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The Angel in the Details: 4 Great Bits of Gaming Minutia

June 24, 2013

I could be playing Mass Effect right now, as part of the epic whole-trilogy playthrough I recommend all fans of the games undertake at least once, ending in mind.

But having finished Mass Effect 2 over the weekend, I was inspired to highlight a few small, fantastic, and incredibly mundane details I’ve loved in games I’ve played/re-played/re-re-played lately. I’ve done the same thing for Skyrim in the past–but then, big epic fantasy sandboxes are built on hordes of tiny details.

Love ’em or hate ’em–and when it comes to the minutia of a 40-hour game, the relationship is often a bit of both–details can help a game go from “enjoyable” to “instant classic.” Let’s see what my recent exploits have in store.

1. Asking a Shopkeeper WTF Their Job Actually Is in Mass Effect 2

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Shopkeepers in Mass Effect 2 don’t actually sell you things. All purchases are made through automated kiosks right next to them at the counter, and they’ll tell you as much when you ask–which you can. You can also ask why the hell they’re there, then, if they don’t do any work.

From a gameplay standpoint, their presence makes sense: they’re there for you to charm or bully into giving you a discount. From the viewpoint of someone who’s worked in retail, I appreciate this moment for an entirely different reason. You know they get asked this question a dozen times a day by irate customers, especially if, heaven forbid, there’s a problem with the kiosk. You just know.

2. Marrying off Princesses and Princes in Civilization V


In the latest entry in the mega-time-sink series of Civilization games, one of the perks of playing as Austria is the ability to annex city-states by marrying off royal cousins. Since we’re in the 21st century, and since Civ V games carry your chosen country from prehistory through the space age, I love that your eligible royal cousins include both princesses and princes.

3. Permadeath in Every Fire Emblem Game, Ever

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Speaking of details I love to hate: in the turn-based strategy Fire Emblem games, you command an army of colorful fantasy soldiers that range from pegasus knights to mages to myrmidons. Each is his or her own complete character, with subplots, dialogue, personality, strengths, and weaknesses. The problem? When one of them falls in battle, they’re dead forever. Even plot-essential characters, barring your hero/ine, will receive serious injuries that leave them strictly noncombat personnel for the rest of the game.

Never has a reset button been more loved and loathed at the same time.

4. Planets and Clouds in Mass Effect 2


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Can you tell I’ve just finished playing Mass Effect 2? One of the most tedious, detail-oriented tasks in all ME2 is the arduous process of scanning planets for mineral resources. Trust me: I was not sorry to see this mechanic go in ME3. One thing I do love, though–and didn’t even notice until playthrough #2–is that the clouds on applicable worlds will move around above the planet’s surface while you’re scanning. It’s little touches like these that make games fun to re-play… even when you’re a ridiculously adamant completionist like me.

Have your own favorite gaming details? Do tell. I’ll need something to play after this whole Mass Effect binge is over.

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