games

Out with LiqudSky, in with @Paperspace 1

Those who follow me on Twitter know I have, in the past, been a big fan of LiquidSky for cloud gaming. What I’ve found over time, however, is that I can no longer support that platform. I’ve officially cancelled my subscription and been using a new platform – Paperspace and Parsec – for several months now. The reasons for the change are straight-forward, and could have been addressed by LiquidSky before I jumped ship, but were not.

First, a note on what cloud gaming is: Basically, cloud gaming is simply a desktop hosted with a cloud provider close enough to you physically to provide a very low latency streaming experience. Streaming allows you to see the video and hear the audio of the desktop in much the same way as you watch movies and TV online. Low latency allows your clicks and keyboard input to happen on the remote desktop in close enough to real-time that it feels real-time. Both are required for cloud gaming because you need to react to what’s happening on the screen as it happens (you see an enemy, you react and shoot, or hide, or dodge, etc.). This is insanely difficult to accomplish, as most streaming systems like Netflix are designed for one-way communication. They send the data to your browser or set-top box and that’s all they’re worried about. With gaming, input matters, and therefore latency is a both sending and receiving input is something that must be dealt with. Just having a remote desktop connection doesn’t work – latency might be low enough to stream the desktop to you, but not anywhere near low enough for quick reactions to be recognized by the desktop itself in enough time to be useful.

Another issue is that most cloud platforms are geared toward commodity compute – basic CPU and RAM functions – and not for graphics. This means that while some games will run, those that require dedicated graphics cards (GPU) will not – ruling out the use of nearly all major games you’d want to play. GPU-focused cloud instances exist, but at a huge premium in price, and latency is still a massive issue with those.

Cloud gaming works to solve both issues by accelerating networking to allow for reasonably low latency, and offering GPU-enabled cloud desktop instances with sufficient resources to play the games you want to play. It’s a balancing act, and tricky to get right, but a few companies have managed to do it. For a Mac person who likes to play big-name games (which are typically Windows only), cloud gaming is a dream that’s just now starting to come true.

So less address why I made the switch:

1 – Mac Support: LiquidSky originally had a great Mac client. It wasn’t perfect, but they were working on correcting the few issues that there were there and making it better. Then LiquidSky 2 launched without a Mac client at all. Over the remainder of 2017, we Mac users patiently waited for the next-generation Mac client, but to no avail. Update after update of the Windows client came, and an Android client finally launched, but the Mac client continued to be listed as “coming soon.” As one of the major uses of cloud gaming is allowing Linux and Mac users to play these games, this is inexcusable. The Windows client can be used on a Mac with virtualization or emulation (things like vmWare Fusion and Wine), but this requires a level of technical expertise that is beyond the majority of users – and doesn’t provide a pleasant user experience at all.

Paperspace has had a Mac client since day one of their GPU-enabled gaming desktop services. It works, and it works very well, and they’re continuing development of the platform as they move forward to make it even better. They partner with Parsec to minimize latency and maximize the gaming experience overall, and they provide complete and easy-to-follow instructions on how to install and use these tools that anyone can follow.

2 – Latency: LiquidSky has continued to get worse and worse on this front as it gets more popular. While I’m happy they’re getting more users, they’re not scaling properly to allow for the increased user base to get a good experience when they play. Overburdening of their systems is taxing their networks, causing lag that makes playing many games impossible, and most games just plain unpleasant. Even using Wine to jury-rig their client into working on a Mac, visuals are “muddy” and reaction is sluggish and painful most of the time.

Paperspace keeps their networks and platform robust as it grows. It’s not perfect – there are periods of peak activity that definitely cause hiccups, lag, and some muddiness; but they’re far fewer than I ever experienced on LiquidSky and seem to be kept short. You’ll get a few seconds of sluggishness and stutter, and then you’re back to the great desktop experience you want.

3 – Billing Experience and Support: LiquidSky just doesn’t seem to care about its customers. It pains me to say that, as this is completely different than the experience I had when I started using their service. Customer support used to be fast, efficient, and friendly. Now, it seems that they respond when they feel like it, if at all, and basically always answer with “we’re working on that.” While this answer is perfectly acceptable when a new platform launches or a major overhaul has been rolled out – that period of acceptability ended several months ago and the attitude has continued nonetheless. Billing is painful, as it is handled by a 3rd-party entirely now and not even visible on the LiquidSky site. The shift from the ability to use unlimited accounts to everyone using a points system to rent access by the hour is even more confusing; and poorly explained. Let me be clear, they needed to raise their rates – no one could hope to grow and expand with the numbers they were offering – but make it easy for people to figure out what they’re paying for. Use real-money for the per-hour fees, not a conversion first to points and then to different amounts of points for each of the sizes of machines that can be run.

Paperspace has two billing options: per-hour fees in real money and unlimited plans at a fixed amount of money per month. They do charge far more than LiquidSky for unlimited accounts, but they are available and a decent value indeed for those of us who spent a lot on our Mac or Linux desktops and do not wish to buy a Windows machine with that much horsepower just to play games. Billing is handled by Paperspace and all options are available from their own website so I can manage my account quickly and easily. Support is stellar! Paperspace requires the use of a 3rd-party service called Parsec to play games (it mitigates many of the latency issues and handles things like controller support). I have been able to get help on Parsec from Paperspace directly, even though it isn’t their code or product. Paperspace always replies quickly and in a friendly manner.

All-in-all, LiquidSky seems to have totally lost the plot when it comes to cloud gaming. They shifted their focus to gaining more users as fast as possible by offering free credits for watching ads, but didn’t plan well to handle the influx of users that brought. They lost focus on their customers and service and support suffered. They’ve outsourced their billing to a 3rd-party and detached themselves from that process, and made the new purchase plans confusing and complex. Finally, they’ve stabbed their Mac customers in the back by focusing so heavily on Windows. I do understand that the vast majority of the gaming market is Windows, so this isn’t an un-sound business decision on their part. That being said, they had a fanatically loyal user base of Mac folks, who are now abandoning the service due to neglect. They did so as several well-known names like nVidia jumped into this space to compete for those same Windows and mobile users. So they’ve given up one advantage (a dedicated and untapped market) to maximize their effort in a crowded space against major household names. That’s not the best business plan.

Paperspace, with the help of Parsec, offers the total package. High quality services, ease of use, native clients on Mac, and reasonable prices. Note that cloud gaming is currently a very expensive proposition, with monthly fees averaging about US$200/month for unlimited use and per-hour fees being higher than for commodity compute uses. It is, however, worth it – especially for occasional gamers who just want to play one or two games that are Windows-only and therefore don’t need a monthly unlimited plan. It’s not perfect. Setup can be challenging, and not all hardware is fully supported (especially USB devices like gamepads and microphones for chat) – though that’s also the case for LiquidSky and not a Paperspace-specific issue. There are instances of network congestion, and minor nitpick issues, etc. Compared to their competition, however, they’re showing themselves to be leaders in the space of cloud gaming – giving big name brands like nVidia a real challenge and proving that they know what they’re doing and will get it done. They’re also proving themselves savvy businesspeople by targeting users who want the service and have found other platforms don’t get the job done. Mac and Linux users who want to play Windows games exist, and they spend money with companies that remain loyal to them – and Paperspace is going after that loyalty while retaining Windows customers – a recipe for success.

So give Paperspace a look if you’re gaming and not on hardware that can support those games well. No matter if it’s Windows, Mac, or Linux on your desktop, they can make your experience a lot better. Start with an hourly GPU instance and see if it meets your needs. You can always graduate to a monthly plan later if that will save you money. The Paperspace team will indeed be there to help you choose, help you get set up, and help you get back in the game.

“The Division” Sucks for Casual Gamers 0

Photo Credit: Joe The Goat Farmer on Flickr
ThumbsDown As you folks already know, I’m not totally immune from liking first or third party shooters. I loved Mass Effect (up until the ending of 3) and I’m nuts over the Fallout games. So when a new 3rd-Person shooter based in the aftermath of a massive disease outbreak and resulting loss of society came out, and it was based in New York City, I was in. The game, however, really and truly sucks for casual gamers, which became painfully obvious within about 90 minutes of playing. Here’s why:

1 – The story is OK but not great. Ubisoft created yet another generic, voiceless protagonist who is about as interesting as dirt. Then they added a cast of milquetoast characters and a story made more to further the shooting than further the plot. That’s pretty much what we have here. Nothing pulled me in. There is no reason for casual gamers to want to play it, aside from hours of fun shooting people if you’re into that. I, personally, am not so much into that. I want to get drawn into the storyline of the game. I want to understand the reasons for doing what my character is doing other than “you’re the good guy, and bad stuff happened, now here’s a gun.”

2 – Mandatory, always on-line. Why would ANYONE still require this for a single-player game after all the fiascos in the last 2 years? Because Ubisoft, that’s why. You need to be always on-line because the game tries CONSTANTLY to matchmake groups. So as far as having a playable single-person storyline, that’s a big red flag. Now let’s add in queues to enter various areas because the game is tracking simultaneous users so that it can attempt to matchmake you. There are games that get this right – like the Borderland series – and there are games that get it totally wrong, like this piece of… code.

3 – Difficulty spikes from hell right after the tutorial. Great, you finish the tutorial – which is very much single-player but still tries to matchmake you (see #2) – and get to Manhattan. At which point, you *will* die on every single mission. Every one. Granted, I’m not an expert at cover systems, but I managed to get through Mass Effect 2 and 3, and several Gears of War titles without major issues. I died on and off, there were harder-than-average missions, but the gameplay was enjoyable and not so hard on “normal” that I wanted to fling the controller across the room. Here, it’s constant “reloading at last checkpoint.” Wave after wave of guys shooting at me, hurling grenades while their buddies shot at me, finding new ways to shoot at me. That, alone, isn’t abnormal, but when you finally do best them, guess what, there’s 10 more coming after you. I’m one guy with one gun, but for some reason this game thinks I’m an army with a full artillery squadron. I soon also realized that the enemies took about 3x the number of shots to die compared to me, so add that in too. It’s beyond “good AI” or “challenging missions” and right into “the computer is a cheating bastard” territory.

4 – It’s not actually a single-player game. It’s not, don’t let anyone tell you that it is. Get a group or get annihilated. I don’t have a problem with this on it’s face, but why bother to even pretend there’s any point to this than grouping up and playing a co-op shooter? As with the other reasons, this alone isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Many games are challenging for a single-player but much more playable with a group. There’s a line between that and “just give up unless you have a group,” which is what we have going on here. So, of course, unless you have 5 hours to invest and want to completely give up your life, good luck enjoying the game. You’ll be stuck in pick-up groups from hell, and I challenge anyone to say that a PUG game is fun for casual gamers.

So, if you want a hardcore shooter that requires a group to avoid frustration, this is a great title for you. As for me, I’m heading back to Fallout 4, where things can be quite challenging, but at least there’s a semblance of a reason that you’re fighting against Super Mutants, and you can – if you work at it – beat the odds.

Things I wish someone had told me before I started playing Inquisition (No Spoilers) 0

I have played both Dragon Age Origins and Dragon Age 2 – in some cases multiple times – but there were several things that I wish I knew before starting to play Inquisition. Here’s my list.

– This first one is something I actually did hear before I started, but it bears repeating. GET OUT OF THE HINTERLANDS! The starting sandbox is as beautiful as the others, and has a ton of quests (called missions) you can take on, but it’s very easy to get stuck there for 20 hours. Gain about 10 Inquisition Power and 3-4 levels under your belt (around 3-4 hours of play), then move on. You can (and in fact have to) go back to the Hinterlands later, so don’t worry, you won’t miss anything.

– Personal preference, turn off lip shine. It’s under Makeup in the character customization system (which you should definitely check out when creating your character’s look), and leaving it at the default makes you look like you overdosed on lip gloss. On a male character, it looks… really odd.

– You can JUMP! For those new to the series but who have played other games this isn’t a shock, but for those of us who played the earlier games, this is a huge change. There are still some places where you hit the dreaded “invisible wall,” but they’re few and far between in this game.

– The left thumstick will perform a “search” function when you depress/click it. This is important, as it will highlight any loot, resources, and objects of interest near you. Considering that the landscape can very easily hide things, and the number of things out there, you should search OFTEN to find stuff. In the latest patch, found items also show up as gold dots on the mini-map, making it even easier to locate them.

– Your companions don’t automatically join you. Unlike other DA games, you have to actively seek out some companions, and then convince them to join up. This is generally easy to do, but also easy to miss. Keep an eye out for new missions, and re-visit places from time to time – you’ll find that companions will turn up if you follow that advice.

– THERE’S NO HEALERS, but there are several types of healing potions. You also do NOT heal between battles automatically, but must either use potions or return to Inquisition Camps and/or your Stronghold to replenish your health. Warriors also have the Guard talent that gives them an extra health-bar before they start losing HP, and Mages can cast Barrier over their teammates to do the same, so you can live without healing magic.

– While we’re on that topic, fast-traveling to a camp automatically refills your health and BASIC healing potion supply – you do not have to actually “rest” to do it unless you walk into a camp instead of fast-traveling there.

– And refilling other potions (heal over time, mana, grenades, etc.) requires a Potions Bench found in camps and strongholds and reagents (herbs, etc.) and must be done manually. Only your basic health potions are refilled automatically at camps.

– One last note on this, your basic health potions are shared amongst the group, while all other potions and potables are per-character. This means that each character can carry stuff specific to them, but also means that they can’t access potions carried on another team member. Choose wisely.

– OK, I lied, one more on potions. Next to the potions table in most strongholds is a potion upgrade table. Use this along with consumables to improve your potions, elixirs, and grenades to make them last longer, work better, etc.

– Spend your Inquisition Perk Points wisely, they’re very limited and you may only get 10 or so in a playthrough. Some ones to save up for are “Deft Hands, Fine Tools” which lets your rogues pick more advanced locks; and “Forward Scouts” which makes resource nodes like lumber and quarries show up on your world map. There is also a perk that increases the number of healing potions the team can carry, and another to add a 3rd potion slot to each team member – both are quite useful. Finally, there is a Perk that dramatically extends the range of the Search feature – not totally critical but very useful. Otherwise, check all categories and map out which perks you want early in the game.

– DO NOT SELL ALL VALUABLES! Some stuff you pick up that gets put in the Valuables tab in your inventory is actually critical for quests! You can tell what you should hang on to in two ways. If it’s icon is gold, keep it. If it has “flavor text” that shows up when you hover over it, keep it. For the most part, anything else is either not used in quests, or there are enough of them that you can find more later on to turn in. NEVER use the “sell all valuables” option or you will ditch some important stuff.

– You can’t tell your companions’ current approval rating except by trying to figure it out by how they speak to you. Unlike previous games in the series, the companions don’t have approval bars on their Character Sheets, you just have to keep a close eye out for approval messages on-screen and try to glean information based on how they talk when you interact with them. Meaning that if a companion isn’t happy with you, they’ll be very curt with you when you speak to them, as opposed to very friendly when you’re in their good graces. It is not always obvious, either, so your mileage may vary. Companions can get pissed off enough to leave, so if one of them you want to keep starts getting snippy, find ways to make them happy (or at least neutral).

– On that topic, you can’t win them all over completely, so don’t try. Different decisions will make some companions happy and piss off others – even if they are not in your party at the time. That means no more “just don’t take that person on that mission” to get around the approval system anymore. You do seem to be able to keep most of them from being totally pissed off at you – with a LOT of work – but you won’t be able to make everyone happy. If you don’t think you want them in your party, piss them off and they’ll eventually leave (most of them anyway). Otherwise, keep them neutral to happy.

– And one last bit of info on approval. Most characters have a certain set of personality traits. When you speak to them, choosing speech snippets that align with those traits will help you gain approval, so dive deep into the character development of your companions if you want to know how to best approach them.

– Visit the Dragon Age Keep! The Keep allows you to spell out choices you made from the previous Dragon Age games. For those who played through the whole series, this is critical, as many of the choices you made in previous games have an impact on Inquisition, sometimes in surprisingly big ways. Not to worry if you haven’t played the previous games, Inquisition has a default World State it will use that steps through BioWare’s suggested outcomes from Origins and DA2.

– Speaking of different outcomes, you should save often, and use multiple save slots. I usually have 5 save slots and rotate between them as I go. There are a LOT of decisions to be made, and you might not like the outcome of some of them. Multiple saves allows you to scroll back in time and try again. The game does auto-save, but those autosaves get overwritten, so they’re not a lot of help.

– Play with the crafting system. Unlike in other games, the system in Inquisition actually yields good results after a while. More-so in weapons than in armor, but still good to check out early in the story through the end-game.

– Explore EVERYWHERE! While you should leave the Hinterlands early, go back to it and explore all the areas it has to offer. Do this with each sandbox you gain access to. Different quests, Advisor Missions, and other fun stuff won’t show up until you discover them in the sandbox. This is critical for your Strongholds. Vendors, quests, and interactions tend to hide in odd corners in those places.

– Finally, check the War Table often and do the Advisor Missions (the missions that you send your council on instead of going yourself). They yield some interesting results, and in some cases very major results. As it says above, no spoilers in this one, all I’m saying is do as many Advisor Missions as you possibly can. Hint: Time doesn’t really stop when you exit the game, so do the multi-hour Advisor Missions right before you’re done for that gaming session, when you open the game again, they’ll be done.

Fallout 4: Is the Railroad Clueless? (Hint: not really) 0

Photo Credit: Jspoelstra at the Fallout Wiki on Wikia
Icon Railroad HQThe Railroad is one of the four major factions within the Fallout 4 universe. A group of dedicated individuals working together to ferry Synthetic Organics (“Synths”) out of the Commonwealth to freedom, they’re based on the Underground Railroad that existed in the real-world United States of America during the 1800’s. Their real-world counterparts allowed both freed (but still hunted) and non-freed salves to escape to the territories in the northern US, where slavery was banned and/or outlawed.

****WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD!***

In the world of Fallout 4, a group of scientists called The Institute has created and evolved humanoid robotics (think androids taken to the extreme). Starting with Generation 1, these Synths evolved from skeletal, entirely synthetic creations of metal and polymers into the current Generation 3 Synth; a synthetic human built from organic components. Gen 3 Synths are made of (artificial) flesh and bone, and can walk, talk, eat, sleep, and effectively do everything that an organic human being can do. They are, however, still constructs of the Institute. Synths are sent out into the Commonwealth to spy for the Institute, and in some cases they even replace humans who the Institute believes are in positions to assist their aims. The rest act as servants for the Institute itself, performing all the manual labor so that the scientists can focus on expanding humanity’s horizons. They have programed memories, personalities, thoughts, and goals. They serve the Institute and it’s aims, no matter what.

Except where they don’t. That’s where things get interesting.

Normally, a Synth is effectively a slave of the Institute. While outwardly (and in many ways even inwardly) human, a Synth is a creation of man – built, programmed, and driven by their Institute masters. In some cases, however, something changes. The Synth becomes fully self-aware, and begins to think for itself. As with any other sentient (or apparently sentient) being, self-aware Synths begin to desire freedom, and look for an escape from the closed-world of the Institute; and that’s where the Railroad steps in.

Through a combination of agents, tourists (civilians who aren’t part of the Railroad itself, but are willing and able to assist), and a few key players inside the Institute itself; the Railroad brings self-aware synths out of the Institute and into the Commonwealth. Once there, they are ferried through a series of safe-houses as they are given new identities, back-stories, totally new memories, and even new faces through advanced plastic surgery. From there, the Synth is moved out of the Commonwealth and integrated into society in the world at large – indistinguishable from any real human in the Wasteland.

This process was hinted at in Fallout 3, with the quest “The Replicated Man.” The Lone Wanderer was set on the trail of an Institute Synth who had been memory wiped, had their face changed, and was spirited out to the Capitol Wasteland to begin a new life. An Institute scientist and his synth bodyguard show up in Rivet City, after following a series of leads that lead the team to believe that their quarry was currently living and working there. During the quest to discover the new identity of the Synth, the Wanderer is introduced to another group, the Railroad, who is attempting to stop the Institute team and allow the Synth in question to retain their freedom. Since the Synth had a complete memory wipe, they believe themselves to be human, thus making it even more difficult to figure out who they are.

The Lone Wanderer may refuse the quest, find the Synth and return it to the Institute, find them and not interfere with their new life, or find them and let them go free, but force them to realize they are a Synth, not a real human. While the results of this quest are not carried into FO4, the quest itself does set up both the Institute and the Railroad as major competing factions.

Skip ahead to 2277, and the Sole Survivor can encounter the Railroad in one of two ways:
– At various locations, settlers and others will mention that the Institute must have enemies. They suggest that one can find the Railroad, if they “follow the freedom trail.” This sets off a quest to locate multiple markers along the real-life Freedom Trail – though the in-game trail is much shorter. Each trail marker indicates a letter, and stringing them together provides the passphrase necessary to open an intricate combination lock on the Railroad’s front door.
– During the main quest, a critical piece of intelligence will need to be analyzed in order to move forward in your quest. The only faction that can do so is the Railroad, no matter what faction you wish to ally with. Thankfully, the game properly handles the situation even if you have already wiped out the entire Railroad faction, but at this point in the game you probably haven’t even met them yet. When you reach this point in the quest, all roads lead to the Freedom Trail, and your encounter with the Railroad.

Either way, you meet the members of the Railroad – such as they are. They recently suffered a devastating defeat at the hands of the Institute that wiped out a sizable portion of their forces and cut them off from their former HQ. Assisting them leads to you becoming a Heavy – an Agent of the Railroad responsible for clearing out obstacles to getting their charges along the road to freedom. While not every member is on board with this idea, most are, and you can find yourself in a cloak-and-dagger spy thriller as you help escaped Synths find freedom in the world.

Many fans of FO4 have called the Railroad into question as a major faction. They have few resources, few people, and even fewer good chances to accomplish their goals. In a previous post, even I noted that they weren’t the best faction if you wanted to help the Commonwealth thrive. I will admit, however, that I might have misjudged them.

First, the Railroad is a noble cause. They have found out that Synths have the ability to become sentient, and believe strongly that no sentient being should be locked into slavery to anyone. This doesn’t really support the “not really clueless” hypothesis, but it’s important to point out.

Second, their people are dedicated to the point of fanatical. Once set on the path to a goal, they *will* accomplish it. Even with a fraction of the people they once had, and a new HQ with a fraction of the resources, they keep getting the job done. This points to them being able to adapt to changing circumstances, improvise new solutions, and get things back on track even in a severely changing game. They don’t blindly head toward their goals, they work and change and adapt along the way.

Third, they understand they’re the underdog. No one in the group has any illusions that they’re doing anything but an impossible task. There appears to be no one deluded or clueless – well except for Tinker Tom – and everyone knows that they’ll never actually win. It’s the fight that matters. Each Synth they free is one more victory, even if the war can never be won.

Finally, they’re willing to make alliances. They don’t do so easily, and it takes a tremendous amount of work to gain their trust, but they do make alliances. In FO4, they can ally with the Minutemen, if you follow the right paths to get it done. They cannot – as you’d expect – ally with either the Institute (for obvious reasons) or the Brotherhood of Steel (who want all technology controlled or destroyed), but they do accept honest friendship when it’s offered and it suits their cause.

So while you may consider them misguided, dangerous, or some futuristic version of Don Quixote, they would not by most definitions be considered clueless. And that might just make them the most dangerous faction in the Commonwealth.

Notes:
Most information is taken from either official Bethesda/Zenimax sources, or from the Fallout Wiki on Wikia. Both are worth a look!

Fallout 4: Is the Brotherhood of Steel Evil? (Hint: No.) 0

Photo Credit: © Zenimax


BoSVertNow that we’ve had a chance to talk about the background of the Brotherhood of Steel (BoS), let’s discuss their appearance in Fallout 4 (FO4) and the morally grey storyline they bring to the table.






*****SPOILERS AHEAD!*****


The BoS that you meet in FO4 takes two forms. One that you meet up to the mid-point of the main quest, and another that makes their appearance in Act II.

Prior to the end of Act II, your only interaction with the BoS is Paladin Danse, Scribe Haylen, and Knight Reese; the only remaining members of a BoS Recon Squad sent to investigate the Commonwealth. While they’re not the first to visit the Commonwealth, they are the most successful recon team to date, having established a foothold in an abandoned police station and started operations.

The team was sent from the East Coast BoS group (headquartered in the Capitol Wasteland – formerly Washington DC), and is charged with scouting the Commonwealth (formerly Boston and the surrounding area in Massachusetts). So far, they’re not doing great. Multiple members of their team have been killed in feral Ghoul and Super Mutant attacks, and the three of them are all that’s left. To make matters worse, they can’t create a strong enough signal to establish radio contact with The Citadel – the BoS headquarters located in the ruins of the Pentagon in the Capitol Wasteland – to call for support. What they have done, however, is found a strange signal that can’t be explained yet, but definitely points to powerful and advanced technology being used in the Commonwealth… somewhere.

Danse then recruits you (if you agree to it) to recover a powerful transmitter component – introducing you to the Institute (by reference) and their Synths (who crash your search party) along the way. This initial introduction leads to a series of radiant quests that allow you to discover the Commonwealth and learn more about the Brotherhood as you go. At the end of that mission, you’re given a chance to join the Brotherhood as a provisional member if you wish. If you agree, eventually you are given a quest to find out what happened to the last recon squad that came to the Commonwealth, and then you can continue radiant quests until you get to the mid-point of the main quest, where things change.

The BoS shown by the recon squad gives some major hints that things have changed for the Brotherhood since FO3. The recon squad is extremely mistrustful of outsiders (except for one member), and is hell-bent on killing every non-human they come across. Half of the radiant quests require you to go out and obliterate every mutant, Raider, and Ghoul you come across in a specific area. The BoS Recon members also wall themselves off from the rest of the Commonwealth (quite literally), and while there is an interest in cleaning up the area, helping civilians doesn’t rank high on their agenda.

Danse and the others also hint at the fact that the East Coast BoS is no longer under the guidance of Elder Lyons, but very little of who is in charge is revealed until after the mid-point of the main quest itself. All you know when you are given the opportunity to join is that they will help the civilians of the Commonwealth, but only as a means to their own ends of acquiring any and all pre-war technology and destroying all non-humans out there. At this point, their stance on sentient (non-feral) Ghouls is somewhat murky. They do not actively seek to destroy them, but neither do they want anything to do with them or go out of their way to help these former-human mutants.

OK, one last warning, ***MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD***

At the mid-point of the game’s main quest, the player (known as the Sole Survivor) encounters a scripted event showing the Prydwen, a giant rigid airship that serves as a mobile base of operations for the Brotherhood in the East. Surrounded by, and launching, Vertibirds (Vertical Take Off and Landing craft that resemble helicopters with their blades on wing-pontoons) it flies into the Commonwealth skies and takes up residence at the ruins of Boston Airport (patterned on the real-world Logan Airport). Your radio then picks up the newly-boosted broadcast (thanks to your assistance in obtaining the transmitter) ordering you back to the police station, where Danse escorts you aboard the Prydwen to be introduced to the rest of the Brotherhood.

It’s here that you meed Elder Arthur Maxson, a direct descendent of the founder of the BoS, and current leader of the East Coast Brotherhood. Maxson informs you (and the rest of his BoS troops) that the Brotherhood has established a base of operations in the Commonwealth to wage a war on their greatest threat to date – The Institute. Since the BoS quarantines all pre-war and/or advanced technology, and the Institute is a massive hive of such technology, they must either contain or wipe out the Institute itself – and anyone who is helping them or their creations.

This is where the BoS starts to feel evil. Synths are possibly sentient, artificially intelligent androids. While feared by most of the Commonwealth, synths can easily be seen as semi-human, no different than non-feral Ghouls, and those who have left Institute control seem to be productive members of society (for good or bad). By this time, you have also met an earlier generation synth who is not only a good guy, but an active and valued member of one of the largest human communities – Diamond City. He’s definitely not a tool of the Institute, and certainly wouldn’t be considered a threat to anyone but those who make him their enemies first.

You may also have discovered the Railroad. Based on the Underground Railroad that helped ferry slaves to freedom in the Civil War era of US History, these humans and synths altruistically work to get synths away from the Institute and out of the Commonwealth where they can lead normal lives. The synths working for the Railroad certainly appear sentient, and definitely are working for what could be considered the greater good. At any rate, they are not controlled by the Institute in any way – far from it, they want the Institute destroyed and all synths freed.

Finally, if you played FO3, you may have met a synth who not only became an upstanding member of society in the Capitol Wasteland, but ended up being a trusted member of law enforcement to boot. For all intents and purposes, that synth is indistinguishable from any human being – and in fact remains undiscovered unless you purposely help to identify them. Even on identification, you find that this synth doesn’t even know they are a synth – the new memories and identity given to them by the Railroad makes them completely oblivious to the fact they aren’t human in the first place.

So the BoS waging an all-out war against the Institute *and* their synths means potentially wiping out a sentient race that had no say in their creation, but has shown themselves capable of independent thought and – in many cases – a desire for freedom beyond their programming. Maxson explains that destroying the synths is critical, as the Institute (based on the fact that synths escape) clearly has no control over their creations; and that those who have not broken from the Institute have even infiltrated human societies as undercover spies. The short story there is that a Generation 3 Synth is a biological machine, indistinguishable from a human being even when “taken apart” and therefore able to be physically altered to look, speak, and act exactly like a living human, who’s place they then take. The unfortunate target of this process is kidnapped to the Institute, and held indefinitely or (it’s hinted) killed; replaced by a synth double with all of their memories, mannerisms, and identity.

On top of this, the Brotherhood also tasks you with (optionally) commandeering farms and their produce to feel and fuel BoS operations. This is a radiant quest given to you by one of the BoS commanders on the Prydwen, and is not a mandatory part of your BoS membership. The problem is that, even if you don’t partake in that activity yourself, others are doing it on the BoS’s behalf.

Finally, siding with the Brotherhood in the main quest-line can result in being forced to wipe out other factions. Some of these factions may have become close friends over the course of the remainder of your gameplay, so it’s a decision not to be taken lightly; and one the BoS will not allow you to get out of.

It’s a moral grey-area all around, and made many players perceive the BoS as an evil force, or at the very least chaotic-neutral. The argument has some solid ground to stand on, but I’ve always seen it another way. The BoS is the best chance the Commonwealth has to survive.

I base my opinion on several facts:

– Without the BoS, there isn’t really any faction that can – or would be willing to – bring order and prosperity to the Commonwealth. The Railroad is interested only in saving synths, they don’t seem to really care what else is going on. The Minutemen are great as an idea, but have proven they cannot remain a coherent force for long before the organization collapses. The Institute? Well, they sabotaged the closest thing to a unified government the Commonwealth ever saw post-war, and are actively developing Forced Evolutionary Virus weaponry and kidnapping/replacing humans to meet their own goals. The BoS maintains that part of its charter is to remove those threats from the Commonwealth, even if they’re no longer anywhere as altruistic as their FO3 rendition.

– The BoS is a strong military force. Like it or not, the Commonwealth is a brutal, unforgiving wasteland. Super Mutants, feral Ghouls, Raiders, mercenaries like the Gunners with no moral compass, and dozens of other threats run rampant. Without manpower, weaponry, and a command structure to deal with those threats; it’s unlikely that Commonwealth will ever re-form society.

– Elder Maxson is not completely unchangeable. While he remains a xenophobic zealot, there are several points that show that he does, indeed, recognize that not all synths are equal. There’s two major examples of this: 1 – He doesn’t order that your synth companion(s) must be destroyed. 2 – When a major member of the BoS itself is found to be a synth, Maxson can be talked into allowing that person to live. They’re exiled from the BoS, but not executed. Combined, it shows that the Elder is at least willing to admit that some synths are not Institute slaves, and while not being ready to trust them, he (and the BoS as a whole) is willing to tolerate their existence.

So, for me, the BoS is not evil in Fallout 4. They most definitely are xenophobic technology hoarders who have very little interest in making the Commonwealth a better place overall, but their intentions are working toward a better life in the wasteland. Yes, their morality is most definitely grey; and their methodology can be extreme; but they’re a force that will help bring order to the chaos of the Commonwealth in the end.

Notes:
Most information is taken from either official Bethesda/Zenimax sources, or from the Fallout Wiki on Wikia. Both are worth a look!

Fallout 4: Background on the Brotherhood of Steel 0

Photo Credit: © Zenimax

PowerArmor Ah, the much argued about and maligned Brotherhood of Steel in the Fallout series. From game to game across the years, few factions have been as argued about and bickered over; and few have ever been so important to the games as a whole.

So, let’s talk about them in previous installments of the series!

****Spoilers Ahead!****

The Brotherhood of Steel (BoS) was created when a group of soldiers, shortly after the Great War, discovered a secret military installation that was working on biowarfare projects, including the Forced Evolutionary Virus (FEV). Based on their discovery, and the fact that most of civilization had been destroyed by the war, Roger Maxson took his men, declared them all outcasts from the government and military, and commandeered the FEV laboratories to ensure that no one would ever be able to actually use these biological weapons. This departure from the military formed them into a new group “forged in steel” that would never forget what pre-war technology did to the world, and the BoS was born.

About a century and a half later, the BoS reluctantly aided both the Vault Dweller (FO1) and the Chosen One (FO2). During this era in the game timeline, the Brotherhood had become a well armed and armored paramilitary organization with a strong mandate to obtain and quarantine any and all pre-war technology to ensure that it never fell into the hands of anyone who would use it to wage war and/or harm the human race. They tended to be highly xenophobic, vowing to wipe out Super Mutants, Ghouls, and pretty much everything and everyone that wasn’t “human” by their own, very limited, definition. Taking pre-war military Power Armor, tactics, and weapons; they set out to hoard every bit of pre-war technology they could get their hands on – ostensibly to keep civilization safe from another nuclear annihilation event.

While some members were more open to the idea of post-human sapient beings (like non-feral Ghouls), the majority wanted nothing to do with anyone who was not a member of the BoS, and would shoot any non-human on sight whenever encountered.

Skip ahead nearly 50 years to Fallout 3, and we find that a group of BoS members was dispatched to the East Coast to determine the state of the former US Capitol (now the Capitol Wasteland). Along the way (according to games which were developed by not launched, or otherwise quasi-canon sources), the Mid-West chapter of the BoS was founded and remained in the Chicago area, while the remainder of the party went further east to Washington DC. The Mid-West group was more open to outsiders, and even willing to tolerate Ghouls and other non-human sentients – though they remained untrusted in the eyes of the Brotherhood.

The Capitol Wasteland branch of the BoS changed even further from the Mid-West group, adding to their mission the need to protect civilians and help rebuild society. They continued to collect and hoard pre-war tech, but now defended outposts and minor cities, and were much more tolerant of outsiders and non-humans. Super Mutants were still shot on sight, of course, but Ghouls were afforded warning shots and simply kept away from BoS facilities, not actively hunted. The local Elder (leader) – Elder Lyons – committed his forces to studying ways to make life livable in the Wasteland, even supporting and defending a massive clean-water technology project (codenamed Project Purity). Additionally, they actively attacked and attempted to destroy the Enclave – a group of pre-war scientists and politicians hell-bent on maintaining the old-world government. Their fight against the Enclave was not new (it was seen in FO2), but their desire to rid the Wasteland of the Enclave in order to save the civilian population was a new effort on their part.

Here’s where the pundits and fans get upset. The BoS was (in earlier installments and in the game’s canon), nearly completely disinterested in the affairs of anyone but their own group. They would actively dissuade – often at gunpoint – any outsiders from interfering in their plans; and would only ever work with such outsiders when their goals aligned with the BoS goals perfectly. In FO3, the Brotherhood was transformed into an altruistic group that would help the civilians of the Wasteland to survive, actively using technology to do so. This was “hand waved” by saying that the East Coast chapter had split itself from the BoS at large after the West Coast BoS was nearly annihilated by their fighting with the New California Republic (a nascent democracy in California and surrounding states). The split was so dramatic that some members of the East Coast chapter split themselves from the main group, forming the Brotherhood Outcasts who continue to operate under their original mandate.

Fans decried this change, saying that the Brotherhood was – and should remain – a group keeping themselves apart from the rest of society. Basically xenophobic war-mongers hell bent on keeping their technology safe and separated from everyone else, and attacking non-humans with no mercy. The radical departure from the BoS of previous games kept online forums and message boards burning with flame wars and other heated discussion. Fans of this “new” BoS did exist, but they were outnumbered by others who were livid that the BoS could be so radically re-defined and converted into a stereotypical “good guy” role in the Capitol Wasteland.

Fallout: New Vegas (FNV) saw a return of the old-school Brotherhood, hostile to everyone who wasn’t part of their group and maniacally intolerant of any non-humans whenever they encountered them. Fans were quite pleased with the return to the BoS’s roots, and applauded the decision. Much like in previous games, the player character (The Courier) could only join the BoS after going through several trials and quests to prove their intentions to aid the Brotherhood, and would otherwise simply be shot on sight.

The Brotherhood in FNV had only recently been nearly destroyed in a set of battles with the NCR, culminating in a last-stand event at a power station. Routed at that event, they retreated to a bunker complex in the desert and planned what to do next. They did, however, maintain patrols and intelligence gathering missions, and continued (on a smaller scale) to hoard technology to keep it away from the general public. The Courier can either help the BoS and foster a truce between them and the NCR, or wipe out the few that remain by destroying the bunker.

Which brings us to Fallout 4, and the interactions of the Brotherhood of Steel on the Commonwealth. Next time, we’ll delve into the current view on the BoS, and if they’re truly as evil as they seem at first blush.

Notes:
Most information is taken from either official Bethesda/Zenimax sources, or from the Fallout Wiki on Wikia. Both are worth a look!

Dragon Age Inquisition – First Impressions (No Spoilers) 0

I’ve been a fan of Dragon Age from Bioware/EA for quite some time now. Dragon Age: Origins was a stellar game that I played over and over – attempting to see the differences in different starting stories and playthrough choices. Dragon Age 2 was less spectacular, with a much weaker style overall, a lot of repetitiveness, and enemy mechanics that were just plain bad. Still, DA2’s storyline was enough to get me through a playthrough just to see how it would play out.

Dragon Age: Inquisition returns to the depth and immersion of Origins and adds so much more. Everything players loved from Origins – from multiple races and origin stories through companion characters with 3-dimensional personalities) – is back in this installment, and I am happy to say it does not disappoint.

Initially, I did not yet have an Xbox One, and therefore purchased DO:I for the Xbox 360. That was a major mistake. We’ve reached the point where games designed with the more powerful XBOne and back-ported to the 360 just cannot hold up under the strain. Diablo III performed really well on the 360, but that was the last game I saw available on both platforms that could say that.

After seeing the horrific graphical quality and the 3-minute loading screens (I actually timed it at one point), I realized it just wasn’t going to happen on the trusty 360. It was time to take the dive into the next-gem consoles. So, one XBOne later I was ready to actually play the game.

First Impressions:

Any of the starting races/classes is a fun playthrough, and I found myself re-starting just to see what the others offered. Note that the storyline itself is relatively the same no matter what you go with, but little details through the story change based on your race and class. For the playthrough I went through the game with, I chose Human Mage.

This is a good point to note that you should at least try the Mage class. For those not familiar with the DA universe, magic is feared and mages (without giving anything away) are very closely monitored and controlled. The way they introduce your character makes this believable, a trait which carries through the entire solo campaign.

No matter what class you choose, you’ll step through a tutorial Prologue (a mainstay of the DA games) and learn the slightly different control layout for DA:I in comparison to the other games of the series. This is important, as several things on the controller have moved around to make room for the fact that – for the first time in a DA game – you are not on rails, can go just about anywhere in the various game sandboxes, and can JUMP. Granted, for DA newbies that doesn’t mean a lot, but for us that have played the series, the fact that a 2 inch ledge no longer poses a significant challenge to your character is big news.

The controller layout itself is pretty easy to master, and the fourth talent slot on each “page” (toggled with the left trigger) means that we console players finally get eight talents mapped to the controller. Still not the same as our PC brethren, but not bad. You’ll have a mini-map – with the full map accessible by pressing left on the d-pad) and the usual quest text and party health on screen.

After the tutorial, you get to dive into the game for real with the training wheels off, but for the most part when played on Casual or Normal, the game won’t frustrate the hell out of you. Different sandbox areas will tell you the recommended level you should be at before entering, and enemies tend to not spot you until you get close, so that you can check to see if they’re too high for your team.

Speaking of your team, you are – as is usual for the DA games – given several NPC companions to choose from. Unlike previous games in the series, they’re very well spread out between Mages, Warriors, and Rogues; and across many personality types; allowing you to put together a team that won’t continuously hate you for the choices you make, but that has all the necessary classes to keep you alive. While I won’t get into the companions until I do a spoiler article later, here’s the breakdown of the classes (including for your own player character:

Warriors are tanks. They hit with sword and shield or a giant two-handed weapon and tend to swing much more slowly than a Rogue. Their benefit is that they can taunt enemies off other party members very effectively, and they can soak up a TON of damage by wearing heavier armor than any other class and using guard abilities that give them extra damage bars that have to be whittled down before their actual HP suffers. Warriors can also bash special items (some walls, rocks, etc.) to destroy them, a talent unique to their class and very helpful in many quests.

Rogues are damage dealers and also the only class that can pick locks. They can specialize in either bows or daggers, and use either very effectively. While they wear medium leather, they get several talents that let them move out of danger or disappear entirely – often while damaging nearby enemies at the same time.

Mages are magic users who can dish out damage and control the battlefield by freezing, stunning, and otherwise making enemies lives a living hell; and can summon the forces of the Fade to build bridges and remove obstructions during some quests. Unlike previous games in the series, there are no healer mages in this installment. All mages can acquire Barrier spells (think of it as shielding or the biotic barriers of Mass Effect) that give team members extra health bars much like the Warrior’s guard ability.

Pick a race (Human, Dalish Elf, Dwarf, or for the first time Tal-Vashoth Qunari) and a class, then dive in and have fun! This game is definitely worth a playthrough for anyone who likes Dragon Age: Origins, or likes the fantasy adventure genre.