What can one say about 2016 without curling up into a ball while repetitiously mumbling “Duck and Cover” from their basement-turned-fallout shelter?
For me, when not staring at the torn seventh seal and awaiting the return of Diablo’s minions, this year in gaming was one of franchises. There was both a return to the lost, and a discovery of the new. So, onto my final year recap.
Coming Back Home: Assassin’s Creed: Black Flag
After rage quitting Assassin’s Creed III last year, I swore off the franchise (and may have tried feeding the disc to a wood chipper for my own sanity). I adored Ezio’s trilogy (to the point that I’m seriously considering plunking down the money for the re-tread. I know, but Brotherhood is so much fun, and he’s so pretty), but as for III with its “take five steps get a cut scene, barely any assassinating, do as we tell you” gameplay, I couldn’t take anymore.
On a whim, and boredom settling in, I picked up Black Flag. I was hesitant because I care nothing about pirates and less for ship battles. With Ubisoft’s track record from III, I feared they’d be terrible. Boy, was I wrong. So wrong, I will shout from the top of the roof how wrongy wrong I am.
If like me, you got burned by AC III, this is the game to come back with. Edward is okay as an assassin, though I’d debate that he’s never really an assassin himself. He’s got a crazy obsession with the observatory for no good reason beyond plot contrivance, and I kept calling him ugly Thor.
Look at him, he’s a roughed up Chris Hemsworth! But all that can be glossed over because of one reason: Matt Ryan. I could listen to that self-deprecating Welshman all day long, even after Edward’s been captured for the 5,000th time and learns nothing while obsessed over an observatory despite having plundered enough Spanish and British ships to take over the West Indies. There needs to be a law: much like how Steve Blum always voices Wolverine, no one else can be Constantine but Matt Ryan.
The gameplay is back to solid AC levels too, very reminiscent of Brotherhood with actual assassinating and sneaking. And god help me, I really loved the ship battles. I wound up loving this game so much I did damn near everything possible.
All-in-all, how can anyone not love a game that lets you pet cows and turn your enemies into whatever the hell these things are?
I Thought It’d Be Worse Than It Is: Assassin’s Creed: Unity
Knowing that the creators behind III were working on this one, I gritted my teeth from the first cinematic cut screen, prepared to despise this game. But in the end, I’m glad I gave it a chance.
Yes, our assassin Arno is as boring as strained tapioca pudding. He’s the typical hero we’re getting in this day and age: brooding for no good reason, no edges to make him interesting. This batch of writers seems incapable of taking the piss out of anything. If they made a joke, it was purely on accident.
It’s still got too many cutscenes with a plot that makes no sense and an assassin who just does stuff because he wants to get the girl. (Sadly, it was patched so I didn’t get the missing skin bugs, though there were still some very annoying glitches.)
However, there were a few new things they added that I loved. Solving crimes was a ton of fun, which returned in Syndicate. The gameplay was easy, what with this batch of developers not really ever seeming to get the point of sneaking or assassinating. While I missed the thrill from Black Flag of making a hidden blade kill and dashing back to the bushes before I’m caught, at least it was far easier to take down a dozen linked guards with Arno.
But the best part that really made this for me was being able to go inside of buildings. Finally, we can leap through windows to avoid guards, or stumble across people shooing us out of the way. The world feels so much richer seeing inside the buildings we scale. In general Unity isn’t bad. It’s nowhere near my favorite AC game, but it falls middle of the pack. If you’re curious to try an AC game, but fear you’ll suck at sneaking, try Unity.
We Can Animate Women!: Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate
After being called to the carpet for the bullshit about how women were so damn difficult to animate with Unity, Ubisoft finally gave us our first female assassin in a AAA game. (Sorry Aveline, I just can’t deal with III‘s mechanics to play you, as much as I want to). Evie is awesome. She’s pretty much a Twilight Sparkle who’s cool with murdering, the brainy mission-focused one to her brother Jacob’s come-what-may gang leader approach.
The downside to Syndicate is that for all the big missions they force you to play as one or the other twin, and of course Jacob gets 65% of the missions to Evie’s 35% (I did the math). But, and this shocked me big time, I like Jacob. He’s brash, and undisciplined, and needed to be yelled at more, yet I can’t help but like him. There’s an earnestness not born out of our typical brooding character, but just a general bonhomie. And, best of all, he’s actually funny. I wound up liking Jacob so much that I played through all of Syndicate twice, once as Evie and again with Jacob.
This game gave me what I consider to be the cutest damn assassin of the franchise. I speak of none other than Mr. Henry Green.
Most of the other ‘romances’ in the AC games get at most a shrug or “okay, I guess” from me, but damn it, Henry and Evie were so stinking cute together. It was all their nerding out over ancient relics that really clinched it. It certainly helps that Henry’s so nice on the eyes I sat up higher on his first cut scene and never stopped watching for him.
I wound up liking Syndicate so much that this was the first AC game where I got the DLC. Downside, it’s about Jack the Ripper (this chestnut again) and twists the old history into an incoherent pretzel. Plus side, you get to spend the entire time as an older Evie. It’s the rarest of rare, a video game featuring an older woman as a protagonist. No sexy ingenue here.
That’s enough Assassin’s Creed, time to move on to a new franchise I stumbled into thanks to a remaster.
Death By Jet Ski: Uncharted
Being a PlayStation owner, I was vaguely aware of Nathan Drake being a sort of modern Indiana Jones, but didn’t think much beyond that. To celebrate the release of 4, they bundled all three original games onto a PS4 game release, which is what I leaped fully into.
I warmed to Nathan pretty quick (and not just because he’s also the voice of Superboy from Young Justice). There’s a lightness there you don’t get often in the main hero anymore. It’s all brooding ennui. But what really sold me on Uncharted, even during the more hair-pulling levels, was Elena.
Normally, when the plucky clear love interest pops up, I groan and wait for whenever I have to rescue her while she bats her computer generated eyelashes that would never survive in a jungle. But damn it, Elena is freaking awesome. She doesn’t let Nate get away with any shit, and is actually really freaking useful. And not in an Elizabeth from Bioshock: Infinite kind of useful. Shoot the bad guys by herself kind of useful. Whenever I’d run back into Elena, I was so damn happy to have her around. Yes, real backup!
However, we need to discuss the jet ski. If you have played Uncharted, you know of what I speak. If you have not, well, come and have a seat beside me.
In order to get through the jungle swamped with over 10,000 mercenaries our bad guy got cheap off Angie’s List, you have to travel by jet ski thrice. The first time isn’t bad; Elena gets to blow up a few bad guys while Nate drives because the man always has to drive even if there’s no logical reason for it. I won’t give it away, but let’s just say by the third trip, battling rapids, explosive barrels, and mercenaries flush with the cast-offs from an NRA meeting, I wanted to drop that jet ski off a waterfall, then explode it using an RPG. Bathing in the flames of its death was the only way to heal.
If you want to get into Uncharted, I would suggest trying the first, but you don’t have to get through it if you can’t. Because trust me, there’s much better to come.
Second Is Best: Uncharted 2 (also Assassin’s Creed 2, Mass Effect 2)
For whatever reason when it comes to franchises I’m at first iffy on, I fall madly in love with the second entry. Anyone who’s into AC knows to just skip the first one for so very many reasons. While there were parts I enjoyed with Uncharted 1, the characters being a big part of it, the mechanics were clunkier than I’d like and burn in hell Jet Ski! I shall see you driven before me, and will hear the cries and lamentations of your Sea-Doos!
But Uncharted 2, oh man (aside from the final boss battle, which I am so glad games are going away from now) was so damn much fun. Opening with the frame story device of flashbacks was cheesy, but the second Flynn popped up on screen, I was grinning like an idiot. Yeah, it was Alistair (Steve Valentine), and sure, he was the bad guy, but I didn’t care. God damn, even if he’s shooting me in the gut (because the hero never gets shot in the head during a cut scene), I still love him.
Claudia Black is always welcome of course, and Chloe was a nice addition to the cast, giving the game its first chance to pass the Bechdel test when Elena pops back into the scene. (Sadly, it couldn’t manage that again in three. Those women — get more than two onto the screen together and we just explode).
Since Uncharted is so much more cinematic than the average game, I don’t want to give away much, but there aren’t any levels or challenges that stick out to me as ingratiating. I even liked the train one, talking smack the whole time. Which may be what I enjoy about Nathan: he’s not the stoic hero. He’s screaming and cursing the same as the player, when not cracking wise about the next thing come to kill him.
If you’re not a completionist, and want to see what Uncharted is all about, this is the one I recommend starting with.
Man Most Despised By God: Nathan Drake, All Uncharted Games
It began as a bit of a joke, but through three games after having the ground give way, trains explode, mountains fall on his head, and managing to crash a plane in the middle of the desert, it’s time to accept facts. God is trying to kill Nathan Drake, but somehow he keeps missing.
He’s the video game version of Job. Cursed because God’s got a Trading Spaces kind of bet going on with the Devil to try and take him out, but somehow that wiley Nathan Drake manages to survive quicksand, hallucinations, pirates, and crashing a plane in the middle of a desert! (Can we talk about the Bedouins who can’t be arsed to give him a sip of water after he crashes their party? Because that’s funny as hell) And through it all, nothing sticks. God’s doing his best to take him out, Nate’s well aware he doesn’t stand a chance, but somehow he keeps skating on by thanks to Elena and Sully watching his back.
Bethesda gets into my final mentions list thanks to Fallout 4 and Elder Scrolls Online.
See You In Your Nightmares: Fallout 4: Automatron DLC
Try and sleep after this comes rattling through the radioactive fog, I dare you.
Jangles the Space Monkey knows you ripped up his brethren to make beds for whiny settlers who can’t do it themselves. Oh, he knows, and he’s got a rocket launcher for an arm you’re going to answer to.
Most Hated Companion: Old Longfellow: Fallout 4: Far Harbor DLC
I do not like Longfellow. I touched on it a bit in my review for all of Far Harbor, but the more I thought upon it the more I despised him. He’s so damn boring and so much the same shit we get over and over that something in my brain popped.
Another man to follow you around. Another white guy who’s a bit sexist because of “historical accuracy” (in a post-apocalyptic game with deathclaws where the only music is remnants from the 50s). Another loner type who’s never really had any friends because, once again, his no-good woman left him and it’s all her fault. Not like she had any say in being brainwashed, nope, only good girls don’t get kidnapped.
Ahhh! The more I think about Longfellow, the more I want to shoot him in the back and kick him into a Fog Crawler pit. He’s the straw that’s been shattering the camel’s back as Bethesda falls further and further into the good ol’ boys club that is AAA gaming’s refusal to admit that there are more demographics than them playing games now.
I Can’t Quit You: Elder Scrolls Online
When it comes to Bethesda games, I rarely feel any connection to the characters and couldn’t recite back the main plot under threat of dragon fire. However, there’s something about the games that I call quest crack. Every quest is just about the right level of getting shit done in a timely manner and receiving a good enough but not great reward to keep going. Bethesda doesn’t bother with writing or plot, but it’s got the rewards/benefits ratio down perfect. Or it did with their single player campaign. Then they decided to get into the MMO world and their faults became the woolly mammoth in the room.
After my fifth time cursing in a dungeon because they really never thought you’d play by yourself while also making it impossible to finish quests surrounded by people, my husband said I was stuck in an abusive relationship with Elder Scrolls Online. He’s right. It’s a game with glimmers of hope drowned in rivers of shit.
Oh I swear, I’ll be good. Here’s a cool little quest with a talking skeleton. Better yet, we’ll let you all turn into skeletons!
Followed by ten grinding quests where enemies pop up when you turn around because they were dead certain it’d be more popular and maps that are damn near impossible to figure out. With every hour it becomes more obvious why Elder Scrolls Online wasn’t going to be as popular as Skyrim.
The flaws that people can overlook in a single player campaign become glaringly detrimental when the foray into an MMO world blots away the fun parts. Crafting is a joke, because the only way they really want you to get good stuff is paying real world money for it. Even if you reach the tippy top levels past 50 and into Champion 160+, you’re still fighting skeevers that can kick your ass if you’re not careful. It’s a game that hamstrings you regardless of how much you put into it.
After awhile, you get sick of all the lies and promises of “it’ll be better just give me a chance again” and have to log off for the last time.
Sorry, Elder Scrolls. It’s not me, it’s you.
Most Anticipated Game for 2017: Mass Effect: Andromeda
For all of Nerdy but Flirty’s end of the year/GOTY 2016 coverage, click here!