Warcraft III: The Frozen Throne – An Improvement in Gameplay, Characters and Lore of the “Warcraft” Universe

     “Warcraft III: The Frozen Throne” is a game that still holds up to this day. I came back to play it after beating it back in High School and found the challenge level one that grew me as a player. I also found myself drawn into the nuance in the story that the initial game lacked. When I think Blizzard for me at it’s greatest it is this. This was around the time I beat the first “Diablo” and got all the way to Baal in “Diablo 2” before returning the borrowed game to my friend. This was a game I had bought with my money. It was worth all the replay value and my eventual enjoyment of “Heroes of the Storm,” which I believe rose out of the hero dependent missions and maps you play in the “Bonus Campaign,” “The Founding of Durotar.” This game was a return to what I love about Blizzard gameplay and story at it’s best.

The game was released in July 1st 2003 by Blizzard and was written by Chris Metzen and directed by Frank Pearce Jr.

The story picks up at the end of “Wacraft III: Reign of Chaos” with Illidan Stormrage summoning the Naga to unknown purposes as his Warden Maiev Shadowsong hunts him to discover his purposes and imprison him once more.

SPOILERS in the story ahead

The Pros:

The Cinematics – The cinematics in this game are so beautiful. The fact that we see compelling characters like Illidan and Arthas being the soul focus versus one none evils like Archimonde or Mannoroth shows how this was an upgrade. In both cases are characters are making a choice and in playing the game or in living the game up to the point we have, we see the implication of that choice. The level of detail draws you in and when you see certain reveals whether it is the Naga or Arthas being one with the Lich King when he puts on the helm is powerful. These are cinematics that mean something and are presented beautifully.

The Gameplay – The gameplay is more challenging than “A Reign of Chaos” as each unit was granted something that they lacked. The Scourge lacked tanks and they got the Crypt Lord, the Horde lacked healing and they got the Shadow Hunter. “The Frozen Throne” balanced “Reign of Chaos” in so many ways that it can only be accounted for if you are challenging where you are currently. I’m curious if “Warcraft Reforged” will take this challenge further. I hope it will. The challenge of the campaign improved me as a player and made the victories all the more sweet.

The World – “Warcraft” has a rich universe and this one introduces “The Forsaken,” “The Naga,” “The Blood Elves,” and “The Illdari.” All these factions get explored further in “World of Warcraft” but the seed is planted here and given justice. “Reign of Chaos” enriched the universe but didn’t break any tropes. With Sylvanas, Kael, Vashj and Illidan this game did, which is what I’d argue where Blizzard really thrives in storytelling. Each of the characters I mentioned is a different shade of grey, driven by more than simply power.

The Characters – I was in this game for the characters and it was the reason I beat the campaign. Even though I’d beaten the game back in High School, I wanted to see where the story would go. Coming back years later I wasn’t disappointed. Each new growth of character is earned in gameplay and you feel the pressure the character feels. This is a game I will play again in full, whereas “Reign of Chaos” I will play some missions again but not the full game. That is all due to characters which “The Frozen Throne” does better in gameplay and writing.

DOTA and Custom Games – It was out of “The Frozen Throne” that we got one of my favorite games “Heroes of the Storm” that I am still playing. As well as all the pre-cursors like “Defense of the Ancients” which started the whole tower defense gameplay which eventually became it’s own game and also “League of Legends.” This game has had a larger effect on games than many realize. This was the precursor to hero gameplay with  running units (that was the finale of the “Found of Durotar” campaign). For that I will be grateful for as it gave me casual fun gameplay with “Heroes of the Storm” that I play to this day.

Rating the Campaigns – I’m rating each campaign on their own merits. This is a campaign that starts out good and becomes great. Unlike “Brood War” there is so much growth you are a part of and play a part in making possible (Illidan, Kael, Sylvanas, Arthas) that it can’t be ignored. The reason you win is because of your RTS strategy and how well you play your heroes. That for me makes a great game.

Sentinels Campaign: Terror of the Tides – The Night Elf Campaign is the weakest of the 4 campaigns though I’d say it is still challenging and reveals new lore. The new lore is the revelation of the Naga who are allied with Illidan after being turned into Serpent form after their fount of power was destroyed. From Maiev Shadowsong’s perspective (Illidan’s Warden) we see how driven she is to write the wrongs of his escape. She is obsessed and takes a Javier from “Les Miserables” role. Later when she sends for help after witnessing Illidan take the “Eye of Sargeras” and losing a close friend it becomes more fully about the Night Elves. The destruction he does on Night Elf towns with the Satyr (Cursed Demon Night Elves and Naga) we see the reason why. From here we see Tyrande and Malfurion coming to aide, which after rescuing her leads to them allying with the Blood Elves (High Elves have embraced Demonic Energy to feed after the death of the Sunwell). Here we see that Maiev is obsessed as after Illidan’s use of “The Eye” is stopped and her lie of saying Tyrande was torn to shreds was not true. The final mission is Malfurion and Illidan teamed up to save Tyrande, in which after Illidan leaves and promises not to return. We get some level of peace between the brothers though as Maiev’s forces chase after Illidan into the portal he created. Maiev was the weakest part of the story but it is still solidly good. Sets up the rest of the campaign beautifully.

Final Score: 8 / 10

Alliance Campaign: Curse of the The Blood Elves – This is the campaign where for all intents and purposes the High Elves leave the Alliance. This is a huge deal and we see that it happens is due to a racist general who only sees the other races as pawns. He sentences Kael and the Blood Elves to death for surviving due to Naga aid against the Scourge. Because of this you get why Kael joins Illidan after Vashj saves him from execution. This campaign also had my favorite missions. Once Kael meets up with Illidan, he Vashj and Illidan close the portals in Outland and recruit the Draenei Akame to their cause against the Pit Lord Magtheridon who controls the planet with his orcs and demons. After that is the final mission where you conquer Outland, Kil’jaeden holds Illidan to his contract and all of you are sent to Northrend to the destroy the Lich King. It was this contract that Illidan to seek the “Eye of Sargeras” in the first place. This campaign is so much fun. I wish the Naga had been a playable faction as I used them far more than the Blood Elves when I could.

Final Score: 9 / 10

Scourge Campaign: Legacy of the Damned – The Undead Campaign is fun. It is here we see the rise of the Forsaken who will be a crucial faction in “World of Warcraft” as well as Arthas’s arc being completed as he goes from the exiled King running from Demons (both external in the Dreadlords who own Lordaeron and internal in those he killed to get here) leading to him becoming one with Ner’Zhul as the Lich King. It is super rewarding to get there and Arthas shows why he is such a great foe. The last 3 missions are the hardest in the game and they force you to truly strategize. Seeing the rise of “The Forsaken” and Sylvanas control Varimathras the Dread Lord was much needed. Her tragic story from “Reign of Chaos” needed payback and “The Frozen Throne” does this really well. By the end of her story she owns Lordaeron with her undead. This was the most challenging and rewarding of the campaigns. The final mission against Illidan was the best where I realized I couldn’t wait him out and destroy his base and had to finish taking the points was what I love about gaming.

Final Score: 10 / 10

Bonus Campaign: The Founding of Durotar – The “Bonus Campaign” gives you a great pulse on where the Horde and Alliance relationship is currently. We see it all through the eyes of Rexxar a half-orc Mok’Nothal who helps Thrall’s Horde settle in Durotar. From here you face quests from clearing out Harpies and Kobolds to recruiting a Panderan Brewmaster and getting Rokhan a Jungle Troll who also joins your team. The story is told in 3 Acts. Act 1 involves you helping Gazlowe with the Kobolds, Drek’Thar with the Thunder Lizards while also clearing out Warlocks. Act 2 involved you getting over to Jaina when her father Admiral Proudmoore attacks and you recruiting Ogres, the Tauren once more and saving the Jungle Trolls so that all of you can stop the Admiral. Those 2 missions are fantastic and the “Diablo” feel from playing as heroes was a lot of fun. I can see how “Heroes of the Storm” and “Defense of the Ancients” arose from this campaign and the Tower Defense of the final mission.

Final Score: 9 / 10

“The Frozen Throne” is an expansion that improves everything from the first game. My only real issue with is is that the Naga weren’t a playable faction beyond campaign, but that is still better than the “Halo Wars” Franchise that took an expansion to make anyone outside of the UNSC playable and “The Flood” still aren’t a faction. This game didn’t have those problems. They started with 4 factions and made each of them better, while still giving us playable Naga in the campaign. This game made “World of Warcraft” and “Heroes of the Storm” happen and as much as I dislike some story choices in “World of Warcraft” it at least was willing to explore the lore that this game and “Reign of Chaos” made possible. After “Warcraft III: Reforged” which is this game and “Reign of Chaos” combined, I can’t wait to see what was changed and comparing the stories.

Final Score: 9.8 / 10 One of the best RTS games I’ve played.

 

Halo Wars 2: Awakening the Nightmare – The Ongoing War

   “Halo Wars 2” is one of my favorite games. I have always had a soft spot for RTS (Real-time Strategy) games and this one is one of the best. Besides “Starcraft 2” it is the one I always come back to, especially if it means playing with friends. I’m a huge fan of the Halo Games (1-3, Reach and the first “Halo Wars”) and this game delivers on that lore you get in the Halo Universe. Before I get into spoilers, if you are a fan of RTS games you will probably love this one. The balance is really good between the two factions, the campaign variety is a lot of fun and the story is solidly good. It has also has quite a few fun multiplayer options that give it great replay value. I’ll be reviewing the game up to all that has been released so far (The initial game was released on February 21, 2017), which is currently up to the DLC “Rise of the Nightmare.” I’ll be giving individual scores to campaigns (Base Game, Operation: Spearkbreaker and Awakening of the Nightmare) before my overall assessment of the game itself.

The game was created by 343 Industries and Creative Assembly and produced by Microsoft Game Studios.

This is a game that picks up where “Halo Wars 1” left off following the crew of The Spirit of Fire after they crossed through the portal at the end of the second game. The story follows them as they face off against a new threat for Ex-Covenant Soldiers known as “The Banished.” They are lead by Atriox, a powerful Brute leader who is seeking to take control of The Ark, something so powerful that with control, they would easily capture the Galaxy.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Universe – I am a huge fan of this Universe. I’ve never been the biggest fan of humanity since we don’t really see a diversity of opinion in the games and it is more of a Space Marine defending everything, which is a fun survival game to play, but isn’t compelling as Space Politics. The Universe has so much Space Politics in the Aliens of the Covenant and this game leans in on all of that. We get more lore for the UNSC with the crew of The Spirit of Fire being followed and we get a whole new faction in “The Banished.” Each faction has new heroes we meet and it is great to see them all interact. This Universe clearly isn’t done yet, as you’ll see from the campaign, things are left pretty open so I’m curious to see if “The Banished” are going to be incorporated into “Halo 6.” I love their heroes so it would be cool to see them become a permanent part of the Halo Universe beyond “Halo Wars 2.”

Gameplay and Multiplayer – Multiplayer is a lot of fun. As part of there are weekly and daily missions where you unlock playing cards you can use in Firefight and other multiplayer modes, there is standard multi-player as well and in all of them you have the many Commanders with some being Halo Wars 2 originals like YapYap, Atriox and Isabel and some who are carryover characters from the first Halo Wars like the Arbiter you fight in “Halo Wars 1.” Within standard gameplay you have hero powers you unlock as you progress in the game, like the first “Halo Wars.” Each commander has unique special units and powers as well, which leads to a greater variety of choices and replayability. When you are in a game and you and your friend are co-oping against a great opponent there are some amazing moments of synergy that can be created.

File:HW2 Campaign Loadscreen.jpg

Halo Wars 2 Main Campaign – The main campaign is fun. It is here we meet Atriox and his “Banished” as well as the new A.I. Isabel, who was with other human’s on the arc before Atriox’s arrival. The story follow Captain Cutter working with Isabel and the Spartans on the ground as they work to push back Atriox’s forces and prevent them from activating a Halo Ring. Captain Cutter, Anders and the UNSC are successful but the final shot is of Atriox watching a map of the Ark, showing us how clearly his forces still own it, even after all the setbacks he’s faced since the UNSC arrival. There is great mission variety and you learn a lot about “The Banished” pretty quick and how they were a Covenant Suicide Squad until Atriox rebelled and proceeded to conquer and recruit through the galaxy.

Final Score: 8.5 / 10. Really good for developing the lore but doesn’t feel like a whole story. We have some great arcs like Isabel’s completed, and the gameplay is fun. But besides that it is mostly Atriox’s forces being slowly broken down and his big plan being prevented.

File:HW2 OperationSpearbreaker Banner.png

Operation: Spearbreaker – This DLC follows a squad of Orbital Drop Shock Troopers called Sunray 1-1, as they uncover and stop the plot of a “Banished” Hunter leader named Colony. These missions were easier than the hardest in the base campaign and also not as fun. You are primarily investigating with your troops until you uncover the Forerunner Ship that Colony is trying to activate, than it becomes all out war and becomes more enjoyable as Colony sends all of it’s forces at you. This one is fun but easily the weakest of all the content. I couldn’t tell you the personality of anyone in Sunray and the only interesting character is Colony, but we don’t really get to know it, beyond it being a very smart and clever Hunter.

Final Score: 7 / 10 Solidly enjoyable, but not replayable.

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Awakening the Nightmare – I was a fan of the “Covenant” in Halo Franchise, at least in regards to being a fan of the aliens who made up the Covenant. I was Team Arbiter the moment he was playable in “Halo 2” and “Halo 3” and I’ve wanted to play as the alien factions in Halo Universe for as long I’ve played “Halo” which for me dates all the way back to High School. In “Halo Wars 1” the “Covenant” don’t have a campaign and sadly for much of “Halo Wars 2” they didn’t either, until “Awakening the Nightmare.” For me this was something I’d been waiting for a long time and I was not disappointed. This was challenging gameplay and a really fun story as you have two Brute Brothers (Pavium and Voridus). They are investigating remains of the battle from “Installation 00” from the ending of the “Human-Covenant War” for technology. Voridus being stupid awakens the Flood in his investigation of the dead Covenant ship High Charity after he shuts down the Forerunner Defenses. From here he and his brother Voridus must reactivate the Sentinels and stop the Flood and a Proto-Gravemind from taking over the Ark. Pavium is the smart one who had warned him the first place and holds the line as they end up facing off against The Flood together before a final victory. It is an awesome fight and Pavium is one one of my favorite commanders in multiplayer and Halo Lore. I really hope we see these two brothers again as “The Banished” really need a win against the UNSC, and this mission showed that even against overwhelming odds they are Atriox’s survivors and warriors for a reason.

Final Score: 9 / 10. Solidly great and finally a “Banished” campaign.

Okay:

Story Consequences – We have had 2 DLCs released as well as the base game but it feels like nothing has happened. Atroix’s forces have continued to lose ground and the UNSC continues to become more powerful but there hasn’t been any real major change. I want to see where this story goes and have characters change in a way that either builds on the Universe further (more than the existence of “The Banished” already does) and leads to some sort of ending. I’m good with that being a peace treaty or something that has Atriox winning for once, but it feels like we have been given so much game but things haven’t changed very much at all beyond status quo of “The Banished” losing ground. What happened to Anders and “The Halo?” Do the Flood exist elsewhere in the Galaxy as a faction? (I’d love them to be playable, even if it was only multiplayer, there should be enough game assets to do so). I put this as okay because I still enjoyed my time with the characters and the campaigns are fun. I’m still holding out for a major “Banished” win and them becoming a major part of the Halo Games moving forward. This story has the potential to not be a repeat of “Halo Wars 1” and not repeating “Halo 1-3.”

The Cons:

Microsoft Issues – To buy the full game it is expensive. The DLC, even when sold discounted isn’t cheap. Some Commanders on their own are nearly $10 and each new DLC, even if it includes commanders usually starts at $20. Given how expensive the base game was for so long that always rubbed me the wrong way. I also wasn’t a fan with how I continue to have issues with connecting online because of the Microsoft Server. It makes me miss the days of old Battle.net and games where you didn’t have to log onto a 3rd Party Account to play a game. Whenever you have to log on you are beholden the problems of whatever is hosting you be it Steam or Microsoft. So yeah the price and Microsoft bugs are major cons that keep the game from being great.

“Halo Wars 2” is one of my favorite games and if you love the Halo Universe, you will probably love it too. I play it on PC and I think that is the way any RTS should be played. Controllers were not made for playing RTS games and I have no idea how anyone does it. I can’t wait to see where Microsoft takes this game and Universe. There is still so much potential there and so much more story to explore. This is a really good game and I continue to play multiplayer with my friends as this wonderful game continues to inspire my passion for the rich lore of the Halo Universe. In the end the pros outway the cons for me and I expect I’ll probably always be coming back to this game. If they release another expansion for this game and give us more “Banished” content, you can expect to see that review on the blog. Their existence got me back into this amazing universe and I’m looking forward to all the stories that can be told.

 

Final Score: 8.8 / 10

Dawn of War III: Solid Campaign That Began in a Buggy Game

   It has been a while since I’ve done a game review, and this seems like a good way to kick off the year. I only review games after I’ve completed the campaign as I’m a hardcore completionist and can’t see the review as valid unless I have. Cheats don’t count, it has to be from ability and me learning how to play the game. The “Dawn of War” Franchise is also one of my favorite series. I’ve been a fan of Warhammer 40K and the universe it is based in for a few years now. My favorite factions being the Orks and Tyranids closely followed by the Tau. Xenos (the term in the game for aliens) are best.  The game was created by Relic Studios with Sega in partnership with Games Workshop.

So, how does “Dawn of War III” hold up compared to the ones who came before? It isn’t nearly as fun as the first game (and there are less starting playable factions) the game started out really buggy and used to crash everytime I tried playing the campaign when I bought it in a sale last year but the campaign has one of the best stories and enriches the characters and lore in interesting ways. What this means for my final score and overall appraisal I get into below.

The story follows the arrival of a giant Craft World (Eldar Planetship) that arrives out of the warp leading to Blood Ravens led by Gabriel Angelos, the Orks lead by Gorgutz and the Eldar lead by Macha vying for control of what is within as their competitors within their own faction (be they leader or same or similar rank) try to usurp them for the Spear that lies within.

SPOILERS ahead

The Cons:

The Bugs When I First Bought the Game – When I first bought the game I’m glad I bought it on a sale and for cheap, so to anyone buying it this what I recommend. This game will never be worth full price, especially not as it is currently. I was excited to play given I knew the characters from the first game, but the campaign kept crashing. This happened for a full week before I uninstalled and it took reinstalling months later for them to have fixed the issues. For those who are so devoted they beat the game with that bug, I have no idea how you did it. It doesn’t matter how beautiful or fun a game is if you can’t play the game.

Over-dependence on Hero Units – This is a game where you depend too much on Hero units but the build time isn’t as fast as “Warcraft III.” I pretty much had to adapt to playing the game more like “Dawn of War II” which is primarily units, heroes and upgrading them and applying that to a game that I enjoyed as an RTS. If they took more cues from “Warcraft III” this wouldn’t be a problem. In “Warcraft” your heroes help but they can lose on their own, it also takes more to bring them back to life so the cost is higher. If you aren’t giving them enough support, they will fall. I saw this in “Dawn of War III” but so much of it was waiting. If you could hold off long enough in any map you’d be unstoppable and in endgame that really shows. Heroes are fun, especially in the final mission but a company should never build a game off them. Even “Warcraft III” and “Starcraft II” knew the importance of your hero supporting an army.

Lack of Factions Compared to Earlier Games – The very first “Dawn of War” game had 4 factions. 4, reskin but different play-style of “Space Marines.” This game has none of that. You fight demons, but they are never playable. There isn’t any reason for this, given you can see units of the different factions being re-skinned to be the Demons being an option later on in the campaign. This was just lazyness. We at least got Chaos Space Marines through all of the first “Dawn of War” series and this game won’t even give the basic of the last 2 games where in each 4 were at least playable in multiplayer. This is cheap, I don’t care how beautiful the game works if you can’t even do the basic of the series that started your franchise in the first place with at least something to counter it that matters.

The Pros:

The Graphics and Cinematics – This is a beautiful game. I’m putting this as a pro because even though it is small I do enjoy how this game works. Hell, a better version of this game would be a re-vamped version of the first game. So I will give credit where it is due. The graphics in this game look like how I imagine the characters to look. It is “Starcraft” versus “Starcraft II” in appearance and I do appreciate that. It also leads to better graphics in regards to storytelling and the story is the strongest part of this game. I think they were going for what “Starcraft” and “Stracraft II” had with 3 factions but they had already set base expectation of 4. If 4 was even in multiplayer and the Daemons or another faction were included more that would have made this game go from enjoyable to good.

The Overall Gameplay – The gameplay is solid. Hero units are key to fighting (I can see them trying to be “Warcraft III” and “S In “Dawn of War III” the heroes drive the narrative and that creates a lot of fun for the missions. I liked what happened with playing as the heroes and what you unlock as they level up (it is much more slowly so when I play the game further in the future curious to see what that means). I like this got back to the RTS roots of the “Dawn of War” franchise in the end. This was why I finished the campaign. There is still strategy in how you use your units to defeat the mission and I really enjoy coming up with strategies to complete objectives in these types of games.

The Campaign – The campaign was my favorite part of the game. I’ve enjoyed this series since the first “Dawn of War” and the expansions that came after it. I’m still trying to get “Ultimate Apocalypse” mode to work but once I do I will eventually have a review for you there too as I get more enjoyment out of an RTS than the squad based combat of “Dawn of War II.” Without giving too much away the 3 faction leaders mentioned above (Macha, Angelos and Gorgutz) face off against a Daemon Lord as they (in the case of Gorgutz) or the faction leaders (Macha and Angelos against the ones who had brought them to the Craft World where the showdown takes place) lead to the feeding of the Daemon’s power and awakening it. This is Warhammer 40K so it goes all in on how crazy things get. This leads to some amazing gameplay in the later missions and a final battle between Macha, Angelos and Gorgutz against the weakened Daemon Lord. Defeating it felt amazing and as someone who has always loved the Orks, I loved seeking Gorgutz take the Speer that triggered it all when it no longer had power. The campaign made the game worth it for me as I enjoy the lore so much.

This is a game that could have been so much more. There is a reason I keep recommending it as something to buy cheap. To fix the most basic of problems they could have solved all the bugs first so someone buying it months after the fact wouldn’t have the campaign crashing every time and they could have added the Daemons as a factions. All you have to do is reskin some Orks and Eldar and add some Daemons and hero units and you are set. Beyond laziness I can’t imagine why they did that. I still love RTS games and this is the last RTS game that was “Dawn of War” since the first one. “Dawn of War II” was all about the squad which I’m still getting used to (reason you haven’t seen it reviewed yet). I appreciate building armies in an acocalyptic universe and giving my all. This one had this with the heroes and the last half of the campaign and I did enjoy it…but this is a game only for fans who are a part of this universe. It doesn’t rise above the fans of 40K and even cheapens them out. Buy this game cheap and you’ll have a good time but NEVER buy this at full or even half price. This was Sega and Relic going basic and giving the most basic of fans of wanted who have been following the series. Still enjoyed the game, but it never reached good. This game is enjoyable and nothing more. I would only recommend as a sale for fans of this universe. The campaign made the game worth after the bugs were finally fixed.

Final Score: 7 / 10. Would have been a solid 8 if it hadn’t been so buggy and they had a 4th faction like the last 2 “Dawn of War” games.

Warcraft III: Reign of Chaos – Fun RTS Gameplay and Solid Fantasy Redemption Story

   “Warcraft III” and the original “Starcraft,” are the games that got me into RTS games, along with “Age of Empires II” and “Rise of Nations.” Does “Reign of Chaos” hold up? I would say yes, there are some things Blizzard did that took away from the strategy a little bit (adding hero units which turned multiplayer into a rush game). I really enjoyed this, for someone who grew on Tolkien no one had subverted the “Orcs are bad.” trope until “Warcraft III.”

In regards to how I review this first game of 2 (I plan to review “The Frozen Throne” after I beat it again), it holds up and I’ll give a brief analysis on gameplay (pros and cons) and how the story was. The story in the end will be my overall judge for any game where the gameplay is at least enjoyable. Like my films I enjoy my games being compelling and having a narrative that pulls me in.

For giving recognition where it is due, Chris Metzen wrote the story (which explains why he is the head of storytelling on WOW for best and for worse) directed by Frank Fierce jr. and produced by Chris Sigaty.

The story picks up after Warcraft 2 (all the games so Draenor is destroyed and the Horde Orcs are defeated and in internment camps) and begins with Thrall freeing the rest of his people Lordaeron on promptings from a mysterious prophet. From here we trace the rise of the Scourge, the return of the demons of the Burning Legions and the introduction of the Night Elves.

SPOILERS ahead (old game so may not mean as much).

The Pros: The Gameplay – As stated above, the gameplay is too rushish in multiplayer but the Hero concept payed off. I wouldn’t being loving “Heroes of the Storm” if not for this game. So I take the pros over the cons and in the end it is pro. Each hero has unique ability, and depending on your playstyle (I tend to go for auras over abilities) helps in the campaign, custom and multiplayer games. In the end the campaign was fun, which is a win for me. I enjoyed playing this game again after not playing it since High School, and can’t wait to replay the expansion.

The Alliance – We only really get to see the Fall of Lordaeron in this and the rest of the Alliance is purposely left out. I get this as in if the game fails, we get the fall of the Alliance from past “Warcraft” games, but if it succeeds….we get “World of Warcraft” which is still going with the most recent game being “Legion.” The fall is told really well, with Arthas killing people in “The Purge of Stratholme” to save them from being enslaved, and going mad after. It is compelling and in the end the Scourge wins ending with Arthas turning on his troops, sacraficing his friend Magni and killing his father the King, leading into the next campaign. Arthas is the drive and seeing his fall is how Anakin in in the Star Wars Prequels should have been done.

The Scourge – The Scourge Campaign involves Arthas destroying his own nation after the killing of his father after the end of the Human Campaign. It is really good. You start out weak, resurrecting the Necromancer Kel’Thuzad who you killed during Arthas’s fall to empower the Scourge and bring in the Burning Legion who are behind it all and the big threat from all past Warcraft games. It is really good and you get to see how Arthas without a soul is like. He is funny and also evil as hell. He kills his mentor Uther, destroys the Kirin Tor (who is the faction of his complicated relationship – Jana) and in the end feels powerless until he returns later in the last campaign. He feels like a pawn but empowered in his malice and it is Kel’Thuzad who hits at the plans to come as Ner’zhul predicted the fall and conquest and his freedom and Scourge sovereignty out of it.

The Horde – The Horde is complicated, back in Middle School they were my favorite faction, and I still love playing compicated orcs, nowadays though. Grom, who “redeems” the orcs only fights. Thrall who is the Warchief is constantly keeping him in check and even though Grom kills the big bad (after he kills a good demigod) doesn’t redeem him in my eyes. This campaign was fun, but Grom pissed me off. Thrall was good but he never apologizes to Jana (who is Arthas’s complicated and brings the survivors of Lordaeron to Kalimdor) and only sees Grom as hero. Th orcs deserved better and World of Warcraft really hasn’t redeemed them yet. They are still conquerors and not fully refugees and that is a toxic narrative. I’m a fan of the orcs and this time around could not embrace them. They don’t see what they do as wrong and only live to fight, which even if they aren’t the evil of Tolkien orcs doesn’t put them on par with the Night Elves and Humans. They deserved better in this game, though still putting as a pro. This was the only time I’ve played orcs in a somewhat redeeming light and I want more of that. They are a compelling species and I love their aesthetic.

The Night Elves – The Night Elves story is short but awesome. You have the warrior women who protect the forests and bring in the Druids when things to get apocalyptic. Tyrande, the Priestess of the Moon is a fanatic but you get her perspective given she hasn’t had Outsiders in 10,000 years and in the end she appreciates the orcs and humans who defend Mount Hyjal and the World Tree from the big bad Archimonde who wants to consume Azeroth. Furion is standard wise old guy but fighting with the Druids of the Claw was fun, Illidan is the Boba Fett in this game where he was trapped and fights for himself because all have wronged him and stars in 1 mission (but has an awesome aesthetic). I enjoyed this campaign and wanted at least 1 more with Illidan to develop him further, though I know the expansion to this game does that really well. This is where the complicated characters are. Jana is savior and love interest and doesn’t get beyond that and the Kirin Tor and King are (you know us from Warcraft II lore if you read the books) which coming back to the game wasn’t enough. The Night Elves campaign is short but it is a rich campaign.

The Fall of Arthas – The most compelling story in this game is that of Arthas. He turns on the past allies of the High Elves and kills their general Sylvanas (who I want to say now is amazing come “The Frozen Throne” given what goes down this game). He kills his further, turns on his allies. Consumed by revenge he forsakes everything for the power to achieve his revenge. He is the perfect Anakin and I get why “Wrath of the Lich King” is so memorable even though I haven’t played and avoid MMORPGS.

The Introduction of Illidan – Illidan’s introduction is great. He isn’t to be trusted but he kills the big bads while serving himself. He is the perfect anti-hero in Warcraft. He has no destiny or prophecy at this point…he is a hero who messed up and was wronged acting out. This makes his mission fun and why I was drawn to him after so many years replaying. Can’t wait see his story unfold again in “The Frozen Throne.”

Defeating the Burning Legion – This is a win that pays off. We see them come during the Scourge Campaign and even though Thrall and Grom defeat the general Mannaroth, we saw Archimonde decimate a kingdom in the Scourge cinematic. The threat is always real, especially with most Night Elf missions being a race against time, and this is them with allies and them having defeated the Burning Legion in the past. The payoff is amazing and holding Archimonde back to the second with Tyrande and Furion to the second was such a rewarding playthrough. For me every Night Elf mission mattered, both from challenge and investment in the characters.

Okay: More Exploration / Missions Could Have Made Perfect – Grom should have been shown being noble and not just a blood lust fighter to make his redemption mean something and not just him escaping his addiction to battle, Jaina deserved a mission escaping from the Scourge and her former lover Arthas and to give her more agency and the Night Elves needed a mission to work with the Alliance and Horde…a custscene wasn’t enough given Grom killed one of their Gods. This took away from making the game perfect.

Grom’s “Redemption” -This guy only lives for fighting. He has a great look, but he needed more. We never saw him as loving any more than war, he cared about Thrall and felt bad but each time that mattered he went back to fighting. There is no reason for Thrall to trust him or for the Horde to be forgiven beyond “The End of the World” in the Night Elf campaign. He deserved better given that the character came back in “Warlords of Draenor” and his son was Warchief of the Horde…and like his dad ruined it. I am a fan of the Horde, I like orcs as not simply bad guys…but Warcraft’s redemption doesn’t fully work. Chris Metzen was the writer and the Horde deserved better if they were going to be redeemed. I want good orcs, but you won’t get them from Grom killing Mannaroth. The flaws run to deep if Grom wants to fight every mission, him killing his species enslaver (Mannaroth), doesn’t justify him willing to kill anyone for not being an orc through the campaign. Looks cool, but the guy is deplorable.

“Reign fo Chaos” is a flawed and amazing game that is well worth your time if you enjoy RTS games. I can’t wait to replay “The Frozen Throne” given how fun Arthas and Illidan are to play as heroes and I love the “Forsaken” campaign, which was actually a great set-up for the Forsaken joining the Horde in WoW and further Sylvanas development. This game is self contained, it is set-up to be self contained if it fails given the big bads are beaten and we have a world that no longer needs “Guardians.” For this reason I rate the game highly. There is some great character development, even if I wanted more for the orcs and night elves. If you like fantasy games or rts’s check this game out. It has been out for years, but is well worth your time.

Final Score: 9.3  / 10. A solidly great fantasy RTS game.

The House of the Dead: Making “Resident Evil” Look Good

“The House of the Dead” is a corny game that enjoys stealing your money. It is also a lot of fun when you don’t have to worry about cost as the writing is so terrible that I found it hilarious and the enemy and boss variety are great enough that there is an actual challenge to get through the different chapters of the game. Before I get into the details of my experience, I recommend this for any fan of rail shooters who has time and money to spare, cause you will need both if you want to beat this game. This is a game that I was only able to beat with my fiancee because we were at the Coin Jam when it was free to play.

The game was developed by Wow Entertainment and produced by Sega.

The story involves Agent Thomas Rogan who learns his fiancee Sophie Richards is kidnapped at the Curien Mansion and arrives with his partner “G” to investigate and take on Roy Curien and his creations, as well as rescuing his fiancee Sophie Richards.

SPOILERS – If anyone cares, this game is old.

The Pros: Enemy Variety – The enemy variety is really good in this game. You fight bats, slugs, jumping zombies, water zombies, fat zombies, dragon dogs and many of the zombies have a variety of weapons from things that they’ll throw at you to varying degrees of melee weapons like axes and chainsaws. This part of the game was really creative, especially since there are only a few chapters.

Boss Battles – The bosses are stressful and also one of the best parts of the game. There is the Chariot who you fight in armor and in his flesh form, the Hanged Man who sends bats at you and is responsible for killing Sophie given it brings her deeper into the Mansion, the Hermit which is a giant crab spider thing and finally the Magician who is a major coin sink and I assume can’t be beat in arcade mode without at least dying once. The Hanged Man was my favorite as it looks like a giant gargoyle and it was a fun and difficult fight without being nearly impossible like the Magician.

Okay: Replay Value – The replay value is decent if you aren’t expecting to beat the game, but because it is a game where you expect to lose money I can’t put it as a pro. Maybe you are really good at rail shooters and don’t have this problem, but this is a game I only beat because it was free to play and if I am going to spend money I at least want to have a chance at completing said game.

Gameplay – This is a rail shooter and unlike some rail shooters where you have more of a chance to block incoming attacks, this one gives bosses unblockable attacks and sheer quantities of enemies that in situations will hit you. This is an arcade game so it was made to fight cheap so I’m putting it as okay. I did have more fun with “Resident Evil: Umbrella Chronicles” as far as rail shooters went as I found the story better and the fights a lot more fairer. But “Resident Evil” as a whole is a superior game and series to this fun garbage.

The Cons: Fridging Sophie – You see Sophie at the beginning of Chapter 1 and she is dead by the end. We have no relationship with her we just know she’s Rogan’s fiancee and she dies. She is fridged so our heroes will seek revenge against Roy Curien, when that isn’t needed. She could have easily been your partner in the game but bad writing has nameless “G” be your partner instead.

The Plot and Characters – Roy Curien wants to conquer the world with his creations (Cliche mad scientist!) the one female character is fridged and your characters are driven only by revenge. The characters and plot are awful in this game and the only real entertainment that comes from it is the fact that the tropes are so obviously awful and the game was made completely seriously. I want to call it “So bad its good” but it is a quarter stealing game so really should have had a lot more effort put into it. There were obvious solutions that were never taken, like giving Curien a relationship to the agents beyond fridging Sophie and of course replacing “G” with Sophie so that you play as someone who matters in the story.

This is a terribly written game that is full of the worst cliches (fridge the one woman, mad scientist who mad sciences for reason, two tough guys saving the day) but does manage to not be a complete train-wreck by the variety of enemies and bosses that actually force you to strategize. The game is worth playing for a little bit if you expect to lose and just want to kill zombies but if you plan on beating the game…bring a lot of quarters or go to an arcade that has free to play days like the Coin Jam. This game is a classic but it isn’t a good classic, it manages fun, but not much else.

Final Score: 6.5 / 10

Pac-Man Battle Royal: Fun With Friends Not Good Replay Value

     The Coin Jam is a pretty amazing arcade and last time I was there with a friend and my fiance we happened to be there on “Free to Play” day where certain games you can play for free. “Pac-Man Battle Royal” was the game we ended up choosing first and a random person joined us to make it the full 4 player battle royal.

What I recently learned is the is the 17th game in the Pac-Man Arcade series, though officially only the 11th. Namco Bandai Games was the developer and it was released in 2011.

So now the question is how does it hold up? Often how I judge games is based off story, but I can’t really with a versus game like this and Pac-Man doesn’t really have a story so in the end it all comes down to gameplay and replay value.

The replay value is alright. We played two full games, with me winning the second time playing. Would I play it again? With friends, yes I would especially if we are at the Coin Jam as they have good drinks that make a simple game like this more enjoyable, even though it does get repetitive. There was a reason we only played 2 games.

Gameplay is repetitive, it is Pac-Man so it is predictable but the fact that there are ghosts adds a little bit of randomness to each match and strategy as does the eating of the fruit which changes where the dots are on the map. The gameplay is fun but in the end those few bits of variety aren’t enough to make it great. Now if one could play a ghost or do more to change the map, that’d be different, but this isn’t the case.

If you happen to be around when this game is available and you just went to do a quick matches in an easy versus style game you will probably enjoy it. I wouldn’t call it good, the game would have to do a lot more and have a lot more variety to make it good…but it is enjoyable with friends and good for a few quick rounds.

Final Score: 7 / 10

Starcraft II: Heart of the Swarm – An Evolution of Gameplay and Story

      “Heart of the Swarm” improves off “Wings of Liberty” in most places where it counts. The story has more going on, the characters are more interesting and the side missions are really enjoyable as well as the hero leveling system that the game gives in how Kerrigan grows through the game. You are given choices that matter and affect gameplay, which is more than “Wings of Liberty” was ever able to do. I’ll get into more of what I mean later in the review, but this is a game that improves upon the original in almost every way.

The downsides are really in how there is too much emphasis on Emperor Mengsk as the villain and not enough on the threat of the Xel’Naga, which sadly hurts the overall arc of the Trilogy.

The story picks up where “Wings of Liberty” left off with a de-infested Kerrigan with Raynor’s Raiders and Valerian Mengsk. When Dominion forces attack she is separated from them all and when she believes Raynor to be killed goes on a revenge mission against Mengsk as she takes control of the Swarm and grows once more into her role as the Queen of Blades.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros: The Universe – I love the Starcraft Universe and in this game we get so much more of it. From Narud’s experiments and the infested resurrected Stukov and the Hybrids from the last game, from the Primal Zerg and the Zerg who witnessed the Xel’Naga come but only cared about becoming stronger and better and did not care for the greater war in the Universe as Amon created them on the Primal Zerg world…from the power of the Dominion and recruitment of the Brood Mothers as Kerrigan re-establishes herself as the Queen of Blades. I love this Universe and this game does nothing but enrich it. We also get to play as Raynor’s Raiders taking on a Mercenary army with their Battlecruiser in order to find out where Raynor is trapped and so that he can rescued. The world is so wonderfully dark and complicated.

Evolution Missions – On the way of taking control of the Swarm once more Abathur, Kerrigan’s Evolution Master gives missions where you can shape Zerg into different strains. Each choice is permanent but their are pros and cons to each. You can have faster and weaker units that can fly, greater number of units or stronger individual units with greater regeneration depending on the choice you make…and on those missions you take out Dominion or Feral Zerg forces. They are so much fun.

The Nature of the Swarm – The Swarm is change and evolution. This is one reason Kerrigan works so well as the leader because she is constant change and adaptation and now being free of the Overmind she no longer as Amon’s influence on her (that she originally got through the original purpose of the Zerg and the Overmind). It is powerful seeing her take charge of the swarm and see how their primary drive to live, change, evolve and grow. The Zerg are not static and this game really shows how easy it is for the Swarm to grow and become one of the strongest powers in the Universe. It is in their nature and when they have direction from the Queen of Blades the Overmind or one who knows them, they are unstoppable.

Kerrigan and her Team – Kerrigan has my favorite Team out of the 3 games. I like how Abathur is a selfish being that only sees the point in making things more efficent regardless of cost (so weird, awful and alien) how Zagara only values strength and bettering the Swarm and serving Kerrigan how Stukov has no one so only wants acceptance and the Swarm is the only acceptance he has now that he is dead to humanity and Dehaka and his obsession with essence and his drive to survive and change through anything.

Leveling Kerrigan and Shaping the Swarm – The gameplay is fun and part of the reason it is so much fun is you power up Kerrigan and her abilities and these abilities influence her as hero unit and also your base and how quickly you can build or what you start. She is a powerhouse and the right upgrades make her an unstoppable force on her own or one who can sustain the Swarm and have a large group. The Swarm is also shaped from the Evolution Missions stated above too.

Okay: The Power of Emperor Mengsk – I’m putting Emperor Mengsk’s power and the Dominon as okay and not a pro for two reasons. The first is that he should have been weaker after Valerian took half his fleet and second Kerrigan destroyed his forces on more than one occasion. This game happens just after he got his butt kicked last game. The reason I don’t put him as a con is he did have Narud and via Narud Amon backing him so he was powerful that way and there was a good amount of time between “Brood War” and “Wings of Liberty.” For these reason I won’t put him as a con.

Not Enough Xel’Naga Exploration – We get a glimpse of the nature of the Xel’Naga on Zerus (the Zerg homeworld) and when Narud’s true form a changeling is revealed and what dialogue he gives us. Otherwise they are an abstract threat even though we the prophecy of Kerrigan’s role going on and really needed more in the lead up to whatever her future is.

The Narud and Amon Payoff – Narud is the mini-boss before Arcturus Mengsk and it is only over the course of 3 missions. He really should have been a bigger deal. Mengsk makes more sense narratively but for the overall game Narud has been the greatest threat of them all. He is the reason the UED no longer exists as a threat, he is the reason the Protoss continued to fall apart and his master Amon is the reason the Zerg almost destroyed everything fulfilling their role in the big picture. With better writing, he really should have been the end boss or played a much bigger part in the story. He’d been around for so long why did he suddenly stop manipulating the Zerg when he clearly still had control of some Protoss forces, Moebius and the elements of the Dominion. Narud and the Xel’Naga deserved better and I think Blizzard didn’t know what to do with them after setting them up so well in “Brood War” and the original “Starcraft.”

The Cons: Raynor and Revenge as Primary Motivation – I think the writers meant it to mirror Raynor’s love for Kerrigan as his motivation in “Wings of Liberty” but it sucked that Kerrigan was turned into that as well. I never got those vibes from her in any of the original games and making her The Bride from “Kill Bill” was fine but her best character moments are when we see her accepting her role as the Queen of Blades and finding motivation beyond revenge as she cares for and shapes the Swarm. That was where she was amazing as we already got her revenge story back in “Brood War” and it was handled so much better.

I really enjoyed “Heart of the Swarm.” This is a game for all the flaws it has (largely based in story with Emperor Mengsk being this unstoppable force who still continues to lose through 2 games) and the lack of focus on Narud, Amon and the Xel’Naga makes the upcoming threat feel only so strong. It also sets up Kerrigan as the Chosen One which is stupid storytelling in general, even though I like that Kerrigan’s flaws are all her own. she is ruthless and driven and a little bit of a sociopath but it makes her compelling because it is her mind that shapes the Swarm and we see how she makes the Zerg Swarm less of an all consuming force and more a precision weapon focused on perfection and change. For these reasons I would rate it higher than “Wings of Liberty.” There is better payoff storywise, better gameplay and the campaign missions are a lot of fun and honestly, my favorite heroes are the Heroes from the Swarm and how wonderfully alien they all are. This is another one of my favorite games.

Final Score: 9.5 / 10

Starcraft II: Wings of Liberty – A Bit of Revolution and about Time

  “Starcraft II: Wings of Liberty” was a game I’d been waiting for, for a long time. It was the original “Starcraft” series that got me into RTS games and also was a huge influence on my love of science fiction stories. I still remember playing through the game for the first time at my friend’s place in college on his computer as I saw just how awesome the campaign was, I’d been waiting for this game for a long time. Years later after a second playthrough, I still really enjoy this game, but the flaws are much more apparent as well as what it misses that “Brood War” and the original “Starcraft” brought to story. I’ll do an overall comparison after reviewing all the games of “Starcraft II.”

The story picks up with war beginning again as Raynor’s Raiders seek to overthrow Mengsk and stop Kerrigan’s Swarm. This involves putting news of Mengsk’s betrayal out to the world while taking on Zerg and Dominion forces and seeking Xel’Naga artifacts for the Mobius Foundation as they may be the key to taking out Kerrigan’s Swarm.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros: Gameplay – The gameplay is a lot of fun. There is a great variety of strategy to each of the campaigns and how you use your hero units and troops. You can outlast and go all out with a large fully upgraded force, or push forward with any level of balanced forces. It’s extremely enjoyable and there is a reason that even after years of not playing this game I couldn’t put it down once I started playing it again.

Mission Variety – There is a great amount of mission variety, from a prison breakout where you defend a giant Odin piloted by Jim’s friend Tychus, a choice to do a ground based hero mission on Char or Air Assault against Kerrigan’s Swarm and some racing against the clock where you save civilians before Kerrigan destroys you. You also have a huge Prophecy side quest with Zeratul discovering Kerrigan’s role and the what the oncoming destruction will be and how to stop it. These are small hero driven missions.

The Soundtrack – The soundtrack is wonderful and captures the old west feel of the Terran as well as the tension of war, the threat of the Swarm of the mystery of the Protoss. It has a lot of salutes to the original soundtrack while still remaining to be it’s own thing.

The Universe – The Universe is the same wonderful one from past games except that it gives us more characters and reestablishes there has been some stability after the “Brood War” as the Dominion is now one of the core powers once more and the Swarm is a large threat while the Protoss as a power are scattered. I love this Universe and it was wonderful to jump into it agai as Jim Raynor, even if some of the characters really annoyed me and felt cheap compared to the characters of games past. You get flavors of the Universe in news reports from the Dominion Channel and witness one corrupt news anchor fall apart as another with integrity rises, mirroring Jim Raynor’s own journey through the campaign.

The Complex Rogues – The complex rogues are the best part of this game…whether it is Zeratul as the Dark Wizard seeking to keep back the end, even if it means saving Kerrigan, the woman has meant nothing but destruction for his people, Tychus as the Merc who believes in Jim but also wants to be free so will kill Kerrigan if given the chance and of course Gabriel Tosh, the rogue spectre seeking to overthrow Mengsk who also helps you through Zeratul’s visions. These are easily the best characters in the game with Jim as the rogue trying to do the right thing in the difficult situations he is put in. Hell Valerian Mengsk (Emperor Mengsk’s son) is even complex in his own way as he wants to find a way to fix infestation and in doing so be a better savior to his humanity than his father ever was. These characters drove the story and made me click them for conversations when you are the Battle Cruiser “Hyperion.”

Okay: Prophecy and Destiny – I don’t really like the idea of prophecy and destiny as all powerful beings like the Xel’Naga would have been destroyed if they could have seen the future. It also ends up giving plot armor to all of Kerrigan’s actions in “Brood War” and this game does not deal with the monster she currently is, instead we get mopey lovesick Raynor, which really hurt the storytelling as he gets a love interest out of it and it hurts Kerrigan’s agency in her actions.

The Cons: The One-Dimensional Characters – There are a few of these, with the worst offenders being the nerd stereotype Egon and the love interest scientist Ariel Hanson. They only function as plot devices to tell Raynor things and I never saw them as complete characters. Matt Horner is also this to some degree as he is the noble revolutionary, and we never get why. This was the disadvantage that comes with a large cast and so many characters really should have been developed that weren’t. This is the weakest of the the “Starcraft II” games because of this.

“Starcraft II: Wings of Liberty” and is a great game I’d recommend. The gameplay and mission variety are absolutely wonderful and the complex rogues are a lot of fun to follow, even though I hate how prophecy turns some of them into some a certain level of plot device. If you haven’t played this game already and are a fan of RTS games, I highly recommend it. As a fan of the Starcraft Franchise, they would have had to really mess this up for me to hate it, but even as someone who was away from the game for years it is still a solidly great game worth time. It took long enough to make and if you have, it’s about damn time to play.

Final Score: 9 / 10 Solidly great.

Mass Effect 2 – Amazing Character Development, Combat and Final Leads to This Being One of the Best RPGs I’ve played

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    “Mass Effect 2” is one of my favorite RPGs of all time. This is a game that manages to capture the best of story, combat and character to the point that I stayed in this world as long as I could before doing the final/suicide mission with my squad, which was hands down one of the best gaming experiences I’ve ever had. There is a lot to cover in this game that I’ll get into deeper in the review.

    This was when EA bought Bioware so even though Bioware made the game it was EA who published it.

   Here is my review of the first game in case you need a catch up on the story or need a comparison to how much this game improved.:

 https://cameronmoviesandtv.wordpress.com/2017/01/23/mass-effect-an-amazing-space-opera-with-some-narrative-and-cinematic-choppiness/

SPOILERS if you haven’t played the first game.

     The story involves the Normandy being attacked by the mysterious species known as the Collectors, leading to the death of Shepard. 2 years later you wake up, having been resurrected by the Illusive Man and Cerberus. From here you must recruit your team to take on the Collectors and end their threat to the Galaxy.

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The Pros:

The Universe – The Universe is really one of the best parts of this series and Bioware is a gaming company with fantastic world builders. The amount of aliens introduced grows as we have Vorcha, Batarians and Collectors and a ton of organizations that you work for or against, as well as the old ones too. There are some pretty amazing locations too! From Omega, Illium, The Collector Base and countless other planets you discover.

The Action – The game is finally a good shooter! In the original game the shooting was kind of janky but it flows here and there are stakes, even on casual you might die a few times if you are new FPSs. It was this action gameplay and the world and story that helped keep in and to explore every star system.

The Stakes – The stakes are higher in this game, the Collectors have already killed you once and you are working for an organization that is all about human supremacy and experiments on their own people. You are in a rock and a hard place and it makes the choices you make with characters so much higher, especially since the Reaper threat is hanging in the background.

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The Characters – The characters have always been the strongest part of Bioware games and in this game we get new characters and get to know past characters from the first game more. I did all the options I could when it came to exploring characters and I loved my squad’s loyalty missions.

Captain Bailey – Bailey is voiced by Michael Hogan (Colonel Tigh from “BSG”) and he is great. He is a rough beat cop who grows over the course of the series as Shepard helps him see the depth of certain situations. He is a great character and I’m glad he survives this game.

The Illusive Man – The Illusive Man is obviously evil, he brings you back to life but there is never any question that his intentions are to use you as a weapon for power. You see some of the things he’s done over the course of the series and he has the gall to ask you to save the Collector Base. Telling him to screw himself was really rewarding.

Aria – Aria is the Asari leader of Omega, a gang planet where she is the one pulling all the strings. She is a really cool leader, she even owns a Krogan Warlord she has called Patriarch mockingly. As Shepard you hurt and help her operations about equally given the Mercs are people who use Omega but they are also targeting Patriarch and her other assets…so she pretty much gives you free reign. She is one of the few characters unafraid when she meets you.

The Flotilla Admirals – The Flotilla Admirals are a fascinating group. There is the family friend, a soldier who served with Tali’s dad, an Admiral who wants to control the Geth and one who wants to make peace. There are reasons for each on why they think the way they do and in the end Tali was just a political pawn so calling them out on their crap frees Tali from being exiled.

Kelly Chambers – Kelly is the ship psychologist who lets you know what characters are interested in you and why and explores your relationships. She was the one I told that I didn’t have feelings for Ashley and found out that Tali liked me.

Wrex – Wrex is amazing! Since I saved him last game he is now working on uniting all the Krogan clans. He is such a fun character, he is a bit overwhelmed by his new leadership responsibilities but he helps you with Grunt’s coming of age and it is fun to talk to him about his life and the past memories.

Joker – Joker manages to survive the Collector’s destruction of the first Normandy. He is the first person you meet on the new Cerberus Normandy and his relationship with the Ship’s AI EDI is the main drama on the ship. He also is the first to let you know whenever two of your shipmates are at odds for you to resolve it. He is the heart of the ship with EDI and they rescue it before the Suicide Mission.

EDI – EDI is an AI who is pretty fantastic. She jokes and is good at giving you assessments of different situations and is always a help. She is an AI that makes choices and has drive and I’m curious to see how she develops in “Mass Effect 3.”

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Your Squad – The Squad, minus Zaeed is one of the best parts of this game. I loved their loyalty missions, and each of the characters is complex and compelling in their different ways. You are the crew of “Firefly” or “Farscape” aka a bunch of misfits who are great at your certain tasks.

Garrus – Garrus goes Batman in this game and has become a vigilante targeting the leaders of all the Merc Groups. He is going under the name of Archangel and it is up to you to rescue him. His loyalty mission involves him hunting down the member of his team who betrayed him and you can let him make the kill or forgive his former friend. It is powerful and Garrus is really the best friend of Shepard.

Miranda – Miranda is the one who brings you back to life. She is cruel to a lot of the crew, especially Jack but I initially pursued her for saving my life. That changed when she was cruel to Jack and I chose Jack over her to remain friends with both (Tali was my romance option) since I didn’t have any patience for Miranda’s crap towards others. You get why she is cruel though as she has an abusive controlling father and your loyalty mission with her is rescuing her sister.

Jacob – Jacob is the human soldier cut from the same vein as Kaidan, as in he is super serious and he only chills with you after the loyalty mission and even than doesn’t talk much. I liked the guy when he wasn’t being a racist though. The moment he talked down to Tali I was done with him as his Cerberus was showing. He gets better (they all do) but it gave me Ashley vibes and I hated her Speciesism.

Jack – Jack is the PTSD super biotic created by Cerberus. She is an awesome character who you help get revenge on Cerberus by destroying the station. She also meets another person there too who was just as scarred as she was. She was my backup Biotic and her flavor text is a lot of fun. She really does not care.

Grunt – Grunt is a test tube Krogan made to be a Super Krogan by the Warlord you are attempting to recruit. He is unstable but a lot of fun as you help him find balance and go through his coming of age as you can make history with him, making a killing that only Wrex had made prior.

Thane – Thane is Drell assassin who you help by rescuing his son. Captain Bailey even helps you out too and makes an easy way for Thane’s son to have a new start. It is from Thane you also learn the one time he didn’t kill was when his wife tried to save his quarry. It is powerful and seeing him recount memories as exact is powerful, as his philosophy of mind and body being separate entities.

Kasumi – Kasumi is DLC and her DLC is awesome! You go undercover to steal the Grey Box from a rich crook. Over the course of the DLC you help her hack and get revenge and after I said she could keep the Box if that is what she wanted. I really liked Kasumi, there was a reason she was my backup tech. after Tali.

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Legion – Legion is a fascinating character. It is Geth as in their are multiple programs that make him up. His arc is saving the Geth from the Reapers as he uploads a virus to combat Reaper control and integrates the other Geth into him. His sole goal is the survival of the Geth but he can see beyond that as he and Tali do become friends. He is a great character and I really enjoyed his loyalty mission.

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Mordin – Mordin is a Salarian Mad Scientist and is one of my favorite characters. He helped improve the Genophage and his arc is dealing with his past actions and his opinion changing about the Krogan. I really enjoyed this character, especially learning how he was a singer and the scene he gives you were he sings Gilbert and Sullivan. He was my early main squad until I did Tali’s mission.

Samara – Samara was my go to Biotic. Her story is powerful and sad as she is an Asari Judicator seeking out her daughter who kills with sex. You make the choice to choose her or her daughter for your team and I obviously chose her. I’m Paragon and Samara is Paragon incarnate. She is old and you learn a lot from her over the course of the game. I missed having Liara on the main team but Samara was so cool I wasn’t too sad.

Tali – Tali was my love interest this game and now I just want to survive through 3 with her and end things with Ashley from 1. She meets you early on when you are with Cerberus and sees right through Cerberus. It was great planning to fight Cerberus with her and helping her when she is put on trial as a Pawn for the Admirals plans against the Geth. Her story is tragic as we learn her father was doing experiments on the Geth that lead to his team getting killed. I chose to not reveal what we found so she wouldn’t be exiled and after the romance took off. Tali is my favorite character in the game at this point. I really want to end “Mass Effect 3” with her and survive the game.

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The Major DLC – The Major DLC as in Kasumi, Lair of the Shadow Broker and Overlord were a lot of fun and really enriched the game…I just wish they’d come with the game already given Liara’s role is too important to be DLC.

Overlord – Overlord involves you rescuing a Savant who has been turned into a rogue AI by Cerberus. It is a sad mission and listening to Tali and Samara’s dialogue made it all the more powerful. We all felt for the guy and it was great rescuing him from his brother and getting him help.

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Lair of the Shadow Broker – This was my favorite mission in the game besides the Suicide Mission. The Lair of the Shadow Broker involves you teaming up with Liara and following a bread crumb trail back to the Shadow Broker’s lair where a final showdown goes down and you take out the current Shadow Broker, leading to Liara’s ascension as the current Shadow Broker. After you can invite Liara to the ship and have wine with her. It was such a fun mission with high rewards, easily one of the best parts of the game.

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Loyalty Missions – Loyalty missions are part of what made this game great. You not only have someone on your squad automatically…you have to earn their loyalty and your choices during the game change that status. The missions themselves are usually a lot of fun with Tali, Legion, Grunt, Mordin and Kasumi being my most favorite loyalty missions.

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The Collectors – The Collectors are the main threat and are established as dangerous early on (they do kill you). Over the course of the missions you learn they are being controlled by the Reaper Harbringer and that they were once Protheans. Each level where you face them is a challenge as they have some pretty powerful weapons and enemies which makes defeating them at the end, all the more rewarding.

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Tali Romance / Romance – Initially I pursued Miranda for saving my life but changed my mind after she was being cruel to Jack and ended it. After Kelly Chambers told me Tali liked me and I pursued her. It was great helping her and Legion come together and she is such a cool character. I loved her relationship with her people and her father and the whole romance scene is beautiful. She takes some things to strengthen her immune system since when Quarrians have sex they are at risk due to their suits keeping all germs and things away, since in space they had to keep everything sterile. After the game I just want to survive Mass Effect 3 with her and end the Ashley Romance that apparently I made happen in 1, that I thought I’d ended at the end of that game.

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The Suicide Mission – The Suicide Mission is powerful and hard. The first time I played it I lost Legion so went back to last save and chose the right people in order for everyone to survive. The stakes are high and I ended it with my main squad of Tali and Samara. Fighting the Human Reaper was so much fun as well as the Collector Harbringer possessed who kept giving us trouble. This mission was easily one of the best experiences I’ve had in gaming.

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My Main Squad – My main squad was Tali as my tech. and Samara as my Biotic. I took these two on the most missions throughout the game. I always play Soldier and it was great having a squad similar to the Tali and Liara main group I used in the first game. My backup tech was Kasumi and after her Mordin and back up Biotic was Jack.

Okay: Zaeed – Zaeed is a rough around the edges creator of the Blue Suns mercenary organization. His loyalty mission is taking out the other leader of the Blue Suns and rescuing the people he endangers. I really didn’t like this guy. He contributes nothing to the crew besides being an extra body for the Suicide Mission.

Too Many Mercs – There are the Blue Suns, Eclipse, Blood Pack, etc. Mercenaries are mostly what you fight and I think that was a missed opportunity. There should be more than mercs controlling the underbelly of the Galaxy.

Overpriced DLC – Zaeed, Kasumi, the Hammerhead, Lair of the Shadow Broker and Overlord. First the 2 new characters should have come free as should have Lair of the Shadow Broker. I enjoyed the DLC but it was expensive. Bioware Credits are a stupid idea that forces you to spend more money than the DLC is actually worth. I still enjoyed the DLC but screw EA and Bioware for not releasing most of it with the game.

The Path I Chose – I chose the path of Paragon, Tali as my romance option and to destroy the Collector Base. On every loyalty mission I did the Paragon options and I chose Samara over Morinth. I really hope these choices matter in “Mass Effect 3.” I don’t want any of my squad to die.

    This is a game I’d highly recommend, and you don’t have to play the first game to do it (though it is more rewarding if you do). This is a Universe on par with “Star Trek” and “Star Wars” in regards to lore and characters I care about. I know I’m probably in for at least some disappoint with “Mass Effect 3” but the first 2 games has made the risk worth it. I care about the world and the characters and want the best outcome for all of them. God, I really have become a Paragon.

Final Score: 9.5 / 10 Would be perfect if not for too many Mercs that you fight, overpriced DLC and Zaeed being a waste of a character.

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Mass Effect – An Amazing Space Opera With Some Narrative and Cinematic Choppiness

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     I am a huge fan of science fiction. That has most likely been made pretty obvious though, given the amount of times a sci. fi. film has made my “Top 5 Films” of the year, the videogames I’ve reviewed thus far and my favorite shows (which also tend to be sci. fi.). “Mass Effect” is an amazing Space Opera that before I upgraded my computer, I’d only played bits and pieces at friends’ houses. Doing a run through on my own, gave me an even greater appreciation for this game and also made the flaws it have more apparent too.

    The series was created by Bioware and easily their best game since “Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic.” Another Western RPG that this game develops in play style and types of choices further.

   So without further ado I’ll get into the review, first with a basic overview of the story:

       It is the future and thanks to ancient Prothean technology called Mass Relays, The Alliance (humanity) has joined the Galactic World at the Citadel. There is lots of tension though as the First Contact War of Humans against Turians (one of the council races) wasn’t that long ago leading to mistrust on both sides. Commander Shepard is the first to discover an ancient threat though as the rogue Specter Saren is using the robotic Geth to track down Prothean technology and to destroy humanity.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

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The World – The world is the best part of this series. This is a rich universe full of different factions from the Citadel, The Alliance, Cerberus, the Quarians, the Protheans, The Geth and the Reapers to name a few. Each as a unique drive that drives the story and Shepard’s relationship with them.

The Species – There are a ton of Species but I’m going to focus on the big ones. You have the ancient Asari who are biotics (telepaths) the Turians who are the militaristic reptilians, the Salarians who are the brains, the Quarians who are the survivors and travelers who were kicked out by their creations…the Geth. There are also the Krogans who were used by the Citadel to fight a greater threat known as the Rachni but eventually the Citadel Races put the Krogans down to stop them from becoming the next big threat.

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The Lore – The lore is beautiful and amazing! We get to learn how the Prothean’s were wiped out by the Reapers (Who have returned again via Soveriegn to continue the cycle of destruction of organic life) and within the lore we have reason to care because of the characters we meet.

The Characters – The characters are the driving factor, just as they were in “KOTOR,” Bioware knows characters. Most of the villains were sympathetic and the heroes were all given their own levels of complexity. An RPG is the art of interactive storytelling and this game put me in the world and got me to care about these characters.

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Saren – Saren is the overall villain who makes a deal with Sovereign in order to save organics from the Reapers as he sees their survival in their subjugation. I felt bad for the guy as you get why he hates people (most are racist in this Universe and the First Contact War was against his people). He is still receptive though and I was able to save him even though Sovereign resurrected his body for the final fight.

Matriarch Benezia – Marina Sirtis (Troi on Star Trek: The Next Generation) plays the Matriarch who originally worked with Sovereign to influence him but soon found that he and the ship were controlling her as all they have her do blows up in her face. She is tragic in this way as she is a strong character who became so broken by the Reapers. She is an Asari.

Captain Kirrahe – This guy is one of my favorite minor characters! He’s part of an infiltration team and helps you take out Saren’s Krogan army. He has an epic war speech and trusts you. I had nothing but respect for this character.

Captain Anderson – Anderson is fantastic and is the smart military man who is anti-politics. He is your Captain until you are promoted and get the Normandy (your ship). He is a constant ally as the council and Alliance Ambassador are always trying to control you (more so Udina the Ambassador rather than the Council…until the end).

Joker – Joker is a lot of fun. He is the anti-authority pilot who has trouble walking and has a major chip on his shoulder but comes around to liking you when you show how much you care. He was a great character and a memorable pilot.

Wrex – Wrex is a Krogan mercenary who is a lot of fun! He’s a tank and he and Tali were my mains until I finally did the quest that gave me Liara. After that she was my Biotic support and I became the tank. Wrex is cynical and fun and really cares deeply about his people. He is also blunt too and it makes his interactions with the other characters fun. There was no way  I was going to let Ashley kill this guy.

Garrus – Garrus is so much fun! He’s a C-Sec beat cop who doesn’t like the rules. You help him take out a serial killing mad scientist and it is great seeing him get revenge. He was the guy I enjoyed talking to the most. He is a Turian.

Tali – Tali is the tech. and Quarian and was the one person who stayed on my squad the entire time. She’s super expressive and brilliant and it was fascinating seeing how her pilgrimage and proving herself to her father (one of the fleet Admirals on the Flotilla) was a main drive. She was one of my favorite characters.

Liara – Liara is Benezia’s daughter and a scholar who studies the Protheans. She is socially awkward and it is wonderful. She like Tali is one of my favorite characters and her melds with you help you understand the Reaper threat.

Alien Relations – The relation between the different species is handled really well…from the Council distrusting humans, to the tension between Turians and humans, and the other species and the Krogans. This is a world that feels lived in and real.

Okay: Kaiden – Kaidan is a jerk until he opens up that he was a biotic experiment. He still isn’t the easiest to get to know but it was still a hard choice to save him or Ashley. He was a fellow soldier and in the game I did everything I could to try and save both before I had to make the choice for good.

Ashley – Ashley had a rough life and is a bit of a racist against aliens. I liked her openness on her family life but a relationship wasn’t going to happen, even though the game seemed to really want to make it happen. She was still a good friend just one that had a lot of growing up to do and thankfully we do see her learn over the course of the game.

Paragon v Renegade  – You act like a Paladin or Jerk and there isn’t really a middle ground. Bioware tends to do this and I’m not the biggest fan. I like the grey choices and this game didn’t have many of those.

The Cons: Ambassador Udina – Udina is a jerk and it was an easy choice putting Anderson on the Council over him. Udina turns on you the moment he gets power from the Council and is a complete tool. There is nothing likeable about him.

Choppy Cinematics – There are a few choppy cinematics…especially in early appearances of Saren, it feels unfinished in that way though the final fight with the fleet destroying Sovereign is fantastic.

The Mako – The Mako sucks as a vehicle. I got adept at using it eventually but it still was so hard to control and the worst gameplay. Some vehicle sections go on a bit too long as well.

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 The Path I Took With Kengin Smith – Kengin is the name I tend to choose in RPGs or as a gamer tag. It was inspired by a fictional character I created in a series I’m working on so of course I chose that name this time. I chose soldier as my starting type since I tend to choose soldier or Paladin in RPGs. Overall I played as a Paragon, with only a few times going Renegade, I saved the Rachni Queen, saved Wrex and talked him down from going against us to save the Krogans, I let Kaidan die to save Ashley and turned down a relationship with her when I realized it was turning into a relationship and just wanted to stay friends. I chose Anderson for the Council and saved the Council too. For a first playthrough I did zero of the romance options. Curious to see how these choices play out further down the line…they were fun choices to make.

      This is a game that is well worth your time if you are a fan of Western RPGs and Science Fiction. The creators in Bioware clearly cared about the subject matter and it was so much fun. I hadn’t binged a game for some time and this game had me pulled in enough that I couldn’t stop playing. I like the fact that I can transfer over the choices I made into the future games and I can’t wait to return to this world again, as I have already payed some of “Mass Effect 2” and “Mass Effect 3” in the past (though only parts, haven’t played from beginning to end). I do wish Shepard could be more than just a human as the different species are a lot more interesting than humanity in any sci. fi. that has more than humans in it. Still, “Andromeda” will get that chance.

Final Score: 8.2 / 10

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