If you read my blog regularly then you know that I am very big on consumers taking control of the gaming industry through organized management of our spending practices. I often write pieces calling for people to actively take charge of the industry’s general direction through boycotts and selective support of certain products and practices. I have on more than one occasion been accused of hyperbole and over dramatization of the situations I write about. Part of the reason for this is that I’m usually looking at the big picture which means predicting long term repercussions that can and often do take years and even multiple generations to manifest. All the way back in 2013, when my blog was still hosted on IGN, I wrote a long post where through thorough analyzation and educated guesses based on past events, I predicted that SONY and eventually Nintendo would ultimately do exactly the same bullshit that Microsoft was doing at the time with XBOX. This post was focused mostly on practices surrounding things like paid online multiplayer access, paid DLC content, and the general direction of all three companies. At the time, many people viewed SONY as the player friendly company that had our best interests in mind while Microsoft was the greedy, evil corporation who only cared about profits. Nintendo was the good egg that would never betray us. Now, five years later, SONY is pretty much the equivalent of Microsoft when it comes to management of their platform and Nintendo is steadily following suit with paid DLC, season passes, and literally this week they will be implementing paid online multiplayer subscriptions. I was right on literally 100% of my predictions about the way the industry was going five years ago. They called me a madman. They called me paranoid. But I knew I was right. Sadly the post no longer exists because IGN removed all user blogs from their website, but I probably have the original draft in a Word document somewhere if anyone really wants to read it.
So in that context, we really need to talk about Nintendo Switch Online. Last week, Nintendo published their latest Nintendo Direct. Overall it was pretty solid. But with less than a week prior to going live, they finally gave some actual concrete details about their new subscription based online service. It is in every way a tragedy. It’s insulting to gamers. It’s not offering anything of value that we didn’t already have for free. And it doesn’t even compare to its competitor services in application or value. Similar to when Nintendo replaced Club Nintendo with My Nintendo, it’s a total shit show.
Let me quickly summarize what the service looks like. For $20 a year, or $35 a year for a family plan, which still needs to have more concrete details published, you get cloud saves, online multiplayer, the ability to use your smart phone to talk to other people in the games you’re playing multiplayer with (you know because it’s a phone), access to a supposedly constantly growing library of NES games, most of which you already own in some other form or have already played and don’t care about anymore, and you get access to “special offers”. These offers currently include the “opportunity” to pay $60 plus I assume shipping (and possibly tax) to buy NES themed Joy-Con controllers you don’t actually need to play any of the NES games and a special Splatoon 2 skin representing an e-Sports team you don’t care about or probably even know. New offers will supposedly be added in the future but for now that’s all there are. It’s objectively a bad service. Not to mention it’s on a platform with a very limited library of popular multiplayer games. If you don’t include Splatoon 2,Mario Tennis Aces, and the unreleased Smash Bros. Ultimate there’s almost no reason to even care about multiplayer on the Nintendo Switch. There are a scattering of games here or there that have multiplayer. Like I play Just Dance online all the time. Some people still play Mario Kart Deluxe and even ARMS online. There are some indies like Overcooked 2. But for the most part the Switch is not a multiplayer platform. You’re buying games like The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and Super Mario Odyssey. Remember that even the upcoming Super Mario Party won’t have full online capabilities. You’ll be able to play a select list of mini-games against other players online and nothing else.
The Switch simply is not a platform that has enough dedicated AAA multiplayer value to warrant charging people for the service. And the other benefits are so minuscule and in some cases downright insulting that charging anything for them is egregious. You can’t even send messages to people directly through the console. You have to use your phone. Who in their right mind thought it was acceptable to charge people a fee to use their phone, which they’re already paying a fee to use, to send messages? That would be like buying a soda from McDonald’s and then being charged an additional fee to drink it inside the McDonald’s. To top it all off, Nintendo has decided that they can get away with this because they’re only charging $20, which is cheaper than PS+ or XBL. That’s not a justification. You don’t get to offer a shitty, totally unwanted service at a lower price than a competitor’s service and expect people to be OK with it. Because as much as I hate paying for PS+ at least it’s a subscription that actually provides me with services. I get free current gen games with the service. I get discounts on new games with the service. I can do things like send messages, send pictures, and create chat lobbies with friends on the console with the service. I can even shareplay with the service. It’s overpriced for sure. The games they’ve been offering in the last few years are much lower in value than in the PS3 era for sure. But it’s still a service that has general value above what I was getting when it wasn’t a mandatory service. Nintendo Switch Online offers none of that except cloud saves, which I don’t need in the first place on a portable console with an SD card memory system. My saves are fine. So we need to fix this.
Usually when I write posts like this it’s about long term issues concerning specific games or services that will have an effect on the future of gaming. But in this case, we’re literally talking about today. Yes there are long term repercussions for supporting Nintendo Switch Online, but the short term effects are just as noticeable and important. The service goes live tomorrow. I don’t want to be insensitive about the fact that the Direct was postponed because of a natural disaster, but it’s very suspect that we were given actual details about this new online service less than a week before it goes live. By all rights I should have published this post days ago but I didn’t even have enough time to properly analyze the details of the service and get the post prepared until now. Usually I publish my blog posts on Wednesdays but this was too important to delay till after Nintendo Switch Online goes live.
Just like we did with XBOX One when it first announced always online, or with Star Wars: Battlefront II, we need to actively and loudly boycott and publicly declare our disgust with Nintendo Switch Online in its current form. Do not give them the ability to take this service forward in this way. Yes I understand that I’m asking you to not enjoy some of your games that you’ve already purchased to their fullest extent. I too own ARMS and Splatoon 2. I too plan on purchasing Smash Bros. Ultimate day one and realize that the experience will be crippled for many people without the ability to play online. But we need to think long term here. This is a crucial moment because it will shape the way Nintendo handles online service forever. With this platform and all future platforms, this is a watershed moment. A moment that we didn’t properly handle when XBOX Live Gold was first announced. A moment that we didn’t take seriously enough when PlayStation Plus was turned into a mandatory service. We have an opportunity here to tell Nintendo an emphatic NO. That we will not allow ourselves to be taken advantage of simply because the price is lower than what Microsoft and SONY are charging, which are also overpriced services we shouldn’t be paying for in their current form either by the way.
I’m not saying we should never be willing to pay Nintendo for an online service. I don’t want to pay for such things and I genuinely believe we shouldn’t have to pay an additional fee just play the games we already paid for. But I already pay and have paid SONY for online multiplayer for a number of years. So it would be hypocritical for me to deny Nintendo the same privilege. But I’m not going to just hand them money for a subpar service just because they’re charging less for it. I’m calling for a boycott to incite change to the service. Not a permanent decision never to pay them for online multiplayer. What we need is to hold out as a group of concerned and conscientious gamers until we get a service that works for us and compares to the other services we’ve already been paying for. That means the essentials of course such as working online multiplayer with better servers than we were already using when multiplayer was free. It means a working messaging and voice chat system that doesn’t require us to own other forms of hardware that have nothing to do with the console we’re playing our games on. It means cloud saves that aren’t deleted when you unsubscribe or let your service lapse. It means not having to check in every week. You will literally lose your service continuity if say you got married and didn’t take your Switch on your honeymoon. That’s absolutely ridiculous. It means a library of current gen games made available as part of the service at no additional cost. It means noteworthy discounts on new games from the e-Shop. And yes that $20 price tag needs to remain consistent even with these additional aspects of the service. Especially considering the lacking multiplayer library to begin with.
As a Switch owner myself who uses my console literally every day, I implore you to stand with me on this. Do not sign up for Nintendo Switch Online when it goes live tomorrow (September 18, 2018). Hold out. Demand a better service and refuse to settle for the time being just so you can continue playing Splatoon 2 or Mario Tennis Aces. Make a small sacrifice in the short term for much better results in the long run. Tweet about it. Post about it on Reddit, Facebook, and every other platform you use. Make YouTube videos declaring your decision to boycott and why. Discuss it while you’re streaming on Twitch. Do not give in to Nintendo’s clear betrayal of their values and user base. This is not the service that the late, great Satoru Iwata would have wanted. We NEED to boycott Nintendo Switch Online right now and not let it even start to get a footing. This is not just crucial for Nintendo users, but for all console gamers. If this service is profitable, it will only serve to show Microsoft and SONY that they can lower their service quality, even more, and still get away with it. Now is the time for action. It may only be $20 today but that $20 means a life time of regret for gamers present and future.
It’s hard to say whether or not I’m a fan of Quantic Dream. More appropriately known as David Cage’s interactive movie workshop, Quantic Dream is the game development studio that created Detroit: Become Human. It is their fifth game. I’ve played three games by David Cage: Heavy Rain, Beyond: Two Souls, and Detroit: Become Human. I’ve also heard only good things about Fahrenheit (Indigo Prophecy) over the years, but I’ve never gotten to play it myself. Of the three games of his I’ve played, I liked one, absolutely hated one, and absolutely loved one. So while I’d say Quantic Dream doesn’t have a negative record with me, I also wouldn’t go as far as declaring myself a committed fan of the studio. All I can honestly say is that after playing Detroit, I would be happy to play the next game Cage puts out.
I was reluctant to play Detroit: Become Human when I first heard about it. Part of this came from the fact that I found the idea of setting a game about high technology and opulent wealth (to buy said technology) in Detroit to be laughable. It’s Detroit not San Francisco. The city isn’t known for its wealth or its high minded tech culture. But what I was more worried about was the fact that this game was coming from the same studio that sold me Beyond: Two Souls. I think Beyond is absolute trash. When I first heard about it I was really excited, and I did like Heavy Rain so I had confidence in the studio bringing out another hit. But Beyond is just the worst. It is so unbelievably bad as far as both gameplay and writing. So I was not excited to play another David Cage game after that. Luckily I was able to borrow a copy so I didn’t have to pay for Detroit, otherwise I might never have played it. Boy was my fears about the next Quantic Dream title wrong.
I am happy to admit that I was wrong about Detroit. Not only is it an excellent game, it’s the best game Quantic Dream has ever made. (I’m assuming it’s better than Fahrenheit based on what I’ve seen of that game.) It more than made up for the travesty that was Beyond. It’s the first game they ever made that I’ll actually do a full replay of. In their past games, I’ve taken the time to replay certain sequences to see different outcomes but never the entire game. I will replay Detroit all the way through, making different decisions, and take the time to get the platinum. That’s how much better this game is compared to its predecessors.
Visually it’s great. It’s not the best PS4 game ever made, but it looks very good. Specifically how real the characters look. The character models are based on the real actors, some of which are notable personalities you’re probably familiar with like Clancy Brown and Lance Henriksen. This brings the game to life in ways that many games can’t because you already have a visual point of reference for many of the characters in the story. And the acting, I say acting here instead of just voice acting, is phenomenal. Jesse Williams, who I had only previously seen in Cabin in the Woods (2012) gives such a powerful performance that I wanted to see other stuff he’s in after I finished the game. I can’t remember saying that about any other character/actor in any other game I’ve ever played. The delivery of his lines and the emotion of his character model, Markus, were masterful. I truly saw the humanity in the android characters. I felt for them. I wanted them to be granted freedom and equal rights.
It’s not just the characters that look good though. The landscapes, the neighborhoods, the graffiti, and everything else all comes together nicely to create a Detroit that I found believable in the world of the game. It’s probably the best looking game I’ve played this year set in a real world environment. Spider-Man comes in at a very close second for reference.
The sound is real good in this game. The sound track works well, the effects work well enough for what it is, and the voice acting is perfectly balanced. You feel like you’re actually in a world of other people. Conversations aren’t unrealistically loud to make sure you hear them. You can miss lots of stuff throughout the game if you aren’t listening and looking. Interactions can be completely missed because you didn’t notice the conversation going on low in the background. It’s a nice touch of realism, even while being kind of annoying when you miss something.
Gameplay wise, this was much better than past games from Quantic Dream. There are still camera issues, but overall it’s a much cleaner gameplay experience than the other titles by them I’ve played. Gameplay, specifically controls, was my biggest complaint about Beyond so it was nice to see them clean it up by a noticeable degree in Detroit. I didn’t have any control issues with QTEs. A lot of games in this genre often misread commands and end up making you fail where you know you shouldn’t have. This happens a lot when I play TellTale Games titles. Surprisingly, I only missed two action sequence QTE commands over the entire course of my first playthrough. Part of that may just be that I’m a lot more familiar with the genre now, but I think those results are very telling about how well the game responds. I had no such luck when I played Heavy Rain back on PS3.
What’s really nice about the gameplay in this one is that your decisions really do matter and for once the game directly and clearly shows you that and in what way they affect the overall story. At the end of each chapter you are shown an events flowchart that plots all the decisions and outcomes you made and where those led to. But what’s even more useful is the fact that it shows you how much you didn’t do. In most cases the game doesn’t reveal what other outcomes you could have gotten, but it does show you how many other outcomes were available with each decision/occurrence along the plot of each individual chapter. It also shows you how decisions and outcomes from previous chapters affected the chapter you just played as well as that they might possibly affect future chapters. A good example of this was early on when you are given the choice of whether or not to allow an android to join your resistance. It’s early on in the game and you don’t know who you can trust yet. You can choose to take him with you or leave him. If you chose to take him with you, several chapters later that same android sacrifices his life to save yours. Characters can permanently die in the story and without that android’s sacrifice one of my characters would have died at that moment, ruining my perfect survival first playthrough. I think this transparency of outcomes really makes the game better because then you really do feel like your decisions matter where most games make you feel like the outcomes are fixed even if the road to them has a few branches. Detroit doesn’t do that at all because it proves it to you every step of the way.
Without a doubt, as with most games in this genre, it’s the writing that makes Detroit amazing. Much like Beyond, this story is grounded in science fiction, but what it does right is use science fiction that’s actually believable and grounded at least part in actual science. It may be about sentient robots, but it gives you a story that you can actually believe and connect with on a personal level, more akin to Heavy Rain. Not to mention we already have tons of other fiction about sentient machines trying to obtain their freedom. Detroit plays mostly the same bits from the singularity playbook, but it puts you, the player, into the role of the android instead of the humans fighting against them. This makes the experience so much more personal and in many ways introspective. You empathize with the androids and start thinking about what you would do in a world where people had to choose whether or not to recognize them as living, intelligent beings.
For me, through Markus, the story was very personal because of the racial undertones Cage was clearly drawing upon. The fact that I’m a lighter skinned African American, especially living in the current political climate, made me identify a lot with Markus who, at least in my playthrough, leads the android revolution. The game draws direct comparisons between the struggle of the androids and racial minorities in the real world. There is even a scene where an African American human character helps the androids and when asked why says it’s because her people experienced similar challenges in the past and were only able to achieve the position they had because of help from members of the ruling class/race.
The game lets you make key decisions about the type of revolution you want to have and it affects the story greatly. It was an interesting experience to be able to choose what type of revolutionary you wanted to be. You can be completely peaceful. You can be violent. You can be a bit of both. And the game makes you take public opinion into account. I took advantage of this and got the outcome I wanted, but that often meant intentionally making decisions that I didn’t personally want to make, for the good of the android cause. In a way, that’s the most realistic gameplay scenario ever because politics, especially when it comes to civil rights, actually does work that way. It’s not whether or not the cause is right or wrong, but how the people in power perceive the cause that matters. The writing, and more specifically multiple possibilities within the writing, in pretty much every chapter is why I’ll be replaying this game from start to finish with different choices. I want to see everything this game has to offer.
I think I’ve already made it clear that Detroit has a decent amount of replay value. It’s certainly worth two complete playthroughs and possibly even more after that to experience every possible outcome. I will probably just rerun specific sequences to fill in the holes after my second playthrough rather than doing a full third. But the game is certainly good for 14+ hours of play. I wouldn’t have dropped $60 for it but at $20, the price I paid for Beyond, I would have been very happy with my purchase if I hadn’t of gotten to borrow a copy.
I hope I’ve made it clear that you should definitely play Detroit: Become Human. It’s certainly worthy of being a PlayStation exclusive. I’m just sad that so many people won’t get to play it because for some reason they still don’t own a PS4. It’s well written, well executed, beautiful, and an emotional roller coaster that I haven’t been on in a game in quite some time. Even God of War (PS4) didn’t personally speak to me as much as this game did. Granted I don’t have a son or a great relationship with my father so much of the narrative impact was certainly lost on me with that one. But at the end of the day, you should definitely give Detroit a playthrough. You can clear the game once in less than eight hours.
Disclaimer: This is not a post about social justice, safe spaces, or toxicity in gaming and/or the gaming community. I know in today’s troubled times titles like this automatically make people think about politics in gaming. This post has nothing to do with any of that. I just used the title I felt was appropriate based on the actual definitions of words.
If you’ve been reading my blog or following me on Twitter for a while then you know I hate multiplayer games. I hate that the industry is steadily moving towards always online shared world experiences. I hate that end game is all but a thing of the past. I hate that DLC is the new normal and that it’s getting to the point where I can’t just buy a fully finished game that gets to a hard plot based end point and then is just over so I can move on to the next game. I like single player games. I like the solitude of gaming alone. I like being able to fully complete a game without relying on participation from other people.
Games like Destiny, The Division, and I’m sure in the future Anthem irritate me because they require me to interact with and rely on other people to get a complete experience. Possibly even more irritating is that so often they try to pretend like that’s not the case. But anyone who has actually played any of these games knows that it is absolutely always the case. Sure you can play these games alone. But you can’t really beat them in a normal amount of time at a normal level of play. Sure some people can solo raids, but that’s not normal nor the intended way the developers design raids to be played. You can make a clan/league, set it to private, and not let anyone else join. But the chances of you being able to do enough on your own to get valuable league challenge rewards are infinitesimally small. In so many games today, you are forced to play and coordinate with other players. Even mobile games have leagues now.
When I play a game, I play to reach the end. I don’t just play games arbitrarily as long as I’m “having fun”. I don’t just start games and say I’ll play till I get bored. I take my gaming seriously. Starting a game for me is a commitment. I commit to reaching the end. And if I don’t know if I want to reach the end, I don’t play the game. I certainly don’t buy the game. This has become extremely difficult in a world where end game means the game has no clearly defined ending. What I now do is set end goals for myself and stop playing once I’ve achieved that. I got the platinum trophy in Skyrim. That’s when I stopped playing. There was plenty more to do, but I had achieved my chosen goal and then stopped playing. I reached prestige level one in Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood multiplayer. I could have kept going. You can get all the way to prestige level 99. But that wasn’t my end goal. I’ve had to set my own clearly defined but ultimately arbitrary end goals more and more over the years.
The end goal idea works fine for me in scenarios where my gameplay experience isn’t tied to other people via clan/league. But recently this has become more and more a necessity in many games. When clans first became a thing back in the OG Halo days, you didn’t have to participate. If you really liked multiplayer and didn’t like playing with randoms, joining a clan was a sensible option to fix this problem. But over time it has pretty much become a requirement in a lot of games in multiple genres. Take something like Injustice 2 where you get league rewards. This concept forces you to join and participate in a league or lose out on a steady stream of what can be really good rewards if your league is strong and active. A lot of games go out of their way to promote interaction among league members. Even mobile games with leagues now have built in chat functions, rewards for participating every day, and a number of other incentives to make you play cooperatively and actively with other people. This poses a problem for me.
I don’t particularly like playing games with other people online, but I take the commitment of joining an online team/community very seriously. When I join a clan, I’m part of that clan. I’m not just there to leech off other people without contributing. I contribute and I take my ability to contribute seriously. I make it a point to be as active as possible, contribute to the team goals/challenges as much as I can, and I don’t just abandon the league when a better option presents itself. Only in extreme circumstances will I change clans in a game. In fact, in the last 10 years I can only remember doing it one time. And there’s a long story behind why that happened. The problem for me in this scenario becomes ending the game. As I said, I always have an end goal. I’m not just playing to play. And even when I join a clan it’s in pursuit of that end goal. It’s not that I want to join. It’s that I believe joining will get me closer to my end goal faster and more efficiently. And it does. But when I reach my end goal I’m still part of a league.
I get angry when people just drop out of leagues for no reason. Especially when they’re an active player that makes a great contribution. When they suddenly just exit the league or stop playing without saying anything, it genuinely irritates me. Because the league was relying on that player. All the members helped that player obtain rewards that couldn’t be acquired as a solo player and in turn relied on that player to do the same in return. So when a person just drops out with no warning it feels like getting robbed. At least that’s how it feels to me. And I don’t want to make other people feel that way. But what happens when I reach my end goal for a game?
This is a big issue for me right now. I’m in leagues in games that I’ve already completed for my purposes. But I don’t feel right just abandoning all those other players who have come to rely on my contributions as a strong, active member of the league. But it’s still my time and effort. So what am I supposed to do in this situation? Do I keep playing until the league gets strong enough to not need me anymore? Do I keep playing till the league collapses for whatever reason so I don’t feel beholden to anyone? Do I just quit without saying anything because screw everyone else as long as I’m happy? I genuinely don’t know the correct answer to this question. All I know is that I’m involved in games that I don’t want to be involved in anymore but I don’t want to abandon people who have invested time and effort into helping me because I feel like I owe them in exchange for that assistance.
Do gamers have a social contract with each other when they join clans? Is there an unspoken social responsibility to support those who have supported you in games and come to rely on your support? How do you leave a league?
I have spent my life being told lies like “technology will make life better, easier, and more convenient”. Hardware manufacturers have spent years telling me crap like “you have to pay extra for online services so we can provide the best user experience”. Yet looking back through the years, I’m of the opinion that in many ways things are worse now than they were when I was a kid. Rather than spend an eternity looking at every relevant topic in this discussion, let’s just look at the one most relevant this week. I’m of course talking about game demos.
This past week was Gamescom. I like Gamescom. I think it’s a good concept. Much better than E3 in my opinion. It’s open to the public. It’s not nearly as focused on press conferences. Actual gameplay footage and demos are a much bigger focus at this show. I have beef though. My problem isn’t actually with Gamescom. It’s with the fact that I’m expected to travel all the way to Germany just to play a 10 minute game demo for games that are coming out less than a year from now. Back in the day, this was totally unacceptable. If you grew up in the pre-online gaming era, you remember how hard it was to distribute game demos. You had to go to a local store to try games. Or you had to buy a game and they attached a disc with other demos on it. Or stores gave out demo discs. Some magazine subscriptions came with demo discs for you to try. All of these methods were troublesome, inconvenient, and costly for publishers. And yet they did them, a majority of the time. Very few AAA titles were released back in the day without a demo being available somewhere. The prospect of asking people to pay $50+ dollars for a game without them being able to try it first was laughable. No one was that stupid. Now we’re all that stupid and games cost more (when you factor in DLC and special editions).
There’s no excuse for every game not to have a playable demo in 2018. Especially every AAA game. We have the technology. They can do timed beta tests that last only a matter of hours all conducted digitally. They can patch your games and change things about them while you’re playing other games. So someone please explain to me why I have to fly all the way to Germany to try out Devil May Cry V. There were countless games shown at Gamescom for multiple platforms with fully playable demos. They could release just what was shown as playable for Cyberpunk 2077 and people would pay for it. That beta footage looked better than many games released this year. So why couldn’t I play it from my house on my PC or PS4? I’m not saying just leave it out there indefinitely. But there’s no legitimate reason why they couldn’t have released a timed beta demo for the length of Gamescom for many of the games shown.
Where we’re at technologically is way ahead of where we’re at logistically. Spider-Man is out less than two weeks from today. It’s been gold since late July. Why isn’t there a demo? We have the technology and have for more than a generation. Yet demos are rarer today than they ever have been. Betas might be more plentiful, but that’s not the same thing and really only applies to online multiplayer games in a majority of cases. There’s no excuse for it. Consumers have a right to try software before they pay $60+ dollars for it. Yet all major platforms no longer provide demos for AAA games most of the time. Steam has the two hour return policy, so you can kind of demo anything, which is great. But that’s not officially a demo. And it doesn’t help console players at all.
Now there are of course some valid arguments about why a studio wouldn’t release beta content to the public. But in my book it’s hypocritical to let anyone play demos of a game at that point. Why does being press or having the money to travel to Germany magically make a person more worthy of playing incomplete game demos? Don’t let anyone outside the company play them if they aren’t ready to be played by the public. At least that would be fair. The current system is full of unfair bias while ignoring the technological capabilities we’ve had available for at least two gens of gaming.
I don’t blame studios/publishers though. I mean it’s definitely their fault, but we’re just as much to blame. When it was least convenient to distribute demos, we got them for most games. Now when it’s most convenient to distribute them, and moderate them as well, we get fewer than we’ve gotten since like the SNES. We let that happen. We allowed companies to stop putting out demos. I remember about half way through the PS3 era when I started noticing that AAA demos were becoming noticeably rarer. And very few people were talking about it. The public just let it happen, like we always do with gaming industry bullshit. We should have been more diligent.
I want to see shows like Gamescom, Tokyo Gameshow, and E3 become more interactive for the public not in attendance. Any demo that’s available for the public to try at these shows should also be made available to the public at home for the duration of the show. I shouldn’t have to watch some asshole at (insert your least or most favorite gaming journalist firm here) play a game in order for me to make a buying decision. Let me test drive the car for myself, like we always did back in the day. It’s time consumers stop complaining about bullshit that doesn’t matter and exercise our power for things that actually make sense to complain about. This is one of those things that actually matters.
Here’s a list of just some of the demos we should have gotten to play last week or earlier, all of which will be released in less than a year.
This past weekend, I finally finished the main story of Nioh. It took me just over 70 hours to complete. I am not finished with the game because there are several post-game missions, an entire new class of items you unlock by finishing the main story, a new game plus mode (which I probably don’t have time to play), and a number of DLC missions, which I do plan on completing. I have to say that this was an excellent game. I have some complaints, which is true for every game I’ve ever played, but overall Nioh was quite the positive gaming experience.
I played both the alpha and beta of the game, but didn’t get around to actually playing it till they had already announced the sequel, which was the main reason I finally got my ass in gear with this one. What I find interesting is that many people I’ve spoken to aren’t fans of Nioh because of their relationship with Dark Souls. I understand but don’t agree with this point of view. First, because the games really are quite different in many respects. And second, because Dark Souls I & II (still haven’t gotten around to III) are no more or less flawed than Nioh. All three of these games, and Bloodborne, all have their own issues which are subjective design choices that some people will like and others will hate, while many won’t care one way or the other. So rather than write a straight review of Nioh, I thought it would be more useful to write a comparison of Nioh to Dark Souls with a focus on some key design choices/differences between the two franchises.
People tend to differentiate Dark Souls from Bloodborne because of the combat pacing/style. Dark Souls is seen as the slower more defense focused game that relies heavily on technique and strategy. While Bloodborne is seen as the faster paced more offense focused game that relies more on real time skill and reaction. Having played both games, I can agree with this assessment on some level. I tend to prefer Dark Souls, which is interesting because I hate blocking in games generally. What I like about Nioh is that it allows the player a lot more differentiation while still keeping it really simple, when it comes to combat. Dark Souls offers you 22 different weapon types with various weapons in each category, but they’re all fairly similar, with the exception of magic. It’s one handed short weapons or two handed great weapons, plus bows for ranged attacks. The combat is focused much more on stats than actual weapon performance other than one handed vs two handed. But you do have a fair amount of control over the pacing of combat between those two differentiations, not to mention you have the option to play with or without a shield. You also have to take weight into account when playing Dark Souls and it has a huge effect on gameplay.
Bloodborne is less varied in specific weapon options with only a single version of each type of weapon, but each of the 15 weapon types is fairly different plus there are 11 different secondary weapons to choose from. You are afforded a lot more variation among the Bloodborne weapons, but the pacing of combat is very similar for all weapon types. Add this to the fact that there are no shields in Bloodborne and weight doesn’t have to be accounted for and you have a very fast paced, but less varied gameplay experience than Dark Souls.
The problem with both Dark Souls and Bloodborne, when it comes to combat, is you have a lot of choices, but few options. Ranged attacks and magic aside, Dark Souls really just comes down to one handed vs two handed weapons, shield or no shield in the case of choosing one handed, and weight class, which affects agility. Bloodborne is similar in making you choose between one handed and two handed combat, but it gives the player the option of using any weapon in either way and allows you to change in real time. But with the lack of weight and similar style the weapons carry, you can pretty much commit to a play style early on and ride it out the whole game. For instance, I used two handed axe for probably 85% of the game.
Nioh takes a much different approach to combat differentiation than either Dark Souls or Bloodborne. While those two franchises approach the issue from the style of traditional action games, Nioh is more similar to a JRPG. Rather than bogging you down with tons of weapon types, there are only six: katana, axe, kusarigama, spear, dual-swords, and tonfa. As well as three ranged types: bow, rifle, hand cannon. Each weapon type is wholly different, but true differentiation comes from the fact that there are countless variations of each type of weapon as well as the ability to manipulate, reforge, and evolve them. The speed and style of combat is contingent on numerous factors. You have to account for weapon type, weapon stance (low, mid, high), armor weight, magic and ninja enhancements, natural weapon enhancements/buffs, learned skills/techniques, and you can forge your own buffs into weapons. All while also considering your character’s build. The thing I really like is that the game forces you to take the time to “master” all six weapon types to get maximum character bonuses. This allowed me to find which type of weapon actually works the best for my style of play. You also get to carry two main weapons and two ranged weapons which can be hot swapped at any time. While it’s easy to settle into a specific weapon type, you are still constantly honing and evolving your use of any weapon type as you learn new techniques, magical enhancements, and acquire different/better versions of a weapon type. Combat is never really mastered, so much as it slows down in its evolution.
The Souls franchise, spanning all the way back to the original Demon’s Souls (2009), takes its name from the fact that the one and only currency available in the game is souls. You use them to level up, buy things, and upgrade gear. This system works because it’s simple. With a single currency to do everything, you don’t have to worry about exchange rates, what resource to focus on accumulating, or how to manage and distribute your rewards. You have one thing for everything all the time. The problem with this system is that when you die, and fail to reclaim your souls, you are royally screwed. You lose your progress towards everything you’re working towards all at the same time. That level up, those upgrades, that new weapon. It’s all gone in one foul swoop. Realizing this, Nioh went a different way.
Nioh has two currencies, amrita and gold. Amrita is the equivalent of souls but it can only be used to level up. Its sole purpose is to make you physically more capable. Gold is used for everything else. Buying items, selling items, upgrading gear, forging new gear, and pretty much everything else is done with gold. It’s the currency of the game. Amrita is simply the currency of your character’s development. In most games, xp is permanent while gold can be lost/stolen. In Nioh, it’s the reverse. Just like with Dark Souls, you can lose your amrita when you die and fail to return to your corpse. But your gold is permanent until you spend it.
What’s nice is that you get both gold and amrita from killing enemies, just at different rates. You can also choose to trade gear for either gold or amrita, depending on what you want. This is why I find this system superior. The player is given a choice in how to prioritize their loot. If you don’t want to level up but want better gear, you can choose to focus on amassing gold. If you want to level up, you focus on amassing amrita. And in the late game this becomes key because leveling up becomes way slower than improving your gear with crafting and upgrades.
There is technically a third currency called glory, which you get from fighting revenants, but it’s not as useful and it’s not required to get through the game. I honestly didn’t use it at all except to buy character transformations, which I’ll address in the appearance section.
One of the main selling points of Demon’s Souls, and by extension Dark Souls, was the multiplayer interactions. This includes co-op, PVP, and communication through hints. I have to say that both games franchises/games get a little right and a lot wrong, but in different ways. The worst part about PVP in Dark Souls is that it’s never by choice for the victim of invasion. You can be playing the game with no interest in fighting or even interacting with other players, soon to reach the next bonfire, only to be invaded and often killed by no fault of your own. One of the worst things in the game(s) is that there are invasion hot spots where you literally can’t progress forward because you can be back to back invaded by the same player who’s already proven to be stronger than you. One of the only ways around this is to play offline, but then you lose the ability to summon help, so it leaves you in a catch 22. Nioh doesn’t have this problem.
There is no invasion in Nioh. You never have to fight against anyone you don’t choose to. If you want a PVP match you have to go into the PVP lobby and create/find a match. That’s how it should be. But the regular game is not devoid of special interactions against other players, or at least a version of them. The revenant system is the bridge that connects PVP and PVE. When you die, you leave a corpse. It has your gear, traits, fighting style, and abilities. When other people play through a level, they can see your corpse and choose to challenge it in a duel. If they can defeat it, they get some gear matching the gear you were wearing when you died in that spot. You don’t actually lose any of your gear. What’s great about this system is you can see the level and class of gear of the corpse before battling it so you can decide which fights are worth your time as well as moderate how difficult these opponents are. This allows you to have the PVP experience and rewards without actually having to be bothered by other people or wait for them to be online in order to get rewards from fighting them. And the revenants are different from each other. They have different gear and use different tactics based on the player they’re derived from. Some use magic, some fight more conservatively, some are terribly easy even when they’re a much higher level. It’s a great system that allows everyone to have the encounters they want without negatively affecting those of other players in the process. And just to spice it up a bit, there are moments in the game where revenants are summoned automatically, similar to the bell ringing maidens in Bloodborne. In key areas there are sages playing a Japanese guitar like instrument. This automatically summons any revenant you get too close to within the vicinity of the music. Once you’ve killed the sage, the automatic summoning ceases. What’s really nice is that once the sages are killed they’re dead for good even after you die and respawn.
Communication between disconnected players is an important part of both Dark Souls and Nioh, but it’s done in completely different ways. In Dark Souls you can leave messages for other players. This is a nice system, but it’s also annoying for everyone involved. As a person leaving a message you have to choose the best spot to leave it so that people will see it. You have to piece together a message with sentence fragments because you aren’t given the ability to just write whatever you want, which is a good thing. Even after all that work people still might not notice or take the time to read your message. And even if they do read your message, if they don’t up-vote it the message will eventually disappear no matter how useful it actually may have been. The person reading the message has to find it, actively read it, interpret the piecemeal language in the context of the current setting, and up-vote it to make sure it doesn’t disappear for other players. Very few people actually want to go through any of this trouble. Not to mention that it’s extremely difficult to leave helpful messages to players that also have to be located in places they will actually see. In reality, the only information players absolutely need in a Soulslike game is how other players died. Missing a chest sucks, but it’s not the end of the world. And if you really want to find all the items, you’ll use an online walkthrough. The only information that will truly affect players is knowing what’s coming to kill them. So Nioh focuses only on conveying information about deaths between players directly. This is also done through the revenant system and it’s way more convenient than the messaging in Dark Souls. When you die and leave a corpse/revenant, players can also see how you died. It’s easy because there aren’t even any commands needed unless you actually want to fight a revenant. Just walking near their corpses instantly tells players how they died, what level they were when they died, and the gear they were carrying. And that’s really all the information you need. Being able to see how other players died gives you a clear hint about what’s coming up to try and kill you so you can be ready.
I would say neither Nioh nor Dark Souls handles coop matchmaking well. Both do certain things well, but both also have fundamental flaws to their systems which make things terribly inconvenient for the player(s). Dark Souls has the more convenient summoning system in that you can at any time drop a sign in any location and other players can summon you. You can summon up to three people, which is really convenient. It’s a nice system because you can be playing the game and farming while waiting to be summoned. The hitch is that you can only summon people when you’re alive, which requires using an item or helping someone else beat a boss. Overall thissystem makes it so you never have to waste any time while waiting to get summoned by other people. Nioh fails in this regard. To play coop as the summoner, you can only summon people from in level shrines, which are the equivalent of bonfires. There are two to four per a stage. There is no alive or dead system in Nioh, which is a good thing, but summoning requires single use items, which you find as loot from killing enemies. You can carry up to 99 of these at a time, which is nice, but they are not easy to find early on in the game. So you have struggle alone early on if you actually want/need summons to move forward. Personally, I think Nioh is easier than Dark Souls and I didn’t summon anyone to beat the main story. This was not the case for Dark Souls I & II or Bloodborne for me. What’s really annoying about the system in Nioh is that you have to do it at a shrine, meaning you have to reset all the enemies you’ve already cleared to summon someone and you can’t summon from the boss door like you can in Dark Souls. But thankfully you can go back to shrines while a summon is active, refilling all yours and their health and items. Being summoned is even more inconvenient in Nioh. You can’t just drop a sign or ring a bell and go on with your day until summoned. You have to go to a menu on the world map and enter a summoning lobby. You then have to wait until you’re summoned to play in a stage. On the flip side, you can set parameters for summons such as which stage you’d liked to be summoned to and difficulty level. But if no one wants to summon then you just sit and wait rather than farming while you’re waiting. And you can be rejected by players once summoned, which might happen for various reasons.
What I find superior about summoning in Nioh compared to both Dark Souls and Bloodborne is that there are no level caps or level scaling. If you are on the first stage as a level 5 and you want to summon a friend who is level 150 and has already beaten the game, you can do that. If you want to bring in a high level player to stomp the boss for you, the game doesn’t scale them down to your level. It lets them play to the full extent of their power and abilities. And that’s how it should be. If you want to earn it, that should be your choice as the player. If you want your friends to help you, then that should be your choice as well. But you can only summon one player in Nioh as opposed to three in Dark Souls.
Dark Souls and Bloodborne are full open world games where you make your way across the land finding bonfires or lanterns along the way, which can then be used as warp points. There isn’t really a right way to go, but you have to figure out where to go to move forward in the story. I find the system inconvenient because you have no real direction. Many people enjoy this style of play because they like feeling in control, but I find it a large waste of my time for games like this. Nioh is broken into missions. There is a world map with clearly defined main missions and sub-missions. Each individual mission is a contained open world that you can freely explore within the confines of, but there is an entrance. The only way out is by completing the mission objective, which is usually but not always to defeat a specific enemy, usually a boss. I prefer this system. The game has the same level of stress as any other Soulslike game while you’re in the thick of it, but you don’t always have to be in the thick of it. There is structure and clearly defined goals. You can skip sub-missions or play them all. You don’t accidentally miss bonus bosses before beating the game. You control everything because it’s all clearly laid out on a world map. This also makes organizing your matchmaking easier, even though the system in general is inferior, because you don’t have to deal with the trying to put your spot down in the right area problem you get in Dark Souls. You can handle all of that from the world map.
Character development at base level is similar between Dark Souls and Nioh. In Dark Souls you have nine stats that can be advanced one at a time in exchange for souls. In Nioh you have eight. These stats improve certain specific features of your character and make them better able to handle certain weapons, armor, skills, and general performance. It’s the same system. But the gear development and aesthetics systems are much more robust and user friendly in Nioh.
Developing weapons in Dark Souls is done by going to a black smith and trading materials and souls to level up a weapon. You can slightly differentiate the development of weapons by using different materials to take new development paths. The weapon’s performance is based solely on stats depending on the development paths you’ve taken with the specific weapon. In Nioh, you don’t level up weapons until the end game/NG+ when you get divine weapons, but that’s not relevant to a first play through. Weapons are split into five categories based on rarity (color in menu) which kind of translates to potential. The same is true for armor in all respects except familiarity, which I’ll explain. You can get the same piece of gear at any of the five rarity types. The rarity level defines how many natural enhancements it has and its maximum familiarity potential. Familiarity is essentially how much the attack stat on any weapon can increase with use. The highest possible familiarity is 999, but this is only available on divine items after beating the final main story missions. During the first playthrough, 900 is the maximum possible familiarity. So your goal is to get purple, the rarest type, rarity gear for all your items because it offers the highest familiarity bonus for weapons and the most natural enhancements on gear. Natural enhancements can be anything. Sometimes it’s more damage against certain enemy types. Sometimes it’s higher amrita (souls) yields. It can be resistance to certain types of damage or increased damage of a certain type. Even lower weight and blacksmith costs can appear as a gear enhancement. So even when you find a rare item with high starting stats, it might not be the enhancements that work best for you. That’s OK in Nioh though because you have the ability to reforge and evolve items. Gear can be broken down and crafted into new things. Gear can be absorbed into other gear to make it stronger, or weaker if you combine something stupid. You can even forge new stats into gear.
In Dark Souls you don’t really have techniques. You have gear of various types and stats. But fighting is focused on the technical aspects of using that gear and applying it to the combat situation you’re in. There are heavy and light attacks and some charge moves, but that about does it for what you can do. Nioh has specialty techniques that you develop with special points in either samurai, ninja, or mage categories. These techniques can be specific combos, buffs, spells, specialty items, and specific moves. Many of them are tied to specific stances within specific weapon types. You can get really technical in this game if you want to and mastering certain techniques can make all the difference.
Nioh has one the best appearance systems I’ve seen in any Soulslike game ever, and it doesn’t even have a character creator. Dark Souls lets you create your character, but you are stuck looking like whatever armor you are wearing, regardless of how bad it looks. It the problem of so many RPGs. Your best stuff doesn’t look cool and your cool stuff doesn’t perform the best. Nioh gets around this by letting you refashion gear. Any piece of gear you find can be skinned over to look like any other piece of gear regardless of what it is. Some gear looks awesome and some gear looks like trash. But with refashioning you just spend a modest amount of gold (modest for the end-game anyway) and you can make that awesome piece of gear look like whatever gear set you like. In my case I use the best mid-weight gear I have but I refashioned it to look like the DLC gold set, because I’m a sucker for shiny gold gear. I have the performance I need to succeed, and I shine while doing it. You can refashion weapons as well. Some weapons look so cool with elaborate designs and paint jobs, while others are boring and devoid of color. But appearance has nothing to do with performance. That’s why the refashioning system is so important.
Nioh may let you customize your gear to look however you want, but you can’t create your own character. You play as William, a British white man with blonde hair. The only customization you have for him is his hair style. But what is nice is that you can get transformations. As mentioned previously, there is a third currency called glory. You can only get this from killing revenants. It can be used to buy special crafting materials, but what it’s most useful for is buying transformations. You have the ability to transform William into any character you meet in the game. That includes villains you face and female characters. You just buy the transformations with glory and you can change your appearance an unlimited number of times to whatever transformations you own. Transformations do not affect gameplay or stats. It’s a nice way to let players look the way they want to in case you get tired of being a blonde white man running around killing monsters in Japan. For instance, I like being a Black Samurai, based on a historical character you duel later in the game.
Both Nioh and Dark Souls have NG+ modes, but what’s nice about Nioh is that it has actual end-game content that takes place within your first playthrough. Defeating the final story stage unlocks several bonus sub-missions as well as more story that connects into the DLC. You also get a new class of items after you complete the final level, which can be used for this end-game content before you start a NG+ run. I will probably never play NG+ but I still have several hours of play to look forward to in Nioh before I put it on the shelf for good. I have never played past beating the final boss in Dark Souls or Bloodborne, because I simply had no reason to and have no interest in replaying the same game.
What’s nice about the NG+ though is that it’s directly connected to your original playthrough. It’s not even called NG+. It’s referred to as “Way of the Strong”. From the world map you can switch between normal play and NG+ play from the same file as often as you like. The NG+ levels are the same stages with higher difficulty and better rewards but you don’t have to have a completely separate playthrough from your original. This is nice because it allows you grind with better yields or in normal difficulty at the same time, taking advantage of either depending on what your goals/needs are. And the DLC content is attached in the same way so you can always jump around to play whatever you want at any time. This is made possible because of the level based structure mentioned previously. So while I don’t see myself finishing NG+, I may very well run a few stages for better gear that I can then use to complete the end-game missions and DLC. It’s the best of all worlds.
I want to be clear in saying that I am not arguing that Nioh is superior to Dark Souls. I am arguing that Nioh is not a clone of Dark Souls. It’s part of the Soulslike genre which started with Demon’s Souls, but it is an original game with considerably different design choices, aesthetic, and gameplay. As with any two franchises or even just individual games, there are both good and bad things about both Nioh and Dark Souls and there’s no reason to ignore one simply because it’s not the other. If you haven’t played Nioh but you do play Dark Souls then I highly encourage you to try it out. Especially with the sequel on the way.
I’ve been very critical of games like PUBG and Fortnite: Battle Royale, not to be confused with regular old Fortnite, which everyone seems to have forgotten. Not as much here on my blog but definitely on Twitter. The concept has always looked and sounded terrible to me from the very beginning. It’s the reason I have never loaded up Fortnite: Battle Royale, even though it’s free on multiple platforms I own, and though I’ve been asked several times, I’ve never even considered buying PUBG. But I will admit that no matter how much you watch or read about a game, you can’t say you’ve truly experienced it until you’ve actually tried it. So with that thinking in mind, I finally tried a battle royale game.
As a part of my real job, I often have to try certain games to assess their potential marketing value. This weekend, for the first time in my career, a battle royale game came up. And as a professional, even though I had/have no interest in this genre, I still agreed to download and play one of these games through the lens of marketing.
I was tasked with trying an early access game called Fear the Wolves. This is a standard PUBG style battle royale game set in the same world as “The Zone” from the S.T.A.L.K.E.R. games. I played it. Took it seriously and genuinely tried to get into it. Even managed to get a kill and find several different types of gear. But I still don’t get it. I don’t understand why people enjoy these games.
Let me be clear. I’m not saying there was anything wrong with this particular game. It worked fine for what it is. The graphics weren’t anything to write home about, but the PUBG graphics were trash when it was first made available in early access as well, so that’s not the issue. The controls worked fine. I experienced a few small glitches, but that’s true for so many betas I’ve played at both indie and AAA level, so again that’s not the issue. I just don’t understand the appeal of these types of games.
This was my experience. Wait for more than I would normally wait for any game, but admittedly not the most I have waited for a multiplayer match in some past games. Then wait through a two to three minute countdown after I’ve already waited for matchmaking to end. This was unacceptable. But I understood why it was necessary. No one sits and waits for that matchmaking because it takes too long. So you tab out and screw around on Twitter while you’re waiting. But then because everyone is tabbed out they have to make a long countdown to give everyone time to tab back in. Then go through this really long helicopter sequence and pretend like where I choose to deploy is actually going to matter in the grand scheme of things. I will note that the controls menu said you can direct your parachute descent but this didn’t really work for me in the game so that was one glitch that actually did irritate me a lot. Hit the ground and then sprint to the nearest building only to find the same crappy pistols over and over again. Not once did I find a gun better than pistol. Found multiple types of pistols, but never any firearms better than pistol. Found an axe as well, which I of course never got to use because I never got close enough to anyone with it, since they had guns. Spend a bunch of time stressed out waiting in buildings hoping to ambush someone, only to have that stupid enclosing death fog (it’s actually called an “adrenaline infection” in this particular game) show up, forcing me to give up my post and run inward. But now that I’m running inward I’ve lost my element of surprise. Then I see someone and try to run up and kill them, again with my pistol, and even though I shoot them a bunch of times first they don’t die and eventually they kill me, often with a better gun. That was the whole experience over and over again.
Why is this fun for people? Even when I did get a kill, it was still not that gratifying in the grand scheme of things because I never got close to actually winning the matches. I spent more of my time in loading screens and then waiting around or looking for more crappy pistols than I did engaged in combat. It’s one thing when it’s a real stealth game like Metal Gear Solid 3 and you’re going out of your way to sneak up on people. But being in a huge map devoid of people only to then get killed in fairly boring encounters isn’t nearly as entertaining or gratifying as a real stealth game.
This is where the “git gud” crowd will chime in, but I honestly don’t think that applies here. Even if I was surviving longer, it would still be pretty boring, because victory is much easier to achieve by avoiding combat altogether rather than actually trying to engage people. So even if I was amazing, playing logically with the goal of winning would still be mostly waiting around and then eventually dying and having nothing to show for my better placement. It’s really a zero sum scenario where it’s fun to win and otherwise pretty boring or way too stressful but not in a fun way. It’s fun to play a PVP match like Destiny or COD, both games I genuinely hate, because it’s active, exciting, and consequential without being long winded and pointless when you finally do get killed. You can keep playing. You can make up for your death. You can go for revenge. Even though I don’t particularly like PVP games, and especially not those crappy FPS games I mentioned, I can still appreciate why they’re popular. But I have no idea why people enjoy these battle royale games. And I really don’t get how people can watch other people play them. That sounds unbearably boring. And I’m not even comparing them to story based games, which are by far superior both in development effort and gameplay experience.
Someone please explain it to me. If you grew up playing games in a pre-battle royale context, how do you enjoy these types of games? How are you not bored 90% of the time while playing them? I get that kids today have been groomed to play these games. So much of game development has been building to these sorts of hollow experiences in the last five to ten years. The move away from single player games, always online requirements, and microtransactions have all culminated in the battle royale concept. But kids aren’t even the biggest gaming market today. I don’t get how gamers who grew up in or before my era can play these types of games past casual level. If you grew up with Mario, Final Fantasy, Uncharted, and God of War how does this type of gamplay experience appeal to you? It’s not just single player games though. Look at the multiplayer stuff we’ve come from. Mario Kart, Goldeneye, World of Warcraft, and Halo to name a few. I don’t even like all those games, but I’d play them over these battle royale games any day of the week. Even the half and half stuff like Dark Souls, The Division, and GTA Online are way more gratifying for all players than these battle royale experiences. How does one actually enjoy playing a game where only 1 of 100 people can win while everyone is putting in the same amount of time and effort? How does one call an experience where you spend more time in lobbies than actually playing enjoyable? I simply don’t understand the appeal.
Some games got close to the sweet spot. Things like Sea of Thieves and updated No Man’s Sky are starting to get there. The Division, for all its faults, got very close as well. There’s even some merit to Destiny. But these battle royale games have gone too far. They took the concept of rogue likes, the size of RPGs, the mechanics of PVP FPS, and the scale of MMOs and squished them all together in a lazy smattering of tolerable graphics. They squeezed out all the good parts and left the skeleton of each genre. I like the concept of 100 people roaming Skyrim with the ability to rob and kill each other. But the story would still need to be there along with respawning and the ability to retain at least some of your valuables. Battle royale comes off like the Star Wars: Battlefront II of MMOs. All the heart has been pulled out to focus on pure gameplay mechanics, ultimately leaving a disappointing experience. But clearly I’m missing something because it’s currently the most popular genre both for concurrent players and stream views. What exactly am I missing? Because I just don’t see it.
This week, I got to attend an event called PlayStation Gaming Festival. I’ve never heard of this event before. I don’t know if it’s an annual thing that happens in Taipei and I’ve just never heard about it before or if this was the first time, but I attended and I’m very happy I did. I don’t want to focus too much on the event itself. Pretty much it was just lots of different PS4 game demos, including some PSVRP titles, a swag shop, and a “Bring Your Own PS4” LAN party, which I took no part in. My one real complaint about the event was that they showed a lot of demos for already released games, which I found very odd. They showed Nioh, which really irritated me because at first I thought they had a demo for Nioh 2, which I really wanted to try. They showed Horizon: Zero Dawn, which is more than a year old. They were featuring Frozen Wilds content, but that’s still almost a year old. They had Fist of the North Star: Lost Paradise, which is about six months old and Attack on Titan 2, which is about five months old. Both of these demos were featured, and I tried them, this year at Taipei Game Show so they didn’t need to take up space here. And most odd/irritating was that they had Assassin’s Creed: Origins. This was weird because they also had Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey, which is the soon to be released latest title in the franchise. But rather than having four screens of that setup, they only had two and then two of Origins right next to it. They should have just been running four screens of Odyssey. I waited almost two hours to try Odyssey because of this odd decision. Overall it was a good event though and I did get to try a number of new demos for unreleased games, which is the only reason I went in the first place.
What I want to do here is give a short first impression of each demo I tried. Please note a few important details. All of these demos were in Chinese. Not the in game dialog, but the settings. Dialog language was different for each game depending on the title. Some were in English, some Japanese, and some Chinese. But the HUDs, tutorials, and all non-dialog text was in Chinese, which I do not read. So with certain games I struggled to figure out exactly how the controls worked. I can of course get the gist of most games based on general gaming experience, but for more nuanced controls and special gameplay such as secondary items, I was not able to master any of them because I couldn’t read anything. Along with that, many of the games were set to Japanese standards/settings. What that means is the X button acts like the O button and the O button acts like the X button. Many Western gamers don’t realize this, but in Asia they use an altered control scheme for most games. Each demo session only lasted 10 – 15 minutes. So obviously I wasn’t able to get a full grasp of most of the games I tried. So please take these micro-reviews with a grain of salt and understand that I am giving my account of each game based on very little playtime and less than ideal gameplay conditions. All that being said, I still believe that my insight, due to my general gaming and reviewing experience, can be valuable to people curious about the titles I tried.
I will give one to three paragraph accounts of each demo I tried at the event with as much useful information as I can. Please note that the screenshots featured below were not taken by me. I was not allowed to take pictures of specific games during the event so I just pulled these images from Google for visual reference.
This game was probably the main reason I wanted to attend the event. It is the hype of all hyped games right now, and SONY is aware of that fact. It was the most featured game at the event both in the number of demo units available and in the banners and advertising for the event as a whole. It was of course the first game I played.
Spider-Man very much was inspired by Arkham City. It’s a full open world filled with people and interactive objects. The combat is very similar to the Arkham games, but it’s been noticeably adapted for Spider-Man’s style of movement and abilities. Fighting is very smooth, but not easy to master. You can get by in earlier fights with button mashing, but technique will play a big role as you progress through the game. One of the things I couldn’t master with a Chinese HUD was the special combat items. You can bring up an item cache and use special objects in combat such as a web bomb. These are in limited supply though and I didn’t get to find out how to refill them. I really liked how your fighting and the HUD were linked. What I mean by this is when you take a hit, say from a stun rod, the HUD gets fuzzy and shakes as if you’ve suffered a temporary injury from the impact. This made you feel the consequences of taking damage a lot more than in the Arkham games because the disorientation can negatively affect your ability to play, thus leading to further damage. It’s a good mechanic. The fights are very showy. There are even moments where the game slows down during special attacks so you can get a perfect screenshot.
The city is a large open world, full of tasks that are indicated by symbols floating in the sky. You can track specific objectives or just free roam. You unlock more of the map by doing the Assassin’s Creed perch thing on top of specific points. The difference is that it’s way easier to traverse buildings as Spider-Man because he can web swing, climb smoother/easier than an assassin, and literally sprint up buildings like Alex Mercer in Prototype. That being said, I was not a huge fan of the web swinging. It works, but it wasn’t as fluid as it could be. Like with the Arkham games, you can’t just latch on to anything with no understanding of what it actually is you’re grappling. Only specific points on buildings and other web capable structures can be latched to. This means you have to actually swing based on the proximity of the buildings around you and even then you have your limits. It’s a very “realistic” system in that you have to actually think about where and how you’re swinging. But it’s not as fun as it could be because you notice the limits of your mobility relative to what you’d like to do. It reminded me a bit of the Attack on Titan game but I actually think that is smoother because you don’t have limits on what you can tether to as long as a structure of a certain height is around. Spider-Man’s swinging system works well enough and is in no way a deal breaker, but I was hoping for something smoother that would let me move through the large city map effortlessly. The world is alive. There are random occurrences happening all the time such as crimes you can choose to stop or just ignore them. I stopped a restaurant robbery and then got involved in a police chase. The problem was I couldn’t figure out what to do once I landed on the car because no button indicators appeared and everything I tried just moved me to different sides of the truck without ever entering it. Ultimately I got thrown off of it and the truck got away. I liked the fact that you could fail at stopping crimes without the game resetting as if you died or failed. Suffice it to say that if you liked the Arkham games, you will definitely like this.
The first thing that needs to be said about Jump Force is that it does exactly what it needed to do. It allows me to pit my favorite anime heroes and villains against each other in a three dimensional field of play with smooth, highly accessible gameplay, really nice graphics, and fairly similar movement and controls for all characters. Let me be clear. This isn’t Injustice or Smash Bros. Each character doesn’t have their own unique weight and movement that severely affects play style from character to character. Or at least that’s not how it was in the mode they had running in the demo. Goku isn’t flying around the stage while Zolo is left on foot trying to jump up and land a few lucky strikes. Luffy can’t hit Sasuke from across the screen with stretchy arms. Everyone feels very similar, and that’s a good thing. The game is about having a fairly balanced anime themed match up that focuses more on the player’s management of their HP, energy level, and use of mobility rather than depicting a truly realistic matchup between characters with different powers from different worlds. Frieza can get beaten by Naruto and Goku doesn’t automatically win every fight. The only noticeable differences between the characters is their special moves. Each character has four special techniques that are specific to them and have different affects and damage levels. This is where they actually differentiate somewhat. The basic combat is very easy to pick up. Even with the Chinese HUD, I was eventually able to figure out how to do specials with all six of the available characters in the demo. This is because they have the same two button commands for special moves. The idea is not for them to be hard to use. The art is in knowing when to use them. They can miss, by the way. My only complaint about the demo was that they clearly had the AI set to easy. I never lost a match. So I can’t really speak to how balanced it is because I was dealing way more damage with my attacks than what I was taking from the PC. I assume this was intentional to make the demo more enjoyable for amateur gamers.
Jump Force looks good. The graphics do the characters justice, even when coming from different shows with different art styles. I will say that Frieza looks super creepy as a 3D model. They stayed true to the drawings from the show. There is something so gratifying about seeing Naruto land a Rasengan on Frieza. Or Luffy a multiple hands punch combo on Sasuke. This game is about having fun. Unless there’s a more complicated mode of play, I don’t see it being taken seriously in e-sports for more than a debut season.
Overcooked is a super niche indie game that you either love or you hate. I was surprised by the number of people who waited in line to try the demo for the sequel at this event. It plays exactly the same as the first one, which isn’t a bad thing. It’s just a new set of levels and plot, which is really all it needed. The only added feature I noticed, which I saw another player do but never figured out myself, was that you can use a comment wheel to visually verbalize what you want done. This would be extremely useful for online play without mics because it allows players to communicate non-verbally. I enjoyed the demo, I will be buying it, and anyone who enjoyed the first one will probably do the same. I will be picking it up on Switch though.
Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey
I haven’t played Assassin’s Creed: Origins yet. That means, assuming the combat and movement system for Odyssey is similar to that of Origins, I have not been formally introduced to this new control scheme yet. I struggled immensely to climb, run, and fight because I couldn’t figure out the nuances of things like dodging, countering, and blocking or even just how to run and speed climb. I don’t even know if all these mechanics still exist in the game. And the demo wasn’t helpful, even if it had been in English. It just dropped me into some random far along moment in the game with a bunch of gear. I got my ass handed to me twice by a group of Spartan soldiers. The game was very responsive, and I don’t assume it’s that hard to play once you actually learn the controls through an early on tutorial. The one thing I was able to quickly figure out was the bow, which works well.
The HUD is a bit busy in Odyssey. There is a lot shown on screen while playing in both text and symbols. But I appreciated the wealth of information the game was providing me without having to access menus or press special commands. The graphics are great. The voice acting is very realistic, to a point where I was questioning my own pronunciations of Greek words I thought I knew, like drachmae. Odyssey also has a dialog system similar to Mass Effect. You are given text options and have to pick one. These appeared to affect the story and the missions made available to you. The demo didn’t give me enough about the story, but I got to meet Socrates (Sokrates according to the game) as a younger man and have a debate with him about a rebellion.
Just Dance 2019
This was the first time I ever tried Just Dance with the PS Move. I do not like it. I will be buying Just Dance 2019 on the Switch. Overall, it was pretty much the same thing. The song menu was much different than that of previous games. It’s a scrollable menu of songs similar to when you scroll through a PSN sale as opposed to the usual rotating song reel you see in the previous games. And, assuming this wasn’t Just Dance Unlimited, it seems like they brought back access to some older songs I remember from previous versions of the game.
Sonic Mania Plus
Sonic Mania Plus has already been released, but it is fairly new so I guess it made sense to have at this event. Up until now, I hadn’t played it before. It is the same stressful, 2D gameplay I remember from my childhood. I wasn’t interested when I first heard about it, but after playing the demo I might consider it when it goes on sale.
Soul Calibur VI
Soul Calibur has always been one of my favorite fighter franchises. It’s smooth, has good graphics, individual character styles, and some of the best cameo appearances in all of gaming. In this installment, you get to play as Geralt of Rivia from The Witcher series. The game plays like the past ones. The spirit bar is the more traditional Street Fighter style one than the orbs you had in one of the more recent installments. Overall the game plays very well. They didn’t do too much to change the formula other than make the specials slightly easier to use and give you the ability to dodge them. There are also standoff sequences like in Injustice: Gods Among Us, where your spirit bar faces off against your opponents to decide the outcome, but I was not able to implement/initiate this consistently.
It’s still the great looking game it always was, complete with sexy, super revealing Ivy costume. The game looks good and plays well. Certainly a fighter worth buying that has stayed true to the roots of the franchise mechanically and stylistically.
The Legend of Heroes: Thors Military Academy 1204
I randomly tried this game by a Japanese developer called Nihon Falcom. Apparently this is one in a long running franchise of at least 14 games. It was in Japanese and I only sort of understood what was going on, but the gameplay was phenomenal. This is a turn based RPG that has you play with an active squad of four, but it’s not as simple as old Final Fantasy games. The field of combat is a three dimensional space where you location matters. You can’t choose to move to specific locations on the field. Your movements for each character in your team is driven by your attacks. As you attack different enemies on the field, your characters will disperse accordingly. The way they’re grouped affects the effectiveness and reach of enemy attacks. The same goes for your attacks. This comes into play with reference to magic attacks that have to be aimed. Even though I couldn’t read any of it, I was able to pick up how combat works fairly quickly and I found the system to be very satisfying. It’s a system where you walk around the map and enemies appear on the screen, but when you make contact with them a battle mode ensues.
The graphics are solid, but very Japanese. It looks like many 3D JRPGs with an aesthetic that’s both mature and youthful at the same time. Something I thought was really interesting is that you can use any of the members in your party as your on screen avatar when outside of battle and you can change them instantly just by scrolling through them with L1. I’ve never seen this in an RPG before done in such a convenient, efficient way. The game also has a “Hi-Speed Mode” that can be easily toggled on and off just by tapping R1. It speeds up everything including your movement outside of battle. I found it extremely useful since I couldn’t actually understand/read anything the characters were saying. Since I don’t know how connected the stories actually are, I don’t know if this is worth buying as the 14th game in a franchise. But if I only cared about gameplay, I would probably pick this one up.
I had heard the name before, but I really didn’t know anything about Code Vein. Since the demo was in Japanese, I still don’t know much. The best way to describe it is that it’s Bloodborne with a DmC aesthetic. I don’t know why I was in a series of cliffs tinted to look like Hell. But there sure were a lot of demonic looking creatures that kept respawning every time I died. The game plays like a Souls game but it’s even faster paced than Bloodborne and has a stereotypically JRPG anime art style, which isn’t a bad thing. I enjoyed the faster paced combat but I didn’t feel like there was enough of a balance between attacks and stamina. It feels as limiting as Dark Souls as far as number of consecutive attacks you can pull off before running out of stamina, but with the faster paced movement you feel it a lot more. They need to up the stamina amount to reflect the increase in movement speed or else you always feel too tied down. The game is challenging, like any Souls style game. I don’t think I saw a single person beat the demo boss and I couldn’t even reach the boss. But that’s fine. Thus is the nature of games in this genre. With practice and proper character development, which I assume plays a factor, it should be totally manageable.
While the core gameplay feels like a Souls game, Code Vein has a lot more technical additions. The HUD, which was in Chinese, has eight specialized actions/abilities, and quite possibly the ability to rotate wheels to more actions like in Nioh. That’s a lot of extra stuff to have to keep track of. I’m sure it’s like any other game, where you’ll only use maybe four of them a majority of the time, but it really crowds the screen. The HUD takes up so much of the bottom right corner that if you aren’t using a large monitor, which they were at this event, I could see it being a real problem. While I wouldn’t call it a bad game by any means, this isn’t something I’ll be picking up with all the other Souls style games currently on the market.
Shadow of the Tomb Raider
The latest installment of the current Tomb Raider franchise looks like another hit. The gameplay is pretty much the same. Seemed to be the same controls mostly, still working against Trinity, and another larger build minority character is there to help Lara with her adventure. This one looks really good visually. There was a scene where I was swimming through a cave and suffocated, but I wasn’t even sure if I was playing or watching a cinematic until after I died the first time, because the graphics blend perfectly now. It seems superfluous to say any more about Shadow of the Tomb Raider. It’s going to be very similar to Rise of the Tomb Raider gameplay wise because the formula works and there’s no need to really change it. If you played the last two, you should certainly buy this one based on what I experienced in this short demo. I know I’ll be getting it.