My Favorite Combat Classes in Video Games

Whenever I start a new video game, it’s always a great surprise (or not-so-surprise) when I have the opportunity to select a character class. Some games have their own fine-crafted classes you don’t see anywhere else, while others have the more traditional warrior/rogue/wizard breakdown. Whatever the case, I just love having some options. Customizing the game to my personal preferences makes the gameplay experience feel much more personal and enjoyable. And I definitely have a few favorite classes…

Mage

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The mage is one of my go-to classes in fantasy games, because it typically allows for a detailed level of customization. If you have companions, you can hang in the back as the healer. Or you can rush in as a warlock in armor. With some careful skill balancing, you can create a resilient spellsword character in Skyrim or even try shapeshifting in Dragon Age.

My favorite wizarding style has a heavy focus on crowd control. I love being the first character in an enemy-infested environment, casting a paralysis glyph or dizzying enemies or creating a blizzard to quickly weaken foes. This lets my companions go in and deal damage more effectively — or it gives me time to switch to my melee weapon or pick a good attack spell. Manipulating the masses for the sake of winning a battle is a lot of fun.

It also seems like every gamer who enjoys playing as mages has a favorite element, such as fire. For me, it’s all about the cold. Freezing enemies in their tracks — and then, if possible, shattering them with a well-placed blow — is pretty much my favorite thing to do in a fantasy game. Giving a dragon frostbite is awesome, too.

Archer

Predator Bow from Crysis 3.

Predator Bow in Crysis 3.

My other go-to fantasy class is the archer. To be fair, this class is somewhat hit or miss. Some games have a limited skill set for archers, making the class a tad tedious and slow-paced to play. Fortunately, most games I’ve played offer some robust options for archers, and it’s often a specialized path for a more general rogue character. This lets you set up an archer with other complementary skills, such as stealth.

The first time I played Skyrim, I created a two-handed warrior who got crazy with a battleaxe. I still really love that character, but when I went back and played again with a sneaky archer, I found the game much more enjoyable. I wasn’t overwhelmed with enemies as often, because I could sneak up on people and land critical hits before they even knew I was there. It was a pretty awesome combo.

I also enjoyed creating a Bard in Dragon Age: Origins who specialized in archery and apparently singing courage into her companions. Because Origins has a very slow-paced archery set-up, I mostly played as my group’s mage character during that playthrough… but it was still a blast to have the songs giving bonuses to everyone while I jumped into other characters’ skins dealing damage across the battlefield.

I’ve also found that quite a few shooters seem to be including high-tech bows as a weapon of choice. That’s actually what got me interested in Crysis 3, a game I probably would never have otherwise thought to play.

Two-Handed Warrior

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Although I don’t usually play warriors in video games — at least not for a first playthrough — I do love melee combat. This is especially true when I can keep it simple. I like to hit once, hard. I don’t need to juggle two light weapons or switch between them throughout a battle, when with one powerful swing of a huge maul, I can crumple a bandit or get those wolves to stop chasing me. That’s why when it comes to playing a warrior, two-handed weapons are the way I usually go.

When given a choice of weapon, I tend to go for the battleaxe. Depending on the game, the swing of the battleaxe feels right to me, compared to the more cumbersome warhammer, etc. The battleaxe also has an aesthetic appeal that, for me, no other warrior weapon has. Because its wide surface gives plenty of room for decoration and variety, a battleaxe can be a very elaborate weapon. Let’s just say I’ve got a collection going in Skyrim.

Sniper

Black Widow from Mass Effect.

The Black Widow from Mass Effect.

I don’t play a lot of shooters. I’m just not very good at them, because… we won’t talk about my aiming. But that’s why my favorite shooter class tends to be the sniper. Being able to take out enemies from a distance — often before they even notice me — is a huge advantage. When the sniper class comes with special upgrades, such as being able to slow down time to take a few extra seconds lining up the perfect shot. There’s also no firearm sexier than a sniper rifle.

Sentinel

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Sure, the Sentinel is a character class unique to Mass Effect, but I feel a real kinship to it after spending so many games and so many dozens of hours playing it. In Mass Effect, you can play as a soldier who’s strong and skilled with a firearm, a biotic who is able to create mass effect fields to do what might be called “magic” (but it’s science, guys), or an engineer who specializes in technology.

As a Sentinel, you combine the latter two classes, dealing both biotic damage and tech damage and being able to act as medic. It’s a jack-of-all-trades style of gameplay, which is exactly why it never gets boring. Because you always have a party with you in Mass Effect, you don’t have to worry about not being strong enough in one area. Sentinels make a great class that I wouldn’t even call “support” — it’s more like you gel with your companions to seamlessly take down baddies. I’ll admit I love to spam Warp, and I will do that forevermore when I play Mass Effect.

Although I do try out other classes in Mass Effect, nothing quite compares to my first playthrough as a Sentinel. That class is a magic formula for me.

– Ashley

The Sci-Fantasy World of Bungie’s “Destiny”

Oh, science fiction. It’s my favorite genre, and I’m always intrigued by a new sci-fi IP. That’s why I’ve been so excited about Bungie’s new game Destiny for a very long time now. This past weekend, Stephen Rhodes was kind enough to hook me up with an extra beta code so I could give it a try, which totally made my day!

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So far, playing Destiny feels a lot like living in a crazy dystopian Star Wars-type of universe where I get to be a robot. It’s kind of perfect, but it brings to mind something I’ve talked about here on Robo♥beat before: the science fantasy genre, for which I am also a sucker.

As much as I love science fiction — pure, hard sci-fi — I often find it to be either too cold/scientific or a terrifying post-apocalyptic wreck. Neither of those feels very inviting to me. I prefer the warmth of worlds like Mass Effect, Borderlands, and Firefly. Sometimes they’re sleek, other times they’re dirty or quirky, but what they have in common is a big focus on rich lore and the “people” side of what makes the fictional universe ticks. That’s what I care about.

So far, Destiny has very little character development — yet it still manages to feel inviting. There’s a warmth to the world that goes beyond the MMO-style play. If I had to compare it to just one other world, I would say Destiny reminds me most of Star Wars, and to me, Star Wars isn’t pure science fiction — it’s science fantasy. I believe Destiny is, too, and that’s a big part of what makes its worldbuilding feel so different than that of other sci-fi shooters.

The Traveler

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First off, there’s a massive sphere in the sky called the Traveler. At first glance, it looks like a small planet, but it’s actually the size of a city. Its appearance over Mars sparked a Golden Age for humanity, as the Traveler was able to terraform planets like Mercury, Venus, and Mars. This allowed humanity to expand across the solar system for the first time.

The creators of Destiny at Bungie call the Traveler an “ancient artifact.” I think they chose the right name for it. Calling it “the Traveler” feels comfortable, albeit mysterious and powerful and possibly very old. This is not (just) a cold piece of technology or an alien sphere from a distant solar system — this is something people welcome.

But how does the Traveler work? If we had some explanation for how it terraforms planets, we would have science fiction on ours hands. But the Traveler’s technology is a mystery. Its origins are a mystery, too. Nobody knows its reason for existing or for helping humans colonize the solar system.

Interestingly, Bungie’s developers held a panel at the 2013 Game Developers Conference to talk about Destiny’s worldbuilding, and in it, they said the Traveler is supposed to be mysterious. They want players to use their imaginations to fill in the blanks about what the sphere is, and I believe that’s true for the people within this fictional world, too. The mystery of the Traveler’s origins and motivations has led people in this world to concoct all kinds of theories. Maybe the Traveler is an ancient machine, a sentient alien, or a god — all things the people in the world of Destiny imagine. This type of speculation grants the Traveler an arcane quality.

Space Wizards

The Guardians make things even more interesting.

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Apparently, The Traveler has an enemy known as the Darkness, which has destroyed everything except one single city on Earth. The Traveler sacrificed itself to protect this city, which is now humanity’s last safe haven. Yet the Traveler still sits in the sky above the city, granting energy to the Guardians who protect it. The Guardians use this energy to unleash special powers. (It reminds me of the “magic” of the Force in Star Wars.) The character class that can do this is known as the Warlock class — and if you set aside the Traveler for a minute, what you really have here is a space wizard.

Sure, Mass Effect has its biotic powers, but these are explained in a scientific way. Whether or not that explanation is plausible is unimportant here — at least you have the attempt at science. In Destiny, you have something much more enigmatic, because the powers are not immediately justified by reason.

Maybe the game will unveil how the technology works that allows Warlocks to brandish their unlikely abilities. In the meantime, all of this feels like magic to me. That’s part of the fun of this world.

The Inspiration Behind Destiny

In their GDC talk, Bungie’s developers talked about how they built the world of Destiny to feel “hopeful and inviting,” so people would want to spend time there. That hits the mark for me exactly. It’s why I’m personally not a big fan of zombies or post-apocalyptic worlds that are too dark. I know those can be fascinating, but I prefer them in TV shows and movies more than video games — because frankly, I don’t want to spend a lot of time in them.

Mystery and adventure were also important pillars for Destiny’s developers. And after working on Halo, one of their first inspirations was something totally different: fantasy. They liked the idea of monsters and heroes, ancient ruins, rich history, and an emphasis on exploration. But they couldn’t shake their love of science fiction, either — which is why they ended up blending the two genres to create something unique.

That’s why Destiny has heroes who wear cloaks and fly spaceships. You have tombs filled with loot, but you also have advanced technology and weaponry. The Awoken race is partly inspired by vampires and elves, while the Exo race is a robotic species.

As the Bungie team conceptualized, this was the image that hit the mark for them:

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That white space tiger gave Destiny its original code name “Tiger.”

Another thing that gives Destiny the warmth of fantasy is the personal spaceship. Very early on in the game, you get access to a personal jumpship that you can upgrade and fly around as you explore. This gives players incredible freedom.  Bungie’s developers say these personal spaceships are the equivalent of horses in fantasy.

Destiny ship

The Bungie devs talk a lot about how arbitrary genre rules are, and that art can lead the way to a more unique and flexible worldbuilding. An example is souls visibly leaving the bodies of the Fallen when they’re killed — something that cropped up in the artwork for Destiny. Although the devs toyed with the idea of explaining this in a scientific way, in the end, they left the explanation as souls being ripped out of bodies. It might be mystical or magical or unscientific, but it feels right in this world.

That’s the key to good science fantasy, really. You don’t have to explain everything from a technological or evolutionary standpoint, but it has to feel like it belongs. For me, Destiny’s world feels very true and inviting, even if much of it remains a mystery.

– Ashley

Assassin’s Creed: The Fun of Easy Games

I have to say that there’s something special about Assassin’s Creed games.

The first things that drew me to them were the historical settings. As a former history major, I’m always on the lookout for games set in past time periods — but they’re few and far between. Assassin’s Creed games piqued my interest for making the past seem like an exciting place to be, and they do a riveting job of transporting players to another time and place. Sure, they may make history a little too glossy and over-the-top, but I still love the vintage feel of their escapism.

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However, playing Black Flag recently, I realized there’s something else I love about Assassin’s Creed games: They’re easy. It’s hard to go wrong with these games. Occasionally I’ve failed a mission because I wasn’t paying attention or didn’t manage to distract that one last guard, but it doesn’t feel punishing to try again. And if my protagonist is trying to be stealthy but instead attracts the attention of a dozen armed guards, I rarely sweat over it. As they attack me — often one at a time — I just time my counters with care and then flip them onto the ground or fire a quick gunshot to finish them off. It’s no big deal.

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Black Flag also features the good old naval combat. Sometimes you’re just steering the ship. It’s really beautiful and relaxing when you’re in the middle of the ocean, with nothing in sight except maybe a picturesque little island off in the distance. It captures a feeling rarely found in action-packed video games: the bliss of a quiet day. Other times, you’re carefully maneuvering the hefty ship around obstacles or navigating through a storm, but these are often slow-paced sorts of challenges. And other times times, you’re caught in the midst of a major naval firefight, cannons smoking. But it’s not complicated. It’s a breeze. There are very few buttons to remember, and the pace is comfortable enough to give you a little time to set up your shots across the water. Maybe it will get more challenging later in the game, but so far, I’ve loved the excitement of the atmosphere without the stress of the protagonist’s imminent demise.

assflagIt’s refreshing to play a video game that just lets me play. I don’t always have to prove that I’m skilled at everything it throws at me; Black Flag is more about having fun. In Assassin’s Creed, the stories are never very realistic, and neither is the action — but that’s the beauty of the franchise. These games ask their players to dive into this glamorous recreation of the past and make it their playground. And because the combat is so easy, everybody feels like the coolest kid there. It actually helps with the immersion, in my opinion. I’m not thinking about myself as a video game player — “I didn’t press the button fast enough!” “Oh no, not another super hard stealth mission!” — I’m just running around a coastal town, recruiting aspiring young pirates and dropping into haystacks sometimes.

Not everyone is as enamored with how easy Assassin’s Creed games are. Kirk Hamilton’s 2011 Kotaku article gives an argument that it’s a little boring to be so invincible, especially if you compare it to games that are refreshingly challenging, like The Witcher 2.

But does every game need to be challenging? Stealth games can be particularly punishing, and that’s why I often get too frustrated and fed up to finish them. I believe Assassin’s Creed does a great job of encouraging stealth by setting up missions for them. For instance, there might be a cluster of guards in one area and a clear shrubbery-lined path to the next set — so you know exactly who you should take down first and where to go next. Maybe it’s a little bit of hand holding, but I don’t mind in this case. And while it’s sometimes bad to get caught, a lot of times it doesn’t matter; you’ve got your sword and pistol ready for those moments. I appreciate that lack of punishment. Assassin’s Creed is nice to me. It feels friendly.

I haven’t played all of the games in the series, so I’m sure some feature more difficult combat than others. I do remember that one of the first PC games I bought was the first Assassin’s Creed, and it was challenging to use the keyboard for all of the maneuvers. I was just getting used to PC gaming; I’d probably do better now. But a shooter would have been a much more natural introduction to the mouse-and-keyboard style!

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In any case, playing Black Flag lately, I’m happy to be playing a game that lets me just shut off after work. It also lets me take my time waking up on the weekends, when I don’t feel like being conscious quite yet. Black Flag just ushers me through a gorgeous, cinematic experience and lets me have fun.

– Ashley

 

Time to Play Catch Up!

Lately, I have been playing catch up on my hobbies — mostly playing video games, reading, and watching my favorite TV shows. It’s been a crazy year for me so far, with issues like lack of internet, commitments every weekend, and a little bit of sad stuff happening that made me stop pursuing some of my own personal hobbies. Blogging is a big one there. I have no real excuse, but I am sorry for my long absence from Robo♥beat! I’m happy to be back (with internet!) and to have the opportunity to catch up with everybody here on all the things we’ve been doing the past couple of months. =)

What I’ve Been Playing

Black Flag's combat at sea is easy and fun.

Black Flag’s combat at sea is a refreshing feature for Assassin’s Creed.

Video games, I have missed you! The past few weeks, I have dedicated most of my gaming time to Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag. I expected it to be fun, because I already enjoy the franchise… but it has exceeded my expectations so far. It’s popcorn gaming at its best: gorgeous scenery, a cool character, and a combat system that asks for just a tiny bit of strategy without ever being punishing. Plus, it’s got pirates.

I’m also slowly but surely playing through some old favorites, like the entire Mass Effect and Dragon Age series, as well as Skyrim. And last weekend, I picked up Borderlands 2 for my Vita, because frankly I don’t have many Vita games and felt that was the perfect one to try. I decided to play as Axton this time around, and I’m actually liking his combat more than I liked Zer0’s! Although I had major issues with the rear touch pad on Vita — like accidentally hitting it with my fingers and throwing grenades at inopportune moments — an update has just been released that should improve that. Borderlands-2-PS-Vita This morning, I also played the latest chapter of The Wolf Among Us by Telltale Games. It is a very solid installment, with less agency than usual but a lot of plot progression. I also loved that the achievement titles for this one told the story of a wolf who tried to fix his old bad ways, which sums up the story of the protagonist Bigby Wolf, however you play him. I intended to make him a hardass, but in this episode, I couldn’t help but play him as a softie. Having learned so much about these characters, I wanted to go easy on everybody — even Mr. Toad, to whom Bigby always gave a hard time in past episodes.

What I’ve Been Watching

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Game of Thrones

Game of Thrones and Continuum have been my go-to shows the past two months. I haven’t had time to watch much else, but with Game of Thrones’ best season (seriously, the best) over as of last weekend, it’s time for me to find a new science fiction or fantasy show to fill the void! As for Continuum, my love of the show continues, but it’s not quite as strong as it was in previous seasons. It has taken some rather dramatic and convoluted turns, which was what I worried about when I started watching the show. I mean, it’s hard not to get convoluted when you’re talking about time travel, but Continuum always surprised me with its refreshing clarity. However, this season the show has introduced a secret society, multiple timelines, and a new time traveler. It’s not that all of that is bad… it’s just a lot to take in. And perhaps my biggest issue is that one of the show’s main characters, Alec — easily the most grounded in the bunch — has made questionable decisions and really ruined his friendship with the protagonist Kiera. It’s interesting character development for him, but I really hope we see more of the “good” Alec soon. I miss that guy.

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Continuum

On the plus side, Continuum has lately had some great flashback sequences (and even episodes) that provide insight into Kiera’s history as well as one of the antagonist’s, Sonya Valentine. Those are my favorite episodes.

What I’ve Been Reading

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Grimspace

My reading habit has been very hot and cold lately — but hot for the past couple of weeks. I’m finishing up the Sirantha Jax Grimspace series by Ann Aguirre, which I absolutely love. It gets better as the series goes on; the prose softens into a comfortable fit for the brash person Jax is, the worldbuilding deepens, and one of the alien characters (Velith) becomes so well-developed, I believe he feels more real than any of the human characters in the books. If you like a light science fiction read that’s very character-driven, I highly recommend the series. I’ve also been reading a great pick from fellow blogger C. T. Murphy. It’s called The Stars My Destination, written by Alfred Bester, and already talked about here on Robo♥beat in C. T. Murphy’s guest post earlier this year. I won’t give away my thoughts yet, because I’ll be reviewing it here soon! =) — Ashley

Do You Read All the Codex Entries in Games?

This month I started a new playthrough of one of my favorite video games of all time, Dragon Age: Origins. But as seems to happen every year that I replay it, I forgot just how much reading there is to do while you play. Because it’s a role-playing game with all kinds of lore and history, it has loads of codex entries on everything from mabari war hounds to the history of the Circle of Magi.

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Codexing in Dragon Age: Origins 

And the thing is, I didn’t read all of them the first time I played the game, because each playthrough brings new entries. For instance, this year I’m playing the dwarf noble origin story for the first time (out of six different origin stories in the game), which means I have pages of information about dwarven politics, my character’s noble family, the dwarven caste system, the city of Orzammar, and how the dwarves revere exemplary ancestors almost as gods. I never needed to know all of this when I was playing a human mage or elven commoner, but now it’s relevant to my character who has grown up in this culture.

I know a lot of people play video games without ever reading  the codex entries. I’ll admit I used to skip or skim most of them, too. When you just finished battling monsters, it feels so unnatural to stop everything, open up your journal, and read. And it doesn’t help that even the most entertaining codex entries tend to read like history textbooks.

I always found it much more engaging to pick up information from in-game dialogue. All that fact-dropping can make the dialogue sound a little stilted, but it’s a more interactive learning experience. The auditory aspect helps me remember things, too — and there’s the added bonus that you can’t skim, so the information sticks better.

However, for most games that feature epic worldbuilding, there’s just too much information to drop into dialogue. That’s why I can’t see codex entries going away any time soon. And they shouldn’t. After all, reading them is always optional… so they’re really there for the fulfillment of major fans.

Slowing down and savoring all the little tidbits of information that make the fictional world I’m in feel so rich and realistic can be truly rewarding. It takes some patience — even for me, someone who loves to read and plays RPGs for their stories first and foremost — but I’ve come to love those codex entries a whole lot.

– Ashley

“The Wolf Among Us” Review — A Crooked Mile (episode 3)

Ashley Hagood:

My review of the latest episode of The Wolf Among Us for Geek Force Network. I played it, I wrote the review, and I published the review all in the same morning because “A Crooked Mile” is just so intense!ep_3_bigby

Originally posted on Geek Force Network:

So this morning I played the third episode of Telltale Games’ The Wolf Among Us, and I’m still recovering. It is by far the best episode of the series yet. Proceed with caution, though — it’s hard to talk about this series without giving away spoilers!

The first episode, “Faith,” has Fabletown Sheriff Bigby Wolf (a.k.a. The Big Bad Wolf of fairytales) joining up with Snow White to investigate the murder of a call girl. It’s a point-and-click mystery adventure, which I reviewed on my blog here. The first episode leaves you with a cliffhanger, and I couldn’t wait for the second episode to begin.

However, after playing the second episode, “Smoke and Mirrors,” I just couldn’t find the inspiration to write a review of it. After how much the first episode sparks, “Smoke and Mirrors” just felt lacklustre to me. The story in episode…

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