Thursday, December 26, 2013

SWTOR Characters I still play

Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, children of all ages! Welcome back to the Assassin's Den!

And right now, I present pictures of 4 of the 5 active characters I have on SWTOR. I'll do Mamine's appearance when she's closer to 50.








And there we go. I don't need to say which one is which, because their names are above their heads.  Look forward to see Mamine soon, and for now, happy gaming!

New Movie Review: Grudge Match

Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, children of all ages! Welcome back to the Assassin's Den!

Since my dad and I didn't have anything going on on Christmas Day yesterday, he took me out to see a movie (my grandma died recently, my brother's got his own kids, and my dad's girlfriend, who is a nurse, had to work that day); and what we saw was the new Sly Stallone and Robert De Niro flick, Grudge Match.

Now, according to the headline for the movie, Billy "The Kid" McDonnen and Henry "Razor" Sharp, two local Pittsburgh fighters whose fierce rivalry put them in the national spotlight. Each had scored a victory against the other during their heyday, but in 1983, on the eve of their decisive third match, Razor suddenly announced his retirement, refusing to explain why but effectively delivering a knock-out punch to both their careers. Thirty years later, boxing promoter Dante Slate Jr., seeing big dollar signs, makes them an offer they can't refuse: to re-enter the ring and settle the score once and for all. But they may not have to wait that long: on their first encounter in decades, their long-festering feud erupts into an unintentionally hilarious melee that instantly goes viral. The sudden social media frenzy transforms their local grudge match into a must-see HBO event. Now, if they can just survive the training, they may actually live to fight again.

But some of this tagline isn't entirely accurate, but it's close enough.  And on Sly's side, this movie feels like what Rocky 3 would have been, had Rocky dropped completely out of the limelight after defeating Apollo Creed in Rocky 2.  And you see a LOT of homages to the Rocky Saga on Sly's side; the eggs, the running, the slightly abusive trainer who believes in him...it's all there.  But there's a lot more there, so I'm not spoiling anything.

 You actually can see a LOT of Rocky in Sly's character, Razor; he's a down to earth guy who is just trying to make his way in life.  He's kind, cares more for others than he does for himself, and considers himself a fighter first and formost.  But Razor is more bitter and feels more educated than Rocky; he's not oblivious about social ques the way Rocky is.

Robert De Niro is a drunken jackass who has made a LOT of mistakes in his life, and over the course of the story, he gets the chance to become a little better person.  I won't get into why, but trust me, it's interesting.

And finally, Kim Basinger, who plays Sally, has an interesting link to both men, though I won't reveal what it is, because that's part of the plot of the movie.

Now, when you go into this movie, go into it expecting a comedy and a drama more than a fight film.  Yes, they show two training montages, but the movie isn't as much about the fight in the end as it is about the men involved in the fight.  Yes, the movie ends with a boxing match, and there's a slight build up for it, but the focus isn't on the fight. It's about the men involved in the right.

Not to say I didn't enjoy the movie; far from it.  It was funny, heartwarming and all around a good movie to see.  But if you go into the movie expecting Rocky 7, you won't be disappointed.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

SWTOR Character Profle: Second Jedi Knight

Ladies and Gentlemen, boys and girls, children of all ages! Welcome back to the Assassin's Den.

I have started a new round of SWTOR characters, though this time, I'm only going to be playing the classes I like to play; the Jedi Knight, Jedi Consular, Sith Warrior, and Sith Inquisitor. 

Name: Mamine (pronounced Ma-Me-Nay)
Gender: Female
Species: Cathar
Age: 24 standard years
Homeworld: Cathar
Class: Jedi Knight/Jedi Sentinel Combat Tree
Personality Profile: "'Do the right thing for the wrong reasons.' This describes Mamine's life. Savage, brutal and dangerously close to falling to the Dark Side at any time, Mamine does things that, while benefiting the Republic, her friends and allies and the Jedi Order as a whole, no other Jedi would think of doing.  Some would say she's indistinguishable from the Sith she kills, but she is completely loyal to the Republic, Jedi and her people, and would never betray them for the sake of power.  However, only time will tell if the Jedi continue to let her operate the way she has been."

I'm going to add a picture of this character soon that I'll take from the game, as well as pictures of the old characters I still play; Ragdat, Vedere, Adaso and Koyi'shak. And while you're at it, check out my SWTOR character tales.

For now, happy reading!

Friday, December 13, 2013

Gaming channels on Youtube: What your rights are and are not

Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, children of all ages! Welcome back to the Assassin's Den!

With Youtube rolling out changes to their system that absolve them from all liability when it comes to copyright claims, it is important for content creators, particularly those who use Youtube to make a living to understand what is going on.  I'm going to be straight on this right now; the days of milk and honey are over.  If you are trying to make a living from making videos on the internet, you're going to have to do like those who saw this coming a long time ago; by switching to blip or springboard.  These two sites are made specifically for those who are trying to make shows on the internet, particularly content that Youtube is scared of now.  Furthermore, these two sites know their rights as distributors and your rights as a content creator, and are better equipped to fight for your rights.

However, since Youtube is the easiest to use, I have a few tips for people when doing their videos.

1.  Familiarize yourself with Fair Use. I already posted a blog entry on this recently, so no need to go more into this.

2. Know that, if you are part of a network, they will no longer to go bat for you, more than likely.  According to many content creators on Youtube right now,  networks are being forced to have Managed and Affiliate members.  I won't go into details, because a LOT of the affected youtubers explain it better, but most of the networks are putting all of their people on Affiliate status, absolving them from all legal liability.  So if you get a copyright claim on your video, it's yours to fight. And if you get sued, you're screwed.

3.  Know how big the company is for the game you want to do on Youtube.  The smaller the game company, the more they are going to appreciate the exposure, and not give you shit for making money off their game.  Team Meat, the makers of Super Meat Boy, for example, put a small time Let's Player's drunken LP of their game ON THEIR WEBSITE.  That exposure benefited their company, and drummed up revenue for their company.  Mojang, the company behind Minecraft, loves the free exposure it gets from Youtube, because it drums up revenue!

4. Know if the game you are doing is still capable of making revenue for a company. Nintendo has a bug up their butts about this one, since they finally have a way to make their old games available for digital download now.  But, there ARE games that Nintendo, and other companies as well, don't care about anymore.  Which is why you aren't likely to see people doing LPs of the newest Mario games, but those who do games like Super Mario 3 aren't getting hassled.  But games from defunct companies, like Sierra? You're not going to get crap for those; even if someone still holds a copyright to King's Quest 1 on DOS, it would be too much trouble for them to dig up the copyright and then attack a small Youtuber.  However, Fair Use applies here, so again, know what you are getting into.

5.  If you are doing an MMO, be careful.  Most companies who run MMOs understand that free positive exposure is good exposure. Especially ones that are running the free to play model.  Most people who make videos for Star Wars: The Old Republic are being left alone, except for the copyright claim on the Star Wars opening theme, which is being flagged by another copyright claim, despite it being part of the game's soundtrack.  (Figure that one out.)

6. Know how the appeal process works, and how to dispute a claim.  I am not a content creator, so I don't know the specifics, but I've read that this is a relatively simple process.

And finally, 7. Know that this change is brand new, and buggy as hell. Things will get better when the new program adapts to what is going on. Yes, it is frustrated when hundreds of your videos are suddenly being blocked and you are unable to make money from them. Especially now, with Christmas coming in 2 weeks.  But it will get better.  This clusterfuck was going to happen eventually, but we're finally getting word from game companies are finally coming out of the woodwork and saying "Yes, you can make money off our games!"  It is going to get better when things get sorted out.

Lastly, if you want a LOT more info on this, check out the links below.  These provide most of the info I presented here, and they explain exactly what is happening.  Also, follow Angry Joe and TotalBiscuits, and ask them questions about what your rights are if there's any confusion.  He's actually considered a journalist among the gaming developer community; he's been to E3, Magfest and other shows, and is one the the pillars of Channel Awesome.

http://www.youtube.com/user/AngryJoeShow
http://angryjoeshow.com/
https://twitter.com/angryjoeshow
http://www.incgamers.com/2013/12/youtube-chaos-lets-play-channels-copyright-claims-flood
http://www.tubefilter.com/2013/12/06/youtube-affiliate-channels-monetization-copyright-review/
http://www.tubefilter.com/2013/12/10/youtube-contentid-flag-gaming-videos/
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7JqjDhuPFaQ

Happy creating everybody, and be ready to migrate to other video distributors before it's too late.  Also, I'm updating the links as people putting out more information.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Look back at Dragon Age: Origins

Ladies and gentlemen! Boys and girls! Children of all ages! Welcome back to the Assassin's Den!

Now, I know I reposted my review on DA:O from my old livejournal, but to be honest, I was acting like a fanboy, rather than a reviewer.  I did that one back before I knew the history of EA and what they had done to other companies.  I didn't know what they did to Origin Systems (creators of Ultima and Wing Commander) and Virgin Interactive (and how they killed the infamous Thrill Kill).  I'm looking back at this game without the hope of a fanboy, after seeing what EA has done to the once great Bioware in the subsequent four years.

With that said, DA:O is considered to be "the spiritual successor to their critically acclaimed Baldur's Gate series", and I can see why this is said.  It feels a LOT like a 3D version of Baldur's Gate 2 would.  The environments, the combat system, the character models; they all look like what you'd expect were Baldur's Gate were on (then) next gen hardware.

That said, this IS Bioware's IP, so no Drow, no Illithid, no tieflings or Aasimar, no orcs, and no Bhaalspawn.  Instead, we have a new setting, new racial interactions and a new wealth of lore.  For example, elves are second class citizens in this setting, instead of an "elder race" like you see in the DnD setting.Human society revolves around "the Church" and oppresses anyone with magical talent, and dwarves exist in a state of constant conflict with the darkspawn.  I won't get into any of the lore, because after 4 years, you can find it in plenty of places on the internet.

However, it is the darkspawn that DA:O is focused on; a new Blight has begun, and Duncan, the Warden-Commander of Ferelden, is looking for a new recruit.  It is here where you go through the six origins; 2 dwarven, 1 human, 2 elven, and the mage, which can be elven or human, since dwarves can't do magic.  All 6 origins happen though, since this game, and the Witch Hunt DLC, gives you indication that they all happen, and, had Duncan not intervened, the potential Warden would have died (or ended up imprisoned, in the case of the Magi Origin).

This game has 3 classes, but you can take on more of the DnD archetypes with the specializations. For example, Bard, Ranger and Assassin are all Rogue specializations.  A mage can become a cleric with the Spirit Healer spec, as well as a shapeshifter, and a Warrior can easily become a Berserker.  This game also introduces you to several of its own specializations, like Reaver, Templar and Champion for Warrior, Blood Mage and Arcane Warrior for mage, and Duelist for Rogue.

Anyway, the classes operate as expected; Warriors can use all weapon styles, but have no AOE or ability to undo locks or use stealth. Rogues are restricted to dual weapons or bows, but are great DPS with backstab and stealth, and can unlock detect and take down traps, but also has no AOE.  And Mages are still glass cannons, dishing out massive direct damage, debuffs, DOT and AOE, and the ability to heal your allies, but unless you take the Arcane Warrior spec, keep them out of melee.

But what separates this game from DnD is that armor isn't restricted to class, nor are weapons (except the mage staff, obviously).  Armor is based around the strength stat (unless you're an Arcane Warrior), so are two handed weapons and most one handed weapons. Dexterity how you boost damage with your bows and daggers.  And unlike Baldur's Gate, you don't need Dexterity for "to hit".

This game follows the Blight, which I won't get into, since it will take forever to fully explain it, and you can find it anywhere on the internet by now.  But the basic gist is something similar to what Shepard does in ME3; gather allies to throw at the Archdemon.  But there's more to the political situation, which I will not go into, since that would spoil the game for you, if you haven't played it yet.  And if you really want to be spoiled? You can find it anywhere on the internet.

The characters are well written, and I love listening to the interactions between the party when you are walking around the map and you hit a "conversation spot".  You've got Alistair, a human warrior templar/Grey Warden who is the bastard son of King Maric, Leliana, a bard from a foreign land, Zevran, an elven assassin hired to kill you, Wynne, a mage of the Circle who specializes in healing, Oghren, the dwarven berserker, the mabari warhound that you either save from the Blight disease or (if you are a human noble), comes with you from the start, Morrigan, the Witch of the Wilds (who features prominently in the DA:I trailer) and Sten the qunari, whose peole have become the bane of DA fiction ever since DA2. (Make no mistake, I like Sten. I just hate the people that brainwashed him.) I could rant for days about the qunari, but it all stems from four things; their "convert or die" mentality, their COMPLETE denial of personal freedom, their enslavement of mages, and their use of qamek for those who will not convert, but are too useful to kill.  Qamek forces those it is used on to become a living zombie, something that actually exists in Haitian voudoun.  This is a horrifying thing, so whatever "good" the qunari might have achieved with their society, this reprehensible tactic says, to me, "we are evil, we will crush you underfoot and enslave you, and we must be destroyed before we turn everyone into zombies".  Fuck the qunari.

Sorry about that.  And in all honesty, I didn't hate the qunari in this game, because all we knew about them was from Sten.  Who is not evil; just brainwashed.  And while he's not exactly deprogrammed when the game ends, he is SOMEWHAT open to new ideas.  Just not enough to abandon his evil brainwashing society.

Dammit, there I go again with the fanboy rage.  Let's see, something else to tackle...

 Ah, yes, the gameplay.  This game is about tactical combat, and controlling the battlefield, but in a different way than Mass Effect.  It all depends on what classes you bring into battle.  Each companion is built for a specific playstyle from the start, though some are more customizable than others. Mostly because you get them earlier in the game, but I digress.

Anyway, the best way to handle the battlefield is to have an individual who can unlock things, a healer, a tank and a DPS.  All of those roles can be filled by the PC, so whom you bring along depends on what class you chose; mages can't unlock things for example. 

The game's story continues with Dragon Age: Awakening, which brings in new characters and is in a new setting.  It takes place 6 months after the Archdemon is destroyed, and you are dealing with the clean up of the Blight.  It brings in Anders, an apostate healer, Velanna, a dalish mage who left her clan, Nathaniel Howe, the son of Rendon Howe, Sigrun, a casteless member of the Legion of the Dead, Justice, a spirit from the Fade stuck in a dead body, and the returning Oghren.  All but Justice become Grey Wardens, though Justice inhabits the body of a dead Grey Warden.  So this expansion pack is about rebuilding Ferelden's Grey Warden and dealing with the last vestiges of the Blight.  If you start the game without importing your DA:O save, the game uses Bioware's intenal canon and brings in a Warden-Commander from Orlais.  And that brings a level of politics that you don't get if you import your character from DA:O.  If you import your character, however, you're heralded as the Hero of Ferelden, and the choices you made in DA:O are reflected in this game. I won't get into what choices those were, since those are plot points in DA:O.

This game also has several DLC packs; Warden's Keep, The Stone Prisoner, Return to Ostagar, The Darkspawn Chronicles, Leliana's Song, The Golems of Amgarrak and Witch Hunt.  All introduce new items into the main DA:O and DA:A campaign, but some of those are more fun than others.  Warden's Keep and The Stone Prisoner are day 1 DLC, and both cost money now.  Stone Prisoner gives you 2 new quests, and a companion. Warden's Keep gives you armor that upgrades depending on your level (and can upgrade if you either sell it or put it in the party chest you get once the questline is done), and the best sword in the game.  Return to Ostagar gives you an armor set, a sword and a shield, as well as the weapons that Duncan carried.  All of these items tiers' are dependent on your level, and can be upgraded the same way.  And all three of these DLC packs are only playable from inside your Origins' save file; no import for these three,

Leliana's Song and The Darkspawn Chronicles are self contained stories, and both give you items for both DA:O and DA:A.  Leliana's Song is about how Leliana ended up in the Chantry, which, while conflicting with the story she tells you in game, is a good buy.  Darkspawn Chronicles is a what if story; you play as a darkspawn during the assault on Denerim, but during events that happen if the PC Warden didn't survive the Joining.  You gain a tier 7 sword for both Origins and Awakening, but in all honesty, I find this one boring.

Golems and Witch Hunt continue the story, and happen after the events of Awakening. Golems happens first, and gives you some VERY good gear in Origins and Awakening that sells for a LOT in both games.  You control the Warden (or Warden-Commander, if you played are importing your Awakening save file), and are essentially doing a dungeon crawler.

And Witch Hunt?  It is a "trip down memory lane"; and it means more to the DA:O Warden than the Orlesian Warden-Commander.  The plot? You got news that Morrigan is back in Ferelden, and you want answers.  And if you romanced her? You have a personal stake in it; she's got your son.

Now, this game isn't without flaws.  One thing that really bugs me is what I like to call "origin specific taunts".  When you choose your character's voice at character creation, you pick how the voice sounds in the game, and there is a specific list of taunts for the voices.  Problem is that the taunts are the same across the board. Which is fine for the Human Noble, Mage and City Elf; they all have pretty much the same culture.  But for the Dalish Elf and dwarves? I'd have liked to hear references to their culture; usage of the elven language and invocation of the elven gods for a Dalish, for example.  But this is a minor gripe, and since I'm not normally paying attention to battle taunts, it's not that big a deal.

All in all, this game and the expansions it has are a fun game, but under NO circumstances should you buy this new.  EA owns Bioware now, and under NO circumstance should you give more money to them than necessary. Which is why I advise you to NOT buy the Darkspawn Chronicles, for example, and why I tell people to buy a subscription to SWTOR, but not cartel coins.  Bioware deserves the quiet death it is in for as soon as possible, so we have more good games to remember than bad ones.

I know this took a maudlin turn compared to my initial review four years ago, but let's be serious; Bioware's golden days are over.  We're not going to see games like DA:O and DA:A again.

And no, this isn't going to turn into another retrospective. DA2, while fun, pisses me and a lot of others off, and I am not looking forward to Dragon Age: Inquisition, because it focuses on something I have no interest in playing.  This game set is the only one I fire up with any regularity, and to be honest, this is the way I want to remember Dragon Age.

I'll review something else soon, but for now, Happy Gaming!

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Fable Retrospective: Fable 3

Ladies and gentlemen! Boys and girls! Children of all ages! Welcome back to the Assassin's Den!

"One step forward, two steps back" is the best way to describe the changes made between Fable 2 and Fable 3.  Don't get me wrong, everything that was changed works properly, is intuitive to use, and is fun.  But some of the changes that were made changed things that worked far better in the two previous games.  So for this review, I'm going to do a list about the changes that were made.

1. Combat. This game brings back the ability to block, flourish and manually aim with your gun from the start.  You even get a charged shot with your gun,  which does double damage, but doesn't drop the amount of shots you have in your gun before reloading. (Don't ask me how it works, though.)  And spells work exactly the same as Fable 2, with one awesome addition; Spell Weaving.  What this allows is you to cast two spells at once, giving you different effects with different combinations.  They also got rid of the Chaos Spell (which was useless in my book) and the Slow Time and Raise Dead are now potions.  So you can cast those two spells at will, giving you a huge advantage in battle. However, you lose two things; the ability to focus on one enemy in melee combat, and the loss of the health bar.  The former has no excuse for, but the latter, they replace it with a system that brings had red creeping around the borders of your screen and the quickening of a heart beat.  And while that's all well and good, unless you know the system well, you're either going to waste healing items when you don't need to, or you're going to wait too long to use them and get knocked out.  And getting knocked out makes you lose all progress on the guild seal you were building toward. (Something I'll get to when I get to leveling.)

2. Pause menu. Instead of a simple text menu, you have the Sanctuary, a place that you retain control of your character, and walk around to view the weapons, spells, clothes, tattoos, beards and hairstyles you have, how much money you have, as well as your stats that will be viewable by your Xbox Live partners.  You also have a map that allows you to fast travel to the different areas of Albion and take on quests, and a later ability to transfer your own funds into the kingdom's treasury (which is a plot point on the game, which I will get to later.) The problem with this is twofold; first, you've lost the ability to view your quest and healing items.  So if you've forgotten how many healing items you have or what quest items you have, you're screwed.  The other is that if you need to pause to use the bathroom, Jasper won't shut the hell up.  And that can get annoying if you have to leave the game paused for a while.

3. Money. Money actually has importance to the plot this time, and is far easier to the come by this time.  The jobs this time are more enjoyable, and are more QTE than "hit the sweet spot". And while QTE are annoying, they are more of a game than what you had to do in Fable 2.  You also gain money far faster from rent, and you gain more per building too.  And while you no longer get money when offline, it doesn't bother me. I felt like I was cheating using that "reset the clock" trick, it was a necessity with how annoying it was to get your initial capital in Fable 2.  However, you now how to buy the ability to buy property and shops in with the leveling system.  And while it's not that bad (you get the ability to buy houses at the second gate, shops at the 4th), it sucks that you can't buy what you want when you want.  The other bad thing is that houses now deteriorate; you have to repair houses every few minutes, or they will deteriorate so far down that you won't get rent from them until you repair them. And when cash flow is low, that is annoying.  However, you won't need to worry too much early on, if you manage to get all 10 silver keys that you can get your hands on before you get to the second gate; you get 50,000 gold from a 10 key silver key chest in Brightwall Village, and you can have all 10 keys by the time you have your hero weapons (full details are on the Fable wiki, but the you'll get 2 in the Castle you start in, 3 in Mistpeak, 3 in Brightwall Village, and 2 in the dungeon you get your hero weapons.)

4. Weapons. You're restricted to 4 types of weapons this time; longsword and hammer, and pistol and rifle.  But you don't lost any customization; there are a TON legendary weapons (50, to be exact), and you have the weapon morphing for your hero weapons.  The morphing is done by how you play your character; everything from how much income you've generated, to how many chests you've opened, to how you interact with the people in the world, to what spells you use, etc.  The problem with this is that you can't get all 50 legendary weapons in a single game, and the weapon morphing doesn't work the way you hope.  You get maybe a dozen legendary weapons in a save file, so you're going to be trading either over Xbox live, or between save files. And weapons morphing? You qualify for certain morphs by performing the needed actions, but all the morphs are considered when you upgrade a chest, and one is chosen at random.  So if you want your weapons to look a certain way, you're going to need to save and reload your game.  Which means, unless you have multiple characters saved, you're going to be quitting out of your game each time. (PC gets multiple save files, Xbox doesn't. So if you're a PC player, ignore that line.)

5. Villager interaction. This game introduces the Expression and Dynamic Touch mechanisms, allowing for interaction that wasn't possible in the previous 2 game. You no longer have the "follow" and "wait" expressions; you take the hand of a villager instead. Even if they don't want to follow you; then, you drag them. Expression touch allows you to personally interact with villagers; you can now shake hands, hug, kiss, dance with, fart on, and threaten villagers in ways impossible in previous games. However, the way the previous 2 games does things was better.   You can no longer choose what expression you want; you do what the game wants you to do. And I've gotten people I've been pulling along stuck on objects when performing escort missions, and I had to push their character model with mine.

6. Leveling. This game centralizes renown, job rating, and combat leveling into one place; Road to Rule.  The currency of the Road to Rule is the Guild Seal, which you get from combat, completing quests, and interacting with villagers.  However, you gain VERY little toward your guild seals in combat, and a LOT from villager interaction. And since enemies stop respawning in areas you've cleared out after a few missions, and won't start respawning until you've completed the next story mission (unlike Fable 1 and 2, where they respawn every time), you've to go supplement your guild seals with making villagers either like or hate you.  However, you can safely ignore the job upgrades, since I told you about the 50k gold silver key chest in Brightwall, so it's still entirely possible to max out your combat skills by the end of the game.

Despite all these gripes, however, the game is fun to play.  Yes, it sucks that I can't target a hob mage in combat, but I can still kill him with my gun and AOE spells no problem.  Yes, it sucks that houses deteriorate, but they still make you money, and it's not quick and easy to repair them.  Yes, the leveling system sucks, but once I learned it, it never worked against me. And above all, you don't lose out on any customization for your character either; there are still a TON of clothes you can acquire, and you can dye them any way you like. I enjoy playing this game, and you will too.

As for the story; 50 years have passed since the events of Fable 2. The Hero of Bowerstone unified Albion under his/her rule (though only her if you have a female hero save file on your hard drive. Otherwise, it the Hero of Bowerstone's gender defaults to male), and has died and been entombed under the Castle.  You play as the second child of the Hero of Bowerstone, and you learn the new system through the story; how to change your clothes, the dynamic and expression touches, and the combat system.  After combat training, you find out your brother, Logan, is about to execute protestors, and your boyfriend/girlfriend wants you to stop them.  You're forced to choose who Logan executes; the protestors or your boyfriend/girlfriend?  After you've chosen (or if you don't choose, Logan executes both), you scream to your brother "I will NEVER forgive you for this!" and he has you escorted to your bedroom.  From here, Sir Walter Beck, the old king's/queen's (that's what the previous game's Hero is called in game) closest adviser, takes you away from the castle, and into your parent's tomb to get the Guild Seal, and your first spell on the Road to Rule.  You're then led to the Sanctuary, where you are given your mission; gather allies, supporters and gain the necessary strength you need to lead a revolution against your brother.  Once you've gathered your army and made yourself strong enough for the fight, you're off to Aurora to find out why your kind-hearted brother turned into a tyrant, and gain the last bit you need; a navy.  From there, the invasion begins, and you fight your way to the castle to depose your brother.

After you take the castle (not a spoiler, btw. I mean, did you REALLY think you were going to lose this fight?), you are coronated as king/queen, and put your brother on trial. It is here that you learn the plot for the second half of the game; that "the darkness" that took Aurora is going to invade Albion in one year's time, and Logan was doing what he could to prepare for it.  But since he wasn't a Hero, he is unable to fight it effectively.  It is your job to prepare for the upcoming battle; both yourself, and your kingdom.  And it is here that I bring up the treasury; you need 6.5 million gold in order to save everyone in your kingdom. If you choose to be a good and benevolent monarch and keep your promises to the people who helped you in the revolution, you will need to transfer either either 8.5 million from your personal funds if you choose to done 2 quest items into the treasury, 9.7 million if you don't.  If you choose to break your promises and continue the way Logan did things, you will need to transfer 2.05 million if you choose to keep the quest items for your personal funds, 850,000 if you donate them to the treasury.  You have 1 year to do this (which is broken down into 5 sections) before the final battle is at hand.  You need all the money you need in the treasury by the end of day 121 (on Xbox. You have 1 more time period on PC), so make sure you factor in your choices for that day into your funds transfer.  You get all the information how much each day of judgement will cost you on the Fable wiki, so I won't do it here.

Once you reach Day 1, you are warped to the Road to Rule one last time, given your heroic form, and are sent to the day of the battle. And I must say this is the second best ending out of the three; not as good as the fights against Jack of Blades, but FAR better than Lucian.  I won't spoil it, though.

At this point, you can play the Traitor's Keep DLC, which occurs after the end of the game, but I haven't played it, because Fable DLC requires a constant connection to Xbox live.  Same with Understone, which can be played after the Masquerade quest before you become a monarch.

All in all, despite its problems, Fable 3 is fun. Do not pay more than 15 dollars new for it, though. 

I won't be tackling Fable: The Journey or Fable Heroes, because I don't own or want to own either.  Heroes is an Xbox Live download, and requires Xbox Live to play, and The Journey is Kinect, and I hate motion control.

I may do a wrap up like I did with Mass Effect, and I'll figure out what I'll do next. Until then, happy gaming!

Monday, November 4, 2013

Fable Retrospective: Fable 2

Ladies and gentlemen! Boys and girls! Children of all ages! Welcome back to the Assassin's Den!

The time has come for me to talk about the changes between Fable 1 and Fable 2.

First off, the interface has been streamlined.  All menus have been centralized under the start button.  You no longer have to hit the start button for the options and ability to save, and you no longer have to hit the back button for character stuff; it's all under the start button.  Second, you no longer have to draw your weapon; hitting the attack button for that weapon draws it, or uses the spell you have set for that weapon.  And while this takes away the ability to do my favorite mini game from Fable 1, the fist fighter's gang, you no longer have to worry about attacking someone without a weapon drawn.

Spells have been streamlined too; you don't have as many, but all spells have an AOE and a single foe attack, but they are the same spell.  All spells charge to 5, and like the previous game, some spells are more useful than others (in my book, at any rate).  Spells that return from Fable 1 are fire, lightning, slow time, force push, ghost sword (though now named blades and function as an attack spell), summon (summon dead now), and two new ones, vortex and chaos.

Weapons have been streamlined as well.  There are still separated into one and two handed versions, but now one handed weapons are exclusively swords, while two handed weapons are exclusively not.  Swords are longswords, katanas, cleavers (though with a different model), and the newcomer, cutlass.  Two handers are the mace, axe and hammer.

Ranged weapons have expanded immensely, now that guns are part of the picture.  This also makes armor obsolete, but you don't sacrifice customization for your character without it.  Anyway, there are four types of ranged weapons; crossbows, rifles, pistols and blunderbusses. Furthermore, the crossbows, rifles and pistols have their own subdivisions. The crossbows have light, heavy and repeater variety.  Rifles and pistols have the flintlock, clockwork (which screams "revolver" in my mind) and turret, which appears to function as a hand held Gatling gun.

All weapon types have 5 tiers; rusty (or splintery for crossbows), iron (yew), steel (oak), master, and legendary.  But in this game, the legendary weapons are not always the best; only the crossbow, blunderbuss, turret rifle and katana are the best in their class.  The others are meant to give you an edge in the early to mid game until you can get your hands on the master variety of your chosen weapon.

Now, since guns are part of the picture, armor is obsolete, but in the place of armor, we have a variety of clothes and dyes for your character.  You can use these dyes on all aspects of your clothing, as well as your hair and beard.

Furthermore, customization of your character goes further as you can play as both a male or female character.  And yes, I realize this isn't an innovation in the industry, but it is a welcome addition to the game.

And they gave us a dog!  I know nothing of dog breeds, but I've read that he's a mutt, and he changes with your alignment just like you do; he turns golden when you're good, and he darkens when you're evil, and his eyes start to glow red when you get at least 75% evil.  He also notifies you of dig spots based on his exploration level, and finishes off enemies based on his combat level.

The only real gripe I have with this game is making money; gone is the ability to make money through questing.  Now, all your income is either found in chests, through real estate, and through jobs.  And let me tell you, working in this game sucks just as much as working in the real world does.  Which is why you see tons of guides online on how to make money in this game.  My way, though, is an easy one, and requires very little effort on your part.

1. After you get to to Bowerstone, buy all the property you can. This will amount to only the shops on the bridge at this point.
2. Run around town with your dog. Since he should have exploration 3 from your journeys in Bower Lake, you should find a couple thousand more, as well as gifts you can sell for more gold. Purchase any other shops you can, and upgrade your weapons.
3. Save your game and quit.  From here, disconnect from Xbox live by removing the LAN cable from the console.
4. Modify your clock settings to 12/31/2025. You make money every 7 minutes of game time, but you also make money while the game is off, but at a slower rate.
5. Boot up your game, and wait a few moments until your income shows up. Save your game, and go back to your desktop.
6. Go back to your clock settings, and set it to 1/1/2005.  Return to the game, and buy any property with the money you just gained.  Save your game when this process is complete, and quit the game to the desktop.
7. Repeat steps 4-6 until you have purchased every piece of property in Bowerstone Market.  Once you have done this, set your clock to 1/1/2005 again, enter the game, save it, then set it to the current date, and you should have either just under or just above a million gold.

I'm not sure how well this will work with the PC version, and you will temporarily lose access to any DLC you have up to this point.  But I figure that, if the game is that stingy with money unless you perform monotonous jobs in order to buy property, then I feel justified in this.

One more thing before I move on; the mini games.  I don't know anything about them, because I don't play them.  They aren't fun to me, so I can't recommend playing them for anyone else.  They are gambling games, and others swear by them, but I don't like gambling. 

Oh, and the shooting gallery in Westcliff is fun, but requires a LOT of practice to win anything.  If you don't have the patience, I'd say pass on it.

As for the game's story, it's still very by the numbers.  The boy or girl you play, who is later revealed to be a descendant of the Hero of Oakvale, is a homeless child in Bowerstone Old Town who is swept up into events that far outshine your expectation.  Theresa from Fable 1 advises you and your older sister Rose to buy a magical music box that ends up being a plot device at the end of the game.  Lucian Fairfax finds out that you and your sister are able to use this artifact, and has you brought to his castle, where you and your sister are revealed to be Heroes.  But since you're "not of the three" and that "one of you must be the fourth", he shoots your sister dead, and shoots you as well.  Somehow, the shot propels you out the window, down the castle and onto the streets of Old Town far below.  But as Theresa says, "death is not your destiny today", and she nurses you back to health.  She spends the next decade training you as a Hero, and when you finally come of age, she sends you off to the "final test" to unlock your true potential.  Once that is done, the next time you see Theresa, she gives you your mission; find "the three", so you can stop Lucian.  (The three being the Heroes of Strength, Will and Skill. Basically, one individual who exemplifies one particular discipline.)

I enjoy this game, as well as the two DLC packs, Knothole Island, and See the Future.  I haven't played these in a while, since if you don't have a constant connection to Xbox Live, they aren't available, and I haven't had that in almost a year.  I do remember them as fun, and that See the Future's ending gives a teaser for Fable 3; you become a Monarch, and you have at least one child, who goes on to have a greater destiny than yours ever was.

This game is part of Microsoft's "Xbox Platinum hits" and can be bought for 20 bucks new.  It's a fun game, so long as you get the issues with money out of the way early.

I'll be tackling Fable 3 soon, and after that, I'll figure out what my next review will be.  Until then, Happy Gaming!

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Rights of youtubers: Fair Use of Copyrighted material

Ladies and gentlemen! Boys and girls! Children of all ages! Welcome back to the Assassin's Den!

Today, I'm going talk about a growing concern for content creators on youtube, bliptv, springboard and many other video hosting sites.  This concern is the use of copyrighted material in their videos, and the videos being forcefully taken down because of it.

 Now, before I go into how to combat this, I must first go into what a copyright is.  Generally, it is "the right to copy", but also gives the copyright holder the right to be credited for the work, to determine who may adapt the work to other forms, who may perform the work, who may financially benefit from it, and other related rights. It is a form of intellectual property (like the patent, the trademark, and the trade secret) applicable to any expressible form of an idea or information that is substantive and discrete. Copyright initially was conceived as a way for government to restrict printing; the contemporary intent of copyright is to promote the creation of new works by giving authors control of and profit from them.

In short, it is meant to protect inventors, movie makers and music creators from the government and giant corporations from taking their ideas and works and screwing them out of the credit and financial gain they deserve.  The problem with this is that giant corporations have managed to use this as a way to screw the little guy.

So how do we combat this?  Simple; 17 U.S.C. § 107 of the US Copyright Act of 1976.  This is the famous "Fair Use" defense. What this entails of is the use of material of copyrighted material for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship, or research. 

Now, sites like youtube exist on two things; the content creators, and large companies that hold the copyrights for music, videos and games.  Youtube errs on the side of caution, and when a large company flags something for copyright violation, youtube takes the video down and warns the content creator.  However, they are willing to fight for their content creators if they know their rights, and are in the right.

So how do we know protect ourselves? By knowing what we are creating.  Most youtube content that contains copyrighted material falls under three main headings; review, commentary and parody.

Review: This one is the easiest one to understand, since people like the late Gene Siskel and the late Roger Ebert made careers off this.  This falls under the "criticism" clause of Fair Use.  This allows people show clips from a movie or game, or have sound from music, so long as they criticize the work (second dictionary definition of the word, not the first).

Commentary: This one encompasses your standard let's play, though it also protects when someone "riffs on a movie".  If you talk over the footage, you are protected under Fair Use. (This is why video walkthroughs tend to get taken down more often than let's plays; they are not protected as commentary under Fair Use.)

Parody: This one is sketchy.  On one hand, guys like Weird Al Yankovic have been making a living doing this for the better part of 30 years. On the other, I can't think of a way to justify this under Fair Use.

So what do we do?  Simple; know what we're making.  If you can't guarantee that what you're doing falls under review or commentary, contact the holder of the copyright.  Most of the time, this requires a message to a record or movie company, asking for permission. 

If your work IS protected, then a disclaimer in both the description on how it's protected, and before your video officially starts. A vocal "This video is protected as (whatever it is) under the Fair Use clause." and a full description of the text from 17 U.S.C. § 107 of the US Copyright Act of 1976.

I know this is unfair to non-US content creators, but remember this; youtube and copyright holders are American companies, and the rules of US Copyright Act of 1976 is the law they are invoking, and it is the law that we all must use to protect ourselves.

I know that's what I'm going to do when I have the equipment I need to start my show.

For now, know your rights, and happy creating!

Fable Retrospective: Fable:The Lost Chapters

Ladies and gentlemen! Boys and girls! Children of all ages! Welcome back to the Assassin's Den!

Today, I'm going to tackle Fable: The Lost Chapters. (Fable: The Lost Chapters being the game that Lionhead wanted to release when Fable was released back in September of 2004, but due to time constraints, they had to chop it down. TLC gave us bug fixes and extra content at 1/5th the cost.  As such, both Lionhead and I consider the TLC "expansion" the true first game, and I will be referring to this as "Fable 1".)

Now, when we talk about Fable 1, we must consider what it isn't, and what it is.  Those of us who followed this game in the gaming magazines and websites know that Peter Molyneux excitedly talked about what he wanted for this game in the media, and was unable to keep to these "promises" due to technology and time constraints.

What this game isn't:

  • A free roaming RPG.  You have to play an Elder Scrolls game for that.
  • A game where NPCs emulate your appearance.
  • A game with family development (though you see this in the next two games)
  • A game where your choices affect the world around you (though you see this in the next two games)
  • A game with multiplayer (though you see this in the next two games)
 What this game is:

  • Overhyped by its own developer (though most of it was excitement about the ideas he had)
  • A by the numbers action RPG
  • Funny
  • Fun
 Now that I've got that out of the way, I'll get into what I actually think of this game.

Fable 1 is a game where you play as a descendant of William Black, whom I spoke about in my last blog entry.  As such, he is able to control all three Hero disciplines.  It is also very cliched when it comes to its setup.  It starts with our protagonist daydreaming about being a Hero, and being woken from his father and told "Hey, it's your sister's birthday! You got her a gift, right? NO? Well, for each good deed you do, I'll give you a gold piece. Use that to buy her a present."  And this is is where you are introduced to movement, interacting with characters and objects, the basics of the combat system, the alignment system, and the game's sense of humor.  In short, it's very British. :)

After you get your sister's gift, you go and meet her playing in the field at the edge of town. (Before you go and see her, you should go inside your house and read her diary. You learn that she's got the gift of prophesy, even at a young age.) After giving her your gift, you are just about to head back home with her when you witness a villager being murdered by bandits.  Your sister screams for you to hide, you do so, and you witness the "your home is burned, your family killed cliche" cutscene, are saved by Maze of the Guild of Heroes, and go into the second phase of the opening: becoming a member of the Guild, and learning the intricacies of the combat system.  It is here you get your first melee weapon, your first ranged weapon, your first spell, and the all important Guild Seal, which is crucial to the next two games; it is implied that the Guild Seal that the Fable 2 and 3 Heroes get is the one that the Fable 1 Hero gets.

Upon graduating your training, you're taught how to level up, and the game truly opens at this point.  Since this game's protagonist is a member of William Black's bloodline, you can build your Hero any way you want. Want a ranged based character? A melee fighter? A mage? A hybrid of two? Completely possible, though it's very easy to build a Hero that's maxed out on all three disciplines.

The game starts you slowly; once you get past the opening, the neophyte Hero takes on minor quests (like killing the Wasp Queen), and slowly moves in difficulty and notoriety until you finally are allowed to fight in the Arena.  It's here where you are taking on quests and creatures that normal people have nightmares about, and you continue like this until you become a legend.

The story unfolds slowly as well; after the Wasp quest, Maze meets you, reminds you of your desire for revenge, and tells  you that your sister may still be alive. After a few more quests, you are told to meet Maze in Oakvale, and are told "meet the Blind Seeress" at Twinblade's quest.  You do so, find out she's your sister, and move forward to the Arena after a few quests.  At the Arena, you are introduced to Jack of Blades, the game's villain, and are told that your mother lives after winning.  You meet your sister shortly after, and head off to break your mother out of prison.  Once you break her out after being imprisoned for a year, the game heads toward the original game's ending.  It is here where you chose to either kill your sister and keep the Sword of Aeons, or toss it away (though future games say you tossed it away, since your sister shows up in every game after this one). After this, you make a time jump, and are awakened from a year long boredom to find that Jack survived your battle, and is stronger than he was before.   You do a few more quests, and face down Jack in his ultimate form.  And this is where the game gives your its final morality choice, though I won't reveal it.

Which gives me a good segue into the morality system.  In addition to its role as training and housing for the Heroes of Albion, the Guild also acts as a job broker for Heroes.  If anyone has any needs for a Hero, they create a Quest Card and the Guild has them set out for the Heroes, so long as they have enough renown.  The Guild works as a contract broker, leaving the morality of the Quest to the Heroes who take them.  Which means you can be as good or as evil as you want, and your appearance reflects this.  If you are good, your hair lightens and you eventually gain a halo. But if you are evil, your start losing your hair, you grow horns, and gain other unsavory additions to your appearance.

This game is LOADED with mini games.  You've got the pub games; coin golf, card pairs, cart sorting, spot the addition, shove ha'penny and blackjack.  I have no idea the rules for any of these besides blackjack, because I don't play them.  You've also got the fist fighter's gang, where you fight do something you can't do in any game after this; fight a group of guys with your fists (and feet if you manage to get a flourish) for money, renown, and when you get to the one in Knothole Glade, a trophy.  There's chicken kickin', which is self explanatory.  And finally, you've got the fishing competition.

Now, I briefly mentioned type of fighter you can be, so I will go into it here.  This game has 5 tiers of weapons; Iron, Steel, Obsidian, Master and Legendary.  You have two types of melee and ranged weapons; one or two handed weapons, and longbows and crossbows.  Furthermore, you have different types of melee weapons within those types; longsword, katana, cleaver, mace, and axe (the two handed weapons forgo the katana and cleaver, and pick up a great hammer in their place).  So you see, you have quite a few options for your playstyle.

As for magic, there are three schools of magic, with a half a dozen spells within each school, give or take.  Some are far more useful than others, which is why I'm going to go into my preferred spell load out here.

Now, I tend to build a hybrid of all three character types, so my load out is built for that, but I'll first discuss my recommendations for melee and ranged based character.  First, the melee; you're going to want Heal Life, Assassin's Rush and Multi-strike to three, then Slow Time, Berserk and Enflame to 3.  From there, bring all that you can to 4 (Heal Life and Berserk are dependent on your alignment; Heal Life can only be mastered by good Heroes, and Berserk for evil.)  For ranged, you want Heal Life, Enflame and Multi-arrow to 3, then Ghost Sword, Slow Time and Force Push to 3, then all to 4.  Once you master all the spells, go with whatever you wish, though there are a few spells to avoid no matter how you play; Summon, which you don't get XP from the kills your ghosts make, Drain Life, which is time consuming and plants you in the spot, and Turncoat, which is the same as Drain Life.

As for my loadout, I go with Heal Life, Assassin's Rush and Multi-Arrow to 2, then Slow Time, Enflame and Berserk to 2, then bring them all to 4 (depending on alignment, of course), before hitting Ghost Sword, Multi-strike and Physical Shield to round it out.  I mandate Heal Life on all my builds, because there are three mandatory escort missions in the game, and since enemies can attack your escort, and Heal Life heals both you and allies, it's pretty much a necessity.  I also have Enflame on all builds, because it is great crowd control; it has both knock down and heavy damage.  And Slow Time is self explanatory; slows everything around you, allowing you to move and attack freely.

With all this said, though, this game does something that feels strange to come back to after playing Fable 2 and 3; you've got to draw your weapon before you can use it. If you don't, you're hitting people with your fists.  More than once early on, I would want to hit something with my sword, only to swing my fists at it. (Same with my bow, though I'd roll or block, since the gun button from the next two games is the block button in this game.)  So if you're coming back to this game after playing the next two, make sure you refamiliarize yourself with the controls while you're still weak.

Now, even beyond combat, this game is all about customizing your character.  There are dozens of hairstyles, beards and tattoos to modify your base appearance, and clothing that boosts your good or evil alignments, or neutral ones that boost neither.  You've got villager clothes, leather armor, chainmail and heavy plate, and you've got will user clothes, and dresses if you choose to cross-dress.  The TLC part gives you a slew of hats, and two new armor sets.  And you can mix and match your clothes any way you want.

This game has an epic story, but never takes itself too seriously; it has a TON of humor.  For example, the book quest. Hearing Mr. Gout read some of those books to his students is hilarious.  And there's this game's obsession with chickens; too funny.  And there's a LOT of other stuff that I don't want to mention, since it would spoil the fun for you.

This game is fun, though watch out if you play it on the Xbox 360; the emulation isn't perfect, and it crashes randomly.  I have played this game through 4 times for this review (1 each for the spell load out that I recommended for melee and ranged only, and 1 each way I normally play for good and evil), and it has always crashed at random intervals.  So my tip in this situation is save often; after every quest and whenever you enter a new area between quests.

And for those who don't want to worry about the intermittent crashing, there's good news.  Lionhead has announced that they are working on Fable Anniversary, a HD remake of Fable: The Lost Chapters, with updated graphics, achievements, faster load times, and the option to use a control scheme more in line with Fable 2 and 3.  This game is expected to drop in February 2014 (though it says December 2013 through pre-order on Amazon), so look forward to it if you're interested in the game.

You can pick this game up for 10 bucks new for Xbox, 15 for PC, and you'll enjoy yourself thoroughly.

For now though, look forward to my Fable 2 review, and happy gaming!

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Fable Retrospective: Backstory

Ladies and gentlemen! Boys and girls! Children of all ages! Welcome back to the Assassin's Den!

Today, I'm going to tackle some of the backstory in the Fable series.  Most of this is taken from the Fable wiki, which was taken from a previous version of the Fable websites.  And if you truly want to verify anything I'm going to say, the Lionhead forums have this information somewhere.

That said, on with the show.

Centuries before the events of Fable 1, before even the Old Kingdom of legend, there were three demonic beings known as the Court from a realm outside Albion known as the Void.  The Court consisted of three powerful entities: the Knight of Blades, weakest of the three; the Jack of Blades, and the Queen of Blades, most powerful and highest of the three. They came to the world seeking dominance over its people, demanding that they bow down in obedience. The people refused, and in turn, Albion was burned until the earth was as black as the smoke that filled the sky. Once again, the Court demanded total obedience, and again were refused. The result was the raising of the sea into the sky and the flooding of the world. After this next disaster, the Court asked for worship again, this time promising peace, but met the same result. Angry at being refused by lesser beings, the Court twisted the minds of the people of Albion until the entire land was insane. Finally, after many years of suffering, the people bowed down. The Court had won.

 As time went by, there came a challenge from one of the denizens of Albion: a man named William Black, who wielded the Sword of Aeons, rose to the highest peak of Albion to fight for the freedom of his people. First to answer the challenge was the Knight, who was quickly slain by Black. Next came the Jack, who proved to be more of a challenge than the Knight. However, the Jack met the same fate as his ally, yet was still able to cheat death by having his essence escape into his mask. Finally, Black challenged the Queen of Blades. Their titanic battle was waged for weeks on end, with mountains and valleys forming as the result of their seemingly endless fight. At last, William threw down the Queen, ending the reign of the Court over Albion.

Once he had vanquished the Court, the Archon set his mind to unifying Albion into a great kingdom. His powers of Will were so great that it seemed the world reshaped itself in accordance with his wishes. Cities were built in a week's time and marvellous machines were constructed that ran on Will alone. Through a thousand years of peace, Albion reigned as the greatest centre of commerce and philosophy the world had ever known. The Archon had many descendants during this age of fortune, all of whom shared his powerful Will abilities through his bloodline. These descendants were also called Archons.

But without an enemy to vanquish, the Archons grew petty and cruel. They called themselves Heroes and used their powers of Will to terrorize the people. The first Archon might have stopped them, but his battle with the Queen and his time in the Void had infected his body and mind with a wasting illness. To combat this illness, he returned to the Void and cast it from his body, fearing that it would one day control him and use him to rule Albion and twist it to the dark wishes of the Void. William successfully managed to cast out most of this illness, which became the Corruption and its leader, The Corrupter, who would repeatedly try to take over Albion. With remnants of the disease still decaying him, William wrapped his body in golden mail and a royal blue cloak before vanishing.
Thus began the corruption of The Kingdom.

A descendant of the Archon later constructed a great tower that stretched thousands of feet into the sky. This tower was named the Spire, and it had the power to concentrate all of Albion's Will into a single area. This caused a rift to open between the Void and Albion, a rift through which the Crawler, the Corruptor's chief lieutenant, attempted to invade Albion through. The Old Kingdom's greatest Three Heroes, Stone, Sol, and Blaze responded by combining their power and targeting the Spire. Though they managed to imprison the Crawler within Shadelight dungeon in Aurora, the explosion also destroyed the Old Kingdom, wiping out William Black's empire in an instant.

Black returned centuries later as Scythe (which is speculation, mind you, but Lionhead has pretty much "confirmed with out actually saying it officially"), and began to council a bandit named Nostro. Young Nostro was not without a sense of decency, but could not reach his full potential until he met Scythe took an interest in him. Scythe saw in Nostro the power of the Archon and his descendants, the former masters of the Old Kingdom, and believed that with proper guidance, Nostro could perhaps even unite Albion and undo the damage that Archon's children inflicted. With Scythe as his teacher, Nostro founded the Heroes' Guild, and using his newly taught powers of Will, he raised an army and enforced peace on Albion's people.

Nostro's reign was a glorious one, marked by a return to peace enforced by the Heroes of the Heroes' Guild. Nostro commissioned the Witchwood Arena in order to solve disputes between Heroes, and had the Avo's Tears created to further defend Albion. Unfortunately, he was eventually corrupted by a courtesan named Magdalena. Seeing her chance to acquire power, Magdalena became Nostro's wife, and through him undid all of Nostro's great achievements. Under her influence, the Arena degenerated into a source of violent spectacle provided for the masses, and the once-mighty Heroes' Guild was reduced to a house of mercenaries. Scythe, disgusted by the slow erosion of Nostro's achievements, left him to his fate: death by the hands of an assassin who slipped poison into his food. Seeing how his power had corrupted him, Nostro called upon Scythe to stand vigil with him in his final hours, at peace with himself. However, a warrior at heart, Nostro's soul haunted Lychfield in perpetual torment, seeking a Hero's Death with sword in hand.

And yes, I did directly copy most of that from the Fable wiki.  It took less time than typing it out myself, though I did fix a LOT of spelling errors.

Now, for Heroes, they are extraordinary humans with knowledge and the power over the three heroic disciplines of Strength, Skill, and Will.  It is very rare that a Hero may possess control over all three of the Hero disciplines. The Hero of Oakvale, Hero of Bowerstone and the Hero of Brightwall (who are the protagonists of the three games I own.  The only other Fable game that's canon at this point is Fable Journeys, but that is Kinect only, and I don't own it, not do I want to. Fuck motion control) possess control over these three disciplines as they belong to the Archon's Bloodline, and are descendants of William Black. Only a true descendant of the bloodline can master all three disciplines. That said, there are exemplars of the individual traits; Twinblade and Hammer are exemplars of Strength, Reaver and Ben Finn are exemplars of Skill, Maze and Garth are exemplars of Will.  You also have hybrids like Briar Rose (who shows some Strength and Will), Thunder (also Strength and Will) and Whisper (whom looks more like Strength and Skill, since she shows no Will). 

As for the "disciplines", Strength is built around melee combat, Skill is built around ranged combat, and Will is about magic.  It's my theory that all Heroes are technically Will users, but not in the same way; their blood born affinity for their chosen discipline, like Garth, Hammer and Reaver in Fable 2.   Some manage to become hybrids, like those I mentioned, but all channel their Will to enhance themselves and affect their surroundings.

The amusing thing is that most of the backstory is not presented in the games, not is it hinted at.  We get vague information the Old Kingdom, Jack, the Archon, Scythe and Nostro in the first game, a little bit more in Fable 2 about the Old Kingdom, and a little bit of vague info on the Void and Corrupter in Fable 3.

And with that out of the way, I can talk about the games individually, not worrying about the lore except when how it affects the story of the game I'm focusing on!

Until then, Happy Gaming!

Monday, October 21, 2013

Mass Effect Retrospective 9: Final thoughts

Ladies and Gentlemen, boys and girls, children of all ages! Welcome back to the Assassin's Den!


Mass Effect is a fun game series, though incredibly troubled.  When EA acquired Bioware's holding company, VG Holding Group, in 2007, fans who know their history knew that the company was on borrowed time.  EA destroyed Origin Systems, the company best known the Wing Commander and Ultima series, with its heavy handed management and unrealistic fiscal demands.  EA enforces hard deadlines that no company that focuses on good gameplay and storytelling can meet, and when they don't get the success that they mandate, they start cutting staff in order to compensate.  It's all about the "almighty dollar" for EA, and they care nothing about their fans. 


That's not to say that Bioware's not fighting to stay in the game; the release of the Extended Cut DLC, which fixes the vast majority of the issues most people had with the original ending to ME3 shows that Bioware still cares about their fans. But with the retirement of the founders, I don't know how much more the company has. 


Don't mistake me; the game series is, and always will be, fun.  The combat system for the games is fun, despite the hiccup that was ME1's combat engine.  The characters we meet (except for Jacob) are endearing and it is a delight to see them grow as we fight along side them.  And the story is rich and a delight to experience anew every time I put the games into my console.  I love watching Liara fall in love with me every time I meet her, and hear the heartbreak in her voice when you tell her you don't feel the same.  I love listening to Wrex's stories about his past. I love watching Tali and Garrus stand by my side every step of the way.  And I even love the ending of ME3, despite how others complain about it.


The best way to think of Mass Effect is what Bioware used to be; a great company that made great games with great stories.  Remember Mass Effect as the story of how Commander Shepard saved the galaxy from the Reaper threat at the expense of her own life, instead of what EA is going to make Mass Effect 4 into.  Because Mass Effect 4 has been announced.


I, for one, will not be purchasing Mass Effect 4, or any new game from Bioware from this point. I will only support their Austin office, since I play Star Wars: The Old Republic. Mostly because Disney won't let EA fuck their franchise like a two dollar whore.


In short, Mass Effect is a great game series from a formerly great game developer.


As for me, I just picked up Fable 3, and I plan on doing a retrospective on that series as well.


Until then, happy gaming!

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Mass Effect Retrospective 8: Companion stories

Ladies and Gentlemen, boys and girls, children of all ages! Welcome back to the Assassin's Den!

Today, I'm going tackle what I believe to be each companion's overarching story throughout the three games.  I'm going to focus on the order they are introduced into the series, their importance to the story, as well their romance, if any.  And when I'm done with all playable companions, I'm going go into important, but unplayable, characters important to the story.

First, we start with Kaidan Alenko.  He is your first companion, and he is an L2 biotic, and went through the Biotic Acclimation and Temperance program when he was a teenage.  (You get more information on both of these things by from talking to him and from the codexes you unlock.) His role in the games is to become a positive role model for human biotics, and to become a leader for them.  Regardless of romance or not, he talks about his time at the BAaT program, and how much it affected him.  He says, in the infamous "elevator conversations" that he's been holding back with his biotic power, because of what happened with Vyrnnus.  This is why I think he's a Sentinel, rather than an Adept; even though his L2 power output is stronger than the L3 Commander Shepard, he's not comfortable with his power, and chose to train as a military "engineer".  Talking to him over time helps him get over his hang up about killing Vyrnnus by accident as a kid.

The romance in ME1 is female only, and pretty much just adds flirting with femShep, from both parties (whether you want to or not.  But I'll get into that later).  He can be rejected, but actually getting the rejection to take is difficult.  He's basically a Paragon companion, though he can be turned partially Renegade during the romance.  Though this piece of development is pretty much thrown out in 2.

If he's the Virmire Survivor, he shows up in the intro of ME2, and again on Horizon at the end of act 1.  Here he rejects you, as you are "with Cerberus", though if he was romanced, he sends you an email.  You also have a picture of him on the Normandy.

In ME3, he shows up again, now a Major, (outranking Shepard as well, so some of his lines are strange. But I digress.) and the Commanding Officer of an entire division of human biotics.  He's one of your first two companions in this game, though you don't get to make that permanent until after the Cerberus coup on the Citadel. He's also made the second human Spectre, though this has no effect on the story other than put you and him at odds during the Cerberus coup.  As for his romance, whether you romanced someone else in ME2 or not.  If you didn't romance someone else, he has slightly different dialogue, and when he rejoins the party permanently, Shepard can stare at his ass. (Yes, this is in the game.) He's also available for new romance for both genders.  Some would consider that fact he suddenly swings both ways odd, until you find out that there's dialogue in ME1's code that makes all romance options romancable for both genders, not just Liara.  (Don't believe me? check this;

So yes, there is indication that he swung both ways.)

Next is the male only romance option, we have Ashley Williams.  And to be honest, I don't think she has an "overarching story".  She's a Renegade character who can be turned Paragon, which helps her get over her racism, but like with Kaidan, that gets thrown out the moment you load up ME2.  Like with Kaidan, she makes rank in ME2, and again in ME3, though how much rank she makes in between ME2 and 3 is impossible; she goes from E6 to O4 over the course of 6 months. THAT. DOESN'T. HAPPEN. MAYBE she makes O2, and that's pushing it. But a jump of four ranks in the matter of 6 months? Impossible.  (Though Mass Effect's ranking system makes no sense either.  Modern militaries have 9 enlisted ranks and 10 officer ranks, and you can't slide to an officer rank without a bachelor's degree from an accepted university.  And while she may have finished her degree between games, jumping to O4 is impossible in the game's timeframe.) Now, this does show she is overcoming the "Williams curse" by making rank, but that's circumstantial, and through no effort on her part.  She doesn't change or grow as a person, nor does she take on any new responsibilities in ME3 like Kaidan does.  And she's kind of bitchy when she reacts to Shepard romancing someone else.  Kaidan accepts that he pushed you away on Horizon, but Ashley? She expects you to stay true even when she says "fuck you for being Cerberus."  And my thoughts when I first got this from her?  "I'm surprised with how much you hate Cerberus with how much of a racist you are."  In my book? Letting her live beyond Virmire is the worst mistake a player can make; if she dies on Virmire, she gets to be a hero. If she lives, she gets to be a bitch. 

Anyway, we come to the final romance option in ME1; Liara.  Due to her species, she's technically pansexual; gender means nothing to her, only the person.  Her story is about unrequited love. (Unless you romance her, that is. Then it's just about love.)  She fell in love at first sight with Shepard, and everything she does from that point in is to be close to Shepard and ensure that Shepard succeeds.  Or, in the case of her story arch up to the end of Lair of the Shadow Broker in ME2, getting revenge on those that hurt you.  And once she gets that revenge, she falls right back into the "ensure Shepard succeeds" mindset, able to do this far better as the Shadow Broker.  This mindset is all the more evident in ME3, with how she wishes to help Shepard save Earth, as well as the project she brings to you, where she can preserve Shepard for future cycles.  And when things go wrong for either, she's the first one to offer Shepard comfort, and she goes directly to Shepard for comfort herself.  Obviously, if she is romanced, her feelings are reciprocated, and additional and different dialogue is when and where appropriate.  And like Kaidan, she can be romanced new in both games she is in your party for the entire game.

Now, before I go on to anyone else, I must say this; the romances, at least on the Xbox 360 version, are BUGGED.  Liara especially; there is a crisis point where you either have to reject either the potential Virmire Survivor or Liara.  I have rejected her more than once before this point, and I still got it.  I have also tried to reject both the human romance option AND Liara before that point, and had the game lock Liara in as my romance option. I again tried to reject her, both at the point after you complete all the missions in ME1, and again when she tries to spend the night with you.  And yet, even after 3 rejections, the romance still continues in ME2 and 3.  I didn't get to reject her completely until ME3, when she finally asked if I wanted to continue with the romance (as all romance options from previous games do.)  So if you don't want to bring anyone as a romance into ME2, you have to go with your gender specific option, reject Liara at the crisis point, then kill the gender specific option.  Unfortunately, this leaves you with Ashley in subsequent games, but I digress.

Now, I come to the ones who aren't romanceable  in the first game, but are in the next two; Garrus and Tali.

Tali'Zorah Nar Rayya (vas Neema and vas Normandy in the future. Ascension book explains the reason for the change in the name, and the second game explains her second name change.) is a young girl on her pilgrimage, or rite of passage into adulthood.  Like Liara, she is immediately enamored with Shepard.  Unlike Liara, however, she is exclusively heterosexual.  Tali's story is one of growing up and becoming her own person.  When you meet her, she is a 22 year old woman who is the daughter of the famous Admiral Rael'Zorah, who serves on the admiralty board.(The importance of which is explained by Tali, so I won't get into it.)  Shepard helps her on her pilgrimage, and she returns home, a full adult in her society, and begins helping her father on a secret project.  A project, which you find out during her loyalty mission, takes his life.  You can choose to either protect her father's legacy and get her exiled, or protect her name at her father's expense.  Or, if you have enough alignment points, you get the best of both worlds.  And in ME3, she takes her father's place on the admiralty board, but only if she survived ME2 and was not exiled. (And the best way to get this and the romance is to have enough alignment points to avoid the choice altogether.) Otherwise, she returns as an exile, and does not have the authority she'd have otherwise for the quarian fleet.  And if she survives the third game, she becomes a spokesman for her people.

Her romance is the most interesting is that the seeds are sown in the game she's not romancable in.  Little moments in this game can easily be interpreted as the fact that she's got a crush on Shepard.  (She, as well as Garrus for that matter, became a romance option because of her fans in ME1.) She reveals this in her second conversation after her loyalty mission; that she'd never trusted anyone more than Shepard, even among her own people.  If pressed by a male Shepard, she reveals her crush on him, and Shepard can reciprocate or gently let her down.  (And this is why I like the romances in ME2 better than 1; it is the player's choice of whether you want to lock in a romance, not the game's.) She also tries to push you away at first, unsure she deserves Shepard, but Shepard can once again conform his feelings for Tali, telling her "I don't want someone closer to home, I want you, and I'll do whatever I can to have you."

In ME3, she gives you the out that all others do, but unlike the others, you can lock her in right away (instead of waiting until after the Cerberus coup. Mostly because you don't get her until after the Cerberus coup, but I digress.), and you get some specific dialogue changes that reflect the romance.  And in the infamous "Tali's drunk" scene, where laments about having to live up to her father's image, where she basically says that being with Shepard is the one thing she's ever done completely for herself.  And she has the most heartbreaking moment in the Extended Cut ending if she is part of your final squad. 

And she is my favorite romance option in the entire series.  She is so sweet and so funny that I can't help but love every moment between these two.  And unlike Liara, she's self assured; an unromanced Tali doesn't need Shepard for her self identity.

As for Garrus, his story is "Shepard is my mentor".  He wants to make a difference in the galaxy, and Shepard is his example how.  And unlike Kaidan and Ashley, turning him Paragon or Renegade DOES stick. And through Shepard's example, he becomes a good leader.  If you turn him Paragon, he is more about protecting the innocent, where as Renegade is about punishing the guilty.  And in his loyalty mission in ME2, you get to see how you've influenced his personality; if he was Paragon, he's like "I know you don't like this, but I have to do it.", where as Renegade is like "You agree that we have to bring his to justice.".

As with Tali, his romance option is opened in the second conversation after his loyalty mission is over.  Unlike Tali, though, it is opened up via a half joke by Shepard.  The next conversation after that, though, shows that there are real feelings involved between the two. Shepard is like "I know I came on strong, and I don't want to pressure you, but I want to try this."  And Garrus is like "While I'm not attracted to humans, but if there's a chance for something real between us, I want to try too."  And as fans of the games know, this is where the endearing awkwardness begins; his attempts at being romantic are hilariously bad, but in a way that shows that he cares.  He's trying despite his lack of experience with romance, and for the one who loves him, "it's the thought that counts."

In ME3, Garrus has come into his own, and is the "Reaper expert".  He's a leader in his own right, and is the adviser to the turn Primarch, who, due to the events of ME3's opening, is essentially the ruler of his people.  Garrus is essentially making command decisions for the entire turian military during the Reaper War.  Far cry from the frustrated C-Sec guy we met in ME1.  And even though he still looks to Shepard for advice, he's also giving advice to Shepard as well, making them equals in status.

The romance continues in ME3 when Garrus offers the the "opt out" (which, from this point on, is implied for all romance options, because they all do it,) and is locked in after the Cerberus coup (which is also implied for everyone else, except when stated otherwise.) during the "sniper rifle scene".  This scene happens regardless, like all the "lock in" moments, but this is where they profess their love for the other.  

His heartbreaking scene in the extended cut is less heartbreaking for me than Tali's, but he's still my second favorite romance of all three games.

And finally, we get to the only non-romancable character in ME1; Urdnot Wrex.  I previously said that he's the nicest krogan you'll ever meet, but if you look up his species, you'll see that they are all violent and savage, and each and every one had a blood rage that can send them into a killing fugue.  But where most male krogan are bitter and selfish, Wrex is something more.  He wants what's best for his people, and is enamored with the stories of his people's heroism during the rachni wars, as well the stories about his ancient ancestors.  He wants to do what's best for his people, and he believes that curing the genophage is the first step in that.  Which is why you have his crisis point in ME1 on Virmire. If you retrieved his family's armor in his personal quest, he's practically saying "Please talk me down, Shepard.  I know why we have to do this, but I need to hear it."  But if you didn't do that quest before Virmire, you have to persuade him, through Charm or Intimidate.  And if you can't or don't, then either you kill him, or Ashley does.  At that point, his brood brother Wreav takes his place in the next two games, who is a traditional krogan, and desires revenge on the galaxy for the genophage.

But Wrex?  He's a reformist. He starts making changes to his clan and starts making alliances with other like minded individuals.  He is working to unify his people, channel their blind aggression into something that could benefit not only his own people, but also the rest of the galaxy.  And this is why he gets even more pissed at you if you destroyed the genophage cure in ME2 when you see him in ME3.  In his mind, he is making his people worthy of the genophage cure, and doesn't appreciate the lack of trust. (Wreav gets pissed too, but in all honesty, that's his default expression.)  But if you kept the cure you find in Mordin's loyalty mission, Wrex is once again your buddy, willing to do what he can to help Shepard against the Reapers.  But don't take the salarian offer, or you'll be forced to kill him when he finds out.  (Wreav is too stupid to catch on, so betray him all you like.)

Now, on to the ME2 companions.  First off is Miranda Lawson, who is best described by Jack, another companion, as a "Cerberus Cheerleader". Which makes her arch "showing her how evil Cerberus is". She also has an additional one involving her sister, which is her storyline in ME3.  Shepard's continual denial of the virtues of Cerberus, as well as the Illusive Man's many betrayals of Shepard's team, shows that "the best interest of humanity" is the farthest thing from the Illusive Man's mind.  (And yes, I know that you can agree with Miranda about Cerberus, but based on Miranda's choices between games makes more sense from a narrative standpoint.)  Her other story is based around her sister and her father; she and her sister, Oriana, are essentially clones of her father, but with "desirable traits" added to the Y chromosome to make them female.  They have also been heavily modified to make them "stronger, faster, smarter, better".  Yeah, I don't fully understand the science behind it either, but just accept it and move on.

Her romance option opens after the events of her loyalty mission for male Shepards only, though there is dialogue recorded by Jennifer Hale (femShep's voice) in Lair of the Shadow Broker that suggests that she might have been romancable for women as well at one point in development.  Skip to 3:46 in the following video for proof.


        

Anyway, the Miranda romance is all about the little moments between her and Shepard. There is no big "I love you" between them; only the little moments that show how they feel, instead of telling how they feel.  The facial expressions between the two, the tone of voice, and the moment where Miranda says that she considered breaking into where Shepard was locked up are great examples of their "show, don't tell" relationship.  And it is with Miranda that I bring up the moments in the Citadel DLC in ME3; yes, no matter who you romanced, they all get special moments in that DLC after the action part.  But the Miranda romance is best represented by this DLC; the quiet moments between the two illustrate that they are in love, rather than directly state it.

And I'd be doing this romance a disservice if I didn't bring up what happens if you break up with Miranda in the beginning. First off, unlike all the others, who are like "Oh! Okay..." and deal with their grief inwardly, Miranda cries.  Granted, she turns her back to Shepard, but we can hear her sobbing.  And also, unlike all the others, the break up has effects on the story; all others don't even acknowledge that there ever was a romance. Miranda?  All I can say about it is "all that's left unsaid". This is the only breakup that shows that no matter what, there are still feelings there. Not even Liara, who has been in love with Shepard since she first saw him, shows that as much as the this moment.

Next we have Jacob Taylor, who, like Ashley, has no over arching story that I can see.  Yes, he shares the "show that Cerberus is evil" thing, but beyond "I have daddy issues" and "I'm a philandering prick", I don't see a story for him.  He's the first you can flirt with to initiate the romance, but you will regret it, as there is NO pay off in ME3.  Why, you may ask?  Because no matter what story you play, he knocked up Brynn Cole from the ex-Cerberus Scientists quest.  That's right; he can't keep it in his damn pants for six months.  What's even worse is that you can get him to admit that he's still in love with femShep.  

The worst part is that he knows what he's like; check out the ME Galaxy ios device game, and you can see that he had a thing with Miranda for a little while, and then he says, in ME2 that "She deserves a better man than me".  And the fact that he cheats on Shepard says, to me, that he cheated on Miranda too.  Either that, or he did something just as bad.

This gets me for two reasons; 1, infidelity is my hot button.  My best friend is going through a divorce because of his future ex-wife's cheating on him, both while he was at basic training, and after he got back. I also broke up with a girl because she cheated on me.

And 2, the fact that the other romance options wait just as long, or far longer, than he does, for Shepard to get out of lock up.  And he chooses to justify his infidelity by rationalizing that "the Normandy is [her] one true love".

The only pay off with the entire Jacob romance is in the Citadel DLC, where you can slap him and tell him off.  And even then, it's not all that satisfying, which is why he's the only one I can advocate killing him in ME2.  And the easiest way to do it is, whether you do his loyalty mission or not, is to send him through the tunnels as your "Tech Expert" during the suicide mission; he gets shot in the head because he doesn't know what he's doing.  :)

Next up is Jack. Her story is "learning that it's okay to trust".  When you meet her, she is a foul mouthed, psychopathic, antisocial young woman who hates Cerberus with a passion and wants to see the world burn.  Scratch below the surface, and you'll see that she has been both physically and mentally abused by Cerberus from a young age, all in Cerberus' attempts to "build a better biotic".  And even after she escaped from Cerberus, she has been beaten, burned, scarred and raped (both her mind and sexually) by those who "got close to her."  

And then she meets Shepard.  Through Shepard, she learns to work as part of a team, and to watch the backs of others, and trust them to watch her back.  She learns that other people trust her, and that she must trust them in turn.  And after her loyalty mission, she learns that it's okay to open her heart to others.

And this is how we see her in ME3.  She's the instructor for the biotic students at Grissom Academy, and will do whatever they can to protect them.  She even allows herself to be turned into a monster by Cerberus to protect the kids if you don't save Grissom Academy in time.  She's that attached to those kids, and it's all due to Shepard's influence.

Through the romance, however, Jack learns that it's okay to be vulnerable.  That it's okay to let her guard down. That it's okay to love.  So long as Shepard is male and avoid sleeping with her when she offers not long as she is recruited, he can learn that Jack carries a great deal of survivor's guilt; that she someone she cared for deeply, that admitted that he loved her, and that she pushes people away so she never has to feel like she did that day again.  But if Shepard persists, you get the most beautiful love scene in the game.  She comes up to see Shepard right before the suicide mission is launched, tells Shepard that he was right, he pulls her close, and she starts crying, her mascara beginning to run.  And from there, a "Terminator love scene", with the showing of the emotional connection, passion, and the focus on the hands, with the ending showing Jack and Shepard lying on the bed, Jack smiling happily, in love.  (I'm not going to link to it, because, while I don't have a problem with it, the love scene from the original Terminator shows Linda Hamilton's tits, and I don't want google shutting me down because of it.)

She also gets a special scene in the Citadel DLC; the tattoo.  She gives Shepard a tattoo as a way to "claim him"; that no matter what happened, that "you belong to me!"

Next comes Thane.  He's a terminally ill assassin who is looking for redemption.  His illness is non-communicable, but he is going to die, no matter what anyone does.  This makes the romance for him very tragic.  Regardless, Shepard's mission gives him the opportunity to reconnect with his son, and make friends, and get some peace before he dies. And the romance?  Shepard's got to initiate it, but this allows Thane to love again.

Now, since he's dying, he gives Shepard to back away, but if Shepard pursues this, you get one of the more rewarding romances in the game.  A painful one, but rewarding.  All parties involved know that Thane is going to die, so they appreciate each moment they have together.  Which is what makes his involvement in ME3 all the more heroic, but at the same time, tragic.  Like Jacob, you can't "lock the romance back in". Unlike Jacob, there is a good reason; Thane sacrifices his life to save another. During the Cerberus coup in fact.  He dies due to a combination of his disease and blood loss, watched over by the two people that matter the most to him; his son, and Shepard. The payoff happens in the Citadel DLC, when you have Thane's funeral, and his son gives you the messages you didn't receive while in lock up.  And if you romanced him, you get one additional message, where he professes his love for Shepard.  And, as with all other romance options but that cocksucker Jacob, you get an extra scene when you reboard the Normandy. (Thane's a ghost, obviously.)

And now, we hit the non-romancables.  First is Mordin Solus, a salarian biologist who was a member of the STG.  He feels a great guilt over his part in the genophage modification project, and is doing what he can to redeem himself in his own eyes.  He opened a clinic on Omega, and joins Shepard's crew to stop the Collectors.  His loyalty mission involves his protege Maelan's attempts to cure the genophage.  You can either save Maelan's data, or destroy it, which ties into Wrex's story in ME3.

Mordin pops up in ME3 as Wrex's contact inside STG, where one of the female krogan that Maelan was experimented on is immune to the genophage, is is the key to curing it.  If the data was destroyed, Eve (the female krogan) will be healthy and survive the events on Tuchanka. If you didn't save Maelan's data, she's going to die.  And her fate affects the fate of the krogan.

Mordin, however, is going to die, unless both Wrex and Eve are dead.  If either live, Shepard either lets him go to his death to cure the genophage, or kills him to cement the deal with the salarian dalatrass.  If both are dead, you can convince that Wreav is not someone who should be leading the krogan after they are free from the genophage, and he goes off to become a war asset.  

Regardless, at the end of the Citadel DLC party, you find a message from Mordin, with him reciting some of his past acting pieces.

Grunt is essentially a teenage krogan. Bred in a tank by Warlord Okeer, Grunt knows what he is supposed to do, but he doesn't understand what he is.  His story is of self discovery.  Since he wasn't raised by krogan, there's a lot of things about himself that he doesn't understand, and he needs to be taught by other krogan to understand what is happening to him.  His loyalty mission? Going through the rite of passage, and joining clan Urdnot.  If Wrex is in charge, he is whole-heartedly accepted due to Shepard.  If Wreav is in charge, he is also whole-heartedly accepted, but he is a tool for Wreav to use.

He returns in ME3, as a leader of an elite unit, fighting a unit of Reaper controlled rachni. If you did his loyalty mission, he survives it. If not, he dies.  If he survives, he shows up at the Citadel party and in a hilarious side moment.

Samara is an asari justicar, a "knight errant with a little bit of samurai" as she says it after you finish her loyalty mission, who is compelled by the justicar code protect the innocent and kill the wicked.  She has spent the last four centuries hunting down her daughter Morinth, an Ardat-Yakshi, who is best described as a vampire.  When Morinth mates, she drains the life force of those she mates with, taking in their strength, speed, power and knowledge.  These two are tied together, in that you can have either one or the other in ME2, though only Samara returns in ME3. (Technically Morinth does too, but she turns up as Reaper troop you have to fight.) 

Anyway, in ME2, you find out that Samara and Morinth are attracted to Shepard, for pretty much the same reasons.  Both are attracted to Shepard's strength and power, but where Morinth practically jumps all over Shepard (only stopping when she remembers that Shepard's mission comes first), Samara practices great self restraint, appreciating the attention, but still pushing Shepard away if Shepard asks for more.  Samara returns in ME3 at the Ardat-Yakshi monastery that her other daughters live at, to find it overrun by Reaper troops, and are turning the Ardar-Yakshi into Reaper troops.  After saving her surviving daughter, she will kill herself rather than killing her daughter (because her code won't let her let an Ardat-Yakshi without a monastery live) unless you stop her.  If you stop her, she shows up on the Citadel later, and become a war asset.

Zaeed Masani best described as a mercenary version of Shepard; someone with a reputation for doing the impossible.  You get his loyalty mission, and either help him get revenge on the one who betrayed him, or tell him, if you have enough alignment points to do so, that "You're part of my team, Zaeed. You either follow my orders, or I leave you here to die, because if I can't trust you to watch my back, I'm better off without you."  (If you don't have enough alignment points though, you bring him with you, not loyal.)  However, as  DLC character, he sits on the ship, telling stories about his past missions, and every few story missions, he remarks on them.

He returns in ME3, once again working for Cerberus, though not to his knowledge, being paid to kill someone you briefly met in ME1. If he was loyal, he survives the reveal that he's working for Cerberus, and helps you convince the cameo dude that he needs to spite Cerberus and help the turians. If he wasn't loyal, he doesn't survive, and you have to choose.

Kasumi is like Zaeed in that she gets her loyalty mission at the start and tells stories and remarks on missions. But her mission is heist movie. The only way you won't get her loyalty is if you don't do the mission.  In ME3, she allows you to get two war assets if she wasn't loyal, 3 if she is.

Legion is a geth infiltrator. His story is opening the geth to interaction with organics.  In ME2, you learn that he's somewhat obsessed with Shepard, not having a reason for why he waited to patch a hole in his chassis until he found Shepard's N7 armor.  Through conversation, however, you mange to form a bond of friendship with Legion, giving him and the geth a reason to consider peace with organics.

This becomes the crux of his existence in ME3.  His people have chosen to ally with the Reapers after the quarians attacked them, and the presence of Legion is the only way to broker peace between the quarians and the geth.  However, no matter what you choose, Legion is going to die; either by giving up himself to his people to give them true intelligence, or at the hands of Tali or Shepard for choosing to the quarians over the geth.  The best option for Legion, however, is to let him upload the intelligence he acquired from the Reaper code after you broker peace between his people and the quarians. At this point, he has fully actualized an individual personality.  In order to do this, you need 5 points from a 7 point scale. Which I will not get into, since you can find that anywhere at this point.

And finally, we get to the final 3 companions; James Vega, EDI and Javik. 

Vega is supposed to be the audience proxy; the guy who is supposed to represent the audience if they came in for number 3 only.  But unless he has extra dialogue for those who started ME3 without importing a ME2 save, I don't see it.  And I don't intend to find out, since not having my choices from the previous two games isn't as fun.

No, I see Vega as "Garrus mark 2".  You play a mentor role for Vega in this game, though for a different reason; at one point in the game, Vega receives that he was accepted into the N7 program, and Vega is hesitant about accepting. He looks to Shepard, and experienced N7, for guidance.

EDI's story is about "becoming human".  In ME2, she is the Normandy's AI, and her role is cyberwarfare.  But when Joker unshackles her, she is free to learn as she pleases.  She essentially takes over the Normandy, but because of the bonds she forms with the Normandy's crew, she still wants to help.  ME3 gives her a mech body, and she is then able to join the crew as a squadmate.  From here, she's asking questions about human behavior that she doesn't understand, because she desires to be more like those she serves.  She even expresses romantic interest in Joker, and Shepard can either tell them to cool it, or go for it.

And Javik's story is about confusion and vengeance; he awoke after 50,000 years to find everyone he ever knew and cared about is dead, and the Reapers are back and started it all over again.  Nothing more can be said about that.

Finally, Joker and Doctor Chakwas.  Joker is voiced by Seth Green, and he's comedic relief.  That's why he's there; to give levity in a serious story about war and galactic extinction.  Doctor Chakwas is the Normandy's medic, and acts like a den mother for the Normandy. She worries about their health, both mental and physical, and does what she can to make sure that Shepard succeeds. Drink with her, however, and you get to see a different side of her. I won't elaborate, however, since some it is funny.

And let's not forget the two final new characters, Samantha Traynor and Steve Cortez.  Both were on the Normandy for the Alliance retrofit, both contribute heavily to the war effort, and both are exclusively homosexual.  That's right, Bioware took 3 games to finally make that happen, and both are good.  

Cortez is dealing with survivor's guilt over his husband dying in the Collector attack on Ferris Fields (you get references to this in ME2 through background dialogue), and it is Shepard's job to help him get over it.  You can open the romance with him at the Purgatory bar if male Shepard says that he's eye candy when Cortez mentions watching people dancing.  It's a story and good romance.

Traynor is the communications' specialist, and is also into strategy games.  She has no real overarching story, but all things considered, that doesn't bother me as much as Ashley and Jacob.  That said, she flirts with female Shepard the moment you talk to her, and the romance is activated and locked in if you let her use your shower, and enter with her.  From there, Shepard and Traynor are flirting throughout the rest of the game.  To me, this romance is the most light hearted, because it's playful throughout the game, until after the attack on Cerberus, since all know that "this is the end".

Finally, all companions but Mordin and Legion, (and Doctor Chakwas, because I don't think they could get Carolyn Seymour back for her voice.) who are either expected to be dead, or definitely dead, can shows up at the Citadel DLC party, and each has a special moment if you romanced them.

And man, this turned out longer than I thought it would be.  I promise, my wrap up for the series will be shorter.  :)