video game thoughts: Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice (2017)

video game thoughts: Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice (2017)

I cannot stop thinking about this game. I flew through the 8 hours of gameplay time (well, it took me more than that because I am a very cautious fighter LOL) and I miss Senua already.

Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice is the story of a warrior woman whose lover was murdered by invading Norsemen and she has decided to go into hell to free his soul.

But Senua is not a normal woman – she hears voices. Her mother heard them too. They whisper to her, constant companions since she was young. These voices have kept her separated from the rest of her tribe, which is why she wants so badly to find Dillion’s soul – he was the one person who truly cared for her. I know this sounds cliche, but I have to say that love is the one force out there that will make people challenge gods, even if those gods are not their own.

I love how the game just drops you into the story – no tutorial mode, not even a flash of instruction on the screen to coach you. You must figure it out (even if that simply means hitting “pause” to bring up the control menu) – the game designers have faith in your abilities to play from the start and they don’t want to pull you out of the narrative to go through some clunky “What does the A button do?” screen or cheesy flashback to find an excuse to learn how to make your character walk.

I really feel like this game is another great example of video games as art. I feel like to show how a thing is art, you must give examples of how it brings out emotions in us that no other format can; how it can tell a story that would not be nearly as powerful as just a printed page or even as a moving image.

I played Hellblade as the creator’s suggested: with headphones on. This let me experience the voices the way Senua did – hearing them immediately as our shared quest began and growing both frustrated and fond of their chatter. I don’t think the printed text of a novel could have done this for me and while I can be emotionally connected to a character in a movie or tv show, you can’t become them the way you can in a video game. And while I don’t think I was ever Senua, I felt like I was with her the whole way.

I know this game is already getting a lot of push back from people with mental illness. Ninja Theory, the game design company, did a lot of homework in trying to represent the different ways psychosis can feel. I’ve seen at least one reviewer who are not happy because they suffer from mental illness and didn’t think the game represented them, and I can understand that. The designers could only do so much and they reached out to professionals and got as much feedback as possible but they can’t know what it is like for someone and no game will really ever replicated that experience.

I am coming from a completely different place, and this game really made me think a lot about all of the voices in everyone’s head and how some of us can shrug them off and others are forced to hear them. The voices of self doubt, of fear, of resignation beside the voices that also push you on. I’ve never suffered from psychosis and I can’t even begin to understand what life would be like for someone living with it, but for those 8 hours, I had those voices in my ears and it made me think of how hard that can make everything – if I was struggling in a fictional world to run forward and stay focused, what must it be like for someone in modern society? No idea, I know I can never know.

While I didn’t love the ending (too soon, I wanted more), I loved the game as a whole. I really enjoyed that it was more than just a button mashing fighter game and that the (thankfully few) boss fights all had strategies to them. It reminded me of Legend of Zelda and how each “boss” was more than just a simple fight, you had to pay attention. There were just as many puzzles and hidden things to make me want to keep going, and bits of Norse legend peppered through-out which made me want to go find Neil Gaiman’s new book and see if there were more to those legends.

It was a beautiful game, I loved seeing it on my screen, watching Senua wander the mystical world. I really hope we have more adventures with her.

For more details about the game and how to buy a (digital only for PC and PS4), visit the official Ninja Theory site.


@outsidexbox : My new YouTube addiction

Some nights after dinner, we open up the YouTube app on the Xbox and just start watching random stuff. Usually it’s clips from Jimmy Fallon or Conan O’Brien but a few weeks ago, we stumbled on a a channel with lots of “top ten” this and the videos that were amusing, even though some were a bit of a stretch since this was all the channel did. Then one of the Suggested Videos linked to a show called “OutsideXbox“.

There are three of them – Jane, Mike, and Andy. They are gamers. They are British. They are darlings. I can’t stop watching the videos.

I think what I like most (apart from the fact that Jane is there representing the ladies) is that they are never really *mean* about things. Yes, they are snarky and poke fun at a lot of video game cliches, but the humor comes from a happy place. The show is about Xbox games but they don’t sit and take potshots at PC, PS4, or Wii games and frequently reference classic titles from these systems when doing their lists. I never feel like they are attacking anyone, just having a laugh. They can joke because they love the games too. We’ve all been there!

I am addicted to this channel. My gateway drug was all the silly lists of ridiculous things, like achievements and easter eggs. Then the other night, Tim clicked on them playing through a portion of the Slender game, and while I have never really been into watching other people play games, I think having the 3 of them in the room together made this SO much fun to experience. Instead of a gamer talking to themselves, we had the three of them laughing and jumping together (and Mike acting like he wasn’t scared but we know he was screaming internally the entire time).

To top it off, each Friday they post a “Show of the Week” wish some highlights and comment reactions from the videos uploaded during the week, which usually has another list and some antics in the studio.

So if you’re in need of a gamer show or think you might be (I didn’t even know I was until I started watching!) then give OutsideXbox a try!

quick thoughts: Dragon Age Inquisition

Meet Allora! She’s my Dalish Elf Rogue in Dragon Age Inquisition.

I’ve managed to log several hours in DAI now and the size of this game is a bit overwhelming. I feel like the Bioware team spent the last few years playing through the Bethesda games after they were finished crying over all the ME3 hatemail and trying to figure out how to top themselves. At times, I worry the game is too big, that it took too many pages from the Oblivion/Skyrim gamer’s guide instead of just being a Dragon Age game. We will see how I feel once the story is over.

So far, I’m really enjoying the game. There are a few things I’m not quite sure they changed (um…being able to choose stats? wha?) and a few things I’m underwhelmed by (I can’t get excited about crafting items, feels too much like work) but overall I’m having fun. I’ve died a LOT but the world is so open that it’s easy to just walk away from an area for awhile and level up a bit before facing it all again.


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gaming thoughts: Assassin’s Creed Unity

I finally have a game for my Xbox One and it’s one of the buggiest releases ever, or so the Internet would have you believe. Honestly, Ubisoft did a good job of patching a lot of the gameplay issues as quickly as they could. Yes, if I was a hardcore AC fan who was up at midnight and ready to power through memory sequence after memory sequence, I probably would have been perturbed. But as a casual fan of the series, I haven’t come up with any game stopping moments (er, except when the game wouldn’t load, but that seemed to be one of the quickest issues dealt with in the weekend patch).

ANYWAY, as far as gameplay goes, AC:U doesn’t feel that different from ACII or Black Flag. Lots of running, jumping and then jumping over your actual destination. If you have played AC games before, it’s very easy to pick up and get going – maybe too easy as you can find yourself getting distracted by collecting quests immediately since all the chests and collectible items appear on your map as soon as you start the game up.

The game is VERY open. It’s easy to wander into a quest that is far beyond your ability. The game gives you a heads up that you might want to upgrade your equipment but it doesn’t stop you from attempting the side quest if you really want to try. The missions are what you would expect – assassinations, puzzle solving, and stealthy thievery. I really enjoyed the first two Nostradamus riddle sequences I solved, a nice change of pace from all the stabbing.

There are lots of ways to earn points here and there. The game is generous with handing out “creed” points, which are used for upgrading equipment. You can earn them by hiding or using a quick lift. You can also earn them by stopping fights, killing enemies, and tackling a thief. (Thieves in this game are MUCH slower than in previous games! Not sure if that was on purpose of a glitch or if they will get smarter once I’ve tackled 30 of them).

There is also the notorious Companion App, AC Initiates, and Uplay – part of Ubisoft’s online program that is meant to link you to your other games and reward you. Sadly, the Companion app seems to be the only one that works right. AC Initiates and Uplay have had issues linking all weekend and I know I’m not getting any credit for the time spent with previous AC titles. The Companion app can be loaded onto a phone or tablet and you have a “nomad” group of assassins that can be sent on missions, which when completed unlock in-game chests and missions. There is a “premium” version of the app that can be purchases for $2 but…let’s face it, I just spent $60 on the game (well, not me personally, since my copy came with the Xbox One) but it seems sort of rude to expect me to pay MORE to access features in the game. But if you’re a completist and need 100% of the achievements, you will probably cave and pay so you can unlock all the chests.

The game is fun, I’ve been enjoying myself running around London Paris (it’s hard to remember that I’m in FRANCE since everyone speaks with a cockney accent…WTF?). Arno is not as charming as Ezio; he’s less of a rogue and more of a scoundrel, if that makes any sense. The main campaign story is interesting enough to keep me playing and the side quests have been enjoyable enough to make me want to spend a couple hours completing them.

It will keep me amused until my copy of Dragon Age Inquisition arrives next week. Then…well, if you don’t hear from me after that, you’ll know I’m lost in Fereldon. But for now I will help the French peasants survive the first few days of the revolution.

PSA: DragonAge Origins FREE through EA Origin

As part of their “on the house” promotion (and trying to drum up interest for Dragonage Inquisition…like they even need to) EA is giving away FREE copies of Dragonage Origin, the first game in the series, for PC download.

Only catch is you need to have their service Origin installed, set up an account yadda yadda.

But you know you’ve sold your soul to worse sites for even less so, yeah.


Also, Bejeweled 3 is free for PC/Mac, if fantasy adventure games are not your thing.

“stealth” video games

I had to watch this most recent Rev3Games video because I was asking myself the same question. I’m playing through Dishonored for the first time right now, I’m almost done. I have decided that I do not have the patience for stealth games. Now, Dishonored gives you the option to go the non-stealth route, just killing everyone and hoping for the best (you won’t get it, but you can hope). But the game warns you right off the bat that the more violent you are, the more people you kill, the worse the ending of the story will be. So I wanted to be stealthy and try to get the “happy” ending for my first playthrough.

I started out strong but my patience quickly faded. Like the guys mention in the above video, you eventually forget about the story and get so focused on beating the AI that sometimes you also lose the fun. Seriously, the last level I played I literally blinked my way into the house, ran up to the boss, grabbed his key from his desk while he was screaming challenges at me and then just blinked my way to the downstairs exit that the key unlocked. Once I left that “zone”, I was safe, didn’t matter that I had aggro’d the entire building full of henchmen. I was sick of sneaking around, I just wanted it to be done.

It reminded me of why I don’t play stealth games. I don’t mind a bit of thievery here and there, as an optional way of getting extra cash or items (ala Skyrim) but I really do not have the focus for games that are 100% stealth, probably because of how it pulls me away from the story.

What about you? Do you like stealth games? Why or why not?

game thoughts: Hearthstone

Playing Hearthstone beta with my bro #hearthstone

When I first heard about Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft, Blizzard’s new online collectible card game, I rolled my eyes. I had never played any CCGs in real life and I couldn’t imagine myself playing one virtually.

Then my brother texted me about the open beta and asked if I was going to try it. So I found my old account, logged in and downloaded the game to just give it a try. And now I’m sucked into it.

I’m sure veteran card gamers will probably feel the same way about Hearthstone as most hard-core MMORPG players feel about WoW – it is very accessible, easy for casual players to pick up. That’s why I love it. You can launch this game and start playing through the tutorial and you’ll have the basics down in minutes. You can stay in the “Practice” zone for as long as you like to work on strategy and earn cards for your main deck, but the real fun begins when you start to challenge actual players. Since it is all linked to your account, all your WoW friends automatically populate your player list so it would be easy to suck friends into card battles, maybe while waiting for the rest of your guild to log online for game night.

The cards all have that great WoW art look and the sound effects and sayings from your favorite in-game characters are played with each card.

I gave up on WoW itself a long time ago, I couldn’t justify the cost vs actual time I spent gaming. It was fun but my Xbox was gathering dust and it felt silly to keep paying for the same game over and over when I had brand new games to try. But Hearthstone is free! As far as I can tell, it’s going to be free.

Now, you can **pay** to get extra special cards, and I haven’t really experienced a game against someone of that level yet. Already you can give Blizzard real money and earn a limited edition card for when the game officially launches. I’ve only played the Casual matches and they have been lots of fun but I am thinking that the Ranked matches in the Arena will be a lot rougher and you will find the people willing to pay real money for virtual cards playing in that section.

But right now I’m having a hella lot of fun trying to complete my rogue deck and playing against random opponents. If you’re looking for a fun way to kill 30 minutes, download the demo and play a few games (nice feature: there is a clock in the game so you can see what time it is).

Have you tried Hearthstone yet? What do you think?