Tag Archives: Star Wars

Wars Among the Stars

Other than my semi-regular Oblivion updates and my Wing Commander review it seems like it’s been awhile since I’ve discussed any real PC gaming, and outside of a few dips back into World of Warcraft, I think the last time I really discussed spending a lot of time on a semi-modern PC game was when I reported my adventures in Rust two years ago. The biggest reason for that, besides my mighty backlog of console games, was that my PC was approaching relic status and not really up to some of the more demanding new games coming out, to put it mildly.

Back in Black!
“Back in Black!”

In late July I finally had enough reasons to justify building a whole new machine. Beyond gaming, I was planning on going back to college and needed a machine capable of running multiple VMs for labs. I also had plans to virtualize one of my servers which was running on even more ancient hardware than my old desktop was. Outside of the additional challenge of building something stout enough to run at least one VM fulltime and handle a modern game simultaneously, the build was quite easy and a lot of fun. It also happened to coincide with the release of Nvidia’s Geforce GTX 10 series, and I managed to score a nice overclocked 1070 early into the chipset’s life.

So what did I played with my hot new gaming rig? The latest AAA games? Did I hook up an Oculus Rift or an HTC Vive? Nah, I actually decided to play some older games that I had wanted to revisit, for one reason or another.

First was Planetside 2. Failing to resist my own monumental hype for this game, I managed to download and install the massive client on my old machine. Performance was beyond terrible and I couldn’t even play it long enough to get a feel for the flow of the game. They did some major performance patches shortly after that but by the time I went back to try it again they had removed support for Windows XP so that was the end of my tour of duty.

On the losing end of a firefight.
“On the losing end of a firefight.”

Since giving it another shot on my new machine my time with Planetside 2 has been largely fantastic. For a free-to-play MMO that feels, for the most part, quite polished, I can’t believe more people aren’t playing it. It has some issues, sure, and I was definitely skeptical about some of the design changes from the first game, but all in all I was pleasantly surprised with how close the spirit of the gameplay experience is to the original. The same type of absolutely epic combined arms battles still happen constantly, though, as with the first game, I often find myself enjoying some of the smaller battles than following the zerg, using the open nature of the battlefield and numerous options for classes, weapons, and vehicles to give me far more tactical choices than typically available in most normal FPS games.

Anti-aircraft duty is a dirty job, but someone has to do it.
“Anti-aircraft duty is a dirty job, but someone has to do it.”

Unlike playing a 25-40 minute Conquest game in Battlefield, the always-on nature of the PS2 battlefield and the various ways of quickly dropping into existing battles and skirmishes makes PS2 a great “gap filler” game too – just have 15 minutes to play? Not a problem. 2 hours to play? Where’d all of my time go? I spent quite a while ping-ponging between roles – at first I fell in love with the Lightning tank, then spent a lot of my time as a Combat Medic or Heavy Assault, then I dabbled with the Stalker cloak Infiltrator, then I discovered the majesty of the Engineer’s wire guided anti-vehicle, then spent a bit of time running various type of MAX units, and as of my last few sessions, I’d finally really clicked with the Light Assault class. Between all of that I had some amazing moments. The first few times I watched a gunship get blown out of the sky, spinning out of control before violently crashing, I had to pick my jaw off the ground. As with the vaguely similar Battlefield series, SOE managed to really nail something about the sound design and, despite the style being somewhat divisive, the graphics of the game, that helps keep me deeply immersed in the action.

My only real regret is that, unlike my time with the original Planetside, I’ve been playing PS2 mostly solo. Despite being a very easy game to pick up and play solo, I have absolutely no hesitation in saying that games like this are a thousand times funner when playing cooperatively with friends. The best way to leverage the combined arms style of combat is to, well, combine arms, and the few times I’ve grouped up with some random organized outfit squads were highly memorable.

Guarding a bio lab landing pad.
“Guarding a bio lab landing pad.”

I’ll almost certainly keep dabbling in PS2 from time to time in the future, but for now I think I’ve just about had my fill and will probably spend more of my meager amount of gaming time on other games. That said, if I ever had any friends interested in playing it I’d be back in a heartbeat. If you liked the original or like games like the Battlefield series and this looks interesting, definitely check it out. There are still plenty of people playing and the game has a surprisingly good out of game community, with tons of YouTubers uploading new content on the regular and an active Reddit community, for instance.

Exploding the local wildlife.
“Exploding the local wildlife.”

The next game I went back to was Star Wars: The Old Republic, BioWare’s infamous Star Wars MMORPG. My trajectory with this game has been fucking weird. Loving Knights of the Old Republic and being both a Star Wars and an MMORPG fan in general, I was completely hyped for this game but once it got closer to release and I discovered just how much of a World of Warcraft clone it was I was definitely let down. Then I got into the open beta and opened my mind a bit. Sure, it’s a WoW clone, but damn if it isn’t the best one I’ve ever played. By the time release hit, however, my free time was non-existent and between that and the group of friends I had guilded up with losing interested (like most of the rest of the subscriber base) I ended up bailing after only a month or so of infrequent play. Coincidentally ALSO about two years ago I came back once and played just a bit, as detailed here, but I decided to put the game down until I had a nicer gaming rig to enjoy it on.

This time I immediately scrapped my poor level 20 something Sith Inquisitor to go all-in on one of the classes I had tried out last time: a Bounty Hunter. This wasn’t really my favorite class or anything, but I liked the idea of playing a cold as ice female Bounty Hunter and, as usual with SWTOR, I quickly felt attached to my character through my dialog choices and the headcanon I filled in the blanks with. After I committed to playing again my mission was simple: play through the entire 1-50 class storyline and as many side quests as I could handle, and then move on to the next class. I wanted to play them all!

Bounty Hunters are prone to frequent Dirty Harry moments...
“Bounty Hunters are prone to frequent Dirty Harry moments…”

Of course, it’s been a few months now and the end of just now coming into sight, and this doesn’t even include venturing into the various expansion storylines, which also interest me, so maybe my plan was a little ambitious. Maybe not too ambitious though, as one oddity about SWTOR these days is that they drastically increased XP rewards so my new main, as it were, was max level long before I got into the last chapter of my storyline. In theory they’ve tuned this so you only need to do your character’s story missions, and each planet’s story missions so if you do all of the side quests, like I’m doing, you’re going to be way over level. The flip side is that when I finally do get around to playing some alts I can skip all of the side content and breeze through the story, which is greatly appealing to me.

My pet Jawa and I taking on a Jedi.
“My pet Jawa and I taking on a Jedi.”

I’ll admit I’ve also been distracted by playing with the cartel market, the auction house and, particularly, the new stronghold system since coming back. Ever since Ultima Online I’ve always love having a house I can customize and/or decorate which included chasing down expensive decorations, and SWTOR’s Galatic Stronghold system scratches that itch. I’ve also spent some of the “cartel coins” I had been building up while unsubscribed on various random loot packs and made a tidy sum auctioning them in game. It’s been kind of an addictive mini-game, one that I’m sure makes BioWare quite a lot of money. At first I was concerned that playing around with auctioning these items might not be viable given how dead the auction house was, but then I paid to transfer my characters to a much more active server and my experience has been great ever since.

Like Planetside 2, despite being free-to-play (now) SWTOR has impressive production values and a lot of meaty gameplay available, and the fans that are still into the game are rabidly into it. In fact BioWare continues to release new items into the cartel market, new patches, and even new major expansions. Maybe it’s more the Star Wars nerd in me than anything else, but I absolutely love this game. The fact that it has kept my interest this long, and that I still want to play some of the other classes, really says a lot about this game though, especially with World of Warcraft: Legion out there constantly tempting me to drop everything and head back to Azeroth.

The Unreleased Force

It’s been quite a while since I’ve sat down and played a single player game from start to finish. You know, insert “life” blah blah blah, and my other usual excuses. I’ve continued to play around with the console versions of Tropico 4 and Diablo III and even dipped back into World of Warcraft briefly enough to finally give Warlords of Draenor a fair shake.

Anyway, with all of the recent hype surrounding Star Wars: The Force Awakens in the last couple of months I found myself in the mood to revisit some of my favorite old Star Wars related games. At some point this turned into wanting to play some of the Star Wars games I missed, most notably the GameCube’s Rogue Squadron II: Rogue Leader and Rogue Squadron III: Rebel Strike. This urge coincided nicely with having an entire day off of work with no other plans. Unfortunately I couldn’t find copies of either game locally so I ended up going into my own collection and dusting off a copy of Star Wars: The Force Unleashed II.

Stop! Pleeeassee stop!
“Stop! Pleeeassee stop!”

I was skeptical about the first Force Unleashed but ended up enjoying it overall. Still, I never played the DLC and had totally resigned myself to skipping the second game after seeing it get totally panned by both critics and fans alike. Still, a few positive reviews including one from a co-worker of mine convinced my to toss a cheap, used copy of the Xbox 360 version into my backlog.

So, there I was, a day off of work and an apparently incredibly short (with many people claiming to beat it in about 4.5 hours) Star Wars game queued up to play. So…?

What can I say? Suprisingly, I actually really enjoyed TFU2 and I’ve got to say that right off the bat that it definitely doesn’t deserve its place among those “worst Star Wars games ever created” lists I sometimes see it on.

First, TFU2 dials up the already nice graphics and sound from the first game just a bit, particularly when it comes to the pre-rendered cutscenes. This game will have Star Wars nerds salivating with its aesthetics, for sure. I absolutely cannot complain here – I was impressed.

The rebel fleet running away, as usual.
“The rebel fleet running away, as usual.”

Now, TFU2 plays almost exactly like the first game. The systems have been polished a bit to the point that I don’t really recall running into the issue with accidentally targeting the wrong enemies or objects with force powers that apparently aggravated me a lot during my playthrough of the first game, which is great. Also, this time you start with most of your force powers unlocked and spend the first several levels more or less owning the faces off of all of your enemies without much of a challenge. This I like! Of course, there was a point at which I seemed to hit a bit of a sudden shift in difficulty, with some boss fights and even some normal set pieces being quite challenging. Unlike the first game’s reliance on enemies that were immune to certain attacks (which are here as well but seemingly less prominent) TFU2 seems to delight in challenging the player by simply filling a single area with a large amount of different, averagely difficult enemies at one time. I think this became most noticeable after the introduction of those damn terror droids and the later terror walker boss. Ugh!

Bringing down an AT-ST.
“Bringing down an AT-ST.”

At around the same point in the game the polish gets noticeably turned down just a notch, with environments and puzzles getting more repetitive and checkpoints seemingly placed with less of a generous hand, meaning repeating larger chunks of gameplay and even character dialog upon dying. Oh, and platforming sections – did I mentioned platforming sections? Still, overall the game was a fairly smooth ride and despite TFU2’s reputation for being unfinished and buggy, I actually ran into zero bugs during the main campaign.

The story was one of the things critics panned the most. Yes, there isn’t much substance to it. It’s entirely throwaway, in fact, and it doesn’t fit cleanly into the canon (err, I guess “legends” now!) Still, I remember watching at least one review video that panned the plot for being all about Starkiller‘s emo clone desperately and hopelessly chasing after a woman for no real reason like the plot of some lame 80s teen movie. It definitely looked silly the way it was presented but it turns out that this was largely creative editing. In reality, Starkiller’s clone is understandably emotional and unstable and attempts to flee the empire’s control. His obsession with Juno came across as a desperate grasp towards one of his only remaining, shared memories and not some kind of unrequited crush. I had no real problems with it.

Enjoying the view on Cato Neimoidia.
“Enjoying the view on Cato Neimoidia.”

Despite choosing the lightside ending of the first game, which resulted in Starkiller fucking up both Vader and the emperor, but ultimately dying as a martyr to the fledgling rebellion, knowing how inconsequential Starkiller’s clone was in TFU2 inspired me to strike down Lord Vader which led to a pretty surprisingly result that lead perfectly into my playthrough of the Battle for Endor DLC mission. I gave myself an appropriately dark side looking costume, my trusty old red lightsabers, and headed to Endor with bad, bad intentions.

The Endor DLC was a lot of fun. First, it added some much needed variety to the scenery of the main game – the lush jungles of the forest moon of Endor, of course. It also added two new enemies in the form of rebel troops of various types and, of course, motherfucking Ewoks! Both of these could be surprisingly annoying foes, but brutalizing Ewoks en masse kind of made any difficulty in these sections totally worth it. I especially enjoyed the special grapple attack move which performs some kind of hilarious force punt to the poor little bastards. Also, and this has been spoiled long, long ago so I don’t feel bad by saying so, and it’s totally non-canon in ANY version of the Star Wars universe, but Starkiller’s clone manages to brutally execute both the dynamic duo of Chewbacca and Han Solo AND the inexplicably badass-Jedi version of Princess Leia. Awesome. The end was a little confusing and, ultimately a cliff hanger for I assume further DLC that unfortunately never came out.

Getting all Darth Sidious on Vader's ass!
“Getting all Darth Sidious on Vader’s ass!”

Overall, despite the occasional frustrating fight, repetitive sections, and the throwaway story, Star Wars: The Force Unleashed II was a quick, fun playthrough that I’d recommend for any Star Wars fan who can distance themselves enough from the canon to have a little dark side fun or who enjoyed the first game enough to want more of the same. Just don’t go in looking for anything long or with an engrossing story…

PC screenshots plundered from sources throughout the galaxy by the Knights of Ren.

Force Feedback

Ughhhhhh… it’s been a while! I haven’t been playing much Xbox 360 lately, or much else besides World of Warcraft for that matter, but the one game I have been working my way through is Star Wars: The Force Unleashed. Yeah, the first one – you should be used to me playing old games by now. 😉 Where, oh where, do I start?

I’ve got a long history with Star Wars games being somewhat of an in-the-closet Star Wars geek, and often times the fan service supplied in these games is almost enough to get me through them alone, for better or for worse. In the case of TFU it is definitely for the worse, unfortunately. TFU nails the Star Wars aesthetic fairly well and, as with the vast majority of Star Wars games, the sound effects and music are great. The graphics themselves are pretty solid, even quite nice on occasion, despite a few bugs here and there and relatively minor issues with animation, clipping, and the like.

Shaak Ti about to join the rest of the Jedi.
“Shaak Ti about to join the rest of the Jedi.”

Speaking of bugs, despite the game being massively patched since it was first released, there are still plenty of them to go around. I ran into a few major glitches during two different end level boss fights which left me unable to continue and extremely frustrated. I’d have to say that the bugs were a lot less annoying than some of the other things I took issue over though.

TFU plays, more or less, like other “character action” games such as the God of War series, for instance. One big difference though is your force powers, and due to the nature of many of them, it is necessary to have a way to target specific characters and objects beyond the typical melee and direction based targeting common to this style of game. TFU handles this by locking onto the closest enemy that you’re facing and allowing you to change your target at will though the targeting is often way too imprecise in the heat of battle causing you to sometimes lock on to a piece of a wall or a chunk of debris instead of the giant AT-ST currently standing next to you, filling your cloak full of holes. At best this can be annoying and at worst will cause you to die needlessly many times throughout the course of the game. The game is challenging enough without sabotaging you with bad controls.

Zzzzaaaapppp! Crispy Stormtrooper, anyone?
“Zzzzaaaapppp! Crispy Stormtrooper, anyone?”

The challenge is something else I have a problem with. There are some sections that are frustrating for various reasons (the infamous Star Destroyer part says hello!) but even allowing for those exceptions I absolutely hated running into hordes and hordes of common enemies that were somehow immune to various force attacks or otherwise frustratingly powerful. Isn’t part of the fun of having all of these amazing powers the ability to trounce people with them and generally cause all kinds of massive havoc? It succeeds some of the time but I often found myself feeling like I had to work a lot harder than I should have to work to get through a level or boss fight. Many of the boss fights took this annoyance up a notch by feeling overly cheap because of the combinations of their various immunities and special attacks.

Not to sound too negative! Graphics, sound, and general “Star Warsiness” aside, I also found myself really enjoying the story. While the tale of Starkiller isn’t exactly incredibly engrossing, it was pretty satisfying (in a shamefully nerdy way) to see how his story fit into the plots of the movies and the general canon Star Wars Galaxy timeline. It isn’t at all unusual for Star Wars games, books, comics, etc. to be considered canon but they don’t often tie so closely to the original trilogy. The endings were quite awesome as well. I chose the light side route (naturally!) and ended up watching the dark side ending on YouTube rather than suffering through the last level again.

You even kill a ton of Stormtroopers when you work for the Empire. I love Star Wars games!
“You even kill a ton of Stormtroopers when you work for the Empire. I love Star Wars games!”

So, I suppose I enjoyed TFU overall, somehow. Really, if it weren’t a Star Wars game I probably wouldn’t have completed it, though I’m sure I’ve felt that way many, many times in the past as well. Sadly, I just barely managed to like the overall experience enough that I’m now tempted to eventually pick up TFU2 from a bargain bin despite how much it got slammed in reviews though, that said, I wasn’t exactly desperate to play more of the first game when it was done and indeed will be skipping the DLC for now.

Now where is my damn X-wing/Tie Fighter reboot?

Ok, that title was a bit forced… get it? GET IT?! Surprise! My love affair with awful comedy is still very much intact. 🙂