Gamer girl for life, and writer for Epic Gamer Girl. In real life, I am a graduate student who studies pop culture. In my free time, I prefer to get lost in books, movies, TV, and video games. My favorite game genres are RPG and survival horror, my favorite gaming company is BioWare, and my favorite games are Dragon Age and Mass Effect, among many others.

Mar 282013

Mass Effect 2 continues the epic story of Commander Shepard, the player-defined hero who thwarted a massive plot to destroy the galaxy in the original Mass Effect. Players always knew that Shepard’s story wasn’t over. The Reapers are still coming, and only Shepard and her crew believe it, so they’re the only ones who can stop them. But when the Normandy is destroyed in an attack by mysterious aliens, Shepard will find her allegiance to the Alliance challenged, and she’ll need a whole new crew to win the fight this time.

The brilliance of Mass Effect 2 is that it essentially clears the board. Shepard was a hero by the end of the first game, and she had the respect of almost every race in the galaxy, but now, two years later (don’t worry, the time gap is explained at the beginning of the game), that respect doesn’t count for much. No one trusts Shepard anymore, least of all the Council and the Alliance, but the Reapers are still planning an invasion, and someone has to stop it. This forces Shepard to make a deal with a shady organization known as Cerberus and their leader, the Illusive Man. Shepard has to recruit a whole new team and find new resources in order to take the fight to the Reapers this time around, and this allows the player to continue Shepard’s journey without it seeming redundant.

The Illusive Man is Shepard’s new ally.

It’s easy to understand why a player might be wary of a whole new adventure for Shepard. Throughout the course of the original Mass Effect, Shepard made friends and enemies, and it’s likely that players will want to see these same faces again. They are there, although some of them are only cameos, and there are many new interesting characters to meet as well. Even though Mass Effect 2 can feel like an interlude, that’s what it’s supposed to be, so don’t be afraid to dive in and give it a chance.

In addition to continuing an excellent story, Mass Effect 2 includes a lot of improvements that make it more enjoyable for gamers. Several tedious features from the original game have been streamlined for more efficient gameplay. In Mass Effect, the inventory was massive, but there were hardly any unique items, making it a chore to sort through. In Mass Effect 2, the inventory system has been completely eliminated. Every Shepard gets the same suit of armor, and new pieces are available for purchase at various stores and can be equipped in her personal quarters, and squad members no longer have armor. Weapons are found during missions and made available to the various characters, and there are no longer upgrades for ammo since those have been turned into class powers. Research projects offer the chance to increase damage for each type of weapon, as well as biotic and tech powers, so there is still the chance to upgrade throughout the game.

Sidequests have also been streamlined. Rather than having to drive a vehicle over a planet’s surface to find points of interest, planets with sidequests will be identified by the game, and then the player has to find the sidequest with a probe. This way the player can go directly to the quest, rather than searching for it. Probes also let you mine for resources to complete research projects, which is unfortunately a change in the game that is still tedious, but necessary to get all the skills you’ll need to finish the game.

Combat has been revamped.

Combat has also been revamped in Mass Effect 2. The same character classes are still available, but there are fewer powers for each class, and each power now has two versions that can be chosen from once it is completely leveled up. This allows you to customize your class more based on the way you like to play. In addition, combat is faster and more challenging, with more skilled enemies and various environmental hazards thrown into the mix to complicate things. All of these changes make for a great gaming experience, whether you’ve played the original Mass Effect or not.

The new level up screen.

Mass Effect 2 is a game that should not be missed, whether you’re an old fan or new to the franchise. It is a fantastic gaming experience.

Grade: 9.5/10

Mar 212013

I have many fond memories of the SNES, and most of them are about the game Donkey Kong Country. My best friend had an SNES, and we would go to her house after school and drink Mountain Dew (original – these were the days before all the crazy Mountain Dew flavors), eat Ruffles, and play Donkey Kong Country. She was a lot better at it than I was at first, and I remember being frustrated because she always made me be Donkey because she was a lot better at using Diddy, but the game was still ridiculous fun. We played our way through all three titles, and also through the Nintendo 64 version.

I recently replayed Donkey Kong Country, and it’s every bit as good as I remember. The original Nintendo Kong was an antagonistic character who threw barrels at everyone’s favorite plumber, Mario. Now the Kongs have retired from such practices and are living lives of leisure in the jungle. Unfortunately, evil lizard King K. Rool has other plans for the Kongs. He steals their entire banana horde, prompting Donkey Kong and his short sidekick Diddy Kong to go on a quest to retrieve it.

Be careful – the ice and snow make the ground slippery!

The game is a side-scrolling platformer that takes place in a large variety of environments, including jungle, forest, and snowy mountaintops. There are underwater levels, mine cart levels, and lots of hidden bonus levels. All of the levels are bright and colorful, and they’re also populated with lots of kooky enemies. There are standard lizard troops, lizards in army helmets with cannons, vultures that throw nuts, armadillos that roll around, and some mean octopi in the water levels. The odds are stacked against the Kongs, but luckily, there are also some friendly helpers scattered throughout the levels to lend their aid.

Mine cart levels are ridiculous fun.

The other Kongs hang out in each level to help Donkey and Diddy in various ways: Candy lets you save your game, Cranky gives you advice (and also yells a lot), and Funky lets you travel back and forth between levels to collect lives or find bonus rooms you might have missed the first time. Inside various levels, you will also find animals like a swordfish and an ostrich with special abilities that can help you reach special places, kill enemies, and access bonus levels where you can rack up tons of extra lives.

Rambi is great for smashing through enemies.

All of these features, along with a peppy soundtrack, combine to make a great game that you will have fun playing over and over again. There are several different modes – single player, cooperative two-player, and competitive two-player, so there are lots of ways to play as well. This is a great classic game that everyone should try.

Grade: 9/10

Mar 172013

Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune came to me by accident when I bought my PS3. It was included in the bundle package I wanted, so I chalked it up to a free game and brought it home and didn’t think much about it. After a few days, I was curious and decided to try it out. I sat down on my couch and didn’t get up until I had finished the game eight hours later.

Okay, okay, there may have been a bathroom break in there somewhere. But the point is that this game is so good that it made me not want to do anything else until I finished it, and for me, that’s a rarity. Don’t get me wrong, I really get into my games, but because of the limits on my time, it’s not often that I’ll actually just sit and play one all the way through without even thinking about the other things I should really be doing. Basically, I’m telling you that this is a game that literally everyone should play at least once, and here’s why.

Uncharted begins the story of Nathan Drake, who is sort of a modern Indiana Jones, except without the degrees. When we first meet Drake, he is looking for the coffin of his ancestor, Sir Francis Drake. Francis Drake was an English explorer, and Nathan thinks he found the secret location of El Dorado, the Lost City of Gold. Accompanied by a reporter, Elena Fisher, and aided by his longtime friend, Victor “Sully” Sullivan, Drake’s goal is to find the city and become famous and rich. Of course, other people are aware of what Drake is doing, and those people are not nice, which means that finding the city is going to be a fight, and not just a fight to the finish, but a fight to survive.

But make no mistake, Uncharted has a lot more going for it than a great story. It is also one of the most visually stunning games that I’ve ever played. Most of the environments in the first game are jungle and ruins. There is also a lot of water. And it all looks absolutely amazing. I will freely admit that I died a couple of times because I got distracted standing on top of a mountain looking out at a magnificent view.

See what I mean about the view?

Mechanically, the game also goes to great lengths to use these environments in various levels. There’s plenty of platforming to be had, most of it over crumbling ruins (yes, it’s as hazardous as it sounds). There are gunfights in the jungle and in the ruins, as well as puzzles to be solved. There are also several vehicle sequences that are exquisitely done, and I usually hate vehicle sequences in games, so that’s saying something. The controls are simple and fluid and the combat, which consists primarily of picking up various guns discarded by enemies and occasionally punching someone in the face, is exciting and satisfying.

Jet skis are a lot of fun in this game.

Basically, I’m telling you that nothing is wrong with this game and that you should play it and love it. It’s perfect in every way, and you shouldn’t miss it!

Grade: 10/10

Mar 062013

The PS4 has been announced, and early reports show that it will not be backwards compatible. Of course, this led to a social media backlash, with gamers declaring that not having backwards compatibility is a huge faux pas, and some even saying that they won’t buy the PS4 unless it is backwards compatible.

For me, these responses are, simply put, overdramatic. Backwards compatibility has only reliably existed for one generation of Sony consoles (the PlayStation 2 played original PlayStation games), and as technology advances, I find it hard to believe that the gaming community didn’t see this as simply a temporary perk.

Original consoles used cartridges, so of course they weren’t backwards compatible, since each cartridge was different from the last. Then consoles switched to using disks, and of course they wouldn’t play any cartridges. The Wii was the first Nintendo system that had backwards compatibility in that it would play GameCube games, and the Xbox 360 only has backwards compatibility with certain Xbox games (which I discovered when I bought an older game a few months ago that won’t work on my 360). Even the PS3 is not backwards compatible with PS2 games, minus a few consoles made at the beginning of its cycle.

For the most part, the PS3 wasn’t backwards compatible either.

While it’s easy to understand why gamers would crave backwards compatibility (who doesn’t want to play an old favorite game over again?), I don’t think it should be the biggest concern when it comes to new consoles. If we want our consoles to get better, we need to release them from the stricture of being backwards compatible, because at some point that’s going to hold them back in terms of overall capability. I think that we need to let go of our desire for backwards compatibility and look towards the future of gaming and not its past.

Mar 032013

Disclaimer: This is not meant to be a comprehensive review of World of Warcraft. The game is quite user-friendly, mechanically speaking, and so I don’t find it necessary to discuss that too much, especially since this is a game where the mechanics are constantly changing, since the game has almost weekly updates. This is simply meant to be a basic review of the game and its largest components, meant for those who might be interested in trying it out.

I remember when World of Warcraft first came out (which, in case you were wondering, does make me kind of old). At first, I had no interest in playing the game. I’m not much for gaming experiences that revolve around multiplayer, and that is one of the obvious selling points of World of Warcraft. Still, when I finally did try it, it was hard to not get hooked. Blizzard has done a lot of things right with this game, which is why it’s been around for almost a decade.

The first thing you’ll probably notice about World of Warcraft is that it looks great. Every environment is bright and colorful, and there are lots of people milling around, going about their everyday lives, which makes the world feel much more real and active than it really is. Character creation features a variety of races with unique faces and hairstyles, and equipment drops frequently, so the look of your character is constantly changing. The artistic style of this game is a big part of its appeal, and makes progressing to each new area and finding new equipment very enjoyable.

A cave environment.

In addition to the artistry, World of Warcraft has a story rich in lore, although most of that is found off the beaten path in the game, either through reading books or talking to other characters. A lot can also be found outside the game in novels and, of course, the previous games in the Warcraft series. Unfortunately, your character falls into the role of generic hero meant to save the world, which is basically a necessity in an MMORPG like this. Still, there are lots of individual questlines with great stories, so that makes up for this a bit.

To me, the two biggest problems with World of Warcraft are the repetitive nature of the quests and the generally crappy quality of the players. The former is simply something that happens when you have a game this big – the quests all become go kill ten of these, go collect ten of these, take this to this character in another city, and it just gets a little tiresome. The latter isn’t really Blizzard’s fault. As far as I can tell, they’re pretty good about policing inappropriate player behavior, but that can only go so far in a game where you’re required to group with other players to complete certain content. One of my biggest frustrations playing the game was ending up in groups with people who weren’t willing to work with the group and follow instructions to get through a dungeon, or end up in a group with people who did basically nothing and stole all the loot, or having to group with people who were just mean for no good reason. I game to have a good time, and there would be times when I would play for hours and not have any fun at all.

Do this quest for me and I will give you rewards. Then I’ll make you do something else similar and give you a similar reward…

That being said, there is still a lot of content available in World of Warcraft that doesn’t have to be completed in a group, and it’s a good value if you’re a gamer on a budget, since it’s only $15 a month after buying the initial game. If you’re an MMO fan or you’re looking for a game to keep you occupied for a long time, this could be right up your alley.

Grade: 9/10

Feb 262013

I love achievements. The sound of an achievement unlocking is incredibly satisfying. It makes me feel accomplished. Lately, though, I’ve been reading articles about how achievements could be hurting gaming. Some people seem to think that achievements are changing the way we game – that we no longer see a point to gaming if we’re not going to earn achievements, and that we’ll buy games just because they offer an easy run at achievement points, and that we’ll spend time playing games we don’t even like just to fill in missing achievements.

I think what this argument forgets is that achievements are an optional part of gaming. Most achievements don’t add anything to the game (an exception would be a game like Mass Effect, which offers bonuses to abilities and experience for earned achievements), and points you earn for getting achievements are essentially useless, except for bragging rights. I’m not going to say that the availability of achievements doesn’t motivate me to play a game a second or third time, but if I absolutely hated a game, I’m not going to play it again, achievements or not. If a gamer is buying games just to get easy achievements or replaying games they don’t like, that’s entirely up to them.

Truthfully, I think achievements add a lot to gaming. A lot of achievements can entice a gamer to experience more aspects of a game than they might find otherwise. For example, achievements in Skyrim encourage a player to complete all the questlines, find all the artifacts, and build all the houses available in the game. Achievements in Dragon Age: Origins encompass all the romances and big decisions available in the game, inspiring the player to play the game multiple times and see everything it has to offer. Of course, that doesn’t mean you can’t replay the game any way you want. I’ve played Dragon Age: Origins and Mass Effect multiple times, and I’m still missing achievements because I tend to play the same character over and over again because that’s what I enjoy doing.

25,000 points makes you a legend!

Another recent perk of achievements is the Xbox Rewards Program. Xbox offers discounts and gifts to people with certain amounts of achievement points. 25,000 is the highest (I’m about 1,000 points away!), and this gives gamers something else to aim for when playing games.

That’s not to say that there aren’t things that frustrate me about achievements. I am not a fan of multiplayer achievements, especially because once a game gets older, they’re basically impossible to get. I’m still missing both multiplayer achievements for Age of Booty, for instance – there wasn’t anyone playing the multiplayer anymore by the time I bought it. I’m also not a huge fan of difficulty achievements, especially when there’s one for every possible difficulty the game can be played on, but that’s more of a personal preference.

Simply put, I don’t think achievements are ruining gaming. It is totally up to each individual gamer to handle the way they approach achievements, and there’s no reason that achievements have to dictate the way you play games, unless you want them to.