Saturday, June 20, 2015

What E3 teaches us about gaming....Less is less

I don't know when it happened or how we allowed it but somehow gamers have bought into overpaying for unfinished games.  Then they go on paying for the privilege of finishing them with extra DLC.

It's not that I think games should be free, on the contrary, I'm a strong believer in getting what you pay for.  Which is exactly the problem.  What does a $60 to $100 pre-order on a triple-A title get you these days anyway?

Usually crashed servers on launch day and a pitch to spend more money to get the "exclusive" content that really should have been there in the first place.

Take the E3 showstoppers Star Wars: Battlefront and Fallout 4. 

In the old days ( 10 years ago ) you'd buy these titles and have a fully fleshed out game that you could enjoy for months even years depending on your gaming habits.

I remember the original Battlefront games back when Disney and EA had little to do with them.  They felt a lot like Battlefield 1942 but were set in the Star Wars universe.  That was cool and you didn't have to worry about Internet connections, DLC or any of the other ancillary crap that is gaming these days.

Developers and publishers will lament their increased costs ( while they lay off staff ) and difficulty in producing cutting edge games ( that usually look like something from 2009.)  

Don't get me wrong, the new Battlefront looks great on the surface.  Thing is it's biased toward multiplayer and of course all the extra "paid" crap that lets you ruin everyone else's experience with upgraded weapons and unlocks. 

The E3 video showed a player going from ground assaults to air attacks and heavy armor ( AT-AT's) within a few minutes.

Oh! If only it were true but we all know better.  

C'mon folks, do you really believe with the history of Battlefield multiplayer games ( and Battlefront is one ) that you're going to spending your time doing anything but dying repeatedly on some map?  
Here's the most likely scenario...

You buy the game, install it, try to connect to the servers only to find an annoying message about "error 34" or some  such  nonsense.  Wait another 8 hours, finally get a server and the game bluescreens your PC.  A week later, EA shoves out an emergency patch that effectively cripples half the game. 

Hey! they'll get around to it but right now the devs are busy working on the DLC!

Another week or two goes by and things are settling in.  Now that everyone's got their bearings we start falling into our respective pecking orders.  Premium subs get all the goodies and make everyone else's lives hell who chose to actually pay their light bill this month or couldn't get daddy's credit card.

The only people getting to ride on AT-AT's are the insane OCD types who've already got 100 hours of game time in within 3 days of launch.

Forget about going up against Luke or Vader.  At least the cutscenes were cool...

Gee, that sounds like fun.

Hey if you like to be treated like that, I have some medieval torture devices that should really get ya' goin'!

Oh yeah, there'll be a single player but it's based on the multiplayer experience and so is the "co-op" which is really just a survival/wave game mode.  In other words, not really single player or Co-op unless you think co-op is whatever the hell Call of Duty games have been vomitting up lately.  

I wonder if they'll release the Zombie Stormtrooper DLC maps for Halloween...

It's FREAKIN' STAR WARS!  Where's the damned story!  The freakin' game is launching within weeks of Star Wars 7 and the only tie-in is a stupid desert map with a crashed Star Destroyer!

But enough about Battlefield Star Wars....

There's another E3 darling, Fallout 4.  Yeah, it looks better than its predecessors but not by much.  Yay! you can craft stuff (like Skyrim) and wander all over an "open" world ( like Skyrim) and you can have a dog! ( like Call of Duty )

It's already got a free companion game for your iPhone ( freemium of course) and you can buy a real life Pip Boy to clamp on your arm and update your stats while you worsen your carpal tunnel from all that walking you have to do in the game.

To be fair, I know Bethesda will put out a Fallout title that is largely self contained but you just know that they're going to milk it for all its worth.  Meaning there's going to be DLC and things you just can't do unless you pony up some more cash.

The point is neither of these games is worth $60.  Neither are the overpriced DLC and tacky toys that are inevitably going to come with them.

Honestly, I've had more fun with Path of Exile and my "old" games than anything that's tried to assault my wallet in the past 5 years.  We're getting less and less but being told it's more. 

The only "more" about it is what you're paying just to get what you "thought" you were paying for the first time around.
I'd rather EA, Activision and Valve went broke than allow this abusive business model to continue.  Games are supposed to be fun but that's becoming harder and harder as we get less and less for our hard earned money.

Here's another thing, if you keep paying $60, $80 or even $200 for a new game you have no right to bitch when your shiny new game keeps crashing your PC or blowing up your console.  Paying these guys more money doesn't make them work any harder or care about your problems.  They'll just use it to produce a dozen cutscene videos of their latest overpriced DLC and ignore you.

I'm on the soapbox again but screw it.  Wake the hell up!  Don't buy any of these titles on Pre-Order or anything near full price.  Besides, you just know they'll be half price a year from now anyway.  Unless your misplaced narcissism won't allow you to be late to the party, you're better off taking the savings and buying some extra pizza and beer.

They'll last longer than these games anyway.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

E3 on TWITCH: Star Wars Battlefront

Ok, so the worst kept secret for the past year was that EA Studio DICE was exclusively working on a reboot of the classic Lucas Arts franchise, Battlefront.

What we didn't know is if DICE was going to be able to pull off a game that would be faithful to the lore and canon of Star Wars or just be another Battlefield game with Star Wars textures.

This week at E3 we got an answer, sort of.

With the reveal of 2 new trailers and gameplay footage we see a beautifully rendered environment that at times is cinematic.

Here's my take based on what I've seen.

First, The game looks great but I'm seeing a lot of Battlefield Influence here.  The HUD is more advanced but targeting, loadouts and objectives share a lot of DNA with Battlefield: 4 and Battlefield:Hardline.

That's no surprise considering DICE is the driving force behind most of EA's FPS titles.  (DICE LA did Battlefield: Hardline)

Second, They're already talking Pre-orders and DLC disease which could sink the game.  If it's not technically perfect it could turn off a lot of those Battlefield fans EA is hoping to capture.  That means launch day has to go off without a hitch ( which never happens on XBOX) and the game can't be crippled for those who prefer not to buy "Premium" subscriptions.

Speaking of "Premium" you know it's going to happen.  The "Deluxe" version of the game ($69.99) already includes DLC and weapon unlocks.  That's a clue folks.

Actual gameplay looks like a mashup between a current Battlefield game and Unreal Tournament.  That means it's going to be too complex for the casual gamer just looking for a good Star Wars Shooter.

I do like the emphasis on smaller multiplayer and co-op modes which is something that's been missing from Battlefield games for the past 5 years.  During the interview (provided below) it was revealed that maps with up to 40 players would be supported.

However, if Battlefield has been guilty of anything recently (besides the obvious) it's having bad map design in BF4 and Hardline.  If that carries over to Battlefront, all that gorgeous scenery could go to waste on an unbalanced and unplayable map.

All you Battlefield jet jockeys out there know this scenario: Imagine having a jet on air map and not being able to hit your afterburner because every time you did you ended up flying off the map.

Early DICE promo videos for Battlefront showed the development team's love for the Star Wars franchise and lore.  Hopefully that will translate into a solid story-line for the single player experience.  

That's not a given, however, as DICE  has come up short in that department with both BF3 and BF4.  Hardline was only passable but again, that's DICE LA which is NOT DICE and from what we've been told has had nothing to do with Battlefront.

I'm intrigued but no way will I do a pre-order.  Especially when the inevitable happens and there's suddenly 5 DLC packs, 12 shortcut kits and a $60 Premium subscription if you want to find a server to play on.

Star Wars:Battlefront is set to launch on November 17th.  

Pre-order pricing for Standard version: $59.99 (Deluxe $69.99)

I've provided the E3 TWITCH video below.  In it you'll find an interview with one of the devs as well as gameplay footage.  See what you think...

NOTE:  Fast forward to 5:42 to get past the Black Ops 3 chatter.

Watch live video from Twitch on Twitch

Sunday, June 14, 2015

E3 News from Bethesda

It's that time of year again.  E3.

A time when the game industry either has to put up or shut up.  An announcement here can literally make or break your Christmas.

As with most conventions, most of the real news happens well before the doors to the show are flung open.  So it was with Bethesda who chose to come out swinging on Sunday with blockbuster announcements from 2 cherished franchises, DOOM and FALLOUT.  

Oh yeah and some stuff about a Dishonored sequel...

This year I decided I would the E3 Bethesda showcase livestream on TWITCH Sunday  night.  The game publisher and developer (among others in its portfolio including Id) was trotting out its big guns with announcements of upcoming titles like Doom, Battlecry, Dishonored 2 and Fallout 4 

So let's take these in order.

The original First Person Shooter, Doom, has gotten a makeover and instead of yet another sequel, we get a brand new game with over the top gore, melee combat and a "snap together" level creator that allows players to create any hellish environment they're twisted little minds can come up with.  Far from the pixelated environs of our youth, this new DOOM is guaranteed to give the squeamish nightmares.

Doom also includes multiplayer but from what I saw, it seemed more like Unreal Tournament than a DOOM game.  It appears the developers are going to leave it up to players and the level creator to make multiplayer more interesting.  Of course that also leaves open the possibility of creating custom 1 to 4 player co-op games as well.  Still, DOOM has always been more about survival than objectives so don't look for much depth beyond the attention to detail given to the dismembered bodies lying about.

DOOM is due out in the Spring of 2016.

Dishonored, the stealth-action-adventure game franchise is getting a sequel.  This time we go a bit deeper into the game's story as we're given the choice  to play as either the original protagonist Corvo Attano  or Emily Kaldwin,  Corvo's daughter.  Each has their own unique abilities but ultimately the same mission.  That being, to get ol' Emily back on the throne.  The game's all about assassination but the devs promise you can win without killing anyone.  

Uhh, why would I do that?  I mean, doesn't that kind of take the fun out of it?


I don't really care.  I don't get that wrapped up in game lore.  It's basically one of those pretty games where you spend most of your time either sneaking up on people or avoiding them.  There are elements of both RPG and FPS genres (the Adventure and Action bit) but for the most part you're going to try to quietly dispose of disagreeable people in interesting ways while traipsing about a late 19th Century English landscape.

The story was definitely more compelling than DOOM, however.  Then again, what isn't.  

Also announced was the "Dishonored: Definitive Edition"  Which is basically the original 2012 game with all accompanying DLC.  In other words a GOTY edition.

Dishonored 2 is due out in the Spring of 2016.

Not impressed so I'll be short...

It looks like some kind of team based Mortal Kombat game using RPG characters instead of the usual Asian stereotypes.  Imagine hand to hand combat with....a Ranger? (You know those guys with the bows and arrows)


Perhaps no game since the last Call of Duty, whatever that was, has had more hype than the upcoming Fallout 4.  One can find themselves the target of angry commentary for daring to even suggest that Fallout 3 wasn't the greatest thing since....DOOM.  

In short, Fallout faithful are at  least as rabid as Half Life fans.  I'll say one thing for them, at least they're excited over an actual game! Still, expect retribution should you defile the series good name with complaints of a stupid AI, endless grinding battles and repetitive objectives.
But wait, this is a Bethesda game...

Oh right!  What was I thinking!  Yes of course!  That's how ALL Bethesda games are.  Overly ambitious, maddening, grind fests with endless trudging about like all those Hobbit movies.  

At least they always seem to make the scenery interesting to look at.  In fact I've often found the environments of more interest than the gameplay.  So bring your camera!

And so it will be with Fallout 4 which looks great, has a very open world concept where you not only roam around the irradiated wastelands but can actually build stuff and have a pet dog!

Yeah, I know there was a dog in Fallout 3 but this one is a direct rip-off of Call of Duty's "Riley."  What's with German Shepherds anyway?  Don't they know how to draw any other kind of dog?  

In any case, your faithful companion accepts commands and will help defend you against the bad guys.  Of course...

By the way, in concert with Fallout 4's announcement came the reveal of a companion mobile game called Fallout Shelter currently free in Apple's app store.  In it you basically construct your own vault and keep its occupants happy.  At present it's only available for IOS (Apple) devices.  

Fallout 4 is due out on November 10th.

Ok, so now that the news is over I've got to come clean...

I'm suspicious of Fallout 4...

I'm always suspicious of games that have so much kitsch and swag thrown around when they're announced.  

Remember my hype formula from a while back?  It's easy and goes like this.  

The more hype the worse the game.  

For example, if you're dumb enough...err...I mean one of the privileged few to pay $120 for the "Special Edition" of Fallout 4 you'll get a real life (kinda) Pip Boy wrist device that works in concert with your Iphone.   

Too bad Android users.  You don't get Fallout Shelter or the Pip Boy. They're reserved for all those "special" people who like to use Iphones and let Apple run their lives for them.

To top it all off, attendees of Bethesda's press conference were given special vinyl figurine sets featuring characters from the Fallout, Dishonored and Doom games.

If you're pushing the promotion button that hard you've got to be hiding something.  It's a tactic of misdirection and I predict, as always, that none of these games will live up to hype.  

Which means, once again, I suggest you don't pre-order any of them.

Friday, June 12, 2015

It's hot outside, must be time for another Steam Sale

Steam Summer Sale 2015

It's happening again...

The Steam Summer Sale is on (till the 21st) and this year's gimmick is a low budget browser-based mouse masher game.  The outcome of said game determines whether or not your "team" unlocks deals on "exclusive" games like: Pixel Heroes, Eden and Gods will Be watching...

What, never heard of them?  Yeah, me neither.  Worse, unlike previous steam sales where you could at least vote on what you'd like to see go on sale, this time you may end up with a deal on Euro Truck simulator for $3 and a worn out mouse.  At least with previous sales you had a 1 in 3 chance of getting what you wanted.

It seems each year the Steam sales get less and less appealing.  Unless you're into indie titles or 4 year old games, the pickings are actually pretty slim and so are the deals.  Looking to save a few bucks on 2011's Portal 2?  It's on sale for $4.99.  You could get the whole Hitman collection for 8 bucks if you don't mind the newest game in the collection being 3 years old.

Of course there are newer titles like Borderlands: The Pre Sequel if you think that $30 is a fairer price than $60. 

The question you have to ask is: if you can deeply discount a game that much, was it really worth anything in the first place?  Perhaps that's the reason why nobody's having any sales on GTA V or Arkham Knight Pre-orders.  They need to milk it for all it's worth before it ends up in the Steam Bargain bin for $5.  In the meantime nobody gets much of a deal on anything anyone really wants.

It wasn't that long ago that the latest and greatest showed up in Steam sales and while the deals weren't as good as the more "vintage" selections you could get a lot more than a couple of bucks off.  In fact, I can remember when a Pre-order was actually cheaper than the release price.  Now it costs the same or more and all you get is some useless DLC and the privilege of suffering launch day blues.

Maybe the problem with Steam sales has less to do with Steam and more to do with what's being sold.  Still, if you're looking for that hidden gem that nobody knows about, Steam's the most likely place to find it. 

Maybe that's why I'm playing so many Free-to-Play titles lately...

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Path of Exile - Latest romps

As always, the gamer's been gamin' and lately I've been up to my ears in Path of Exile with 5 different characters from 5 different classes.

  1. Witch ( currently level 52)  
  2. Marauder ( Currently level 35)
  3. Scion (Currently level 30)
  4. Templar ( Currently level 3)
  5. Ranger ( Currently level 12)

The Witch was my first character and the hardest class to play so far but she's also nearing the end of the CRUEL mode so it's going to be a grind to the end.  What's nice is I've learned a lot about proper equipment and maximizing her abilities.  They say you never forget your first and I know she's been memorable in more ways than one.

The Witch was followed by my Marauder who is by far the most fun class to play.  This guy literally cuts through everything!  He took out the first 3 bosses without dying once.  Of course equipping him with a huge Legendary (Brown) 2 Handed axe that the Witch found didn't hurt either...

I started a Scion about a month ago and so far she falls somewhere between the Witch and the Marauder for fun factor.  The Templar I haven't done much with yet.  He seems a bit weak early on but we'll see.  
Finally I just started a Ranger and so far she's almost as much fun as the Marauder.

Of course the later characters all benefited from the shared stash.  Path of Exile is geared toward having multiple characters active as often times they find useful items for each other.  To be honest, I almost never find anything that great for the current class I'm playing so it's not a bad strategy to mix it up a bit.  

Considering how very different the classes are in abilities, buffs and equipment, there's no doubt that the game has legs 

Every class and character is completely unique.  It's not just a different texture laid on top of some random polygons governed by an otherwise identical skill tree.  I like that.

In any case, I offer up my latest proof of my exploits.