A Question to Ponder: What Games Would be the Best to Jump Into?

Dragon Age: InquisitionI’ve had this thought bouncing around this week – if you wake up tomorrow, with the ability to hop into any game universe you want, which would be the best ones? The thought came out of playing a TON of Dragon Age: Inquisition lately. It, much like any BioWare game, has such a high level of immersion to it. It’s very easy to lose yourself into the world, thanks mainly to the superb writing. This isn’t the first time I’ve had similar thoughts either – I found myself thinking something along the same lines when I played Skyrim and Oblivion. So I thought I’d run with it this time. Before we start though, let’s set a couple ground rules. First, assume that when you hop into the world, it’s just the same as playing it – you are the main character, and by proxy, the action revolves around you. There’s more to the universe than just the story of the game though, so there’s plenty of blank space to work with. Second, we have to also assume that the game mechanics are still in place – you still have mana/stamina reserves to maintain, it’s just known inherently. That keeps you from breaking beyond the scope of the game. The whole point of this thought is to enter and enjoy the world – not alter the entire state of it. The last point to keep in mind is the big question of death – let’s just say the penalty for “game over” is kicking you back to the real world, and barring you from re-entering that game for some period of time. Now that the ground rules have been set, I came up with a few examples of what I think would be fun/exciting game worlds to hop into.

Dragon Age Origins

DRAGON AGE
Let’s just start with the game that got me thinking this question. Each game in the series presents a world that’s insanely full with life, even in the face of the incredible dangers. The games are limited in that only certain characters can be interacted with, of course, but that wouldn’t exist if you can just hop into the world. Secondary, background characters have even more life now. Add in that you are the main character, and that helps you shape the world with even more detail than you could just playing the game. The game is also limited with the dialogue choices you have – that disappears with you actually being the character. Combat is still a part of the experience, but thanks to the game mechanics, death isn’t a super threat – even should you fall, as soon as the combat is over, you pop right up. So I think Dragon Age would be a fun world to experience first-hand, you’ve got action, you have a world rich in history, and you have people that are around you to make it a living world.

Mass Effect

MASS EFFECT
On a similar note, the Mass Effect games would basically be the same sort of deal as Dragon Age. A universe that’s full of history and incredible places to visit. Characters that fill that universe with life. And action that will keep you busy, while again, not having a huge worry about death. The threat is perhaps a little different though – the Reapers are certainly an intense threat. Putting you actually into the shoes of Commander Sheppard would perhaps be a little stressful, but that’s where the down-time comes in. The game isn’t pure action, start to finish – there is a lot of down time on the Normandy, and with that comes all kinds of options for you to do. Take the Mako out for a spin to explore some planets, and I think it’d be a fun world to explore for sure.

Saints Row IV

SAINTS ROW
Switching gears a little bit in terms of genre, I present a potentially surprise choice. I think that the knee jerk game choice with this question would be Grand Theft Auto. The problem is that the game makes it really easy to be constantly in life-threatening danger. On the other hand, Saints Row is essentially the same style game, but taken beyond the limit of normal. Death is no concern because of the upgrades you can get – eventually you’ll be invincible. You can still drive any car you want, or cause whatever mayhem you feel like – hell it’s part of the game after all. And as the universe expands, eventually you have access to a bunch of different super powers to play with. Sure the story isn’t as deep as the previous choices, but sometimes you just want to blow shit up and not worry about all that pathos.

Rock Band 3 Cover

ROCK BAND
Another surprising choice I think, this one might be one that appeals to a more limited audience. Essentially it’s the same world as the real one after all, except you’re part of the greatest cover band in history. You can play literally any song presented to you, immediately. If we take the story into consideration, you go from bar band to biggest band ever, so you have no worries at all – and death isn’t an issue, so you’d be able to hang out in Rock Band world as long as you want.

Super Mario 64

MARIO
Finally, the one universe that probably provides the most fun factor – the Mario universe. Not only could you save a kingdom from threats of a major villain, but then the next day, everyone is out playing tennis. Or golf. Or go karting. Or baseball. Or soccer. Or having a board game party. It’s a universe that’s got all kinds of potential – threats are limited, fun is maximized. The characters have certainly grown in depth over the years too, so you won’t need to worry about being alone. It’d be a fun one to go through for sure. Add in the Super Smash Bros. factor and you’ve got even more potential for action.

Ultimately, this hypothetical question boils down to which game worlds are not only immersive, but also have a high potential for a fun existence. It’s a fun question to ponder on when you’ve got a few minutes to day dream. I like to think it adds a little bit more to the game experience as well.

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Weekly News Wrap Up: September 5, 2014

After a couple busy weeks on the news front, this week was a bit slower – but there were still a few things I saw that are worth mentioning.

Minecraft

MINECRAFT UPGRADES TO CURRENT-GEN
It was no secret that Minecraft was in the process of an upgrade to the XBox One and PS4 consoles, but a solid release date had been elusive throughout the summer. Well wait no longer – Minecraft is available on both consoles as of last night. If you have somehow managed to not yet experience the game, now is definitely the time to pick it up. I played the XBox One version last night for about an hour or so – the upgrade to the newer consoles is definitely noticeable, but the game is still Minecraft. If you had already purchased the game on the previous generation, upgrading will only cost you $5. On the Xbox front, the Xbox One edition comes with a new list of achievements, with a good number of them using mechanics that were introduced in some of the later updates.

Saints Row IV

SAINTS ROW IV NEW DLC AND UPGRADES
There were rumors going into PAX Prime last week that we were going to get some new Saints Row news. Turns out it wasn’t a whole new entry in the franchise, but instead a new DLC episode with Gat Out of Hell as well as an upgraded version of the game being brought to current-gen consoles. As much as I enjoy the Saints Row games, the latest game felt hollow to me, not to mention the game is well over a year old, so I don’t know exactly how much demand there will be for the Re-Elected edition.

Pokken Tournament

POKEMON FIGHTING GAME ON THE WAY
This one might actually have been on the ticker last week, but I didn’t catch it originally. Namco and Game Freak announced that they have teamed up to create a fighting game using Pokemon. Since Namco is responsible for two of the most technical fighting franchises out there with Tekken and Soulcalibur, the upcoming Pokken Tournament should be a solid experience. My only thought is I wonder just how much crossover there is between the Fighting Game Community and Pokemon players.

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.