Turns out that making up lost ground on an exercise program is a pretty terrible situation. On the plus side, you’ve already built the mental toughness for the weight you’re aiming at. On the downside, when you fail – and it takes surprisingly little time for your lifts to backslide, so don’t dismiss the possibility – the internal recriminations and disappointment can be catastrophic. Fail a lower weight on the first day back? That doubt carries through for every workout until you’re back at your PR.

This time, I actually started C25K when I got back – first, because I figured it’d be some nice mild exercise to lead in with, and second, because my aerobic capacity is genuinely atrocious and I’d kind of like for that not to be the case. But there’s still that doubt that perhaps I would have been ready to take on a lifting program that first week, maybe it was just cowardice keeping me on the treadmill.

In any case, soon I will be invincible capable of actually running a handful of kilos without gasping like a landed fish. Broscience insists that as long as I’m spending time on the ‘mill, my mass gain is going to be troublesome. Coming up short in the oxygen department has cost me more gains than failing muscles, though, so I see it as a necessary foundation for further work regardless. I can afford to invest 2 months in my lungs.

Just wish it didn’t feel like I was running away.

The Borg were a perfect foe for Captain Picard; defeating them was never a matter of brute force, but always relied on imagination and intellect. The reason behind this, and indeed their most famous attribute, was of course their ability to adapt to any new attack. An initial foray might be devastating, but subsequent attempts would be brushed aside.

It’s a funny thing, the metaphors that’ll pop into your mind while you’re limping to the car the day after trying some new exercise technique.

When I started going to gym last year, I was pretty much tabula rasa. I hadn’t engaged in anything more than some treadmilling and elliptical wanderings before. Given that initial success is generally a function of preparation, I engaged the services of a trainer so that I might learn how to… everything.

The results were catastrophic. Every new routine ruined my flesh in new and alarming ways. I’d spend a few days hobbling about unable to swing my legs over the seat of my motorcycle, only for the next session to destroy my ability to turn the steering wheel of my car. And so on.

With perseverance, though, I discovered something intriguing; one’s body, it seems, is an outpost of the Borg. Every exercise that had wrecked me before was easier the next time that I did it, and the dreaded muscle pains and stiffness were diminished such that they were barely even the same manner of beast. They were still there – it’d hardly be exercise if they weren’t – but it was no longer a debilitating assault on my confidence and mobility.

As I pass through another patch of personal torture training, it’s comforting to know that the aphorism is correct: “If you’re going through hell, keep going”. The biological and technological distinctiveness of these techniques will inevitably become my own, and their assimilation will aid my journey toward perfection.

So there’s another Steam sale on, apparently to push the Exploration system, which I associate with the Discovery queue. Now, I’ve spent a good while playing queue roulette to see what it’ll recommend me – apparently an interest in RPGs gives one a tendency towards hentai dating sims, or so Steam would have you believe. Yeah, it’s good fun. There’s just one issue that keeps rearing its ugly damn head…

Well, fuck

Well, fuck

Turns out that when Steam generates these queues, it doesn’t bother to check whether a game is actually available to the prospective customer. And when the queue hits this error, it just… stops. No “oh welp we fucked up, here go to the next one” button – no, it boots you to that error screen, which has no links whatsoever to whatever you were doing before. Sure, just hitting the Store > Explore menu item resumes your queue from the next item… but as far as I can tell, these unavailable items count as “games viewed” when they really shouldn’t, and there’s no bloody way to mark them “Not Interested” so that they stop fucking up the queue by recurring like cheap beer.

Speaking of Not Interested, though…

Preeesss meeeee

Preeesss meeeee

It’s ever so easy to get into a rythm of slamming the NI checkbox over and over again. Sure, this is mostly because whatever matchmaking algo Steam uses is not exactly Google quality, but that also works against the few games that would otherwise be relevant to the user’s interests. There’s a sort of momentum there, an expectation that the default is to mark it as schlock and move on. I’m not sure that’s fair to games that are less eyecatching, but more interesting.

In the meantime, it’s really the aberrants – like, well, hentai dating sims (why does Steam even have these?) – that are getting the attention. I don’t know, that’s something they should probably look at for the next update.

Soldier (formerly Vanguard) Shepard has, once again, saved the galaxy. All in all a very satisfying game, with an exciting and engaging conclusion. I enjoyed Mass Effect 2 more than its predecessor; the first had the unenviable task of providing the setting’s ludicrous amount of background, which it pulled off with aplomb. But the pacing, the character focus, the humour of ME2… all in all, they make it a much more accessible and enjoyable game. It deserves more than one run-through. So, for the sake of symmetry, I promptly imported my ME1 Soldier to become a Vanguard.

Vanguard is not terribly high on anyone’s recommendations for ME2, it seems. Still, I was drawn to it for the same reason I loved warriors in WoW, and why Excalibur was always my favourite in Warframe: the ability to charge across the battlefield and test one’s brute strength against the enemy’s miserable tracheas. Or, you know, trachea-like protrusions. We’re being inclusive here.

So, how’s it going, one might wonder? Well… let’s give an explanation in the form of a delightful and whimsical pictoral journey through the average fight, guest starring Renegade Commander Bloodlust the Totally A Vanguard All Along, You Guys.

If you can't see Shepard, you may be only moments from gruesome dismemberment.

If you can’t see Shepard, you may be only moments from gruesome dismemberment.

First, the setup. Pick a target, preferably behind some handy cover. Try to flank the enemy, wherever you end up; the Vanguard offers unparalelled ability to use the enemy’s cover against them, and to pick off the isolated and weak.

Or you could scream a mighty oath to the Blood God, and charge at the toughest thing on the field. Like a real N7 operative.

I am a pretty, pretty peacock.

I am a pretty, pretty peacock.

Next, hit The Button. At this point, Shepard’s trademark hallucinogens kick in. You will feel a great pressure building behind you; power, in a wave to sweep all before it. You may hear voices. This is normal. Everything is okay. Everything is all right. It is all proceeding as the World Tree had foreseen, and whispered to the Elders that they might preserve its wisdom. This is the day. It’s all coming together now.

Lo, there do I see the line of my people, back to the beginning.

Lo, there do I see the line of my people, back to the beginning.

This is the important part. Shredding through the feeble gauze that we cast over ourselves and call “reality”, you are cast adrift in time and space. You will feel a rushing sensation, and be permeated with the deep knowledge of the ancestors. Do not join them; not yet, it is not the hour.

"Reality" is what we make of it. I choose horrible burning.

Life is what we make of it. Shepard chooses horrible burning.

Emerge changed, bursting with the insight of your ancient protectors and enough entheogenics to kick-start the Rapture. The realisation dawns, then; your ancestors were the murderous, brutal beings who clawed their way over everything in their path to ensure that one day you would stand here, having been tried and found worthy in the callous void of space. Their wisdom is flame and blood, and you will share it with your enemies. It could never have been any other way.

Yeah, good thing the screen obscures when you're already in trouble, huh?

Yeah, good thing the screen obscures when you’re already in trouble, huh?

As the kick fades and you look around at what you have wrought – as the still-burning bodies fade slowly to ash – realise that, after charging into a tactically infeasible position and being brutalised by unexpected reinforcements, you still somehow have most of your shields. Even as your health is low enough that the screen looks like an insomniac’s eyeballs and the sounds all around you are dulled to a vague thumping, the world just a backbeat to the thrumming of your heart.

You are alive. You will do this again. And oh yes, you will love it.

They will be sure that you do.

 

It must have been a month back or so, I reckon. Stranger said he was ready, that he’d carry on the line. That he was going to play it… that it was time for Mass Effect 2.

Sometimes us folk wonder whatever happened to that poor deluded soul.

Okay, elaborate dramatics aside, I actually did run into a little trouble starting up with ME 2. From the start, it’s pretty clear that the game is very different from the first, at least in terms of its combat systems. As an example: I actually played a Vanguard up for the sole purpose of importing the save into ME2, and then promptly turned her into a Soldier, simply because Soldier was a literally nigh-invincible battering ram in the first game.

Didn’t take too long to realise that Bioware, in what was probably an eminently foreseeable move, had excised the skill that had resulted in said capability. Oops. Shepard is also a lot more fragile – shields fold in around a second of sustained fire, and the character has become some sort of concrete-based vampire or perhaps an exotic slime mold, attaching to cover in order to rapidly regenerate a health pool that otherwise lasts approximately as long as a puddle of piss in the Sahara.

A cross-section of your average fight.

A cross-section of your average fight.

So, being the intrepid and self-reliant challenge gamer that I am, I gave up.

No really, I went and played some Disciples III instead, since I still haven’t finished the blasted game, what with having no motivation to get past the self-righteous elves and their campaign. The mission that’s been holding me up was literally going to a human fortress and kicking them out of the homes they’d built over generations. This because some pointy-eared bint insisted that it would help mitigate the approach of some nebulous evil.

Anyway, after finishing that scenario and experiencing the joys of playing an elf slumlord, not to mention being teased a fight against a dragon but having no such fight materialise*, I went back to the stars. Via the Mass Effect wikia.

It feels a bit like cheating. See, I’m not terribly comfortable with walking in incompetent. I’m especially unhappy with the idea of missing out on upgrades, or rather of achieving a less-than-ideal result at all, both of which are a serious possibility in this game. Gone is the random loot – instead, the upgrade or resources that you miss in a mission may be lost forever. So yeah, I went and looked at some build strategies, and I look for upgrades in the missions before the shuttle even leaves the docking bay.

Thing is, I’m enjoying the game. There’s something that sits on the back of my neck and whispers “efficiency, you missed it, you’re doing it wrong” otherwise – but with the aid of these outside resources, much progress has been made. And hell, it isn’t like the game’s design is actually such that it’s really necessary to look this stuff up – being much more action-based and linear than its exploration-minded elder sibling, simply being thorough would net everything in the game so far. So it’s just a peculiar mental crutch.

Which doesn’t make it feel any less like cheating.

On the plus side, the combat in ME2 is much more entertaining… which it would really have to be, given how much more of it there is. Where ME felt like a story-based game that let the player largely take their own direction, the sequel is very character-focussed, and has dropped planetary exploration entirely in favour of mission-based gameplay – the dreaded corridor shooter disease. Ah, but these corridors are so very pretty, and can be even prettier. See, Soldier Shepard has access to an ability called Adrenaline Rush. Personally, I’m not convinced that’s adrenaline…

PCHOOO

PCHOOO

See, to me that just looks like Commander Shepard has access to the very best drugs. And it just keeps getting better as the game goes on…

Bow before me, puny miscreants!

Bow before me, puny miscreants!

…until it’s getting so stylised that you’re not even sure that anyone’s occupying a reality congruent to that of the good Commander.

VTec just kicked in, yo.

VTec just kicked in, yo.

Fortunately, I adore bright colours and delightfully warped environments. Very fortunately, as it turns out, since the active nature of combat means that you’re hitting this Dreamtime-device promptly every ten seconds or so. This is the Soldier’s new gamebreaker, the ability to slow time and do extra damage. So yeah, I probably would have been just fine that first time around, before I pussied out. I just didn’t know it yet.

 

* Dragon blue-balls are the worst blue-balls. Ask any DnD player.

A previous edition of Attention Deficit Gaming established that the new interface for Warframe was pretty awesome, everything looked good, and running and gunning against comically outmatched opponents was still hilarious. And thus it was that I resolved to play for a while longer. How’d that work out? Not really as well as expected.

See, one of Warframe’s selling points for one such as myself is the crafting and levelling of a myriad of strange and fantastical weapons. And also a bunch of very generic ones, which tend to be fairly reliable and effective. New toys are released on a very nearly weekly basis, so there’s always bars that need to go up. But here’s the thing; while I’ve been away, a bushel of shiny new items have been released. That’s good. Predictably enough, I’ve also been booted from my clan due to inactivity. That’s bad. Very bad.

See, with the exception of a couple of sidearms and a poisoned dagger, all of the new releases are locked up in the clan tech tree. Not a bad thing, if you’re playing regularly; not a bad thing if you’re working toward them as a newbie. On the other hand, this arrangement is an atrocity to a returning player. What this means is finding a group of players that will let the returning player copy their hard-earned blueprints while occupying one of their limited clan slots.

Excalibur can't believe this shit either.

Just offscreen: a flipped table, spinning end-over-end into the infinite void of space

If leeching off the work of the players who’ve spent the time and mats on unlocking sounds like scumbag behaviour, congratulations on possession of an only mildly tarnished soul. Sure, it’d be possible to set up a personal clan, farm up the mats and unlock the weapons that way – if one felt like spending months doing so. This is not the sort of goal in which one heartily engages when casually playing while evaluating a possible return, and it seems a poor design to encourage the thought.

The choice then is rather bald-faced: take advantage of others, grind for months or spend real cash. Unfortunately, weapons are a poor value prospect; the same enormous variety means that the inordinately high price of items in the cash shop looks like a bit of a joke. Naturally, this is intentional; it encourages running content to acquire shiny rewards rather than buying one’s way to boredom. So, then, there’s the implicit fourth option: quit once again. Find something else and play that instead. There’s no lack of ‘else’ on my desktop, and so for now Warframe takes its place back in Limbo once more. Which is a shame, because I was really looking forward to trying out that flame-blade and shield combo they’d just introduced.

Lights out.

Lights out.

Stands to reason that, when making a shooter, it’s pretty important that your guns not suck. Well, it’s a good thing Mass Effect is a story-driven RPG, rather than a straight blast-’em-up in the vein of Warframe, because… wow, did they drop the ball when it comes to the pointy end of the stick.

This shape seems so familiar, but frustratingly, it's eluding me right now.

This shape seems so familiar, but frustratingly, it’s eluding me right now.

The weapon models themselves aren’t bad – barring perhaps that one sniper rifle model which was designed by a guy who wasn’t going to let being on the weapons team stop him from building a suspension bridge – and I do love the way that they fold up neatly for storage in the Ninja Turtle equipment harness. Thing is, there are only two models for each weapon class – one sleeker model that looks a bit lozenge-y around the edges, and another boxier model that comes with optional pretty lights that change colour like those Nikes the cool kids wore in the 90s.

So, a bit short of a visual feast, even considering the inevitable palette swaps. For even more sameyness, all weapons in any given type seem to share the exact same sounds. But what about when it comes to using them? Let’s break it down by types. Yes, I’m ignoring the rich story and nuanced background in favour of reviewing the weapons from a game released more than half a decade ago. I came here to shoot stuff and earn Renegade points, and I’m all out of dialogue options. Deal with it.

Pistols come heavily recommended by practically every guide on the planet, and it isn’t hard to see why. They’re pretty accurate, can maintain a decent fire rate, and do fair to excellent damage – plus there’s the ability to use them as a cheap and dirty sniper rifle with a few points in the associated skill. But more than that, pistols actually feel like they should – there’s visible recoil, a nice flash, and the pistol firing sounds are… excusable. Yeah, that’s the furthest I’ll go for “pop pop pew” sounds, even in spaaace.

"You know what would be great right now? If my weapon suddenly became a useless piece of shit for like six seconds."

“You know what would be great right now? If my weapon suddenly became a useless piece of shit for like six seconds.”

Shotguns are surprisingly handy. Most gaming shotguns have all the range of a kitten batting a ball of string, and will hit approximately as hard outside of their designated effectiveness bubble. Mass Effect’s shotguns pack a fair wallop close in, but across-the-room distances aren’t too much of an issue either, and while you’ll still get some spread at least it doesn’t seem to nerf damage based on distance. Which is to say, shotguns weren’t balanced around PvP. What horrors have been unleashed on gaming by “competitive balance”…

Sound-wise, the shotgun roar reminds me more of something heavy being dragged out from underwater than of a weapon’s report, and I can’t help finding it slightly hilarious that the early shotguns fold up smaller than a pistol. It’s a class that feels great to use, though, in the handful of moments before your heat overloads. Which is exactly what you want happening in the close quarters where a shotgun would be most useful. Genius design, lads.

Assault rifles have no weakness, excepting perhaps the exceedingly poor damage that early-game buzzguns are saddled with. And I do mean buzz – the assault rifle has the least feel and feedback of any of the weapon types. Hold down the trigger, vague droning happens and you’ll occasionally catch a flash of light in the air as enemies’ health bars steadily recede. Oh, sure, the reticle grows as you hold down the trigger, and it’ll overheat unless you implement a modicum of restraint in timing your bursts, but the gun doesn’t really seem to react much. The whole business is reminiscent of a lady’s familiar intimate aid – it’ll hum along to a more-or-less guaranteed satisfactory conclusion, but it’s missing that certain something by comparison with the Real Thing™.

Nevertheless, the all-round usefulness of the assault rifle has led to a schism in my mind… my logical, min-maxing superego wants to use the assault rifle for everything, because it slices, it dices, and it’ll even cut through a coke can from before they went all environmental on us. Meanwhile my Slaaneshi id is screaming that it wants to be entertained, dammit, so grab something – anything – else, and go to town.

Id’s argument has grown steadily stronger since its discovery that Immunity + Shotgun + Storm = Good Times.

Hey dere, dollink. Doink anyting later?

Hey dere, dollink. Doink anyting later?

If pistols are the darling of every guide, sniper rifles are the proverbial unwanted nephew living under the stairs. Unjustified? Not entirely – without a significant investment in the skill, sniper rifles bob and weave like Jackie Chan on a vodka bender. Later-game sniper rifles mitigate this problem, and the more points (or aim stabilising mods) you invest, the better it gets. Much like the fandom of a certain under-stairs dweller, I’ve developed an inordinate fondness for the sniper class of weapons – while a lot of the game’s combat takes place at bad-breath range, there’s enough left over to make standing back and picking off enemies a worthy sideline. This is particularly true when fighting miserable pirates or mercenaries who tend to huddle behind cover, and after dealing with the dismal pile of annoyance and uselessness that is the Mako, picking off enemies from across the valley can be therapeutic in the very best way. Moreover, the tendency of sniper crosshairs shake and rattle under fire might seem like a nuisance, but it also makes these rifles as a class the best candidate for actually making the user feel like a part of combat.

That last sentence may seem paradoxical, given the stand-off nature of a marksman’s weapon. Try then to understand that, despite everything this post has said up until now, combat is actually pretty enjoyable. Boggling, isn’t it?

Grenades are, strictly speaking, more of a consumable resource than a weapon, but they still bear mentioning. Mostly because, well, why are they frisbees? The travel time is atrocious, timing the explosions is unpleasant, and they never seem to have the explosion radius that one would expect even with a high-ex mod. There’s also no way that I’ve found to replenish them between missions, unlike medi-gel, so they come down to being somewhere between too frustrating and almost too precious to use.

The second game in the series awaits, and I’m thoroughly looking forward to it. By all reports the developers made some fantastic missteps in terms of combat, combined with a few inspired improvements. I’ll be happy just as long as their assault rifles don’t immediately draw comparison to dildos.

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