilogy is in the works for the current-gen consoles. To what extent that’s true, I don’t know exactly; but I think there’s definitely an audience for it. The games wouldn’t really need too much in the way of updates either – get it to run smooth at the current-gen level, and I think you’d have a winner on your hands.

RPG Week: Day Two – Fallout

Fallout 3 CoverYesterday I talked a lot about Bethesda’s high fantasy RPG series of games, The Elder Scrolls. Today I want to talk about their other major series, which they picked up the license for from Interplay back in 2004 – Fallout. Bethesda owns the rights to the series, but they actually haven’t developed the two games that they’ve published since buying the rights; they developed Fallout 3, but Fallout: New Vegas was developed by Obsidian Entertainment, a studio made up from developers from Black Isle Studios, the studio that created the franchise.

My big point from talking about Elder Scrolls was that I think the time is right for Bethesda to make a move toward some kind of a multiplayer setting in a traditional entry in the franchise. I really think it would work with the Elder Scrolls, but when it comes to Fallout games, I think that the traditional, solitary character wandering around the Wasteland works best with the world that Fallout is set in. The Elder Scrolls games take place in a world that is vibrant and alive, full of people living their lives. On the contrary, Fallout games are set in a world that has all but given up on civilization – friendly settlements are few and far between, most survivors will shoot on sight, and the world is a burned out shell of what it used to be. To that effect, I think playing through the game as a solitary wanderer works best within that frame.

Instead, I think that the most important aspect that Bethesda needs to look at for Fallout 4 is the actual setting. There was a Kotaku report at the end of last year that said that Fallout 4 would be set in the greater Boston area, but there hasn’t been any official word confirming that yet. The further we get from that report, the more likely it is that the setting might have changed. Since we didn’t get any mention of the game at E3 this year, I really wouldn’t expect to hear a ton of concrete info until next year’s show. Which means we have a long time to speculate and postulate about where we could be exploring next. If the Kotaku report is accurate and we are going to be in the Boston area, then I think that’s not actually a bad decision. It’s a different look from either of the previous games – Fallout 3 had the Capital Wasteland, which featured a mixture of urban and rural environments, and Fallout: New Vegas had the Mojave Wasteland, a massive expanse of desert, littered with small settlements of survivors and raiders trying to make their way into the big city of New Vegas. A game set in Massachusetts, you would get a good mix of both city environments with Boston, and at the same time you have the potential for coastal environments, as well as the great forests of the Northeast, or what remains of them. Not only is there a variety of areas to explore, but it’s also an area that hasn’t been explored in the franchise; not only an area that’s filled with history that is ripe for the Fallout treatment.

Fallout: New Vegas

Another area that I’m looking forward to seeing get the next-gen upgrade is the visuals. After going back to play Oblivion the last week or so, it really struck me just how much better the new Skyrim engine looks, and of course both Fallout games use the same engine as Oblivion. Anyone that played those games is well aware of the graphical issues, physical glitches, and of course the dated appearance. New Vegas in particular was plagued with extraordinarily long load times. Now I know no game is truly perfect, but moving up even to the Skyrim engine would do so much for the series. Since we’re talking at this point about an Xbox One/PS4 game, I would expect a bigger jump, both graphically, and in-game mechanics. One thing that I don’t expect to change in-game is the V.A.T.S. system. The V.A.T.S. mechanic gives the game a little bit more of an old-school RPG feel, taking the combat back into a semi-turnbased system.

Bethesda has the potential to really dominate the RPG world in the next couple years, after Destiny and Dragon Age Inquisition run their course; if they wanted to, they could potentially release a new Fallout and Elder Scrolls game within a couple years of each other. With both series’ high degree of respect, it’s not a huge reach to think they would both be sure fire hits.

Wrapping Up the Xbox 360: The Best Games on the Console

Xbox 360 LogoOver the last couple weeks, I saw Game Informer put out a series of columns talking about the editors picks for the best ____ game of the last generation. They hit topics like best racing game, action game, PS3 game, overall game and 360 game. As the transition to the Xbox One and PS4 continues and the 360 and PS3 begin to truly become “last-gen,” I thought I would also look back at the console that I probably spent more time playing than any other before it. While I could narrow it down to just ten, I feel like that discounts a lot of very good games that I am a big fan of, so instead of just doing the same thing everyone else does, I’m just going to toss a whole bunch of games out there in no real order (save for the last two.)

ASSASSIN’S CREED II, BROTHERHOOD, and REVELATION
While there are three more Assassin’s Creed games that appeared on the 360, the Ezio trilogy is really where I think the series shines. The gameplay is much more refined and streamlined, the story is a very compelling one, told over the course of three different games, and this was really the point where the Desmond sections also started to actually mean something, and not just feel like they were arbitrarily breaking up the action. Plus Assassin’s Creed II was the first full game I every got every achievement in once I decided to start actively hunting them.

BioShock Cover

BIOSHOCK (SERIES)
A series that is both highly critically successful as well as commercially, and for good reason, the BioShock games were really important games that showed that shooters could still tell incredible stories, while still having solid action. The original BioShock still stands as one of my all time favorite games – the Plasmids adding in strategy and RPG elements to a shooter that already worked well, the enemies were unique, Big Daddies were terrifying and it still has one of the coolest settings in games in Rapture. The second game gets a bum rap as being a step backward, but I think that’s unfair – it’s more that it wasn’t as big a step forward as people expected. The single player is still really solid, but the multiplayer I think detracts from it a little. BioShock: Infinite on the other hand was a true return to form – incredibly heady story, engaging characters, action that played out perfectly and a new setting that still captured the same feeling as Rapture in Columbia.

BATMAN: ARKHAM ASYLUM and ARKHAM CITY
Despite being an incredibly successful franchise in film and tv, Batman hadn’t ever translated well to games for whatever reason. Older gamers will remember an NES sidescroller that for whatever reason had the Batman wearing a bright purple suit. Rocksteady Games changed all that with Arkham Asylum though, hitting all of the important parts of the Batman mythos. The cast of characters all had the same feel that they did in the Emmy award winning cartoon series, there was a real sense of darkness about the Asylum, and Batman felt truly like a superhero. The corridors of the Asylum are tight, creating a really tense experience, requiring Batman to use his most important weapon – stealth. Arkham City took that same idea and bumped everything up to ten and beyond in some cases. Rocksteady has some guts to kill off the most important comic villain around – we’ll have to see how the Arkham arc will end next year in Arkham Knight.

Borderlands

BORDERLANDS SERIES
Mixing humor, action, RPG, co-op and random loot grabbing, the Borderlands games are a hard bunch to pin down. At their core they’re shooters – but then they really are also RPGs, doing both well. The series is built around four-player co-op, with random loot drops ensuring that players are always finding new weapons, grenades, shields and other goodies to use as they tackle all sorts of enemies. All of that would be well and good, but on top of all that, Gearbox and 2K have always made sure that the games are also really funny, never taking themselves too seriously at all. Both games in the series so far have been supported with awesome DLC and remain standouts on the console – with a third game on the way, during a time when most developers are pushing forward to the Xbox One, Borderlands; The Pre-Sequel should do really well on the 360.

CASTLE CRASHERS
The Xbox Live Arcade had been around really since the Original Xbox as a way for developers to put smaller games out to fans as direct downloads, at a lower price point. Until 2008, there really weren’t any major standouts, aside from Uno and Geometry Wars; but in the summer of 2008 (the first Summer of Arcade) the XBLA got a real shot in the arm. Spearheaded by Braid (a game that I actually never played for whatever reason) and Castle Crashers, the XBLA became a place for not only smaller developers to push games, but for really good games to live. Castle Crashers is still one of the better co-op games on the system – a terrific old-school beat em up with a unique art style, good music, and solid leveling process – but most importantly, it’s just a plain fun game.

Modern Warfare 2

CALL OF DUTY MODERN WARFARE, BLACK OPS SERIES
Activision really hit the lotto with the Call of Duty franchise this generation. I’ve talked a lot in the past about this franchise, both because it’s so popular and because I’m a big fan of the games, generally; so I won’t belabor the point too much here. Modern Warfare changed the shooter landscape, end of story. That group of three game blew sales records away, and changed the way that people played a multiplayer shooter. Black Ops took that new formula and applied a little different spin on it thanks to a different developer. Across the five games in the two series, I had more fun playing Modern Warfare 2 and Black Ops 2, than any of the other entries.

DEAD SPACE
Survival Horror games were in a tricky spot going into this generation. At the end of the previous generation, Resident Evil 4 changed the game by giving the player way more control than ever before with the over-the-shoulder camera, but still had the horror present. After that, with the added control to increase the action, how could games truly be scary? Or at least that was the question before Dead Space came out. Even with a solid action system that made it easy to aim and attack the enemies, there was still plenty of terror to be found on the USG Ishimura. Instead of relying on tired and true zombies in space, Visceral came up with something much more horrifying – the necromorphs, and more to the point – the humans bent on turning everyone into them. It was a tense, dark, claustrophobic game that really helped invigorate the genre, and stands out as the best in the series.

Dishonored

DISHONORED
Every once in a while a game should shock you. Dishonored did that for me. I went in with muted expectations, but was totally blown away by the experience. A stealth game that did both stealth and action well? And didn’t punish you for choosing to play loud? Crazy talk, I thought. Of course, playing the game loudly may not have punished you explicitly, but through the “chaos” system in the game, you would make later levels harder or easier depending on how you played through. It’s a game that showed that stealth totally still works in games, and adding in the supernatural just made the game that much more engaging, helping you get to even more different routes to sneak around. Criminally we haven’t gotten a sequel yet, but I’m excited to see what one would entail on the Xbox One.

GRAND THEFT AUTO IV and V
Rockstar has always brought the very best with the series, and that was no different with the latest two offerings. It took me a while to really get into GTAIV, just because of how different it felt from GTAIII and Vice City, my favorites from the previous generation. Once I “got it’ though, IV became much more engaging than before, relying on using Niko as the main storytelling device – his backstory and conflicted morals really set the stage for a wonderfully designed final set of missions. Emotional, but still possessing the GTA trademark humor and freedom, it was a great step forward. With GTAV though, the real strengths come from a more refined control scheme, and the addition of a truly online world with GTA Online. You can play it online or off, either way there’s more to see than ever, but it doesn’t feel that overwhelming. That said, I think it’ll really shine when it launches on the Xbox One and PS4 this fall.

Halo 3

HALO SERIES
Not counting Halo 3: ODST or the Halo: CE Anniversary, Microsoft’s go-to franchise had three winners this generation. Going in, Halo 3 was set up to be a huge game, telling what we thought was the end of Master Chief’s story – we found out it was really just the end of the war with the Covenant. Giving players the ability to play four-player co-op, adding in the scoring meta-game, Forge maps – Halo 3 really was the game that players had been waiting for. Bungie had one hell of a farewell in store for us too with Halo: Reach which might be my pick for the best of the series on the 360. Forgoing relying on Master Chief to tell the story, Reach put the player into a Spartan that was their own – then we were forced to play through his last days thanks to a story that was intense, and really had some weight behind it.

Mass Effect

MASS EFFECT SERIES
BioWare was already a well-respected developer thanks to the Knights of the Old Republic and the Baldur’s Gate games going into the 360’s lifespan. In 2007 they took their already solid RPG elements and mixed them with a solid real-time third person shooter combat system, and together with a really solid story created Mass Effect. Over the course of the three games, we faced down the threat of the Reapers, and depending on who you talk to, tied up the story completely. While Mass Effect 3‘s ending got a lot of ire from the internet, I don’t think that is on BioWare at all – I actually thought the ending was totally fine. The idea that there would be hundreds of endings depending on your choices is just silly. The series still remains a favorite, each game feels different enough to distinguish themselves, and to me the best parts of the games remain the awesome characters that make up Shepards team.

Rock Band Blitz

ROCK BAND SERIES
The rhythm game genre came to a head pretty quickly during the 360’s lifespan, thanks mainly to Activision pushing their Guitar Hero games out far too fast and flooding the market. On the other side was Rock Band a series that Harmonix took a different approach with. Featuring full band gameplay and strong on-disc setlists for each game, Rock Band really brought the genre back to the beginning – party games. Getting people together and playing songs that everyone knows and loves. Instead of releasing new games every year (or in some cases, quicker) Harmonix went with a smarter route – release a few new songs every week. There was weekly DLC for the series from November 20, 2007 straight through to April 2, 2013. That’s over 5 years of uninterrupted DLC – and a whole mess of songs, 1,689 to be exact. The variety in the songs ensure that everyone can find some that they love, and that’s why I still play the games to this day. Plus there’s nothing quite like nailing a tough solo in a great song and getting that 100% completion.

SAINTS ROW SERIES
When the Xbox 360 launched, there really wasn’t anything along the lines of a Grand Theft Auto style sandbox game. Rockstar’s series was seen as almost untouchable at that point, thanks to the success of the PS2 era games. But in 2006 along came Volition with a little game called Saints Row. It wasn’t trying to be GTA – instead it took the basic formula, added in a pretty robust customization system, a story based around rebuilding the Saints respect, and it took off. The first game wasn’t quite as insanely over the top as the later games got, but still featured a strong sense of humor that didn’t take itself too serious. As the series progressed, the gameplay was refined, expanded and the story pushed over-the-top. As much fun as the series is, I worry about the future, just based around my thoughts with Saints Row IV – which I felt wasn’t nearly the game it could have been. I hope that was just because of the mess that the THQ bankruptcy was.

Now for the games that I think are the absolute best on the console:

Oblivion

ELDER SCROLLS and FALLOUT SERIES
Bethesda has really gotten it right this past generation. They were there way back at the start with Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, which might just be my favorite game on the 360, and they were there for what a lot of people say is the best with Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. In between they put out two more absolutely amazing games with Fallout 3 and Fallout New Vegas. At their core, the four games are very similar – First Person RPGs with a strong emphasis on freedom, it’s in the details that differentiate them (obvious setting differences aside). All the games feature huge game worlds to explore that truly feel lived in – NPC’s follow set routines depending on the day of the week, different factions behave differently when they interact with each other, the world itself is alive (or as alive as the Fallout world allows for). And once you get past the initial starter dungeons, you have 100% free reign on what to do.

Fallout 3 Cover

Want to tackle the main storyline right away? Go for it. Feel like wandering aimlessly around the world, fighting and looting? No problem. One area that that freedom is more standout in the Elder Scrolls games is the amount of sidequest options. In Fallout the sidequests are more limited to single quests scattered about the Wasteland. In Oblivion though for example, you can work your way up through the ranks of the Imperial Arena, or become the Arch Mage of the Mages’ Guild. The sheer volume of different things you can tackle in the Elder Scrolls games really makes them almost unending. I’ve been playing Oblivion – through two characters – since I got in 2006 and am just now going through and finishing the main storylines, after sinking well over 200 hours across them, and that’s on the low end for players. I cannot wait to see what Bethsda has in store for us – Fallout 4 is supposedly in development right now, and I would expect to hear more about it in the next year. As for Elder Scrolls VI – well we just have to keep waiting, it will most likely be after Fallout 4 has it’s run, but knowing Bethsda it will be a huge undertaking.