What We’re Playing – May 25
The weekend is upon us and it’s time to play some videogames. Here’s what a few of us have been playing away from the office this week.
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
Skyrim has its hooks in. They’ve pierced my skull and won’t let me concentrate on much else. I’ve often been dismissive of high quality graphics when favoured over a well written narrative, but Skyrim’s tale is so ingrained in the natural beauty of the Holds that it has become impossible to compliment the game without mentioning it first and foremost. The manner in which Skyrim winds its saga is uncomfortable and overly segmented. The rivers and mountains, however, are seamless and smooth; they glide into each other without mumbled sentence or jarring load screen.
When Bethesda wrote the script for Skyrim they did so to tell the story of the Dragonborn and the Civil War in the North. This was achieved with the dexterity of a poorly thought out videogame. However, when creating the tale of a mythical land they showed the passion, vision and clarity of heart on par with Tolkien. This is not simply the fluke of great art design, this is one of the greatest examples of storytelling in videogames.
For one reason or another I became strangely fixated on Dead Island last fall. Zombie games have obviously become more ubiquitous than I’d think any of us would like, but something about an open world tropical resort populated with the undead struck a chord with me. Setting the so-called zombie apocalypse atop an unconventional setting isn’t exactly new – George Romero started it with his masterpiece, Dawn of the Dead – but there’s something uniquely surreal about the crystal blue ocean juxtaposed with the bikini-clad terrors of Techland’s title.
Following the first few quests and a couple solid hours I’m not wholly convinced of Techland’s ability to handle the sun drenched version of the end of days. The coupling of zombies with the pampered resort style life is perfect for schlock, commentary, and other self-aware hilarity. However, to this point, and greatly to my dismay, Techland has played it infuriatingly straight. The developer wants us to feel for these survivors, but I’m not feeling overly sympathetic for the cliched man who kneels in a pool (quite literally) of his own family’s blood. Still, without the risk of burning my admittedly pale white frame, I’ll continue to trudge through these sands, because, my god, I do love rifling through other people’s luggage.
Mass Effect 3
Strangely, I wasn’t super hyped for Mass Effect 3. I adored the second game, and I never for one second thought I’d miss out on the third title, but I wasn’t desperate to play it. I couldn’t tell you why – the second game is one of my favourite games of all time, and characters like Jack, Garrus and Tali rank up there with the best. I think it might be because the series has never been instantly gratifying. You need to invest time before you get to the really good stuff. Not a lot of time, 5 hours perhaps, but enough to put you off playing a little, instead choosing something more immediately fun, like Trials Evolution.
The same was true for Mass Effect 3. Once I got through the opening few missions and became settled on the Normandy, the world suddenly opened up to me, and I was addicted all over again. I was meeting my new crew, I was hearing new stories and meeting new characters. I had a new objective, an epic quest that seemed nigh on impossible to complete. I had new choices to make, new alliances to form and new aliens to woo.
Now, 24 hours in after just a week’s play, I’ve had an absolute blast, and am continually surprised with how much content is in the game. It’s hard to imagine the level of redundancy the developers would have faced when creating everything.
When I am playing I genuinely feel like every scene is tailored to my experience, and that no other players will be able to replicate my story. It’s a warm feeling, and, thanks to a huge cast of characters that come with buckets of personality, I actually care about how everything will play out. Choices become even harder to make as you progress further – you’ve invested hours into certain characters and certain races, and when asked to choose between two, I often find myself staring at the screen without a clue in the world what to do. Decision making is often simple in games, but in Mass Effect 3, it’s its most challenging aspect.
I will be sad when I get to the end of the game, as it’s rare we’ll see this level of characterisation, customisation and story in the future. It’ll be the end of the trilogy for me. You only get one shot at saving the galaxy.