Discussion: EasyAllies.com

Details: Their official site is http://www.easyallies.com. Their Twitch streaming site is www.twitch.tv/easyallies. Their Patreon site is www.patreon.com/EasyAllies. They mostly run off donations so if you like their stuff, make a donation. I am not affiliated with them in any way.

I discovered gametrailers.com many, many years ago. At the time I loved video games and a site that centered purely on videos for video games was exactly what I wanted. They also did reviews, countdown videos, and editorial videos. The primary cast of people I watched was Ryan Stevens, Daniel Bloodworth, Shane Satterfield, and Marcus Beer.

A few years into my viewership, Defy Media purchased gametrailers.com and fired most of the senior staff. It was a jarring event. I’m not really sure what happened to everyone, but I hope they’re on their feet. What I do know is that Shane Satterfield started a new site, siftd.net. It’s a game media site like gametrailers.com, except with a different income structure. I’ve gone to the site and I will say that one of my favorite shows on gametrailers was a show with Michael Pachter, a securities analyst who discussed the business/corporate aspect of video games. Pachter left gametrailers.com with Shane and now has a show on sifted.net, which I’ve watched and enjoyed. Another thing I will say about Shane is that I’ve disagreed with almost every opinion he has ever voiced on gametrailers.com.

Now back to gametrailers.com. While the lay offs were sad, they allowed the opportunity for the younger members of the gametrailers.com staff to step up and shine. Most notably is the ascendance of one Kyle Bosman. I loved watching Kyle Bosman and this is mainly due to one reason: positivity. Or maybe it was personality. Whatever it was, it was great. See, the tone of the grand majority of video game websites is one of cynicism and negativity, likely related to the idea that people who play video games and spend all their time on the internet are antisocial, cynical children with apocalyptic worldviews. Bosman offered a different attitude; he seemed genuinely excited about video games. He also had a quirky sense of humor, the kind of which you actually do expect to see on the internet.

Along with Bosman, the remaining members of the gametrailers.com staff — much to my delight — also began to appear in a greater number of videos. Primarily, it was Elyse Willems and Ian Hinck with their off beat humor and lovable rapport with one another. There was Michael Huber with insane levels of hype for all his favorite games. Ben Moore brought a little otaku-ness to the site along with Max Song. There were more people, but these were the one that I saw most often.

The new personalities of the site led to gems like this (skip to 1:40 for when the hype really begins):

They just seemed like a good bunch of dudes who truly liked video games. Unfortunately, Defy Media closed down gametrailers.com this year and laid everyone off. But from the ashes of gametrailers.com, the staff rose again and created a new site: easyallies.com. For all intents and purposes, it’s the same stuff they were doing at gametrailers, just with different names.

Actually, I like the stuff they make on easyallies.com even more. I feel like they actually get opportunity to show off each person’s  unique personality and view on video games. You get videos like Brandon Jones — the creator of gametrailers.com — playing Pokemon for the first time and talking with Bosman about their experience. Ian Hinck now has a weekly show that is ten times more out there than his show on gametrailers.com ever was. And at the center of the site are two awesome podcasts hosted by Kyle Bosman and Ben Moore. I feel like Ben Moore has come out of his shell the most since the creation of easyallies.com and I look forward to his biweekly podcast every time it comes out.

Usually, when discussing a piece of media or a product I consume, I discuss the good and bad of the thing and assign it a score. I’m not going to do that this time. I’ve been watching gametrailers.com and now easyallies.com for so long that these voices have become a part of my life. While I do not watch everything on the site, I look forward to each video they put out and their opinions on all things video games.

So what I want to do is recommend this site to anyone out there who remotely cares about video games. It’s a fun group of people and their videos always have good vibes. Go watch some videos and enjoy.

Discussion: Why Mass Effect 2 Is One of the Greatest Games of All Time

To this day, I think most people will agree that Mass Effect 2 was amazing. This is true even in spite of the controversy with Mass Effect 3’s ending. In my opinion, it is in the same category as Final Fantasy VII in terms of legendary role playing games. It is Mass Effect’s The Empire Strikes Back. Mass Effect 2 is, in my opinion, an unparalleled masterpiece and there are so many reasons for this. Spoilers ahead.

Graphics, Music, Voice Acting

Let’s get the basics out of the way. At the time of release (2010) Mass Effect 2 looked amazing. It still looks amazing and holds up surprisingly well (as you can tell from the trailer). The music is great. It’s the exact kind of electronic-classical space opera-esque music you look forward to when approaching this kind of science fiction. The voice acting was also top notch and includes some familiar and experienced voice actors.

Gameplay – Combat, Character Progression

While the visual and audio elements of Mass Effect 2 were clear improvements over the first Mass Effect, whether or not the gameplay improved is debatable. The action was not original, but it didn’t need to be. It was essentially Gears of War-ish third person shooter with a similar cover system. Biotics added another element to the combat. I think most people were okay with this; the real problem was the simplified leveling. I can see how some might feel that it dumbs down the difficulty and removed strategy and planning from the game. Personally, I enjoyed the simplified stat allocations and equipment. It let me focus on the story and the action rather than the mathematics of leveling up. I can understand if some feel otherwise and desired a more complex leveling system though.

Character Creation

Mass Effect 2 was one of the first games which allowed a male and female protagonist in the character creation. Both the male and female protagonist were fully voiced. It was a thoughtful inclusion and greatly appreciated by many who did not want to be forced to play as a male character.

Story/Narrative

Now we get to the good stuff. Mass Effect 2’s story is essentially that of a bank heist movie. You have this big job you need to pull off (head to the center of the galaxy and defeat the Collectors) and you need to assemble a crew of multi-talented individuals to fill the roles needed to pull this job off. It is a tale that has been retold many times in mainstream media, but works wonderfully.

Every time you meet a character you’re left wondering if this person is someone who will help you or someone your gonna have to fight later on. You’re never sure. You see familiar faces from the first Mass Effect and you hope they join your crew. Some do. Some hate you and don’t. It’s a surprising story and there are many twists for who joins your crew and how they join your crew.

After you assemble your crew, then you’re encouraged — but not forced — to do a favor (a loyalty mission) for them in order to build camaraderie and morale. Additionally, the missions for each of your crew members are some of the best missions in the game.

For instance, Garrus’ (who returns from the first game) loyalty mission requires hunting down someone Garrus wants dead. Eventually, you find your target and Garrus tells you to go distract the target while Garrus sets up a sniper rifle to pick off the guy. During this sequence, you see things from the perspective of Garrus’ sniper scope and — depending on your decisions — you can convince Garrus to spare the person or let Garrus kill him. There are times during this mission where you can step in front of the sniper scope in order to block the shop and protect the target. It’s a creative and tense mission that at the same time empowers the player with the choice of killing or saving.

Mass Effect 2 is an intimate story. Very much like how the first Star Wars movie’s main accomplishment was the establishment of this vast world, so too does the first Mass Effect game. Now we get to the emotion and intimacy of the characters. Now we get The Empire Strikes Back; we figure out what makes our characters tick. Mass Effect 2 brought color to an otherwise conventional science fiction narrative.

All these elements lead to — what is in my opinion — the most monumental aspect of Mass Effect 2 and what puts it into the class of legendary games like Final Fantasy VII or Shin Megami Tensei Persona 4: the ending.

That damn, amazing ENDING. OF COURSE THERE’S SPOILERS. 

So you’ve assembled your crew. You’ve upgraded your ship. You’ve gathered all the clues you needed from the main plot line and you’re ready to launch the final (and likely suicidal) assault on the Collector’s main base in the center of the galaxy and defeat them once and for all. Everything you’ve done in the entire game was for this. Save your game. This is the final mission. This is spectacular.

The final mission is broken up into multiple phases. First is your arrival. You’re ship jumps through the Warp Relay and arrives in Collector space. There is debris everywhere. You’re ship is crashing into just about everything. Turns out, the Collector’s home base, the center of the galaxy, is a space ship graveyard. Among the debris are enemies and they come to attack and board the ship.

It is here that you get your first real wake up call. A laser from an enemy fighter clips through the ship and — if you upgraded the ship armor like Jack told you those hundred times — you would be fine and you’ll survive. If you DID NOT UPGRADE THE SHIP ARMOR, then JACK WILL DIE. Permanently. All that time spent fighting/leveling along side her, bonding with her and uncovering her past, and possibly pursuing a romance with her ARE NOW OVER BECAUSE YOU DID NOT UPGRADE THE DAMN SHIP ARMOR. And now you realize, if you did not spend the time to do every damn thing that your crew has been telling you to do the entire game, someone is probably going to die for it. Someone you care about. It is a stark moment and — if Jack died — a moment you realize that everyone on this mission may very well die by the end of this game. At the very least, we know that Jack ain’t coming back for Mass Effect 3.

So we get through this. We fight off the enemies and crash land at the Collector base. Here we come up with our plan. First, we need to pick a tech specialist to climb through a vent and open an door. After watching Jack die, you now realize you need to be fracking careful and pick someone who is ACTUALLY A TECH SPECIALIST and who you’ve DONE THE LOYALTY MISSION FOR. It’s Tali or Legion. And who knows, whoever you send is probably going to die anyway. Legion it is. Next you need to divide into two squads: a diversion squad and your squad. You also need to pick leader for the diversion squad. It’s gotta be Miranda. I totally romanced the crap out of her, but she’s loyal and genetically predisposed to lead so I’ll take that risk. If Bioware decides to disintegrate the entire diversion team, so be it. I’m tired of Bioware’s crap. At least a loyal Miranda will increase the likelihood they survive. You then pick who is in each squad. Of course I pick the people I would like to live the most (I’m looking at you Tali) into my squad. I send the people I don’t care for, ironically the toughest looking guys into the diversion team and into their likely deaths. Hmm… maybe they’ll live after all. Oh well. Now we disembark and I tighten my butt cheeks for whatever comes next.

From this point onward, WAVES upon WAVES of enemies will attack you until you reach the final boss. It is endless. The level is also incredible. Platforms rise and fall and the terrain constantly changes. Harbinger, the big baddy who has been trolling you this entire time, continues to TROLL YOU by possessing a random enemy and becoming super powerful. And you have to kill all these dudes and survive the endless onslaught.

But priorities first: someone’s gotta go into that damn vent and unlock a door. So Legion gets into the vent and screw him because he’s just a walking iPhone. You fight waves of enemies and unlock valves blocking Legion and — to my surprise — Legion makes it. He gets out of that death trap of a vent and unlocks the door. As you run inside and Legion is closing the door behind you, A RANDOM ENERGY BLAST FROM NOWHERE HITS LEGION AND HE FRACKING DIES. WHAT THE HELL. He survived the vent only to get hit by some random gun blast and DIES?!?! ANYONE CAN DIE AT ANY TIME. NO ONE IS SAFE. Damn you Bioware… my anus is now perpetually clenched.

So we get through and now we split up. Diversion team holds the line while me and my team go kill the big bad boss. We say our goodbyes and I silently acknowledge that I will likely never see any members of the diversion team ever again. Goodbye Miranda. Our love was short, but at least I have Ashley/Liara still waiting for me somewhere.

We come up to room of pods with people in them and find — thank goodness — our old pal Kelly in one of the pods. Unfortunately, we can’t get her out fast enough and she GETS LIQUEFIED IN HORRIBLE AGONY. WHAT THE HELL BIOWARE. ARE YOU JUST TROLLING FOR FUN?!?! Anyways, we save half the crew while the other half dies in horrible agony. Dr. Chakwas is happy to be alive but mad at us for not saving everyone. I read somewhere later that if you came to the final mission the moment it became available, you would’ve saved everyone. FRACK. I just had to do that last side mission. Sorry Kelly.

So we send the survivors back to the ship along with one of my crew mates. I have no idea if I’m sending the surviving crew to their deaths or saving them so I send someone at random. Bye Jacob. We get to the next part and we need a biotic to put up a force field against clouds of locusts so we can progress. Thank goodness I kept Samara because if not, sending Jacob back with the crew would likely have been the death of us. We fight our way through and Samara looks drained. I’m fully expecting Samara to die even though I killed her daughter in that loyalty mission and gained her damn loyalty. Luckily, she lives. Phew. Thanks for letting someone live Bioware.

We progress through another room and meet with the diversion team. Miranda gets shot, but lives. I read somewhere later that if the leader wasn’t loyal, they would die. Further, if the biotic from the last part wasn’t loyal, the biotic (Samara in this case) wouldn’t die, but the poor bastard protecting our rear would be CARRIED OFF BY A SWARM OF LOCUSTS. Thankfully, I don’t remember anyone dying here for me.

Again, you now pick a team to hold the line while you go kill the big boss. I pick my favorites: Tali and Miranda. The rest hold the line led by my boy Jacob. Jabob’s loyal, which is the best I can do for him. Now we go and fight through waves of enemies and make it to the final boss. It is a giant human shaped Reaper. This is why Kelly was liquefied in agony; to make flesh for this giant killer robot. Which we now have to kill.

Before going further, you need to know about the M-920 Cain. The M-920 Cain is essentially a mini-nuke. It has very little ammo, can be upgraded for even more damage, and you will likely kill yourself with it. From the moment I found this baby, I have wanted to use it. However, there has never been a good time; no enemies strong enough to warrant a nuke and never enough ammo to use it haphazardly. Until now.

The moment I saw that giant human-sized reaper crawl up and into its final form, I fracking knew. I knew that I carried this piece of crap gun throughout the entire damn game just so I could use it on this bastard. I spent all my fracking minerals upgrading this ridiculous gun to maximum damage just so I could hit this guy with it. And that’s what I did. It wasn’t easy; the gun needs time to charge up and there is also the travel time of the rocket. Missing is commonplace. But somehow… I shot this baby and it landed right in between the big bosses eyes. And you need to understand, I had no idea how much damage was going to be dealt. I never fired this gun before. So when it hit, IT KILLED HIM IN ONE HIT. I freakin’ one-shotted him with a NUKE. Like David and Goliath, except I used a NUKE. Damn, it felt so good. Ecstasy.

The rest is a blissful blur. The survivors and myself run back to the ship. I read somewhere that your companions from the final fight can die as well as the protagonist. Luckily, there were no more deaths in my play through and I was grateful.

It was a massive mission and we took heavy casualties (sorry Jack, Legion, Kelly, and half the crew), but we won.

In Conclusion

I loved, loved, loved this game. Afterwards I played through it again on New Game Plus mode and this time, everyone survived. It was a nice change to that terrifying first play through. But man oh man, what a play through that first one was. Ultimately, Mass Effect 2 is an experience I will likely remember for the rest of my days. My hope is that future Mass Effect games can in some ways replicate the tension, the fear, and the joy produced from this game.

Great job Bioware, you trolls.

Sorry for not upgrading the ship armor, Jack.

Discussion: The Assassin’s Creed Franchise Is Stale, Here’s What Ubisoft Needs to Do Next

I have Assassin’s Creed fatigue. I watched this trailer for the next game and I am not even remotely looking forward to it. And I love the Assassin’s Creed franchise. I played a ton of the games. But there have been far too many games and Ubisoft needs to make some changes so that I — and the rest of the fan base — don’t drop our top hats and walk out on the franchise. Here’s some things they can do to make sure that doesn’t happen.

1.     Release the game less often. This is an easy one. Your customers can only play so many games and you kill hype if you over saturate.

2.     Introduce a new game mechanic. In Assassin’s Creed Black Flag and Rogue, the best new mechanic in these games was your boat. You got this awesome, big boat, with an awesome singing crew, that you could upgrade up the yin yang with tons of cannons. What more could you want? An enormous ocean to explore? Done! We need something like in the next Assassin’s Creed game; something unexpected.

Two suggestions I can think of would be squad/platoon fighting mechanic or a general/commander mechanic. The squad/platoon mechanic I’m referring to is something akin to something reminiscent of the film Gladiator or 300, where you can fight with a small squad against an enemy force, employing tactics and working together as a single platoon.

The general/commander mechanic refers to the player taking the role of the commander on the battlefield, yelling orders to his army and eventually even joining the fray on the battlefield. You can get some real memorable, medieval, Braveheart, Lord of the Rings-esque moments out of a mechanic like that. Just some ideas.

3.     We need more interesting settings. Ubisoft is a French company. The settings they thusly choose are going to lean toward France, Europe, or to the West in general. It’s time to step outside your comfort zone and pick a setting you might not be so comfortable with. This is risky from a business standpoint. Many countries that Ubisoft might seek distribution in likely have laws against any interpretation of history that diverts from the official narrative (Ahem… China). However, the introduction of a new setting and an accompanying new mechanic would help to revitalize this weakened franchise.

Here are a few to consider: the Qin wars of unification of China which would be great for the commander/general mechanic mentioned above; the rise of the Roman Empire and the use of the squad/platoon mechanic mentioned; and the Vietnam War and perhaps new jungle-stealth mechanics and gun handling mechanics. Again, just some ideas. Step out of your comfort zone Ubisoft, the franchise needs something new.

In conclusion, Ubisofts needs to do something to improve this franchise. What helped Black Flag and Rogue was that awesome boat and vast ocean to explore, which helped express the setting better. A new environment with exciting new game mechanics to match an unexpected new setting. That’s what I think we fans want. Not more of the same.

Just some food for thought Ubisoft.

Discussion: My Thoughts On DOTA 2 – Not a Review, Just a Recommendation

There are few things as painful as playing an hours-long game of Dota only to lose at the very end.

For those who don’t know what Dota is, it is a video game that is free to play on the PC. The only things that require money in this game are vanity costumes which serve no purpose other than to look cool.

The game centers on two teams of five players trying to destroy the bases of the enemy team. Each player controls a character, known as a “hero,” and pushes lanes with waves of computer controlled units, known as “creeps.”

Here’s IGN’s review which may better explain the concept.

Over the last couple of years, Dota 2 (and games that belong to the MOBA genre generally) have skyrocketed in popularity and are played by millions of players in almost every time zone at all times. More recently, Dota 2 hosted the highest paying video game tournament of all time with a first place prize pool of ten million dollars (USD), largely funded by fans. It was an impressive feat.

In regards to my personal experience with the game…

If I include the very first iteration of Dota, which came out around a decade ago, I have played some form of Dota for over the last ten years. Countries rise and fall, as do buildings, corporations, and relationships, but this game has remained constant. Actually, this game has grown ever stronger.

In my opinion, the appeal of Dota 2 can be expressed in two main points.

First, this game is hella’ deep. There are so many damn aspects to this game that it is overwhelming for most new players, and likely what turns them away. After ten years of playing this game, there are still things for me to master and things at which I suck at. Even now, professional gamers (people who make their living winning video game tournaments) are still constantly learning and adapting, especially considering that new rules and characters are periodically implemented.

Secondly, this game is free. The only cost of entry is owning a computer that can run the game, which most computers are capable of. In contrast to Dota, League of Legends (the most popular MOBA game currently) requires money or an inordinate amount of time playing the game to unlock characters to play, among other things. Dota drops all of the game on you from the beginning, resisting the urge to construct artificial roadblocks to try and squeeze money out of the player.

Furthermore, there is a third reason. I don’t consider this reason as one of the main two reasons because it is irrational. It is irrational… how incredibly fun this game can be.

The reason this is irrational is because there are few games as painful as this game. I’ve screamed racial epitaphs because of this game. I’ve lost FRIENDS because of this game. This game has taught me a kind of anger I have not felt in any other situation. The closest feeling of anger akin to what I’ve felt in Dota would probably be the feeling of anger I’ve felt driving through bad traffic.

But I keep playing. I keep playing this game because when it is fun, it is so. Damn. FUN.

It is SO damn fun during those moments, those few fleeting moments, when you’re dominating the other team, and they are angry and yelling at you worse than an angry Samuel L. Jackson, but it doesn’t matter, because you are so powerful they have no chance whatsoever. And you crush them.

Or when you’re getting slaughtered by the other team for the last hour, and somehow, by some miracle, you and your team turn the game around and make the comeback to end all comebacks!

Or when you are playing with some people and… you just mesh. You all just understand each other and this game. You think it, they do it. They need it, you provide it. And you understand the magnificent miracle that is… teamwork. You realize that there are some things in life you can’t do yourself and you learn how great it is to have someone reliable in your life when you need them… to win at Dota.

Dota… a true microcosm of life. Fierce competition. Cooperation. Joy. Malice. Hatred. All of these things are present. However, there is one more thing I want to communicate.

For the most part, I do not recommend anyone play this game. I do not recommend anyone play games of this genre. And more specifically, I do not recommend anyone play this game with ME.

Because no matter how fun this game is, no matter how great those great moments are, they are buried under an even greater number of shitty moments that torture the mind and soul.

It is said that human beings define the world based on what something isn’t. For example, something is hot based on how not cold it is, and vice versa.

I only know the joys of Dota because of how mind-fuckingly awful this game can be. I know the true joys of cooperation and team work because Dota has taught me the true pain of relying on someone who fails you. Someone who then curses at you. Someone who is an incompetent idiot.

Dota is joy. Dota is pain.

And while I would not recommend this game to 99.99999% of people, there is a small minority to whom I would recommend this game.

I would recommend this game to those who are willing to try their best. And by “best,” I mean their absolute, play-dota-or-kill-yourself best.

I’m referring to people who have the time and energy to invest all they are into this game and its mechanics. People who can spend hours watching professionals play in hopes of gleaning some strategy or method to improve their own tactics. People of tenacity and grit. People who will not give up no matter how much the other players start to resemble pieces of shit.

In conclusion, Dota 2 is a game whose fun is only meant for the chosen few. The few who can push past the racial slurs, name calling, and verbal hurt inflicted by the toxic Dota 2 community. The few who can learn and memorize the characters and the many tactics associated with the game. The few who can and do sacrifice time spent in the real world for time in this cruel, violent, and harsh game.

Dota 2 is difficult. If you are strong, if you are smart, then I recommend you play this game. If you are weak, if you are stupid, then walk away.

Walk away and live your life, because there is no place for you in Dota 2.