Aimlessly Going Forward

blog by Tomas Sedovic

Games Played in 2021

video-game, retrospective

You could call 2021 the Year of Mass Effect, but I ended up playing a good chunk of other games too. This dropped sharply in the fourth quarter due to us having a baby, but I still found the occasional half-hour.

Mass Effect: Andromeda

The full crew sits on and around a sofa, watching a movie. Liam is saying: …​or we can fast-forward to a ship crashing into an asteroid crashing into a moon.

Started in December 2020, I’ve finished the game in early 2021. I’ve really enjoyed it despite some unpleasantness. It is a genuinely good game and I’m quite sad at the negative reception it got.

Having had the ability to compare it to the original trilogy now, it’s absolutely out there with them. Brings in a lot of improvements while retaining a lot of the issues the previous games had.

(website, review)

Mass Effect 1: Legendary Edition

The female Shepard, Tali and Liara are talking to an incorporeal being called Vigil who says: I do not know what became of them then. It is unlikely they found any food or water on the station. I fear they suffered a slow, grim death.

This remastered version includes all the DLCs which I’ve never played before.

It’s a fantastic game still. The world design, overall plot, characters — that all holds up tremendously.

But the gameplay itself is quite janky, mako is pretty bad and there’s a lot of uninteresting filler with the good bits spread out.

That’s something that’s plagued the series ever since, but it’s most striking when you play the game now. The DLCs helped by adding more meaningful content, but the game could still have been 60% shorter and be much better for it.

(website, review)

Mass Effect 2: Legendary Edition

Screenshot depicting female Shepard with Jacob Taylor in the background

The second episode feels like the most disappointing one, but I think it’s only because it follows up Mass Effect 1 which set the bar and expectations so high!

It removes Mako, but puts a ton of other systems in that are, frankly, even more bothersome. Fuel between the star systems, weapons ammo, the mining minigame. And the story is much more incongruent. The whole "working for the Cerberos" thing doesn’t make any sense (which everyone points out to you in that game and the next one) and the final boss is a big robot baby made out of humans for some reason. Oh and UGH that Gavin Archer DLC is disgusting.

It’s a whole lot of nonsense. But: the game’s got a lot of interesting content (the missions, companions, locations).

Still, while I feel the first game was a flawed masterpiece, the second one was a run-of-the-mill 7/10 made to feel worse by how much they messed up the first game’s premise.

(website, review)

Mass Effect 3: Legendary Edition

Screenshot depicting female Shepard

This is "just" an evolution of ME2, clearly following in its footsteps rather than trying to go back to ME1 or do something new. It feels like it’s trying to appease the players who felt betrayed by the second game, but it’s not delivering anything actually meaningful on that front.

It’s an incremental improvement over ME2 with it’s own story beat howlers (Kai Leng, the ending) but with great companion action, good side quests and interesting locations. Lot’s of good wrapping up of the themes and stories set up in the previous games. Some pretty excellent DLCs I felt, too.

On the ending: yeah it’s bad in the same way that Battlestar: Galactica’s ending was bad: it basically introduced a brand new party into the conflict, mixed it with some pseudo-religious mumbo jumbo and left it at that.

However, unlike BSG, it didn’t tie the plot into the best song ever made which made the ending strictly worse. But even then, I felt the public outcry and demands that they change it were so over the top. Most games have bad endings — which…​ yes it sucks and devs should do better. But here, it’s not that surprising or unexpected given the direction the sequels went long before the ME3 endgame.

And re-playing it now, I mean: it’s not good, but it’s okay. I felt satisfied, not angry. I guess partly it’s the lowered expectations and partly the fact that the DLCs helped wrap some of the things up and let you say goodbye to your crew. Apparently, they’ve also added extra cutscenes to it? I can’t tell, but given the low bar videogame endings set, it was actually fine.

And a lot of the other threads (Reaper origin, Geth origin, Genophage) and the character arcs all resolved quite nicely.

I’ve also just re-read my Adromeda post (which was written before I replayed the ME trilogy). And my thoughts and feelings on the trilogy (based on memories of years ago) were quite spot on with how I feel about it now having replayed it.

(website)

Side note: My Dream Mass Effect

This is a bit of a tangent, but here’s what an ideal Mass Effect game would be for me:

World that you can explore. The Mako / Nomad is a great idea with a terrible implementation. The thing that made it suck in ME 1 was the worlds were mostly empty and boring to drive around, there were too many of them and that the vehicle was an absolute nightmare to control.

But the solution is not to scrap that part entirely. It is to improve the physics / controls / feel of the driving and make fewer places that are interesting to explore. And make it clear which hills, inclinations and surfaces the car can go up with and which it won’t at a glance. Both games will happily let you spend 10 minutes slowly inching up the hill only to find out that the latest meter is simply impossible to cross.

Andromeda almost got this right. I think their worlds were too big with too many "chase the icons" nonsense. But they were interesting areas to drive around. Especially with some of the planet-changing actions you could do there.

There is a happy middle ground where the vehicle is fun to control, you never get stuck and there worlds are fun to explore without being overwhelming.

Next, the combat should feel like actual futuristic science fiction. Mass Effect 1 achieved this with its weapons that didn’t have any ammo which was promptly dropped in the future games with a completely nonsensical in-game justification.

You don’t need to bring that back necessarily, but make it more interesting than just another samey third-person cover shooter.

Keep the interesting aliens, focus on character development and kissability. That’s what kept us all playing whether we’re willing to admit it or not.

And related to this, keep the universe and it’s history, politics, societies and structures interesting. In ME 1, I’ve gobbled up every Codex entry. In ME 2, 3 and Andromeda I felt very little interest to read them. The contents and ideas behind them were much less interesting. And the extremely flimsy justifications for things like introducing ammo made me feel like the designers didn’t care so why should I.

I am of course under no illusion that the New Mass Effect will hit any of these, but it would be fantastic if it did.

Or better yet, someone make a brand new game that does this. I’ve enjoyed it but we seem to have too many sequels and remasters these days.

Geneforge 1 Remaster

Screenshot depicting a dialogue with a Servant Mind

I’ve played it a bunch but didn’t finish. I was waiting for a long time for the Geneforge remaster, because its world and magic is so fascinating to me.

But I rarely finish the Spiderweb games in one session. They are MASSIVE.

The world design — especially its magic — is absolutely fantastic. I’ve been enjoying it a lot. But I’m not a huge fan of the combat and there’s quite a lot of it there.

Still, it’s a great game that I plan to return to and finish at some point.

(website)

Disco Elysium: Director’s Cut

Screenshot of the protagonist talking to the mirror

I had been thinking of replaying Disco Elysium — one of the best RPGs I’ve ever played — ever since I’ve played it for the first time. Fantastic writing and world design, absolutely innovative in the ways I care about — no combat and puzzles, very light on the inventory tetris, a really sensible scope and length, a lot of effort put into text-adventure style problem resolution.

The Director’s Cut brings in a full voice over, turning this already excellent game into one that’s pretty much perfect.

(website, review)

Bloodborne NG++ with the Wake Up ending

The protagonist talking to the Doll who promises the dream will end soon

A.K.A get the final achievement.

I did it! Played just the core game, more or less ran through the whole thing, not stopping for anything or taking a lot of time.

And yep! Bloodborne is the second game I’ve ever got all the achievements for (the first one being Spelunky).

Bloodborne is still an absolutely fantastic game. I had loads of fun playing it.

(website, review)

Slay The Spire

A warrior facing three blob monsters. A hand of five cards is visible, with the Immolate one being selected.

This was an unexpected one. I didn’t feel like playing a roguelikeish card game at all, but I did want to play something on the tablet and Magic: The Gathering: Arena came out.

Having played a ton of Magic (in its original physical form) ages ago, I still knew the rules and thought this would be a fun thing to do. But the network connectivity and especially the complete lack of meaningful single-player experience killed it for me.

It did prove that card games would be fantastic on the tablet though, and a friend just mentioned Slay The Spire so I gave it a go. And it’s fantastic.

It’s clearly taken an inspiration from Magic, but it’s a single-player deck-building game: you start with the same deck of cards, but the encounters and cards are different every time and you build your deck along the way.

The rules are much simpler and the overall experience is definitely improved by the computer keeping track of everything. And it allows for interesting effects that are hard or tedious to do in a physical world (such as: every time a card gets played, put two copies of it into the graveyard).

And it’s a lot of fun. Each run takes about 25-30 minutes, there’s enough variability and challenge while not being overwhelming. And you get to do crazy shit because things don’t need to be perfectly balanced.

I’ve had a successful run with all three starting characters and then mostly stopped, but I think I’ll still pick it up occasionally.

(website)

Get In The Car, Loser!

Screenhot depicting three protagonists chatting in a car

All the previous year-end review posts had something along the lines of: "If Christine Love releases a new game, I’ll play that".

Well, she did!

Aaaand…​ I mostly loved it!

It’s a cross between a visual novel and JRPG. Which pretty much sums up my feelings about it.

The writing, the world design, music, visuals: they’re all absolutely superb. This is Christine Love doing what I well…​ love her do. It’s funny, clever, charming, rough in places, super dark in other places. Great stuff.

The timer-based JRPG combat though…​ I’m not a huge fan of. But then, I’m not a huge fan of JRPGs and their combat in general. Put in that context, it’s pretty decent actually. But still not my cup of tea.

Plus, the combat kind of interrupts the conversation, Arity-style. Or maybe put more charitably, the game is improved by the story bits interrupting the combat.

I was there for the writing though. So every time a combat scene came up, I was like "ugh, let’s get this over with so we can get back to the juicy talk".

(website)

Outer Wilds: Echoes of the Eye

This is a DLC to the absolutely wonderful Outer Wilds. I was really looking forward to it, but it didn’t sit well with me.

Just like the original Outer Wilds, the game is gorgeous, with beautiful locations, wonderful music and just a fantastic feel.

But, it is way more puzzly — to the point where I’d have to follow a guide all the time. It’s all in a single location with a singular purpose and there’s no translator.

That means you’ve basically got a single thing to do and there’s not a lot of just pure exploration. In the original game, if you got stuck or just wanted to do something else, you’d fly off onto another planet and just have fun! And you’d still make progress by translating a bit of alien text and possibly discovering a clue to something you’ve been racking your brains about.

And yes, it was sometimes puzzly and sometimes hard to control.

But Echoes of the Eye is basically all puzzles with (at least to me) much more difficult flying and manoeuvring challenges. With the second half of the game featuring jump scares, low-visibility and just a lot of things I absolutely don’t like to engage with at the best of times.

Trying to play this while our newborn and their mother were asleep and I needed to unwind a little before heading to bed myself was just not conducive.

I’ve watched someone do a full playthrough and I really like the story. And the way they managed to fit a whole new area into such a tightly-packed universe is amazing.

But this would not be my cup of tea even without a newborn at home.

(website)

Baba Is You

Screenshot of an area with a flag enclosed in walls

This is a straight-up puzzle game — which made me immediately disinclined to try it. But I’ve heard everyone being amazed at how fantastic and clever it is and I’ve been looking for a game that I could play with my spouse.

They’ve never really played games and so they struggle with basic stuff such as mouse look, the controller, WASD etc.

But Baba Is You is visually easy to understand, the controls are pretty much as easy as can be (just the four-directional movement) and since it’s a puzzle we could think about it together, swapping the controller periodically.

And this worked great for a while!

I’m generally not a huge fan of this sort of simple pixelated look, but when we started playing I fell in love with it. The game is gorgeous. And it’s got wonderful music too.

Baba Is You’s got an absolutely wonderful central idea. The puzzles are really fun and you get to run into absolutely amazing situations.

But eventually, we ran into what happens with pretty much every puzzle game: it gets too complex, the solution space too with with too many things to consider and at that point we checked out.

We’ve tried a few other puzzles but we basically hit a wall where we’d either have to look them all up or just spend days racking our brains. Neither of which is fun.

But if you’re into puzzles, Baba Is You is a really unique, clever and wonderful one!

(website)

Minit

Black and white screenshot depicting a river bank, the protagonist with a sword and a mail delivery person.

Speaking of simplistic graphics whose screenshots put me off, but grew on me, Minit is wonderful.

It’s a time loop game where you reset after 60 seconds. That seems insane, but it works really well!

Minit is a short game, took me about four hours to finish. It hooked me up instantly. The situation is really well communicated and actually explained within the game. It’s a fantastic world to explore and somehow, amazingly, they’ve managed for the short time limit to not feel stressful or urgent.

There are puzzles there but they’re generally not too complex because guess what: you’ve got less than a minute to solve them.

Fantastic little thing, this. Thoroughly recommended.

(website)

Life is Strange: True Colors (and the Wavelengths DLC)

Screenshot depicting Steph in her flanner shirt and beanie standing in front of a microphone inside the radio station where she works.

I genuinely didn’t know what to expect here and tried to temper my excitement. But it is a Life is Strange game through and through and I’ve had an absolute blast.

Loved the town of Haven Springs, loved the characters, the game mechanics received another bit of polish and game design compared to the previous installments, making it that little extra bit nicer to play.

It’s awesome.

I’ve played the Wavelengths DLC about six weeks later, which is about Steph (the friend of the main protagonist). It’s much shorter and it all happens in the music record store. It is also excellent.

(website, review)

Hades

Zagreus, the protagonist has just emerged from a pool of blood and says: Damn you, Meg.

I genuinely thought True Colors was going to be my game of the year. But then, in the last week of December, I started playing Hades.

Oh my god I love this game.

It’s by Supergiant whose writing, music, sound design, visuals and voice over coaxed into playing two combat-heavy action RPGs (normally so not my style). So I was well primed to give this one a go, but also hesitant.

Both Bastion and Transistor were your regular linear experiences. You knew where you stood with them and roughly how long it would take you to complete them.

But Hades is roguelite, meaning it can potentially take a much longer time and it could get really repetitive with periods of no sense of progres.

Except, this was still made by Supergiant Games. So it’s full of absolutely wonderful writing and the time between runs is always different, with something new to learn, someone new to talk to, something new to do.

And the combat is actually really good (which you won’t hear me say very often).

On top of all that, Hades does this amazing thing that I’ve never seen any other roguelike/roguelite/roguelikelike do before: normally, the power of roguelikes is that when you inevitably lose your run, you’re excited to start another one and keep playing. That losing doesn’t deter you.

But you still don’t want to lose! Here, the section between the runs is also full of great treats (mostly in form of chats with the other inhabitants of Hades’s court) and they’re so well done and varied that I’m looking forward to losing the run so I can go back there. And when that happens, I’m looking forward to getting back into the fray as well.

Especially contrasted with Get in the Car, Loser!, the combat and non-combat sections are wonderfully balanced here and they lift one another up.

Hades is just an absolute gem on every front. So far (just had my first ever victory) I honestly don’t have anything bad to say about it.

Absolute game of the year and I expect having more fun with it in 2022.

(website)

Done With

Here are some games I wanted to return to but either didn’t or did and realised that I’m actually done with them:

Spelunky 2

This was unexpected. I just never felt the urge to go back and play more.

I don’t even know why. I really liked the game, but just never actually felt like playing it.

Divinity: Original Sin

I’d played a bit of this a few years back, but it didn’t quite sit well with me. Kept hearing how fantastic the game was and how Divinity: Original Sin 2 was even better (and wanted to give that a go). And how the studio’s making Baldur’s Gate 3 now.

So I’ve wanted to give it one more good go.

And…​ it’s not bad, but it just feels off to me.

Everyone’s raving about the amazing combat system where every effect interacts with every other effect. And yeah, that’s cool I guess, but it didn’t really feel that great to play to me.

And I can’t get past the writing and sense of humour. All the jokes fall flat and this faux half-serious medieval patter just really doesn’t work on me.

So I’ve stopped playing and don’t expect to pick up the sequel either.

Unfortunately, that suggests I probably won’t enjoy Baldur’s Gate 3 from these folks either :-(.

Cultist Simulator

I had a lot of fun that one week in like 2018 when I played a ton of this on a vacation and always wanted to go back.

After having finally done so, I’ve realised I’m done with the game.

Love the atmosphere, the visuals, the weird table-topy look and feel. The writing.

But realising all that needs to happen in order to win at the game, the charmful mundanity of starting an eldritch cult flipped into a busywork that would have to go on for far too long.

Also, for some reason playing the game tanked the performance all the other apps running on my computer — including the text editor with all my notes. And you can’t really play this game without taking notes.

Still, this was a lot of fun while it lasted.

Stardew Valley

I’ve spent a lot of wonderful time there and expected to do much more, but I guess similarly to the Cultist Simulator, once I got to the point where I realised what the end-game or at least parts of it I wanted to achieve would be like, I found that I’d had enough.

Both of these might have another life in them on a 12-hour flight (if those ever become a thing again) or when I’m that exact kind of sick where I feel too bad to watch TV or read, not too sick to be unable to look at a screen at all and just need a semi-active but cognitively light distraction.

Slay the Spire will probably join their ranks too.

Next

Judging by the last few months, I suspect the amount of time I’ll be able to play games is going to be really small but hopefully non-zero.

I’d love to play the Life is Strange remaster which is expected to come out in February. I’m still in a place where I feel the need for some familiarity because so much else is weird and dark and uncertain.

Similarly, following my love of Dark Souls and Bloodborne, I want to give Elden Ring a go.

After that, it’s anyone’s guess. I’ll probably prioritise smaller games (just started Heaven Will be Mine in fact), but I’d also like to wrap-up Geneforge if the time and mood is right.

And if Christine Love puts out another DLC for Get in the Car, Loser! I’ll definitely try to squeeze that in too.

Screenshot and link to the website for the Dose Response game

Hi! I wrote a game! It's an open-world roguelike where you play an addict called Dose Response. You can get it on the game's website (pay what you want!), it's cross-platform, works in the browser and it's open source! If you give it a go, let me know how you liked it, please!