Assassin’s Creed 3

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I’ve been a huge Assassin’s Creed fan since AC2. I played the first AC and while I mildly enjoyed it (mostly for it’s setting), It was AC2 and Brotherhood (Brother, especially) that made me love the series. Revelations wasn’t bad, it just wasn’t as good as the two previous Ezio games. The big set piece battles were fun and the standard Ezio action was good enough. Revelations’ big problem was the stupid idea of having to keep the towers you took. The tower defense part of the game was laughable and was an obvious reaction to the popularity of tower defense games from a couple years ago. So, Ezio’s story wraps up and and Ubisoft announces that they’ve got AC3 coming and that they’ve been working on the game since AC2 shipped. It’s going to take place during the American Revolution, and you’re an indian.

The fact that you’re not in huge cities like in the Ezio games and you’re dealing with large swaths of mountainous terrain was a clear sign that the way you traversed the world in AC3 was going to be quite different than before. At first, the tree climbing and running from branch to branch felt awkward, but as I realized that Connor wasn’t going to jump off if I just held down the right trigger but he was still capable of doing all the climbing and jumping around in the trees that he needed to to keep moving, it started to feel very natural. In fact, he was much more enjoyable to swing through the trees than to run along rooftops in AC3. Compared to previous AC games, running along rooftops didn’t seem like a super viable option. I felt like I was getting spotted and attacked by enemies way more often in AC3 than in any other AC game when I was on rooftops.

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Homestead

AC3 allowed you to deck out your home in a similar fashion to building up your home in AC2, and in AC3, there’s a lot more story to go along with it. The upgrades to your homestead take a long time to complete, and you actually get to know the people in your town pretty well. I kind of hate to say it, but the mundane stories of homestead life were more entertaining than AC3’s campaign story. I helped a man get a girl, helped an inn get up and running, helped a minister set up a parish and after helping the couple get married (and saving the woman from cold feet) they were married by that minister and had their reception at the inn. Compare that to Connor’s lame-o main story about his estranged Templar father and his quest for revenge against the guy that killed his mother, the common man stories spoke to me in a very different way.

Crafting

AC3 introduced the concept of crafting into the franchise. After recruiting people to your homestead, they can mine for minerals, procure lumber, make medicine and prepare weapon parts. You can then ship these items up and down the Eastern seaboard for sale, sell them at local shops or use them to build more elaborate items for your own personal use. I didn’t really get into crafting because:

  1. it wasn’t obvious how to ship stuff
  2. it took you out of the story
  3. the items you can make weren’t necessary to complete the story

It would’ve been better if you needed to craft certain items in order to complete the story missions. That would’ve given me the impetus to try it out. Like most AC games, you can complete the game without every buying a single upgrade. If you’ve got your hidden blades, you can complete any mission.

Hunting

Hunting in AC3 was another one of those things that you don’t need, but a lot of the money I made came from animal pelts. As you’re roaming the wilderness, you’re constantly coming across deer, elk and pumas to kill, skin and then sell their skins. Most of the animals will run at the sight of you, however, predators like bears, pumas, cougars and occasionally elk will charge you and after successfully completing a QTE, you kill them and can skin them. It’s a quick way to make cash, so while not necessary to the Assassin’s Creed experience, it would up being nice to have.

Something I Missed

In the older AC games, there were a lot of temples, churches and caverns to explore. They might not have any enemies or maybe just a few, but they were big and they were all about jumping around and exploring the environment. AC3 lacks that almost entirely except for a couple of the naval missions that you get when you’re searching for Captain Kidd’s treasure. I guess they couldn’t justify why those kinds of places would have existed in America in the late 1700’s but I considered those temples, churches and caves as essential to the Assassin’s Creed experience.

Huge spoilers below!

Connor’s End

Ubisoft blew the story… again. Like they always do. They blew it on two fronts.

With Connor, the final push to the finish isn’t satisfying, your Templar father seems like the obvious choice for the final struggle, but he’s not. He’s a shitty little fight that occurs in slow motion and winning it is less about your skill and more about just using the environmental triggers built into the scene. And when you are chasing down Lee at the end, he just keeps getting away when it makes no fucking sense. And when you finally catch up to him and deliver the final blow, you don’t get to push the button! They take all this time having you chase after him and letting you lose him over and over, and when you’re finally there, you’re gasping for air, you’re all messed up and you finally plunge the knife into him, you should get to press the button! It would’ve been cathartic, and would’ve made the last moment worth the dragged out chase sequence.

Miles Juno

Desmond’s End

Desmond had a pretty interesting story in AC3. I loved running around the cave and listening to Juno tell you about the end of her civilization. The first outside scene on the crane was cool too. (Brazil’s scene can take a flying leap however. Desmond sucks if he is under attack.) When you’re finally ready to end the game, Desmond gets a choice, not unlike Commander Shepard’s in Mass Effect 3. He has the choice between saving a small number of people from the apocalypse (who will start a new civilization) or letting Juno out who will take over the world. It’s an interesting situation to be put in. But you don’t get to choose! Desmond just decides to let her out and the world is fucked. I shouldn’t be surprised. No other part of Assassin’s Creed has ever given you choice about anything, and Ubisoft needs a linear path to keep shitting out AC games. It was an ending with great potential, and it was squandered.

The shittiest part of it all is…even though I felt burned on AC: Revelations and AC3, I’m still gonna be there day one for AC4. :(

Use a VPN to Circumvent Region Lockouts Online

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There are plenty of reasons why you might want to have a VPN connection. The biggest one for people outside the US is to access US-only media like Hulu, Netflix and gaming services. As an American with an American credit card who wants to purchase American content even though I live overseas, the policies of the companies I want to give money to can be extremely frustrating at times. My first such experience was with Playstation Network. For the first couple years of its existence, PSN played nice. By logging into my American account and using my American credit card, PSN allowed me to buy and download content just like anyone else back in America. Then about 18 months ago, Sony changed its system to disallow credit cards being used outside their area. Thus, my American credit card couldn’t be used from Japan. The best way to get around this was to buy PSN point cards on Amazon and redeem the code. Once redeemed, PSN would allow me to purchase whatever I wanted. It wasn’t the content that was restricted, but the payment method. I never tried using a Japanese credit card with it, so I don’t know if they would’ve accepted an overseas card from the overseas region either. I ran into the same problem with Steam as well on the Mac, but the US Steam store works with foreign credit cards, as long as you’re in the region that card is from.

Then I got an Xbox 360. The first thing I wanted to do was buy Mass Effect from Games on Demand. Xbox Live wouldn’t allow it. But it let me buy Shadow Complex, so I assumed Games on Demand was off limits overseas. Then one day, I happened to attempt buying Splinter Cell: Conviction from Games on Demand, and it worked! I thought Microsoft had loosened up. Then over the summer I bought the Gears of War Triple Pack and tried to redeem the DLC code inside the box. Didn’t work. Turns out that Microsoft published games and the DLC (free and paid) attached to them are region locked. It’s why Mass Effect couldn’t be purchased, but Mass Effect 2’s DLC downloaded just fine. (Because EA published Mass Effect 2, and thankfully Mass Effect 3.)

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The only way to circumvent Microsoft’s roadblocks is to access Xbox Live through a VPN. I’ve known a lot of people who went about this by trying to log into a service like Hotspot Shield and then use OS X’s Internet Sharing feature through a wired Ethernet connection to their Xbox 360. It works to share your Internet connection, just not the one you want to share. This will not work. No matter how long you bang your head against, thinking you can make it work, you will not make this work. I spent hours and people I know have spent hours trying to share a VPN connection through this method. It won’t get you anywhere.

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So how do you share a VPN? You need to dial in over PPTP. I haven’t found a free VPN that will let you connect through PPTP, so be prepared to open your wallet (or purse) a little bit. The VPN service I settled on was Hide My Ass. It’s got a silly name, but they have the ability to connect to their service through PPTP and OpenVPN. I didn’t have any luck with OpenVPN, but PPTP worked like a charm. Once you have set up a PPTP connection, you then share not your usual connection but the virtual connection you just created out to your Xbox 360 over Ethernet. Your Xbox 360 will not connect to Xbox Live through a connection that Live thinks is in the US. There are plenty of places you can choose to have your connection come out of, so choose whichever has the lightest load.

While HMA works, the speed isn’t great. It’s probably about 1Mbps. I’m quite used to 100Mbps here in Japan, and while 1Mbps was screaming fast when I was in high school, it’s painfully slow now. Downloading Gears of War map packs took way longer than it would have normally. There’s a quirk to Xbox Live that may be beneficial in your use of VPNs though. Xbox Live only checks region at the beginning and end of downloads. The fastest solution to downloading content is to:

  1. Purchase locked content through Xbox.com and then let it download from your queue.
  2. Keep an eye on it and switch over to the PPTP connection at about 97% completion.

This should allow you to download almost all of the content at your fastest speed, and then bypass the region check at the end.

Gears of War 2 on Hardcore

I had a good time playing Gears of War. I played it on casual, and it wasn’t very hard either. It was a quick playthrough, and I enjoyed myself. For Gears of War 2, I figured that since I had some experience playing the game that I should play it on hardcore this time around. If I hadn’t been playing a solo campaign, I would’ve been right. But without a partner, boy was I wrong.

Hardcore is Insane

The first three acts of Gears 2 aren’t that hard. I progressed through the game all by myself just fine. I think the key to quick progression is having all of Delta squad with you. Whenever there are four guys fighting it out, the AI seems to pick up a lot of slack and does a good bit of helping; not only to shoot enemies but to draw enemy fire away from you at the same time. In the fourth act though, it starts being just Marcus and Dom and I’m not sure if everyone’s game did this or just mine, but after Dom’s big emotional scene, his AI stopped participating in the game. He followed along, but he stopped shooting. He stopped showing up in the TAC/COM. Enemies stopped noticing he was there.

In Act 5, there’s a sequence where you man turrets and shoot down reavers to protect a communications array. There are two turrets, and with a co-op partner, you can pass this section very quickly. In my solo campaign though, Dom never mans a turret, stands there holding his rifle, and keeps telling me to use the turret. He never helps out. It’s a frustrating section if you’re playing by yourself, especially on hardcore where enemies absorb a lot more damage before doing down.

The worst section I encountered was a courtyard battle towards the very end of the game where Dom wasn’t helping and I had a troika, a kantus, 8 grunts, two maulers, a bunch of wretches, and two bloodhounds to take down. The best I could do after 3-4 hours of trying was get down one of the bloodhounds and the second would always wipe me out.

Co-Op Is The Way To Go

Luckily, a Twitter follower answered my call for a Gears 2 co-op partner and were finished the section in about 10 minutes, with only one death. We then went on to finish up the rest of the game in another 30-45 minutes, I think. Playing Gears 2 in co-op wound up being a breeze and was a lot of fun, even on hardcore. Having somebody to talk to just made the battles of attrition go by that much more quickly. After hating the game for two whole days, now all I want to do is jump into co-op again and play Gears of War 3!

Mass Effect and My Frustration

Repost from Pixelsnatch


Playing Mass Effect 1 after Mass Effect 2 is hard. Not that it’s really difficult, but it’s frustrating. I just spent 40 hours playing an accessible third-person shooter, and now I’m 10 hours into a deep RPG with a finicky combat system. My squadmates in ME2 rarely got themselves killed. In ME1, I’m constantly babysitting their health bars because they love to just stand there toe to toe with the enemy. I see them ignoring possible cover spots all the time. It’s frustrating when the biggest reason you’re dying is because your squad isn’t as smart as you are.

After going back to where Mass Effect began, two seems really limited in its level of customization. Mass Effect allows for a long list of abilities and talents as where Mass Effect allows at the most 5. And that’s only after you’ve paid the price in Element Zero to train one of your teammate’s special abilities that were granted after completing their loyalty mission.

Mass Effect 2 can be enjoyed and never feel frustrating even only if you just shoot your way through it. The game is at its most entertaining and fulfilling if you’re using your squad’s biotic and tech abilities as well, but you can get by without them. ME1 on the other hand really makes guns take a back seat to biotic and tech abilities. I kind of wish I hadn’t taken the default “soldier” set up into the game. I wish I had chosen a different class. While my squad is pulling out shield overloads, biotic lifts and hacking enemy AI, I’m just popping out of cover long enough to plug the enemy a couple times with my assault rifle and not get my head blown off.

The equipment managing in ME1 is a bit much too. It may be like this in all Western RPGs (I wouldn’t know having not played any until now), but managing all the different guns, armor and tech accessories for all the team members plus the upgrades on each individual piece of equipment is a headache. I was surprised the game let you transfer upgrades from one weapon to the next easily, but at least there was that.

Mass Effect 1 does a much better job at story-telling than it’s successor did. The story in ME1 feels huge and the conversations feel a little more natural. ME2′s story feels small in comparison. ME2 felt like a serious of human fetch quests until you fully stocked your party. It’s much easier to up your conversation skills in ME1 as well and the first game makes much better (and frequent) use of it.

I’m really glad I’m playing Mass Effect. I really wish I had played it before Mass Effect 2, but I’m still enjoying the game. I know almost everything that’s going to happen, but that’s okay. I wanted to see the Citadel in all its splendor and I did. I wanted to see the first Normandy, and I have. I also wanted to see the politics of Citadel space, and not just the “I can do anything because Cerberus is backing me up” way of doing things. It’s an interesting ride that isn’t even over yet. But it’s gonna be weird going back to the shootery future to play the final ME2 DLC, Arrival when PSN is back up and I can buy it.