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Bioshock Infinite

Bioshock infinite came out three months ago, which is like 70 in internet years. It seems like it’s been out long enough that anyone who wanted to play it spoiler-free would have had the opportunity to do so, but then again, I only finished it like a week ago, so maybe not.

Having finished it, though, I do want to talk about it, and I don’t think there’s a way to do so in a spoiler-free fashion, so very soon in this article there will be a large spoiler break, and everything after that is fair game. Before we get to that, though, a quick note to those who haven’t played it – do not get your hopes and expectations up. The game as a whole is nowhere near as good as Bioshock, and the “twist” at the end is kind of a letdown. If you go into it with reasonable expectations you may find a fun game there, but it definitely doesn’t live up to the ferver the internet had for it, at least it didn’t for me.

If you’ve never played a Bioshock game, play the original instead.

SPOILERS FOR BIOSHOCK AND BIOSHOCK INFINITE FOLLOW.

First off, let me say, I’m going to point out a lot of the game’s problems. The overall tone of this article will likely be overwhelmingly negative. But this game did a lot of things right. For starters, it’s really pretty. That may sound like i’m being facetious and showcasing only surface elements, but really, the thing I am struck with the most is that this game looks really, really good. Not so much in terms of visual fidelity, but more in terms of art style. Much of the gameplay is fun, and the story is far more ambitious than most video games, especially moreso than most shooter games.

But, like I said, I had some problems.

1) The plot is pretty nonsensical.

Let me try to explain this. You play as Booker DeWitt, a former soldier who, to pay off some gambling debts, is sent to the floating city of Columbia to retrieve a girl named Elizabeth. Columbia is a city-state being run by a man named Comstock that has seceeded from the United States and is built on top of a bunch of floating platforms in the sky. It’s also full of some pretty terible religious zealots and racists.

Booker begins to search for Elizabeth, but at the annual “throw baseballs at black folk” festival, is discovered to be a “false prophet” and suddenly hundreds of cops start trying to kill him. But, they are racist cops, so it is totally okay to murder them all.

Eventually, Booker finds Elizabeth and they try to make their escape, but a giant sentient robot bird who is tasked with protecting Elizabeth attacks them.

Somewhere around this point of the game you meet Daisy Fitzroy, the leader of the Vox Populi, a rebel group. She starts bossing you around and says some things about the white devil. (Note: at this point, I felt REALLY uncomfortable. Both the character and me personally are not terrible racists. I wound up stopping playing for about a month because I really didn’t feel like being called a racist in my free time. Logically I can separate that it’s just a game, but damn, somehow that penetrated past. This is praise – not many games could forge such a strong connection.)

You’re tasked with getting some guns to help out the Vox Populi, but the gun-maker has lost his tools. Luckily, Elizabeth has the ability to open “tears” which are like a window to another world. Either you travel to a parrallell similar world, or the world you are in is subtly changed, its not super clear. Rather than opening a tear to a world where we had an airship to escape in, or simply a tear to a world where we were never there in the first place, Elizabeth opens a tear to a world where his tools are back. Okay, fine. But in this world, the gunmaker is dead. Whoops! To solve this problem, Elizabeth opens a tear to a world where the gunsmith is alive and also has his tools. Great! Well, this world the Vox are running around killing all the racists. Despite the fact that hours earlier you were doing the exact same thing, this is considered bad. Also, Elizabeth seems to forget that she can alter reality for the rest of the game and we just hang out in this terrible timeline for the rest of the game.

Oh, and despite Booker being a Vox hero in this timeline, they all start trying to kill you as well.

Eventually, you go to confront Comstock, but oops, Booker winds up way in the future – a future where Elizabeth destroys New York City. He then goes back in time to shortly after he left from, frees Elizabeth, kills Comstock, You escape on an airship, and the bird monster is your friend now and helps you for a bit. Then you eventually need to kill him, so Elizabeth remembers she can alter reality, and suddenly you’re UNDERWATER. In RAPTURE. FROM THE FIRST GAME. GET IT? The bird monster robot friend enemy thing is crushed to death by water.

There’s some more stuff with lighthouses to show that all of the Bioshock games are in parallel universes of each other.

Then the big “twist” at the end: It turns out that Booker felt guilty after the battle of Wounded Knee, did some shitty things and then sort of sold his daughter to some wierdo time travelers to pay off his debt. Then, determined to get her back, decides to go to Columbia to get her back. Because Elizabeth was his daughter the whole time, see?

Also, it’s determined that killing Comstock wasn’t good enough, because there are alternate realities where he is alive. So they vow to kill Comstock before he is born. Instead, Elizabeth drowns Booker then blinks out of existence. The end.

Ummm…. okay?

Fun fact – after beating the game and reading about the plot, I found out that Comstock was alternate reality Booker the whole time, and he kidnapped Booker’s daughter who is actually his own daughter because he is Booker okay who cares the game is nonsense.

It tries so hard to be high concept but it is just a giant mess.

I also forgot – there’s a sizeable chunk where Elizabeth’s mom, but I guess not her actual mom, is a techno ghost trying to murder you.

2) It tries too hard to be like the original Bioshock, but does so in dumb ways. It also fails to be like Bioshock in meaningful ways.

Bioshock was a great game. was the story of an Ayn Rand type libertarian society where science can proceed without impediment from regulations. It tells the story of a society that is built on this premise and the consequences of that. It’s a plausible alternate history, and every single thing – from the world, to the story to the gameplay – all works together with each other.

Bioshock Infinite starts off as a similar alternate history. It’s again the story of a man who seceded from society and built and improbable city, this time based on a new religion. However, at a fairly early point, Columbia stops having much at all to do with the story. It’s just a wierd sci-fi magic “rescue the girl” story that doesn’t feel influenced by the world, it just happens to take place there.

Plasmids/vigors are a great illustration of this. Bioshock had plasmids, which were basically magic spells you could cast with your left had. The story of plasmids is that they are the natural result of a world where science has run amok. They turned men into gods, and the world you find yourself in reflects this. Society collapsed completely, and the populace was turned into drug addled crazies jonesing for their next fix of Adam so they can continue with their plasmid use. Everywhere you turn, the world is influenced by the inclusion of Plasmids, and the inclusion of plasmids likewise influences the world. Vigors make very little sense in the world of Columbia. You get your first vigor when somebody at a carnival gives it away to you for free. But nobody else in the world (with the exception of a few “heavy” enemies) uses them. It makes NO SENSE in the setting. The only reason they exist is that somebody decided casting spells with your left hand “was Bioshocky” and put it in the game.

With the exception of plasmids, which were explained as science and made sense in the world, Bioshock felt rooted in reality, or at least plausibility. There could have been an Andrew Ryan. That story could have happened! Infinite goes way far the other way though. There’s just magic all over. Everything from alternate reality, to time travel to mecha-birds to ghosts. It takes would could have been a plausible interesting world and just fucks it.

And by the end, they tie it to Bioshock by explaining that they are alternate realities of each other (or something). Not only did they ruin THIS world by adding magic, they retroactively add magic back to the first game. It’s just sad.

I’m not even sure the story of Bioshock Infinite is served by it being a shooter. I think with less violence, they could have told a better version of that story. But Bioshock was a shooter, so this one has to be too! Bioshock had crazy monsters leaping at you, so this one has policemen leaping at you! It feels the same.

Bioshock was a game where every story beat, every mechanic was in because it made perfect sense to be in Bioshock. Sadly, Bioshock Infinite has far too many things that make no sense or only made sense in Bioshock. It really could have benefited from the purity of design the original had.

3) The end is too damn hard.

I will be upfront about this: I am bad at video games. A lot of the time I am bad because I am lazy and don’t try. There are some games, like Trials Evolution, that require a high degree of skill and focus, and I play them for the challenge. There are others I like to pop in after a long day of work, put them on the easiest difficulty, and relax and soak in the narrative. This game falls squarely in the latter category for me.

It is a wonderfully designed world with a compelling (if not good) story to it. The plot and world and characters are incredibly crafted, and that’s what separates this game from, say Call of Duty. If I just want to shoot things, there’s a lot of games that can do that. I want to experience a crazy alt-history story. And that crazy alt-history story should not be skill-gated.

The first 95% of the game is excellent at this. If you die, Elizabeth just revives you. If you run out of ammo in a fight, she just gives you more. If you fall off a building, it just teleports you back. This allows you to almost passively experience the world and story, and it’s exactly what playing a game on casual SHOULD be. If you die, no worries, no penalty, you are exactly back where you were.

But, for whatever TERRIBLE design reason, there is a fight at the end. A “boss battle” I guess. You are on a giant airship, and you are being attacked by Vox Populi. There is a damage indicator on the screen. If your ship gets too damaged, game over. You lose. Also, this is a LONG fight. It’s almost 15 minutes, and if you fail, you are back at the very start. That 15 minutes of effort you just put in is GONE.

I tried this segment over and over again and NEVER managed to pull it off. It’s incredibly frustrating and punishing, and not in a fun way. I eventually after several attempts pulled the game out of the drive, popped it back in the box, and put it on my “never again” shelf with “Fantastic Four Rise of the Silver Surfer” and other equally terrible games. I watched the end of the game on youtube.

Do not get me wrong – I’m not arguing against having challenge in games. Bioshock Infinite has a 1999 Mode difficulty which is crazy hard and there for people who want something hard to triumph against. I get it, and I commend them for it. I love when games give you a choice! It would be incredibly self centered and wrong to suggest that everyone should play games the way that I do. Some people love hard games. I usually do not. This is fine.

What I am saying is that when you make a “Casual” difficulty, when you cater to those who want to near-passively consume your game, you damn well should build it so that they can. Bait and switching to add failure conditions at the very end is terrible, and that alone ruined the game for me.

Seriously, without this one encounter, it probably would have been a mostly enjoyable experience for me. Sure, my previous points would still stand, it wouldn’t be the pinnacle of gaming some on the internet made it out to be. But it would have been an above-average game and I would have some fun memories of visiting some one-of a kind locales, experiencing some bonkers plot twists, and mostly enjoying myself. Now my memories of Bioshock Infinite will be of that fucking airship disaster, of getting frustrated nearly to tears, of throwing my controller and nearly snapping the disk in half. I’m getting angry and emotional now just THINKING about it.

I played a bit of Aliens: Colonial Marines. That was a BAD game. I went into that game knowing it was going to be shit, and boy did it meet my expectations. Bioshock Infinite was nowhere near that bad. But it was way more disappointing. It was so close to being a great game. Fix that last encounter, shore up some plot holes, tweak gameplay a bit to better serve the world and narrative, and this could have been GOTY. But it wasn’t. It was a frustrating mess, and that’s a real shame.

For a bit of background on why and how I am playing Morrowind, read this first: Morrowind – Now with Achievements!

The first thing I did, before I ever even attempted to play, was install Morrowind Graphics Extender 3.0. I may have been a bit overzealous with the settings, and the framerate drops to about 20fps when I am outside, but it is definitely playable and looks MUCH better.

So I boot up Morrowind, and make a new game. I had saves from a previous playthrough in the Steam Cloud, but they were using a different mix of mods and were unplayable. Bummer.

After creating my character (Kellierae, a female Nord fighter), I proceeded through the Census office, and when I got to the part where you are supposed to pick up the dagger, I instead did what I do in every Bethesda game and took EVERYTHING. In Skyrim and Oblivion, hovering over an item will give you one of two prompts, “Take” or “Steal”. Unless it says “Steal” you can grab it without repercussions. I would very quickly learn that this is NOT the case in Morrowind. Everything says “Take” and you have to rely on context to guess whether you are stealing or not. Luckily this time the only penalty for theft was a stern talking to from a guard. Lesson learned!

Once I got out into Seyda Neen, I started doing the standard first time quests in the area. I gave Fargoth back his ring, then later that night, stole it back from him. I bought a cursed ring from a sad sack so he would have enough money to leave. I’ve played these first few minutes of Morrowind several times, so I was able to fly through these fairly quickly.

I did run into some difficulty on the quest where I was supposed to find the corpse of a tax collector. There were two problems: one, Morrowind is a game made before there were quest markers prevalent in RPGs – they expect you to explore on your own and find things, rather than being guided right to it, and two, while the tax collector was fairly easy to find in vanilla Morrowind, I had some foliage mods installed that add grass and plants and hide the body fairly well.

I did eventually find the body and continued my quest to find the perpetrator of the evil deed, and when I did, got my first taste of Morrowind combat. I took out my axe, charged straight into melee…

…and whiffed, magnificently and repeatedly. With a large axe from 2 inches away.

See, Morrowind does a calculation based on your skills and attributes to see if an attack hits or not. It’s the same mechanic that is in every D&D based game. But again, we’re experiencing a relic of a different time: nowadays most games bank on player skill; if you are in range, properly aiming and attack, that attack hits. It’s not bad or wrong that Morrowind doesn’t, but it was jarring for me – I was not expecting that.

I did kill him though. My first (well, first in years) Morrowind combat experience was a success! Clearly I am an unstoppable juggernaut of skill. Nothing could go wrong for me!

Well, after buying some gear and reading every book in town (Rose insists that reading books is an important part of the experience)  I headed off into the wilderness, headed toward Balmora and Caius Cosades.

Tune in next week for more adventures!

Rose and I are both big Elder Scrolls fans. If you read this blog that’s probably not news to you.

When Morrowind first came out, I briefly played it, got bored, and moved on to Dungeon Siege. I later got hooked on Oblivion (though I got frustrated at several game-ending bugs) and Skyrim. Through the years I attempted to play Morrowind several times, but never made it past Balmora. For those of you unfamiliar with the game, that means I made it to around the 1 hour mark.

Rose, on the other hand, LOVED Morrowind, putting literally hundreds of hours into it. She also played Oblivion and Skyrim, but despite the improvements that have come to the series with time, Morrowind remains her favorite.

So what’s the discrepancy? I think the main thing she loved about that game is the same thing that turned me off about it: there really isn’t a driving force. The game expects you to wander about and do your own thing. There is a storyline quest, but one mission in, the guy tells you “go do other shit for a while and come back.”

For some people, like myself, this is boring and loses me. You can do odd jobs around the city for cash. You can walk from city to city looking at the wilderness. You can stand around and read a book in game. For others, like Rose, this is amazingly fun. Odd jobs! Wandering! BOOKS!

I wanted to give the game a try, though. It’s obviously very important to Rose and I like having shared experiences with her (even if they are solo experiences separated by 10+ years). However, I knew that if I just attempted to play normally, once again the overabundance of freedom and lack of a driving force would once again burn me out quickly.

I figured, since the game doesn’t intrinsically motivate me, I could create an extrinsic motivator. You can probably guess where this is headed – Achievements!

I managed, with help from Rose and a great deal of research on UESP, to put together this list:

Morrowind 25/1000
Exit the Census Office to Seyda Neen 5
Main Story: Complete “Report to Caius Cosades” 5
Main Story: Complete all of Caius Cosades’ quests 50
Main Story: Complete the third, fourth, and fifth trials 50
Main Story: Complete “The Citadels of the Sixth House” 100
Complete “Sleepers Awake” and “Yagrum Bagarn and Wraithguard” 20
Join one of the three houses 5
Get a stronghold in one of the three houses 5
Complete all quests for House Hlaalu 20
Complete all quests for House Redoran 20
Complete all quests for House Telvanni 20
Join the Fighters Guild 5
Complete all Fighters Guild Quests 20
Join the Mages Guild 5
Complete all Mages Guild Quests 20
Join the Thieves Guild 5
Complete all Theives Guild Quests 20
Join the Tribunal Temple 5
Complete all Tribunal Temple Quests 20
Join the Morag Tong 5
Complete all Morag Tong Quests 20
Join the Imperial Cult 5
Complete all Imperial Cult Quests 20
Join the Imperial Legion 5
Complete all Imperial Legion Quests 20
Complete all miscellaneous quests in the Cities 20
Complete all miscellaneous quests in the Towns 20
Complete all miscellaneous quests in the Forts 20
Complete all miscellaneous wilderness quests 20
Complete all Ashlander quests 20
Complete all Daedric quests 20
Become a Vampire 5
Cure your Vampirism 5
Complete all Vampire quests 20
Complete ALL quests (requires multiple playthroughs) 100
Find an Artifact 5
Find Every Artifact 30
Raise a skill to 50 5
Raise a skill to 100 10
Raise all skills to 100 50
Read a Book 5
Read 50 Books 10
Read 100 Books 20
Read Every Book 50
Get a complete set of matching armor 25
Visit every city, town, fort, and camp 30
Visit one of each Tribunal Shrine 20
Shoot an Adventurer in the knee with an arrow 5
Talk to M’aiq the Liar 5
Find the Mudcrab Merchant 5
Tribunal 0/250
Main Story: Complete “Dark Brotherhood Attacks” 5
Main Story: Complete “An Attack on Mournhold” 10
Main Story: Complete “The Mad God” 25
Complete all optional Royal Palace Quests 20
Complete all miscellaneous quests in Godsreach 20
Complete all miscellaneous quests in Great Bazaar & Temple Courtyard 20
Complete all Tribunal Quests 100
Donate or Sell all 32 Artifacts to the Museum 10
Find Every Artifact added in Tribunal 20
Visit every location added in Tribunal 20
Bloodmoon 0/250
Main Story: Complete “An Island to the North” 5
Main Story: Complete “Hircine’s Hunt” 25
Main Story: Complete all the quests up to “Hircine’s Hunt” a different way 10
Complete “Rite of the Wolf-Giver” 20
Complete “Factor’s Estate” 20
Complete all the quests up to “Factor’s Estate” a different way 10
Complete all miscellaneous quests 20
Complete all Bloodmoon quests 100
Find Every Artifact added in Bloodmoon 20
Visit every location added in Bloodmoon 20
Total 25/1250

I tried my best to create a list that would reward me not only for completing the quests in the game, but for doing many of the things Rose enjoyed, such as exploring the world and reading books. I also tried to give each achievement a “gamerscore” value, and normalized them around the concept of 1000 points for base game, 250 per DLC pack the way xbox games are, so my brain can easily compare the two values.

As you can see, I’ve played a bit but have still got a long ways to go. I’ll make another post soon featuring my exploits so far. Thus far I’ve still only made it as far as Balmora, but with achievements motivating me, I’m far more engaged thus far than I have been on previous playthroughs. And if you count the time I have spent on the massive google spreadsheet I’m using to track these, I’ve spent more time on this playthrough than my others!

If you’re familiar with Morrowind, let me know what you think of these achievements! Too easy? Too hard? Not varied enough? Too many playthroughs required? Just right? Let me know in the comments!

http://tagracat.wordpress.com/

My friend Tagra is smart, does stuff, and has opinions. You should read them.

A Buck and a Foreign Quarter

After a fair amount of grunt work undertaken on behalf of the Fighters’ Guild, I’m back to my old stomping grounds…

Bright lights, big city. Well, the latter, at least.

O yes, labyrinthine Vivec — with your many cantons of many levels each, and your twisty little passages, all alike — how you still vex me! At least I know to stay out of the sewers this time. The prospect of trying to find my way around the city isn’t a pleasant one, but I think I ought to ramp up my skills a bit before pursuing this whole Nerevarine gig.

In other news, I have discovered that Morrowind humor is alive and well in 2012.

Random linkage — I thought this forum post was a nice little summation of what sets the third installment apart from the rest of the Elder Scrolls series. And on a side note, I’m really hopeful that playing classic video games will soon become as easy and culturally acceptable as enjoying TV shows and music of yesteryear.

Meta-Blivion

Don’t miss this amazing post about the wonderful world of Oblivion mods on MetaFilter!

Naturally the week after I get the previous version installed, the latest edition of the Morrowind Sound and Graphics overhaul is ready for release! Check out the preview if you haven’t seen it yet.

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