Tetris Effect: Connected | The Adventure Zone: Balance, "Reunion Tour"
And some unfinished business to take care of in Dragon Age: Origins.
GAME REVIEW /// Tetris Effect: Connected
Game summary: An incredibly addictive, unique and breathtakingly gorgeous reinvention of one of the most popular puzzle games of all time. (xbox.com)
This is only going to be a short review, but I think this is one of the few times that it can ever be justified upfront, because it's Tetris. Yes, this is a shiny, new and updated version, but Tetris as a series is almost forty years old for crying out loud - is there really anything new that can be said about it at this point? I mean, Tetris Effect: Connected is great fun to play because... well, it's Tetris.
Does it need explaining how the game works? Shapes drop down and the player tries to form complete rows to clear them from the screen and keep going, the same as Tetris has always been. There are different 'modes', although they're more about alternative goals than playing any differently - setting high scores in a time limit or trying to clear a set number of rows in as fast a time as possible are just two examples.
The biggest thing to highlight about Tetris Effect: Connected is that it's easily the most gorgeous version of the game I've ever seen, which might be superficial, but it at least makes the game more interesting to look at than a lot of other versions which look incredibly basic in comparison. The variety of designs is pretty great, especially as you progress through the Journey mode, which takes you through pretty much all of them.
The downside to the visual delights is that, again, this is Tetris and some of the designs aren't great. There are stages when the pieces seem a little too small, making it tricky to judge which piece is going to slot in where, and the biggest concern is just how nauseating some of them can be - I don't have epilepsy or any real sensitivity to flashing lights and one stage gave me a headache in very little time, so just take care if you are susceptible.
I played this through Game Pass and I think that is the best way to play it as I can't ever see myself paying outright for any version of Tetris and I wouldn't recommend anyone else do so either. While Tetris Effect: Connected is a great audio-visual update that's lots of fun to play, it doesn't - and can't - really update a forty year old game to any significant degree and make the purchase worthwhile for me.
Tetris Effect: Connected is a lot of fun to play and a great game to take advantage of the new Xbox's Quick Resume feature when you have a few minutes to kill and want to fit in a game (or two). It's the best-looking and sounding version of the game ever - even if some of the stages are headache-inducing - but ultimately it is just Tetris, so I can't recommend it too highly because it is ultimately more of the same.
[8/10 - Very Good]
PODCAST REVIEW /// The Adventure Zone: Balance, "Reunion Tour"
Story summary: Our heroes’ party has just undergone a fairly shocking expansion. They’re now tasked with an infiltration mission that hits close to home. As the pieces move into place for the endgame, what do our heroes hope to find — and where do their allegiances lie? (The Adventure Zone)
An even shorter(!) review this time, thanks to "Reunion Tour" being just a two-part chunk of the Balance story that is very interesting and engaging to listen to, if not particularly funny or memorable thanks to a colossal amount of exposition being doled out and leaving little for the Tres Horny Boys to do other than really go along with what the DM, Griffin, needs to do in order to set up the next story arc.
I know that the McElroy family like video games and this really does feel like one of those games that hasn't paced out its story well enough, so needs to inform the player what's happening for the ending to make sense. The biggest issue I have is that there's not really been enough done to set up just how much information is thrown at the audience here for them to absorb.
That can sometimes work as a story-telling device: leave the audience reeling with bombshell after bombshell, but that approach usually only succeeds when the work has been done beforehand and usually involves upending expectations or playing with assumptions about aspects of the story. That doesn't feel like the case here, although I don't think Griffin can really be blamed here.
The nature of The Adventure Zone as a regular podcast where he has to not just create this fictional world and populate it with characters, but also have absolutely everything react in at least some small way to how Travis, Justin and Clint deal with their adventures means it's pretty much impossible for events to unfold in a neat, tidy way.
And, as said at the start, this is still very interesting to listen to and I really like how the story unfolds - it just suffers from the format of how the adventure is being played out and I don't think there's any way to keep every loose thread of the story under control. Unfortunately, that doesn't stop "Reunion Tour" from feeling a little more underwhelming than it really should considering the stakes that have been established.
"Reunion Tour" is enjoyable for the continuing story - which is genuinely very, very good indeed - but is so linear and exposition heavy that it feels very much against how the Balance story has gone so far, leaving me to wonder if some of the information delivered here couldn't have been at least hinted at before now.
[7/10 - Good]
GAME PLAY /// Dragon Age: Origins, "Unfinished Business"
Just a short one this time to round out what happens with your companions outside of Alistair and Leliana, as none of the others can be affected in as similar a way. It's not that these side stories are meaningless, as you can gain favour from your group for doing these tasks for them, but they'll have very little impact on the plot outside of the effort already gone through for a certain witch of the wilds.
Sten wants to retrieve his sword, Asala, that he lost before meeting the Warden, the event responsible for him being a prisoner in Lothering as the Qunari consider their weapons a part of them and he was living in shame as a result of it. There's a lot of trekking back and forth across Ferelden to find it, and it's definitely worth taking Sten with you for some funny dialogue at each step of the chain.
Wynne's request involves tracking down a former pupil of hers, an elven mage living as an apostate in the Brecilian Forest. It's simple enough to reunite the two and they reconcile their differences, with them both admitting/revealing that they've grown since the incident that drove them apart in the first place.
Oghren asks Elissa to help him track down an old flame of his - he's moving on from Branka pretty easily - and there's a funny sequence in an inn as Oghren flirts as only he can, helped by the Warden feeding him lines. It honestly doesn't sound like it's working, as the woman - Felsi - responds to everything he says with an insult, but it turns out this is her way of flirting back and is upset when Oghren says he has to leave to help end the Blight. Funny and odd, but Oghren's happy with how everything went, so it's all good.
Shale, now knowing dwarven souls were used to animate golems, asks Elissa to help search the Deep Roads for a location they are trying to remember. Fortunately, the location opens up immediately and you can head straight there for a fight through more dwarven ruins - although these look so much better than the rest of the Deep Roads it hurts - until finding records that reveal the golem used to be a dwarven woman named Shayle, satisfying her that she now knows where she came from.
As far as I'm aware, there isn't anything for Zevran other than buying him a pair of leather gloves, the smell of which remind him of his home country, Antiva. To be fair, Zevran joins the party in unusual circumstances (trying to kill the last surviving Wardens) and there is one more encounter to be had later on in Denerim that can end with his death, so maybe the developers thought that was enough for his character.
Unlike the allies in Mass Effect 2, none of these are really needed for the player other than to increase how much each of them likes you, which is easy enough to achieve without doing a single one of their requests - I had them all at 'Friendly' or better, so they are entirely optional if you want to race through the game, but I'd still recommend doing them just for the additional dialogue and as a way to break things up.
And now all that's done, it's time to head into the endgame...