Deadshirt is Playing brings you a look at the best, newest, and strangest of what the wide world of video games has to offer. What are our staff and contributors playing this month, you ask?
David Uzumeri is lowering the difficulty setting…
Dragon Age: Inquisition — Jaws of Hakkon
Dragon Age: Inquisition—the third entry in the franchise—was definitely one of the most-played games of last year, extending the series mythology in exciting ways and providing a gripping storyline and hundreds of hours of gameplay, despite being bogged down by an abundance of MMO-esque personality-low fetch quests and, at least with its initial release, a horde of bugs. While this DLC actually came out for PC and Xbox One in March due to an exclusivity deal, it just this month hit the Xbox 360 and Sony’s systems, and I really had one main takeaway from it: it’s hard.
It’s unquestionably endgame content: while it can be played before the main game’s final battle, it extends the level cap and increases your party’s power level by a significant degree. I played the main game with a completionist bent, but still found (especially on console as a dual-wielding rogue) the combat system to be tormentedly indecisive between being twitch- or strategy-centric. How the hell am I supposed to micromanage my mages while positioning myself for maximum flank damage? So it was an unwelcome surprise to find out that Hakkon was, especially near the end, as hard or harder than the main game’s most difficult optional content—the stuff I skipped. I’ll admit it, I’m not proud: I bumped down from Normal to Casual, because I wanted to see the story through.
The good news, however, is that both in terms of both graphical and narrative polish, Hakkon easily matches the game that spawned it. The entire new open area added to the game, the Frostback Basin, is a gorgeous, topographically diverse forest with treehouse camps and beautiful ruins; the new story manages to provide some fascinating new flavor to the history of Thedas (named such as an acronym for THE Dragon Age Setting, still my favorite lazy place-naming ever), and even providing some slight new context to the main game’s post-credits game-changing twist without blowing it entirely. Additionally, you’re introduced to the previously isolationist Avvar, who similarly provide a fascinating new perspective on the franchise’s basic lore.
Honestly, I’d call it an almost perfectly congruous addition to the main game if not for the fact that it’s just so incredibly damn hard. Not “this is an enjoyable challenge” hard, but “this is not fun and fuck it I’m lowering the difficulty setting so I can see the end” hard. I’m not against hard games: VVVVVV is incredibly hard, but it’s a performance test, not an endurance test; once you’ve done something, you’re good. You won’t have to do it again, and more things in a row, because of the lack of a save point, or because you used too many potions and can’t beat the next stage of the boss—which is the problem Hakkon falls into. It’s a kind of difficulty people go for, I understand, but it’s just not for me.
The sun looks real purty through the tree canopies, tho.
Robyn is SPECIAL…
It takes a lot to topple the king of Free-to-Play, Candy Crush, from the #1 Grossing spot in the iTunes charts, and Fallout Shelter has done it. At this year’s E3, Bethesda announced the long rumored, much anticipated next installment of the Fallout franchise, Fallout 4. People were ecstatic. Cries of “this is every game in one game!” rang out across Twitter (you can craft and rebuild the city, among other things). Bethesda also announced that, available immediately would be an iOS game called “Fallout Shelter.” The fans listened and downloaded it in droves (including me). Not only did they download, they paid.
The gameplay of Fallout Shelter will be familiar to anyone who has played Tiny Tower, or other time-management sims. In the role of the Overseer, you create rooms that either provide storage (for items or dwellers), create resources, or raise dweller stats. Dwellers are those in your vault, they either come from the wasteland (outside the vault) or are born there. Each dweller has SPECIAL, which (in classic Fallout fashion), represent Strength, Perception, Endurance, Charisma, Intelligence, Agility, and Luck. Their performance in different rooms (and how quickly the rooms produce resources) relies on these stats. Outfits can be worn by dwellers to increase stats and weapons can be equipped in case of raider attack. Dwellers can also be sent into the wasteland to scavenge for resources and items.
To keep you going, there are three quests available at any given time. They reward caps (currency) or lunchboxes. Lunchboxes contain 6-7 items, one of which is rare. Weapons, outfits, currency, resources, and unique dwellers can be obtained this way (I got Three Dog!).
As you increase your vault population you unlock new rooms, that give you more resources so you can get more dwellers to unlock more rooms—you get the picture. Fallout Shelter is oddly unsettling. You can (and are encouraged to) pair dwellers in the barracks, where, with enough time and enough Charisma they get together and the lady becomes pregnant and the pair’s happiness increases. Dwellers with high SPECIAL stats pass them on to their children. But…no one ever gets old or dies. Children are born, they become adults, and then time for them…stops. Generations of dwellers appear as peers. There is also nothing other than work, procreating, or going into the wasteland for the dwellers to do. At 100 dwellers, you have unlocked all available rooms. I recently reached this point, and it is a bit disturbing. Many have remarked that this is poor design, but in the end I think that is just Fallout. The universe of Fallout is desperate and lonely. The game hooked me for a week and has me primed for November when Fallout 4 comes out.
Jen is keeping up with the Joneses…
Animal Crossing: New Leaf
Returning to my Animal Crossing town after a year away, I was delighted to find the place was not actually on fire. Before I set the game down last summer, I had finally reached the point in the game where you can really start to make some money, so I figured I’d be rolling in town improvements in no time. Inflation sets in rapidly in this little economy however, so it seems like I’m back to the same slow pace of harvesting the fruit, tending the money rocks, and waiting weeks to pay off my loans and public projects. ACNL encourages day-to-day upkeep of the town, but when you play daily, those tasks rapidly begin to feel monotonous and dull. Why won’t anyone else water the flowers, and why do they die so rapidly? Why do I have to water the flowers while it’s raining?? Why am I not spending this time watering my plants that are dying in real life?
I use ACNL largely as a medium by which to exorcise my desperate lust for material goods and aesthetic coordination. As every piece of my dream witch hut comes together, I can remove a towel set from my Amazon wish list, or shelve a complicated furniture-hacking project to another more reasonable time. I started putting out a call to friends asking if we could visit each others’ towns, but immediate self-consciousness set in. Look at my barely functional mish mash of furniture. Look at me, I haven’t even unlocked shoes yet! Mercifully, I can make up for this somewhat with hours spent designing novelty dresses in the clothing creator. My Animal Crossing life, like my real one, will be coated in hours of “artistic” work to try and cover up my ramshackle assortment of hand-me-downs.
Kyle is quacking mad…
Landon Podbielski / Adult Swim Games
In the last year or two, Adult Swim Games, the game publishing branch of the popular late night programming block has been responsible for publishing quite a few games, many of which have been surprisingly fun and/or funny. These include Volgarr the Viking, Jazzpunk, and Westerado, to name a few. Duck Game is the newest addition (on a platform people give a damn about—this game was an Ouya exclusive for awhile), and definitely one of the funniest multiplayer games I’ve ever played. So fun is this game that I have yet to run into an angry player throwing a fit about losing or going on some sort of racist tirade. I don’t think it’s possible to play it without a smile on your face.
If you’ve played a game like Towerfall or Samurai Gunn then you will be instantly familiar with the frantic 1v1v1v1 action of this game. Each player is assigned a different colored duck and can choose from a variety of hats to customize their player. Then all Hell breaks loose, as you battle to be the last duck standing in a variety of handcrafted or randomized stages littered with weapons ranging from guns, swords, grenades, mind control helmets, magnets, stompin’ shoes, and even a bible that converts other ducks instead of killing them.
The fun in this game doesn’t come from winning either, but rather all the crazy things that can happen over the course of a match. Maybe someone shoots a bunch of holes in an oil barrel which spills its contents, which are then ignited by a flare gun, lighting two ducks on fire causing them to run around wildly for a few seconds, immolating the other ducks. Then one of the burning ducks runs onto a landmine and is launched into the air, dropping the banana peel he was holding which another duck slips on causing him to careen off the platform. Also there’s a button that makes your duck quack.
It’s hard to put Duck Game’s brand of chaotic good times into words, so I’d recommend just giving it a shot if you have some friends on your couch or online looking to have some wacky good times with this game that’s essentially the waterfowl version of The Running Man.
Jake is fondly reminiscing about…
If my math is right, which it rarely is, I was eleven when Sonic Heroes came out. I got it new and played the hell out of it, and I’ve revisited it several times. It’s essentially a sequel to Sonic Adventure 2, largely in that it features the return of divisive character Shadow the Hedgehog—who had been basically killed off in SA2, and it furthers that connection by being the last game in the series to feature the voice acting crew from the Adventure games.
The core gameplay is a twist on the 3D platforming from Sonic Adventure, allowing you to switch on the fly between three characters at all times. There are four teams, each split up into speed, power, and flight categories. Even after eleven years, the high speed gameplay has aged pretty well, and it’s still a lot of fun, if occasionally frustrating.
What makes this game interesting to me is the contrast between it the Adventure games, largely from an art and narrative standpoint. The Adventure games toyed with a realistic environmental art style and a somewhat mature and complex narrative, something that Heroes dispenses with altogether despite being a follow-up.
Heroes is the first 3D game to feature the structure of the Genesis games, essentially featuring two acts in one environment followed by a boss battle. The Chaos Emeralds have returned to being bonus collectibles instead of necessary narrative goals, and they unlock the “true” ending of the game if you manage to collect them all.
The art is incredibly vibrant, a 3D fusion of the high quality textures and scope of the first Adventure game with the more fantastic and bizarre elements of some of the Genesis era games that also popped up in smaller quantities in SA2. It actually kind of bums me out that thy didn’t explore that art in later games.
And the music is FANTASTIC, largely composed by series mainstay Jun Senoue, whipping effortlessly from crunchy guitar rock to bizarre synth in an effortlessly catchy way that I can only call… Video-gamey.
Sonic Heroes will always hold a place in my heart, and it’s absolutely worth a look if you have any interest.
Come back next month for more Deadshirt Is Playing!