Starlink: Battle for Atlas Editions Matter

A couple months ago, I published a review of my first hours playing Starlink: Battle for Atlas. While I stand by the views expressed in that review, it has come to my attention that it may have been misleading due to information that I was not aware of at the time of writing. So don’t consider this post a retraction of that review but rather a clarification of some specific points.

I praised Starlink and continue to do so. It’s a phenomenal game that I never put down feeling disappointed. But having done more research and now finished the game, my perspective has been altered, or more appropriately refined, slightly. Every play session I had, in the 30 hours it took me to complete the game, was enjoyable. Whenever I stopped playing, I was excited to play it again as soon as possible. While I was playing it, I always felt like there was a lot of content, albeit much of it was repetitive a la the No Man’s Sky formula. It definitely feels like a large amount of fulfilling content tied to a story I found interesting, until I reached the end, which was surprisingly abrupt, even though it was after almost 30 hours of play. While the gameplay can get repetitive due to the farming and planetary take over mechanics inherent to the game/genre, I still think it’s a great overall experience that appeals to players looking for games like No Man’s Sky with more direction. What I was not aware of though is how vastly different my gameplay experience was to that of other players. More specifically to players who don’t also have the Digital Deluxe version of the game.

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The review copy of Starlink I received wass the digital deluxe edition on Switch. When I first started the game, I was under the impression that most of the content I had access to was available to all players with the exception of StarFox related content for PS4 and XB1 players. What I learned after already playing 20 hours was that this was/is completely false. Apparently anyone who didn’t buy the digital deluxe edition is playing a completely different game than I did.

My version of the game gives me full, unadulterated access to 10 pilots, 6 ships, 15 weapons (not including the default Arwing lasers), and all the StarFox story content. All ships, including the Arwing, all weapons, and all pilots can be used interchangeably in real time for every single portion of the game. You can even play the StarFox missions without using StarFox. Every pilot, weapon, and ship has independent experience points and can be mastered through use. Each pilot has special abilities and attacks that are useful in specific situations. Each weapon and ship can be modded with four to five mods that drastically affect performance. You can have up to three saved loadouts that can be hot swapped in the menu screen whenever you want, including mid battle. I had full control of my gameplay experience. I could tailor my loadout(s) for each individual enemy to be perfectly suited to take them down.

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I needed a ridiculous amount of experience to max out everything, which I didn’t end up doing due to a lack of content, so I was never needlessly gaining XP. The RPG elements of the game were a critical part of my gameplay experience and added to the diversity and strategy of playing the game. For me, Starlink was a robust, multifaceted space fighter shooting game with RPG elements, a solid plot concerning several playable characters, and an arsenal of weapons at my disposal. I do think it was ultimately too short for the amount of pilots, ships, and weapons available though. But this wass not the game many people appear to be playing.

Something that needs to be noted about my version of Starlink is that the content is all seamless. When I was playing the game, I couldn’t tell what was vanilla content and what was deluxe edition content. There are no content walls. There are no purchase this to unlock this moments. There are no separate menus for DLC content. The story doesn’t break apart for each character. The cutscenes aren’t broken up between different characters. Everything in the game seems like it should be there and the game would suffer if any part was removed. Even StarFox content has been almost perfectly weaved into the rest of the game. Other than the differing art style, the characters appear in basically all the group cut scenes, as do all the other pilots. So I honestly can’t even imagine what this game would look like without all these pilots present. Yet this is apparently how the game is for everyone else.

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I had assumed that everyone had access to all the weapons and ships but that some of the pilots may be in the story but not playable without those specific toys. What I have come to learn is that actually nothing is available to vanilla physical edition players except the toys that came with their version. Even worse is the fact that the XB1 and PS4 physical starter packs come with less content than the Switch starter pack for the same price, due to the lack of StarFox.

The Switch physical starter pack comes with two pilots, two ships, and three weapons (not including the built in lasers on the Arwing that don’t take XP to get stronger). The XB1 and PS4 versions only come with one pilot, one ship, and three weapons, don’t have StarFox pilot or content, and don’t have a built in default weapon on the ship. All additional pilots, weapons, and ships have to be purchased separately for all versions. This is ridiculous. It’s literally all my fears for gaming brought to life. People have been making EA DLC jokes for years but this is the extreme version of that.

StarFox Starter Pack

Playing Starlink with only two pilots, three weapons, and one ship would be like paying $60 for Smash Bros and getting only two fighters, one map, and only hammers, hearts, and bombs as usable items with everything else being available as paid DLC. And these physical starter packs cost $75! That’s insane. Especially when you consider that for $60 you can get the vanilla digital edition and start with five ships, seven pilots, and 12 weapons. You are literally getting bent over by buying the physical edition. Expanding your arsenal of ships, pilots, and weapons is also considerably cheaper via DLC in digital form. You could probably buy a second digital deluxe edition of the game and have change left over with the amount of money you would spend buying all the content in physical form. For just $5 more than the physical starter pack you can get the digital deluxe edition and that’s without taking sales prices into account. As I write this, it’s currently $60 on the eshop.

I think this is a real problem. Not only for the game itself, but for the precedent it sets. This is more predatory than amiibo and that’s already bad to begin with. Not to mention the fact that this pricing scheme ruined the image of a perfectly good game that should have been in the running for Game of the Year. It definitely shouldn’t have won, but the digital deluxe edition would have been worthy of nomination if it was the standard edition.

Physical DLC

At first I didn’t understand why this game was being ignored. It was old news just a couple weeks after it released. I was having a blast playing it and I didn’t understand why no one else was even talking about it. Now I do. This is a phenomenal game that has everything I wanted from this genre, but the bulk of players are essentially playing a beta version of the game, and that sucks for the developers too. Their game was ruined by greed. And the gameplay experience is ruined for the players who don’t have all the content as well.

The difference in weapons, ships, and pilots is so severe that it’s honestly like playing a completely different game. For example, I have six ships. That means that in any battle I can have my ship blown up six times before it’s game over. I have never gotten a game over even though I played on hard. But if I only had one or two ships I would have been getting game overs constantly. I have 15 weapons to choose from with elemental properties, range properties, and ammo style properties. Some are rapid fire. Some are burst fire. Some are single fire. Some are short range. Some are long range. I have five different elemental types to choose from, all of which were required to solve certain puzzles along the way. I honestly can’t imagine playing the game without all these options. Elements matter. There are fire and ice type enemies. If you only have one fire weapon, one ice weapon, and nothing else, you are basically playing with one weapon against any fire or ice type enemy because using the enemy’s element powers them up.

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Of course people aren’t enjoying the game. They’re not getting to play the full game with the entire experience. Every character can max out each ship and weapon plus their skill tree. I’ve mastered some weapons with StarFox, no ships with anyone, and only managed to max out StarFox’s skill tree before finishing the game. But that’s because I played as all 10 pilots throughout the course of the game. Whenever I maxed out something with a specific pilot, I wouldn’t use it with that pilot anymore so that I never wasted any XP. If I was limited to only one pilot, one ship, and two weapons, I’d have  maxed out everything long before the end of the game and would have wasted tons of XP. It’s also important to note that every pilot has a skill that enhances all other pilots. That means that the more pilots you have the more benefits, which I did take advantage of with all 10 pilots, you get for the entire team.

I think this whole thing is a real shame and a scary look at the potential future of games distribution. Starlink: Battle for Atlas is a great game. I encourage everyone to buy it. It’s lots of fun and 30 hours of content isn’t terrible by today’s standards. But please make sure you buy the digital deluxe edition, otherwise you’re not only not getting the full game experience. You’re getting flat out conned into spending more money than you need to for not even a quarter of the experience you get with the digital deluxe edition. It’s a shame this game was ruined this way. It’s a shame most people won’t play it because of this system. And most of all it’s a shame that Ubisoft felt like this was an acceptable practice. I hope they patch it so that everyone can at least get the minimum number of pilots, weapons, and ships that the base digital version offers. Otherwise this is just highway robbery.

Again, I don’t retract my original soft review of the game. Everything I said in it was accurate and I do stand behind the game for its graphics, story, and gameplay. But I now have to qualify it by saying that I was speaking specifically about the digital deluxe edition and that’s the only version I endorse people to buy.

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The Game Awards 2018

As this year comes to a close, I have to say that I have had the pleasure of playing some excellent games. Rarely do I get to play as many new games as I did during the release window in 2018. I was truly impressed by the offerings presented in this year of gaming. The Game Awards for 2018 are highly competitive. I’m sure, like with most years, the games that deserve to win will get beaten out by over hyped genre titles and pew pew FPS nonsense. But 2018 is one of those rare years where I’ll say that my choices for this year are heavily subjective and that it’s genuinely difficult to actually pick the best games of this year. As long as one of several titles takes the awards, I’ll probably have no complaints. The only things that would actually irritate me is if some ridiculous upset wins like Overwatch in 2016 (looking at your Celeste) or Red Dead Redemption 2 sweeps every category. As long as neither of these two things happen, I will probably be satisfied with the overall results.

For this year, I’ve decided to go over each category with a short summary of my thoughts on the nominees as a whole and then give both my pick and my prediction for what will actually win the award. For the purposes of space and time, I’m going to assume you’re actually looking at the list on the official website so I don’t have to take the time to actually type out all the nominees by hand. Click the link and it will take you to the nominees page in another tab.

The Game Awards Date

The Game Awards 2018

1. Game of the Year – God of War

I’m very comfortable with five of these six nominees. As I’ve already said, it was an extremely competitive year. I actually own four of the six GOTY nominees. I don’t remember the last time that was the case. My only complaint about this list is the inclusion of Celeste. I honestly don’t know how it got there. Let me be clear in stating I’m not saying it’s a bad game. From what I’ve heard it’s a pretty game. But just from looking at it, I can safely say that it wasn’t the sixth best game released this year. It wasn’t better than Detroit: Become Human. It wasn’t better than Starlink: Battle for Atlas. I doubt it was even better than Mega Man 11. So I have to ask, how was this indie platformer, that looks a bit like a Guacamelee clone, nominated for Game of the Year? It won’t win though, so we really don’t need to discuss it any further. I just think it’s sad that there are other games that deserved the nomination and were denied the privilege.

Though the other five choices were all excellent in their own right, I do believe God of War deserves it. It took an old franchise that personally I wanted to be left alone, completely changed the setting, the tone, the powers/combat, the mechanics of traversing the game, and the main character personality and managed to not only not screw it up, but did a damn great job without breaking canon. That is a tall order that I was sure they were gonna fail at. And they didn’t fail. Not necessarily by a wide margin, but I believe Kratos deserves to take home the crown.

While I do believe the winner should be God of War, I don’t think it will actually win. It will most likely be Red Dead Redemption 2, not because it particularly deserves it, but because it’s still fresh in people’s minds. It’s still extremely strong on the hype train and many people haven’t even finished it yet. It’s not that it’s the best of the year so much as it’s the flavor of the month. Great release tactic by Rockstar. I could also see it going to Spider-Man. This game was extremely well written. It played exceptionally. It has the Marvel hype. It basically revolutionized the comic book game genre, setting a new standard and probably franchise of games. And Stan Lee, who appears in the game, literally died the day before the nominees were announced. A lot of people will vote for the game simply in honor of one of the greatest and most popular men of our time. And while that does sound a bit cynical, it doesn’t mean it won’t happen. I’m still not 100% sure Heath Ledger would have won the Oscar for the Joker in The Dark Knight if he hadn’t of died. Whoever wins though, as long as it’s not Celeste, it will be an excellent game worthy of the title GOTY.

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2. Best Ongoing Game – No Man’s Sky

I personally don’t care for any of these games. I’ve played three of them and I wish at least three of them would just die. But that’s OK. I don’t need to like a game or even a category to judge it fairly. In fact my dislike for all these games makes fairer than most people. My pick is No Man’s Sky. I have no love for this game. I have been brutally critical about it on this blog, on Twitter, and to anyone who would listen. I saw it being a total shit show from the first announcement, and at release it was. I actually own the game. I bought it for $20 on Black Friday a year or two ago. I still haven’t taken the time to open it. But I have seen it make great improvements over time. They have patched in a lot. Improvements have been made. And I might have even enjoyed it if I had tried it before Starlink: Battle for Atlas. My opinion is that Starlink is everything NMS needed to be and wasn’t. And I’m still playing Starlink and will be for tens or even hundred more hours. So I have even less motivation to try NMS. But compared to the other games in this category, it has shown the most improvement and for all intents and purposes is a better game to begin with except for maybe Rainbow Six Siege which has been shitting the bed with political bullshit recently.

I’m not fool. I know Fortnite is gonna win. Nothing else needs to be said about that.

3. Best Game Direction – Spider-Man

This for me was a tough category. Because, contrary to popular belief, this isn’t about this best game. It’s about the best direction, vision, and innovation taken by a game. Every game on the list did that amazingly. I almost picked A Way Out, even though I’d say it’s the worst game in the bunch, because in many ways it is the most innovative. Ultimately though my pick is Spider-Man. Insomniac Games has set a new bar for comic book games. It’s also set a new bar for putting realistic modern settings in games. The writing was not only good, but surprising. Even though I knew from the start who the villains were and was going to become one, I was still moved by the narrative. The way they handled the relationship between Peter and Doctor Octopus was just excellent. The costumes and the powers that come with them were comic book relevant, diverse, looked awesome, and made playing the game a more personal experience. While it’s not my game of the year, the direction really was quite stunning.

While it absolutely doesn’t deserve it, I do believe the winner will be Red Dead Redemption 2. Again, because it’s currently the hype title. It has not really revolutionized the genre. It’s still a buggy, glitch filled Rockstar game. It’s very slow. And really we’ve seen everything it has to offer before. From Rockstar even. It’s really just a well-made sequel to an already well liked game. It is not the “game of our generation”. Really GTAV was much more revolutionary. But hype is hype and hype tends to win.

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4. Best Narrative – Detroit: Become Human

Best narrative was another tough one for me. God of War surprised me the most. I did not expect to enjoy the narrative as much as I did. I did not expect to identify with new Kratos as much as I did. Because I really identify with OG Kratos a lot. I thought I was going to hate Atreus, and at times I did, but by the end he did grow on me. What I don’t like about the game’s narrative is that it ends on a clear cliffhanger. Not only that but it spends much of the game setting up a conflict that never comes to fruition in the game itself. It plays like a timeless classic and then goes franchise right at the end. And that for me is bad writing. What I love about the original God of War is that it has a clearly defined ending. If they never made a second game, you would have no questions. And yet they also wrote it in a way where a sequel could be made without changing the canon. That’s the mark of a good game. Spider-Man does this exceptionally well. Great story, clearly defined ending, yet left open for future adventures, which it adds with the DLC and will continue to with future games. But each game can and hopefully will standalone. But I have to award this one to Detroit: Become Human. That game is powerful. I didn’t even really want to play it. I hated Beyond: Two Souls. I was done with David Cage. The only reason I even considered this one was how much it was blowing up my Twitter timeline. I did like the demo, but I didn’t love it. Thankfully I was able to borrow a copy. And I’m so glad I did. That game is so emotional, moving, and sad. I felt for those androids. I wanted them to obtain freedom. I felt bad as a human playing the game. It was too real. I platinumed it.

 

I don’t want to believe that Red Dead Redemption 2 will win this one. I hope it won’t. I have faith in the gaming community that they can at least acknowledge that both Spider-Man and God of War had stronger writing than Yee haw Skyrim. I believe Spider-Man will take it because there is such a large comic book audience in the gaming community and the story is straight out of a comic book. But I would not be surprised or unhappy if God of War takes this one.

5. Best Art Direction – God of War

Let’s be clear about two things. First, there is no way to properly judge this category. God of War, Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey, and Red Dead Redemption 2 all deserve to win this one. It merely comes down to which setting you prefer. Second, Return of the Obra Dinn does not deserve to be nominated. It’s exactly like Celeste being nominated for Game of the Year. This should have had six nominees instead of just five, Return of the Obra Dinn should not be one of them, and any two between Spider-Man, Detroit: Become Human, and Starlink: Battle for Atlas should be among those six. I’m actually comfortable with Octopath Traveler being nominated, but it should not win.      My pick is God of War, but again that is a completely subjective choice. All of the games I mentioned are damn beautiful games. And if the standard is simply the biggest open world wins then that’s not really fair or particularly objective.

I believe it will go to Red Dead Redemption 2. I will not say in this case that it doesn’t deserve it, but I will say that the fact that it’s still fresh in everyone’s mind helps it a lot with this particular category among many others.

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6. Best Score/Music – Spider-Man

Honestly with this category I wasn’t particularly impressed with any of the nominees this year. I would actually have chosen Detroit: Become Human, which even took the time to add an album section to its menus because they put that much work into their soundtrack.  I voted Spider-Man, but I really don’t have an opinion here. I actually do think Celeste could win this one if enough people played it because that genre is usually great for music, albeit repetitive and limited in what that music actually is.

7. Best Audio Design – Spider-Man

This one was close for me between Spider-Man and God of War. Both did an excellent job and either one deserves to win it. The reason I chose Spider-Man is that the number of gadgets, web shots, swinging, and other tiny sounds that were required to bring this game to life just sets it apart from the pack. The setting and audio aesthetic of the game just is more impressive than the other choices. It really just wins by sheer mass. Even the voice acting was impressive in that they recorded multiple takes so that they could make Peter’s voice change based on his current situation. They really just put the work in to earn this one.

I do think Spider-Man will win this one.

8. Best Performance – Bryan Dechart as Connor, Detroit: Become Human

This one sucked to choose. It was like choosing your favorite child. Let me just say that I am appalled that Jessie Williams wasn’t nominated for his performance in Detroit: Become Human. His performance was so good that I left the game thinking I wanted to watch more movies with him in them. Before now, the only thing I’d seen him in is The Cabin in the Woods (2011). He was robbed here. Christopher Judge, a classic actor by all standards that I’ve since Stargate, played an amazing Kratos. And that’s following several amazing performances by T.C. Carson, the original Kratos voice actor. Yuri Lowenthal was a great Peter Parker. It was the way I wanted Peter Parker to be. But I am going to give it to Bryan Dechart as Connor in Detroit: Become Human. He is the only one of the bunch whose character had to make drastic changes in who they were while simultaneously remaining the same person. Connor was an android and he became a human by the end of that game. It was real. Like if I saw Bryan Dechart on the street I could believe he was actually an android simulating a human. It definitely helps that Detroit: Become Human uses motion capture and models that are directly based on the actors, because that really brought them to life. And the game’s setting is super realistic even while being set in the near future. Really he was just dealt the right hand to win this one.

I think Christopher Judge will ultimately win this one for his Kratos. I just hope that the current hype of Red Dead Redemption 2 doesn’t end up handing it to Roger Clark for Arthur Morgan.

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9. Games for Impact – Life is Strange 2: Episode 1

I’m actually really disappointed in this list of nominees. Detroit: Become Human should have been nominated here. It’s about so many issues currently plaguing our society right now as well as the ethics of AI, which will have to deal with one day. It’s about racism, classism, sex slavery, agency as a person, defining humanity, and so many other things. Child abuse comes up in it. Identity politics. It really deserved to be nominated.

I believe Life is Strange will win mostly because it’s the most well-known game in the bunch. But I really don’t like the idea of a single episode being able to get nominated because that means it will probably get nominated again next year for an additional episodes.

Chosen because of noise online. Should have been Detroit.

10. Best Independent Game – Dead Cells

I’m going to be honest and say that I haven’t played any of these. I have looked into some of them this year, but none of them interested me enough to buy. The one I’m most interested in is Dead Cells so I voted for that one. I will say though that I don’t agree with the idea of a game being able to be nominated for GOTY and Indie GOTY. The whole point of the indie category is that we’ve agreed that indie and AAA aren’t really comparable. We’ve created a space where indies can thrive and be recognized because they can’t compete with AAA titles most of the time. But if we’re going to include them in the real deal then we should fully include them and do away with the indie category. Now personally I don’t think we should do that. As I’ve already said, I think Celeste shouldn’t have been nominated for GOTY. But if it is going to be nominated for GOTY, even though it isn’t going to win, I don’t think it should be able to qualify for both categories simultaneously. That being said, I do believe Celeste will win this category.

11. Best Mobile Game – Donut County

I haven’t played any of these and I don’t particularly want to. The only mobile games I played this year were Pokémon Go, Injustice 2 Mobile, Kingdom Hearts Union Cross, and Fill. I am absolutely not going to support the idea of mobile ports winning awards for anything other than best ports so I voted Donut County because it’s the only game from the list other than the phone pew pew BR games that I’d heard about before the nominees were announced. I think Fortnite is going to win though.

12. Best VR/AR Game – ASTRO BOT Rescue Mission

I think the mark of a great VR game is that it has to be in VR to truly enjoy it and get the experience of the game. I’ve played three of the games nominated and I can say that none of the ones I played absolutely had to be in VR. I haven’t played ASTRO BOT Rescue Mission but from what I’ve been told it’s the Mario 64 of VR. Supposedly it revolutionized the platform and cannot be truly experienced on a TV. If that’s really the case then it deserves to win and I think it will win based on what I’ve heard about it compared to the other nominees.

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13. Best Action Game – Far Cry 5

This is a shitty list of titles and I think we need to better define action game because there are definitely games that could have been included here that weren’t. I’m also not a huge fan of Action and Action Adventure being separate because this allowed five meh games the chance to win an award while forcing five awesome games to duke it out in yet another category that Red Dead Redemption 2 will probably end up winning simply because of the date it was released. I chose Far Cry 5 because it’s the least mediocre of the list provided but really this category is just an insult to the rest of the AAA relevant categories. I do think that next year it will have some great titles depending on how they split up games like Ghost of Tsushima, Kingdom Hearts III, Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, Devil May Cry V, and some other already announced titles.

I think COD will probably take it because it disappointed people less than Destiny 2, but apparently people liked Forsaken so it’s anyone’s ballgame.

14. Best Action/Adventure Game – God of War

If we’re focusing solely on gameplay in the Action/Adventure genre it’s God of War with Spider-Man at a close second. Again, Red Dead Redemption 2 hype, but really God of War deserves this one.

15. Best Role Playing Game – Monster Hunter World

Where is Starlink: Battle for Atlas? That game got robbed this year. The one nomination it did get makes no sense and it absolutely deserved to be nominated in other categories, including this one. Now let me be clear in saying the winner is clearly and undebatably  Monster Hunter World and it will win. But Starlink deserved to be nominated in this category.

16. Best Fighting Game – Soul Calibur VI

It just is Soul Calibur VI. That’s not debatable. Dragon Ball FighterZ was a nice idea, but people who actually played both games know the truth. Soul Calibur VI will and should win.

17. Best Family Game – Super Mario Party

Starlink: Battle for Atlas shouldn’t have been nominated in this category. I think it was included simply because they realized it is a great game that deserved to be nominated for something so they just squeezed it in here. This actually was a tough choice. I think arguments can be made for both Overcooked 2 and Super Mario Party, as well as Mario Tennis Aces, but Super Mario Party has the most depth as a game that also works well for entire families to play. It deserves to win and I think it will. The only thing I will say is that Overcooked 2 is multiplatform so there is a chance that more voters played it than any of the other games, all of which are Nintendo Switch exclusives. Ignoring Starlink of course.

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18. Best Strategy Game – The Banner Saga 3

I haven’t played any of these and I’m honestly not super interested in any of them except The Banner Saga 3 so I voted for that but I withhold my prediction because honestly none of these have been particularly noteworthy or popular so I can’t even really take hype into account.

19. Best Sports/Racing Game – Mario Tennis Aces

I picked Mario Tennis Aces here because I think innovation trumps realism. All the other nominees have done their best to rehash the same formula for the umpteenth time with slightly improved graphics. Mario Tennis Aces is the only game that really innovated the sports genre and tried to make a game that was fun as opposed to just realistic. My prediction is FIFA 19 due to the sheer volume of players though.

20. Best Multiplayer Game – Monster Hunter World

Monster Hunter World deserves it. Fortnite will win it. Moving on.

21. Best Student Game – LIFF

Sadly I haven’t heard of any of these student games. Usually there’s one that stands out from the crowd and gets some real attention but none of these were able to make it to any of my various feeds or new sources this year so I have no opinion. I voted for LIFF because it looks cool.

22. Best Debut Indie Game – Yoku’s Island Express

Yoku’s Island Express is the only game from this list I’d heard of before the nominees were announced so that means it had at least enough hype to get my attention, which is why I voted for it. I predict it or Moss will win.

I’m obviously not going to do the eSports and content creator categories because why would I waste my and your time with that trash? As I said, overall this was a highly competitive year for games. So many titles were excellent and I’m thankful that I was able to play so many of them while they were new. Next year looks amazing too so The Game Awards 2019 will likely be just as difficult to judge. Thanks for reading. Let me know your picks and predictions in the comments.

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Black Friday Aftermath – 2018

If you’re reading this it means you survived another Black Friday. Congratulations. I hope that you’re not too traumatized, either physically or mentally, from any of the horrors you might have seen while out hunting for deals. As has been the case for a number of years now, my Black Friday was once again a purely digital shopping experience. It wasn’t all fun and games while I sipped cocoa in my pajamas, but I do miss the thrill of being on the ground hunting in the traditional way like the shoppers who came before me.

Let me start by saying that in general this was a much better Black Friday than last year’s. Black Friday 2017 was as bad as the rest of 2017. This year we had some actual deals and even in a fully digital marketspace, like I had, we had to actually shop around and locate the best prices. I bought double the number of games I did last year because there were just so many great deals between the various digital storefronts I visited. Many stores were changing prices throughout the last week through Cyber Monday, so it was imperative to stay diligent in the pursuit of discounts. This is the way Black Friday is supposed to be.

Black Friday Thumbs

As far as my personal list going into Black Friday, I managed to snag seven of my hoped for titles. That’s two more than last year but due to the volume of titles in this year’s list compared to last year’s, it’s only a 5% increase in success rate. That being said, I did actually manage to find a couple more titles from my list at the prices I wanted but was unable to get them because of limitations like “in store only”, which I cannot do, or I found the game at/below the price I wanted on the wrong platform. For instance, I wanted to pay $10 for Shaq-FU: A Legend Reborn. I specifically wanted it on Nintendo Switch, for reasons I still can’t summarize or justify properly, and never found the price I wanted. I did end up purchasing the game but I paid $15 for it, which is 50% higher than what I wanted to pay. I found a copy of it on PS4 for $5. That’s a failure on Nintendo’s part for their hubris and mine for my stubbornness. I also found some games at the right price but decided not to buy them yet. Middle-Earth: Shadow of War Definitive Edition is the best example of this. I found it for $20 but chose not to buy it last minute because I haven’t finished the first game yet. Overall though, I managed to pick up a lot of games for great prices.

Pirate Booty

Here’s what I managed to get from my original shopping list.

  1. Crash Bandicoot N Sane Trilogy (Nintendo Switch) – $25
    1. I overpaid by $5 to get the Switch version. I actually did find the PS4 version at my desired price but I really wanted it portable for some reason.
  2. Injustice 2: Legendary Edition (PS4) – $18
    1. I beat my desired price by $2.
  3. Cuphead (PC) – $7
    1. It took some maneuvering but I managed to beat my desired price by $3.
  4. Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice (PC) – $15
  5. Shaq-FU: A Legend Reborn (Nintendo Switch Physical) – $15
    1. I overpaid by $5 to get the Switch version. I actually did find the PS4 version at half my desired price after already purchasing but it was an in store only deal.
  6. Just Dance 2019 (Nintendo Switch) – $25
  7. Sonic Mania Plus (PC) – $9.28
    1. I gave up on the Switch version but was able to get the PC version for $5.72 below my desired price by purchasing the game and DLC separately.

I also managed to find South Park: The Fractured But Whole, Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor, Shadow of the Tomb Raider, Fist of the North Star: Lost Paradise, and Assassin’s Creed: Origins at or below the prices I wanted but was unable to get them or chose not to get them because of extenuating circumstances.

I also managed to find a Garmin Vivosmart 4 Fitness Watch for $99. $10 higher than I wanted to pay but it came with a two year warranty so I felt that it was worth the extra cost in case my girlfriend breaks it.

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What is more impressive is the number of games I got that weren’t on my list because of how good the deals were. I bought three times the number of off my list games than I did last year. And I actually wanted to buy more but couldn’t because of in store only limitations and some region locked prices. The one I was most angry about not being able to get was a physical version of The Banner Saga Trilogy on PS4 for $10. Best Buy screwed me with an in store only deal.

  1. Wolfenstein 2-Pack (The New Order + The Old Blood) (PC) – $9.89
  2. The BIT TRIP Collection (Includes 6 games) (PS4) – $0.99
  3. Getting Over It with Bennett Foddy (PC) – $4.79
  4. 1 Year PS Plus – $40

While this wasn’t the best Black Friday I’ve ever had, it was a great improvement over last year’s disappointing month of lackluster sales. I’m most happy about the fact that I finally managed to get Cuphead. I’ve been waiting to be able to get that for under $10 since before it released. I had started to lose hope that it was ever going to happen.

Runner 3
A difference of 52% in price between USA and Taiwan.

One thing that surprised me a lot this year was how vastly different the prices were between the Taiwan and USA digital markets. Because I live in Taiwan but have American accounts that I started when I was still living in the states, I end up looking at both sets of prices for UPLAY, Steam, and a few other digital stores. Taiwan gets considerably better prices. For example, the reason I didn’t buy Assassin’s Creed Origins was because if I had wanted it on PC, which admittedly wasn’t my ideal platform, from the US UPLAY store it would have cost me $39.99 but with the 20% additional discount they were offering for 100 UPLAY coins I could have gotten it for $32. In the Taiwan UPLAY store the starting price was $31.50 and the 20% off dropped it down to about $25.20. I absolutely would have bought it at that price but the Taiwan UPLAY store wouldn’t allow me to claim the additional 20% discount. Issues like this kept me from buying some other games I really wanted as well.

In general, I’m happy to see that Black Friday this year was much better than last year. I saw some amazing deals that were irrelevant to me such as God of War for $17. If I didn’t already own it, I would have for sure purchased it at that price. The Steam sale had a lot of great deals but the store wasn’t organized as well as I’ve seen in past years so I actually missed out on buying some games because some prices were limited time only, causing me not to see some stuff till it was already too late. The PSN sale was fairly decent but the Ubisoft titles, which were some of the most noteworthy in the sale, were not discounted nearly enough.

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GOG was a straight disappointment because they really only offered the same sales we’ve now seen countless times. Like The Witcher 3 GOTY for $20. That’s a great game but that price is nothing new. The point of Black Friday is to have the best deals of the year. Not the same deals over and over. And a lot of their prices weren’t even better than Steam and PSN. I was actually going to buy The BIT TRIP collection on PC but the price on GOG for all six games was like three times higher than on PSN. Their price for Runner 3 was way higher than Steam’s limited time promotion for the game and almost three times higher than the Steam Taiwan price.

For physical stores, Best Buy and Amazon had the best deals this year. Best Buy actually had the best deals but because so many of them were limited to in store only, it was impossible to fully take advantage of all their offerings for me. Something I noticed on multiple store fronts, including digital, is that prices weren’t fixed or constantly descending. This is not supposed to happen on/during Black Friday weekend. All prices are supposed to be fixed or continue dropping as demand waivers and supply clears. Some prices went up and that goes directly against the purpose and practice of Black Friday where the main goal is supposed to be clearing stock for the Christmas season and New Year stock.

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Of course the most disappointing company for every Black Friday is still Nintendo. Whether it’s physical or digital, their prices are always the highest on the market even with the lowest hardware specs. The fact that I paid three times the value of Shaq-FU: A Legend Reborn is par for the course with them. The only game that was actually properly priced for the Switch was Just Dance 2019 and that only applies to the physical version. The reason I put $25 on my desired price list is not because I was guessing at the price. It drops to that on multiple stores every year and I almost always buy it from Amazon. But I could have gotten the physical version on any platform, including the Wii, for $25 just like with 2018, 2017, and so on. But the digital version on Switch was $28. I’ll never understand why they feel like that’s OK. I had hoped to buy Super Mario Party and possibly even Pokemon Let’s GO Eevee but those prices didn’t move a cent.

I hope this year was the beginning of a trend of making Black Friday meaningful again. Last year was worrying because it showed a continuance of a trend in declining Black Friday deals quality. This year went in the other direction. I hope that continues for Black Friday 2019.

How did Black Friday go for you this year? Did you see any notably great deals? How did it compare to last year for you? Let me know in the comments.

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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.

Black Friday 2018

Do you hear that? That sound. It’s the sound of war slowly creeping towards us. The war for deals. Each year we commemorate this time of year with a battle. The battle to end all wallets. It’s a violent day. It’s a mad day. A black day. Black Friday!

When I look back at Black Friday 2017, I am not impressed. In fact, I flat out disappointed. I failed myself in battle last year. More accurately, the deals failed me. Of the list of 15 games I wanted to get during Black Friday deals last year, I only managed to get four of them. The deals just weren’t there. To this day, I’ve only managed to acquire six games from that list total. The prices for them simply will not drop by a reasonable amount. So there’s gonna be some repeats on this year’s list as well as new additions.

Black Friday 2017 Aftermath
Black Friday 2017

Last year I only wanted software, which is always my preference because hardware shopping can be even more troublesome than games. But this year I’m not so lucky. Along with a hefty list of games, I need two items of hardware as well. May the deal gods smile upon me in battle this year.

The rules of engagement, for those not aware, have not changed. There is a list of products I want for prices I have set based on a combination of factors. I will not go above my price range for any product. If I cannot find the deal, I simply take the L and continue waiting for that ideal price point. Once again, I recruit you into my deal force. I need you to help me find the deals I seek. If you see something on my list at or below the price I’ve listed available for online purchase, please, please, please take the time to leave a comment with a link or tweet me directly for me to see it even faster. And of course I shall I assist my comrades in arms as well. Link me your lists in the comments and if I see anything I’ll be sure to send you a link. So without further ado, here are my targets for Black Friday 2018.

Black Friday 2018
Black Friday 2018
  1. Crash Bandicoot N Sane Trilogy (Nintendo Switch) – $20
  2. Injustice 2: Legendary Edition (PS4) – $20
  3. Cuphead (PC) – $10
  4. Assassin’s Creed: Origins Gold Edition (PS4 or PC) – $30
  5. Middle-earth: Shadow of War Definitive Edition (PS4 or PC) – $20
  6. South Park: The Fractured But Whole Gold Edition (PS4 or PC) – $30
  7. Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice (PS4 or PC) – $15
  8. Shaqfu (Nintendo Switch Physical) – $10
  9. Super Mario Party (Nintendo Switch) – $30
  10. Fist of the North Star: Lost Paradise (PS4) – $20
  11. Shadow of the Tomb Raider Deluxe/Croft Edition (PS4 or PC) – $20
  12. Just Dance 2019 (Nintendo Switch) – $25
  13. Vampyr (PS4 or PC) – $15
  14. Unravel Two (PS4) – $5
  15. Shenmue 1&2 Bundle (PS4) – $15
  16. Sonic Mania Plus (Nintendo Switch) – $15
  17. Yakuza Kiwami 2 (PS4) – $20
  18. Nintendo Switch Bundle with Any Game – $200
  19. Garmin Vivosmart 4 or HR+ Fitness Watch – $90

Please note that while the platforms aren’t negotiable, the games can be in physical or digital form. They just have to be at or below the prices listed.

Black Friday 2018 Prices
Black Friday 2018 Prices

Probably the most important item on the list this year is the Nintendo Switch. It’s not for me. I already have one that I bought around Black Friday last year and I absolutely love it. It’s for my nephew. He’s 10 and I’d really like to be able to get him a console that he can enjoy with games appropriate for his age that are fun for the whole family. I’d like to be able to give him the best Christmas ever like when I was a kid and my parents got me a Nintendo 64.

As always, I have prepared a convenient graphic with target prices to make my list easier to reference for my comrades in arms. Save it, share, it, reference it, use it for yourself. Thank you in advance for helping your fellow gamer find and capture his prey. And as always, Happy Thanksgiving to my American readers out there. Happy Black Friday, and may the deals be ever in your favor!

 

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Happy Bloggiversary 2018 (5 Years and Going Strong)

This past week marks the five year anniversary of this blog. That’s five years of posting weekly without missing a single week. Even when I traveled for work or leisure, I have always made sure to take the time to get a post published. This blog has been going on so long that this is actually the second platform it has been hosted on. The first no longer exists because IGN shut their blog section down. That is a real shame because two to three years of blog posts are no longer accessible to the public. I still have them saved on my hard drive but I’ve never felt like it was particularly useful to repost blog content from two or more years ago. Maybe one day I’ll take the time if enough people request me to.

I just wanted to say thank you to all my readers whether you’ve been reading since the beginning or just started last week. This is a discussion blog, not a diary, meaning that without you there is no blog. Though the process has been slow since I changed platforms, I have seen real growth on this blog. My readership has expanded and on a couple occasions this blog was even recognized by blog awards groups. It makes me happy to know that there is still an audience for long form, critical writing about gaming related topics.

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I also did a lot of reviews of movies this year, which I’m really happy about. Expanding my content to other forms of digital entertainment has been fulfilling and brings a new perspective and area of discussion to the blog as a whole. I will continue this trend of keeping the blog open to all forms of entertainment media moving forward.

Along with my blog, the last year has been good for my other channels as well. I finally got back into streaming regularly on Twitch and have increased the amount I stream and post to YouTube exponentially. When I first started this blog and the related channels, I was only doing one video a week and occasionally streaming. Now I’m streaming and posting videos to YouTube four or more times a week regularly. This is a big step for me and I’m very proud of the accomplishment. I hope to step my game up even more in the coming year and raise the quality of my streams with full high quality audio commentary regardless of the platform the games are being played on. I’ve already put steps in motion  to make this a reality.

The upcoming year looks promising both for gaming and for the content I’ll create here and on my other platforms. I’d also like to expand into making more fun content like silly trailers and more produced/edited gaming footage. Here’s a small thing I did this week just for fun that I hope you enjoy.

There’s no reason to drag things on, so I’ll close this post quickly. I just want to say one more time how grateful I am for the last five years of blogging about games and I’m looking forward to year six. Like I did in this post last year, here’s a list of all the games I’ve beaten in the last year.

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2018 List

 

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Halloween (2018) Review – 8.5/10

I saw the original Halloween (1978) in 2008. I watched it for a class I took on horror films. Even 30 years later, it still stood up as an excellent slasher film. What I like about it is that unlike many other slasher films of that era, it actually looks good as far as conventional film making practices. Many horror films, both in and out of the slasher genre, aren’t shot particularly well. They often have a very low budget look to them which in many ways became the standard and has since the early 80’s been done intentionally, which I personally think is a stupid genre trope. The original Halloween is responsible for creating and/or normalizing many of the slasher/horror tropes we are used to today and it’s within that context that one should watch Halloween (2018), the direct sequel to the original film.

*Please note that from here on whenever I say Halloween I’m referring to the 2018 film unless otherwise stated.

The first thing that needs to be noted about Halloween is the attention to detail and consistency within the timeline of the franchise/story. The original film takes place on Halloween 1978 in Haddonfield, IL. In the original film, it’s stated that the villain, Michael Myers, murdered his sister when he was six years old on Halloween 1963 in Haddonfield, IL. Halloween takes place on Halloween 2018, exactly 40 years to the day later, with Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis in both films) facing off against Michael Myers in Haddonfield, IL again. It’s a beautiful coupling of history, canon, and aesthetic that many horror franchises have never and will never get to accomplish. And it makes the film way better. I assume this is even more the case if you watched the original in theaters 40 years ago. Note that this film acts as a direct sequel to the original and disregards all the various nonsense shown in the countless campy Halloween sequels and remakes that have been made over the years.

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Halloween is effective in its storytelling because it builds off of the original film’s ideas but modernizes them both in aesthetic and plot. It’s still Haddonfield, IL. It’s still a nice, presumably safe suburb full of happy families, friendly neighbors, and angsty but ultimately harmless teenagers. Though it’s set in 2018, a world full of various issues political, cultural, and otherwise, that’s not part of the film. Though it is commented on near the beginning in a single short conversation, the rest of the world doesn’t really matter here. This isn’t a story about the world or society at large. This is simply the story of maybe 100 people being affected by the actions of one man. You don’t have to read more into it and you shouldn’t. Whether it’s 1978 or 2018, teenagers still go to school, fool around when adults aren’t looking, and live mostly inconsequential, carefree lives. And that’s how it should be. Really that’s what Halloween, in the modern American context, is supposed to be about.

The Haddonfield of today may have some of the modern conveniences that weren’t present in 1978 like cell phones, but really little has changed. It still has a sheriff’s department instead of a police department. People still leave their back doors open. Most people don’t have security systems. It might not be how America is often depicted today in news media, but it’s the America people like to pretend still exists. And in many ways that makes it scarier. The most noticeable change in this film compared to the original and really most horror films of the 70’s and 80’s is that now there are considerably more Black people, with speaking parts, and none of them were the first one to die. #Progress!

Daughter

The film recreates a similar story where Michael has once again escaped custody the day before Halloween and has decided to return to his hometown to murder people at seemingly random for no explained reason. Really that’s my biggest beef with this and the original film. Michael simply is evil. We never get any insight into why he kills people and why he does it on Halloween. He just does. This movie takes the time to argue that some people just are pure evil. That there’s no explanation or justification for it. Michael Myers simply kills. While I may not like this explanation, it does accomplish two things rather well. First, it removes the need for a legitimate backstory and/or explanation. Often these come off cheesy and don’t necessarily make the film any better. I appreciate their presence in movies, but can admit that most of them don’t make any sense. How did the boy who drowned in the lake come back to life? How did the man become an evil spirit that hunts teens down in their dreams? Explanations justify the plot of the current story, but they often also leave the viewer with more questions than answers by the end of the movie.

The second thing a lack of justification accomplishes is that it makes the story even scarier. Films like I Know What You Did Last Summer (1997) give you a justification for the actions shown. The victims did something wrong and they are punished for it. Many slasher films work this way. Teenagers get killed because of bad behavior. This allows the viewer to not feel as bad for the victims when they get offed and allows them to remove themselves from the story, ultimately reducing the fear factor. It’s really easy to walk out of a theater after seeing a bunch of kids get murdered for covering up a manslaughter charge. You don’t even necessarily feel sorry for them at the end of the day. But if there is no reason for the violence and no specific justification for the victims chosen then that means everyone is a potential target. There’s nothing the characters and more importantly the viewer(s) can do to avoid being murdered. It’s simply a random case of bad luck where you happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. It’s a case of weaker writing to achieve a stronger overall experience.

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In the case of specifically Laurie, it’s not even fully apparent that Michael had planned to go after her in this film. What it more seems to be is that he was just on a random killing spree and was maneuvered towards going after her again. Multiple characters go out of their way to try to put the two back together in order to see what will happen. This worked well here because it justified the story focusing on Laurie without giving up the original randomness of Michael’s victims. He kills almost indiscriminately based on who’s in his vicinity when no witnesses are present. By the end of the film a great many people had been killed by Michael, but only two of the murders shown on screen happened with other people present. There are a number of little details like this that make Halloween so much more than the original. Almost to the point where I’d be willing to believe that people had really spent the last 40 years planning this almost perfect sequel. I don’t want to go into too much specific detail about the main plot because it’s so tightly written that mentioning most things directly related to Laurie will spoil her story arc. Suffice it to say that they did a story that I didn’t expect but that I really liked. I found it to be a perfect ending to a 40 year struggle that was true to both the main characters.

The cinematography is excellent. It’s a very well shot film that takes advantage of the experience gained over the last four decades of horror films. The lighting, the angles, the cuts, and even the sound all comes together perfectly to create a very stressful yet entirely believable viewing experience. I also really appreciated that there was only one jump scare in the whole movie and it wasn’t done by Michael. It’s expressed intentionally as a Halloween prank within the movie and for me that’s important. Jump scares are the lazy man’s horror technique. I’m glad we’ve pretty much done away with them in horror movies in exchange for psychological terror. One of my favorite shots in the whole movie was when someone, who I won’t name for spoiler reasons, decides to try to turn the fight back on Michael only to get thrown out a window. But at this point the roles have been reversed and the camera expresses this very well. Michael gets distracted and when he looks back at the body lying outside it’s gone. The sequence proceeds to show Michael moving through the house searching for an intruder the way the prey usually is in this genre. It was a phenomenal sequence that humanized Michael. Many other shots and sequences were just as effective in their own ways at telling a great slasher horror story.

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While this is in many ways a higher minded slasher film that isn’t simply using gore to impress the audience, it’s still very graphic. Michael is at peak killing prowess and he’s not just using knives to kill people. Stabbing is just one of many ways he murders his victims this time around, but what’s also well done is the murders they didn’t show on screen. Many sequences cut or angle away from the actual violence and then show you the after math, leaving you to imagine what happened yourself. While this may not be the most visceral way to depict a murder story, it’s much stronger for the overall storytelling. You don’t have to dwell on every murder that takes place which keeps the pacing good. The film never drags on with violence even while showing you a slew of bodies left in Michael’s wake. Again, Halloween really shows itself as a high quality modern movie that just happens to be a slasher film rather than the classic low quality film that stereotypes the genre.

The acting was great. Jamie Lee Curtis’ performance has only gotten better with age. You really believed that she had been struggling with the memories of that night for 40 years. But other actors did a fine job as well. Will Patton as Sheriff Hawkins was exactly what I wanted him to be. This movie actually centers mostly on women of various ages and they all gave great performances. The writing definitely plays a role in this because the story was very realistic, thus making it even more believable. It’s not the cheesy somehow Michael is everywhere scenario. The characters just happen to move into his path and are killed as a consequence of that. There are really only two murders in the whole movie that seem completely intentional as targeted victims and Michael targeting them made perfect sense. I will say though that there are a number of classic dumb horror movie character moments that take place. They’re believable, but they continue the stereotype of people (in this case me) wanting to yell at the screen because why would you run into the woods when a psychopath is trying to murder you when you’re already on a road that cars drive on? The movie isn’t built on these moments, but a number of them occur and as a Black man I had to do everything in my power not to yell at the screen. What was great was that there actually is a Black kid in the movie that basically does this for one sequence. He tells the two older white kids what not to do, they don’t listen, and bad things happen to them. So kudos to you David Gordon Green for acknowledging your audience and for casting a hilarious Black kid.

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I’m not going to say there haven’t been other great pure American slasher films in the last 10 years, but I will say that I can’t recall any. It’s not my favorite genre so I haven’t devoted time to actively seeking them out, but in my opinion horror as a genre has moved away from the slasher idea. Halloween does the genre justice. It’s not just an excellent slasher film. It’s an excellent film that I might even argue is better than the original both in how it presents the genre and circumvents many of the tropes of the genre 40 years later. If you enjoyed the original film, this is a must watch. But even if you didn’t see the original and aren’t a fan of the genre, I still think you’ll enjoy this movie quite a bit.

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Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate – Storytelling Done Right

I’ve been playing Assassin’s Creed games since the beginning and always in order. I’ve never skipped a console release title, including those Assassin’s Creed: Chronicles games, which actually weren’t that bad. I’m currently behind so I only just finished Syndicate this week, but I can’t wait to play Origins and Odyssey. I, like most long time AC players, have a weird relationship with the franchise. It constantly teeters between love and hate. There are things that are truly great about the franchise and to have seen how far it has come since the original release more than 10 years ago is both impressive and inspiring. But there are also issues that have plagued the games for years, many of which have only gotten worse over time. In my opinion, the storytelling is the weakest part of the Assassin’s Creed franchise and has been since at least Assassin’s Creed III. But the storytelling issues have existed since even before that game which was already several games into the franchise. This is extra depressing because the story is ultimately why I continue playing the games. I want to see a clear ending to this franchise. That’s not because I don’t like the franchise and want to see it end, but rather that I play games for the stories and I hate stories that don’t have clear endings.

AC has a host of storytelling problems. This is due mostly to the disjointed nature of the games and how they function as parts of an overarching narrative that has itself drastically shifted in direction in non-sensible ways over the course of the franchise. The big problem with the storytelling is that the modern day content has little to do with the Animus content while also acting as the bridge between multiple games that you’re only really playing for the Animus content. But it’s very apparent that the modern day content has always been an afterthought in the creation of these games. Rather than try to clean it up, Ubisoft decided the best way to deal with the modern day storyline was to significantly reduce its presence within the games. You see this a lot in the games that take place after ACIII. The amount of modern day content has been reduced more and more until you finally get to Syndicate where you don’t even play in the modern day. It’s reduced to four or five short cinematics all with the intention of justifying a single end game cut scene that doesn’t feature anyone of significance other than the weird first civilization MCP (yes that’s a Tron reference) that keeps showing up in games since ACIII but never really does anything. Supposedly it saved the world from a solar flare though.

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I see the direction that AC has taken by almost completely diluting away the out of Animus content to non-playable cut scenes and a bare minimum of time on screen as a good thing, but that’s not actually the part about the storytelling in Syndicate that I like the most. The key factor that I think makes the storytelling superior in Syndicate to just about every other AC game to date is the fact that you have multiple never before seen playable characters experiencing directly related stories and spaces. In past games you never had this, save for a short sequence in ACIII as Haythem Kenway. You had two loosely related characters acting independently of each other in the form of an ancestor and an Animus user/viewer. This never worked well for me because the games always slacked on the setting, gameplay, and writing for the Animus user. I genuinely didn’t care about Desmond and his whiny, depressing parent issues. I cared even less when you were some anonymous drone sneaking around the Abstergo offices. Those aspects of the story (and gameplay) have always been trash by comparison to the ancestor. That’s also why you never saw Desmond on the cover of the games. What I cared about has always been the story inside the Animus. Syndicate fleshes this story out more.

In Syndicate, you have two main playable characters and a third one if you play the Jack the Ripper expansion, during Industrial Revolution London. Plus there’s a fourth playable character in the base game that takes place during WWI for a short disconnected sequence. I thought this entire presentation of interconnected stories was brilliant. It added context, emotion, and background to all the characters involved. It strengthened the overall storytelling in a number of ways. It also led to variations in my gameplay style from character to character because I felt compelled to play each character the way I thought they would play rather than how I preferred to play. In many ways it was like playing multiple games in one while still maintaining a focused narrative. And even though the WWI sequence wasn’t directly connected to the main story, it was still excellent because it followed the progeny of one of the main characters. It was like taking a break from the game without taking a break from the game while providing additional information for the overarching narrative. I thought it was brilliantly executed.

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Syndicate doesn’t have the best plot of any AC game. It’s set in a time where capitalism is already ruining people’s lives in a country that’s not that interesting in the grand scheme of the AC universe. But it tells its story better than most of the other AC games I’ve played so far. I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it considering the large number of negative comments I heard about it. I genuinely don’t understand where the negativity came from because it’s way better than Unity and is a nice change from Rogue, which is just a smaller scale copy of Black Flag. Many people even told me to skip Syndicate altogether, but I’m glad I didn’t.

Syndicate even handles the age old main character gender problem in games well. The game doesn’t center on either a male or female character. It stars both. And adds one of each additional character in the special sequences. It’s a perfectly balanced form of gender neutral storytelling that lets the player decide what/who to play as while making them both plot relevant without being plot neutral. There are also sequences that are character specific because the two play off of each other in a very effective way. And they have a few differing abilities to offer you a reason to swap between them depending on the mission you’re in.

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It’s a perfectly democratic way to make and play a game that in no way lowered the quality of the storytelling. Really it enhanced it. And, in this case they made me want to play as the female character in the right way. They made her interesting. Evie Frye is a better character than Jacob Frye. Or at least a better assassin. She thinks things through. She acknowledges the consequences or her and her brother’s actions. She has better stealth abilities. I wanted to play as her more. I still made myself rotate between the two often, even when I didn’t have to, but she’s the better character, in my opinion. That’s how you get male gamers to play games with female protagonists. You make the characters interesting and the games good. It’s really that simple. Tomb Raider does well because Lara Croft is a good character and the games are well made. There’s no magic formula. It’s not a political issue. Real gamers play good games. You could do The Witcher with a female protagonist. But it has to be at the quality level of The Witcher. Otherwise it’s just a “shitty feminism game that wishes it was The Witcher.” But by giving the player the choice in Syndicate, Ubisoft managed to make a game with a female protagonist without having to market it as such.  This made it way more appealing and accessible for everyone. Which begs the question: Why have we been playing these shitty out of Animus sequences for all these years to begin with?

The only reason the Animus is part of the franchise is that Ubisoft needed a link between all the games. For some reason they felt that it wasn’t good enough just to have the same name and general Assassin Templar war. They wanted to directly link each game via an overarching story, which in my opinion they’ve done, but failed to do well. Even as they’ve changed it over time and tried to salvage it, the modern day stuff is still trash. And with the death of Desmond, a character I absolutely hated, I all but stopped caring about who’s involved or what’s happening. I just want it to end so I can have a real conclusion. But why didn’t they just connect the games the way they connect the WWI and Jack the Ripper stories in Syndicate from the start? They could have just used the ancestry concept but directly linked the games via historical meetings. You have Altair get married and have kids. Then you have one of those kids become an assassin and travel to another country. Then that person meets another assassin named Ezio Auditore. Then the game follows Ezio.

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You get the same effect you have now of following a story through time and changing between multiple characters. You can even keep the piece of Eden thing they have going. But you don’t need all that superfluous modern day crap that no one even cares about anymore. You link the characters directly to each other through history as the war continues. That would also allow you to return to older characters later in different points in their lives. Like Ezio in Revelations. It takes place years after Brotherhood. Rather than doing the whole memory sequence mumbo jump they could have just done a game about another assassin he met along the way and then at the end of that game, years later in the timeline, that assassin reconnects with Ezio. Then in the next game a now older Ezio goes to Constantinople. No weird annoying bullshit needed. And it’s not like people can’t deal with time hops. The current games do them and it’s not an issue. You just do a sequence like Connor went to England and then wipe forward years later and show him returning from England, or whatever. The audience isn’t stupid. We can follow a shifting narrative. How else have we been playing AC games for all these years? You could go back in time as well. Just do an Edward found this old journal of a past assassin and started reading it opening sequence as a transition backwards. It’s not that hard.

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My point is that Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate does a great job with the storytelling because for 99% of the game it doesn’t pull you out of the Animus. And that 1% isn’t gameplay. It’s only cut scenes. This created a much stronger and more coherent narrative experience. As I said at the beginning of this post, I haven’t played Origins or Odyssey yet so maybe they’ve finally cleaned it all up. But I doubt it. There’s no real reason we needed this modern day storyline to make this franchise work. And I think it could still be done away with now. By implementing multiple playable characters in the same directly connected time periods, they can tell a much stronger story and solve their diversity problems at the same time. Adewale didn’t really need his own expansion in Black Flag. He should have just been playable in Black Flag with his own special sequences as well as in the open world. Haytham could have been playable for a much larger part of ACIII. These games are already connected in many ways. They simply needed to go the extra mile and not make up some weird trapped in the machine AI story filled with solar flares and faceless walking simulator sequences.

Syndicate was the best AC since played Black Flag. It has revitalized my interest in the franchise and I’m very much looking forward to both Origins and Odyssey, both of which I’ve heard great things about. Hopefully that includes great storytelling.

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