Raise the Tier of Preorder Gear

It’s no secret that you shouldn’t preorder games. Most logical, well informed gamers are aware of it and say it constantly. Most gamers in 2021 know why you shouldn’t do it. Yet at many times many gamers, myself included, fall off the wagon and end up preordering a game. Let’s be fair though. In 2021, the number of people preordering games just to support the game is a fairly low percentage. There are people like that who just preorder games because they can or because they genuinely want to support a specific developer. There are even some assholes who just like preordering games because they know it makes other gamers angry. Trolls with money essentially. But most people preordering games, myself included, in 2021 aren’t doing it because they want to. We’re doing it because of preorder bonuses. There really aren’t limited games in 2021. Consoles, sure. Limited Collector’s Editions, absolutely. But basic vanilla or gold edition versions of games, no.

If you prefer to buy physical games, like myself and many others, you can do that easily in 2021. Maybe in certain countries supply is limited, but in most large game markets, like the US, scarcity of regular editions no longer exists. I remember being a kid in Los Angeles and games could genuinely be scarce. You had to preorder certain games or you wouldn’t be able to find a copy on launch day. The first Mirror’s Edge is my go-to example, because it’s the last used game I ever bought. I went to multiple stores in launch week, and they were all sold out. So ultimately I bought a used copy from Gamestop for like $55, because Gamestop. But that doesn’t happen anymore, with standard editions. There are too many stores and too many units of games in circulation now to not be able to find a copy without preordering. Even here in Taiwan, I’ve never been unable to find a physical copy of a game I wanted without preordering.

In the seven years I’ve lived here, there are only two games I struggled to get a copy of: Pokémon Let’s GO! Eevee and Ring Fit Adventure. But it wasn’t the games I struggled to find. It was the physical accessories. Pokémon Let’s GO! Eevee was easy to find. The Pikachu version as well. What was hard to find was a copy of either game bundled with the Pokéball accessory. Those were sold out everywhere. If I just wanted the game, I could walk into any game store. But the bundled accessory was so impossible to find that I ultimately had to import it from the US. Ring Fit Adventure was similarly rare at first. I wrote a blog post about it. But that was because the ring accessory hadn’t been officially approved for distribution in Taiwan when the game first launched. All the copies had to be smuggled in via Hong Kong. Once the ring was officially approved for distribution in Taiwan, the game was easy to find. Physical objects are still often hard to find when it comes to games. I still regret that I was unable to get a copy of the Collector’s Editions of both Horizon Zero Dawn and Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice. Not because of the games but because of the statues. The vanilla editions of the games were and are still easy to find.

Most people don’t preorder because they want the game anymore. Especially those who buy digital versions of games. Other than when Nintendo intentionally prints limited copies of a game like Super Mario 3D All-Stars, games just aren’t that rare anymore. Especially at launch. Even here in Taiwan, I was easily able to walk into my local mom and pop game store and buy not one but two copies of Super Mario 3D All-Stars on launch day with no problem. And even now that Mario has been executed, it’s still very easy to find a copy of the game. The true motivator for people to preorder in 2021 is the preorder bonuses.

I’m a sucker for preorder bonuses, both physical and digital. Physical more so, but that’s because of scarcity, as I’ve already discussed. So we won’t talk about physical preorder bonuses from here on, because while they are a cheap way to garner sales, scarcity actually is a factor so it makes sense that people begrudgingly preorder games to get them. I often fall into the trap of digital preorder bonuses as well though. More specifically in-game preorder bonuses in the form of useable gear and story content. For this post, I only want to talk about gear though.

The two most common digital preorder bonuses are cosmetics and usable gear. This varies from game to game, depending on how the gear mechanics work, but pretty much every game with some sort of gear mechanic ends up having preorder exclusive gear. Cosmetic gear works because it has a long lifespan. If you like the way the gear looks, you can wear it for the duration of the game. Franchises like Assassin’s Creed have added cosmetic settings in recent installments because of this. You can use whatever gear you want but make it look like a different piece of gear, so the value of those preorder cosmetics lasts a lot longer. Nioh does the same thing, making those golden samurai armor pieces way more valuable than their actual gear stats. Thankfully Nioh also lets you recraft any gear so you can have the gear look you want with useful stats later in the game as well. Cosmetic gear, or games with cosmetic mechanics, works because the preorder bonus has the potential of being useful to the player for the entire game. But what about regular old gear in a game with no cosmetic swap options?

Weapons Cosmetic Customization in Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey

Many games, especially modern RPG shooters like Ghost Recon Breakpoint and the recently released Outriders, have usable gear as digital preorder bonuses. These often trap people, myself included, into preordering. But the reality is that they have a super finite period of usefulness in most games. Preorder bonus gear often looks cool, but the stats are usually low tier. Not trash tier. It’s usually mid to rare in quality. But it’s never legendary class gear. It’s never end game worthy gear. Now that makes sense, because you wouldn’t want to hand the player a full set of legendary gear at the start of the game. It would take all the challenge away as well as the satisfaction of finding the best class of gear. The problem though is it makes the preorder gear pretty much useless after just a few hours of play. This was an especially big problem in Outriders.

I preordered the digital version of Outriders so I could get the Hell’s Rangers preorder bonus pack. I wanted to play the game day one, so I most likely would have paid full price for the full game anyway. But I wouldn’t have preordered if not for the preorder bonus gear. And considering all the server issues I’ve personally experienced since launch, and the reports of similar things happening to everyone, I probably would have waited to buy the game had I not preordered it. I’m backlogged anyway and didn’t need to play it day one. I could have saved some money on it. But I preordered for the gear. The problem is that the gear was/is pretty much useless to me after having played only about four missions.

I played the Outriders demo. It was a great demo and I played it quite a bit. The demo is what ultimately sold me on the game. The “problem” is that the demo let me carry over my progress into the full game. This meant that I had all my gear from the demo and had already cleared the first chapter of the game and reached world tier five when I got access to the preorder bonus gear. All the preorder bonus gear is third tier. It’s great gear for the first chapter of the game. I played the demo until I had obtained a complete set of third tier gear. The preorder bonus gear, also being third tier gear, was only marginally better than the gear I already had. I put it on and moved forward with the game only to find even better third tier gear soon after. This is the nature of all looter shooter RPGs. Really RPGs in general. You will always find better gear quickly, early in the game. That’s the entire point of loot. So the question is what’s the point?

It’s a fact that if I started a new character and used that preorder gear that I’d have been able to use it for maybe a solid 10 hours of play. Maybe . . . It would have been useful from the start of the game. But 10 hours in an RPG, looter shooter or not, is nothing if the game is made well. That’s like barely out of the tutorial in some of these games. So you’re essentially preordering to get gear that will cease to be useful before you’ve really even started playing the game. What’s the real value in that? I’m not judging players. I myself fell into this trap. I’m judging the entire concept of essentially useless gear being given as a preorder bonus. Why not give the players gear that they can use for the entire game? Or make the gear evolve as the player does so that it doesn’t make you super OP from the start but still maintains its usefulness throughout the entire game. What is the value of preordering to get gear that will cease to have any pragmatic value past like your second or third gameplay session? These studios need to raise the value of preorder gear or do away with this practice altogether.

Upgrading gear in Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey

This is a problem I’ve seen in many games over the years. I will acknowledge that many games today have implemented new mechanics to try to deal with this problem. As I already referenced, Assassin’s Creed added a cosmetic system. If you preorder or use your Ubi-Coins to get a cool looking piece of specialty gear, the stats may be junk soon after you start the game. But you now have the option to maintain the look of that piece of gear as a skin regardless of what you have equipped for stats. This makes it so that cool looking sword or armor can maintain value to the player for hundreds of hours rather than a measly 10. Assassin’s Creed games also let you continuously level up your weapons to a point now. This makes the actual pieces of gear useful for a lot longer, assuming you want to invest in maintaining them. Outriders went a step further and created a crafting system that allows players to continuously evolve and change a piece of gear in a myriad of ways. It costs a lot of resources, but those third tier pieces of gear can be developed into top tier pieces of gear and have their various buffs changed to better suit your playstyle as well. It’s an effective way to address the problem and has the added “bonus” of forcing the player to farm more resources if they want to develop these special pieces of gear rather than just equipping better ones they find as loot. So at least some developers have definitely taken this issue to heart over the last few years.

In general, preordering is a bad practice. We shouldn’t do it. But I’m not going to sit here and fault people for fear of missing out on exclusive content/in-game items. I get why people want it. I want it too. Developers shouldn’t lock content behind preordering like that but they do and will continue to, because it works. It gets people to preorder. At least some of them are working harder to increase the long-term value of that gear for the player. But I think they can still do better. Outriders and Assassin’s Creed both do a decent enough job of increasing the lifespan of those preorder items, but they also cost the player a ton of resources to maintain them, which translates to more grinding. No grinding is not a good thing in 2021. They could do more for the player in that regard. Maybe lower the costs of leveling up those special preorder pieces of gear. I spent a ton of time and in game currency trying to level up gear in Assassin’s Creed Odyssey. Outriders has such high crafting prices for higher tier gear that it seems like a complete waste of time compared to just farming legendary gear. Especially considering it’s a continuously growing cost as you progress through the game. And many games still don’t do anything about this issue at all.

Upgrading a piece of preorder gear in Outriders

Many studios will try to argue that the preorder bonuses aren’t meant to carry any long-term value, because they’re not actually meant to be part of the gameplay experience. They’re just a bonus as a way of saying thank you to players for preordering. But that’s a willfully bullshit argument. They can pretend players aren’t preordering to get the bonuses, but they know full well that many are. It’s tough though, because making the items too good throws off the balance of the game for all the players that didn’t preorder. At least in a multiplayer scenario anyway. There aren’t really any great answers on this issue, but there are some solutions that at least work better than not trying at all. Thankfully some studios are at least trying to implement them.

As always, thanks for reading. Please take the time to follow my blog, leave a comment, and check out some of my other channels if you enjoyed what you read.

$70 Games?

Officially, or maybe unofficially depending on how you look at it, we were warned that the launch price of new AAA games would probably be increasing on next gen (PS5/XSX) consoles. More recently, the CEO of Take-Two Interactive, Strauss Zelnick, said it again. Specifically in reference to the fact that the upcoming NBA 2K21 is confirmed to be launching at $70. He went on to say that the reason is because “we think consumers were ready for it.” I don’t want to talk about the common platitudes in favor of the price increase like “games have been $60 for 15 years.” I don’t want to talk about the so called moral objections to the statement or even the valid criticism of games are now riddled with microtransactions and unfinished content. I don’t even want to address the fact that we’re talking about raising the price of games during a global pandemic while people are struggling just to get a lousy $1400 from the government of the supposedly richest, most powerful country in the world. I don’t want to discuss any of that today. All I want to discuss is the statement made by Mr. Zelnick.

“We think consumers were ready for it.” Often high-ranking representatives of larger publishers and studios make blanket statements like this one, and they’re never questioned or verified. They drop these bombs that can drastically change the gaming industry and landscape, and not just about price. But they’re never asked to show any actual evidence to defend the statement. He says he thinks consumers are ready to pay more for games. But he didn’t provide any evidence to prove that statement. Instead he provided arguments for how companies can justify increasing the price of games. Those may be valid arguments and an important part of the discussion, but they have nothing to do with proving beyond a reasonable doubt that consumers are actually ready to pay more for games.

$70? For real?

How would one go about proving such a statement? Would you look at purchasing data over the last 15 years of game releases? Would you look at social media posts on the subject? Would you issue a survey asking people for their thoughts about game pricing? What metric would one even use to prove that “consumers are ready to pay more for games”?

I want to be clear; I’m not saying his statement is incorrect. I don’t agree with his statement, based on my own empirical evidence and personal experiences, but I can’t prove beyond a reasonable doubt that his statement is false. It is as possible that consumers really are ready to spend more on buying games as it is that they aren’t ready to spend more on buying games. The difference between those two currently unproven opinions is that one was stated by the CEO of one of the largest game publishers currently in the industry and the other was stated by a guy writing a blog post. While his words carry way more clout and influence than mine do, we’ve both provided the same amount of actual evidence to back up our statements at this point. For those keeping score, we’ve both provided zero actual evidence. Sure he qualified his statement by saying “we think” but that doesn’t change the fact that the rationale given for those thoughts had nothing to do with cited player/purchasing data and everything to do with corporate greed.

Survey says: You’re lying.

We see these sorts of things happen a lot. I’ve written about other similar instances in the past. One such example that comes to mind is when EA representatives use phrases like “our research shows” before making a statement that you’ve never heard an actual gamer say followed by none of the documented research being presented to back up the claims. We’re just expected to believe the statement at face value and assume that our opinions, those of our friends and online communities, and basic consumer logic are just wrong and that there’s a silent majority of paying customers that like microtransactions, love paid DLC, hate single player games, and have no problem with massive day one patches, always online play, and/or higher launch prices. Again, is it possible? Yes, absolutely. Is it likely? I’m leaning towards no but would happily change my opinion if these companies would provide me with some actual research documentation to back up these claims.

Here’s how I buy games personally. I see an announcement. It can be a trailer, review, teaser, gameplay video, newsletter from a publisher/developer, or literally anything else. The point is that something alerts me about the existence of an upcoming or even already released game. If what I’ve seen thus far peaks my interest, I will go out of my way to do more research about the game. If after doing more research I decide I want to buy the game, I appraise its value based on how it appears to compare to other games of similar genre, style, length, and quality. I then determine how much I think the game is worth, to me, and set a purchase price. I then wait until the game drops to that price before I buy it. And yes sometimes it takes years for the game to get to that price. Sometimes I even lower the price I’m willing to pay based on post launch reception and new information I receive. That’s how I buy games. If I determine I’m only willing to pay $20 for a game, such as I did with Horizon: Zero Dawn Complete Edition, then I happily wait until the game drops to $20 before I buy it. Which I did with H: ZD. That’s how I buy games. I don’t know if that’s how everyone buys games, but I do know that many people do buy games in much the same way, because I know people who do it.

Can’t wait!

Some games I do value at $60, such as the upcoming New Pokemon Snap! I will happily preorder that game and pay full price for it. The same is true for God of War: Ragnarok, when the time comes. But that’s actually a fairly rare occurrence for me. With the exception of Nintendo games, where the prices almost never drop for even years, I don’t pay $60 for games. In fact, I don’t pay more than $20 for most games, AAA or indie. I can safely say that no I will not pay $70 for vanilla versions of new games. Special editions with season passes, sure. But basic versions of games coming in at less than 40 hours of first playthrough content with additional paid DLC later will absolutely not get $70 out of me. I’ll happily wait the 1 – 2 months for the game to drop down to $60, in the rare occasions where I actually value a game at $60. As a person who doesn’t usually go in for live service multiplayer games, the waiting game works fine for me. I’ve got a backlog of literally hundreds of games. I’m in no rush to buy most games.

Let’s be clear, I can’t say that my situation and perception of how to value games applies to everyone. I don’t have the data to make such a claim. I also can’t back up the claim that a majority of players don’t approach buying games the way I do. Because I have no data backing up either claim. So I’d like to know what data Mr. Zelnick has to back up his claim about consumers’, of which I am one, readiness to pay $70 for new games. If he has the data and is willing to present it publicly, I’m happy to read it and change my mind if it paints the picture he’s implying exists. But in my opinion, he’s most likely full of shit and just blowing smoke in the interests of another greedy games publisher. To be fair, that’s fine. His job is not to protect or represent the interests of gamers. It’s to represent the interests of a games publisher. But he shouldn’t be lying to do that. I would much rather him just come out and say that the company believes they can get away with raising the price without losing too large a percentage of day one game purchasers while not worrying about the rest of consumers because they don’t pay full price for games either way.

Certainly worth $60 if any game is.

Here’s some actual data to consider on this issue. Ghost of Tsushima sold 2.4 million units in the first three days after release. That means 2.4 million people were willing to pay full price, at $60 (ignoring regional price differences), for the game. Since launch, Ghost of Tsushima has sold more than 5 million units, based on the most up to date reporting I can find. That means more than half of the people who bought Ghost of Tsushima didn’t buy it at launch. That does not mean they didn’t pay $60 for it but it does mean they were willing to wait at least some time before purchasing it. That means that more than half the player base is potentially willing to wait for a discount on even the most highly anticipated and well-received games. This may not be definitive proof that a majority of people aren’t willing to pay $70 for games, but it is certainly proof that they aren’t excited to do so.

When it comes down to brass tacks, the price of games is going to increase. Once Take-Two and other brands start doing it, every other brand, including Nintendo, will eventually follow suit. That’s just the way things work. Because standard MSRP isn’t about setting the average consumer purchase price. It’s about setting the day one consumer purchase price. Even if 10 million players are willing to wait until a game drops in price to anything lower than $70, it doesn’t change the fact that thousands to millions of players will pay $70 to buy a game day one. They may do it begrudgingly, but they’ll still fork over the $70. That’s $10 extra dollars per unit sold for the first wave of units sold regardless of how low that number of units is. The fact is that the increase in price will have almost no effect on the price a majority of consumers pay, because most don’t buy day one. If anything this will just make more people flock to services like XBOX Game Pass. And that’s fine. Maybe even the long term goal. What’s not fine is the fact that we keep letting these industry members pull statements out of their asses without having to back them up with actual documentation. I do believe research is done by these companies. I do believe they have documentation about this and other important issues. What I don’t believe is that these corporate mouth pieces accurately report what the data shows, because more often than not it probably goes against their ideal scenarios as companies.

As always, thanks for reading. Please take the time to follow my blog, leave a comment, and check out some of my other channels if you enjoyed what you read.

Godzilla vs. Kong Review (SPOILER WARNING!)

This is a review of sorts, but it’s not my standard review style of trying to help the reader decide if they’d like to go see the movie or not. Really this is meant to be more of a detailed discussion about the movie and my specific thoughts concerning a number of topics within it. So while it is a review, it’s not intended to be read by those who haven’t seen the film yet. Just to make sure you’re aware before moving forward, as the title suggests, there are massive spoilers ahead. Read at your own discretion.

The first thing I want to say is that there is a long history of kaiju (titan) films in both the Godzilla and King Kong franchises with more than one instance of the two franchises and titans meeting. I could write an entire book just about the history and cultural meanings of these two characters and their clashes with each other without ever mentioning this particular movie. But I don’t think it’s fair to judge this movie based on that history, so for the purposes of this review we will ignore all past films concerning either character that don’t specifically fall within the “MonsterVerse”. Yes, that is the official name of this franchise, and yes, it is a terrible name. Obviously they should have called it the Monarch Cinematic Universe, or Titan Cinematic Universe if they didn’t want to use the acronym “MCU” for obvious reasons. To reiterate, I will not consider past Godzilla and/or King Kong films in my judgement of Godzilla vs. Kong (2021).

Whenever I see a titan movie, or really any movie within the gigantic mayhem sci-fi genre, I always go in with the mindset of visuals first. The writing matters. As a writer myself, I find it offensive when badly written films get produced. There are countless talented writers out there that will never get a shot, so the idea of badly written movies getting made by rich, undeserving hacks angers me. That being said, people go to watch this genre for the action. A perfectly crafted character driven romance film set in a world of giant monsters might be written at the quality of Shakespeare, but if it doesn’t have awesome looking giant monster fight sequences then what’s the point?

Godzilla vs. Kong is a visual treat. The multiple (5 – 7 depending on what actually counts) fight sequences were good. They put the monsters in multiple settings and had them change their fighting styles based on those settings, showing that these “characters” have been given some real thought. They learn, adapt, and change over time based on their experiences and surroundings. The first encounter between Godzilla and Kong takes place on the water. Kong gets beaten, and rightly so, as Godzilla is an amphibious reptile that can basically breath under water, while Kong is a mammal with presumably no deep-water experience, based on what we’ve seen. Kong tries his best to fight in this arena, even using ships as jumping platforms, but he simply can’t compete with Godzilla’s aquatic supremacy. This fight worked because they didn’t give Kong a crutch. They didn’t make you think he had a fighting chance and just happened to lose. It was a clear victory for Godzilla. The true value in this sequence, from a storytelling and visual standpoint, was twofold.

The first benefit was that it breeds sympathy for Kong. I have no problem admitting that I was rooting for Godzilla going into the movie. I’m on OG Godzilla fan. I can still remember the first time I watched a Godzilla movie in theater. I have seen more than 20 Godzilla films. I’ve seen only five Kong films, and Godzilla was in two of them. This movie is aware of film history’s stanning for Godzilla and actively goes out of its way to make Kong more sympathetic. Godzilla is not painted as the sympathetic friend to humanity we saw in Godzilla: King of the Monsters. To be clear, Godzilla is not painted as evil in this film. He’s painted as chaotic neutral. The movie at first, and marketing, plays up the idea that Godzilla is attacking people. But this isn’t actually the case. He’s attacking technology that’s threatening his supremacy much like how they used that soundwave machine in Godzilla: King of the Monsters to draw titans in. So you have a sympathetic Kong pitted against a mostly neutral Godzilla who shows anger at threats but isn’t actively attacking civilians. This allows/pushes the viewer to root for and sympathize with Kong, while not actively making the viewer dislike Godzilla in the process.

The second benefit of this first fight sequence is that it allowed Kong to learn. In their second bout, which takes place on land, Kong had clearly learned from their first fight. This is best expressed by the fact that Kong actively attempts to prevent Godzilla from using his fire blast. I really appreciated that. These are not big dumb creatures that just flail around until the other stops moving. They learn. They strategize. They practice different combat philosophies. They even experience fear of death.

All the fight scenes have a bit of epic flair. But what makes them great is the use of mostly real locations. Some of the biggest fights in the movie take place in Hong Kong. I’ve been to Hong Kong and stood in locations shown in the movie. Seeing that skyline toppled by two titans was a very impactful experience that wouldn’t have been as effective with fictional locations.

There were other visually impressive and impactful parts of the movie outside of battle sequences as well. Seeing Kong through the deaf girl’s eyes/ears was a stunning interpretation. It was a cool way to depict her experience both visually and audibly and explained why she was comfortable interacting with Kong while others were so afraid. I also really liked the entry into Hollow Earth sequence. It was classic trash sci-fi but it was great visual storytelling. Pretty much all the Hollow Earth visuals were really well done.

Sound was done well in the film, but that shouldn’t surprise anyone. They’ve handled sound effects pretty much perfectly throughout this franchise. I’m still impressed by the camera sequence in Kong: Skull Island because of the sound effects used for the camera going off inside of the Skull Crawler’s stomach. In Godzilla vs. Kong they made use of music a lot more as well. At least with Kong anyway. Not dramatic compositions for effect but actual songs with vocals to set the tone of what Kong is doing.

My biggest complaint about the movie is the writing. No not the science fiction ideas. Those are mostly solid. In fact, some of them are downright brilliant. Like the entire Hollow Earth theory. That setup works great for sci-fi monster movies and has been used effectively in multiple films within this franchise for various plot points. In Godzilla vs. Kong they have some great ideas like using Ghidorah’s brainpower to control Mecha-Godzilla because Ghidorah had telepathic communication. But rather than just saying it they justified it by saying Ghidorah’s necks were so long that the heads used telepathy to communicate. That’s great sci-fi writing. But then they go and do stuff like imply the Kongs were a super intelligent race that built statues of themselves, a temple, and a throne.

Apes are intelligent, but none of that Kong civilization stuff made any sense. And it wasn’t necessary. How would a race of giant apes craft a statue that was about the size of Kong? Their hands would be too big. Why would they construct a throne? What use would they have for it? This isn’t The Jungle Book. They had this great idea about Hollow Earth being home to a power source that allowed the titans to grow and thrive. That made sense. They implied that the titans, as animals, would be naturally drawn to this power source much the way that birds migrate. That made sense. But then when they reach the power source there’s way too much technology present. Not futuristic technology, but still way more than a race of giant ape monsters should have had. Not to mention a drawing of Godzilla, or a member of his species anyway, crafted out of the power source’s light. Why would the Kongs have done this, and more importantly how? The axe was fine. Apes are capable of making and using simple tools. An axe might be a little advanced, but not so much that I would have complained. You are allowed one ridiculous assumption that’s nearly impossible to explain. Not several. This movie contains several, all of which are tied to the Kong’s history in Hollow Earth.

The only other explanation is that humans lived in Hollow Earth and built this massive Kong temple in praise of them. But that opens up an entirely new can of worms that these movies just haven’t tried to setup, and in my opinion shouldn’t. There are other issues in the canon of this movie as well. Especially concerning time. Kong’s main advocates are a girl that can’t be more than 13, which is me being extremely generous because she comes off more like eight or nine, and a scientist who infantilizes Kong worse than she does this girl who she sort of has adopted. The scientist claims that she has been on Skull Island for 10 years. The movie starts off with Kong being held on Skull Island in a facility while the island is covered in a continuous storm. The storm isn’t explained in detail. They just say that it took over the island and wiped out the native population shown in Kong: Skull Island. The girl is the soul survivor of the tribe, because Kong saved her. If the girl isn’t more than 13 and the scientist has been on the island for 10 years, when did this storm hit, how did Kong save a girl who was less than five without crushing her to death, why didn’t the scientists save the natives, and how did they even trap Kong in that facility to begin with? Also how long did it take to build? On top of that, the movie implies that Godzilla: King of the Monsters took place just three years earlier in the timeline. Continuity problems abound concerning Kongs in this movie. Also, the entire premise of the movie is that Kong and Godzilla will fight, because legend says their races had an ancient feud. What legends would say this?

If titans are ancient beings that have lived for thousands to millions of years in Hollow Earth, and the war between Kongs and Zillas took place in Hollow Earth, then how would a bunch of humans have known about it? Where did these legends come from? These prehistoric monsters didn’t show up to human settlements and start telling them stories. People would have had to witness these battles to write legends about them. Which was the case with Ghidorah in Godzilla: King of the Monsters. They state that Ghidorah was an alien titan that fell to Earth and threw off the balance of power, and that it happened during recorded history, as shown by its appearance in ancient legends. But the war between the Kongs and Zillas even predates that in this timeline. Because logically it would have to for the appearance of Ghidorah to throw off the balance of power, where Godzilla was already on top. So it makes absolutely no sense that there would be any legends recorded by humans about Kongs and Zillas having a war. And remember that they imply this was a war. Not a battle between a single Kong and Godzilla. A conflict between two warring species for dominance of the ecosystem.  

Another glaring issue I had with the writing was the all-too-common offense of infantilizing apes. Kong is a giant ape that is part of an ancient species of giant apes. He has been alive since before the Vietnam War and is certainly older than any other character in the movie save for Godzilla and possibly some of the monsters that appear during the Hollow Earth sequence. Yet all the humans treat Kong like a little kid. The entire premise of Kong’s part in the story is that humans have decided he can’t defend himself against Godzilla, so they’ve decided to lock him up. But why? The movie starts off by implying that both Godzilla and Kong have toppled several other titans each. They literally show a monster battle bracket that ends with Godzilla facing off against Kong. Ignoring the fact that Godzilla: King of the Monsters ends with the other titans literally bowing down to Godzilla and thus wouldn’t have challenged him to a fight, if Kong has won all these other fights, when did they take place? Kong has been trapped in a Monarch facility for at least three years, but maybe 10 or more. Were the scientists bringing titans to the island and organizing their own dog fighting matches? And if Kong had defeated all these other titans previously, why is this scientist so sure that Godzilla will kick his ass? Ignoring the fact that Godzilla does ultimately kick Kong’s ass in this movie. This woman goes out of her way to treat a giant, decades if not centuries old, ape like a defenseless child. Even other scientists call her out for it in the movie.

I want to make clear, I actually did enjoy watching this movie. It had a number of glaring plot holes, but it was really fun. They totally wasted Ghidorah’s head on that super computer story, but at least it made sense. And I liked the Transformers: Age of Extinction style plot where Ghidorah is reincarnated via Mecha-Godzilla. The movie was fun to watch and brought out the big guns in more ways than one. But this is an interconnected cinematic universe in a post Avengers: Endgame world. Gone are the days of being able to get away with soft balling it in. These studios need to take continuity seriously the way Marvel does. Every franchise that plans to run for more than three films needs a Kevin Feige. A single person that lives or dies by the success of the franchise whose only job is to make sure all the films make sense together. I really like the MonsterVerse. It has good ideas. But this movie was both wasteful and sloppy. Not DC Cinematic Universe sloppy, but sloppy all the same. I had fun, but I expect better. I want to see more movies in this universe, but that can’t happen if they don’t build an actual plan that makes sense. So I’m gonna give Godzilla vs. Kong an 8/10 as a monster movie, but a 6/10 as a movie in general.

Galvatron from Transformers: Age of Extinction

Finally, I’d like to end on a super nerdy note and debate the Godzilla vs. Kong rivalry. The movie pulls a classic Batman vs. Superman and has the two characters team up in the end to fight and even greater threat, Mecha-Godzilla, but let’s actually discuss who the true apex predator is between the two. As I already stated, I’m a Godzilla stan, but I want to have a serious discussion in this instance as devoid of bias as possible. As with my review, we will only consider the current MonsterVerse iteration of these monsters within this debate. In my opinion, Godzilla vs. Kong argues that Godzilla is the superior monster of the two. They fight two full bouts and a rushed, much shorter third bout. Godzilla wins the first in a landslide victory, but uses the unfair advantage of a water based arena. Kong wins the second round, but it’s a much less definitive victory, and he had the advantage of both an axe and climbable buildings. The third and final round takes place in the same arena as the second, but with damage from the second round having affected the landscape of the arena. Kong still has the axe, but doesn’t really make use of it like he did in round two. Both titans go into round three severely winded from round two. In fact, I was shocked at how quickly they jumped into round three after round two. Godzilla crushes Kong in round three. It’s such a definitive beatdown that Godzilla steps on Kong’s chest, calls him a punk-ass bitch, and doesn’t even take the time to kill him. He just walks away so Kong can suffer his loss. But the beating was so hard that Kong’s heart almost stops and the only reason he survives is that humans hit him with a defibrillator. Meaning that for all intents and purposes, Godzilla killed Kong.

Based on what we’ve seen in the movies, Godzilla has several natural advantages over Kong. He’s got armored scales, making him more resilient to most attacks. He has spikes on his back, making him extremely difficult to grab from behind or attack safely from above. He has a long, heavy tail that he comfortably uses as a flail type weapon. He can breathe both under water and on land. He has nuclear fire breath. Godzilla also has claws and many barbed scales, making much of his body capable of tearing through flesh. I’d argue Kong’s lack of natural armor, other than a bit of fur, is his greatest disadvantage against Godzilla. Finally, it’s implied but not necessarily confirmed that he has way more battle experience than Kong. Again, plot errors abound in this latest movie so it’s hard to say exactly how many monsters Kong has actually faced and defeated in battle.

Kong has advantages of his own though. He can climb, has much longer reach, and his hands are actually useful for more than just scratching. He can wield an axe for instance. But his hands can also do things like snap necks and close Godzilla’s mouth so he can’t use his fire breath. He’s also way more agile than Godzilla. Kong is more intelligent and self-aware. I really appreciated the Hong Kong fight scene where he dodges around buildings and uses them for cover. Yet I wouldn’t say Godzilla was mindless by any means. Kong’s intelligence makes him better at using his surroundings for weapons and cover, but Godzilla can definitely implore strategy as well. Trying to pull Kong into the water in the first fight and then pushing him into the water in the second fight were clear indications that Godzilla understood and employed strategies to gain an advantage in battle. Kong can learn though, which is why he quickly got back out of the water during the second fight, after getting pushed into the bay.

One of Kong’s key weaknesses is his heart. Ironically I don’t mean that literally in this instance, even though his heart almost stopped in the movie. Kong has a conscience and cares about humans. On multiple occasions he goes out of his way to protect people during fights. In Kong: Skull Island we see him do the same thing with Brie Larson’s character. He often gets distracted in battle by humans, usually female ones, and goes out of his way to protect them at the cost of his own safety. In my reading of the character, I think this also prevents him from going full throttle. Kong is afraid of unleashing the beast. He cares about humans and his connection to them and thus he cares about hurting them and scaring them. So he never fights to his full abilities. This was extremely apparent in round two. He has this axe and yet he never lands a serious blow with it. You could argue he tries and fails because Godzilla is just too strong and defensive, but I didn’t see it that way. Kong wasn’t giving it all he’s got. This was made clear in the final fight against Mecha-Godzilla. He picks up that axe and starts chopping like a king. Where were those moves in the fight against Godzilla?

Godzilla never holds anything back. He respects his adversaries by always giving 100% of his fighting ability. When a monster survives a fight with Godzilla, that monster knows it wasn’t because Godzilla pulled punches (bites). Godzilla is the superior of the two titans. This was made clear in the movie and expressed in previous films as well. That’s why he’s known as “King of the Monsters”.

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Square Enix Presents (Spring 2021) Review

Last week Square Enix finally unveiled their version of Nintendo Direct. If you’ve been reading my blog for a long time then you know I believe E3, and events like it, are on the way out and that digital presentations are eventually going to replace them altogether. COVID has definitely helped speed up this process and we’re now seeing many brands do their own digital presentations. Just as I’ve done with other brands, I wanted to take the time to review Square Enix’s debut into the Nintendo Direct style presentation game.

The first thing I want to say about this presentation is that I appreciated the format. I’ve said many times that I prefer PlayStation’s tight State of Play format to that of Nintendo’s Direct format, because I have no interest in hosts. I like a presentation that’s straight to the games and wastes as little time as possible. Admittedly Nintendo’s presentations vary on this point from Direct to Direct. Square Enix presents goes straight into the games. It literally opened with a trailer and no setup. No riff raff introduction. No millennial trying to relate to me. Just games. There were some speakers as part of specific game presentations, but that’s not a format thing. That’s the individual studios presenting their games the way they see fit. I’m fine with that. The point is Square Enix Presents was straight to the point and stayed focused on games.

Even the transitions in the presentation were simple and quick. Maybe even a bit too quick at certain points. When they got to mobile games, they just quickly flashed a screen that said “Mobile”. No speaker trying to build suspense for the next section, no elaborate showing of irrelevant 3D art (looking at you PS5 Reveal). I will say that there was a fair amount on non-game promotional content. Especially during the Lara Croft’s 25th anniversary section. But even that was all directly related to promoting a specific game franchise. So while I didn’t love it, I understood it. Finally, I appreciated that they ended the presentation by telling us when the next presentation would be. Something the other brands don’t often do.

Square Enix has opted to tie their presentation schedule to seasons. This was the spring presentation and they ended by saying the next Square Enix Presents would be in the summer. I love that. It’s clear, logical, and measurable. And it’s much better than trying to squeeze everything out at one time for a single annual presentation that forces brands to prematurely announce a bunch of stuff just because they paid an exorbitant amount of money to be there so they feel obligated to fill the time. I also prefer updates peppered throughout the year rather than a mountain of them all at once. It also leads to more immediately important and relevant information being shared in each presentation. Like Outriders being the opening of the presentation. The game releases in less than a month from the time of the presentation. Nintendo often does similar things with Nintendo Direct announcements. But that’s much harder to do with events like E3 and can only happen during special physical events which are few and far between.

Finally, this was a fairly tight presentation. They showed 13 games in 40 minutes. 15 if you count Lara Croft Trilogy as three. That’s not the most I’ve seen in a single presentation of this length, but they managed to do that while giving a fair amount of details about multiple AAA titles. I definitely felt like the presentation was paced well and had a lot of information about several games. By the end of it I didn’t feel like it was too long. I will say that two of the games felt like they got more time than they needed or really even deserved though. But all in all I was very happy with the format of this presentation. Now let’s actually talk about the games.

Outriders

I loved the Outriders demo. In fact, I’ve published two different blog posts about it in the last month. I am absolutely going to buy it at some point. I’m still seriously considering making it a day one purchase. Though I know I shouldn’t. This presentation was long and effective, for a game that hadn’t already released a fairly robust demo weeks ago. A lot of information was shared. The problem is that pretty much anyone who was already interested in the game, which should be most people planning on buying it since it drops in less than a month, knew most of the information given going into the presentation.

Whether you played the demo yourself, or watched videos/streams of it, this presentation told you basically nothing you didn’t already know that should actually have an effect on your purchasing decision. The only two crucial pieces of information given that you couldn’t have figured out by playing the demo were the post campaign expeditions and the convoy. The post campaign content was new information but nothing that shouldn’t have been expected for a game like this. An open world RPG co-op shooter with no post game missions? Not in this decade. The Outriders convoy is just a glorified cosmetic built around achievements and almost certainly currently unannounced microtransactions.

It’s not that Outriders doesn’t look great. Quite the contrary. But this long presentation that told people who already played the demo next to nothing was basically pointless. At this point they should have just plugged the demo and added a reward for logging in during the last 2 weeks before release.

Lara Croft Trilogy

I can’t in good conscience condone presentation time being spent on a trilogy of games I’ve already played in the last 10 years. These are excellent games worth playing, but they look great in their current forms and have been on sale or free multiple times since release. I played the first one in 2014 because I got it for free on PS+. I’m not a big fan of recent games being rereleased. I will say that they announced a bunch of stuff that wasn’t part of the actual games. Multiple crossovers and special 25th anniversary memorabilia. They even announced a Tomb Raider cook book. It was a lot of time used unnecessarily in my opinion.

Mobile Games

I liked that they put all the mobile games together in one section and just tossed them out quickly without too much time being given to them while still making sure to clearly present what each game was and who it might appeal to. I was especially impressed by the Just Cause Mobile trailer, even though I would never personally play such a game. Hitman Mobile was also very clear in their presentation, but much more efficient about time. For me, the star of the mobile section was Space Invaders AR. The presentation was too long and Nintendo style in its nostalgia trip, but the message was crystal clear and effective: Space Invaders as an AR game! Sign me up.

My one major complaint about the mobile section of the presentation is that it wasn’t clearly marked when it had ended.  They just went straight into a collection of other Taito games after focusing on Taito making Space Invaders AR. Because of this, I was misled into thinking Touhou Spell Bubble, Darius Cozmic Revelation, and Bubble Bobble 4 were all mobile games. To be fair, the presentation did have a transition to usher in the Darius Cozmic Revelation section. But it didn’t say anything. I just thought it was being pushed as a special featured mobile title that they wanted to focus on. Now it’s also true that the Darius Cozmic Revelation presentation did end with a note saying “available on Nintendo Switch and PS4”. But it was in hard to read thin white letters and disappeared quickly. I didn’t notice it until my second viewing of the footage. But that still doesn’t account for Touhou Spell Bubble, which had nothing anywhere showing what platform it was for. And it absolutely looks like it could be a mobile game.

Touhou Spell Bubble

I had never heard of this game before and this presentation was to plug additional content for the game. The presentation was fine if you already knew what the game was, but this hasn’t exactly gotten the marketing push of Outriders. I didn’t even realize it wasn’t a mobile game until several days after the presentation. In context the presentation was fine, but in practical terms, this game was not presented properly. With what I assume is a fairly limited audience to begin with, I don’t even know what the point of including it in this presentation was.

Darius Cozmic Revelation

The presentation of this game was a bit weird and misleading. I had never heard of it before but apparently it was released in February. At least in Japan anyway. Then literally three days later I walk into a game store, here in Taiwan, and they have it on the shelf. I was astounded. But also that’s cool and only possible when you do digital presentations like this throughout the year rather than trying to squeeze everything into one big presentation at a specific point in the year. What I learned days later is that this presentation was also to promote an update rather than the base game. They really need to get their presentation of details in order.

I couldn’t find the official footage from the presentation as a separate video so here is a trailer for the game.

In any case, I was impressed with what they showed. This genre is always bitter sweet for me, so I probably won’t pick it up unless it goes on sale. But once I understood exactly what the game was I did seriously look further into it.

Bubble Bobble 4

Apparently this game was released in 2020 and it was included in this presentation to promote an update. I guess that’s fine to include. Bubble Bobble is one of those games that you don’t really sell at this point. You just let people know a new one is coming and then people who played it back in the day decide if they’d like to play another one. All that being said, the presentation did not make it clear to me that this was promoting an update. I thought it was announcing the game’s release.

I couldn’t find the official footage from the presentation as a separate video so here is a different trailer for the update.

Marvel’s Avengers

If nothing else, I have to commend Square Enix for sticking it out with this game. I jumped ship after that disappointing beta, which I went into looking for an excuse to preorder it. I still have not been convinced to purchase the game, even though it has been on sale multiple times. But the team has continuously added and updated the content of the game, as they originally promised they would. The major problem with this presentation was that they focused on Hawkeye.

I’m sorry, but Hawkeye has never and will never be a selling point for me. I’m glad he’s included in the game as a playable character but there’s no draw for me to go buy the game now that he’s been added. His gameplay looks slow and overly technical, which is probably why they gave him a sword. I just can’t get excited about Hawkeye or his sidekick. And they showed quite a bit of gameplay focused on him.

What was a draw from this presentation was showing lots of additional story content. It looked like a completely different game from what I saw in the beta, plot wise. Plus there was a Black Panther tease. That being said, I feel like Square Enix needs to rethink their audience when presenting this game. The player base needs major growth. It has underperformed since pretty much day one. This presentation gave away a number of massive plot spoilers for those who played the beta but not the game. Now I get that, because the current player base wants new content and showing it in presentations like this are a major selling point. But most people haven’t played the game. So giving away things like Captain America survived, time travel, and Hulk getting an alternate personality and becoming a villain aren’t things non-players, the bulk of the audience for this presentation, want to be shown at this point. It’s definitely a tough issue though.

Balan Wonderworld

Like with Outriders, this game’s demo has been out for a while. The presentation might have caught my interest if that wasn’t the case, but since I did play the demo I know this game is fairly disappointing. They should have showed this before releasing the demo. Showing the co-op gameplay and additional powers/costumes was good for trying to sell this game, but no amount of promotion is going to make me forget how unhappy I was with the demo.

Life is Strange True Colors

This portion of the presentation was way too long for a general audience presentation about current announcements from Square Enix. This was more than 10 minutes about one game that’s not targeted at Square Enix’s core player base. Especially when we consider that it’s the third game in an established franchise. This should have been its own presentation. The information needed as part of this larger presentation could have been presented in three to four minutes tops. They were very effective in quickly establishing the setting, general conflict/mystery of the plot, main protagonist, and power for this installment of the Life is Strange franchise. But then they just kept going. Giving background information people who aren’t already invested in the franchise just didn’t need. We didn’t need to know it was fully motion captured. We didn’t need to see multiple real people talk about their part in the game in detail, including a singer talking about the music. That is content for a Life is Strange focused standalone presentation.

Just for reference, Outriders was given less than nine minutes of screen time and Marvel’s Avengers less than six. Now we can adjust slightly and account for the fact that they also announced Life is Strange Remastered as part of that time, but they still spent way too much time on this franchise during this presentation. Especially when you consider that the people who will play a third Life is Strange game don’t need to be sold. People who played and enjoyed the first two installments will definitely play a third. For the most part everyone else will ignore it. Not because the franchise is bad. But because people don’t tend to jump into the third installment of a franchise that’s only six years old. Not to mention the fact that they aren’t particularly long games. If people wanted to play them, they would have by now. This just isn’t a walk-in late franchise. The inevitable trilogy pack will be a better seller than this standalone third game in the long run. They have an established player base that can and should be addressed directly with content of this level of depth.

Forspoken (Protect Athia)

This was a strong way to end this presentation. Brand new title that had been previously teased with just a small slither of epic looking movement gameplay and a look at some monsters. They definitely captivated the audience and made us want more. I didn’t particularly need the actress to present the game but even with that it wasn’t an overly long presentation. I absolutely can’t wait to see more of this game.

Probably my only major complaint about the presentation, other than the nightmarishly ridiculous number of YouTube ads, is that a lot of it was unnecessary and unclear. While I felt like the presentation was structured well overall, a lot of the content was kind of pointless and unneeded. Or at the very least didn’t accomplish anything. Outriders and Balan Wonderworld presentations post demo were unnecessarily long. Those games have already found their audience, if such a thing will exist. Life is Strange True Colors was way too long for this specific presentation and in no way increased the sales numbers in doing so. Really the Marvel’s Avengers presentation, though full of plot spoilers and focused on a weaker draw character, was really the best portion of the presentation as far as presenting AAA titles is concerned. Ignoring Forspoken, which was just a tease at this point. The Marvel’s Avengers portion wasn’t too long for what it needed to show, was informative, and included major announcements that genuinely may have affected people’s decision to purchase the game. Including those who had already decided to pass on the game previously.

I was surprised that we didn’t see anything about Project Triangle Strategy in this presentation, considering the demo has been out for a while. But in a way, that’s a good thing. You don’t need to present games that you’ve already released a demo for, unless you’re presenting new information that has some actual value in helping people make a purchasing decision.

Overall I liked this as a first try from Square Enix, but they absolutely need to iron out some bugs. Clearer transitions and readable notices, more concise presentations unless providing market shifting content/information, and some clearer release dates would be nice as well. Especially with games that have already been released in certain regions like Darius Cozmic Revelation. I’m not unhappy though. The total length was good and for the most part paced well enough. I look forward to the summer presentation.

As always, thanks for reading. Please take the time to follow my blog, leave a comment, and check out some of my other channels if you enjoyed what you read.

The Game We Almost Got (Outriders Demo)

This is not my formal review of the Outriders Demo. I published that last week. You can find it here.

For the record, I really liked the Outriders demo. Like way more than I expected to. There’s nothing particularly special about the game. It’s a basic coop third person shooter with simple RPG mechanics, a fairly common visual aesthetic, and some cool but not necessarily original powers. In fact, the only two powers I’ve seen so far that felt somewhat original for a game were those of the Trickster. Specifically the slow area and light blade powers. And even those were mostly visual in originality rather than in actual behavior. As I said in my review, I describe the game as Fuse (2013) with a Destiny coat of paint and a splash of The Division for flavor.

What I liked most about playing Outriders was that it’s not a hardcore shooter. It’s a shooter for people like me. Any gamer with a fair amount of general gaming experience can excel at Outriders without too much trouble. I was able to solo every available mission and side quest with no deaths, except for one unbalanced boss fight. With that particular boss fight I just abandoned the fight and came back later once I had better gear. By that point it was no problem to beat. I never had to lower the difficulty (world tier) for any of the challenges the game presented. It’s a shooter for gamers rather than a shooter for people who like shooters. I hate shooters and I had a blast playing this demo.

I especially appreciated that the game is very playable solo. It’s being marketed as a 3 player coop experience, and that option is there. But you can absolutely play this game solo. Even the boss fights, for the most part, are manageable without teammates. I will definitely pick it up at some point, but probably not day one, since I’ll most likely be playing it solo. If I had a squad to play with, I’d definitely go in for day one. It’s a fun game and I highly recommend the demo. But as I said, this post is not meant to be a review of the Outriders demo. It’s a discussion about something else.

Outriders has one of the most surprising and jarring introductions I’ve ever seen in a game. It starts off as if you’re about to play a game about exploring and conquering the untouched wilderness of a previously undiscovered planet. You’re released into a beautiful landscape that in many ways reminded me of Xenoblade Chronicles X or the Calm Lands in Final Fantasy X. A large open world with new fauna and flora to discover, catalog, and at times subdue. It was amazing and exciting. It was certainly not the game I was expected from the marketing I had seen, but since it was Square Enix I had no problem accepting it. In fact, I was really looking forward to it. And that intro is long. They do a lot of work establishing this game you think you’re about to play. They really sell you on the experience, and I was ready to buy. Then suddenly everything changes.

Once you’ve started to get comfortable, the game radically shifts from being about exploring the untamed wilderness of a new planet to a dirty warzone where people continue to repeat the same mistakes that led them there to begin with. It’s surprising but also well written. You basically jump from Xenoblade Chronicles X to The Division in a matter of minutes after like 30 minutes of misleading introduction. As I said at the beginning, I like Outriders. The game they appear to have made is fun and I’m looking forward to it. But I want to talk about the game we almost got that we probably never will.

We almost got an open world Mass Effect: Andromeda with arguably better gunplay, less convoluted writing, and Square Enix monster wildlife designs. I’m drooling just thinking about it. I would have loved playing that game. It wouldn’t be this depressing last chance for humanity story. It wouldn’t be another pessimistic look at the future of humanity. It would be inspiring, majestic, and beautiful. It could have been like No Man’s Sky with better gameplay, a coherent RPG narrative, and one giant open world with diverse terrain and wildlife all working together as a singular ecosystem.

I was excited to explore, drop flags, and discover the secrets of a presumably untouched world. That game I probably would buy day one. Square Enix accidentally sold me a game they didn’t even make and now I’m depressed that I won’t get to play it. I’m not knocking Outriders. As I said at the beginning, I really liked the demo and plan on eventually buying the game. But there’s another game there that would have been amazing.

This is actually where I think the demo failed. It showed off these concepts about exploration and discovery during the introduction that didn’t translate into the post introduction gameplay. I can’t say if it’s because they didn’t want to give too much away in the demo or because the game is actually not meant to be anything like the introduction, but the post-intro demo didn’t really feature any actual exploration. The post demo trailer implied it’s there, but the gameplay didn’t show it. Mostly you’re just following paths in a faux open world that is extremely limited. Of course the game will open up into more areas, but if the layout is always the way the demo was post introduction, then it’s certainly not an open world even if there is some exploration.

It’s disappointing knowing what we almost got. I would rather have had the game throw me straight into the shit than give me so much hope and then rip it away. That’s the problem with writing versus gameplay. Writing wise the game’s introduction is powerful, jarring, and effective. It draws you in, gives you hope, and then rips it away. That’s the way a game should treat the player. It will make the ending so much more cathartic. But now I want a Xenoblade Chronicles X styled world as a third person coop shooter. Who do I have to bother on Twitter to get that game made?

If you’re interested in learning more about Outriders without playing the demo yourself, I streamed most of it. You can find the videos here.

As always, thanks for reading. Please take the time to follow my blog, leave a comment, and check out some of my other channels if you enjoyed what you read.

Outriders Demo Review

I had not originally intended to write a review of the Outriders demo. The only reason I did is that the feedback survey asked for a full review, “as if you were writing for IGN”, so I wrote one. Since I don’t write for IGN it felt like a waste not to publish it here, since it had already been written anyway. I actually wrote a completely different post about the Outriders demo, which is not a review, so I’ve pushed that back to next week.

Outriders is a treat to play. Not because it’s particularly original but because it learned from the past and implemented the things that worked well in the games that inspired it. If I had to describe Outriders, based on the demo, I would say it’s Fuse (2013) with a Destiny coat of paint, and a splash of The Division for flavor. It’s a game that knows its audience and delivers what they want. Not what publishers want that audience to want.

Right off the bat, I’ll commend the game for its core gameplay. It’s a simple third person cover-to-cover shooter that doesn’t try to reinvent the wheel. The shooting is good. The movement, though a little sloppy about jumping over obstacles, is good. You’ve played this game before, and that’s a compliment. You know these guns. You know this gear system. You know how this loot works. It’s a game an experienced gamer can drop into very easily but it’s also not too hard to learn for new players to the genre.

The class system is simple, clear, and effective. There’s long range, mid-range, and short-range classes. For whatever reason, two of the four available classes are close range. Each class does what it needs to do and is rewarded for doing it well. Long range class players get health back for killing at long range. Short range class players get health back for killing close up. It’s a simple and effective way to coordinate co-op strategies. But the game is also extremely well balanced for single player and your chosen class doesn’t have to limit the way you play the game. I play the Devastator class. That’s the more defensive of the two close range classes. After trying out both close range classes, I determined it to be the best class for my preferred style of single player approach. Kudos to the demo for letting you skip the introduction in a second playthrough so you could get directly into the class based gameplay when trying out a second character/class. I do hope the game eventually lets you change classes mid game though.

As a close range class, the Devastator is most rewarding when you kill up close. That’s not a metaphor. The game literally rewards you with additional health when you kill enemies at close range with this class. The distance mechanic is quite interesting because it’s set in stone. There is a specific number of feet/meters that you can be away from enemies before you no longer get the class benefit from killing them. It’s often irritating to be on the line and step back while shooting to put yourself just out of range. But the game is very clear in indicating the enemies within range, so the system is definitely transparent and by extension fair. But the fact is that during solo play it doesn’t always make sense to play up close to your enemies. That can be detrimental to close range class players. However, the game accounts for this with gear bonuses.

While my chosen class is close range, and I prefer large clip, fast RPM guns like light machine guns and auto rifles, I also enjoy a good sniper rifle. I’d never play the long range class, because I absolutely don’t like the powers it has, but I love sniping enemies from down town. The game allows players like me to thrive by including leech life weapons. My favorite sniper rifle is a small clip, high damage, maximum range gun with a leech life bonus. This means that even though I’m a close range class, every time I get a kill with that sniper rifle I still get health back. So I can play both close range and at a distance and continue to get healing bonuses regardless of what class my character is. This is great for single player and allows me to adjust to the situation at hand in any situation.

I have to assume my constantly shifting between long and close range as a short range class player was intended by the developers, because of the powers both short range classes have. Both the Devastator and Trickster classes have a power that quickly warps you forward into a targeted enemy, or group of enemies, depending on how you use the powers. These powers let players quickly and effectively shift from long range to close range battle without taking damage during the transition period. This allows for some excellent strategy implementation both in single player and co-op scenarios.  And by combining powers together, you can quickly deal large amounts of damage to entire groups of enemies. These same techniques work well on bosses too.

I really like the drop in/drop out co-operative system they’ve created here. You can join other players’ games at any time and vice versa. But progress is always shared. That means that if you join a game and do a mission you haven’t completed yet, the game will credit your game with having completed that mission as well. That’s the way co-operative games should always be. The voting system, though a little unclear at first, works very well. It lets you vote to move forward into new areas, vote to start new missions, and vote to skip cutscenes. Sadly Outriders appears to have the same matchmaking problems that so many other games have in that it’s not robust enough. It’s really easy to set your privacy settings and begin the matchmaking process. And thankfully you don’t have to sit in the matchmaking lobby while waiting. You can just start it up and then continue playing solo until you’re invited to join a game, which you can then do with the push of a button. It’s very similar to The Division. The problem I faced was an inability to control the type of matchmaking I wanted.

Where are the options?

Sometimes I wanted to join other games and other times I wanted people to join my game. I had no control over this. Not once did I ever get anyone to join my game. I had my privacy set to open at all times but that was basically all you can do to host, unless it’s a private game with friends. When you use the matchmaking system it seemed to only be to join other games. Why is this system always so limited in games? Let me use a set of matchmaking options to define the co-op scenario I want. If I want to host, let me set that in matchmaking. If I’m looking to join players to do specific types of activities like side quests, let me set that in matchmaking. Also, let me set the world tier for the players I’m looking to play with. The game also does the make the game harder when you play in co-op thing, which I hate in every game, but it’s fine I guess. Certainly didn’t make the game too hard to play. 

Outriders also has a lot of little quality of life features that I really appreciate coming from many other games in this genre. For instance, the respawn system is by encounter/room. Missions are mostly pretty short and divided into a sequence of encounters. When you die, you always respawn at your current encounter. Even if it’s the boss fight. But what’s really nice is that the game actually respawns you in the room before the encounter so you can walk into it rather than just dropping you right back into combat unprepared. Even better is the fact that you can leave without losing your progress. If you get stuck on a boss fight, and feel like it’s a gear/level issue rather than a performance issue, you don’t have to give up all your progress and leave the mission to restart it later. You can just backtrack to the mission door, walk out, and then return at any time and walk right back up to whatever fight you were in. This might sound a bit cheesy to hardcore players, but it’s actually super convenient. Especially in solo play. One of the side missions in the demo had a boss that I just didn’t have the right gear to beat. It wouldn’t have mattered how many times I fought him. I was never going to beat him with my current gear. This was because he had the power to heal and the only way to defeat him was to completely destroy him without stopping to reorient yourself. That meant I needed a gun with a larger clip and better defense in order to whether his attacks while shooting non-stop. So I left the mission, thinking I’d have to replay the whole thing. After I found a machine gun with a 100 shot clip and some better gear, I was able to walk right back up to the boss fight and I quickly defeated him with my more appropriate gear.

Another great feature is the vendors. A lot of games have vendors with rotating items that work on a timer. Outriders is no different. But what Outriders gets right is much faster rotation times for items. A lot of games make you wait hours or even days for vendors to rotate stock. The vendors in Outriders rotate stock in minutes. Sometimes it’s too fast. I think the longest I’ve seen a vendor hold items for is 30 minutes. That’s about what it should be. The problem is that often they have a really good item disappearing in minutes while you don’t have enough money to buy it. It would be nice if you could have the store hold one item for you while you’re going to get the money. But in general the quicker store rotation times make for a better gear experience. Chances are if you miss something you want, something just as good or better will appear in the store later. The quality of gear also improves as you raise your world tier, so that plays a factor in returning to vendors for better gear later as well.

I really like the fast travel system. Having random points you find on the map and unlock as fast travel points is superior to the safe house and mission location fast travel points you see in The Division. This really comes down to map design though. The missions are constructed around the fast travel points so one fast travel point is conveniently located near the start of multiple missions. I prefer that map design. That being said, I wasn’t particularly impressed with the map shown in the demo. It was a far cry from the open world planet exploration experience the game’s trailers keep implying. I assume the map opens up into a much larger world at some point. At the same time, the combat works best in a closed lane scenario, which is exactly how the map in the demo is constructed.

This is a Square Enix published RPG, so we definitely need to talk about the writing. It’s interesting enough for this genre of gameplay. There is a larger story at work and mysteries to solve. There are clear antagonists and allies, though it’s unclear who the good guys actually are. The story is compelling enough for me to want to learn more. And the few characters I have met are entertaining enough for me to want to continue engaging with. I would like to mention that the demo killed off my favorite character, so far, during the introduction. That really sucked. Especially since the demo didn’t let me have his cowboy hat, or some gear equivalent to it.

I played this demo on PS4, so my experience of the graphics was adequate but I don’t assume it’s the best version of the game to play. I was fine with the way it looked, but the loading times were pretty long. I didn’t experience any noticeable lag in game though. I definitely would assume the PS5 and PC versions of the game are superior in every way visually and performance wise.

My only real issue with the demo was audio. Specifically dialog. The gunplay sounds fine. I had no problems with the sound effects either in game or during cutscenes. But I had countless instances of dialog dropping off and lagging behind subtitles. Characters would be talking and suddenly the dialog would just trail off. Subtitles were often shown way ahead of the dialog being spoken. It’s a demo so I assume these issues will get cleaned up in the final version, and it certainly wasn’t a deal breaker.

Overall, I really liked playing this demo. Much more than I imagined I would. I went into the game expecting to be disappointed or at best apathetic about it. But by the end I was sold on the game. If I had a dedicated crew to play with, this would be a day one purchase for me. I don’t usually score demos, especially in pre-release builds, but for a demo I’d probably give it an 8/10. I look forward to trying the launch build of Outriders.

As always, thanks for reading. Please take the time to follow my blog, leave a comment, and check out some of my other channels if you enjoyed what you read.

Roller Champions Closed Beta Review

I’m a big beta guy. I participate in every pre-launch build of every game I can. Even the games I’m genuinely not interested in and would absolutely never buy in normal circumstances. I also make sure to always take the time to give honest and detailed feedback. I take every survey, answer every poll, and often take the time to participate in a beta’s forum or Discord server. It’s important. In my experience, many of these studios do listen to feedback. I have seen countless games changed because of user feedback. And more importantly I’ve seen many games ruined because of the wrong user feedback. That’s why I take feedback so seriously. If a company changes their game for the worse because of user feedback, I don’t blame the company. I commend a company for changing their game to suit the demands of their player base, for better or for worse. I blame the users who gave bad feedback. That’s how I feel about this latest beta build of Roller Champions.

Sports games are hard. I can’t think of a genre that’s harder to get “right” than a competitive PVP sports game. Especially one that’s not based on a real sport. Every player has their own ideas about how a game should play/feel. But experienced gamers can draw upon their past gaming experiences to determine how a game should most likely feel for a modern/contemporary audience. It’s easy to design a football game in 2021. Because we have multiple decades of football games to draw from. A studio might want to make slight deviations from Madden for originality and perceived improvement, but in general, it’s gonna mostly feel like Madden. Why? Because 99% of your player base will have been raised on Madden and consider it the established standard in football games. Because it is, for better or for worse. It’s worse by the way. NFL Blitz for life! Now try to apply this same logic to something like Rocket League. It’s impossible.

Rocket League may not be the first game where you can use a car to hit balls into a goal, but it’s certainly the only mainstream example that has that as the major selling point from the last 10 years. Now imagine trying to make Rocket League without the existence of Rocket League already present. It would be really hard to get perfect. The concept might click but things like balance, weight, speed, HUD, and so on would all need to be created from nothing and feel good to a large variety of players that possibly have no common gaming experience, because there’s no established community that can easily be pushed into playing a game of soccer with cars. If you make an open world fantasy RPG, you can technically do whatever you want. Nevertheless, everyone who tries your game is going to compare it to something they’ve already played. So logically you’ll work towards another game in terms of feel so players don’t feel like your game is working against their desires for how it “should” feel. But there’s nothing like that for Roller Champions. The only thing that feels like Roller Champions at this point is Roller Champions. The problem with that is that the game isn’t out yet so we have no consensus on how exactly Roller Champions is supposed to feel. 

In this mode of thinking, I want to say a few things right off the bat before I get into the nuances of this review. The first is that I absolutely hate this build of Roller Champions. I loved the previous builds and played them for hours. I genuinely was interested in trying to play this game at competitive level. With this current build, I’m playing about three matches a day and even that feels kind of burdensome. For context, three matches is less than 30 minutes of play. You can literally finish a match, including matchmaking and loading times in under five minutes when the servers are active, assuming someone opens the game with a three-lap goal. I can’t even comfortably enjoy this game for 30 minutes any more. That’s because of monumental changes in how the game feels for me.

The second thing I’d like to say is that I absolutely do not blame Ubisoft for my disgust with this latest build. This happened because of community feedback. More specifically the closed development feedback team, which I was invited to participate in personally, but couldn’t because I live in Taiwan rather than Europe. I know exactly who is to blame for these changes that I find terrible and can even name some of them. Though I won’t here, because that would be both inappropriate and petty. This is the fault of those who were given the privilege of providing feedback rather than that of the developers who made the game.

Finally, I want to clarify that there is no right or wrong way to make Roller Champions. The way I want the game to play and feel is no more or less correct than anyone else’s opinion, because again this is a game that has never existed before. So there’s no previous test cases to cite as the right or wrong way to make this game. It’s the first of its kind. Sure, there are other PVP sports games with wacky concepts, but none of them are the same exact concept as Roller Champions. So none of them are perfect games to draw on for how this specific game should play. My only argument for why I think my opinions on how the game should feel and why the new build is worse are in any way valid come from the fact that I played all previous builds of the game for several hours and want the game to continue to feel that way. Moreover, I am not alone in that opinion. However, after spending many hours in the Discord I can say that many players like the new build and are happy with those changes. Not just the elitist assholes who got to be part of development first hand but also members of the rest of us who only got to play the “public” builds. So again, there’s nothing definitively wrong with the latest build of Roller Champions. It’s just not a version of the game that I’m personally interested in devoting much time to.

I don’t want to write a full review of this beta. It’s several public builds in, I’ve already streamed several hours of previous builds, and the game will change more before launch. So rather than do my traditional review I just want to address my thoughts on specific changes, both good and bad, that I’ve observed since the previous build. I’ll also include some general notes that I think need to be addressed. I think that’s more useful to readers who have been following the game long term, other people playing the beta, and the developers themselves. If you are curious about previous builds of the game, you should definitely go check out my streams of them on my YouTube channel. Here is a list of Roller Champions videos available on my channel from past builds. At the time or writing this, I’ve not streamed any sessions of the current build due to lack of interest.

1.       Changing the Shooting Button

In the previous builds, the shooting button was the left or right bumper. I can’t recall which one specifically. Now technically speaking you should always be able to remap any and all buttons in 2021, and that was most likely always the plan, but you couldn’t in previous builds. So it was never a guarantee until this latest build. In any case, they remapped the default shooting button to be the left trigger and that was 100% the best simple design change I’ve ever seen. It drastically improved the gameplay experience. I hated having to shoot with the bumper. Now sure the bumpers on my controller always feel a bit spotty anyway so maybe I have a bias against those buttons, but I still think the change to a trigger was a phenomenal decision. That being said, nothing in the game told me that until I looked up the buttons in the menu myself, so I played the first few games thinking it was still the bumper and that the game, or my controller, wasn’t working.

2.       Changing the Shot Targeting Design

I absolutely hate this design change. In the previous builds, you had an arc line appear when you aimed your shot. Now you have a reticle that functions similarly to a crosshair in a gun shooting game. The reason that design works in a shooter is that your bullets fly straight. Or at least close enough to straight for the reticle to accurately depict where your bullets will hit. In Roller Champions, you are not firing bullets. You’re throwing a large ball while roller skating on ramps at high speed while trying to dodge other players so you don’t get tackled. And the ball flies with a fairly pronounced arc.

Now I’m not saying you can’t make shots with the reticle. I’ve made several. But what I am saying is that the barrier to make shots has gotten considerably larger. Trick shots have become way more rare, at least in unranked play. Long distance shots are pretty much dead. Pretty much every goal I’ve seen in this build has been from extremely close to the goal. That makes sense because it’s the closest thing to firing a bullet. And even then I’m seeing way more missed shots by so many players. Many players, most of them hardcore ranked players, will say this is a good thing. They like the idea of shots being harder because it makes it easier for players that have countless hours to practice to go uncontested. But it’s a terrible change/design for the casual players. With such short games to begin with it’s easy for new players to go several matches without being able to score a single goal just because of how hard it is to aim this new reticle. I think it’s fine for ranked play, but the original design is way more accessible and should be re-implemented for at least unranked play.

3.       Tackling Changes

Tackling is extremely broken in this build. Even weirder is the fact that it’s broken in both directions. Landing a tackle is much harder now. I can’t explain why but aiming a tackle at an oncoming player just seems much harder. Even players that aren’t doing too much maneuvering are getting dodges, without using the dodge button, that just don’t seem realistic. At the same time, getting tackled from behind has become preposterous. It’s a constant bloodbath. It’s incredibly hard to hold the ball now if you catch it near opposing players. There seems to be no invincibility time after gaining possession and you can easily be combo tackled by multiple players. Even when your team is the one getting tackles, it’s just not fun for the whole game to be a tackle fest.

The increase in tackling has forced players to pass more, which is a good thing. But it becomes useless when you can’t get away from the crowd after catching a pass. It’s hard to say exactly what the difference is from previous builds, but so many people complained about it in the Discord.

4.       Dodging Changes

The dodge button is now pretty much useless. You can’t use it when you aren’t carrying the ball. Or at least it seems like you can’t. When you do have the ball, it’s no longer effective. Even calling it a dodge is a misnomer at this point. In previous builds you did a spin and actually could dodge a tackle. Now it just sort of fake moves the player a little and you can still be tackled while using it, even when timed correctly. When you consider how broken tackling has become, this change has monumental and noticeably detrimental consequences.  

5.       Speed Button Changes

I won’t say the speed button is completely useless now but it has been nerfed past the point of reasonable. I can’t even tell if it’s actually working in this build, because you get almost no gains to speed at all. You used to be able to catch up to players holding the ball with well-timed uses of the speed button. Now your only hope is the team boost button or swinging around the opposite direction and hoping to head them off at the pass. Breaking away has become extremely difficult. Since you can’t quickly boost your speed anymore and you can’t dodge, you’re basically at the mercy of how good or bad the opposing team is at tackling, which as I’ve already stated has become a shit show.

6.       Defensive Maneuvers

The game was honestly never really a defensive game outside of tackling and getting midair interceptions. That actually worked in previous builds because of things like the speed button and an easier time of landing oncoming tackles. Now that those other features are so broken, you realize that the game definitely needs more defensive options. Much of the game now is just land a tackle or hope the player can’t aim the shot with that reticle. Because you almost certainly won’t catch up to them if you miss and getting an interception is actually really tough because of how hard it is to get air from a normal vertical jump. I don’t necessarily know what those additional defensive features should be, because the game does need to remain simple. But other than rebalancing the other functions to the old build, the current defensive options just aren’t effective enough to turn the tide if you already missed your tackle.

7.       Tutorial(s)

The game needs a more robust and specific tutorial system. The tutorial amounts to a video that explains the rules and how things work, but not actually what the controls are or how to do anything. It just throws you into a game with bots and lets you fumble around until you figure everything out on your own. There needs to be a move specific tutorial that goes through each aspect of play. There needs to be directed practice/drills for everything from passing and shooting to tackling and dodging. A practice room for specific aspects of gameplay, such as aiming tackles, would be great as well. I’d also like to see a tricks tutorial that helps players learn how to do things like get big air and dunk. I see certain players pull off moves that are definitely possible but completely unintuitive. Even just getting high jumps quickly is something that fundamentally changes your approach to gameplay once you learn how to do it but you may never figure out on your own.

8.       Skate park

I really like this concept but in my experience it has been almost completely useless. I’ve never encountered another player in the times I’ve entered the skate park, save for one time when the official Twitter account announced that an event was happening. There are supposedly special limited time events/challenges in the skate park regularly but I’ve never had any of them start while I was in there, save for that one they announced on Twitter. It lasted exactly 60 seconds, had a prize for only one of the six players present, I lost, and that was the end of my experience with skate park events. There definitely needs to be a notification that tells you when skate park events are occurring and I guess better matchmaking for the skate park so it’s not always empty. I can’t even really say if it’s a good or bad concept because I haven’t experienced anything other than being alone in the skate park enough times to give a serious judgement. I’d also like some sort of directed practice in the skatepark. There are clearly useful practice obstacles in there but without some sort of tutorial I can’t figure out how to do the moves in there I’d like to pull off.

9.       Daily Challenges

I really like the daily challenges thing. It’s probably the only thing that motivated me to login almost every day of the beta. And the days I didn’t login I felt disappointed because I didn’t complete the daily challenge. Currently it’s just play three matches, which is fine. But there definitely needs to be a more robust set of daily challenges with multiple prizes. Three matches for a lootbox is good. Nevertheless, I want additional challenges that change daily, with other prizes, on top of that basic daily challenge.

10.   Lootballs

I like the lootball concept. Yes it’s a lootbox and yes ultimately Ubisoft will charge money for them, but the ability to get at least one free item a day, with the chance to get a legendary, is a great way to keep players coming back. Keep the daily challenge at just three games a day to get a lootball and add additional challenges to get additional free lootballs and it’s a winning concept. In many ways it was the thing that kept me playing throughout the beta once I had played enough to decide I was unhappy with this build. I do hope they add a way to get lootballs with free in-game currency amassed through playing/winning matches.

At the same time, lootballs have the same problem as lootboxes in every other game. You can get useless drops that amount to just a paltry amount of credits and presumably doubles that convert to credits. I see some benefit to credits and fans being in a lootbox but really that’s not what people want. People want new gear. Even if it’s common gear they don’t particularly like, it’s preferred to getting nothing they can use. Rather than credits, it would be cool if you could draw a 24 hour chip that let you claim any one item in the store. If you have all the items in the store, then the chip should convert to credits. That being said, this sort of mechanic where you can draw the equivalent of nothing or not enough currency to do anything useful is part of the lootbox money making scheme in general, so it doesn’t surprise me.

11.   Fans

This is a problem I noticed in past builds as well. Fans in general are kind of weird because they give you benefits that are a bit unclear and not necessarily useful other than for gaining access to ranked mode. And let’s be clear about something that many people don’t seem to want to acknowledge about PVP games in general. Not everyone cares about ranked mode. In fact, I’d be willing to bet that the actual percentage of people who seriously care about ranked mode in these sorts of games like Splatoon, Rocket League, and such are a drop in the bucket. This isn’t CSGO, Dota, or FIFA. These are fun, unrealistic PVP experiences that make normal people who aren’t tied into e-esports happy. E-sports is fine and there’s definitely logic in creating a space for that. But games like this should not consider e-sports level players as the target/core audience. Ubisoft already has a game like that and it’s called Rainbow Six Siege. It actually makes sense to categorize as an e-sports focused title. So my first real issue with fans is that I don’t see a point in them at this stage other than for leaderboard placement and gaining ranked access. But this is also why they added the tier system, which makes sense.

The tier system is something I first noticed and took seriously in Ghost Recon: Breakpoint. In the case of Roller Champions, it’s essentially the seasonal XP system used in Fall Guys: Ultimate Knockout. By amassing fans, you increase your tier level and unlock prizes. You only have a certain amount of time to reach the top tier before this resets. Presumably there are seasonal exclusive prizes to win. This is fine I guess. But honestly even that wasn’t enough to motivate me to care more about playing this particular build. The concept works though, because I definitely busted my ass to hit max level in the first season of Fall Guys: Ultimate Knockout. That being said, I was so burned out by the end of the first season that I played the second season only maybe two times and then never picked up the game again. My one beef with the Roller Champions’ tier system is that there’s a paid pass. You get way more and presumably better prizes if you’re willing to pay for a season pass. You still have to unlock all the tiers, but they’ve added a paywall for several prizes. Think gold passes in Mario Kart Tour. I understand it, as this is a F2P game, but I definitely don’t have to like it.

My biggest issue with fans is how you amass them. This was an issue I commented on in past builds as well. Currently fans have almost no skill or performance component to amassing them. You just have to play enough. Playing a game gets you 22 fans and winning a game gets you 30. That’s not 22 plus another 30 for winning. That’s 22 plus 8 for winning. That’s the only way I have observed to get fans in this build. That’s terribly unimaginative. There should be performance based fan distribution like in The Crew 2. Every goal should net some fans. Certain, or maybe all, successful tackles should net some fans. Blocks and interceptions should net some fans. You should get fans for lots of stuff. They’re called “fans” after all. People get fans in real life for doing special stuff. Not just for participating. Currently the only thing fans actually measures is who plays the game the most. There is only a minor skill based component to it by giving winners an extra eight fans per game, but that’s nothing in the grand scheme of things. If someone plays five games and wins all five and another person plays seven games and loses all seven, the losing player ultimately has amassed more fans. Remember, a game can end in under 5 minutes from starting matchmaking to back to the main menu. That means the losing player just needs 10 more minutes to amass more fans than the player winning. You stand to make more fans faster by throwing games than playing to win them.

12.   Sponsorship Challenges

These are basically achievements with prizes and hopefully no time limit. There was only one during the beta. It required you to win 10 games. In general, I’m fine with that concept but in a limited time beta I didn’t really like having a win requirement to unlock a limited edition beta participation reward. It should have just been to play 10 games so all beta participants would be guaranteed to get one. But in general I like the sponsorship achievements concept.

13.   Store Transparency

I don’t recall if this was in previous builds, but I’m pretty sure it wasn’t. Now when you go to your character closet to change wardrobe, it doesn’t only show you what you have. It also shows you what’s currently available in the store and the cost to buy it. You can even buy it directly from your closet rather than going to the store page. It’s a simple yet extremely effective quality of life improvement.

I don’t want to imply that there was nothing good about this game build. I’ve pointed out a number of changes and additions from this build that I like. Conceptually, I’m still very enthusiastic about Roller Champions and believe it to be an award winning concept. My major issue is the changes to the core gameplay. I’ll admit that this comes from having played all the previous builds and being able to see those changes drastically alter my previous enjoyment of the game. Had this of been the only build I played, I may not feel so unhappy with it. I’d just accept it for what it is. Ignorance is bliss after all. At the same time, even as a veteran player, I wasn’t able to adapt to this build to a level where I enjoyed or even got fully comfortable with the nuances of the gameplay. So chances are without previous experience I would have tried it, liked the concept, not really liked the gameplay, and quickly moved on. I remember my journey with Rocket League and Splatoon. In both instances, I didn’t learn to love the game. I loved the games immediately at a gameplay level. I had to learn to excel at them but not to enjoy them. I don’t get that feeling from this latest build of Roller Champions. I would have to learn to love it and that’s something I simply shouldn’t have to do when so many games I do love are currently available and ever growing.

As with all competitive games, the real question is who is Roller Champions for? Most of my complaints are focused on the fact that the game has become less accessible to casual players. Many competitive players will say the game is now “harder”, which in simplest terms is true. But the question being ignored is what was gained for the majority of players by making the game “harder” to play? Is it more enjoyable? Is it more accessible? Are more or fewer players more likely to enjoy and play the game regularly in the current build? I’d say fewer, but I don’t know what Ubisoft’s intent for the game actually is. If they want a super exclusive game with a serious e-sports community and very few causal players, then the current build is fine for that. But the players that work all day and then just want to come home and play for an hour or two without having to take the game too seriously are not the target for this build. Interestingly enough, Ubisoft’s most recent Roller Champions gameplay development video is literally called “Making a game for Everyone.” As I said at the beginning, there is no definitively correct way for Roller Champions to be. Nevertheless, the current build has definitely turned me, a person who played the previous builds for several hours a day, almost completely off the idea of taking the game seriously at launch. Honestly that’s fine. If I’m not Ubsioft’s target audience then that’s their choice. Developer intent should be the defining factor in how a game evolves. All I can really say is that I am not happy with this current build, I observed via the Discord that I am not the only person that played previous builds that feels this way, and I’m no longer excited to continue following this game. That being said, I will of course play the next beta, were I to be invited to participate again, because as I said, feedback is extremely important to me.

As always, thanks for reading. Please take the time to follow my blog, leave a comment, and check out some of my other channels if you enjoyed what you read.

What Makes a Soulslike?

I love the Soulslike genre. I’ve beaten Demon’s Souls, all the Dark Souls games, Bloodborne, Nioh, Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order, and just last week finally got around to finishing The Surge. Before this post even goes live I will have started Nioh 2 and I have both The Surge 2 and Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice in my shortlisted backlog. It’s not a genre that I’d necessarily claim to excel in, but it’s a genre I enjoy a lot and will continue to play games in regularly. What I absolutely hate is the name of the genre.

Why is it called Soulslike? If you Google “Soulslike”, it’s the officially recognized term for this subset of games. And clearly named after Demon’s Souls, the game that started the genre. Yet if you look up Demon’s Souls or Dark Souls, they’re not listed as Soulslike games. They’re categorized as “action role-playing games”, which I think is the appropriate designation, but I’m willing accept and even support that there should be a term to differentiate this specific type of gameplay from other action RPGs. But why is that term Soulslike? Now as I’ve already stated, the name is taken from Demon’s Souls which is appropriate given the entire genre, or sub-genre to be more accurate, started there. But this is the only genre that I can think of that’s named after a specific game. My question is why this genre with this game and nowhere else?

We don’t FPS games “Doomlike”. We don’t call falling shape puzzle matching games “Tetrislike”. We don’t call turn based RPGs “Final Fantasylike”. We don’t call 2D or 3D platformers “Mariolike”. So why do we call these games Soulslike? How is it that we have created terms for every other genre and sub-genre of game that derives from the gameplay mechanics and didn’t for this genre? We even have stupid nonsensical genre terms like roguelike and roguelite. No other genre, that I can think of, derives its name directly from a specific game. So why here? Why not do what we’ve done for literally every other genre and call it something gameplay relevant like “repeating RPG” or “deathloop”, which yes is now the name of an upcoming game more than a decade after the genre in question was established.

What just about every genre name/designation has in common is that it directly references the gameplay in some way that’s clear and specific. Or at least that was the idea in the beginning. Now with decades of mechanics being layered on top of each other and mixed together the waters have become a lot murkier. Like what even is an RPG anymore? Or a better question might be what isn’t? But the point is that the name of a genre usually derives from the gameplay in some way. In that mode of thinking Soulslike is a horrible name for the genre because not all the games in the genre use “souls”. Nioh uses “amrita”. The Surge uses “tech scrap”. Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice uses “sen”. Bloodborne uses “blood echoes”. Only Demon’s Souls and Dark Souls use “souls”. So it makes no sense to call the genre Soulslike when defining/naming genres based on in-game mechanics. So the real question is what specifically makes a Soulslike a Soulslike as opposed to anything else?

Nioh Level Up Menu

Now when you look at the “Soulslike” category in Wikipedia, only 37 games come up. And at least one of those games, Elden Ring, hasn’t been released yet. Some of those games are 2D and some are 3D. Some are AAA projects and some are indie. Though it varies in scope from game to game, all those ones on the list I know have gear or equipment of some type. They all have a checkpoint system akin to bonfires in Dark Souls. They all have the enemies respawn and use basically the same patterns every time you die or return to a checkpoint to heal. They all have you lose all your collected currency when you die. All the ones I’ve played give you the chance to retrieve your currency by returning to your corpse before dying again. They can all be classified as some form of RPG. I could go on. The point is that there are a number of mechanical similarities between all the games listed in this category even while many of them are wildly different from each other in scope, style, and combat.

Dark Souls Level Up Menu

I just recently beat The Surge and one of my favorite things about it was how different the RPG elements were compared to Dark Souls. I love Nioh a lot. I prefer it to Dark Souls. But I feel the two games/franchises are mechanically very similar in terms of character development and combat. Yes Nioh has stances and a defined skill tree, but the basic gameplay is much the same between all the games in this genre. The real differences come from nuances between the settings, weapon types, and especially the writing. The storytelling in Nioh is why I consider it a superior game/franchise to Dark Souls. But when it comes to the RPG elements they’re almost exactly the same when it comes to core character development. Points distribution, gear collection and crafting, and weight mechanics. I have always found these three aspects of all the Souls and Nioh games to be annoyingly complicated and time consuming. I understand where they come from. It’s a long tradition of classical RPG character development. It makes sense and for better or worse, the system works. But I wouldn’t personally call it fun. Distributing points across a bunch of different stats for diminishing gains that takes longer and longer to do every time only to second guess yourself about whether or not you’re spending points correctly until you ultimately give up and look up a guide online isn’t what I would call fun. It’s just something you have to do in order to have fun. The Surge does away with pretty much all of that.

The Surge Level Up Menu

The best way I can describe The Surge is a streamlined Dark Souls with robots. Or if you want to be completely accurate they’re not robots but people who have had their bodies taken over by programs via a process of cyberization alongside some actual robots. The gameplay is essentially the same. HP, stamina, the equivalent of a magic bar, two attack buttons that can be combined with running and blocking buttons to do additional attacks, currency accumulated through killing and finding items, and respawning enemies that follow the same patterns every time. You can craft and improve armor and weapons that you find by killing enemies that have them. It’s the same core game. What’s fundamentally different is the character development mechanics.

The two worst parts about character development in Dark Souls games are the complications and the semi-permanence. The leveling system is super complicated and overly nuanced. Nioh is no better. You have to spend currency to level up and each level costs more than the last. Each level gives you one point to permanently assign to one of nine (eight for Nioh) stats. Those stats work in tandem to let you use certain items, gear, and spells. The better stuff you find, the more of each related stat you need to use that stuff effectively. Points distribution is permanent, or semi-permanent. You can use certain items or currency to re-spec but then you have to commit to that re-spec or spend more to do it again. This means that you can never really change your playstyle once you’re deep into the game without spending on fundamentally changing your character or grinding out several levels to get the additional spec points you need. It’s also extremely limiting when trying to create a well-rounded character until you’ve reached an extremely high level. The Surge does away with pretty much all this complication.

Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order Skill Tree

The Surge has one level up process for everything and swappable character building components. There are stats but, like with action games outside the RPG genre, they are all tied to power level. Leveling up costs currency with increasing prices every level. But when you level up the stats are increased automatically as part of a fixed character progression system. You just level up and the game takes care of the nuance for you. What you decide is how to make use of those levels via “implants” and gear.

Implants are basically buffs that can be swapped in and out of a limited number of slots. You can unlock additional slots by upgrading your exoskeleton and leveling up accordingly. The first playthrough allows up to 16 slots if you reach level 105. Subsequent NG+ playthroughs will let you unlock up to 32 implant slots. I was able to complete the game using 15 slots at level 95. Levels aren’t only used for implant slots though. Along with base stats, they define what gear you can use. Each piece of armor, weapon, and implant costs a certain number of core power units to equip. Each level nets you one core power unit. So at level 95 I had access to 95 core power units. By giving up two of my implant slots for core power unit extension implants, I was able to add an additional 18 core power units to my 95 for a total of 113 usable core power units with 14 implant slots available to use.

The Surge Implants Menu

The wide variety of implant types allow for players to create whatever type of build they want to suit their playstyle. I prefer using a staff and a one-handed weapon with focuses on energy (magic) for healing and barrages of quick burst attacks. So my build consists of extensions to stamina, energy, and health with buffs that net energy quicker and lower the cost of my healing “spells”. But at any time I could have completely changed this. Because of the nature of implants and the lack of leveling up specific stats, at any time I could completely change all my implants and my preferred playstyle and it wouldn’t cost me anything. Though I would need to craft/upgrade new gear if I decided to change my armor and weapon types. That’s the only real limitation to the game. In a first playthrough, every piece of gear can be leveled up to version five. But moving from version four to version five requires special limited supply resources. The game only allows you to max out one full set of armor, consisting of five pieces, and two weapons in a first playthrough. You can get every other piece of gear to version four in a single playthrough but you do have to commit to a specific set of items for maximum power. I’d argue that you can beat the game with version four gear equipped though. In general there are benefits to committing to a specific weapon type early on but you definitely have the freedom to completely change up your build and playstyle at any time with little to no long term repercussions. That’s what makes the gameplay experience superior to Dark Souls for me. You never suffer the anxiety of having possibly levelled up incorrectly while playing The Surge.

Maxed Level Gear in The Surge NG Playthrough

So back to my original question. What makes a Soulslike a Soulslike? The Surge is fundamentally different from Demon’s Souls, Dark Souls, Bloodborne, and Nioh in terms of character development mechanics. If we looked at just character development and not gameplay, I’d put The Surge in a completely different genre from that other list of games. Yet all of these games do, and in my opinion should, fall under the sub-genre of Soulslike, which again is considered a sub-genre of action RPG. They’re different yet they’re all basically the same. They use different weapon types and crafting mechanics between each game in this sub-genre. They use different currencies. They use different character development mechanics. They use widely different map and progression structures from game to game. One of the main reasons I prefer Nioh to Dark Souls is that Nioh has defined levels/stages while Dark Souls is just one fully interconnected map. The Surge falls somewhere in the middle with map sectors divided by loading points but the implication that it’s meant to be one interconnected map. There are so many differences between these games. But we compare all of them directly to each other because of a small set of similarities. Enemies respawn when you die or go to a checkpoint, you lose your currency when you die but have the chance to recover it, you progress by unlocking shortcuts and defeating bosses, and they’re all action RPGs at a core gameplay level. That’s, in my observation of the sub-genre anyway, what makes a Soulslike. Yet souls have nothing specific to do with that. So again I ask, why the name Soulslike?

As always, thanks for reading. Please take the time to follow my blog, leave a comment, and check out some of my other channels if you enjoyed what you read.

Gaming in Taiwan: Super Mario 3D World

Every so often I like to do a post about my experiences as an American gamer in Taiwan. This week I wanted to share my experience of trying to buy the recently released Switch port of Super Mario 3D World.

I didn’t actually want to buy the port of Super Mario 3D World because it falls into the now unacceptably long list of games that I already paid full price for on the Wii U with additional content that I want to play. They really need to go the Assassin’s Creed: Freedom Cry route with this content and make it available as a separate purchase for people like me who already bought the base game years ago. I have basically no interest in replaying 3D World but I’m very excited to play Bowser’s Fury. But the idea that Bowser’s Fury is worth $60 is ridiculous. The only reason I ultimately did end up getting the game is because my wife bought it for me as a birthday gift. Otherwise I never would have went for it out of pocket. But this is not a post about my issues with Nintendo and their greedy port business model. This is a post about how much trouble I went through to buy a game I didn’t want to purchase in the first place.

The problem with the Taiwan games market is that it’s buy to sell rather than sell to buy. In the US, a licensed distributor orders a number of units of a game from the publisher and is told what price to sell at. After making the sale, they pay the distributor an agreed upon cut of the total sell price. The publisher can and often does change the price randomly. This is why sales happen so sporadically at places like Amazon. Sometimes distributors will take a hit to their own profits and sell at lower than the publisher’s current rate in order to move stock or try to out compete with competing distributors. That’s why you see some places selling a new game at $58.99 instead of $59.99. The seller is taking a hit of $1 or they purchase enough units from the publisher to get a discount. None of this applies to the Taiwan games market.

In Taiwan, distributors have to pre-purchase games and then resell them. The publisher has nothing to do with the pricing past the initial sell price. The distributor can set whatever prices they want but because they’ve already paid full wholesale cost for the games they have to sell them at full price in order to make their revenue targets. The problem with this is that there is almost no room for competitive pricing or discounts. Games that are years old will still often cost full price, because the distributor paid what they paid for it and needs to make that money back plus their additional profit margin to remain viable. It sucks for consumers and is why the digital market is growing steadily in Asia. But none of this really matters when it comes to buying first party Nintendo games, because their prices never go down anyway. That’s why I continue to purchase most Switch games as physical while often going digital for PS4. I can get a better price of most digital PS4 games in the long run but for Nintendo games I’ll pretty much pay the same thing either way. Since I prefer physical media, I just buy the Switch cartridges barring an actual sale price in the e-shop.

Game Store in Taipei, Taiwan

The main problem with a lack of price maneuverability in games is that there’s really no advantage or differentiation from one game store to another. Most game stores are mom and pop sellers, which I prefer to big corporations, and they all charge relatively the same price. Sometimes you’ll see a fluctuation of a few dollars, but it’s often not worth the trouble to try to find the discount when you account for travel cost and time.  So usually you just buy from the store closest to you that tends to carry the stuff you want. The problem with that is the distribution of game stores in Taiwan is fairly random.

For several years in Taiwan I lived within walking distance of three games stores. One I loved, one I liked a lot, and one I thought was pretty meh. But the point was I had options. If I was willing to get on the subway or bike for up to an hour each way, which I often did before I got married, there were/are an additional three districts offering a combined total of another 10+ game stores to choose from. I know every store by heart. I know their locations, their pricing models, their product availability practices, and in some cases their employees. This is because I’m a serious gamer that prefers physical media and buys a lot of games. After I got married, I moved to a neighborhood that has only one game store for the entire district. Thankfully it’s very close to me and gets pretty much everything. But their pricing isn’t the best you can find and the shop owner is a complete and total asshole.

My Physical Switch Collection (The Star was the Super Mario 3D All-Stars Collection preorder bonus.)

When you don’t have to really think about price, the only things you tend to care about when choosing a game store in Taiwan are location and atmosphere. The nearest store to you is usually the store you purchase from. And if there’s only one store nearby then that store has you by the balls. There’s no convenient launch day delivery Amazon here. You either have to import, buy from a questionable online storefront, or walk into a game store. But if your nearest game store has an asshole clerk/owner and you don’t have time to travel to another district to buy games, then that asshole owns your ass like a shitty drug dealer. And he knows it. The owner of the game store I live by knows he’s the only shop nearby. He knows that he has an entire district of gamers at his mercy. And there are a fair amount of gamers in my neighborhood. Now let’s talk about Super Mario 3D World.

I don’t generally preorder games. I think it hurts consumers and leads to bad and misleading industry behavior. There are only a few noteworthy, non-Nintendo first party games/franchises that I would consider worthy of me preordering the next game. God of War, Ghost of Tsushima, Nioh, and at one point I might have said Mass Effect but that was in a pre-Anthem world. But when it comes to Nintendo first party games I’ll preorder most of them without a second thought if they come with a physical preorder bonus. This is because no matter how much I don’t agree with Nintendo’s pricing model, I trust them to deliver quality first party software. Whether it be Star Fox, Donkey Kong, Mario, Zelda, Kirby, and so on, Nintendo basically never disappoints me on software quality. They make good games and we all know it, whether we all like to admit it or not. So when you account for that and the fact that the prices never go down, preordering their games isn’t nearly as questionable as preordering a PS4 exclusive or title from EA.

For whatever reason, first party Switch games pretty much always come with a physical preorder bonus in Taiwan. It’s not always amazing and in fact it rarely is, but it is something to reduce the sting of paying Nintendo’s excessive prices. Especially for ports. I’ve gotten preorder bonuses for Mario 3D All-Stars, Yoshi’s Crafted World, Super Mario 3D World, and  many others. And since Nintendo had the sense to make all cartridges completely region free, which I’m angry is even a thing still worth discussing in 2020, I can purchase cartridges locally without worrying about issues like language or regional access to DLC. That’s why I buy more physical Switch games than any other platform today. In any case, the reason I decided to preorder Super Mario 3D World was for the preorder bonus. Without it I would have just waited until my birthday.

Super Mario 3D World Preorder Bonus in Taiwan

So a week before Super Mario 3D World releases, I walk into my local game store to preorder it and something I have never experienced before in two decades of preordering games happened. The clerk told me no. He refused to let me preorder the game. Let me clarify. He did not say the preorder period had ended. He did not say preorders were not available for the game. He just didn’t want to take the time to do the paperwork. He refused to do the preorder and told me to just come buy it on the release day. Now in his defense, he was right in assuming that he would have extra copies of the game. In more than five years of buying games in Taiwan, there have been only a few games that were genuinely sold out everywhere. The most recent was Ring Fit Adventure, because distribution to Taiwan was delayed. I actually wrote a post about that back in 2019. You can read it here if you’re interested. So from his perspective it was no problem not to issue me the preorder, because he could essentially guarantee me that I would be able to get the game from his store on launch day. But as I’ve already said, I don’t really care too much about the game. I wanted the preorder bonus. Now because of the language barrier I couldn’t explain that to him. But the truth is that I shouldn’t have had to. I’m a paying customer that frequently patronizes that store. I don’t cause problems. I don’t ask stupid questions. I don’t walk in and not buy things. I contribute to his profits on a regular basis. And yet he felt like it was appropriate not to issue me the preorder simply because he didn’t want to deal with the paper work. I’m not being entitled here. I just want the absolute bare minimum from a game store in 2021.

I was shocked. I was genuinely taken aback by such flippant arrogance coming from a clerk running a small business in a majorly competitive market. But this is exactly what happens when you have a local monopoly, which he does. I refused to stand for this so I did what any self-respecting gamer who takes gaming too seriously would do. I went out of my way and went to the next nearest mom and pop game store. I had to ride a bike 40 minutes both ways to get my preorder and then again to pick up the game, but I got my damn preorder bonus and I didn’t give that asshole a cent to do it.

Now before I got married, that wouldn’t have even been worth mentioning. I used to ride a bike an hour both ways just to save a few dollars on a game. I just don’t have time any more. But I’ll make the time before I’ll let a clerk disrespect me to my face like that. But that’s the entire problem with Taiwan’s game distribution system. There’s no oversight. It’s all small private businesses that don’t answer to publishers. So store owners can be assholes. They can deny sales and such. Because they don’t answer to anyone. The only thing you can do is “boycott” but if the people in the area don’t have other options then they don’t really have a choice. Especially when the main customer base is kids and parents who don’t have time to run around the city to try to buy a game they can get a few blocks from where they live.

I want to take the time to clarify that most game store clerks in Taiwan are not assholes. In fact, some of them are really awesome. One shop I used to frequent often had a guy who spoke English fluently and used to recommend me games based on his perception of my preferences. One clerk gave me his number and said I could call him to check availability any time. Most people in Taiwan are pretty cool. But the system is extremely broken and operates successfully due to trust and generally good behavior rather than functioning regulations. So now, assuming I don’t move anytime soon, I’m left in the situation of either dealing with this shitty clerk near my house or spending time I don’t really have to waste to buy my games somewhere better.  Thankfully I don’t plan on buying any more Switch games until at least April when New Pokémon Snap drops.

As always, thanks for reading. Please take the time to follow my blog, leave a comment, and check out some of my other channels if you enjoyed what you read.

Embrace the Normal (Mode)

When I was a kid, we played games on the normal difficulty. That was the standard difficulty and thus it was the logical difficulty to play a game on the first time around. Hard mode was reserved for only two specific occasions. The first was if you had already beaten a game and were replaying it. The second was if a game was said to be so hard that it was “impossible” on hard mode and you wanted to prove how much of a badass you were.

I recall trying to play Halo 2, my first non-Nintendo platform FPS game, on legendary with no previous Halo experience. I had convinced myself that the reason people found it hard was that they didn’t start on that level of play so they were struggling with the transition from normal or hard. So if I just started on legendary I would be forced to adapt to that level of play from the start. I literally couldn’t make it past the first room. After an hour of failing, I switched to normal mode and eventually beat the game.

My point is that hard mode was not the standard way to play games when I was a kid. There was no prestige to it or attached arrogance like there is today. Normal and hard were equally respected levels of play and thus most people just played games on normal, because why wouldn’t you? I always liked normal mode because it’s the way the developers intend a game to be played. My favorite scenario is when there is no difficulty level, because that makes two things abundantly clear from the start. The first is that you don’t have a say in the matter. You just play the game as intended by the developers. The second is that you know you are capable of beating the game, if you already have a background in gaming. Developers who don’t include difficulty levels in their games don’t make unbeatable games. That’s actually the opposite of what they do.

Developers that don’t include difficulty settings in their games make games that are absolutely beatable by an overwhelming majority of gamers. That’s probably the main reason I love the Soulslike genre. As hard as they are, and they are, I always know that no matter how hard it seems I can absolutely beat the game. Games with difficulty levels don’t come with that guarantee. I can probably beat pretty much any modern game on hard mode at this point, but there’s no guarantee that’s true. I could very easily start a game on hard, get stuck, and never be able to progress forward. Several hours would be wasted and I’d have nothing to show for it. Every game with a difficulty level can potentially be my next Halo 2 legendary scenario. That’s almost certainly why many games will let you change the difficulty level of games mid-campaign now. It’s a failsafe to prevent the player’s time from being wasted.

I couldn’t say exactly when, but at some point in probably the PS3/XBOX 360 era hard mode became the standard. There was no real reason for it. Developers weren’t suddenly encouraging people to play games on hard. There weren’t special giveaways for beating games on hard. Gamers just suddenly started defaulting to hard as if it was a normal thing everyone did. I have some theories about why this happened.

I think it was a combination of length and declining difficulty. In the olden days before the Nintendo 64, games were not necessarily long. Some RPGs were, but most games were relatively short. The original Super Mario Bros. for instance can be beaten in under 20 minutes. Yet very few people actually managed to accomplish that when the game was current. Games back then weren’t long, but they were incredibly difficult, didn’t let the player save or continue when they died, and were rampant with unbalanced challenges. So they took hours and hours of play while containing a very limited amount of content. In the Nintendo 64 era this changed.

Suddenly games got easier. Easy enough to where more than 50% of seasoned gamers could beat them with only a mild amount of effort. This meant that games had to be longer. If games had stayed as short as Super Mario Bros. but dropped down to Super Mario 64 in difficulty, most people would have stopped buying them. Or they would have had to be way more affordable. Suddenly games were filled with content. Not all of it great content by today’s standards. But at the time the public wasn’t already jaded and tired of collectathons. I remember the consensus around my school yard being that 40 hours was the average expected length for a game and anything longer was awesome. Pokémon, though not a home console game, did very well for this reason. It took way more than 40 hours to catch ‘em all!

In the PS3 era, games became incredibly more polished, well written, and epic. But many of their lengths suffered as a consequence. Suddenly you were getting memorable stories like The Last of Us, but they were only taking about 20 hours rather than the standardized 40. Yet the prices remained the same. This is why epic RPGs from that era are remembered so fondly. They were the games that gave you the most bang for your buck in a time where it was still possible to keep your backlog in check. You were constantly seeing people complain about PlayStation exclusives being too short while also acknowledging that they were amazing gaming experiences. So many people started trying to artificially pad the lengths of their games by playing on harder difficulties.

Many people also claimed, and continue to claim, that games have gotten easier over time. I don’t think that’s necessarily true, but what I do know is game have gotten a lot more polished. There are things that make a game seem easier when really it’s more that the game is finally working the way it was always intended to but couldn’t in the past due to a lack of technological capabilities. Older games are often harder compared to modern counterparts, but the truth is that a lot of that wasn’t intentional. Games had laggy controls, imperfect aim, unruly jumping mechanics, and so on not because developers wanted those things but because they had to settle for them. Games work better today, barring exceptions like Cyberpunk 2077, and as such are perceived as easier because they work as intended and don’t force the player to normalize flaws. This is what I was referring to in reference to the Monster Hunter franchise in last week’s blog post.

It’s an interesting idea to increase the difficulty of a game from the player’s side to make it longer. It’s not that the game is actually longer. It’s that the game is going to take you longer to beat, assuming you aren’t good enough to not die regularly. Think of God of War. Is the gameplay about dying or about not dying? The story makes the assumption that Kratos triumphs in every fight, barring a few scripted losses. That’s pretty much every game with the exception of a few oddly written titles like Dark Souls. The story assumes a perfect run that you get to pretend you did, because the game lets you respawn from checkpoints. What that means is that the actual length of the game is the time it takes to beat the game with no deaths. But that length won’t change drastically regardless of what difficulty you play on. Sure some fights will take longer because of increases to enemy HP, defense, performance, and such. But in general the length of the game barring deaths stays consistent between difficulty levels. Meaning that all the extra hours it takes you to complete a game on a harder difficulty are mostly just the product of added failures to your gameplay experience. When put in those terms, the entire idea of harder difficulties becomes very unappealing, in my opinion. It’s really no different than collectathons. It’s just padding the actual content with a bunch of time wasting mechanics to make the game seem longer. But the entire concept of wasted time is subjective.

It’s a problem as old as the medium itself. How does one define valuable content in a video game? I think to be able to answer this question one first has to answer the question why do people play video games? Sadly, that question is even harder to answer. I play games for the story. Yet I “never” (some very specific and in my opinion valid exceptions apply) play games on easy mode. Why not? If my main priority is the story, why not just play every game on easy mode? Why waste the time making games take longer, even if by just a marginal amount? Some people claim not to care about story at all and only consider gameplay in their judgement of a game’s value. And yet they buy story focused PlayStation exclusives. The conundrum of gamers is that we don’t actually only care about one thing. We just say we do. We want a great story with fulfilling gameplay, good graphics, and for the experience to feel challenging and cathartic while also never feeling unfair or imbalanced. That’s a lot of expectations for game developers. But in any case a large part of the gaming community started defaulting to hard mode and has continued to ever since.

 I remember one friend in high school stating outright that he no longer played games on normal. There was no real reason for it. He just felt that normal was too easy. This trend has proliferated over the years and even gotten to the point where many people shame players for playing games on normal mode. I’ve been shamed for it and I myself have/had normalized the idea of defaulting to hard over the years as well by this point. I found myself playing games on hard, not because I wanted to but because it seemed like the “correct” thing to do. I would still play games on normal for streams though, and that was mostly just to save time and protect my credibility. There’s nothing worse than getting stuck in boss fight during a stream. But I want to go back to my friend’s statement.

My friend said “normal felt too easy.” He didn’t say normal felt too short. He didn’t say normal felt boring or that it wasn’t entertaining. He specifically focused on the lack of difficultly as the reason to play games on hard. Which implies an innate belief that games need to be challenging to be fulfilling. Why is that? Where does the belief that a game can’t simply be entertaining without being challenging come from? Why couldn’t my friend, and so many others like him, just enjoy games for what they were/are intended to be? I honestly don’t have an answer to this question and can’t posit one that isn’t steeped in biased assumptions with no evidence or logical reasoning to back it up. A large number of people simply have convinced themselves that games are not fun if they aren’t challenging, regardless of how well written they are, how good the graphics are, or how good the core gameplay is.

Last year, I played Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey for the first time. I got 100% completion. Every collectible, every bounty, all the DLC, and so on. I fully completed the game. It took me just under 200 hours. It was not the first game, or even the first Ubisoft game, that I fully completed. It was not the first game that I played for 200 hours. There are multiple that I played for longer. But it is the first game where I changed the difficulty more than five hours into the adventure. I started Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey soon after completing Assassin’s Creed: Origins, also for the first time. These two games were a very interesting back to back experience for me. I loved Origins. I consider it to be a pretty much perfect Assassin’s Creed game. It’s in my top five for the franchise (Brotherhood, Black Flag, Origins, Odyssey, Syndicate, having not yet played Valhalla). I played the game, Origins, for not even two hours before I moved the difficulty up from normal to hard. I enjoyed it that much from the start and never considered pushing it back down to normal over the course of my 100 hour 99% (I refused to hunt all those pointless hidden treasures after completing everything else) completion run. I rarely if ever make the difficulty in a game harder after I’ve already started it, but something about Origins just made me want it to last longer, even if artificially so.

100% Completion Save

It was because I enjoyed Origins on hard so much that I decided to play Odyssey on hard right off the bat. I played Odyssey for 85 hours before lowering the difficulty down to normal. I played three to four games worth of gameplay before changing the difficulty in a game that I went on to play for another 100+ hours. That’s still insane to me. Never before has a game felt so frustrating so far in that I didn’t just stick it out in whatever difficulty I started in. But I think it’s important to examine why this was the case. My issues with Odyssey on hard were not about difficulty so much as they were about performance, which for me translated to fun. Let me explain what I mean. More than 80 hours into Odyssey on hard mode, I still couldn’t regularly assassinate enemies that weren’t bosses. I still couldn’t get one hit sniper kills with my bow. I couldn’t dominate a fight without playing very strategically with just natural fighting ability. I had to “earn” every kill like I was just starting the game. It was the worst assassin experience I think I’ve ever had. Let me clarify, the game wasn’t bad in general on hard. In a different genre it would have been fine. Like if that same experience had been the case in God of War (2019), which I platinumed on hard, I would have thought nothing of it. But for a game called Assassin’s Creed, I absolutely hated it. This was even more pronounced for me having just played Origins.

54 Wasted Gameplay Hours

In Origins, I was an assassin. On hard mode, I could take out people with my predator arrow in one shot from a mile away. I could assassinate and air assassinate with no problem. I was a skilled fighter. A single special attack could turn the tide of a battle and often outright kill most enemies. None of that was the case in Odyssey on hard. And those were all the things that I liked most about the gameplay in Origins. I was an assassin. Now canon wise no Alexios and Kassandra are not officially assassins. So you can make an argument for why they struggled so much with quick kills. A misthios is little more than a brawler with a mind for coin. But this is about gameplay in a franchise called Assassin’s Creed. I don’t want long drawn out fights. I don’t want to be unskilled labor. I want to be a ghost.

I played Ghost of Tsushima, on hard, concurrently with Odyssey and that felt more like an Assassin’s Creed game than Odyssey did. People, myself included, started calling it “Assassin’s Creed: Japan”. It played the way I wish every Assassin’s Creed game did when it comes to stealth killing. I lowered the difficulty in Odyssey not because it was too hard to play but because it wasn’t fun to play. It got to a point where the gains of meeting the challenge of hard required me to sacrifice my enjoyment of the gameplay. A game should never ask you to do that. Origins did not ask me to do that. And it’s a shame, because Odyssey is certainly the more interesting and epic adventure between the two. Once I lowered the difficulty in Odyssey, I started to actually enjoy it. Suddenly I could successfully assassinate people. Suddenly my bow wasn’t completely useless. It was still challenging in numerous ways, but it felt like an assassin game, and that’s what I most care about in that franchise. It took me some time to get over my pride but ultimately I’m glad I lowered the difficulty in that game. Because I had fun playing it for 100+ hours as opposed to a 200+ hour slog. The enjoyment of a fun gameplay experience, in my opinion, trumps the catharsis of meeting a difficult challenge in the same game.

 I started Immortals: Fenyx Rising, another open world soft RPG from Ubisoft placed in an ancient Greek setting, almost right after finishing Odyssey. I decided to play it on normal. That game is so much fun. It’s one of the most entertaining games Ubisoft has ever made. The writing is hilarious, the core gameplay is satisfying and straight forward, and the graphics are fine. The best way to describe it is it’s a Ubisoft game for Nintendo fans. I have enjoyed every aspect of the game, except the crashing and lag, so much. On countless occasions in the 60 hours I’ve played so far, I’ve considered moving the difficulty up to hard. I genuinely believe that it would be similar to my experience with Origins where the gameplay would remain just as fun on a harder difficulty. I don’t think I’d struggle with it at all. But ultimately I didn’t change the difficulty and won’t before completing the base game. Because I realized there’s no reason to.

What would I gain from increasing the difficulty in Immortals: Fenyx Rising? Would I have more fun? Would the combat feel more fulfilling? Would my overall enjoyment be increased? My assessment of these questions is no across the board. I don’t necessarily believe that my enjoyment of the game would go down in any way. But I absolutely don’t believe that it would increase in any way by putting the game on a harder difficulty. So I decided it wasn’t worth doing. Sure I might feel some level of pride in the accomplishment of beating the game on hard, but in the long run I won’t have enjoyed the game any more than I already do. I think that’s how we should all play every game. Play the difficulty level that brings you the most fun. Not the most pride. Not the most bragging rights. Not the most trophies/achievements, though I do respect that trophy hunting often requires you to play on certain difficulties. Play games on the difficulty that brings you the most personal enjoyment during the actual act of playing. In some games that’s normal, in some games that’s hard, and in some that could even be easy mode. I played The Witcher 2 on easy mode. I played the tutorial on normal, absolutely could not stomach the gameplay but still wanted to play it for the story, and decided to run through it as quickly as possible on easy. I do not regret the decision one bit. That writing is fire and that gameplay is straight trash. I am too backlogged to prolong the experience of bad gameplay.

The Witcher 1 Difficulty Levels

I was never fully committed to hard mode the way many of my peers are. I’ve continuously played games on either normal or hard depending on my perception of the gameplay experience going in. But I’ve often felt some level of shame for not just committing to hard mode like so many others do. Ultimate that’s pride screwing with me. Or more accurately peer pressure. It’s people saying “git gud” all the time that makes me feel like I should play games on hard, even when I don’t want to. It’s years of normalized vitriol that makes people shame each other for just wanting to have a good time. Personally I’m done with that. I’m too old, too backlogged, and too tired to play games in ways that I don’t enjoy. If a game is more enjoyable in hard mode, I’ll play it in hard mode. I’ll absolutely play God of War: Ragnarok in hard mode. But if a game doesn’t add to my enjoyment by making it harder, normal mode it is. I’ll definitely start Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla in normal mode and see what happens. I think we all could stand to chill out and play games in the difficulty level that makes them the most subjectively fun rather than the one that leaves us feeling the most accomplished after the fact. Embrace the normal mode. Hell embrace the easy mode if it makes you feel good. Is it even still a game if you aren’t having fun?

As always, thanks for reading. Please take the time to follow my blog, leave a comment, and check out some of my other channels if you enjoyed what you read.

Easy or Accessible?

In recent years, we’ve seen a number of discussions about accessibility in games. This has led to both conflicts and great leaps forward in quality of life features in game design. We’ve also seen gaming experiences become available to a whole new population of players. While I still hold that not all games are meant to be played by all people and that titles like Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice shouldn’t add an easy mode, in general I am in support of game studios making games more accessible where possible without ruining the intended experience of a game.

What I have come to realize is that the accessibility discussion lacks a lot of nuance among the general gaming population. People disagree about a number of topics within the discourse and often consider certain accessibility features as making a game easier rather than more widely available. While this is an oversimplification in numerous cases, it is a fair topic of concern. Games should not be made easier simply so more people can finish them. At the same time though, games should be more playable to more people, in an authentic form, where possible. But therein lies the problem. Different types of disabilities exist. Are some disabilities fair game while others are off limits? That’s a politically disgusting question to even ask in 2021, but the truth is yes. Some disabilities are in fact more kosher to tackle in game design than others. Colorblindness for example is basically a non-debate. Except in very specific, basically always indie, projects where color is such a crucial factor in gameplay that changing things would break the game, most people seem to have no issue over developers adding colorblind accessibility options to their games. And I’d argue that makes sense. But what if we look at a more pronounced disability like oligodactyly?

Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice

 Oligodactyly is when a person has less than five fingers on one or both hands. Now technically you can play most video games with just two fingers on each hand, assuming they are shaped and positioned correctly with adequate muscle control but that’s just semantics. My point is what about people who lack the standard number of fingers and dexterity of them to play standard video game control schemes? What if someone is missing a hand altogether? Is a developer responsible for making their video game(s) playable for people with one hand? Should God of War be playable with one hand? These are questions people love to ask in a vacuum. Because they’re easy to ask. But in a more nuanced discussion it becomes really difficult, costly, and inauthentic to implement these sorts for features in certain games. What would a Dark Souls you could play with one hand even look like? And would it really be a Dark Souls experience? All of that is not to say that developers shouldn’t include accessibility options in their games but rather that it’s not a one size fits all games problem.

As I’ve thought about this issue more and discussed it with others, I’ve also become aware that a lot of people disagree on what actually defines a feature of accessibility vs just making a game easier. What one person defines as making a game more accessible to a wider audience, another very well may just see it as making the game easier. Obviously it varies from game to game and what exactly the feature does. Look at Cuphead for example. That game was later patched with an option to reduce the difficulty. This was done with the argument that it makes the game more accessible to a wider audience so more people would make it to the end of the game. But it was also clearly not targeted at disabled gamers. It was simply an instance of making the game easier for noobs. That being said, it did certainly help some players with disabilities. But to call it an accessibility feature rather than just making the game easier would be inaccurate. The question is how do we actually differentiate between the two things?

Cuphead

As a long time game reviewer, I’ve spent years perfecting how to discuss and describe games in a more nuanced way. I try my best to describe the finer details of a game in an objective way that pushes my own personal opinions of the experience aside in favor of an accurate depiction of the overall experience a game offers. As such, I try my best to avoid subjective words like easy and hard unless it’s in direct comparison to another game. I use comparisons a lot intentionally, because I believe they help convey the experience of a game in a way that isn’t debatable. If I say a game has good or bad gameplay then that doesn’t really tell the reader anything concrete. But if I say a game plays like another game then they can derive a hopefully close understanding of what the gameplay experience will actually be like. Comparison is not the only way to describe games in more accurate terms. There is a lot of nuance that can be applied to the discussion of games and the experience of playing them. But most people are not reviewers and don’t care to take the time to actually describe them in clear terms. Because they really don’t have any reason to. So rather than flesh their descriptions out they just describe a game in simple terms with words like “easy” or “hard”. I think this does a disservice to the discussion of accessibility in game design. But arguably even more important I think this hurts the improvement of long running game franchises in general.

 Probably the best example of this I can think of is the Monster Hunter franchise. I have tried several Monster Hunter games over the years. I use the word tried instead of played here because all Monster Hunter games I’ve experienced, save for one, have the same thing in common: I didn’t get past the first hour. I love the Monster Hunter concept and I always have. But, with the exception of Monster Hunter World, I hate Monster Hunter games. Every Monster Hunter game save for MHW, in my opinion, has terrible gameplay. It’s rigid, convoluted, and lacks basic quality of life features that most other continuously running franchises have had for years. Monster Hunter games always feel dated and burdensome to play. They ask you as the player to make compromises that other games haven’t for years. As someone who has played more than 1000 different games, I don’t feel that my criticisms are unfair or inaccurate. But I will admit that they can be construed as entitled. But only in the fact that I’m holding Capcom to the same standard that other games/franchises producing content today are also held to by a majority of the public. I don’t expect Monster Hunter to play better or in a more accessible way than any other game currently in existence. I simply want the franchise to play like a modern game. I do not consider MHW to be a perfect game in any sense of the word. But it is the first and only Monster Hunter game that I felt was actually playable for a person that didn’t have experience playing Monster Hunter games. That’s why it’s the only one I’ve ever purchased in the franchise and why I put in hundreds of hours playing it. And I’m not alone in that opinion. There’s a reason the vanilla version of MHW sold 16 million units while the next best-selling game in the franchise couldn’t even scratch 5 million units.

 The fact is that Monster Hunter gameplay is niche. Notice I said gameplay and not game concept. The concept isn’t niche at all. There are tons of similar games about hunting giant enemies. Toukiden, God Eater, and Freedom Wars just to name a few off the top of my head. People love the concept. Shadow of the Colossus, though completely different in style, is also about hunting giant monsters and it’s a beloved game that people still talk about to this day, 15 years after original release. Monster Hunter is niche because the gameplay is niche not the concept, story, setting, or graphics. The way I have always described the Monster Hunter gameplay is inaccessible. I don’t call it hard. I don’t call it unfair. I call it specifically inaccessible. It goes out of its way not to play like a “normal” modern video game. I have felt like this every time I’ve tried one of the games, with the exception of MHW. What I thought was so interesting about MHW was that it felt modern and playable for a general audience. You didn’t have to be a diehard OG Monster Hunter player to understand and enjoy MHW. You could just walk on and with a little practice start bringing down Anjanaths. It’s still very challenging and requires patience and strategy, which is a good thing. But in my opinion it’s world’s more accessible than any other game in the franchise and sadly that includes the upcoming Monster Hunter Rise.

I was borderline excited to play the Monster Hunter Rise demo. A Switch exclusive Monster Hunter post MHW seemed like an odd choice to me, but I own a Switch so it’s no problem for me. I tried the demo and immediately it felt like the franchise had retreated back into its old ways. I loved the addition of dogs and the ability to mount and drive monsters, but the core gameplay felt just as awful as back when I tried Monster Hunter Tri more than a decade ago. What I didn’t know then, that I know now from talking with Monster Hunter players online, is that they like that. To my surprise, a large number of longtime fans of the franchise actually didn’t like Monster Hunter World. In fact, many of them outright consider it the worst of the franchise.

Hearing that fans of the franchise dislike the most popular one shocked me. The community was so helpful and strong and large that I assumed the core players were happy to see their beloved franchise finally make a leap into the mainstream. It turns out that it’s quite the opposite for many players. What surprised me most is why. As I stated, I find Monster Hunter World to be the most accessible game in the franchise to date, including the soon to be released Monster Hunter Rise. And I use the word accessible intentionally because it’s the game that feels the most playable for people who are not longtime fans of the franchise. In my opinion, it’s a smoother, less convoluted, more straight forward core gameplay experience. This does not mean easier. The game is not “easy”. Like most mission based games with boss fights, there are easy and hard bosses within the game. But the game as a whole should not be referred to as easy. That’s a lazy, un-nuanced description which I would also consider patently false. But surprisingly this is how a large number of OG fans of the franchise describe MHW. They conflate the word accessible with the word easy.

I find the opinion that MHW is too easy compared to other Monster Hunter games interesting because it means players have internalized and ultimately normalized the inherent problems with the core gameplay to be features rather than flaws. Instead of fighting to have Capcom “fix” the gameplay to be more consistent with other modern games, they have actively rejected the idea and latched onto the long term outdated and overly complicated systems as inherent to what makes a Monster Hunter game a Monster Hunter game. As an outsider I find this interesting because it means that a large number of things I associate with Monster Hunter, such as hunting monsters, actually comes second or doesn’t register for them. They are playing the games for these outdated mechanics rather than for the general concepts. It’s sort of like if someone was playing Call of Duty for the way a specific gun feels rather than the overall experience. It’s not wrong necessarily but it’s a very different way to look at, judge, and ultimately experience games. This is also what causes a break between old players and new fans of the franchise. What we consider accessibility they consider nerfing the difficulty. And sadly this ultimately hinders the franchise from going/staying main stream.

One of the things I hoped for with the success of MHW was that the franchise would finally go mainstream. It would finally be a staple third party franchise that “everyone” looked forward to like a Final Fantasy or GTA. It had the potential to be that. I still think it does. But with the showing of Monster Hunter Rise and the core community’s negative response to MWH, I don’t think it will ever make the mainstream leap. The community just doesn’t seem to want that. They want it to stay niche. They want the gameplay to remain inaccessible because they consider the alternative to be too “easy”. It’s a shame really because the potential is clearly there. At the same time, I respect Capcom for staying loyal to their core fan base. If they don’t want their franchise to be mainstream and the studio can afford to keep it niche, then more power to them for fighting for what they love. I have seen more than one beloved IP ruined by outsiders taking over and ultimately destroying a franchise. So I certainly understand the aversion to change and shifting towards a larger community. I will say though that I feel like the MHW community was very positive. It was very helpful and welcoming in the forums and boards I’ve encountered. And I feel like that definitely played a role in its success. I would love to see a Monster Hunter World 2 type game, but I won’t hold my breath.

The debate between accessibility and nerfed difficulty is an ongoing one. It’s difficult and needs to be addressed on a case by case basis. But I would love to see some general industry wide standards and guidelines introduced into the community so that when a new game comes along there isn’t such a widespread and vitriolic debate about it. It would be better, in my opinion, if a developer could implement certain features for accessibility and there was a clear line between accessible and easy so said features wouldn’t be debated within the community. It is definitely a problem when games are made easier simply to appease noobs. Many people think it shouldn’t matter how other people experience a game, but it does. Within the larger scheme of gaming, it does and honestly the line of thinking that it doesn’t needs to stop. But true accessibility, as in making games playable in an authentic form for more players with various medical/physical limitations, is absolutely a good thing and should be supported by both those who need such features and those who don’t.

As always, thanks for reading. Please take the time to follow my blog, leave a comment, and check out some of my other channels if you enjoyed what you read.

Star Wars and Ubisoft: A Match Made in Bespin?

Recently it was announced that Ubisoft will be creating a new open world Star Wars game. The first thing that came to mind was the fact that any company other than EA will be making a Star Wars game. The reason for this is that EA’s exclusive 10 year contract with the Star Wars IP has finally/will soon come to an end. Thank the Maker! For the last decade we’ve watched EA flounder with the Star Wars IP. Before 2019, they had literally not put out a single game worthy of an exclusive deal with the franchise. It took them about eight years to finally do something worthwhile with the name Star Wars. That was of course Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order (2019). Eventually they followed up with Star Wars: Squadrons.

I want to be clear in saying that I believe both Jedi Fallen Order and Squadrons are great games. If you haven’t played them, you should. But two good games in the last 10 years is a terrible waste of such an opportunity. Way more should have come out of this deal than what did. So even though I did enjoy the last two Star Wars games, in no way would I support EA getting another exclusive contract for that, or really any, IP. I am fine with EA making more Star Wars games. In fact, I hope they do. I would love to see sequels for both Jedi Fallen Order and Squadrons released. But there is absolutely no justification in giving EA another chance at exclusive control of Star Wars games production and publishing.

Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order

I don’t actually think that this is an EA specific issue though. No developer/publisher should have that amount of control over such an important and prolific franchise. I want to see Lucasfilm Games handle this IP on a case by case basis. Let Ubisoft make their game but don’t hinder any other reputable studios with good ideas from making their own games as well. So hopefully we won’t see another company get a decade’s worth of exclusive rights to Star Wars or any other pop culture franchises currently owned by Disney.

As far as Ubisoft making a Star Wars game, I’m totally for it. I’ve seen a lot of complaining online about Ubisoft making formulaic games. In my opinion, this is a stupid complaint in the same way that it’s stupid when people complain about movies in the Marvel Cinematic Universe being formulaic. Yes they may reuse the same formula over and over, but that formula also happens to work. There are few companies I’d say make an open world game as consistently strong in core mechanics as Ubisoft. They have perfected that formula over many iterations in multiple franchises to the point where now it has become cliché. But clichés work. That’s why people keep using them. I trust Ubisoft to make a competent Star Wars game on the very first try. It might not be the best, most memorable Star Wars game ever built. But it also won’t be a steaming pile of shit. The Division as a Star Wars game with the ability to traverse multiple planets sounds like a recipe for success, if you ask me. Or if it’s a strictly single player experience then that would work fine as well. They just need to make Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey with space and starships instead of water and boats. And planets instead of islands.

Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey Map

Ubisoft is also well versed in both first and third person games. If you play as a Jedi, I trust them to make a competent third person light hack-n-slash game with Force powers, light RPG character development, and a fair amount of fun customization options. If you play as a mercenary, I trust them to make either a first or third person shooter that’s balanced, full of beautiful settings, and at least competently written at a minimum. That is what a Star Wars game needs to be. Could a Star Wars game be better? Of course. But as we’ve seen, it can also be much worse. I would take the consistent competence of Ubisoft over the inconsistent and often terrible results from a company such as Bethesda. I was extremely disappointed to hear that Lucasfilm Games signed off on Bethesda making an Indiana Jones game.

I’ll be fair and admit that not all of Bethesda is terrible. The game won’t be produced by Bethesda Softworks after all. But I don’t exactly consider MachineGames a winning decision for this particular franchise either. They make a great first person shooter. I have no serious complaint about the Wolfenstein franchise. But I do have serious issues with the idea of an Indiana Jones game being a first person shooter. The character is known for carrying a single pistol with limited ammo and favoring a punch and whip to guns. In what world does a company that makes almost exclusively first person shooters seem like the right decision to make a game about a character like that? Let’s be honest and admit that a company like Naughty Dog is more appropriate to tackle an IP like Indiana Jones. At least from a gameplay standpoint. I can definitely accept an argument for why they wouldn’t be the most ideal team from a writing standpoint. But that’s exactly why I think Ubisoft is a solid choice for a Star Wars game.

LEGO Indiana Jones 2: The Adventure Continues

Ubisoft is going to deliver a competent Star Wars game. It will look great. It will play well, when it’s not crashing (Looking at you Watch Dogs Legion and Immortals Fenyx Rising). The writing will probably not wow anyone. Well maybe not in the vanilla version, but the DLC might surprise us. My head is still spinning from the meta story in Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey – The Fate of Atlantis. But at least the story will be acceptable. It will follow a competent narrative with a sound basic plot structure, a clear protagonist, and a clear villain. There will be a conclusive ending for that villain, even if not necessarily a satisfying one. Damn you El Sueño! You may leave the game feeling like you didn’t get anything particularly new or original but you also won’t leave the game feeling like you didn’t get your money’s worth. In 2021, that’s a win, sadly. And I’ll take it at this point.

A few months before the announcement that Ubisoft was making a Star Wars game, I had an idea for one that I think would be quite successful. And the more I think about it the more I think Ubisoft would actually be a great company to produce it. I would love to see an open world game where you can travel from planet to planet freely like in Starlink: Battle for Atlas. You would have a ship that could take off, traverse space, and land on a planet of your choosing with little to no hassle. Space would be comprised of challenges such as pirates, debris, law enforcement, and other such obstacles. You would also have to deal with fuel limitations and costs. Unlike in Starlink, this game would allow you to get out of your ship. At which point the game becomes similar to Ghost Recon: Breakpoint. This would be a third person shooter with some hand to hand combat options.

That image looks like a Star Wars game teaser.

The idea would be that you are a mercenary trying to make your way in the universe. The narrative would center on you starting from nothing and building your way up in both riches and prestige. You would start with minimal money, weapons, and armor. At first you wouldn’t even have a starship. Then by doing jobs you would slowly accumulate money and use that to upgrade weapons, purchase access in the mercenary guilds via bribes and reputation, and eventually buy a starship to leave the starting planet. There would of course be an evil villain at play that you get pulled into fighting against. But that’s not really the point of the game. That’s just the core story to follow as you build yourself up.

The end game would center around you building up your wealth and reputation as a mercenary, which you would do by fulfilling jobs. There would be a variety of job types such as assassinations, bounty collection, racing competitions, arena fights, monster hunting, and so on. The more jobs you complete, the higher your reputation gets. And the higher your reputation the more access you have to better jobs. There would also be special time limited jobs like extra difficult bounties and monster hunts. I don’t see this being a perma-death type game, but there would need to be some sort of repercussion for dying. Maybe you lose a certain number of credits or something.

While this game would absolutely work as a single player experience, ideally it would be a shared world game. Something similar to The Division with an open world/galaxy where everything is happening for everyone at the same time but key occurrences happen for everyone at their own pace. I imagine things like a special bounty that only exists once on a server and everyone is competing to catch them first. But there would also of course be a PVP aspect to the game. Players would compete for jobs and be able to attack each other. You may capture a bounty but another player could attempt to steal the bounty from you before you turn them in. You would also have to deal with things like bounties being put on you. Both NPCs and other players would be able to place bounties on you, depending on your actions. And that bounty would never disappear until you were killed. There wouldn’t be an alarm like in The Division. Rather there would be a bounty board that players could check and then they’d have to find that specific bounty somewhere in the game and manage to capture or kill them, depending on the bounty terms. And the bounty could keep growing until it was claimed with subsequent criminal actions. You might get into a firefight with a random player and win to be surprised that you’ve just claimed a huge bounty unintentionally.

Players would of course have the ability to play cooperatively as squads and share rewards. I imagine a scenario where a crew all manages to acquire Mandalorian armor and rolls around looking like a scene from the show. But hopefully this game would not limit players to any specific race. I want a game where players can be humans, Twileks, Gungans, Wookies, droids, and so on. A true Star Wars experience. That’s the open world Star Wars game I want to play. Let’s be honest. Such a game wouldn’t be sustainable forever, and it shouldn’t have to be. The Division was fun while it lasted. We got our money’s worth, played several end game events and expansions, and then moved on to other things. That’s fine. That’s how games are supposed to work. The idea that games should last forever is stupid and leads to lazy development titles like Minecraft and Fortnite. I’m happy to play a game that’s enjoyable while it lasts and then eventually gets replaced with the next thing. I see great potential in a Ubisoft Star Wars game and I wish I was part of the development process. I’m confident that they will create a game that I’ll enjoy for at least a good 60 hours with some interesting DLC added on later. I hope they use some of my ideas. What studio would you like to see make a Star Wars game?

As always, thanks for reading. Please take the time to follow my blog, leave a comment, and check out some of my other channels if you enjoyed what you read.