What’s the (Avengers) Endgame?

As we are just a week away from Avengers: Endgame, I thought it appropriate to do a post about the future state of the MCU. This upcoming and highly anticipated film is called “Endgame” but let’s all be honest in saying that there’s no end in sight. The comic book business is dying, Marvel games are at the low end of the spectrum for quality and profit, and Marvel animation has played 2nd fiddle to DC animation since like the 90’s. Movies are the bread and butter of Marvel now and predictably moving forward. So it should surprise no one that the MCU will absolutely not be ending with Endgame.

They’ve already confirmed Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 (woo James Gunn!), Spider-Man: Far From Home, and a Black Widow movie. Black Panther 2 was unofficially confirmed after the success of the first one. Plus now that Disney has acquired FOX, they have the ability to introduce the X-Men and Deadpool into the mix, among other properties. So there’s no question that Marvel plans to keep churning out MCU films. At the same time though, we’ve already been promised high stakes in Avengers: Endgame. For instance, it was basically confirmed that this will be Chris Evans’, among other actors, last performance in the MCU. I’m sure we might get some cameos down the road from some, but for all intents and purposes some top tier characters are being retired, whether by death or some other means. So I wanted to make a few predictions of my own about the future of the MCU based on things I’ve seen and heard as well as my own understanding of how the industry works.

All MCU Movies

 Avengers: Endgame Predictions

Someone or more likely multiple characters are going to die by the end of this movie. I don’t mean the snappening. Personally I predict that they reverse the snap by the end of the second hour and everyone comes back, ultimately all working together to kill Thanos, who will certainly be dead by the end of the movie. But after the snap is reversed there will be people permanently dead by the end of Endgame.

Spider-Man, all the remaining Guardians of the Galaxy, Captain Marvel, Black Panther, and Black Widow will all surely survive. They’ve all got movies confirmed in the future so let’s assume they aren’t going to die. Ant-Man isn’t going to die because they just reintroduced Janet Van Dyne, flipped Ghost into a potential protagonist, and gave us our first adventure with The Wasp. There’s simply too much potential to keep that team going to remove any of them now. I could see Hank Pym dying though, but I doubt it. I don’t see Falcon dying because for one you can’t kill off one of only two African American (T’Challa is African) heroes before either of them gets a solo movie in the current political climate. It just doesn’t happen. I don’t think Valkyrie is dying either, for the same reason. Even more so when you consider that she’s not just Black, but the only Black Asgardian still living and one of only two living Asgardian heroes/warriors, unless you’re in the Lady Sif is still alive camp. And if you were going to kill off one of the Black characters it would be War Machine, because the character has already appeared in more movies, is much older, and has already gotten injured critically in the field previously (Captain America: Civil War). And the character can be easily replaced while preserving the suit as a character. Not to mention that Falcon becomes Captain America in the comics once Steve Rogers retires. I could see a similar occurrence happening in the MCU where Falcon takes up the shield.

The fallen resize

Hulk won’t die because for one it just doesn’t happen, but more importantly they haven’t yet introduced a replacement for him yet. Eventually they will most likely introduce a She-Hulk or Amadeus Cho replacement and allow Banner to retire, but that hasn’t happened yet. I’m also waiting to see them mention whatever happened to Abomination, which would require a Hulk to be present in the universe, because of course it would. I’m also going to assume Doctor Strange won’t die because they sort of teased a Doctor Strange 2, have introduced magic, which means there needs to be a master of magic within the universe, and the character has been heavily under used to just kill off so quickly. Those are the characters I’m fairly certain won’t die.

As far as retirements, that’s a little trickier. Retiring characters are interesting to predict because they’re essentially deaths with the potential to come back, as Iron Man did after Avengers: Age of Ultron. But in the case of Endgame, I also think most retirements would have to be considered semi-permanent both from a plot stakes standpoint as well as from a contractual obligation standpoint. It’s safe to say that a number of these actors, such as Chris Hemsworth and Robert Downey Junior, are probably tired of playing these roles. They’re both physically and mentally grueling as well as I’m sure repetitive after this many years. Even Stephen Amell is retiring from Arrow and that’s not nearly as big of an enterprise as any of the first generation Avengers roles, nor has it been running as long. So while it’s hard to specifically guess based on any hard evidence which characters will retire, but not die, it’s safe to assume that a number of them will.

MCU Phase 1
It’s been a long time since those days.

I believe Tony Stark is retiring. Not dying but hanging up the suit permanently. I think killing him off doesn’t work because if we go back to his vision in Age of Ultron, he lives to the end. The fact that he wasn’t snapped away also leads me to believe this. The first trailer tried to imply he might die in space, but then they did away with that theory with the latest trailer showing him in the white suit with the rest of the team. I say he makes it to the end and walks away so he can finally have a family with Pepper. I wouldn’t be surprised if Rhodes died as a straw that finally broke the camel’s back moment though.

Hawkeye is retiring. It’s way past time. Especially after introducing a wife and not two, but three children, including a new born. I’m sure at least some if not all of his family was snapped away, leading him to become Ronin, but as I already said, I don’t believe the snap isn’t permanent. Hank Pym is either retiring or dying, but I see no value in killing him off after introducing his wife who was believed to be dead, so I think retirement is what ultimately happens. Hulk will most likely imply some form of retirement but Banner will still be around a while longer, until they’ve introduced a Hulk replacement. Sadly, I don’t think we’ll ever get a Planet Hulk scenario after the events of Thor: Ragnarok.

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Planet Hulk-esque?

As I said, I could see Rhodes dying, but retiring is more likely in my honest opinion. Loki will be revived, which I think is garbage because he wasn’t killed in the snap. But as he is both the trickster and has a show coming in the new Disney streaming service, it’s just impossible that he’s dead unless the show is a flashback, which I doubt is the case. So while he should be dead already and remain as such, I think he’s coming back to life. Gotta love those Infinity stones.

Vision is currently dead, but I see him getting revived at the end once they’ve defeated Thanos and gotten the Infinity stones back. Or possibly half way through when they reverse the snap. In any case, I don’t think a character of that power level that’s only been in three movies and has an established romance that’s only just started to bud is getting killed off this quickly. In the same way, Scarlett Witch ain’t dying either. But let’s talk about actual deaths.

Vision Romance

Bucky Barnes is dead. I’ll get into why later, but for me he’s easily on the chopping block. Gamora is staying dead. While I hate the fact that she’s dead, her death was a requirement of the Soul stone being found and as such she can’t be brought back to life or the Soul stone is taken out of play. And that’s not going to happen. So unless they do some garbage time travel story and just retcon the whole thing a la Days of Future Past, she’s done. But because she’s dead I absolutely believe Mantis and Nebula not only survive but become permanent Guardians of the Galaxy members for Vol. 3. I’m not nearly caught up enough on Agents of Shield to confidently make a prediction for Coulson, but assuming the show isn’t on its last legs, I don’t see him dying again after already having been resurrected once. You also need some continuous Shield members in the MCU for continuity into the next Phase. Maria Hill I could see being permanently killed off though. Nick Fury will survive but there’s a reason for that which I’ll get into later. If he is actually a Skrull though, I could see the Skrull version of him dying and the real version being revealed to still be alive. You are going to lose a lot of B and C recurring characters, but which ones I can’t say for sure.

Agent Coulson

The one debatable character for me is Thor. I don’t believe Thor will be killed off for two main reasons. The first is that he is the only surviving member of the Asgardian royal family. I just can’t see the entire bloodline being killed off. Especially after he finally got his full power mastery in Thor: Ragnarok and got a new boss level axe in Infinity War. I also think his presence is extremely important for continuity. The next Phase is going to focus heavily on space, from what I’ve heard. Thor would absolutely be a main link between space and Earth, at least for establishing the foundational transition to this new Phase. Yes there are other characters relevant to space such as of course the Guardians of the Galaxy and even Captain Marvel, but the link between Earth and space was established in the MCU by Thor. I think he’s the ambassador into the next Phase. I predict he ends up retiring a small ways into the next Phase and ultimately reestablishing Asgard on a new planet. Killing him off kind of prevents this.

At the same time though, a very good argument can be made for why Thor will die. For starters, there have been multiple clues/threats going back to at least Thor: The Dark World about the extermination of the Asgardian royal family. Removing Asgard as a main player also opens up a new world of possibilities in space rather than focusing on the same characters/races. Chris Hemsworth is also one of those first generation actors that is probably ready to hang up the cape. So while I don’t see him dying, in this film at least, I absolutely understand why people would predict that he will.

thor and hulk

For me the most important death that I believe absolutely will happen is Captain America, or more specifically Steve Rogers. Captain America is The First Avenger. He has served his country and the world for more than 70 years, if you count the ice nap as active duty. He starts off by saying that he has the right to die for his country just like any other man (not an exact quote). He is the first super hero that ever lived. At least until Wolverine finally gets introduced. It would be poetic, logical, and emotionally moving for him to be killed in action saving the world. Especially if Bucky dies first. Because as has been said multiple times, and was the theme of The Winter Soldier, they’re in it together “till the end of the line”. What more impactful ending could there be than Bucky Barnes and Captain America dying together in the line of duty after having both been resurrected from death at different times? I believe that Captain America will ultimately be the one that kills Thanos but that he will die in the process. It will be a glorious moment that will make us all cry.

MCU Phase 4

Post Endgame Predictions

As I’ve already said, Avengers: Endgame is not the end of the MCU. It’s just the end of Phase 3. Phase 4 will happen and we already have a number of movies confirmed. So I just want to quickly give a rundown of some of my predictions for the next one to two Phases of the MCU to occur in no particular order.

  1. Thor establishes a new Asgard with Valkyrie taking his place as an on call Avenger from space.
  2. Iron Heart is introduced as the next generation Iron Man/Person.
  3. Captain Marvel becomes the new front man of the Avengers in place of Iron Man.
  4. She-Hulk is introduced and then Hulk/Bruce Banner retires fully.
  5. Nick Fury dies or retires, not in relation to Endgame, and Black Widow becomes director of Shield. I could see Maria Hill also taking over Shield but that seems too small a move.
  6. Vision and Scarlett Witch have a child/children.
  7. Falcon becomes the new Captain America.
  8. Nebula becomes a permanent member of the Guardians of the Galaxy.
  9. Mutants will be introduced but not as a full on X-Men franchise.
  10. The next great villain will be Galactus which means Fantastic Four will be introduced into the MCU.

*Even since I wrote this post, but before publishing it, a host of new announcements have been made my Disney/Marvel about future MCU content. It seems that a number of characters are getting their own show including The Winter Solider, Scarlett Witch/Vision, Falcon, and others. While I have not altered my original predictions here, I now am more inclined to believe we’re going to get some kind of time stone scenario where everything is reversed because way too many characters seem to be getting shows. Granted it’s quite possible that some of these will be set in the past/before Infinity War/Endgame.

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Sekiro: Noobs Cry Twice

This post is going to offend many and possibly cost me quite a few followers. I’m fine with that. I’m not here to garner a following. I’m here to incite discussion by making arguments tempered by more than two decades of gaming and being an active part of the gaming community. That being said, my intention with this post, as with all posts, is not to offend but to give an informed opinion about topics in gaming. Really I didn’t want to write this post but I got tired of having the same argument over and over with different people on different platforms so I thought it would make more sense just to write it all out in one place and then link that to people rather than hash it all out for the umpteenth time.

Last month From Software, the makers of Dark Souls and Bloodborne, released Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice. This is a game that was teased a few years back with the rumor mill believing it was Bloodborne 2. Much later it was revealed that it was a new IP that would take a much different approach to the From Software formula while still delivering an authentic From Software experience. If the internet is any indicator, the studio succeeded in literally every way possible except for the lack of character creation options, which personally I’m fine with.

Sekiro Tease

I have not yet played the release version of Sekiro. I played a pre-build at Taipei Game Show this year, which I discussed briefly in my blog post about the event. I will eventually play the full game though. From what the internet has expressed, Sekiro has all the iconic Soulsborne qualities. Beautiful settings, quality lore, and weird, random stuff. The only key differences between this and past games from the studio, within the same genre, are the presence of an actual character driven narrative and the inability to summon other players for help. The combat style is different, but it’s apparently no different than the difference between Dark Souls and Bloodborne. It’s just another take on that style of gameplay. But what’s most important is that for whatever reason Sekiro seems to be harder than any of their past games.

Difficulty is an interesting topic of discussion in games. What makes a game hard? I don’t think there’s a simple answer to that question. Many developers have addressed this question in different ways. Some people think it’s the amount of life the player character has which is ultimately measured by the number of hits the player can take in a given battle. Others think it’s the amount of life the enemies have which is ultimately measured by the number of hits the player has to deal in a given battle. And still others would say it’s the number of enemies you have to face in a given battle. And this only applies to games where difficulty is measured in combat scenarios. There are many different genres of games that define difficulty in different ways. While most people can’t fully agree on what is or isn’t difficult, a majority of players can agree on one thing: From Software games are hard. And apparently everyone is also in agreement that Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice is the hardest game From Software has ever made.

dark souls is hard

Sekiro is the fifth game in this genre by From Software but I couldn’t even tell you how many total games in this genre now exist. Other companies have started making these games as well such as Koei Tecmo with Nioh, currently my favorite game in the genre, and CI Games S.A. with Lords of the Fallen. So this genre is now well established and iconically difficult. It’s also important to consider that difficulty in games is both relative and comparative. A game is not difficult in a vacuum. It’s difficult compared to other games as defined by the overall experiences of a majority of players. The fact is that if you had never played any video games except games in this genre then you probably wouldn’t think Soulsborne games were hard. You would think they were normal difficulty. It’s only in the context of other games that Sekiro is considered ultra-hard.

Soulsborne games do not have a difficulty setting. Like with classic games such as Super Mario Bros., still one of the hardest games ever made, you just play the game as intended by the developers. There are no easier and harder default modes. The closest thing to a harder mode is new game +, which is completely optional once you’ve already completed it. There’s no hand holding or extra challenging way to play. The game just is. Difficulty levels were introduced to make games more accessible to different styles of play and different levels of ability, or at least that’s how it was sold. I actually think difficulty levels were introduced to games in order to encourage replays. In the arcade era you fed quarters into machines. Games were hard because they wanted to steal your money. But once home consoles became a thing, quarters became a non-factor. Instead games were measured in play hours. So questions about how you keep people playing a game after they’ve already beaten it came up. In my opinion, difficulty levels was one of many answers to this question. But not the only answer. Replay value as a concept is something that developers are constantly trying to figure out in new ways.

Super Mario Bros
Let me tell you about difficulty in games.

The issue we’re now facing is that Sekiro seems to have finally pushed the difficulty barrier too far. A vocal minority of people are claiming the game is just too hard and that an easy mode should be added. Now you have to understand the context in which this discussion is occurring to truly understand the nuances of it. The semi-official motto of Soulsborne games is “Prepare to Die” or “You Will Die”. The point being that From Software markets their games as being difficult as defined by the number of times you will fail before you finally succeed is much higher than in most games in the market today. I’d still say I’ve died more times playing Super Mario Bros. than in any singular Soulsborne title though. But the unofficial motto of Soulsborne games is “git gud” or “get good” if you want a formal English translation. The community sees the games as difficult and relishes that fact. The games are not “too hard”. They simply are hard and you as the player need to get better. Because of this culture of the genre, the idea of demanding From Software, specifically, to add an easy mode has caused a large debate within the community of people who claim to play video games. I worded that in that way intentionally.

prepare to die

Let’s be very honest about who started this “movement”. It was noobs. People who either through a lack of experience, a lack of patience, or a general lack of skill simply don’t want to put the work in to git gud but they paid $60+ to buy a pretty samurai game and now feel entitled to be able to finish it without sinking hundreds of hours into it. This is absolutely entitlement. Is it misplaced entitlement? I don’t know. They did spend $60. But at the same time, they should have been aware of the company making the game and done more research about the game before purchasing. So I don’t necessarily agree that having bought the game entitles anyone to being able to beat the game. I will however say that From Software, and really all developers of all genres of games, should have put out a free demo to allow players to try the game before purchasing. Then people could have made more informed buying decisions and would be solely to blame for being noobs or at least idiots for buying a game they weren’t good enough to beat when they had the option to try it and find that out beforehand. But in any case, this idea that From Software should add an easy mode to Sekiro was started by noobs. There’s no official hashtag for the movement so I couldn’t find the origin of the argument but I did try, just for the record.

As with all controversies on the internet, especially those concerning performance/ability to complete a task, the whiners were blasted. Soulsborne veterans were not having any such nonsense about From Software adding an easy mode to their games. Git gud doesn’t work if you can play on easy mode. And of course, in true internet fashion, when the whiners weren’t agreed with they shifted the argument towards fighting on behalf of a marginalized group. In this case that group was people with physical disabilities.

Sekiro-easy-mode

As an African American, I get extremely irritated when people, and I’ll be honest and say nine times out of ten it’s white people, choose to speak on behalf of my people based on their opinions of how they think things should be that would be better for my people. This is a super common occurrence that literally every group that doesn’t fall under straight, cis, white person has to deal with. They speak for racial minorities. They speak for homosexuals. They speak for physically disabled people. They speak for mental health patients. Rarely do they ask any of us our opinions on an issue and they pretty much never let us control the conversation about our issues. And that is exactly what’s happening here.

The argument, again after shifting the narrative away from lazy noobs, is that Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice is so difficult that physically disabled gamers aren’t able to play it. First of all, that’s extremely patronizing. People have beaten Dark Souls with Guitar Hero controllers, Rock Band drum sets, and literal bananas. If anything this is proof that the games really aren’t that hard and just require a lot of practice, which is the point of the games to begin with. Learn and improve by doing is the basic gameplay model. So to argue that disabled players simply can’t ever get good enough to beat Sekiro is insulting to them. And second of all, what gives anyone who isn’t disabled the right to speak on behalf of disabled gamers in the first place?

banana controller

I have seen multiple, yes white, people online arguing that the game needs an easy mode because of disabled players. I’ve yet to see a single disabled person voice this argument themselves. I’m not saying none have. I’m just saying that the most outspoken group of people making this argument aren’t disabled themselves. I’m sure some people will argue that this is because disabled people are marginalized and thus don’t have the proper platform to represent themselves, but again patronizing. Everyone can speak on the internet. I’m an African American but I can still write this blog and post tweets just like any able bodied white person can. I don’t need them to speak for me and disabled gamers don’t either in 2019. This is a false flag operation that noobs are using to try to get an easy mode made for themselves.

I want to reiterate a point that I’ve made countless times and have written multiple blog posts about. NOT EVERYTHING IS FOR YOU! More specifically, every piece of entertainment has a target audience and you are not always going to be a part of that target audience. And that’s OK. There are movies for Black people. White people can watch them but they’re not made with the intent of being accessible to them. There are games made for women with focused themes about feminism, gender inequality, and sexism. Men can buy and play them but they’re not made with the intent of being accessible to them. All products, both entertainment and not, are made with a specific target audience in mind. That’s literally how business, and marketing, works. To expect all things to be made for all people to fully enjoy is not only unrealistic but it ultimately lowers the quality of products and over simplifies people’s interests. Some games just aren’t for everyone and that includes you. And yes sometimes that means certain groups won’t be able to enjoy them. That’s not discrimination. It’s targeted product development.

target-audience

Sekiro is not discriminating against disabled gamers. Now if From Software told stores to not allow disabled players to buy the game or asked the player if they were disabled at the start of the game and then locked them out if they answer yes, that would be discrimination against disabled players. At worst, Sekiro simply wasn’t made for disabled players. But it is not actively discriminating against them. And arguing to lower the difficulty of the games for disabled players is not only patronizing, but the incorrect way to solve the problem.

Why might a game be difficult for disabled players specifically? Assuming they have the mental capacity to play and understand the game, then it really comes down to maneuverability and possibly reaction time. By reaction time, I mean players having to move their fingers/hands around the control mechanism quickly enough, not their ability to press buttons quickly once their fingers/hands have reached the button’s location. Reaction time is a part of gaming. Whether it’s Dark Souls, Dance Dance Revolution, or Gran Turismo, the ability to react to the game on time is the main aspect of the gameplay. Any active time game works that way. To remove reaction time from games altogether would severely limit what games could be made going all the way back to Pong. You could pretty much only make turn based games with no action timers if reaction time had to be completely removed from gaming. So in the same way that people aren’t advocating that games add a slow mode for elderly players, it’s not realistic to demand games to slow down for disabled players. What can be fixed is how disabled players interact with a game via control schemes.

xbox adaptive controller
This IS how you make gaming more accessible to disabled players.

Control customization is what really should be discussed if we’re going to talk about making games more accessible for disabled players. The XBOX Adaptive Controller is a great example of this. The problem was/is that a traditional XBOX controller made it harder for disabled players to interact with games effectively. The solution was not to dumb down the games. Because disabled players aren’t dumb. They’re physically limited by comparison to a majority of the population of gamers. So rather than change the games, Microsoft created a controller that would make it easier for disabled players to interact with the games they wanted to play. I think the fact that Fortnite was used in the ad is extremely telling. Fortnite is a PVP shooter that requires not just fast response times but response times and strategic decision making better than that of your human opponents. No one said Fortnite should force players to play slower for disabled people. Because that would be ridiculous. Instead they made controlling Fortnite more accessible for disabled players thus allowing them to play the game at true level. Which is exactly what gamers, disabled or not, want to do. Gamers want to beat games and beat them properly. Noobs want to pass through games as quickly as possible with little to no effort. Just because a person is disabled, that doesn’t make them a noob.

What Sekiro needs isn’t an easy mode. It needs an open button map that allows players, disabled or otherwise, to operate the game in a way that works best for them. I think it says a lot that in my blog post about the demo I commented on how much I, a gamer that isn’t disabled, hated the button map. The problem isn’t the difficulty. It’s the accessibility of the controls. Making more solutions to give disabled players more control is the real answer here. And again, I haven’t played the final build. It may very well be the case that some of the suggestions I’ve made here have already been implemented into the release version of the game.

sekiro-controls-xboxone

I want to be crystal clear, if it’s not already obvious, that I have no problem with disabled gamers or their desire to play Sekiro or any game. I 100% advocate for solutions that will help disabled players enjoy the same games that everyone else does. The operative word being SAME. We should not lower the difficulty threshold of games so more noobs can play them. And again, disabled gamers aren’t noobs. Noobs are noobs whether they’re disabled or not. And I don’t care what noobs want whether they’re disabled or not, because noobs aren’t gamers and shouldn’t be able to dictate what happens to games. But there’s also another serious component to this discussion that’s being overtly ignored. What about the developer(s)?

My mantra for this blog is “I fight for the user.” This has always been and will always be a blog that focuses on consumer sided arguments. But I’m no idiot. I still understand that gaming is a business and that business comes first for developers and publishers. So when things go too far into the realm of ridiculous, I do feel required to address and sometimes advocate for the developer’s side of the discussion. Not publishers though. Screw those greedy bastards.

Souls series

People are arguing that From Software has an obligation to create an easy mode in Sekiro even though many people have already beaten the game. One guy already did a speed run of it. The game is already widely successful, topping the global sales charts. So the question must be asked, what does From Software stand to gain, as a business, from adding an easy mode? Will profits increase? Will the game become more popular than it currently is? Will more top level streamers and reviewers feature the game on their channels? What is the benefit to From Software as a company for spending the time and resources to create an easy mode? And let’s please not pretend that it would be easy to make an easy mode. They are a company that makes a quality product with a certain expectation of experience. They would still work to create an authentic experience that’s just not as hard while preserving the sense of accomplishment for winning. Also factor in how their loyal fans that have been playing their games sense Demon’s Souls would respond. People love to say “it doesn’t affect you so it shouldn’t matter” but we all know that’s not how market pressure works. The truth is that enough people would get angry about the addition of an easy mode that it would affect sales. All of these factors need to be taken into account. It’s not realistic or fair to demand From Software, or really any developer, to devote resources to ultimately lose money.

Even if there was no negative backlash, which is a highly unlikely if not impossible scenario, that still doesn’t mean sales will increase. And if no profit comes from adding an easy mode then it’s a complete waste of time and resources. Resources that could be used to make DLC, patches, fix balance issues, or work on the next project. All of these things would be potentially sacrificed, for a time, in order to create this mode. If adding the mode won’t increase profits then it’s not a mode worth adding. And that still doesn’t address the issue of creative control.

creative control

I believe that markets shape end products. I believe that companies have an obligation to themselves to meet the demands of the public in order to make a profit. But I also believe that companies should be allowed to make the games they want to make. Even if a game/idea is obviously not going to be profitable, I still think a developer has the right to choose to pursue that bad idea if it’s what they want to pursue. Hopefully they pay attention and appropriately react to market pressure but they should never be obligated to. So I take serious issue with the narrative/argument that From Software has an obligation to make an easy mode for literally any group. Whether it’s people with disabilities, noobs, women, people of color, or anyone else, I think it’s both ridiculous and unfair to approach a topic like this from the position of making demands. Developers are artists and they have the right and responsibility to create the art they want to create. If that art isn’t profitable, which is absolutely not the case with Sekiro, that changes nothing. They still have the right to make unprofitable or even terrible art if it’s what they want to make.

I think it’s especially problematic that, as per usual, Americans, again mostly white people, have the nerve to try to dictate what a group of Japanese developers do with their already successful game. That sort of thinking comes from a combination of Western narcissism and privilege. It’s From Software’s game and they have the right to do, or not do, whatever they want with it. So stop whining and try to come up with more creative solutions for how to make gaming controls more accessible for disabled gamers rather than demanding games be easier. And for those who aren’t disabled and just can’t hack it, GIT GUD!

*I actually discovered this article after I finished preparing this post and I thought it was very well done. While I did not change anything about my post because of it, I found it to be insightful, informative, and mostly agreeable with my opinions on the subject. Even better is the fact that it was written by a disabled gamer who works as an accessibility consultant for game developers. If you are interested in learning more about this topic, I highly recommend reading it.

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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.

State of Play(Station)

Last week, Sony debuted the first episode of “State of Play”. In short, this is the PlayStation version of Nintendo Direct. I think this is a great thing. It’s just another example of how E3 is dying, which I’ve been saying for years. Every year I do a blog post about E3 and in the last several years I have been very critical. I want to reiterate that my problem with E3 is not the general concept but the business model and execution. I think live gaming events for the public are a good thing. I think making them private events that only allow media while charging game companies a fortune to give the event content is preposterous and outdated. And I praised E3 for finally selling some public access tickets in my post last year. But really it’s too little and nearly too late. If drastic changes aren’t made to the model soon, the entire concept will be dead in the water if it’s not already. All that is to say that I happily support State of Play as a concept.

Let’s be honest, the content shown in this first episode was lackluster. It was a bunch of VR announcements that affect less than 10% of the entire PS4 user base, a remake we don’t really need, an indie Gauntlet clone with a minor PVP component, Concrete Genie, and footage from two AAA titles that we were already well aware of. Concrete Genie was probably the only part of that presentation that had any real value to the bulk of PS4 users. And please don’t try to tell me that presentation told you anything about Days Gone you weren’t already aware of if it’s a game you were actually interested in before watching the presentation. But the content shown isn’t why I already consider State of Play a success and ultimately a good thing.

5 Nights VR

Sony announced that they weren’t attending E3 this year months ago. They were very open and honest about the fact that they have very little to show for this year. Between such a strong 2018, with games like God of War, Detroit: Become Human, and Marvel’s Spider-Man, and the all but confirmed transition to PS5 coming in less than two years, they’re basically riding out the rest of this generation. Also remember that there are great third party titles coming out that Sony has no real reason to try to compete with directly this late in the gen when the largest user base is on their platform anyway. Games like Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice put plenty of money in Sony’s bank account for a fraction of the work it takes for them to make the next God of War level project. And since they’re putting out a new console soon anyway while concurrently dominating the current generation, and have the largest console multiplayer base with games like The Division 2, there’s really no reason for them to rush out anything. I genuinely believe the only reason this first State of Play was released now is that they were trying to console people who have been complaining about the lack of announcements directly from Sony since the last E3. Remember that PlayStation Experience was cancelled last year as well. In a way, this is the ideal scenario though.

Sony and E3 BreakUp

When a company has nothing to show, it’s fairly common for them to say nothing, make up some bullshit, or show something way too far in advance. For whatever reason, a large number of gamers seem to be happy when the second or third thing occurs, but get livid when the first, the most honest of the three, happens. Yet Sony did none of these three things with this State of Play. They had nothing and they used it. Even with very little to show, they put together a 20 minute presentation about what was on the way, and in true Nintendo Direct style, they only showed things that will be out relatively soon. This level of transparency has never really existed in the gaming industry before from a AAA publisher and hardware manufacturer. I would much rather a company honestly tell me they have nothing than lie to me or show me stuff that may not even happen (glances at Scalebound). So for me State of Play was great even if the games shown were a combination of junk and information I already had.

scalebound
Still not over this.

I also really liked the format. I want all gaming presentations to be done like State of Play. No bullshit. No random people I don’t care about trying to make badly written jokes to transition between projects. Just a single faceless voice giving bare bones facts about upcoming projects over gameplay footage, with release dates in the not too distant future. They showed 17 games, all releasing this year, with gameplay footage, in less than 20 minutes. That’s amazing. The recent Nindie Showcase showed 18 games and took more than 25 minutes. The time of the long drawn out presentation is past. People watch these at work in a corner window or while traveling, on their phones and tablets. I don’t need pomp and drama in my games presentations. I need facts and footage in an efficient and informative manner. And there’s no resentment.

I won’t speak for everyone, but a large number of gamers are fed up with media and gaming personalities. Over the last several years, a lot of faux pas, bullshit, and disappointing moments have been perpetrated by the games industry and media, not to mention “influencers”. Much of this has been overblown, but there have also been many valid criticisms. People no longer want to see unqualified hacks or unknown randoms present games. Unless it’s an actual developer talking, I could personally do without a face at all. A large part of this comes from jealousy, and I include myself in that statement.

pewdiepie

Why does this random millennial get to present games while I have to work my boring job? Do they game more than I do? Do they have some degree in gaming that I wasn’t aware I could get? What gives them the right above all the gamers watching to have that job? This is the thought process that has developed over a generation of random unqualified media personalities with nothing to justify their positions except a social media following getting the privilege of working alongside the games industry. It has bread a lot of bad blood that has even often spilled into development as well. Many people are kind of just done with people, which is admittedly sad but not unjustified. I appreciate that Sony recognized this in how they formatted this first State of Play. Faceless voice presenting games with a minimum amount of marketing fluff. No one to get jealous of. No experiences to envy. No reason or target to hate. Just gaming. And really isn’t that what these presentations are supposed to be about?

AAA State of Play

I genuinely liked State of Play. The content was disappointing but the way it was presented was ideal. And this also showed that Sony is willing to do State of Play presentations even when nothing huge is in the pipeline. That’s great for indie games. There are so many great smaller titles that never get any attention simply because people don’t hear about them and they don’t have the budgets for marketing. But if Sony, like current Nintendo with the Nindies Showcase, will take the time to do presentations with no spectacular announcements, that gives indie titles a real chance to shine on PlayStation consoles.

I guess the point I’m making is that a lot of people have been complaining about State of Play but I think it showed a great amount of potential as a format and the future of gaming news. Slowly but surely we are breaking down the walls between the developer and the gamer with more direct access to information without the need for middle men, media companies, and elitist events that most of the gaming community can’t attend for one reason or another. In my book, the future of gaming information distribution is going in the right direction.

What are your thoughts on State of Play and what this means for the future of gaming news?

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Pokémon Let’s Go Everywhere

I wasn’t completely on board with Pokémon Let’s Go when it was first announced. I liked the concept. I absolutely loved the graphics. I was very happy with the idea of playing with an actual Pokeball as a controller. But between the pricing and the fact that it was just a remake of a game I had already played (Pokémon Yellow), I wasn’t sure I was Going to buy it. Keeping Mew behind a physical accessory paywall made me really angry as well. Ultimately I did buy the game but it was a number of months after the original release and was more because of Pokémon Go than the game itself. It just Goes to show that the current trend of strong arming people into making purchases because of their effects on completely different products really does work.

After 57 hours, I finally completed Pokémon Let’s Go (Eevee). By completion I mean I defeated the Elite Four, caught all 153 Pokémon available in the game (includes Meltan and Melmetal), defeated Blue, Green, and Red, and obtained the Crown accessory. It was an excellent adventure that filled me with fond memories of my childhood.

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While there are a few issues I have with Pokémon Let’s Go, I have to say that I very much enjoyed it. Linking the show to the game by focusing on Jessie and James of Team Rocket while also recreating the general plot of Pokémon Yellow, which is really just a supped up version of Red, Blue, and Green (if that’s how you roll) was very nostalgic. But more importantly, they also managed to turn a long turn based RPG into a 40 hour experience that still allowed me to get the whole story, collect all the Kanto badges, and capture all the Kanto Pokémon. Plus I didn’t even have to buy both versions of the game or find people to trade with because of the connection to Pokémon Go. While I would never say that this was an authentic Pokémon core games experience, I will absolutely say that it summarizes the experience of playing Red, Blue, Green, and/or Yellow quite well. It was also really nice to not have to use Pikachu as my buddy.

What Pokémon Let’s Go achieves is the ability to get the general experience of playing generation one Pokémon games without having to go back and experience generation one hardware, graphics, gameplay, and play times. It’s the perfect catch up game for people who are new to the series and want to play the newest games without completely ignoring the older ones. This is how these games should have been packaged and sold to begin with. It’s also what needs to happen with every other current generation of Pokémon games.

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Pokémon is seven generations long with the eighth generation releasing this year. That’s amazing and also way too burdensome to jump into now. Many younger players don’t go back to older generations. Their first Pokémon game is whatever generation gets released when they’re old enough to play. This is sad, because it means missing out on great stories from the past as well as literally hundreds of Pokémon, but quite effective. But if you’re like me and started playing the games at gen one, then you don’t want to skip everything since then. I played Red, Blue, Yellow, Gold, and Silver. That means that when Pokémon Sword and Shield, which I will buy eventually, releases I will have missed five generations of Pokémon games. For me, that’s a problem. But going back and playing that many older RPGs of the same type is never going to happen. Especially not before Sword and Shield release later this year. But what I would do, having now experienced Pokémon Let’s Go, is play similar games set in every generation of the franchise working my way up to gen eight.

Pokémon Let’s Go streamlines the process of experiencing gen one. It’s easier and shorter than actually playing through the original games. It negates the need to purchase both/all versions of the game in that particular generation. Plus the graphics are really nice. So now I want all the generations to get this treatment. This would turn several hundred hours of games into a much more manageable amount of time. It would give me a reason to keep playing Pokémon GO and it would increase the value of that $50 Pokeball controller. This is of course assuming they don’t force you to buy another one to get the Mew equivalent in each proceeding generation. It’s the perfect solution to a common problem for gamers today. How do you catch people up on franchises without making them buy old hardware or play tons of hours of ports of outdated software? Pokémon Let’s Go provides the solution to that problem.

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I really hope they create Pokémon Let’s Go games for the other six extant generations of Pokémon games now. I’d happily play all of them if they’re made with the same level of quality and focus on narrative that Pokémon Let’s Go was. The real question is do I wait to buy Pokémon Sword until after all these other games get released or do I play Sword first and then play the others as they trickle out? And why is Game Freak/Nintendo doing it in such a disorganized order? It would have made more sense to make the decision based on how Let’s Go performed. When they announced Let’s Go, many people were mad because they wanted a new generation of Pokémon game to release, which was already in development, because Game Freak knows what they’re doing. But what they should have done in light of how successful Let’s Go is was announced Let’s Go – Johto and hold off on Sword and Shield; the Kingdom Hearts way. They could have kept putting out Let’s Go games and then the culmination of that would end with Sword and Shield being announced/released. That would have created peak hype while allowing all current Pokémon players the chance to catch up on the franchise before releasing a new generation. Because now chances are people will jump straight to Sword and Shield and be much less interested buying more Let’s Go games. That game did so well because there were no other Switch Pokémon options, except for Pokémon Quest.

I don’t know what the grand plan is now, but I really do hope they release Pokémon Let’s Go games for every generation. That’s the only way I see myself catching up on the franchise. Let’s Go was way better than I expected and is way more convenient than trying to go back and play the older games. They just need to get a logical release schedule in order.

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DJMMT’S Top 15 Tips for Starting The Division 2

The Division 2 dropped last week and I am loving it. Ubisoft was kind enough to grace me with a copy of the Ultimate Edition. Now normally I would of course write a full review of the game. But because I already wrote a very thorough review of the beta, I decided that it wouldn’t be super productive for my readers to write a review of the full game because much of the experience is the same. That’s not to say that no changes have been made since the beta, because a number of crucial ones have in fact been implemented, to my surprise. But they’re mostly smaller details that don’t warrant an entirely new review. So instead I decided, for really the first time in the history of this blog, that I would write an easy starter guide for the game instead.

My intention here is not to give you a fully encompassing guide to The Division 2. I’m only at level 11 and I’ve only played it for just under 11 hours. There are people who are already much farther along and can give you very specific tips for specific sections of the game. I don’t want to do that. My intention here is that if you haven’t started the game yet, or haven’t really gotten past the tutorial missions, then this guide will help you settle into the game more effectively from the beginning. Now of course these are my opinions on how to most effectively play this game early on. Some of the tips will be obvious, others might be obscure, and not everyone who’s already playing the game will agree on all of them. So take it all with a grain of salt. Just know that I’ve been playing the game solo up to this point, I’m averaging about 1 level up an hour, and while I have died a number of times, it’s not often and it’s rarely a surprise when it happens to me. So without further ado, here are my top 15 tips to starting The Division 2, in no particular order.

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1. Solo Play is A-OK

The Division 2 is sold as a squad based third person loot shooter, and it is, but team based play isn’t a requirement early on. The truth is that other players are a hindrance in many ways when playing a game. They tend to slow you down and aren’t going to necessarily want to do what you care about past the current mission. Thankfully, The Division 2 doesn’t require you to play with others early on. In fact, it discourages it in many ways. You can’t even join a clan until you get to around level 10. It’s not based on level, because it’s a progress/achievement based unlock, but the required challenges have a difficulty minimum of seven with a recommended difficulty of 10. You don’t need a clan to play with randoms via matchmaking and friends, but really you don’t need them early on. You can very comfortably play the game solo for the early portion of the game. I haven’t played with a single other player and I’ve not struggled to clear any missions or side missions. I do die on occasion, but not often. Rather than jump into playing with others, you should use the early stages of the game to get a feel for it and figure out your preferred playstyle, skills, and weapon types.

2. Armor Number Only on Gear (Does NOT Include Weapons)

While there is a large selection of armor with various enhancements of various types, the reality is that none of this matters early on. You should devote no time to looking at buffs, specs, enhancements and so on when choosing gear until you’ve hit at least purple gear and chances are you can probably do that all the way up to gold gear or even post level 30 legendary drops. Just look at the armor number, because the increased defense will do way more for you in the early stages than buffs will. You will find better armor, often with better buffs, literally every time you level up so it doesn’t make any sense to put effort into trying to create a steady build until you hit the armor wall and stop finding better stuff every other mission. Just wear whatever pieces you find with the highest armor stats, change them out for the next better thing frequently, and don’t think about anything else. Ignore colors all together early on because you will often find higher rarity gear with lower defense stats than gear with a lower rarity. Choose the higher armor stat. Rarity only really matters once you start getting mods, which you won’t for quite a while.

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3. Craft Armor (Don’t Buy It)

There are two main reasons for this. The first is that the farther into the map you get, the better stores you’ll find. So purchasing anything from the early vendors is a waste of credits because it’s almost all trash compared to what you’ll find in shops later on. I did see one purple mask in the first vendor early on but it wasn’t worth the price compared to the mask I already had at the time, even though it was only blue rarity. But more importantly, crafting is a lot more affordable. Some crafts do cost credits to complete but the prices are always better than buying directly from the vendor. Your crafting potential corresponds with your level, meaning the higher your level the better gear you can craft. This also means that every time you level up you can potentially improve your gear right away if you don’t want to stick it out for a gear drop, which in my opinion you should. One note about crafting is that, like in the first game, it’s RNG based on a performance range. You should not craft anything unless the minimum armor stat in the range is higher than your maximum armor stat on whatever type of gear you’re considering crafting.

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4. Try Different Weapons

You are going to find a ton of different types of guns. Most of them you will have no point of reference for either in real life or in games. Some of them you might know, and because of that you’ll probably consider sticking to them. Don’t! Everyone’s playstyle is different when it comes to shooters but this is not a traditional shooter. Aim matters, but not as much as in a normal shooter. There are headshots and weak points, but those aren’t required to kill enemies effectively in this game. This is an RPG, which means everything goes by the numbers. You get additional damage and XP for getting headshots, but that shouldn’t be your strategy for how to approach the game. Just use base damage to calculate your effectiveness. Whether you hit center mass, a leg, or a hand, the damage is basically the same. So don’t worry about being super accurate. Instead think about total DPS. The number of shots is technically irrelevant as long as you can kill your target(s) without reloading. That’s not to say that you should just pick up a chain gun and forgo all accuracy. Different guns will feel better or worse for different people. The point is that you should never disregard a gun because it’s not your preferred style of weapon because in a numbers game it may actually do better for you overall. So don’t be afraid to try new guns you pick up while looking for that ideal weapon.

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5. Damage > Range > MAG > RPM

Just like with armor, you are going to find a lot of weapons and be unsure which ones to use. Now as I’ve already said, you should try different types of weapons, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a stat based component to picking which ones to try. As with armor, you should be picking the most baseline effective weapons you can find and upgrading whenever possible. But comparing guns is a lot more complicated than comparing armor. I’ve found that the most effective way to compare guns is by comparing their specs in this order. Damage comes first of course. As I said, this is an RPG. So it’s not about getting one great hit. It’s about getting the most effective combination of hits in the shortest amount of time. I don’t measure effectiveness based on number of shots. I measure it based on number of reloads. Now of course number of shots is a factor of number of reloads, but every gun has a different mag size and will be only as effective as the shooter and situation. You’ll also find some guns that have really great damage but garbage everything else and ultimately aren’t that effective. Shotguns are the worst about this. You will find some amazing shotguns. But their range is usually garbage. If an enemy gets that close to you it’s often already too late. And most shotguns have trash reloading times. So while damage is important, range is only slightly less important. I’ll take a slightly lower damage sniper rifle over a higher damage shotgun any day of the week because you can play from the safety of distance and cover while still getting a large amount of damage and often about the same reload time. Really you want something that’s effective at mid to far range for most instances but easy to aim in close distances as well. My favorite beginner gun is the Classic-RPK because the range is quite good, the damage is fairly good, and it’s fairly stable.

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Next you gotta look at mag size. Now again, it’s not about number of shots fired as much as number of reloads. But the number of shells per a mag defines how often you need to reload. Even if it’s one shot one man, which it rarely is outside of using an SR, that still means that a five shot mag only lets you kill five enemies before having to reload or change guns. Yes you do get to carry two weapons and a pistol at all times, but I wouldn’t recommend hot swapping rather than reloading every mag as a normal method of play. You really should have your second weapon as a special scenario gun, which I’ll get into later on. I can’t tell you what the right number of shots per a mag is for you, but I can tell you that you should be able to kill a group all standing in a cluster without reloading. Whatever weapon you’re using, if a group of enemies maxing out at six people, assuming none of them are heavy armored, aren’t all taken down without reloading, then you’re using the wrong gun. Later on you’ll get mods and buffs that can heavily speed up your reload time, but you shouldn’t rely on that early on because mods won’t be coming for a while and even when they do that’s a high risk way to play the game, and the reason I don’t suggest maining a shotgun. Once you do get good mods though, I’d say sacrificing mag size for better reload speed is worth the trade off in most cases.

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Last but not least. You should consider RPM. While your secondary weapons can have a lower RPM, because it’s a special case weapon, your main weapon really needs to shoot fairly quickly. Again, unless you’re running a one shot one man build, it all comes down to DPS in an RPG. So the faster you can shoot, the more damage you can get, and the faster your enemies will go down. What you really want to do, once you get there, is find a high damage high RPM gun with a decent to high mag size, put on a fast reload mod, at the expense of some mag shots (around 15%), and then you have a powerful gun that’s fairly accurate at mid-range that reloads at a competitive speed and not often. Currently I’m using an M249 B which deals 402 base damage, shoots 550 RPM, and has a 100 shot mag. This is hard to use in green rarity class because of the lack of mod slots, but once you find a blue one and the mods to go with it, it’s a top shelf gun for beginners and veterans alike. But ultimately when comparing any two guns, compare the specs in the order I’ve given even if it means putting down a gun you really like. Chances are you’ll be more effective now and eventually find the gun you like again with better stats in the future.

6. Use a SR as Your Secondary Weapon

I don’t really play too many shooters and because of that my aim is often a bit shaky. I can count all the successful snipe kills in PVP I’ve gotten on my fingers because I’m terrible at it. But the sniping actually feels really good in The Division 2. Like surprisingly good. So good that I’m genuinely starting to feel like I actually have talent. So even if you’re not traditionally a sniper, you should be one in this game. Specifically because of how it affects the rules of engagement. Again, this is an RPG. You don’t need headshots to get kills. They net more XP and damage, but if you have a good SR and you’re not playing above the recommended level threshold you should be getting one to two hit kills for hitting enemies in the finger. The range makes this gun worth using for two main reasons. The first is that a lot of enemies will be trying to snipe you or take you out from long distance. Closing that gap can be difficult, dangerous, and time consuming. It’s way easier just to blow them away from long range. The other reason is that you can engage challenges from outside the challenge area with an SR and the progress counts. Taking control points is a great example of this. If you can find a good location where you can see the enemies clearly without crossing into the control point boundary, you can engage them and they’ll pretty much never come after you. They’ll shoot towards you if they see you but they won’t try to storm you or flank you. They’ll stay in the control point area and let you pick them off like flies. And they will not respawn. Because of this, the SR is one of the most effect tools a solo player can use. And because of the RPG style of gameplay, you literally just have to hit the broadside of a barn to be effective with it.

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When it comes to picking an SR specifically, I say focus on base damage coupled with mag size. RPM and reload speed aren’t as important because you should ideally be getting one to two hit kills. At the same time, there are some lower damage fast action sniper rifles if that’s your preference but these will give your position away quicker and won’t get one hit kills, which gives enemies a chance to take cover.

7. The Junk Function is Life

As with the first game, you’re going to find a lot of junk gear but not want to throw it out right away. You may want to sell it, store it for specific uses, or deconstruct it. At no time should you just throw it away. In The Division 1, every single piece of gear had to be dealt with manually. You had to deconstruct one piece at a time. You had to sell one piece at a time. It was slow and annoying. In this game you have the junk function, as well as the favorite function. You can mark pieces of gear with either a junk or favorite mark. This is helpful for organization but also for efficiency. You can deconstruct all junk in one shot. You can sell all junk in one shot. There is zero reason to deal with trash gear one piece at a time ever again. Once you upgrade your inventory to max capacity, you can just keep collecting and marking junk till the bag is full and then throw it out in one shot for a profit or crafting components. One of the best improvements from the first game.

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8. Cover Is NOT Optional

If you played the first game then you already know this. But this is a guide for noobs so I felt like though it should be obvious it should still be included. This is a cover based shooter. You cannot Destiny or Halo your way through this game and rely on shot accuracy and DPS to get through firefights. You have to use cover. You have to reload while in cover. You have to use the move from cover to cover function. If you’re not in cover that means you’re either sure you’re going to get the kill(s), moving to cover, or about to die. Always be in cover no matter how weak the enemies are.

9. Use Armor Packs at the End of Armor not Life

You can’t refill life in this game. It refills automatically by not taking damage for a certain amount of time. You can refill armor though, with armor packs. Armor is the white bars floating above your life bar. As long as you have armor, you HP won’t be affected. You can carry a limited number of armor packs at any given time as well as find more from enemy drops and certain refill boxes. Armor also restores itself after firefights conclude but refill packs don’t. Your first instinct may be to use armor packs only once your life bar is nearly depleted, believing you can win the fight and save the armor pack for a worse situation. This is the wrong mentality. There are too many stray bullets, hidden snipers, unseen grenades, and other massive damage attacks to take this kind of risk. As soon as your armor is fully depleted, get behind cover and use an armor refill pack. You’ll replace it later. There are also upgrades that increase how many armor refill packs you can carry and automatically refill them in safe houses. I recommend getting all of these upgrades as early as possible.

Armor

10. Early Progression Should be Natural

This genre is known for its XP and loot grind experiences and yes The Division 2 absolutely has that. But it’s in the late/end game. The level cap appears to be 30 currently. You do not need to grind for at least the first third of that if not more. I haven’t done anything a second time unless I failed it the first time. I haven’t gotten stuck in any missions for an extended period of time. I haven’t struggled a ridiculous amount while trying to complete challenges. You can naturally progress through the opening chapters of this game just by completing the challenges available. Do the main missions, do the side missions, collect the SHD caches, and complete the projects at your own pace without forcibly grinding XP. The early game is set up so that it’s very balanced and fair for a solo experience. You should not even be starting the road to grind fatigue for at least the first 10 – 15 levels of the game.

When it comes to entering new areas, each one has a suggested level range. I recommend finishing all the available single completion activities in an area and collecting all the SHD caches before moving to the next area. Based on my experience, you should be at the half way point of the level range at a minimum before entering the next area. So for example, the third area in the game has a level range of 4 – 8. This means you shouldn’t try to go in there till you’ve hit at least level six.

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11. SHD Caches First

Right away the game will deal you lots of different activities including main missions, side missions, random activities, and SHD cache locations. You should absolutely go for SHD caches first. These net XP, but more importantly unlock your permanent upgrades. Upgrades have a huge effect on gameplay. And there are a lot of them to unlock. So before you run into missions or try to take down that special bounty, just take the time to collect the SHD caches first whenever you reach a new area. And on your way to them you can unlock the safe houses. This way you’ll get some easy experience, upgrade faster. and ultimately be more effective overall. Note that almost none of the upgrades have level caps/minimums and the ones that do all have minimums of level 30 because they’re specialty upgrades. This means that from level one you can start unlocking the majority of upgrades as you collect more SHD points.

12. Control Points are Fast Travel Locations

In The Division 1 you only had safe houses, main landmarks, and DZ entrances as fast travel points. You could also fast travel to main missions. In The Division 2 they’ve added control points. These are basically not so safe houses. They are points on the map that you have to liberate through combat and then once liberated they’re occupied by friendlies. You can use these as fast travel locations. This is super convenient because it means now when you die you don’t have to go all the way back to the nearest safe house which is often not really near your last death location. It’s just in the same map area. Control points are placed in much more accessible locations around the map area so you can get back to the action much quicker. You can also lead enemies towards these points and friendly NPCs will help you fight them.

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13. Keep track of Hyena Boxes

In The Division 2 the main villains early in the game are known as hyenas. These are just thugs that wonder around in gas masks terrorizing people. You will get familiar with killing them very quickly. In certain missions you will come across hyena lock boxes. These hold special items but require special keys to open. Sadly keys are very rare and you will almost certainly not have any the first time you find a hyena lock box. In fact, you probably will find a number of lock boxes before getting a key. I still haven’t exactly figured out what nets keys. I only have acquired one so far. But I’ve found multiple lock boxes. It’s for this reason that it’s important to take manual notes about the location of lock boxes. I use screenshots of the map and physical location to keep track of them. Now obviously there will be guides online for this, but if you’re trying to play without walkthroughs then you need to keep track of these yourself due to the game’s lack of a manual map marker function. Really I’d like to see that patched in.

Tom Clancy's The Division 2 Screenshot 2019.03.17 - 01.15.16.44

14. Pop Your Skills Prematurely

One of my favorite improvements from the first game, and the beta, is the addition of number based skill cooldown meters. You can see the exact amount of time it will take for a skill to recharge so you can use it again. But there’s a strategy to this, depending on the specific skill you’re using. There are eight skill types available with multiple versions of each type. Some of them are single use and have to go through an entire cool down cycle. But some of them give you a bit more control of the situation. The turret being the best example. When you use the turret to completion, the cooldown time is 117 seconds. But you can end any skill prematurely by holding down the skill button it’s tied to. Doing this cuts the cooldown time in half. Smart players will use this to their advantage. You can see how much life/time the turret has left before it will disappear. If you destroy it at any time before it dies naturally, the cooldown time is only 59 seconds. That means that if you pop it manually just before it breaks down you can use turrets two times as often. And you can use this trick for any skill that’s not a one off. So obviously it’s not gonna work for the seeker mine because that’s a one off explosion and will always need to fully recharge unless not used at all, which does happen from time to time. It can still die off after being out a certain amount of time so in that situation you should also pop skills as soon as possible to get the reduced cooldown times.

Tom Clancy's The Division 2 Screenshot 2019.03.18 - 23.13.40.51

15. Turret is a Must (For Solo Play)

Of the eight available skills, all of which can be unlocked from the beginning, the basic turret is without a doubt the most effective skill for solo play. It really is like having a second man on the field. It auto-aims but can be directed at specific targets. It lasts a fairly long time unless destroyed. It has a 360 degree view so it can cover from just about anywhere on the battlefield. Its range is fairly decent. And most importantly it gets kills. A lot of AI support in games doesn’t finish the job. It does some of the work but leaves it to you to close the deal. The turret initiates the negotiation, negotiates the deal, and closes the deal all on its own. At the same time though, you can drop it and it won’t engage until you engage first or it’s attacked directly. This means you can set it up as part of a plan of attack without the set up starting the firefight prematurely. It really is the only required skill option for a solo player. Your secondary can be whatever floats your boat. I prefer the seeker mine but I’ve decided to try out other things for science.

That’s it for my start tips for The Division 2. If you have any more questions please leave them in the comments and I’ll answer them as soon as possible. You can also watch me stream the game almost daily on my Twitch channel.

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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.

ToeJam & Earl: Back in the Groove! Review – 8.8/10

When I was a young lad, back before the age of internet, always online, and microtransactions, we played many great games that made no sense but were tons of fun and super addictive in a healthy way. I can’t tell you why fat, Italian plumbers jumped on mushrooms or why blue hedgehogs felt compelled to collect golden rings, but I can tell you that the number of mushrooms I squashed and the number of rings I collected is much higher than the number of Fortnite bucks I’ve earned. One of my favorite games from my childhood was the original ToeJam & Earl (1991) for the Sega Genesis.

If I’m honest, I didn’t really understand the game as a kid. It was the original roguelike before that was an established genre. I played it often but never really knew what I was doing. I also don’t remember watching the opening movie so I don’t think I even knew what the premise of the game was back then. What I do remember is that it was one of the games that my father and uncles used to love to play and we all would play it together. I also loved the funky music and the fact that a character was named ToeJam, because that was and still is funny to me for some reason. So when I think about ToeJam & Earl, it’s always with great fondness. I eventually did go back and play the original game years later, actually watched the cutscenes, and completed it. I also completed the ToeJam & Earl III: Mission to Earth (2002) for the XBOX. I tried ToeJam & Earl in Panic on Funkotron (1993) right after completing the first game, but I really didn’t like the different gameplay style. In any case, I have always cared a great deal about this franchise. That’s why I was ecstatic when I heard that someone was making a new installment after all these years. It is an honor and a privilege to be able to play a new ToeJam & Earl game in 2019. I kind of wish I had gotten the Switch version so I could round up my uncles and father and play it as a family once again.

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ToeJam & Earl: Back in the Groove! is both a sequel and a remake of the original game. It is important to understand this going in because it informs a number of design choices that people who aren’t familiar with the original game might not like or understand. As I said previously, it’s a roguelike but it has a number of conventions specific to this franchise and not much else. It’s also important to understand this in the context of judging it. If you’re looking at it strictly as a game being released in 2019, then it’s obviously not going to stand up to most if any top tier games being released today. Or at least that would be the case if we didn’t keep getting dumpster fire AAA releases like Fallout 76 and Anthem. But if we look at this in the context of recreating a game from 1991, then it’s one of the most true to form remakes I’ve ever seen not based on a game from the modern era. That’s the context within which I played and ultimately chose to review this game.

Assuming you have played or at least looked up some footage from the original game before starting Groove!, the  first thing you notice as soon as the opening cutscene starts is that the graphics are vastly improved but true to the original style. It’s like night and day even though they’re both flat environments pretending to have three dimensional qualities. This new game definitely has a bit more depth to it with things like hills and the ability to clearly see the previous level floating beneath the one you’re currently on, but it’s still the same 2D style used in the first game. The vibrant colors stand out so much in this game. Compared to original, it’s like you were looking at a dirty screen and someone finally cleaned it off. Everything is brighter and way more detailed, including ToeJam and Earl themselves. Plus there are a lot of display options. You can play full screen or windowed play in 18 different resolutions.

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There is a literal hoard of earthlings in this game to interact with, both evil and good. The movement is fluid and diverse for all of them. The playable characters move very smoothly as well. There’s no skipping or lost frame rate issues, even when playing with multiple players on or offline. Not only is the movement smooth, but it’s also well animated. What I like most about the game’s graphics is the amount of variety. 68 earthlings, 67 different types of presents, 25 stages with random layouts, nine playable characters, and even multiple environments from level to level. Many of these assets are interactive as well. Even the trees and bushes can be directly interacted with. And this is all randomly generated depending on which mode you’re playing. You do see some repetitive stuff such as enemy assets reskinned in different colors in later stages. But overall there’s a lot going on in Groove! and the game handles it perfectly.

The HUD is simple but effective. You have the level counter on the top center of the screen, which also notifies the player when a piece of the spaceship is on that level. In the bottom right you have the mini-map. With the rest of the HUD being in the bottom left, showing the character’s avatar, the XP bar, the HP bar, and the power up meter. In local coop mode, the HUD for the second player appears in the top left corner of the screen. When playing with four players, the HUDs are distributed to each corner of the screen when playing in a single screen and to the top left of each box when in split screen mode. What’s really nice is you can turn the map and HUD off if you want an extra challenge. You can also make the map larger at any time by holding the map button if you need to examine it in finer detail. But really the mini-map, assuming you have a large enough screen like I do on my PC, is quite adequate. It shows you locations for special things, the entire grid of the current level you’re on, and environmental landmarks such as desert or water. I never once needed to use the enlarge map function during play.

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The menus are done very nicely too. A much better, clearer font than was used in the original game. The manual, which is quite comprehensive, is broken up into clear sections with small blocks of text, making reading through the whole thing very easy to do. It’s not an overwhelmingly graphic intense game. It’s more like an art piece that combines the simplicity of the past with some of the benefits of modern graphic development to make something totally new and beautiful but still definitively retro in nature. You’re not getting the bare bones Sega Genesis graphics but you’re also not going too far and getting something odd looking like ToeJam & Earl III. Ultimately I think it’s a wonderful looking game that delivered exactly what it needed to visually.

The first thing I want to say about the gameplay is that it’s buttery smooth. I was surprised at how smooth the gameplay actually is. Even when using a controller, a DualShock 4 in my case, the input works perfectly. There’s no lag. No input issues. This game works. I was very happy with how it instantly accepted my controller and gave me no issues. Now the game will not revert back to keyboard automatically if your controller gets disconnected during play. My controller ran out of battery in the middle of a game while running away from a group of enemies and I couldn’t pick up with the keyboard. My guy just stopped moving until I got the controller plugged in. The game doesn’t even pause when this happens. And since you spawn in the same spot where you died, I just kept dying until I got the controller working again. A bit of an oversight on the developer’s part, but nothing game breaking and easily fixed with a patch. HumaNature Studios is also really responsive on Twitter and is actively seeking out and listening to feedback for future patches, so this issue may very well be fixed in the near future.

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The gameplay is quite simple in practice. You have to traverse 25 levels in search of 10 spaceship pieces, which are scattered randomly throughout the levels. The 10th piece is always on level 25, as stated in the manual. You traverse these levels by walking around each one trying to find an elevator. You can walk normally or sneak to avoid being seen by bad earthlings. Different presents can affect your movement as well. You also have the ability to swim through water but you can only swim for an amount of time corresponding to your current health. Meaning the larger your life bar, the longer you can swim when you’re at full health. You always start a new game with three lives but can earn more as rewards and through presents along the way. While traversing these levels you can collect money, presents, and food which also all incurs XP. Money is used to pay for services from good earthlings and to use certain items like parking meters. Presents, of which there are 67 different types, can do all sorts of things, both good and bad. They can do things like refill health, give you special powers like flight and better jumping, or reveal parts of the map. They can hurt you as well by doing things like dropping all your items, damaging you, and lowering your rank. Some presents are broken when you find them and have a chance of exploding when opened. You can also drop presents you don’t want.

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You can only carry a limited number of presents at a time based on the character you choose and your current rank. Food can either restore or remove life. Rotten food, which always looks like the same types of food, hurts you while all other food helps you. Different types of food give or take different amounts of health. You can also gain XP. XP is used to increase your rank. Increasing your rank increases your stats like the size of your life bar, walking speed, and number of presents you can carry. There are a total of six stats with each character having their own strengths and weaknesses. You always start at the bottom rank at the beginning of a new game and can work your way up 15 ranks. You don’t level up automatically. Once you’ve collected enough XP, which can be gotten in many different ways, you then have to find a “wiseman” and he will increase your rank free of charge. You don’t have to increase your rank to beat the game. As soon as you find all 10 pieces of the spaceship you’ve won.

The gameplay is very simple to understand but that doesn’t make it easy. The many different enemy earthlings can be quite tricky and they often congregate in groups. Some will chase you or hit you with status effects like freezing you in place. Some will even drop you down to lower levels. Sometimes you’ll intentionally have to jump off levels to get away from enemies, causing you to have to back track and make your way up again. The map for each level always starts off blind and then expands as you explore the level you’re on. Presents are important. It’s necessary to use them often but strategically. The presents do many different things, but many of them are not identified until you’ve used them once. This means every time you find a new type of present you risk it being a bad present if you haven’t already used it previously to identify it. There is also a good earthling you can pay money to identify presents for you. I’m not 100% sure if this is true, but it seems to me that presents you’ve identified in past games will be identified in all future games. But there are also enemies and bad presents that remove your present labels and I’m not sure if this carries over to future games. It’s definitely something that I need to confirm with more research. It could also very well be completely random from game to game.

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The gameplay is always the same but there are three difficulties that can be played across three modes. The “Fixed World” mode has the map stay relatively the same every game. This is a good mode to learn how to play the game once you’ve finished the tutorial. But the real challenge is when you hit “Random World” mode. This is the same gameplay but the layout of the levels changes every time. This is the roguelike experience that was spawned by the original game. There is also “Random World Hard” mode. At the start you only have Fixed World mode and then you have to reach level 10 to unlock Random World mode. But you don’t unlock Random World Hard mode until you complete a Random World run. The Hard mode is harder but not by a huge amount, in my opinion. There aren’t necessarily more enemies but they do more damage. There are also fewer presents around. Or at least that was my experience playing it. I played it in coop with a total of three players so maybe that affected the experience as well. We did manage to beat it though. You also have to take into account difficulty level and character. You can actually change your difficulty mid game whenever you want from the pause menu, but you can’t unlock prizes and achievements unless you’re in normal mode, which is considered the hardest of the three modes. Because of this, I never took the time to play in either of the two easier modes because that would be a complete waste of time. Each of the nine playable characters has their own stats, so it’s important to understand all six stats and choose the character that best fits your play style.

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There are also two mini-games that you play within the game as special occurrences. The Hyperfunk Zone is kind of like a Sonic the Hedgehog style special zone. It’s a 2D side scroller where you continuously run from left to right collecting items until you run out of time or hit an exit portal. There is an ending, and an achievement for reaching it, but it’s quite a ways forward so it’s hard to achieve. It’s fairly simple to play and only requires you to press one button to dodge past exit portals. If you time it wrong then you leave the Hyperfunk Zone before reaching the end. You can also run out of time but picking up clocks extends your time in the zone. When you enter the Hyperfunk zone during coop play, all players are transported there regardless of where they are on the map. Each player plays independently but the running pace is the same. That means if you have two players and one gets out the other player can continue and the player who is out has to wait for all other players to finish.

The second mini-game is kind of like Guitar Hero but with buttons. You have to press corresponding buttons to a beat as they move down the screen. It works OK but the timing isn’t as clear as Guitar Hero and the feedback isn’t there with vibrations or anything so you tend to be too early or late sometimes because your eyes don’t agree with the beat, even though it looks like you were on time. This mini-game is played solo directly on the map so playing doesn’t affect other players during coop.

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Groove! supports both local and online cooperative play. When playing in coop mode, only one person has to be in normal difficulty to unlock prizes at the end. This is really convenient for when playing with younger children or amateur gamers. You can enjoy the game with them while allowing them to play at an easier difficulty without losing out on prizes. Local coop supports up to four players. Each HUD is added to another corner of the screen and the screen splits for local coop so having more than four players would get way too cluttered. Online coop, which doesn’t split the screen, also supports up to four players. You don’t actually see the HUDs for other players in online coop so technically there’s no reason it couldn’t support more, but four is the maximum and honestly that’s enough for the size and scope of this game.

I really like the way the coop works because it’s not limiting like most coop games. You are playing the same game on the same map, but you can work fairly independently of each other. You have your own lives and life bars, money, and presents. But present effects are shared. Or at least some of them are like invisibility. It didn’t seem like physical enhancement presents are shared like wings or rocket boots. When one player runs out of lives they become a ghost and can take a life from another player if that other player agrees to give one up. All players show up on the mini-map so you know where you are in proximity to each other. But if one of you falls down to the previous level the other player isn’t affected. The one limitation is that players can only progress to unvisited floors together. This means that if one player reaches the elevator to the next floor first then they have to wait for the other player(s) before they can progress to the next level, even if that player has fallen down to a previous level. Thankfully though, you are immune from all damage when inside the elevator so you don’t have to worry about dying while waiting for other players to get there. Even the fake elevators give you immunity when waiting for other players in them because they don’t reveal themselves to be fake until all players have entered them.

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During local coop, the game will instantly switch between shared and split screens depending on how close players are to each other. It will also split the screen if one of the players accesses the present or pause menu. The other players are unaffected. The screen splitting is dynamic so it constantly changes back and forth. It’s a horizontal split for two players, a horizontal and a vertical split for three players, and a 2×2 split for four players, all of which work fine for this gameplay. You do need a large enough monitor to play comfortably with that many players though. I can’t imagine trying to play this with four player split screen on the Switch handheld mode screen. The split can be set to dynamic or fixed. Dynamic means the screen will split based on location. The player farthest north on the map will inhabit the top screen in the event of a split. Fixed means the same player, player one, will always be on the top, or top left in the case of four players, whenever the game splits the screen regardless of your specific location on the map. This can be toggled in the pause menu at any time. There is a teleport option in coop mode that allows a player to join the rest of the group instantly but I haven’t figured out exactly what prompts this yet. I think it’s when all but one character is in the elevator waiting to move on to the next level, but I couldn’t recreate this in all situations.

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During coop there is a quick chat function which is fairly easy to use. It’s all preloaded text based comments that appear over the speaking character’s head. These can be used, whether online or offline, to give other players information like where to go or that you’re waiting for them. There is also a verbal cue to tell the other player(s) to look, but that’s only in local coop. In online coop, when characters are near each other, you can see the message appear over the speaking character’s head. When not near each other the message shows up at the bottom of the screen with the avatar of the character/player speaking. In local coop the quick chat message always appears over the speaking character’s head, requiring other players to look at that player’s screen if they’re not near each other and thus in shared screen view.

The drop in and out nature of the gameplay works really well for casual and serious play. Even the online allows people to drop in and out at a whim without ending the game. You can create private and public lobbies and jump into and out of games of any difficulty, including those you haven’t unlocked yet, easily. It will also let you continue if you jump into a game and then the original host leaves for whatever reason. The only issue I experienced with the online was once I joined a game and got all the way to the end but then it disconnected me before I got to claim the prizes. I’m also not entirely sure if players can boot you or not when you join their games so that may be what happened. Normally when you get to the end of an online game, even when you joined late, you get to claim the prizes as you normally would. You do not however, unlock Random World Hard mode by completing it online. You just get the achievement and the prizes but it remains locked in your game until you complete the Random World mode first.

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Overall, the gameplay is quite good. There are a few minor issues that one might consider bugs, but I’ve yet to witness anything game breaking. The gameplay is challenging but fair. There are definitely some balance issues from character to character though. ToeJam is way superior to Earl for example because of his much faster movement speed. There is also some sort of issue I can’t quite figure out where certain player combinations are forced in coop. Like when you try to join a game certain characters will be locked other than the character the host is already using. I’m not sure why this is. It may just be a bug because in local coop I can select any combination of characters I want including both retro and modern ToeJam & Earl at the same time. In any case, it’s a really fun game and I look forward to spending more time with it.

The greatest compliment I can give to Groove! in terms of writing is that it has any at all. Most roguelikes have little to no story for some reason. This game has a full story as well as in game dialog. It’s not a fully immersive, plot focused game by any means. But the fact that HumaNature Studios took the time to actually flesh out an entire narrative is a treat in and of itself. It’s a simple story that’s comprised of only two simple cutscenes and some in game dialog, but it still bookends the gameplay experience in a way that offers the player a reason to start and closure at the end. Really that’s all a game like this needs. The in game dialog is funny and there’s quite a lot of it. It takes place on the elevator rides between levels as well as during gameplay. It changes depending on how many players are in the game and who they are. Even with only one player there is still elevator dialog. It’s mostly funny comments about the game itself. Speech bubbles are also used during gameplay to tell the player things like when you’ve reached your maximum number of presents. At the same time that this happens, audible speech is used by the characters to clue you in when a speech bubble appears. There’s not much in the game as far as writing is concerned, but I’m happy with what was included. As a side note, this game has possibly the most comprehensive in game manual I’ve seen for any indie game ever. It’s split into 12 sections and has a ton of information. Taking the time to read through all of it before actually playing will help you considerably. It’s also important to note that the game can be played in English, Spanish, French, Italian, German, and/or Portuguese.

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As this is a ToeJam & Earl game, the music is not only important but top shelf. By my count, there are 32 songs in the game. You can actually access all of these in the credits whenever you want. The music is of course quite funky, as it should be. The sound effects and voice acting are good too. Very responsive with no lag and high quality. I was also very happy with the sound mixing. The sound effects are not drowned out by the music. You can set the volume levels of the music and effects separately in increments of 5 from 0 to 100. I keep them both at 100 and it sounds fine. I really don’t have any complaints about the sound in this game and I don’t think anything else needs to be said about it. It does not disappoint.

There’s a surprisingly large amount of replay value in this game. And not just because it has random world generation and three difficulty levels. That plays a factor, as does the fact that there are nine playable characters, three of which have to be unlocked. But really there is just a ton of content to unlock and interact with. Groove! has 49 achievements and 41 unlockable rewards, each having a different effect on the gameplay. Plus you can play with other people both on and offline. There’s just a lot to do if you really want to get your money’s worth. A single game takes about one to two hours maximum depending on the difficulty you’re playing at and your pace. At $20 I think the price is OK but not amazing. You definitely can get 20 hours out of this game if you want to do everything. But if you’re just playing to complete each difficulty once then it’s a four – six hour game at best. So either make of it what you will or wait for a discount. $10 would be more than fair for this game. I give it an A+ for replay value.

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It’s quite a mazing to be reviewing a ToeJam & Earl game in 2019 unironically. It took a long time to get this project started and then another four or so years to get it released after the Kickstarter campaign was successfully funded. HumaNature Studios definitely delivered. ToeJam & Earl: Back in the Groove! is exactly what it needed to be. It has a few small bugs but really it’s a perfect recreation of the original game with modern conveniences and improvements added in a non-invasive way. I really can’t speak highly enough of this game. I definitely recommend it for people who like games that are just fun. It’s not too challenging. It’s not too intricate and doesn’t require a huge time commitment. It’s just a fun experience worth having and sharing with other people. And that’s really what ToeJam & Earl was always meant to be.

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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.

Target Audience Matters (The Anthem Problem)

Recently Anthem, the new shared world loot shooter from Bioware, released. The review scores have not been kind, but who really cares about that? What I’m more interested in discussing is the split in public reception of the game. I haven’t tracked the numbers by any official means but there seems to be an almost even split between people who really like the game and people who think it’s trash. Usually this isn’t the case. Most of the time the majority of people hold a similar opinion about a game and some outliers think the exact opposite. This is the case with Battleborn (2016). It was a fairly average co-op shooter that came out at the same time as Overwatch. It’s by no means a bad game but it’s fairly forgettable and as such it failed to gain traction over Overwatch. But even today you will still find a few diehard fans of the game that swear it’s way better than it actually was. This is the norm. But every so often you get a game with a hard split down the middle. This appears to be the case with Anthem.

I don’t own Anthem but I played the closed alpha, closed beta, and open beta. Ultimately my experience with those pre-builds made me opt not to buy the game. I did enjoy the basic gunplay and the graphics are quite impressive. But ultimately it was a hollow overall gameplay experience devoid of meaningful narrative structure and riddled with issues such as preposterously long loading screens. That is how it was for me. But even I still could see myself picking it up in year two, which I’ve been advocating since before the game released, as can be seen in this old blog post.

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Anthem is a fairly repetitive loot shooter with bullet sponge enemies that relies on the sensation of playing cooperatively with other players to have a meaningful and enjoyable gameplay experience. That is not a knock to the game but an objective description. I would use the exact same description to describe Destiny, The Division, and a number of other games. That’s the basic tenant of this genre. Some games do it better and some games do it worse but at the end of the day you’re paying for the experience of farming loot with your friends or randoms in order to get better stats so you can farm more loot with your friends or randoms. There is usually a story component to games in this genre but the level of quality and importance of it varies from game to game, just as it varies in necessity from player to player. As far as how Anthem compares to other games in the genre, it’s got its high and low points. The graphics are awesome. And the ability to fly in an iron man suit makes them even more awesome. It has too many loading screens. The classes (Javelins) are very differentiated but you aren’t locked to one class like in Destiny. The coop aspect is important, but playing the game solo is not nearly as fulfilling or manageable as in The Division. The narrative is no worse than that of Destiny.  I could go on, but the point is that it’s not a worse game than the other games as service loot shooters currently leading/exemplifying the genre. It’s more of the same. You just pick your poison and get pretty much the same overall experience. I’m most likely going with The Division 2 this year, if anything, because the alpha and closed beta really impressed me and I very much enjoyed the base game of the first one. But I wouldn’t say that this decision is any more valid than choosing Anthem or Destiny II.

*I keep referencing Destiny instead of Destiny II because I refused to play Destiny II so it would be inappropriate for me to cite it for comparison having not played it.

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While Anthem is a fairly standard iteration of the loot shooter genre, it seems to be getting considerably more hate at release than other games of the same type. Destiny, Destiny II, and The Division all did fairly well at release as far as public reception goes. I personally enjoyed playing Destiny and The Division at release. It’s only a bit later after the base content has run its course and people are stuck with lacking end game and waiting for updates that they start to complain, usually. The pricing/release model for additional content in Destiny is the only reason I chose to wash my hands of the franchise. So why does Anthem seem to be getting considerably more hate during the initial release window? I think it has a lot more to do with BioWare than it does Anthem.

In marketing and product sales, which I do work in professionally, we often use the term “target audience”. You probably already know this term but basically it means who you’re actually trying to sell products to. Often people outside your target audience will purchase the product, and that’s great, but when creating a product and the marketing strategy for said product, or game in this case, the company chooses a specific demographic to focus on based on a number of factors. One of the most important factors in choosing a target audience is past purchasers/loyal consumers. Basically people who have bought products from you in the past and didn’t hate them are more likely to buy more products from you in the future. This is fairly obvious in entertainment. It’s the reason people buy music from the same artists again and again and follow specific actors, writers, and so on. The same is of course true for games. That’s the reason you care when you hear “new game from Naughty Dog” and really don’t care at all when you hear new game from (insert some unknown indie dev you’ve never heard of here). That’s why brand image is so important. But what it also means is that over time as brands build up a loyal consumer base they also become beholden to the expectations and desires of that consumer base. This is why developers tend to develop a consistent style over time and often focus on specific genres or gameplay mechanics. As they establish their base more, that base tends to want more of what they first enjoyed when they joined that base. And they stayed loyal because they kept getting more of what they enjoyed the first time. This makes it fairly easy for studios to figure out what to do to keep their customers happy and more importantly loyal, but it also comes at a cost.

Naughty Dog Anniversary

Having an established and strict product style often means being limited to that style. If developers want to branch out and try new things it’s often met with anger and disdain. This is what happened when CD Projekt Red announced that the upcoming Cyberpunk 2077 would be a first person game. After three third person RPGs over the course of eight years culminating with The Witcher 3, arguably the greatest third person RPG ever made by any objective criteria, people came to expect their next great RPG, which they’re already marketing as bigger and better than The Witcher 3, to also be in third person. Because the bulk of their loyal audience are people who like/prefer third person RPGs. I’m personally in this boat. That’s not to say that there isn’t a market for first person RPGs, because the 50 remakes of Skyrim prove that there absolutely is. It’s just that CDPR’s base like their RPGs in third person.  So when CDPR picks/picked their target audience for Cyberpunk 2077, they had to choose between targeting their established fan base, the most common choice for developers today, or they had to risk that base in order to target a new audience. They chose the latter. Again, this doesn’t mean that people they aren’t targeting won’t buy the game. Many absolutely will. It simply means that they decided that their focus audience/market for this new game won’t be their established player base. At least not in totality. And that’s fine but it does come with a risk. In my opinion, the negative repercussions that come with that risk are what’s plaguing Anthem today.

BioWare has been making story focused, character driven long form, single player RPGs for more than 20 years. They brought us hits like Knights of the Old Republic I & II, still the gold standard in Star Wars games, the Mass Effect Trilogy, the Dragon Age series, and the highly acclaimed one off Jade Empire. For the bulk of almost two decades they were the gold standard for single player, story driven western RPGs. Didn’t matter if it was a gun, a sword, magic, or a lightsaber. If you wanted a great single player RPG you bought it from BioWare. Then suddenly they put out a shared world co-op loot shooter with arguably less meaningful story content than The Division with a butt load of preposterously long loading screens and you don’t even get to see what your character looks like outside of the iron man suit. While none of that, other than the loading screens, makes Anthem an objectively bad game, it absolutely makes it a game that’s way outside the interests of BioWare’s usual target audience. But that didn’t necessarily stop all of them from trying/buying it.

BioWare Games

I think this is the real problem Anthem is facing. Destiny was made by Bungie and published by Activision. If you play Activision games, that means you like shooting things, usually people, in first person and much of the time the things you’re shooting are controlled by other players. If you play Bungie games, that means you like shooting things, usually people, in first person and much of the time the things you’re shooting are controlled by other players, but those people you’re shooting aren’t necessarily earthlings. The difference between the two companies’ target audiences and loyal bases are purely cosmetic. It was a marketing match made in heaven and that’s why they were able to make not one but two overrated games that raked in a shit ton of profit they didn’t by all rights deserve. The player base and the target audience were perfectly aligned for both the developer and publisher without either company going too far outside their norm. The only reason the companies recently split was because of disagreements about late stage management of the franchise/installment. The same cannot be said about BioWare, EA, and Anthem.

BioWare made a game for the Destiny crowd. The problem is that the bulk of people who have been buying games from BioWare for the last 20 years aren’t the Destiny crowd. Conversely, much of the Destiny crowd hasn’t been buying BioWare games for the last 20 years either. Obviously EA is involved in all this, but in order to streamline the post/conversation, I’m ignoring that aspect for the most part because it may change the reasons why this happened, but it in no way changes the fact that it did and the results of that decision. What this means is that a bunch of people, let’s say half the current player/purchaser base, who have been playing BioWare games for several years bought a BioWare game expecting the same type of game they’ve grown used to. While the other half of players bought a loot shooter expecting a loot shooter, which they got. To their credit half isn’t bad. The fact that they were able to get about as many people to migrate over from Destiny II and The Division, among other loot shooters and battle royale games, knowing full well that The Division II, which after playing alphas and betas for both games I do have to say is superior overall, is coming out just a month later, as people who traditionally buy BioWare games is fairly impressive. Or sad depending on how you want to look at it. There is still a lot of bad blood over Mass Effect: Andromeda, which personally I don’t get because I thought it was a fun game. But in any case you have about 50% of players enjoying the game because they buy loot shooters and like loot shooter mechanics. But that other half is serious Western RPG players who went in expecting Mass Effect or Dragon Age with Iron Man suits and instead got Destiny with only one planet and fluid classes.

anthem 4 players

I truly believe that while Anthem has a number of flaws (I’m gonna keep mentioning those loading screens BioWare) it’s not a bad game. It’s by no means a traditional, or even subpar by comparison, BioWare game for their core fan base. But for a loot shooter it’s fairly decent. Ultimately this is the dilemma for every established studio with a loyal player base. They can’t make outside the box projects because the people who usually provide the bulk of their revenue don’t want to see huge changes to the formula and often won’t stand for it. For creatives this is a pretty depressing deal. They can’t pursue anything radically new or different for fear of angering their loyal customers. And we know this hasn’t only happened to BioWare. Many studios have had similar problems both critically and commercially when trying to do something new. While I’m all for consumers voicing their opinions with their words and their wallets, one must admit that this is why the industry has become more repetitive while delivering less and less risky and interesting content. The reason we’re seeing so many battle royale games is because they’re really easy and cheap to make by comparison to fully fledged games with a story focused campaign. Even the ones that aren’t ultra-successful still tend to make a profit when produced by larger studios with a popular brand attached to them. Even Tetris battle royale is super successful and that cost basically nothing to make by comparison to the last Nintendo first party game. And tons of people are saying it’s worth subscribing to Nintendo Switch Online just to play that one game. It’s a big problem with no clear or easy solution.

So what’s the answer here? If Anthem had been released by a different studio with a more established loot shooter pedigree would it be facing the negative responses it is now? In my opinion the answer is no. It’s still not the top of the line loot shooter so it wouldn’t necessarily be garnering high praise but I think it would be doing a lot better in the public eye. It’s very difficult for a studio to change its stripes this drastically and garner success and positive reception out of the gate. The only truly great example that comes to mind is Guerilla Games with Horizon Zero Dawn. But that’s a much different situation than BioWare and Anthem. Similarly to BioWare, Guerilla Games was known for only one genre of game, FPS, in the 13 years it had existed before HZD. They did release a third person shooter no one remembers in the same year as their first FPS game, but ultimately that IP never went anywhere. They went on to release four more FPS titles in the years leading up to HZD after their first game. But there is one key difference between them and BioWare.

killzone
One of several Killzone games you never played.

All the first person shooters Guerilla Games released are part of the same franchise, Killzone. If you’re not familiar with Killzone, that’s exactly my point. Before HZD, the only thing Guerilla Games was “known” for was a lackluster franchise of PlayStation exclusive FPS titles that pretty much no one was playing. And even if you did know the name Killzone, since it was a release title for at least one PlayStation platform, chances are you didn’t know the name Guerilla Games was attached to it. They simply didn’t have the brand recognition or success with their games that BioWare has had. And BioWare had/has it across multiple IPs. It was way easier for Guerilla Games to make something entirely new for them and be met with open minded consideration because most people went into HZD with no preconceived notions or expectations about the studio. BioWare, and of course EA, do not have such privilege when making games. They’re simply too big and well known to ignore their current player base’s expectations.  This is exactly what’s crippling Anthem. About half the players shouldn’t by all rights have even considered touching the game if not for the developer name attached to it. If anything EA should have stealth released under some new established studio as a dummy brand for BioWare. This of course would never happen, but I’d be willing to bet it would have been met with more positive reception.

There’s a reason Capcom can put out a totally repetitive game about killing monsters in order to get stronger to kill more monsters with the most mediocre story ever and it can win RPG of the year while BioWare can’t put out a loot shooter and get above a 70 on Metacritic. Capcom has been around twice as long and has been making games from a plethora of genres since their inception. The expectations are way different for them even though in many ways they’ve created a similarly repetitive game with its own list of design flaws and issues. And yet I bought Monster Hunter World almost a year ago and still put in more than 20 hours of gameplay in the last two weeks alone. BioWare is in a problematic situation. And with EA pulling the strings, there’s a good chance the studio will be shuttered in the not too distant future. And yet all BioWare is really guilty of, other than getting into bed with EA to begin with, is making something they’ve never made before. Honestly it’s kind of unfair. And yet I’d sooner support the studio closing down than I would consumers being forced to buy a game they don’t want from a studio they’ve supported for years simply to keep that studio open out of no longer deserved loyalty. It’s a shitty situation for everyone involved.

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