Try It Tuesday: Virginia

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In a nice little coincidence, I played another adventure game/walking simulator this weekend after last week’s Gone Home (thank the Steam winter sale for that): Virginia. Heard some good things and was in the mood for a juicy bit of video game storytelling, so for five bucks, why not?

I was thrown for a bit of a loop when Virginia ended up being far different than I had anticipated. It’s only marginally an adventure game and closer in truth to an interactive movie in which your character follows a very linear story while you trigger the next sequence by finding whatever clicky is in the room. That’s it for gameplay; there’s no puzzles, no freeform exploration, and strangest of all, no dialogue.

That’s right — in a creepy mystery adventure game involving the FBI, a cult conspiracy, and ghosts from the past, there’s absolutely no dialogue whatsoever. There’s not even mouseover descriptions or inner monlogue. Even the sounds are muted save for the rather excellent but blaring soundtrack.

Instead, you play the game forced to pick up story cues from the environments, body language, and the very occasional printed reports you’re handed. It’s like playing a silent movie, and in a way, it works. It feels weird and isolating, but also rewarding to pick up on details enough to figure out a piece of the overall story.

Virginia is about a rookie FBI agent who is partnered up with an ostracized member of the agency and told to find a missing kid in a nearby town of Kingdom. Your character is given a secondary objective, which is to investigate your new partner for… something to bring her down. You would think that there would be a lot of investigation and clue solving, but that’s mostly a red herring for the real stories, which have to do with your past and your partner’s past.

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As short and captivating as Virginia initially is, it also fails as both a game and a story. Abrupt cuts to new scenes are very common, constantly prompting you to reorient yourself to what’s going on (and to make things worse, half of them are dream sequences). It just keeps jumping all around the place, with the investigation taking more and more of a back seat to whatever baggage these characters are carrying.

There’s only so much story you can tell without dialogue, and one can’t help but think that this would have been a much deeper and much more interesting game if people spoke. Instead, Virginia is limited in what it can tell, and it decides to invest heavily into symbolism and esoteric sequences that can be interpreted just about any way you like.

Another issue I have with it is the rather abrupt shift in focus from the first two-thirds of the game, which mostly focus on very human issues, such as loss, racial prejudice, integrity/corruption, and friendship — and the last third, during which Virginia starts revving up the David Lynch weird-o-meter by throwing cults and UFOs and increasingly bizarre symbols at you. It’s frustrating that the game sort of hints that there is this big conspiracy in the town, yet it’s never explained, explored in any depth, or really impacts you. It’s just a garnish. And it’s actually not needed. I was far more interested in the backstories of these two women, their struggle as minorities in the ’90s FBI, their losses, and secret investigations. I wanted more of that, more of the partnership, more of the investigation, more character development. Ain’t nobody asking for ten solid minutes of dream sequences that deals with none of that (or does it? Dreams can be anyyyyything!).

The ending is a weird hodgepodge of nonsense, and I can say that with certainty because I’ve been reading up on interpretations of it, and just about nobody can agree on what this story is really about or what the finale is saying. You can all but imagine the game developers rocking back and forth in glee at how players will find themselves mystified and in awe at all of these red herrings and unanswered questions. “It’s such a great game!” this strawman gamer exclaims. “I have no idea what it means!”

It’s really, honestly, this:

Symbolism and mystery and some unanswered questions are fine in moderation, but when a storyteller figures out that if you just slather enough of this all over the place you don’t have to explain anything, then I get seriously annoyed. You can’t figure it out! It must be oh-so-deep and profound! Don’t be visibly confused or else you’ll look stupid when others talk to you about the game!

Like Gone Home, I don’t regret playing through this, but also like Gone Home, I was left majorly wanting. The part of the story I could grok was certainly fascinating enough that it could have been a great tale if told straight in the end. Instead we get murdered bison, UFOs, shattered masks, and roaring furnaces, all trying to outdo each other in inscrutability. Thanks but no thanks.

 

Star Trek Online: Holiday to the future

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More time traveling hijinks in Star Trek Online, shall we? We shall. Daniels, who doesn’t seem to want to leave me alone, has another task. The Vorgons in the future are chasing after some Macguffin Super Weapon, and we have to jump to the 27th century to help. Considering that it is, you know, the future, you think we could just leave a note for Future Starfleet to handle. Worked for Marty McFly.

So we’re off to the 27th century, and I’ll admit, I was pretty excited to see what vision of this far-flung era the developers had in store. Turns out that the 27th century looks an awful lot like the 23rd, 24th, and 25th when all you do is hang out in space. Yes, the mission never lets you see anything cool in the future, just a lot of space battles.

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Ooh, Star Trek Online, you so pretty. I often forget that.

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We then chase the Macguffin back to the Star Trek Enterprise era and its sixteen loyal viewers. Once again, no fan service satisfaction other than a brief shot of Archer’s ship. No cameo, no heading over for dinner, nothing but some more space battles. I have to admit, this all felt very lazy and half-assed, especially with the mission name-dropping Archer and Picard as if that was supposed to instill some sort of awe.

The most interesting part of the space battles was fighting some Tholians who decided to show up and attack both me and the Vorgons. The Tholian webs are pretty cool to see in action.

You know what would have been cool? A time travel mission in which you would be able to choose which era you’d visit and have to flit back and forth to solve a mystery. But that’s not what we get here.

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At least it all picked up when we were sent to Earth during the Dominion War, when the Breen were invading Starfleet Academy. I was considering how odd it was that I had a Breen crewmate, but no matter, friendly fire was not an issue.

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In the end, I stop the Vorgons from getting the device, but it’s a half-won victory. The Vorgons end up going all-in with the mysterious time traveling Envoy, and this decision gives the Envoy hair while Daniels’ own face gets warped even further. I’m calling it: Daniels and the Envoy are the same person. But I’ll have to find that out later, I guess!

Syp’s Gaming Goals: January 2017

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December in review

Due to the holidays and the changes to my routine, I actually ended up with a lot less time to game than normal (turns out that when your wife AND kids are home all of the time, this happens). Still, it was kind of a good month and I leave it feeling optimistic about what I’m playing and where I’m going.

In The Secret World, I went through and documented the entire Nursery quest line as well as the Christmas mission. I did make some headway into Suramar City in World of Warcraft, but slowed way down in my progression through RIFT’s Gedlo Badlands (although I did have a lot of fun with my guild at the Christmas party). LOTRO started picking up more play time from me as I’ve been starting on the whole post-battle Update 19 content. I’ve become apathetic toward Guild Wars 2 once more, but I’m leaving that option open for the future.

Outside of MMOs, I’ve been playing a lot of Crazy Kings (tower defense game) and Knights of Pen and Paper 2 on mobile. I took a bit of a break from the Try It Tuesday series but came back for a late entry with Gone Home.

January goals

A new year always gets my imagination stirring for what I could be doing… new projects, returning to other games, etc. Finishing up Suramar City in time for 7.2 is important to me, so I’ll devote a night or two to doing nothing but that. I have a very interesting RIFT project in mind that I’m going to get started soon, I’ll be doing a night here and there in LOTRO, and I’ll be continuing with my adventures through Transylvania in The Secret World. I’m going to log in at least three Star Trek Online missions over the month as well.

I have some possibly-maybe ideas brewing, such as going through all of LOTRO’s Bingo Boffin quests in a row (yes, all 52 of them!), finishing up both SWTOR Knight expansions to see the story, and switching over to seriously level my World of Warcraft Hunter. I sort of have an itch to check back in with Final Fantasy XIV, particularly since I have never played it on this computer and there’s an expansion coming.

I would like to wrap up the Star Control 2 playthrough and then evaluate my options on a new retro game series. My list of Try It Tuesday games keeps growing, but I have a short list that I want to get around to sooner rather than later, including ARK, Virginia, and at least one MMO I’ve never played before.

Ongoing projects

  • The Secret World: Transylvania and Tokyo playthroughs
  • RIFT: Starfall Prophecy questing and puzzle project
  • LOTRO: Issue 19 and Bingo Boffin quests
  • Star Trek Online: Yesterday’s War, Iconian War, Future Proof, and New Frontiers episodes
  • World of Warcraft: Finish Suramar, get Broken Isles Pathfinder part 1
  • SWTOR: Fallen Empire and Eternal Throne solo chapters
  • Retro Gaming: Star Control 2

What do you want to do this month in your gaming?

MMO timeline of 2016

Seeing as how this is the last day of the year, I thought it was fitting to provide a quick overview of all of the major launches, expansions, adaptations, and closures of MMORPGs in 2016. This is, of course, from my constantly updated MMO Timline page.

  • January – Blade & Soul launches in the west
  • January – City of Steam closes
  • January – RuneScape classic reopens
  • March – The Division launches
  • March – Black Desert launches in the west
  • March – Path of Exile: Ascendancy
  • March – FFXI on consoles closes
  • April – EVE Online: Citadel
  • April – Trove: Mantle of Power
  • April – Ascent: The Space game launches
  • May – DUST 514 closes
  • May – Tree of Savior launches
  • June – Landmark launches
  • June – Lineage II: Helios
  • July – PlanetSide closes
  • July – Star Trek Online: Agents of Yesterday
  • July – Aion: Echoes of Eternity
  • July – Riders of Icarus soft launch
  • August – World of Warcraft: Legion
  • September – LEGO Minifigures Online closes
  • September – Star Trek Online launches on consoles
  • September – Otherland launches
  • September – Path of Exile: Atlas of Worlds
  • September – Destiny: Rise of Iron
  • November – EVE Online goes free-to-play
  • November – The Crew: Calling All Units
  • November – EverQuest: Empires of Kunark
  • November – EverQuest II: Kunark Ascending
  • November – RIFT: Starfall Prophecy
  • November – EVE Online: Ascension
  • December – Star Wars: The Old Republic: Knights of the Eternal Throne
  • December – ArcheAge: Revelation
  • December – Trove launches on consoles

Looking back at the 6 MMOs I played the most in 2016

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Seeing as how this will be my final MMO-related post of this year, I thought it only fitting to look back over 2016 and recall my exploits in MMORPGs. While I did dabble here and there in various titles, such as Firefall, ESO, and Trove, for the most part my year was dominated by six titles — none of them surprising, but all fun and influential in my gaming career.

One of the best things that happened for me in terms of playing MMOs was getting a new computer that could actually run them well. That’s been such a boon.

(1) Final Fantasy XIV

At the beginning of the year, I had made a resolution to find a “home MMO” and settle my butt down to mostly focus on one title. Initially, that became FFXIV, as it was fairly new to me,, had a lot of positive word-of-mouth, and offered a lot of content.

I had a good run in that MMO, I think, although around April I decided that I had run out of steam and was losing the will to play it. That was unfortunate, because I was finally nearing Heavensword content and had found a really great guild, but alas. In retrospect, there was a lot I ended up respecting and liking about the game as well as a lot of irritating issues. I think my biggest gripe is that it never quite clicked with me even though people kept urging me to stick it out because, I quote, “It gets really good later on!” I shouldn’t have to wait more than four months for a game to get really good, and my patience wore out. Maybe I’ll go back some day. I’d like to think so. That Red Mage looks pretty cool…

(2) World of Warcraft

WoW got its hooks back in me early and kept them there, pulling me right back into this old favorite. The first half of the year was spent plowing through Warlords of Draenor, building up my expansion, and prepping my roster of characters for the new expansion. The second half was all Legion, all the time, and it’s been a really good ride so far. Found a terrific guild, got a pair of legendaries, built up my Death Knight to a great place, and still have a good amount of content on which to chew.

(3) RIFT

The announcement of Starfall Prophecy got me back into RIFT, and it’s been a reliably second-tier MMO interest since then. Again, discovering a wonderful guild — perhaps the best I’ve been a part of in MMOs — was a major factor to my stickiness, but having an expansion’s worth of content and a new house to build certainly kept me busy. I have just so much left to do here and no real desire to leave.

(4) The Secret World

Back in February I seriously splurged and bought a Grand Master membership, which I really don’t regret doing. The constant buffs to currency/AP are wonderful, the extra cosmetics and mounts nice, and having a monthly allowance of points is terrific. I did take a long break in the middle of the year due to my disinterest in City of the Sun God, but I finally rallied to complete that and move on to Transylvania. I’m hugely excited to see what might come for this game in 2017!

(5) Star Trek Online

Star Trek Online has been an on-again, off-again journey. I get really excited about it for two or three weeks, then let it go for a month. I did come back for some fun adventures, although getting bogged down in Delta Rising was death to my interest. Recently I’ve jumped past that and gotten excited to go through the more recent episode arcs.

(6) Lord of the Rings Online

Early in the year I spent some time getting through the Battle of Pelennor Fields, after which I took a very long break until just recently. However, over the past month I’ve been logging in every day or two to advance my Captain through Update 19 in anticipation of the Mordor expansion next year. It’s great to be back and I hope I won’t leave any time soon.

Stay tuned next Monday as I post my hopes and aspirations for the new month — and the new year! In the meantime, let me know in the comments what were the most important and influential MMOs to you in 2016!

9 games I can’t wait to play in 2017

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I don’t even want to talk about my gaming backlog. It’s big and it’s just not getting any smaller, not with sales and recommendations and all of these pesky new titles coming out. And then there’s my book backlog… and my TV backlog… and my music backlog… and my backlog backlog. There’s a lot of logs around here is what I’m saying.

I guess it’s just not going to stop me from getting a little excited about what’s coming in 2017. MMO-wise, I’m pretty happy with everything under my belt, not to mention that most of the games that interest me are probably more than a year out. But there are at least nine games that I am very interested to at least try out at some point next year… and here they are.

1. Project Gorgon

I know, I’ve been more talk than play on this game to this point, which has mostly come down to waiting for the game to get to a state where it feels ready to start for real. I think, for me, this is going to be Steam early access. Or the release of the fairy race. One of the two, but either way, that should be spring next year. I can’t wait to comb through this world with a notebook at the ready, keeping track of all of the secrets and puzzles.

2. Bit City

I’ve been a huge fan of Nimblebit’s personality-filled economic simulators (Pocket Train, Tiny Tower), and next year will see Bit City, the studio’s version of SimCity. It looks adorable and cool, although we don’t know much more than screenshots at this point. I’m prepared to get addicted all over again.

3. Torment: Tides of Numeria

The spiritual successor to Planescape Torment comes out in February and has had really strong word-of-mouth. I haven’t been able to devote a ton of time to a single player RPG in the past few years, but I will definitely be making an exception for this one.

4. Battleheart 2

Love, love, love Battleheart and Battleheart Legacy. A full sequel of the real-time party battler? Yes, please.

5. Sea of Thieves

It’s not a pure MMO, but Sea of Thieves looks like it will sport an MMO feel and enough elements to be a kissing cousin. And in any case, playing pirates in a colorful world full of accordions, grog, and kraken is a no-brainer for me. I’m really hoping this might be a huge, fun world to explore and will be in on day one.

6. Red Dead Redemption 2

If it comes for PC (which it might?) and has good multiplayer elements, RDR2 could be a decent substitute for the western MMO I’ve been wanting for years. The screenshots look gorgeous.

7. Mass Effect Andromeda

Uhh… it’s Mass Effect. It’s video game law or something that we all play it.

8. Vampyr

You know me and you know that I’m not a big vampire fan, but this is the follow-up project to Dontnod’s Life is Strange, and I’ll play it based on the studio alone at this point. Make me like vampires. I dare you.

9. Galaxy of Pen and Paper

I just found out that there’s a true sequel to Knights of Pen and Paper coming in 2017, only with a sci-fi RPG setting instead of a fantasy. I’ve logged so many hours into this humorous and creative series that I can’t wait to see what they’ll do with science fiction. Bring it on!