Welcome to The Sandbox, a new weekly feature in which readers get a special look at how the GamerNode staff spends its precious gaming time. Every Saturday staff members will reveal what they’ve been playing throughout the past week and what their gaming plans are for the weekend.
Variety is the name of the game this week, with nearly 20 different titles getting some attention. Mass Effect 3 and The Walking Dead seem to be the heavy hitters, though, which make sense given the new ending DLC and latest episode release, respectively.
Civilization V: Gods and Kings
The year is 600 BC. The Romans and I (The Japanese) recently came to peace terms after a short and highly profitable war (for me). Julius Caesar was foolish enough to publicly denounce me and then try to take my gem mines in southern Osaka — he severely underestimated my military might. Before long, I moved my garrisons of samurai to decimate his pathetic excuse of an army. After I pushed him back, I considered marching on Rome but I realized in order for my religion to grow I needed to contain my aggression. So I opted for amicable, and heavily one-sided, peace talks instead.
Since the war’s end, Romans are slowly becoming more accepting of Kemism. Founded in Kyoto around 800 BC, Kemism is the second oldest in the world. Its tenets are simple: rivers are sacred, war can be just, and greed is good. It is already the prominent faith in two city-states, Milan and Lhasa, as well as the great nation of India. At this rate, Kemism could be the world’s dominant religion, which would suit me quite well. After all, it is my duty as the leader of Japan to take my nation to the top.
Although we are still a fledging nation, I believe we will someday house the most phenomenal monuments the world has ever seen. We already have the world’s greatest library in Tokyo and the Oracle at Kobe, but our ambition knows no bounds. I want our cities to be filled with architecture that challenges the beauty of the gods and our men to be as wise as the jungle is dense.
Enough daydreaming, I have to focus on expansion. My people need more room to roam and I hear rumors of lands beyond the eastern sea. I think I will send scouts to check it out. I should send some archers as well; can never be too careful, especially with barbarians running rampant these days.
Obviously I had to try out the new ending to Mass Effect 3 this week, and that led to a few rounds of multiplayer with the new maps that BioWare added since launch. I haven’t played in a few months, so the new free material was a suitable excuse to fire it up again and spend a couple of hours taking Earth back. I’m generally happy with what BioWare has done with the game and will probably kill a few more hours with the multiplayer in the days ahead.
When away from my home, my go-to portable title for the last few months has been Resident Evil: Revelations on the 3DS. I’m still poking my way through the unlockable “Raid Mode.” I’m 30 hours into it and consider it to be the best game on the platform, but having unlocked just about everything in it, it’s approaching time to pop in my unused copy of Metal Gear Solid: Snake Eater 3D. I’ve got to get more use out of that extra thumbstick accessory I bought for my 3DS, now don’t I?
With Guild Wars 2, Ghost Recon Online and The Secret World all in beta, they’ve been gobbling up the remainder of my time lately, and that’s going to continue right through the weekend.
I’m in motion control hell, and it might be amazing. Steel Battalion is an atrocious mech shooter, and a fantastic simulation of disorienting tank combat. Resident Evil: The Umbrella Chronicles could be the B-movie game I’ve always wanted, because giant scorpion on a train. And Wesker’s voice acting has never been more “all your base are belong to us.” All best enjoyed with company, ironically or otherwise.
After wrapping up Ratchet and Clank: Size Matters (don’t hate, it cost $2) and replaying Arkham City and Luigi’s Mansion, I started Chrono Trigger for the DS. If I have time I’m going to get through a bunch of that. With the second episode of The Walking Dead coming to PSN on Friday, I’m going to replay episode one and then hopefully get through episode two by the end of next week.
I’d really like to play Bastion, but I’m not sure whether the roomie will let me download it to his 360. I’d love to have time to start up either Final Fantasy VII, Final Fantasy VII: Crisis Core, or The Legend of Dragoon on my PSP, but I just started a new gig this week and we’re shooting for the next eight weeks, so I’m going to be crazy busy.
Oh! I’m also replaying Crash Team Racing whenever I only have a few minutes to sit down with my PSP. Can you tell I just got my PSP last week?
Right now, Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning has basically claimed my 360. There’s just so much to do in that game it’s hard to keep up. Right now I’m traversing the Plains of Erathell in the hopes of completing the Travelers’ faction quests, then it’s off to Emaire to meet up with Alyn Shir and continue my quest. If I happen to be away from my computer, then I’ll be taking over more of the 17 kingdoms in Pokemon Conquest. What a pleasant surprise Conquest is: turn-based strategy at its finest, plus Pokemon! What could be better?
I’ve been playing Disney’s Brave, and although I’ll likely be done with it before the weekend, it will have to suffice as the extent of my gaming entertainment this time around, as I’ll be playing the go-to-two-cousins’-weddings-back-to-back-at-opposite-ends-of-New-York-(state) game on Saturday and Sunday, which will involve more driving and celebrating than my video games can handle. As for Brave, it’s, you know, a video game based on an animated Disney film, which doesn’t mean it’s automatically terrible, but does mean that it targets a certain audience.
What’s good is that I don’t dread playing it, and its hub world, modest visuals, and straightforward design remind me of the Nintendo 64 era – a wonderful time in gaming. Perhaps it makes things feel a bit “lighter” like I remember that period being, but I also find myself wondering what is actually appealing about the game. I dig the quick right-stick archery, the dumb-as-dirt (you know, for kids) puzzles make me laugh, and I like that it includes some slightly more sophisticated mechanics like unlocking skills with gold coins and letting the player switch between elemental weapon charms to more effectively kill certain enemies and open paths forward. It seems great for kids… plus I get $8 off the movie. I’ll probably go see it with mah girly now; yay for cross-promotion!
I think it’s time to finally crack open my still-sealed copy of Max Payne 3. I loved the film noir style of Max Payne 2, but I’m excited to see what direction Rockstar has decided to take the series. Plus, my last experience with the Max Payne name was that horrible Mark Wahlberg movie, so I’m ready to make that a distant memory. He should really just stick to talking teddy bear films.
I’m going to be returning to Team Fortress 2 this weekend. The new Pyromania update has added a new game type and map, as well as a veritable smorgasbord of new weapons for my favorite class – the Pyro. I’m also looking forward to the inevitable flood of new players brought in by all the Pyro news… your QQs and rage quits shall warm my heart and soul! Oh, and if I don’t nab at least three new hats this weekend, I’m going to burn Seattle and Valve HQ to the ground.
In between, I’ll be sinking my teeth into The Walking Dead: Episode 2. I’m only an hour or so in to the new episode, and it has already blown me away. The level of presentation in The Walking Dead is much higher than anything Telltale has done before, and the decisions I’ve already been tasked with have been both urgent and morally difficult. My choices have turned old friends against me, but may have also saved us all from certain death. I’m really excited to see how the story progresses, but I don’t want to rush through and suffer another long wait for the next episode.
I’ve put in a fair share of Mass Effect 3 time this week. Since my game time has been slowed in recent months, I wanted to make sure I had finally beaten ME3 before the release of the extended cut. Also, being the perfectionist that I am, I made sure to play the heck out of the multiplayer so I could earn 100 percent galactic readiness. When I first beat the game, I was confused as hell until I check out the Indoctrination Theory, which I had thought could be an explanation in the first place. I fell in love with it… then I played the Extended Cut and watch that get ripped to shreds. The new ending is better in terms of a face-value finale where you see what happens, but in doing so removed the underlying brilliance that could have been if BioWare had supported IT.
Despite beating the game twice (I played from the Cerberus base and on Narrative difficulty for the EC), as I mentioned before I had time for the multiplayer, which is, hands down, one of my favorite co-op modes of all time. Mixing all of the classes, powers, and races makes for a ton of fun experimentation, and getting credits to buy packs actually doesn’t feel like as much a chore as it has been in other games I’ve played. It’s far more strategic and varied than most other co-op games I’ve played, and it’s also a whole lot of fun.
As for what’s on tap this weekend, I look to take on and beat The Walking Dead: Episode 2 – “Starved for Help.” Episode 1 was a pleasant surprise that had everything fans love from the comic and put it in a great old-school adventure game format. Now I’ll get to see just how deeply the choices I’ve made trickle down into the successive episode, and I’ll face even more life-or-death decisions. With problems both internally and externally numbering way more than zombies, will the group splinter? Can Lee keep them together? I’m looking forward to finding out.
If BioWare had given us a multiplayer component in the first Mass Effect I wouldn’t have touched it. Mass Effect, to me, was terribly lacking in its actual tactile control. If it weren’t for the characters and universe BioWare had created, I doubt I would have finished it at all. This week I’ve been playing a lot of Mass Effect 3 - not for its stories or characters (though the Extended Cut DLC did make me go back to replay the ending) but for its multiplayer. Although its predecessor made many improvements (despite streamlining a little too much), Mass Effect 3 has made the series fun to play on a purely tactile level. Mass Effect 3 is possibly the most fun I’ve ever had playing wave-based cooperative multiplayer.
Having all of the unlockables handed out randomly (the packs reminding me, in equal parts, of the thrill and disappointment of Pokemon card booster packs) may not be to everyone’s taste, but here’s the thing: I play not just for the promise of credits and booster packs, but for the simple joy of playing it. I was among those who raised an eyebrow and rolled my eyes when they announced the multiplayer for this game, but kudos to BioWare for making a multiplayer mode that’s actually worth playing.
On the flip side of my gaming coin this week is Dark Souls. What can I say about Dark Souls? Probably nothing that hasn’t already been said a hundred times before, often laced with profanities. Dark Souls is hard. It’s also strangely absorbing, with visceral and satisfying combat and enemies that demand patience, restraint and thought. It’s gratifying to play a game that demands so much of a player, and facing that demand there’s only one thing I can really do: give my all. Like Super Meat Boy or Trials HD before it, besting Dark Souls has become a personal challenge, one I’m only too happy to take head on.
I’m told the game has a fair amount of background story, but past my current quest to ring two bells, I’ve no idea what’s going on. That’s fine, though. I enjoy embedded narrative. The thing that strikes me about Dark Souls is just how… well… dark it is. They called Dragon Age a dark fantasy. Ha! In the 20 hours I’ve spent in Dark Souls I’ve crawled through the wastes of what seems to have been a great civilization brought low. The few human characters I meet are either insane or speak in hushed voices. The world of Dark Souls is clearly a crap place to live, but it’s a great place to explore.