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Quest Log

The Slow Grind, or, How I’m Relearning How To Play Games

WTB Cracked Leather Pants PST

There are few game environments etched into my brain in as much detail as the Night Elf starting area in World of Warcraft. I can remember it almost as well as if it were a real place. Giant trees, rolling hills, wisps and moon wells and purple mist. Azeroth held many wonders, but Teldrassil always felt like home.

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Why Geeks Do What Geeks Do

That is how the geek do.

The morning after the Isla Vista shootings, I was on Gchat with Sam, my fellow weekend editor. I was supposed to be working, but I was having trouble getting to it. I’d seen people on Twitter looking for friends who lived near the shooting (and who weren’t returning their calls), and the shooter’s disturbing screed was still up on YouTube. I watched as much as I could stomach (not much). Sam and I sat together, a few thousand miles apart, sharing the silence of a blank chat field.

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Thoughts On The Walking Dead, The Wolf Among Us, And Morality Systems (Or A Lack Thereof)

Essay

The past six weeks have been crazy. Faced with a mountain of freelance deadlines, I arranged for some time off from writing game stuff, so as to preserve as many sanity points as possible. It wasn’t ideal, but as I wasn’t anticipating any big game releases beyond Transistor (review here), I figured I was safe to bow out for a little bit. Murphy’s Law being what it is, this naturally meant that new episodes of The Walking Dead: Season Two and The Wolf Among Us were released in May. After I finished shaking my fist at the sky and shouting “TELLTALE!”, I concluded that I’d just have to review them once things were back to normal. But by now, there are lots of reviews out there, and my two cents feel a bit stale. Instead, I’m going pick apart something both games have left me thinking about: what is it that makes the moral decisions in these two hit so hard?

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Review: Transistor Is Well Worth Plugging Into

Review

Bastion was something special. Debut titles are risky business, but developer Supergiant Games clearly knew what they were doing. That game had everything: lush artwork, stirring storytelling, and top-notch gameplay (not to mention a soundtrack that hasn’t left my iPod in two years). It knocked my socks off, and my expectations for its follow-up were anything but low. I mentioned to a friend that I was reviewing Transistor, and he wanted to know if it resembled its older sibling. “Like, with that sort of old-school look, and that narrator guy?” Yes to both, but aside from a few small details, an isometric POV and Logan Cunningham’s warm blanket of a voice are where the similarities to Bastion end. That is, except for one thing: Transistor, too, is excellent.

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A Letter To My Ten-Year-Old Self, Regarding The Game Child of Light

Review

Dear Becky, There are a lot of things I’d like to advise you on—puberty, life lessons, warnings about all the stupid stuff you’re going to do once you become a teenager—but right now, we need to talk about a video game. I know you think you’re bad at games. That’s kind of funny to me, because you play a lot of games on Mom and Dad’s computer. You play adventure games, puzzle games, and endless hours of Oregon Trail. But you’ve sorted these types of games into a separate category than the games the boys at school play, the games with fighting and monsters and princesses that need saving. You’ve got it in your head that those are the cool games, and they’re not meant for girls. Even if they were, you know you suck at them. But you don’t. You just need practice and a game that makes you feel powerful. A game that makes you feel welcome. I just played a game like that. It’s called Child of Light, and as much as I liked it, I wish that you’d been able to play it instead.

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Attention All Roleplayers, Fanfic Authors, and Simmers: Drop What You’re Doing And Play Storium

Review

I’m no stranger to group storytelling. In high school, I wrote fanfic with a friend, swapping a spiral-bound notebook back and forth. During that same time I was working at a renaissance faire and my inbox overflowed with email threads of in-character letters. When I was in college, I was an active participant in a Star Trek sim. My World of Warcraft guild forums had a section dedicated to roleplaying. And in recent years, after I moved countries, my previously-local friends and I went through a short period of playing Parsely and Dungeons & Dragons via Google Hangouts. So believe me when I say — if you like to roleplay, if you like collaborative storytelling, if you have gaming friends you can’t meet in person, Storium is what you’ve been looking for. 

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Adventure Game Moebius: Empire Rising Gets Tangled Up In Itself

Review

I have to be honest. I haven’t finished playing Moebius. I would guess that I have about an hour or two left. As I write this, I don’t think that’s going to change, even though I can’t tell you whether or not I recommend a game that I haven’t played through. There are folks who will dig this game, and more power to you. There is some good stuff in there, and I did enjoy parts of it. But I reached my limit. I didn’t finish it, even though it’s my job to do so. Well, actually — no. My job is to tell you about my experience in a game. That much I can do. Mild spoilers ahead, plus two puzzle solutions.

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Review: The Wolf Among Us, Episode Three

The thing that sucked me into Fables was how intimately familiar it was with the inner workings of the stories it drew from. There have been many contemporary stories with old-school fairy tale characters, but Fables had an eye for tiny details. It delighted in turning some tropes on their heads while preserving others for posterity (with varying degrees of success). Reading those comics was like falling along a Mobius strip, going from reimaginings to classic story and back again. Until episode three, I didn’t realize that this was the thing I’d been missing from The Wolf Among Us. In all other ways, it felt like a Fables story. Same characters, similar-enough artwork, the correct balance of darkness, magic, and wry humor. But it was missing that secret ingredient — something that became apparent the minute it was mixed back in. Mild spoilers for all three episodes of The Wolf Among Us, as well as for those who haven’t read the comics.

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Review: BioShock Infinite‘s Burial At Sea DLC

Review

The story opens with Booker DeWitt, passed out at his desk. Empty bottles and betting sheets lie in plain sight. A woman enters his office. He does not know her. The player can see that she knows him. She offers him a job, with little room for refusal. There’s a missing girl that needs to be found. And so it begins. Again. Warning: Massive ending spoilers for BioShock Infinite. Minor spoilers for Burial At Sea.

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Mean Little Girls: Thoughts On Indie Game Journal

Essay

Journal is a game with problems. I was on board with so many things about it — wandering through the pages in a notebook, the shadow puppet interludes, the mystery of a young girl whose beloved diary has gone blank. It’s a simple game, one that revolves around talking to other characters and piecing the story together. I’m normally all for adventure games of this sort, but I had trouble getting into this one. The wandering was too open-ended, leaving me sometimes at a loss for what I should do next. There were incongruous moments where a character would reference a past event, and my character had full knowledge of what they were talking about. Weren’t we supposed to be filling in the blanks together? Apparently not. The effect left me feeling distanced from the story. It wasn’t until the day after, when I started reflecting on the game, that it started to bother me. Really bother me. The more I thought about it, the more I didn’t want to write about it. I wanted to let this one lie. The nameless protagonist of Journal is a young girl, who I placed somewhere between eleven and fourteen. That’s an age range I do not like thinking about. And even though Journal’s girl was wrestling with things that I largely did not, the way she reacted to them left me feeling bruised.

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Think Of The Children: A Review of The Walking Dead: Season 2, A House Divided

Review

Mild spoilers ahead. One of my favorite scenes in Telltale's first Walking Dead game is the part where Lee teaches Clementine how to shoot a gun. He doesn’t want to, and she’s a bit scared. But when she finally gets it right, they smile at each other with pride — him in her, her in herself. It’s a strangely tender moment. Arming a kid made me uncomfortable, and I futilely hoped she’d never have to put that skill to use. The phrase “necessary evil” came to mind. It’s quite a contrast to the reaction I had during A House Divided, the most recent episode of The Walking Dead: Season 2. In an unsupervised moment, a clueless youngster whips out the handgun she’s found. Clementine ducks as the girl obliviously points the business end toward her, asking what they should practice on. I was furious. “Holy hell,” I thought. “Has no one taught this girl to shoot?” Apparently my ethics are rather conditional.

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Indie Game Dominique Pamplemousse Tackles The Gender Binary Through The Majesty of Song

Review

Typically, when I’m looking for a new game to play, I do a bit of research first. I watch trailers and gameplay previews. I read interviews with developers. If it’s a game that’s already out and I’m not reviewing it, I look up reviews elsewhere. But when Dominique Pamplemousse crossed my radar (thanks to the slew of IGF nominations it picked up), the only pitch I needed was the quote on its website.

Dominique Pamplemousse in “It’s All Over Once The Fat Lady Sings!” is a unique and offbeat stop motion animated detective adventure game about gender and the economy. Also, all the characters frequently burst into song.
Sold.

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Witches, Wise Women, and Widows: A Cultural Look at Viking RPG The Banner Saga

Essay

There was a storm warning in Reykjavík the night I started playing The Banner Saga. As my computer booted and my tea steeped, I made the rounds in my apartment, securing the latches of my windows — double-paned, of course, to keep the cold out. Bare birch branches writhed eerily outside, and the sky, which had danced pink and green four nights prior, was coal gray. It was a good night for a Viking story. I glanced at my watch as I launched the game. I had to start playing, but I was eager for my partner to come home. Most Icelanders I’ve met have a strong affinity for their heritage, but my partner is a cultural paladin. Our shelves are crammed with epic poetry, archaeological resources, and dictionaries of dead languages. When my mom came to visit last summer, my partner had a story (or a song) for every mountain and waterfall we drove past. There’s a single-handed battle axe resting against her bedside table. Y’know, just in case. I didn't want her to play the game with me. I wanted her to snark.

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An Entirely Subjective List of My Favorite Video Game Romances

Power Grid

Ahh, do you feel it? Love is in the air today! Love, and gunpowder, and mana residue, and the metallic tang of medically improbable amounts of blood. Yes, we’ve entered the world of video games, where love is weird and sex is awkward. There are few topics more likely to bring friends to blows than this one, so rather than give you a “best of” list, I’m here to share my favorites. Six couples that have stuck with me over the years, each representing a different sort of love. If I leave out your favorite (as I undoubtedly will), by all means, let your ship sail in the comments.

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A Review of The Wolf Among Us, Episode 2: Smoke and Mirrors. Also, Thoughts on Brothels.

Review

Mild spoilers for those who have read the comics; major spoilers for those who haven’t. When I wrote my review of the first episode of The Wolf Among Us, I had qualms about Snow White. She wasn’t the Snow I knew and loved from the comics. It was the only thing I didn’t like about the game, but it put me off so much that I wasn’t sure if this series was for me. I'm happy to report that my fears have been alleviated.

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The Day The Laughter Stopped: A Powerful Game in a Tiny Package

Review

The Day The Laughter Stopped comes with a trigger warning. This article does, too. The catch is, this game is much more effective if you don’t know what it’s about. Let me put it this way: If the presence of a trigger warning gives you pause, I'll provide specifics just after the jump. If a trigger warning doesn't concern you, go play now. It’ll only take ten minutes. But be aware, this game is deeply uncomfortable. It crawled into my chest and gnawed for hours, thanks to some very simple, very clever design. I’m not kidding, it’s one of the smartest uses of player agency I've ever seen. The subject matter is upsetting, but the message is entirely relevant in our current social climate. If you need to know more than that, read on.

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Join Me For Unabashed Gushing Over Assassin’s Creed: Liberation‘s Female Protagonist

Review

As a whole, Assassin’s Creed Liberation HD is not a very good game. The PC port of this former PS Vita exclusive looks gorgeous, but that doesn’t hide the problems underneath. The maps are huge, without providing any real reason to explore (beyond a few bland side quests and collectible items). The pacing is choppy, indicative of its easy-to-set-aside handheld origins. Bugs are everywhere, ranging from unprompted costume changes to finicky usable objects to falling rocks hanging in mid-air. Stabbing, climbing, and being stealthy are normally my jam, but within a couple hours, the missions felt routine. There were a few bright points, but overall, I was underwhelmed. And yet, I can forgive Liberation its flaws. This game fell short of the adventure I was hoping for, but it’s worth playing for one glorious, shining reason. Her name is Aveline de Grandpré.

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Broken Age Delivers Pointing, Clicking, Smiles

Review

Welcome to the quiet village of Sugar Bunting. Every fourteen years, this sweet-toothed hamlet and its neighboring towns are visited by Mog Chothra, a nasty Lovecraftian behemoth with an enormous appetite. The peace is kept through the Maidens’ Feast, in which the towns’ teenage girls are served up as monster snacks. Though being devoured by Mog Chothra is a great honor, intended sacrifice Vella is having second thoughts. The fancy dress is okay, and she wants to make her family proud…but couldn't she just kill the thing instead? Meanwhile, space-traveling Shay is stuck in a rut. He’s the sole inhabitant of a ship designed to keep him safe and happy. Trouble is, the ship hasn’t noticed that Shay has gotten older. A lot older. He’s outgrown his high chair. His navigational controls are squeaky toys. The ship’s computer — who really wishes he’d call her “Mom” — designs simulated adventures for him, each more saccharine than the last. Imagine a spacecraft built for the Teletubbies. Now raise a teenager in it. Thus begins Broken Age.

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Indie Game Continue?9876543210 Has A Lot To Say About Life, Death, Angry Damsels

Review

The scene is instantly familiar to anyone who knows games. An adventurer, shedding pink hearts and gold coins, falls onto the bloody floor. “Continue?” the screen asks, a countdown ticking away. There is no way to say yes. The countdown ends, and those final, crushing words appear: “Game Over.” It is then that the game begins. I thought I knew the question Continue?9876543210 was asking. I have, in the past, considered the final moments of the ubiquitous Dead Adventurer corpses I’ve looted elsewhere. I knew they believed in their quests as strongly as my character did. Mine was just lucky. I thought that Continue? was a play on that, a story about the failed hero who couldn’t let her quest go. And it is. In part. If you only give Continue? one try, that’s all it will be. Keep going. It’s so much more.

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Free Adventure Game Heroine’s Quest Kicks It Old School

Review

When I was a kid, Christmas morning often involved the unwrapping of a new computer game. Once all the other presents had been revealed and appreciated, I’d spend the rest of the morning sitting diligently in front of the family computer, nibbling a chocolate Santa and waiting for the game to install. This could take hours, but the waiting was important. Some games would autoplay as soon as installation was complete. I couldn’t risk missing part of the intro. And some games had multiple installation disks, which required switching when prompted. Stepping away from the computer meant the prompt would sit there unnoticed, whittling away whole minutes of play time. I remember those mornings fondly. That level of reverence and restraint is rarer for me these days. I have mentioned this to a number of friends over the past couple weeks, especially while perusing the Steam Winter Sale. I love the Winter Sale, but it makes me aware of a shift in my perspective. I appreciated getting a new game so much more when I was younger. The idea of backlogs and cheap bundles would’ve been baffling to me (they still are, in a way). Recently, I have found myself wistful for the days when less meant more. As it turns out, this is the perfect mindset for playing Heroine's Quest.

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