The Redemption of Diablo (DIII Reaper of Souls Review)

I don’t particularly understand why I picked Diablo III back up, but I did.

Up until my re-download of the game, I had forgotten about the rumored game-changing patches and new Reaper of Souls expansion. Mine was a pick-up based on no hype, just a desire to run through some dungeons on a mad three-quarters-perspective loot grab. Such has been the case with Diablo games for me in the past; I just get that craving and there’s nothing that can satisfy like the real name brand.

It was easy to pick up where I last left off, probably more than a year ago. Thanks to the debacle, I still had my case of characters and a fair amount of gold in my pocket and a clutch of gems, dyes, and items stashed. I took a moment to assess the damage from the closure of the Auction House, realized that I had left about a dozen auctions running (none of which sold) while I was away and spent time scraping up the errant yellows I had put up for grabs.

My thought was that I would start anew with a Demon Hunter and be able to use most of my salvaged stash to kit out a lowbie with some sweet starting gear.

I quickly realized that most of it could simply go out the window because, while I was gone, the Loot 2.0 patch had swept in like a cleansing wind and severely changed the playing field.

Diablo III, even without the Reaper of Souls expansion, plays like a brand new game. You’re not going to get anything but your standard run from Act I through Act IV as far as content goes but things certainly have changed. Like moving out of town for a year and then coming back to visit; the scenery is largely the same but there’s a coffee shop where that Radio Shack used to be and they put in new pumps at the gas station. Also, there’s a new Subway… because there’s always a new Subway.

Going back to DIII now and playing an old character guarantees that, within approximately the first half-hour of gameplay, you will gear up in just about every slot. Loot 2.0’s sweeping changes cause less quantity with item drops, but higher quality and better targeting. If you’re running around as a Wizard, it’s likely you won’t see many quivers or mighty weapons or awesome wands with +ridiculous strength. You’ll see gear dropped, about 90% of the time, which is gear for your character; actual, usable things which will cause less anger at the futility of repetitive runs and more indecision as to which exact yellow helmet out of the seven you have in your inventory is the best investment for your future development. And, oh, by the way, you just found an orange.

When Blizzard blew up the Auction House, all those items were scattered throughout Sanctuary and are sitting there waiting for you to rediscover them.

They’ve also changed the way difficulty works and made the game much better for solo players. Rather than forcing you to continue running through the tiers of difficulty, the enemies and loot now scale to your level even if you leave the game set on Normal for the rest of your career. You can, of course, boost this to give yourself (or your party) more of a challenge, but only if you want to. Normal, Hard, Nightmare, Hell, and Torment are the settings and they advise you on where you should be in your development before you decide to make a change. You can also tweak this on the fly, so, if at any point you find yourself bored or facing down a particularly tough situation, you can seamlessly, mid-game, raise or lower the difficulty level by one step.

This means that the consummate solo player, like myself, does not have to bother themselves with twisting friends arms (or, indeed, having their own arms twisted) in order to make runs to improve their gear. Soloing remains possible indefinitely on the lower difficulty levels and will always produce newer, better items as you continue to rise in experience. This beats the shit out of getting as frustrated as I’d been with some classes around the 30-40 level bridge because they just weren’t cutting it when it came to solo boss battles and actually encourages me that playing every class will be a fun and rewarding experience.

I enjoyed leveling my new Demon Hunter and had just finished my second run (putting me around L55) when payday struck and I decided to buy Reaper of Souls (after having most of its features flaunted temptingly in my face all over the front-end of the game). I jumped right into the new Act V.

The story continues nicely from the end of DIII proper, allowing for some mourning of the dead before charging forward into battle once more. The new Act is rife with side-quests and events and ends on a note which could either allow for an Act VI or could be positioning for Diablo IV. The latest rumors have Blizzard probing the market via selective survey regarding another DIII expansion. If they can do as well as this one, I’m all for it.

Beyond the story and the additional playtime, the game also introduces a new vendor in the Mystic. If you love customization, then all your gold will be spent here. Not only does the Mystic allow you to “re-roll” any one stat on an item but she can also transmogrify your gear to give it a different appearance. Like the new armor you picked up but hate the way it looks because it clashes uncharacteristically with the rest of your set? Transmogs will fix that. You’ll also gain Transmogs for every Unique (orange) item you pick up. Though these cost significantly more gold to swap, I found Blind Faith for my DH and love the look so much that I’m willing to spend the G it takes to retain the badass appearance, if only for my own enjoyment.

Re-rolling stats is rather handy, but has a degree of randomness which may make the expense steep. You are given a long list of possibilities but, in the end, are only allowed to select from the original enchant or two random others from the initial long list. It will not be perfect every time but it can help you get the skill bonuses you want to match your current spec.

After Act V is done, the game presents you with Adventure Mode which is where the whole new world of fun begins. Adventure Mode presents you with a series of five “bounties” per zone (act). These bounties bounce you around the map doing varied quests from killing a specific boss mob or elite to killing x amount of enemies in a given area to doing an event/sidequest. Each completion rewards you with XP and gold. When all five are completed, Tyrael gives you a pack full of crafting materials and items which can include up to orange and set items.

It doesn’t stop there. Throughout the bounty completions, you amass both blood shards – a new currency allowing you to purchase random magical items of any type from a new vendor – and special coins of which five can be redeemed to open a Nephalem Rift. These Rifts are portals to dungeons which combine random tilesets with random lighting effects and random enemy pools to create entirely unique areas populated heavily by blue and gold elites as well as chests and treasure goblins. Kill enough enemies to fill a gauge and it triggers a boss fight where you will see another ton of incredible equipment drop. You’ll have to portal back about halfway through because your inventory will be full of ridiculous yellows and you’ll wind up having nothing much to do with them but sell or scrap.

There’s also the addition of the Crusader class. Haven’t toyed with it yet but I’ll probably start one soon. Reports state that it plays like the Paladin from DII which, if that’s the case, I’ll feel quite at home.

One of the main headlines surrounding Reaper of Souls is: “Can Blizzard Save Diablo III with $40?”

Yes. Yes it can and yes it did.

DIII now feels less like hopeless drudgery and more like an actual game. I feel much more rewarded for the time I’m putting in now that an orange drop isn’t something so incredibly rare that your first thought is “how much can I sell this puppy for on the AH”, rather, it’s an exciting moment where you can be legitimately excited that you’ll probably be replacing something after you identify it. My DH (L61) currently has four oranges and two greens (set items which were crafted from a set of found plans, something I didn’t even know was real before). It looks to get even more badass as my level climbs.

If you played DIII before and lost your taste for it, I recommend picking it back up again for the Loot 2.0 patch at least (it’s free!). If you like what you’re playing at that point, I strongly recommend investing in Reaper of Souls. With these two improvements, Blizzard has taken a game which was the butt of many jokes after release and reworked it into something more akin to the classic Diablo we all know and love. For that, I say good job boys. Looking forward to Act VI.

Bidula’s Last Word – 9/10

Keep fighting the good fight.

—end transmission—

Let The Circle Be Unbroken: Bidula’s Last Word – BioShock Infinite

I’m walking through a park and I hear something familiar; something that sounds proper for the period but doesn’t seem to really belong. A barbershop quartet is belting out something in typical four-part harmony, perfectly normal for 1912, except that the tune is that of the Beach Boys’ “God Only Knows”.

Stunned, I stopped what I was doing and listened to the rendition. It was a complete anachronism. Of course, standing in a city kept aloft some twenty-thousand feet in the sky by the sheer will of steampunk-tech in the middle of 1912 wasn’t quite out-of-place enough. They just had to throw in that little musical cue which had me tilting my head like a confused puppy while simultaneously bringing a sly grin to my lips.

Little details like this only slightly increase the already rich experience that is BioShock Infinite.

Though we’re no longer in Andrew Ryan’s underwater dystopia of Rapture and the days of “would you kindly” are far behind us, this is very much a BioShock game. I heard complaints that it shouldn’t be called BioShock since it distinctly lacks the submarined setting and early photos showed a distinct lack of the dark, dingy settings to which we had become accustomed. I believe it was a perfect avenue for change. It was nice to run around a slowly decaying dystopia in the daylight and the open air for once.

Yes, we’re above the clouds now. Replace Rapture with Columbia, the promising utopian brainchild of a religious zealot, one Zachary Hail Comstock – this version’s Andrew Ryan with different non-Randian baggage.
You play as Booker DeWitt – a member of the 7th Cavalry who served at Wounded Knee and a former Pinkerton detective-cum-private-eye. In his depression following the “horrible things [he’s] done”, he ran up a large gambling tab. In order to satisfy this, he is sent to go to Columbia to “bring us the girl and wipe away the debt.” This statement is a key theme to the game, especially upon meeting your co-protagonist, Elizabeth (“the girl”).

The relationship between Booker and Elizabeth is a very interesting sort of reverse Stockholm syndrome in that he kidnaps her from captivity and she sticks with him, forming a quick if not tenuous friendship with him. This bit seems a bit rushed if you’re not taking into account psychology of the fact that Elizabeth has been held in a tower all her life and not allowed into the outside world, even within the constructed utopia.

As she is with you, she scouts around for items and money pickups you may have missed leading to the mechanic shown in the release trailer where she throws Booker a shotgun just in the nick of time. These sort of things (kinda) happen in the game; she’ll throw you health or Salt (the new EVE or MP for those not familiar with the other entries in the series) or ammo when you’re running low.
Her true power, however, adds a much more interesting mechanic to the game. Elizabeth can open what are referred to as “tears” to other versions of Columbia, allowing her to throw cover into an open kill-zone or draw weapons, ammo, health, or even a friendly turret or automaton into battle. You choose what she draws over and most battlefields are literally littered with useful tears. Consequently, this telegraphs when a major attack is going to take place, as it’s usually only the battlefields where there are numerous tears available for your reality-warping pleasure.

My only disappointment with combat was that, unlike the originals, there was no constant roaming threat, like a Big Daddy.
Don’t get me wrong, there are some severe heavy hitters in Columbia like the Motorized Patriots and the Handymen, but they are not as abundant and random as the Big Daddies which, to me, was part of the challenge of combat in Rapture. At any point in the originals, a stray shot could turn a routine firefight into a life-or-death situation if a Big Daddy happened to be moseying through.
Aside from that small loss, there are still Plasmids (known as Vigors here) and a variety of firearms as well as upgrades for both enough to keep things fresh right until the very end.
You are limited to carrying two weapons in a sort of Left 4 Dead style, making you think about what’s around the corner and whether or not you should pick up that RPG when you’ve already got a sniper rifle and a machine gun available. The interesting part comes when you run out of ammo for your favorite weapons and you’re forced to improvise with whatever has been dropped by the enemies you’re fighting. It pays to familiarize yourself with each gun as you never know what you’ll have to fall back on should things go dry.
Also, in place of some of the utility plasmids, there is gear – four slots (hat, shirt, pants, shoes) that add different effects when equipped. Simple, yet effective.

Columbia starts out as a bright and shining beacon – a place that, unlike Rapture, appears to be an actual utopia – and gets darker and darker as the story goes on. Things turn from a brighter Boardwalk Empire look to something more akin to slums of Victorian London and every setting is masterfully done. Columbia appears even more grandiose than Rapture with its amazing architecture and gigantic monuments.

The plot here is thick, which made me very thankful that the protagonist actually has a voice unlike Jack or Subject Delta. The banter between Elizabeth and Booker gets to be very organic and makes them feel authentic. Also, there is no radio to constantly bark objectives (would you kindly?) into your ear, giving you instructions. When you talk to someone, it’s usually in person again adding to the authenticity of the characters.

Jumping back to the beginning of the review, the barbershop Beach Boys moment was not the only time familiar music shows up. Keep an ear open for 1912-styled versions of other modern songs (it makes sense in the end, trust me). It’s funny when you realize what you’re hearing. It sounds vaguely familiar then you hear the lyrics and you are spellbound and you won’t move from the spot until the song is over.
The rest of the soundtrack is haunting. Be prepared for chills when you hear “Let the Circle Be Unbroken” during your first moments in Columbia, it really sets the tone for the game.

My main problem with this game is that it seems far too short. I clocked in somewhere around 12-15 hours and I was stumbling around every nook and cranny, opening every single container I could, as I typically do in games such as this. Also, the game promised that you could return to previous areas, however, I didn’t find myself wanting to veer much off the path because the plot is so compelling. I suppose it’s the gaming equivalent to a page turner and, in the end, you realize you spent a decent amount of money for a relatively short amount of time and even though you got the payoff you were looking for, you’re still somewhat sad that it all ended so soon.

The only other problem is that this game is governed exclusively by AutoSave. There is no manual save feature which means that, if you want to quit in an odd spot, you can’t just put it down and walk away without potentially losing some progress. You need to make it to the next checkpoint before you can drop it and walk away. This is likely to lose some casual gamers (who Ken Levine said they were trying to attract) but isn’t likely to cause much issue for the intermediate to the hardcore.

There’s also some DLC in the works as they’re offering the newly popular “season pass” option for US$20. It’s a linear story but, in the end, you find out why DLC will be cruicial to expanding that story. That means there’s a crazy twist. It is a BioShock game, after all. I wouldn’t expect less.

I believe that this is almost assuredly going to be Game of the Year award-winning over multiple publications. It is an absolute must have and, although there are a few easter eggs thrown in for you Rapture veterans, it can easily be played and thoroughly enjoyed by the five or so people who didn’t play either of the first two BioShock games.

I’ll shut up now so you can go play.

Bidula’s Last Word – 9.9/10. I just wish it was a little longer…

Keep fighting the good fight, would you kindly?

—end transmission—

I Sense a Soul In Search of Answers… (Bidula’s Last Word – Diablo III)

As a cheap-ass gamer, I typically don’t buy anything upon release.

Lately, I’ve been thriving on backlogged titles picked up during the big sales on Steam or the rare used or borrowed Xbox game.  I have become exceedingly good at this, even going so far as to mooch a login so I could mess around with Minecraft in single player just for something to do (thanks, Janna).

There were three games for which I knew I would pay full retail within 2012: Mass Effect 3, Diablo III, and Bioshock: Infinite.  Now that one of those titles has been pushed back to 2013, I suppose I’ve hit my quota.  Or, I’ve got room to fit one more retail release into my budget before the year is out.  Either way, my main purchases are already done.

I knew that picking up Diablo III would certainly not be a waste of money.  If it was anything like its predecessors, I was looking at a game I would be playing hardcore for the next three months minimum, but probably off-and-on for at least a year before putting it down for a while and picking it up again six months later for another fresh playthrough.

I was not wrong.  Stay a while and listen.

Yes, this is a game I’m going to be playing for a very long time.  With a unique experience within all five classes and, of course, the ever-random maps, ever-random drops, and sporadically occurring events, it will take some time to become truly bored.

The big question which was on everyone’s mind when this was first announced was: “Is DIII going to live up to its predecessors?”  Most notably, the question was would it live up to Diablo II, which persevered within the gamer underground long after its sell-by date.

I think it has the potential to do so, however, DIII is a much more controlled experience.  Blizzard, gleaning a bit from that small-time indie MMO of theirs which is still underground and never really met with much success, has tightened the reins on this iteration of their franchise.  They have also used their MMO experience to help determine what works and what doesn’t in a good game, resulting in a list of pros and cons as long as Deckard Cain’s beard.

Firstly, Blizzard has found the sweet spot in their financial game: Expansion Packs.  WoW, over three (soon to be four, I understand) different retail expansions has taught them how to use choke points to limit progress while still keeping the player base challenged and interested.  Sure, there are level caps, but then there are achievements, tiers of armor, honor points, faction credit, heroic dungeons, 40-man raids… things like this keep a hardcore gamer interested without making more than a few simple changes to the game.  They can prove their l33t-ness without actually seeing an increase in their level.

While DIII sheds much of the MMO aspect (notably opting to drop the first “M” and just go with “MO”), it retains a lot of the tricks.  There is a level cap.  There are increasing levels of difficulty (added to give that end-game challenge).  There are, within each class, different play styles though they don’t resemble the ones in DII or WoW in the sense that you’re not limited to one specialization within a three skill tree system.  Your spec can change at any moment.  You can drag and drop abilities into your hotbar at will.  You don’t need to spend time planning how to build you character, you can do so on the fly and change it at will.  There are no more skill points, no more attribute points… instead, everything simply unlocks at certain levels and your gear can help flesh out the rest.

I’ve heard some complaints that this system is simplified.  Duly noted, however, you have to see Blizzard’s angle here.  They have the opportunity to cash in on a more casual market which may have felt alienated by the set-in-stone skill choices of the past.  Now, you can see how everything works without having to spend 50 levels getting that one skill you thought would be cool only to find out that it is about as effective as shooting rainbows and has the damage capabilities of a feather pillow at point blank range.  Hardcore vets of Diablo and WoW are used to careful build planning, where to put points, how to construct the perfect character for just what they want to do.  The option is still there, but this time you get to pick from everything instead of being limited to just that one specialization.  Every gamer has had that moment where you get to a point in the story and you mutter “damn, if only I would have spec’d up in (blank) this would be so much easier.”  Well, now that lamented lost ability is only a mouse-click away.  Not a bad thing, in my opinion, but I could see it as nails on a chalkboard to some.

You’ve also got the ascending difficulty chain, which, it seems, Blizzard is more actively encouraging this time around.  I’m a seasoned gamer but I realize that to have the most fun with things, one generally stays away from difficulty settings named “Nightmare” or “Hell”, at least on the first playthrough, to keep things more enjoyable and less frustrating.  In DIII, these settings must be unlocked by completing the game at the difficulty below.  They’re also actively encouraging total completion by making it extremely difficult to hit the level cap within normal difficulty.  From what I can see this time around, it seems as though Blizzard has wisely geared the game toward this.  With every level I progress, it seems that the game scales in difficulty to match my new capabilities much better than any past release.  This keeps things challenging and doesn’t allow for the sheer dominance provided by a second-normal playthrough on DII.  Slightly less satisfying (because you can’t just romp about one-shotting things into oblivion) but definitely more engaging.  The increase in challenge feels organic.  Natural.

The main flaw is that out of the box with a level cap seems like a ploy for more money.  Yes, I understand the marketing of it.  This is the downside of what made WoW such a great game.  Once people reach the end of that challenge phase, they’re going to get bored.  And, oh, what’s this?  Uncle Blizz just showed up with some more shit for you.  Here, have Level 70.  Here, have a bit more content.  Here, maybe a few new classes will help you stick around longer.  It’s pure genius, really.  Our culture (meaning gamer culture, of course) is so devoted that, most times, we’ll buy whatever they’re selling, damn the cost.  We just want to get some more mileage out of the game we love.

Set items, socket runes, and other aspects of DII were left out specifically for this reason.  Can’t say I blame Blizzard for doing so.  I’ll be among the first in line for the expansion (of which, Blizz says, there will be many).  My main problem with DIII, and mainly with gaming in general at this point, is the marketing and selling of incomplete games for beaucoup bux with the foreknowledge that gamers will happily plunk down US$40 more on the additional material for the game they’ve already spent US$60 buying.  This trend is rampant and it will never stop.

That’s another rant for another day…

Is DIII fun?  Yes.  Is DIII worth your money?  Absolutely.  Will I give you my ID so you can play along with me?  Probably, but remember, I’m more of a single-player guy these days.  Don’t expect me to run with you every night.  I left the MMO world so that I wouldn’t have to plan my life around this stuff.

Another big question is “Will DIII run on my computer?”  The answer is yes, unless you’re running some 10-year-old shit box.  I’ve got a 4-year-old lappy running it just fine.  A little lag when the destruction gets heavy, but nothing too shocking.  I almost dropped 800+ on a new performance machine just because I thought the thing would crash my current computer.  I was pleasantly surprised to find that it runs and looks just fine, even though some of my settings are a bit lower than I would like.  If you’re in it for the game and not for the pageantry of graphics (as in, needing to see all shadows and every blade of freaking grass), then you’re good to go.  I’ll still probably end up picking up a new rig, but the ability to run DIII on my machine without issue has lengthened my time table significantly.

Bidula’s Last Word – 8.5/10  Get this game.  It’s fun as hell.

Keep fighting the good fight.

—end transmission—

Mass Effects, Mass Consequences

If you have any ounce of geek cred, you’re probably a fan of at least one sci-fi TV show or movie series. Wars, Trek, Galactica, Doctor Who, Firefly, Babylon 5, Farscape, Stargate, the list goes on and I know that you’ve watched at least one of these shows with some intensity. Even if high-tech space drama isn’t really your thing, you’ve probably watched some genre drama (Buffy, Angel, Lost, Walking Dead, etc.) with what is or could turn into an ensemble cast and you were really into it. You probably complained at some point because the episodes were intermittent or there weren’t enough seasons before it got cancelled or X character didn’t get enough screen time and they show too much of Y character. You may even think that it went on too long and they wound up beating a dead horse. These are the perils of genre drama fandom.

Now, have you ever wished you could interject in these shows? Have you ever wished that a particular scene could go a different way? Have you ever hoped and prayed for a character to change so you’d like them even more? Have you ever wished that you had some control over who lived and died? Have you ever wanted one character to punch that other really annoying character right in the face?
If you haven’t met yet, friend, I’d like to introduce you to the Mass Effect series.

It’s not a usual thing where I jump out for a video game as soon as it’s released. My only recent notable exception was Portal 2, but everyone needs Portal 2, and if you don’t, you’re a blood-sucking communist pig.

Mass Effect 3 was probably my most anticipated title of the year. More than Bioshock Infinite. More than Diablo III. I wanted ME3 because, the more I thought about it, I would essentially be buying season 3 of one of my favorite sci-fi TV shows.
The Mass Effect Series follows the ongoing adventures of Commander Shepard and the crew of his ship, the SSV Normandy, as they fly around and save the galaxy from a super-ancient enemy race known as The Reapers. Decent enough logline for a TV show pitch, right?
The original Mass Effect was gripping though it caught some flak by hard-core action gamers because the game is very (read: VERY) dialogue heavy and very character-driven. There’s quite a bit of mayhem along the way – shooting things, disintegrating people, blowing stuff up, battles against crazy blue psionic commando women, giant sand worms, and one particular robot space squid of doom – but there’s also a lot of political intrigue and moral quandary in which you can participate. You can choose a romantic interest (with an actual developing relationship, unlike some other games). You choose who lives or dies (well, let’s be frank, you choose who dies). You control your destiny and the shape of the galaxy by the time the game is over and you watch Shepard and his companions evolve from their former lives into known galactic heroes.

Mass Effect 2, same deal, improved combat system, even more character development both for Shepard and his companions. Many new faces appear, many old faces show up again, new threats arise, and old threats are presented in new ways. Again, you have the ability to control the fate of your companions as the game introduced loyalty missions corresponding to each character. Most of these missions helped to expand a particular characters background and drew you to become more attached to that particular character, not to mention the conversations you’ll probably wind up having with them on the Normandy during your time between missions. It also opens up new romantic possibilities, allowing you to pursue something now or stay true to your love from the first Mass Effect. Also, every choice you made in the first game has relevance here. If you decided to save X, X is back and has something to do with the plot. If X died in ME1, X is replaced by Y, who you may or may not know as well, and the story may play out differently for you than it did for the person who saved X or did X or didn’t do X. Your final ME1 save game file is imported and everything you’ve done along with it.

Then, we get to ME3. Slated to be the final Mass Effect game, ME3 takes into account tons of variables from both ME1 and ME2, if you played them, which you should have considering jumping right in to ME3 is like jumping on to a TV show when it’s in its final season and you haven’t done your proper homework.

Everyone you’ve ever met or helped or who ever ran with you ever ever is back in this game. Everyone important, anyway. That is, as long as they survived through ME1 and ME2 (very possible none of them could have). It’s a special treat as you play through, seeing all the old faces, seeing how people have changed and grown over the past three games. Again, much life and death, and much dramatic conclusion to be reached. I really can’t say more than that for fear of spoiling you. I don’t want to spoil you for anything in this series because it’s all so awesome (except maybe the ME3 ending, but don’t let that stop you from playing, it’s still REALLY EFFING GOOD).

Each mission in the Mass Effect Series plays out like one episode of a TV show. From the Pilot (Eden Prime in ME1) to the Finale (The Battle of Earth in ME3). Each has its own supporting cast, its own themes, and its own part to play in the overall storyline of the series.

For anyone out there looking for a show to latch on to seeing as most of the good ones are either over, soon to be season-ended, or currently on a long hiatus, forget Netflix for one second, dust off the ol’ Xbox, and get the Mass Effect Trilogy. It’s more well-written than most shows, the soundtrack and sound effects are killer, and the animation doesn’t look as crappy. Where something would obviously be after-effect’s in and look like garbage compared to the real actors, this is a video game, and it all goes together seamlessly.

Yes, the writing is killer. Yes, the voice acting is awesome. Yes, Martin Sheen plays one of the villains (ME2 and 3). Yes, this is totally worth your time.

If you were to purchase the Mass Effect Trilogy, it would require approximately 100 hours of your time. Not for straight story, but because you’ll want to do every little innocuous sidequest and use every possible dialogue option because of the treasures, both gameplay- related and character-related, you’ll uncover. Plotline only, you’d kick it around 75 hours or so, which is about three seasons worth of a TV show (coincidentally).

Right now, you can pick up ME1 and ME2 for practically peanuts. They’ll take you enough time (playing casually) that, by the time you’ve got your ideal save file for ME3 ready to rock, it’ll probably be less than $60.

One last thing… Was I disappointed in the ending? There’s been quite a bit of backlash on the internet about this one with people saying it was unsatisfying.
I feel satisfied. That’s all I’ll say. I’ll let you make your own judgement. This is not one of those LOST situations where the ending sucked the whole way ‘round. This is purely a matter of opinion.

Grandpa, tell me another story about the Sheperd…

BTW: Bidula’s Last Word on Mass Effect 3 – 10/10. All the way.

Keep fighting the good fight.

—end transmission— (Hackett out.)

Get Rich or Die Skyrim

Skyrim, for me, is long since over.

At first, I marveled at the level of detail put into everything; all those items, all those trade skills, all those dialogue choices, all those challenging dungeon crawles and random dragon battles. I liked the way you could simply ride around and ping something on your compass, follow it, discover it, pillage the hell out of it, and feel good about yourself as an adventurer. It was a legitimate challenge at some points during the lowbie levels to handle the quests you were arbitrarily being assigned.

Being a Fallout fan, I got a real kick out of the “random encounters” on the road – a pair of Thalmor escorting a prisoner, hunters chasing a deer, wolves hunting rabbits – much care went into the little details and this helps to elevate the game to the point of greatness. This may wind up being one of those games you’re telling your grandkids about. Granted, it’ll probably be in a phrase such as: “They just don’t make games like Skyrim anymore,” followed by the obligatory arrow-to-the-knee joke which they most certainly won’t understand.

I love open-world games. I love open-world RPGs even more. I love open-world RPGs with a free-form skill-up system as much as I would love an actual human child. At least, until I get bored with it and put it down for good. The game, not the child. Skyrim delivered on all counts, allowing me to take two distinct career paths with two unique characters. Each had its own fighting style, each had different “preferred” weapons (preferred meaning that I had the willpower to stick to one particular thing and not stray), each had its own stance on magic and moral outlook (again, more willpower and role-playing than game mechanics there).
If I wanted to, I could run halfway around the world in the opposite direction as soon as the game turned me loose into the world. I could have avoided every obligation and become a professional dungeon diver. I wouldn’t have progressed much and I would have died a lot at first, but the possibility was there. Every possibility was there. Every possibility was within my grasp the minute I was off the opening sequence track.

Therein lies my problem.

Since every possibility is, indeed, a possibility for the player and since there is no real restriction on class or skills, one could conceivably be all the things. You could be a plate-wearing, two-handed-axe-wielding, spell-casting assassin/theif/archer with ties to every hold, every guild, and every organization in Skyrim. You could, essentially, become the ultimate Munchkin (to use an archaic table-top gaming term). Do all, be all, one-shot all.
The main argument on most Skyrim forums to people with this complaint was: “It’s all in how you play the game. If you don’t want to be all the things, you don’t have to be all the things.”
True as this may be, it’s very difficult when playing a game you like to ignore the possibility of more quests, more content, more story, etc. Skyrim, being a tough game to want to put down, makes you want that additional content. Soon, even the most hardened “role-player” who only wants one path for their character will wander away and do something totally off-task. You fall in love with the world and with the great gear you accumulate and you just don’t want to start from scratch. It’s easier to have your Level 42 Warrior, the one with full Daedric Armor and retardedly overpowered alchemist-blacksmith loop weapons to simply decide they’re tired of bashing things about and they want to run off and join the Mage’s College. You have to cast a bit to gain access, so you do what’s necessary to essentially unlock the content, then you happily follow along with the quest giver’s instructions and dive into dungeons meant for casters to pursue and easily conquer them by reverting back to what it is you do best: bashing things about.

You’ll pardon my yawn.

You reach that top of the mountain (not the Throat of the World, I’m speaking figuratively) and look down realizing that you’ve made it here but there’s still “so much to do” down in the world. Having reached the end of the main story, you descend back into the realm and proceed to happily tromp from dungeon to dungeon, cheerfully frying everything in your path until it gets tiresome and boring. You get all the houses, you find all the daedric artifacts, you are the head of the Dark Brotherhood and Theives Guild, you’re the Arch Mage of the College of Winterhold (though your character has to know precisely dick about magic to actually gain that title), you’re the Thane of all nine holds, and you’re the Battlemaster of the Companions. Not to mention you’ve just slain Alduin and saved the world. What’s a Dragonborn to do? There are no new treasures to hunt because everything you pick up is going to pale in comparison to the crap you threw together from some ebony and daedra hearts and it’s all either costumes or garbage at that point.

This is where Skyrim lost me.

Open-world gaming is a double-edged sword.

Take GTA IV for instance. Even without expansion material, I spent tons of extra time in Liberty City because there was tons of stuff to do. Races, hidden jumps, hidden packages, insane stunt bonuses… not to mention the typical anarchy you can raise just by driving around town at top speed and mercilessly slaying pedestrians while evading the police. Not once was I bored, mainly because I could perpetrate random virtual acts of mass destruction at a whim. It’s a wonderful stress reliever and I still go back to play every once in a while even without purchasing the DLC.

Batman: Arkham City is another open-world that suffers after a while. Once you finish the story, all the side-quests, and find most of the (realistic) Riddler clues, the game is dead in the water. Sure, you can play through New Game + mode and up the difficulty, but you’re playing the exact same game over again. There are no choices you can make to change the outcome.

The Fallout series is probably the next good example. Made by the good people at Bethesda, home of the Elder Scrolls Series, the Fallout series has always involved more moral choices with consequences other than a bounty in a hold (which can be paid off and, at a point, WTF do you need with any more gold?). Plus, Fallout is more FPS, emphasis on the S. Sure, you can FPS bow and arrow your way through Skyrim (super fun, in my opinion), but your bow damage constantly increases. There are always dozens of arrows lying around. Get into Fallout and suddenly ammo for your favorite gun can become scarce or even impossible to find. Situations against multiple enemies can get very dire very fast if you don’t pack your gear accordingly, meaning multiple guns of multiple types and maybe even a close combat weapon or two just in case.

Where Skyrim fails for replay value (and it does, don’t kid yourself), the Diablo series consistently warrants it. It practically calls to you. I played Diablo II for almost five years, reinvigorating myself every time I could tell someone: “What? You’ve never played Diablo? Dude, you have to try this…”, setting them loose for more than fifteen minutes in the game, and sitting back and watching the addiction take hold. The infinitely re-structuring dungeons and stages… every replay having the same goals but with adjusted paths and destinations… every piece of loot different… every chest a constant mystery.

My next big purchase will be Diablo III, obviously, and I will be very happy upon its arrival as long as Blizzard didn’t change too much of the formula. The way I see it, the purchase of Diablo III will negate any necessity of a game purchase (barring the release of Mass Effect 3 and Bioshock: Infinite) due simply to occupied time and obsession.

Until then, I’ve laid down the mantle of Dovahkiin and have sent Skyrim to its final rest in Sovengard. Someday, I’ll probably pick it up and start from scratch again, but for now, it’s been too much too fast too soon. If they want to stay at the top of the heap for another year, Bethesda needs some SERIOUS DLC and fast. I’m talking deep DEEP DLC. Something to draw people like me back to it.

Until then, I have shouted my last Fus Ro Dah.

Keep fighting the good fight.

—end transmission—

Bidula’s Last Word: BioShock 2

Ah, Rapture.
The most glorious city at the bottom of the sea. Hell, the only city at the bottom of the sea. How I missed this submerged dystopia since last we met. The place is still as dank, dark, and leaky as I remembered. The only thing that’s changed is that, this time, it’s twice as crazy.

BioShock 2 is probably the first time I’ve anticipated a sequel so ravenously since Super Mario Bros. 3. The original BioShock, as you’ve seen, easily made my Ten Best Video Games of the Decade list, and with good reason.
BioShock was unique in that it was a first-person shooter with an extremely immersive story. One could easily get lost in the plot, sometimes only fighting off the hordes of splicers or beating down a Big Daddy so that you could grab that one tape recorder or see that one crazy piece of graffiti or get to that next radio message. If you’re anything like me, the plot and the atmosphere were the driving forces of the game with the excellent FPS action being a welcome vehicle to make things progress.

In a completely spoiler-free bit of story exposition (I’ve not finished the game, so I don’t know the whole thing), this takes place in 1968, almost 8 years since Jack (the player-character from the first BioShock) rolled through and did what he did. You are on what seems like the other, seedier, darker side of Rapture from the original adventure and many familiar names and faces pop up, sometimes post-mortem via diary entries. It’s nice to see so many familiar characters and hear so many familiar voices. There are some expositions and short blurbs that make the experienced Rapturite chuckle. I know I did.

BioShock 2 brings the same deep story and gloomy art-deco feel, this time with amped-up action. And, when I say amped-up, I mean amped-up. I’m probably about halfway through and I’ve already offed more splicers and Big Daddies than I did in the entirety of the first game.
This time, rather than being a “random” discoverer of the city of Rapture, you’re one of its marquee residents. You play as one of the very first Big Daddies, referred to throughout the game as Subject Delta. The big differences between you and the standard Bouncers and Rosies we all grew to love on our first trip to Rapture is that you have the ability to use multiple weapons, the ability to use plasmids, and the often-taken-for-granted ability of autonomous thought.
The first two weapons you can use are the weapons you wish you could have looted on your first trip down here, namely the Bouncer Drill (replacing the trusty old wrench as your chief melee weapon) and Rosie’s Rivet Gun. The rest of the weapons are equally beefed up and awesome looking. All are equivalents to the original BioShock weaponry, but somehow, a touch nastier. Wait until you see what they used to replace the crossbow. KA-THUNK! Heh heh heh…
Plasmids have changed a bit, but not much. All the old powers are here without much new. You still get your big three of Electro-Bolt, Incinerate, and Telekinesis. The main change to the plasmid system is the manner in which tonics are handled. Instead of using three different types of tonics, you now have one large 18-slot chart of tonic slots available for unlocking. There are some really good additions to the pool and, even when your slots are maxed out, you’ll be scratching your head over which ones you should use and which ones you should shelve.

One very notable change is the way in which gaining Adam, the substance needed to purchase plasmids, via Little Sisters is accomplished.
Previously, it was all about killing Big Daddies, then taking their Little Sisters on a rescue-or-harvest basis. Now, things are a bit more interesting.
Seeing as you are a Big Daddy yourself, the Little Sisters trust you. You can choose to adopt the girls and allow them to ride on your shoulder for their normal Adam retrieval duties. They will guide you to certain corpses (read: “angels, Daddy!”) which are ripe for Adam harvesting. While they’re working their needle-poking magic on the dead, splicers will flood the area trying to get their dirty junkie hands on your little one. Defense of the Little Sisters can be difficult in spots but, with some clever use of traps, plasmids, and security hacks, you’ll get through it. It’s actually kind of fun figuring out a strategy for each gathering point.
The funniest part about this new aspect is that, while the Little Sister is riding around on your shoulders, she periodically adds twisted little girl commentary. Lighting a splicer on fire with Incinerate prompted one to enthusiastically shout: “Yay! Marshmallows!” and electrocuting another prompted a giggly: “Look, Daddy, he’s dancing!”

Hacking has also changed from the play-pausing pipe dream-like mini-game to an action-oriented button timing affair. There are still auto-hacking devices, but the action-based hack system allows you to achieve bonuses for well-timed button pushing. You may find yourself trying to actively hack unless it’s extremely inconvenient. This game also introduces remote hack darts, fired from a small gun, which can allow you to peg a turret, duck around the corner, and worry about hacking it without staying in the line of fire. Yes, there’s still hacking buyouts with some machinery but, trust me, save your money. You’ll need it for First Aid and ammo.

New enemies include the Rumbler, a new design of Big Daddy with some new tricks up its sleeve, and the much touted Big Sister; a female variant which is essentially a Big Daddy crossed with a plasmid-wielding ninja and twice as tough. Like I said, save your money and buy some ammo.

BioShock 2 absolutely delivers. It’s everything I hoped for. If you’re going to pick this game up, I strongly recommend you play the first one before you do. If you’ve already played the first one, it might be worth it to make another run through Rapture the first time around to refresh your memory before you pick up the sequel.
I haven’t yet tried out the new multiplayer feature, but I plan on doing so soon. I don’t really think this game needed a multiplayer feature to be good, but, give the people what they want, I assume. It doesn’t take away from the story and can only add to the replay value.
Now, go to the store and pick up both of these games, would you kindly?

Bidula’s Last Word: 9.5/10

Bidula’s Last Word: The Decade’s 10 Best Video Games

10. Super Mario Galaxy (Nintendo, 2007, Wii)
Why not Sunshine, you might ask? Why not New Super Mario Bros for the Nintendo DS? What makes Super Mario Galaxy the best Mario game in the decade and what gives it the right to sit on this list?
Only because it was the single most innovative platformer of the last ten years.
Taking a concept and improving on it is something Nintendo has excelled at for almost three decades. When they had a chance to bring their biggest ticketed franchise over to the latest console, they couldn’t just make a normal 3D platformer. They’d already done that twice already. They needed a way to change it up.
Making Mario run around on three-dimensional objects with their own gravitational field? Check. Making players wonder how to reach that next object, relative to the gravity and physics of the surrounding celestial bodies? Check. Taking something as simple as run-and-jump and elevating it beyond a point it has ever been? Check.
Beyond all that, the game is insanely fun and challenging at the same time. Mastering Mario’s many types of jumps, bouncing off of corners, spinning into the stratosphere, and gaining a free-flight ability are all part of the awesomeness that awaits.
They also integrated the WiiMote in an innovative way, allowing it to act as a magnet to attract and a reticle to shoot the in-game collectable meteor bits, sometimes to great effect on the screen, sometimes just for show. Adding these additional elements plumbed (ha!) new depth and gave all future platformers something to strive for: perfection.

9. Portal (Valve Corporation, 2007, 360, XBLA, PC)
The cake is a lie.
If you haven’t had the chance to play Portal, sit down, spend the couple bucks to download it on XBLA, and give it a good run through.
A puzzle game that pretends to be a first person shooter, or the other way around, is an awesome concept. The small team that put Portal together to be included in the Orange Box with Half-Life 2: Episode 2 and Team Fortress 2. Though TF2 is still enjoying some intense popularity, Portal quickly became the main attraction and the real reason you bought the Orange Box, even with the second part of a highly-anticipated sequel on board.
With some great voice acting portraying the seemingly cold and uncaring GLaDOS, the insane computer who is watching your every move within the Aperture Science Testing Facility, you find yourself laughing even when you’re frustrated because you can’t finish the puzzle at hand. Plus, she gives a killer cake recipe near the end. The turrets have some absolutely awesome dialogue as well.
The physics of the game are incredible. Being able to open a portal on any flat surface in any direction helps to achieve a number of awesome effects and requires some creativity to figure out a solution to some problems.
It also has one of the best ending songs of the decade with GLaDOS cheerfully singing the written report she’s making in reference to your performance and the performance of the Aperture Science Handheld Portal Device.
Don’t even bother with the whole Orange Box. Download this and be done with it. You don’t need that other trash stinking up your Portal. And I mean that double-entendre.

8. Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater Series (Neversoft, 1999 – 2009, All Platforms)
When I say all platforms, I mean all platforms. The Tony Hawk video game franchise is something which is storied. From the original Playstation version in 1999 (I know, it’s not technically this decade, but the majority of the series was, so suck it) with ports leaking into Dreamcast and even N64 territory, up through the current Tony Hawk’s Ride for 360 and PS3, this game has always been active and awesome.
Personally costing me countless sleepless nights and horrifying thumb calluses which I still have to this day (actually called Tony Hawk calluses among some of my friends), this game helped transition skateboarding from the 90s into the new millennium by showing people how difficult skateboarding, even fantasy skateboarding at times, can be. It introduced a new generation of kids to the true pro generation of skaters such as the titular Tony Hawk, Bob Burnquist, Bucky Lasek, and even Bam Margera to an extent. It prompted some of the younger children playing the game to run out, grab a board, and take it to the streets. Tony Hawk games, for all their addictive nature, were, in the opinion of your humble narrator, instrumental in inspiring a new brood of extreme athletes.
When it first came out, the only other skateboarding game I could think of was Skate or Die for the NES, and I remembered how much it sucked. It took a friend from out of town to sit me down in front of a PS1, jam a controller into my hand, and get me well on my way to becoming the dominant Tony Hawk Pro of my particular postal district.
With every iteration came new features, new nuances of skating, new modes, new courses, and new fun. Even now, Tony Hawk Ride, though panned by critics, introduced a new skateboard controller which responded to motion. Pretty sick in theory, but apparently not yet perfected enough to be good.
It was also one of the first game series to offer serious customization, from boards to skateparks, in any significant way. Eventually, having the ability to sandbox around levels and careen through the areas in search of the best trick spots was the greatest thing. Stringing combo after combo after combo was a point of pride for my gaming clique on just about every incarnation of the game. I still hold the record as the only person I know to have gotten a 2500000+ (that’s two-point-five million plus) combo on the carnival level of Tony Hawk 3.
Tony Hawk has since influenced every extreme sports game on the market. When you have a system as awesome as the original Tony Hawk package, you can’t really argue with it. Often imitated, never duplicated. Tony owes me some new thumbs.

7. Marvel vs. Capcom 2 (Capcom, 2000, Arcade, Dreamcast, XBX, 360, PS2, PS3)
The battle for survival unfolds.
As the follow-up to one of the greatest arcade fighting games and the source of many a fanboy’s uncontrollable orgasm, MvC2 claims the spot of greatest fighting game of the decade. With characters from a previous decade’s worth of fighting games (both shitty and spectactular) brought to us by our friends at Capcom all rounded up and jammed into one sleek little package, there was no doubt that from the moment this machine was revealed in your local arcade/movie theater/generic gaming area, you would be pumping your hard-earned quarters into the slot to try and unlock all the still-unrevealed mystery characters behind the wealth of questions marks on the selection screen. When you weren’t actively playing, you would most certainly have your 50 cents up on the glass claiming that you got next.
With a smorgasboard of characters both new and old combining with the ability to make three-character tag teams, matches could be extended and fierce, often running through the end of the 99 second time limit and being judged by the amount of energy both sides had left. Fights were much more intense with this game than they ever had been in 2D fighting. Strategy was a major key. Choosing the right squad and which special abilities they’d use when tagged or summoned for the three-character hyper-combo became the definitive way of gaining a leg up on your competition. If your three-way (heh heh…) didn’t jive, your team would have a much tougher time winning.
Even my wife loves this game. So much that, when we unburied our Dreamcast upon moving but couldn’t find the game disc, she promptly went to eBay and bought the cheapest working one she could find. When it came up for download on XBLA just this summer, we downloaded it and played for 3 days straight.
This is the definitive fighter. The hell with Street Fighter 3. The hell with Mortal Kombat and all it’s garbage. This fighter beats all comers and stands proudly at the king of the hill for the decade.

6. Final Fantasy X (Squaresoft, 2001, PS2)
With a next-gen graphics update as well as fully spoken dialogue, FFX changed the way RPGs could tell a story as well as changing the way it could affect a player.
X was the first game in the Final Fantasy series to incorporate a seamless character transfer from world map to battle system to cinematic, replacing the old switcheroo we’d seen many times in games past. This gave the game a better flow and allowed for more believability.
Because of its true, flowing play, watching the game felt like watching a computer animated feature. Ask my mother who, as I was playing it while still living at home in college, would beg me not to play when she wasn’t around so that she could watch the compelling story unfold.
The addition of voices to the normally powerful Final Fantasy method of storytelling grabbed you by the heart and would not let go. You became involved in the tentative love story between Tidus and Yuna even more than you had within the Cloud/Tifa/Aerith triangle in VII back in the 90s (I’m sure I’ll get debated on that point, but I’m being honest).
It was one of the shortest in the series, easily beaten within a 40 hour window, but side-quests and unlocks as well as searching for parts of the background story became a great lengthener. Sure, the world of Spira wasn’t quite as big as previous FF iterations, but it was excellent for what it was.
Also, the sphere grid system brought up the idea of characters crossing classes within the same game and contributed to flexibility in many Squaresoft and other games to come, including a big time carry over to Final Fantasy XII’s license system.
In addition to being graphically amazing and including a heart-wrenchingly wonderful story, it also allowed you to do something no other Final Fantasy had done before: break the 9999 damage barrier. Tell me it wasn’t sweet the first time you summoned Bahamut and you saw that great flare-breathing bastard smack a bitch for 10k+. Aww, yeah.
When Yuna’s standing on the dock at the end, whistling into the ocean, I always get choked up. I’m not usually a crier when it comes to stuff like this, but I wept my eyes out the first time I watched that ending. Like a little bitch. I’m not ashamed to admit it, either.

5. Wii Sports Series (Nintendo, 2006 – 2009, Wii)
Both Wii Sports and Wii Sports Resort showed us how to have fun while playing video games again.
While I’ve heard from many non-gamers that they’re frustrated with the advances gaming has taken as far as the controller is concerned, Nintendo busted out the Wii console aimed at bringing their old two-button-one-d-pad audience into the next generation not by making things more complicated, but by simplifying.
Where the gaming industry was losing interest by continuously providing anime-styled epic adventures and an ever-growing library of faceless first-person shooters which may not appeal to all audiences, Nintendo came along and said: “Hey, you guys wanna go bowling instead?”
The Wii Sports games brought back the idea of family gaming, allowing everyone from little kids to grandparents a chance to play and have a good opportunity to win.
Better bowlers bowled better games. Better golfers could chip for a birdie over the inexperienced gamer. Boxers could stick and move. My wife could take her vast softball experience and soundly thrash me in baseball. For once, the non-gamer could get the other hand.
Sure, there are the dicks out there who don’t play fair and won’t get off their lazy asses to stand and pretend to throw a bowling ball. They’ll just sit there and casually flick the Wiimote in such a way to grant them a strike every time. This negates the entire point of the game and these people should be slapped and possibly have their pasty-skinned asses pushed (or forklifted if necessary) out of the house to get some fresh air.
Wii Sports Resort added even more events and better motion control with the WiiMotion Plus accessory. If it didn’t feel real before, it’ll sure as hell feel real now. Especially when you re-experience the horror of your off-the-tee slice in a virtual setting. Just try not to throw the club at the screen.
What was once just a demo for the Wii’s innovative motion controls became a family fun activity and really brought gaming back to a level of more friendly competition out of a world of teabagging and pwning. You may have been scratching your head at the beginning of this entry, but you should now realize how much this deserves a spot on this list.

4. BioShock (2k Games, 2007, 360, PC, PS3)
Quite possibly the safest choice for one of the best games of the decade. BioShock is a true mind-blower in just about every way possible.
If you’ve never played it, get your ass out to the store and buy this game as quickly as possible. Trust me, this is one game you don’t want to order from GameFly. You’re going to end up replaying it at least once and will probably get a hankering to pick it up again soon after.
With a story as rich and deep as the sea in which it takes place and a crazy mash-up of styles that could be classified as deco-punk (a combination of art deco and steampunk) which fits that story perfectly, this is one you will not be able to put down.
BioShock was one of the few first-person shooters where you will be almost compelled to stop and pay attention to the story rather than just blasting your way through the entire game in a few hours. The plot twists have as much of an impact as a movie and will leave you in disbelief.
It’s also one of the few first-person shooters that makes you think about things other than, well, shooting. With the ability to hack machines and turn them to your advantage and Plasmid abilities (essentially psychic powers) in addition to traditional and not-so traditional firearms, there are more creative and sometimes more effective ways of taking out your enemies. Trust me, you’ll want to conserve that ammo as much as possible (don’t forget you can re-loot your crossbow bolts, kids) because you’re gonna need it in the end.
Easily the most innovative first-person shooter of the decade, if not one of the most innovative games period, BioShock is certainly a must have in your collection. With BioShock 2 due in early 2010 and slated to be one of next years biggest sellers, make sure you get your hands on this instant-classic while you can (and while it’s still relatively cheap and available used).

3. World of Warcraft (Blizzard Entertainment, 2004, PC)
Yeah, I had to put it here. I admit, I was not prepared.
Like it or not, the MMO world exploded with the November 2004 release of World of Warcraft. Yes, I purchased the game during the opening week. Yes, I played for almost five years. I was tenured. It was only within this very year that I decided to give it all up and run away from Azeroth, never to look back.
Well, I look back, but I won’t go back.
World of Warcraft brought the World of Reality to its knees as it continuously steamrolled over every shred of competition. Gamer after gamer joined the growing snowball and it still holds true today. Millions of players around the world log in daily for their dose of WarCrack.
What was thought to be a safe place to flitter about for “casual gamers” (as opposed to career ones) quickly turned into a cemetery of addictions and time ill-spent gaming online to no end. Planning and grouping raids. Timing runs. Scheduling life around a particular world or guild event. Dominating your every free moment with material grinding for professions or power-running guild lowbies through instances.
Is it all that bad, you may ask? Is WoW, indeed, the Devil Itself? Nay nay, I say to you.
For all of its bad notes, World of Warcraft is one of the most important games of the decade, if not for sheer player number and dedication, then for the fact that it is the one true consistently expanding MMO experience. Blizzard learned from the mistakes of the games that had come before and built Azeroth on the dying corpses of previous also-rans.
They found what was right and what was wrong with the flood of MMOs. Even as new competition would pop up, they would analyze and learn from it. They are the MMO Borg (if I may counter one geeky reference with an even geekier one), absorbing everything good and spitting out the bad as it rolls on across the gaming universe. They created one fairly simple and, for the most part, user friendly interface and continued to improve on it, even though some may call such improvements detriments simply due to what they’re used to.
It is, truly, an ever expanding world with new areas, quests, and enemies opening with every patch, sometimes long before the giant expansion sets (of which there will soon be three) drop. They’re going as far as to revamp their original world, Azeroth, as an entirely different map for an entirely different leveling experience and adding two more races to their already impressive collection of 10.
It is such a juggernaut that it warranted and entire in-game animated episode of South Park. How funny was that shit, by the way?
I was staved off from actually buying new games for a long time due to my obsession with WoW. That, in itself, makes this game one of the best of the decade.

2. Guitar Hero and Rock Band Series (Harmonix, Neversoft, 2005 – 2009, PS2, PS3, 360, Wii)
Say what you will about fake-bands. These two franchises have changed the industry.
You may be incensed at me for naming both of these franchises as games of the decade on the same entry. What you need to realize is that one wouldn’t exist without the other which wouldn’t have evolved without the other.
Guitar Hero coming on to the scene in 2005 was something incredible and new. Though the Japanese had similar rhythm games dominating their arcade and home scenes since the early 90s and DDR was, at the time, insanely popular in the States, Guitar Hero brought something along which none of the other rhythm games had before. Real music
DDR may have offered a few remixes and some 80s pop before that, but most of it was J-Pop or Techno Trash. Guitar Hero was the first to feature real rock tracks – real popular rock tracks – even though the first iteration was mostly a series of well-played covers by a studio band. But, it sounded real enough.
Later, in 2007, as the popularity of Guitar Hero grew, Harmonix split from the franchise and created Rock Band, a combination of elements from Guitar Hero as well as singing and drumming games, to provide a more immersive multiplayer experience. Being backed by MTV gave them the ability to recruit actual artists to their cause, contributing the actual tracks instead of just the rights. Neversoft countered with Guitar Hero: World Tour, including the same elements and a larger drum kit. With the advent of things like XBLA and the WiiShop, both games started flooding the market with downloadable content. Rock Band came up with the idea of allowing their additional games to be used within the same game system (Rock Band and Lego Rock Band tracks can be downloaded to your hard drive and played on the main Rock Band 2 platform). People got serious about it, including me, who was gifted a pricey “fake” bass for his birthday right as he decided to make the jump to Expert mode and also including my “band-mate” Budda who I helped to purchase an Ion drum set (which can actually be used as synth-drums with an attachment).
With the Beatles, Aerosmith, AC/DC, Van Halen, and Metallica all contributing entire solo games of music to these two franchises, the future can only go up from here.
It may be fake band, but for those of us who have no idea how to play a rock instrument, it’s the closest thing we’re gonna get to jamming on the songs we love.

1. Grand Theft Auto III & IV Series (Rockstar Games, 2001-2009, PS2, XBX, GBA, DS, X360, PS3, PSP, PC)
Is there anyone playing video games out there who hasn’t played at least one iteration of the GTA series at some point in their life? Better yet, is there someone out there who hasn’t at least played a game influenced in one way or another by the GTA series? I defy you to find one.
Though the series found its humble origins in the late-90s, with groundbreaking open-world game play and earth-shattering ultraviolence from an overhead perspective, it was GTA III that truly got the ball rolling in 2001 and brought the series to legendary status.
GTA III was the beginning of something new – a gaming experience which would be directed by the classic mission-giving NPCs in the game, but would be ultimately and completely controlled by the player. You could completely ignore the brutal missions to perform even more brutal or insane acts on your own.
This was also the first game where you were not penalized for killing innocent bystanders or other normally helpful characters. Nothing compared to beating an old lady to death in front of the police station, jacking a sports car, and leading the police on a lengthy chase around Liberty City, opening fire until they broke out the National Guard to stop me (that’s six-stars for those of you playing along at home). It was fun and it was an incredible way to let off steam after a hard day. Still is, really.
Former Lawyer (disbarred, in case you hadn’t heard) and notorious enemy to gamer-kind, Jack Thompson, slammed the series from III onward. He described the proliferation of these games as “Pearl Harbor 2”, slamming not only the cultural impact but also as a racial slur against Japan-based Sony. He called the GTA series “murder simulators” and condemned both the adults who played it and the adults who would buy it so that their children could play it. There has yet to be a link established between a rise in real-world violence and the wide distribution of GTA games.
Though it did bring a new brand of ultraviolence to the home console, the GTA series also allowed for incredible industrial breakthroughs in graphics, processing, physics, and most notably the introduction of celebrity voices for video game parts. With most of the first chapter in the III saga being voiced by the cast of the Sopranos, it suddenly became cool for real actors to get involved in gaming. It added more depth to games when it wasn’t just some third-tier voice actor whose skills were relative to a plank of wood as far as emotion. It made you feel like this world around which you were riding and causing havoc was a real place, no matter how farfetched the mission goals were.
Beyond the voices came the soundtrack. The radio stations have always been the best part of the game. Riding around San Andreas listening to gangsta rap in the games early 90s LA setting made me remember the hours I wasted watching MTV when it actually played videos. Rolling around Vice City blasting hair metal and 80s pop or Liberty City in GTA IV tuned in to classic rock, the game keeps you bobbing your head and makes your foot (thumb) just as heavy as it would be in real life if you heard the right song at the right time. As with the celebrity voices, GTA was probably the first series to really attract the attention of the mainstream recording industry to video games.
With GTA IV now setting the bar for the concept of continual gaming by offering two downloadable mission packs for the same city (including new places, vehicles, weapons, and features) which seamlessly integrate with the original product, something unheard of in the scope with which Rockstar delivered, this series is pushing the envelope again.
Sure, most games don’t even profess to be anything like GTA, but they have all been influenced by the way Rockstar and the next-gen GTA series have consistently driven the industry by setting trends and paving the way for breakthroughs that have us arriving at the end of this first millennial decade still enamored with consoles as a whole.

Bidula’s Last Word – I MAED A GAM3 W1TH Z0MBIES 1NIT!!!1

I have been skeptical of Microsoft’s Indie Game program for the 360 since its inception.

I wasn’t sure what sort of garbage would start turning up if you let the world make video games. How many half-baked bullshit ideas would surface? How many crap games would inexplicably float to the top of the pile, showing off excellent screen shots and delivering on absolutely nothing? How many dumb and repetitive ideas would be presented?
At first, I was convinced that my apprehension was righteous. I would scan through the indie titles in the “most downloaded” section and be treated to the sight of such gems as “Fart Machine – includes 50 different fart effects!”, “Math Tutor”, and approximately 3000 different synth-drum programs so that those of us with a Rock Band bent could pretend we were actually making music.
Though I’m sure there were some gems, I largely left the library undisturbed. I didn’t even bother looking because I felt that there would be nothing good buried under all of that shit.

Then, recently, I started giving indie games more of a chance.

It started with a few awesome flash games, most of them available at including Demolition City, Test Pilot, and Clockwords. These have been my most recent obsessions and have helped me come to the conclusion that indie game creation is a marvelous thing. Why wait for the big companies to try and shove the latest ultra-realistic epic down my throat when there’s plenty of fun to be had in 2-D with simple concepts and clever puzzles? FPS is only fun for so long, I have to take long breaks between RPG Epics that devour my time, and WoW (for me) is played out. I needed something more. I looked to the independent media because anything free and fun, especially in this economy, is well worth the search.

My faith in indie games renewed, I started looking through the X-Box Live Arcade indie games pile again. A few drum machines were still there and almost deterred me from continuing my search for something cheap and fun. I was about to back out of the menu when a game title grabbed my eye.


The title was written on the card in blaring white 8-Bit letters on a black background.
I chuckled. I was intrigued. I decided to check out the screenshots. Looked like a fairly solid game graphically.
I paid my dollar (80 MSP) and hit start thinking I had nothing to lose. For a dollar, I had no idea what I would gain.

Z0MB13S is absolutely awesome.
It’s a 2-Joystick Shooter which harkens back to the days of haunting mall arcades and playing rounds of Smash-TV when the line for Street Fighter II or Mortal Kombat was too long.
You’re set in the center of an open field and zombies start to spawn all around you. You’ve got to shoot and avoid, often jamming the joysticks enthusiastically, to blow away the encroaching hordes.
Power-ups materialize in the form of 4-bit icons, looking out of place but awesome for a game with fair graphics, and offer about a dozen different methods of undead disposal.
From the beginning, it has you laughing. From the l33t-sp34k title card of the game (same as the box) to the soundtrack of the first level – a slow punk song describing the simple objects of the game with a chorus that announces “I made a game with zombies in it!” – its amazingly entertaining.
The game is challenging, as well. As the numbers of the horde increase, you start to feel the pressure, moving around the screen and blasting in every different direction. Different enemies show up through different stages (not all zombie related), each with a different pattern of movement and toughness level. This isn’t what makes the game truly challenging, however.
As you find out when the soundtrack of the first level reaches its chorus, this game uses the surface under your character to flash large messages and introduce different effects. From large 4-bit font words to pure epilepsy inducing black and white and colored flashes, which can get rather distracting. Add to that dance-hall style lights from the edge of the screen while being surrounded by dozens of enemies coming in from every direction and you’re bound to lose a life or two.
I think the way the soundtrack contributes is probably the best thing about this game, though, going from slow punk to metal to an instrumental interlude and even into techno before the game is over. Each stage has its own background, its own effects, and its own enemies to go along with the particular music. The soundtrack is limited, however, which means so are the stages. When you reach the end of the track list (a remix of the first level song), you’ve reached the end of the game. Potentially, the whole thing takes about 15 minutes to reach the very end, if you survive. Perfect, bite-sized, and fun.
The game also incorporates 4-player co-op mode and does not work through LIVE but can be incredibly fun if played by 4 people in the same room.

If you’re looking for a cheap thrill, this is it. Get the game W1TH Z0MB13S IN1T!!!11!1

Bidula’s Last Word: 9.5/10

I defy you not to get the theme song stuck in your head.

—end transmission—