Can We Substitute Raids for Literally Anything Else?

The first game I can remember playing that had raids was the first Destiny (2014). There are a few things that need to be said about that statement right off the bat. First, this is absolutely not the first instance of raids in games. MMOs have been doing raids forever. In fact, that’s pretty much the entire point of MMOs like World of Warcraft. So I want to clarify that when I use the word raids I’m specifically referring to the modern definition where a game that can be played as a fully single player experience for a one-time fee contains or adds a special group challenge mission that is not indicative of the standard gameplay experience. Second, Destiny was a game where raids made perfect sense because of the standard gameplay and how people played it worked very similarly to raids to begin with. The only real difference between the standard gameplay and raids in the first Destiny was the number of people who could be in the squad at once and the difficulty of the mission. Otherwise the gameplay experience was fairly the same, because the game was built around group based gameplay.

Vault of GlassToday raids are added to pretty much any open world game with an online component. Even GTA Online has its own version of raids in the form of heists. The key difference between GTA Online raids and raids in say The Division (2016) is that there is a clear split between the online play and the single player campaign in GTA V (2013). The line is not so clearly defined in The Division, because that’s pretty much the point of The Division. Raids are especially common in open world shooters of various types. The key mechanism/motivation of raids is that you’re playing a mission with other people for the promise but not guarantee of better loot. That’s the only reason anyone plays them. The gameplay experience is in no way improved over the regular game. Raids provide additional content, but ultimately people only put up with them, often playing them multiple times, to get better loot. Not surprisingly, I hate raids.

I abhor raids. The entire concept annoys me but I find it especially annoying when it’s implemented into a game where it changes the way the player plays the game. The best recent example of this for me was in Ghost Recon: Breakpoint (2019). I’m one of the few people who actually really liked Breakpoint. Yes it is flawed, especially on PC. I can honestly say it’s one of the buggiest games I’ve played in the last 10 years. But the last Bethesda game I played was literally Skyrim on PS3 so there’s that. Even with the bugs, I still enjoyed Breakpoint. I took the time to do all the main and side missions for a total of about 50 hours give or take. I found the gameplay to be fulfilling, the story to be adequate, the acting to be solid, and the map to be impressive both visually and in size. What I loved more than anything else was the fact that I could play the entire game solo. I did every main and side mission solo. What I disliked about Ghost Recon: Wildlands was that it wasn’t built for solo play. They gave you three AI NPCs to assist but really they wanted you to play in groups. Breakpoint, in my opinion, went the other direction and built a game for solo players that allowed you to play with other people if you wanted to. This is my preferred approach to game development because I always prefer to play solo. I enjoyed Breakpoint so much for this reason until I finished the game and attempted to do the raid.

ghost-recon-wildlandsI finished Breakpoint with a gear score of 140. Raids require a gear score of 150. So the first annoyance I had to deal with for the raid was arbitrarily raising my gear score another ten points. Now to be fair Breakpoint has a garbage gear system where gear score and gear stats aren’t tied together directly. A game with a better gear system like The Division wouldn’t be as annoying to deal with this low gear score problem because it would mean increasing my total stats by ten additional gear score points which would translate to clear improvements across the board. In Breakpoint, it just means finding often worse gear with an arbitrarily higher gear score number attached to it. Thankfully you can craft weapons with higher gear scores in the shop so I was able to make up these missing points quickly, even if it meant equipping slightly worse gear in the process. Remember that the entire point of doing the raid was to get better gear so this would be a temporary problem with big returns in the long run, ideally.

Once I finally reached the required gear score for the raid, I had to do the thing that I had intentionally avoided doing for 50 straight hours: play the game with other people. Breakpoint is not The Division. It doesn’t push you into joining a clan, coordinating with other players, or literally even interacting with other people. It has options to do those sorts of things and there is a hub point where you can see other players. But honestly it’s a single player game and that’s how I played it. Now I was being asked to team up with three strangers to complete a presumably difficult mission. Add this to the fact that I live in a region where the standard language(s) is a language I don’t speak. So allow me to recount my entire raid experience.

Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon® Breakpoint2019-12-29-11-44-3The first thing I’ll say about raiding in Breakpoint is that the server, at least on PC, is pretty much dead. There’s an achievement in UPLAY for killing an enemy in the PVP mode that comes with UPLAY coins, which I always collect. I wanted to play PVP even less than the raid but I was willing to play one match to get one kill for the coins. I spent a combined total of 20 minutes in matchmaking and was never able to get a match. You need six to eight players for a standard Ghost War match. I was never able to get more than three in the lobby at a time. Ultimately I was never able to get into a match, since there are no bots, and I still don’t have those UPLAY coins, at the time of writing this. But let’s focus on the raid. There are slightly more people actually trying to do the raid in Breakpoint than those trying to play PVP. And by slightly more I mean like maybe five more people.

Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon® Breakpoint2019-12-29-14-45-8Unlike in Destiny, raids in Breakpoint require four players and by require I don’t mean recommend but you could solo them if you really wanted to and have 10 hours to waste picking off enemies one by one and chipping away at bosses. I mean you literally cannot finish, or even start, the raid without four people. There are sequences that require four switches to be activated at the same time. This means that if at any time a player drops out you cannot progress with the raid until they’re replaced. This happens all the time apparently. My first raid attempt was a dream scenario, in the noob sort of way. I entered a random group via public matchmaking and was dropped onto the side of a volcano I knew nothing about. I didn’t know where to go or what was happening. The other three players had been there waiting for someone else to join for some time. Ultimately I got killed by lava, respawned and then made my way towards the group. I still had no idea what was going on though. One of the players kept tossing down location notifications at me, which is apparently something you can do in the game that I wasn’t aware of having never played with other players before. The problem was I didn’t realize what they meant at first, because again I never played with other people before. Finally I figured out where to go and what they needed me to do: hit a switch while they all hit other switches. These guys had sat and waited for who knows how long plus the 10 minutes it took me to get to the switch just to progress forward in the mission. After hitting the switches we went to the final boss fight, which at the time I wasn’t aware of. Before I even realized what was really going on the other three had basically killed the boss. I got a few shots off to pretend I helped but ultimately these three veterans had completed the raid with a fourth who had dropped and then I got the credit at the end. Hooray for better loot. With these drops, some of which were not useful for my build of course, I was able to raise my gear score from 150 to 211 almost instantly. These players were all at above 260. I had now completed the raid firing less than one entire mag. Now I was only there for loot so this was great, but I wanted/needed more loot and I actually did care about the story aspect of the raid so I decided to run it again. Sadly two of these four players didn’t want to run it again so I had to find a new group.

Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon® Breakpoint2019-12-29-15-25-34Two of the players from my “successful” raid group dropped immediately. The third stayed. The game made me group leader and I was able to use random matchmaking to bring in two more players. This thankfully only took a few minutes. We entered the raid and started from the beginning. Before we even got through the official starting sequence, the last player from the previous raid went AFK without notice. We voted to boot him and brought in another random after a few minutes. Raids are bad because they force you to play with other players and other players are bad unless you know them. And even then they’re still often bad but at least you know them and that softens the blow slightly. These three guys didn’t have mics. That means using the text chat, which I’m actually totally fine with. The problem is that people often don’t use the text chat. This was one of those groups where they would use it only when they were annoyed with waiting. And then they would only say a few things like “hurry up”. The problem is that again this was my first raid. So I didn’t actually know what was going on, where I was supposed to go, or what the current objective was much of the time. I will definitely say that a big part of this came from the fact that the raid in Breakpoint is extremely vague and badly presented. The objectives aren’t clear, which is surprising considering how clear the objectives are in the main game. The locations you need to go to aren’t clearly marked, which for a four person cooperative experience just doesn’t work well. Last, but certainly not least, the text chat malfunctioned on and off for the entire duration of this raid attempt. Literally every five minutes the chat would break. You’d try to type a message and get back an error from Ubisoft saying the chat wasn’t working currently and to try again later. Coordinating four players, with the leader having no idea what to do, with no mics and no text chat is less efficient then the blind leading the blind. It was an absolute nightmare. And these other three players were raid vets, which in this case didn’t mean automatically working together to achieve a common goal. It meant three players running off solo to the next objective and trying to Rambo their way through it while I was trying to figure out where to go and stopping to pick up loot along the way. Again, I’m only doing raids for loot so you can be damn sure that I’m not just driving past chests. The whole thing was disorganized and terrible.

Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon® Breakpoint2019-12-29-16-10-14After like two hours of slowly making our way through the first half of the raid, we got stuck. These three players were all people who had completed the raid and yet we couldn’t seem to complete the latest objective. Like I said, the objectives were neither clearly defined or clearly marked on the map. Then one guy dropped. In some raid scenarios this sucks but it’s manageable. You can invite other people to join and still play while you’re waiting. And usually other people will join in rather quickly. That’s not the case in Breakpoint. You can invite random people to join, but you can’t move forward, depending on where you are, until they actually have joined. We were at such a spot. So we just stood there waiting for someone to join. No one did for a few minutes and then another guy dropped out. This is the nightmare scenario. You’ve spent two hours and still haven’t finished the raid then someone drops out. Then another. Now you have two people standing around and a decision to make. Do you keep waiting for additional players that may never come or do you risk starting the whole thing over by accepting an invitation to join another random group? Ultimately I chose the latter and ironically ended up in a group with the two guys who dropped out the first time at the very beginning of the raid. The first guy who dropped saw the two of us repeat players and dropped again. Ultimately I gave up on completing the raid and logged out of the game. And that’s everything that’s wrong with raids.

the division 2 raidThis was a garbage experience and not the first one I’ve had with raids. But the real question we should be asking isn’t how can raids be improved. It’s why do we have to have raids at all? In any loot focused game the better loot you can get the better your overall stats which should have a direct influence on your performance in game. That’s the only reason people do raids. They want the loot. That’s the only reason I agreed to waste my time trying to coordinate with three random assholes for two hours who didn’t even use mics in an online coop scenario. I simply wanted the best loot possible. And as I’ve already said, the raid loot is way better than anything you can find in the normal game. The jump from 150 gear to 260 gear is no joke. But why am I being forced to turn my single player gaming experience of 50 hours into a multiplayer gaming experience I don’t want? Why don’t developers ever acknowledge that my wanting the best loot doesn’t negate my desire to play alone? Why don’t developers ever add a single player raid alternative to their games for players like me? If I’ve invested the money and time to play and complete all the content then clearly I like playing the game and want to continue to. But if I’ve played the whole thing solo then clearly I don’t want to play with others people while still wanting the better loot.

There are so many options that could be implemented in this scenario. Give me bots for the raid. Make the raid possible for solo players. Add an additional solo mission that nets the same loot. Increase the value of regular loot spawns so I can eventually get all the raid stuff without playing the raid. It shouldn’t matter how I get the loot as a solo player. Just give me the loot so that when more solo content is added later I’m not lagging behind and unable to jump into it right away. To clarify, this is not just a Breakpoint problem. This is a Ubisoft problem. The same issues have happened to me in both The Division games. This is not just a Ubisoft problem. The same has occurred to me in other games like Destiny as well. This is a raid problem. Because the raid concept, in its current form, has always been troublesome for single player users. It’s an unnecessary mechanic that honestly serves no purpose. It’s not as if they couldn’t easily create challenging single player levels to supplement the content.

pokemon sword shield raidI am not saying raids shouldn’t exist or that companies should stop adding them to their games. I’m saying raids shouldn’t be mandatory to acquire the best loot in games that involve loot based character development. Let the players play the way they want to play. If someone wants to do raids, good for them. That option should be there in a shared world experience, which Breakpoint technically isn’t. But if a player doesn’t want to do raids that shouldn’t hinder them from being able to max out their gear. There has to be a way to balance out this issue for players of both types.

Now some might argue that giving people who didn’t do the raid access to raid gear is unfair because they didn’t earn it. First, this is not true. They still would have earned it, assuming they couldn’t just buy it in the in game shop. They would have just earned it differently. Second, why does this matter? The solo player plays solo. He/she doesn’t play raids or PVP unless forced to. So who would see or know that they got the raid gear without doing the raid? It’s not like they’re trying to play with other players to begin with. So why is it any other player’s business? As I said, I was placed in a raid at the end and given the credit for completing it. If you look up my profile it will currently say I successfully completed the raid one time. I have the raid completion emblem. For onlookers I have completed the raid, even though that’s absolutely not true. And honestly I don’t care if anyone thinks I completed the raid to begin with, because I play exclusively solo when not forced to play with others for better gear. Third, this issue of fairness, like in all games, only matters in PVP. So why not just wall the gear out of PVP? We’ve seen this in other games over the years. Just make it so that raid loot not earned by actually completing the raid can’t be used in PVP. This will be a non-issue for solo players because we don’t want to do PVP anyway so what do we care if we’re barred from using it in PVP? Problem solved for everyone involved and even those not actually involved who just like to complain about other people getting nice things. The truth is that we don’t need raids. So at that point developers should stop forcing us to play them if we don’t want to.

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GOG Galaxy 2.0 Beta Review

I’m a big fan of GOG and have been for many years. They’re actually my favorite storefront to buy PC games from. Though their selection is limited compared to Steam and other PC game distributors, I try to buy from them wherever applicable. One of the main reasons I really liked them when I first found out about them was how convenient their distribution system was. There was no launcher. You just went to their site and downloaded the entire DRM free game you purchased directly to be used offline. For me, this was always a better, more convenient option than Steam. Some years later, they released the GOG Galaxy launcher, which I was against at first because it meant having to have yet another launcher and that suddenly DRM was slowly, and sadly, becoming a thing for GOG. Make no mistake, requiring a launcher to access your games is a form of DRM. Having to login to access your games is a form of DRM. Eventually I gave in and started using GOG Galaxy. It’s good as far as launchers go, but there’s nothing particularly better about it compared to other launchers.

In the time since installing GOG Galaxy 1.0, I have had to add a number of additional game launchers to my system. Uplay, Origin, Bethesda, Epic Games Store, and so on. Every publisher has decided they need their own launcher now. I’m not one of those people who gets angry at companies for not putting their games on Steam. I understand their desire to want to make more money and spend less of it distributing their games. But like with TV streaming services today, there’s a point where there’s just too many entities offering what is essentially the same service with disjointed content. This is what first attracted me to GOG Galaxy 2.0.

LibraryGOG Galaxy 2.0 offers a simple value proposition: manage all your games in one place. It’s a launcher that allows you to see and manage all your games, including those you have on PS4 and XB1, in one organized collection. Honestly it sounded too good to be true when I first heard about it. While simple from a technological standpoint, I didn’t see how GOG, or really any company, would deliver something that actually connects all the games I have, except for those on Nintendo Switch, in one convenient location with user data and preferences from that many separate launchers and two non-PC gaming platforms. So I jumped at the chance to download the beta build as soon as I saw the announcement. I’ve now spent a fair amount of time using the launcher and thought it would be beneficial to write a review of my experiences.

The first thing I want to say is that GOG Galaxy 2.0 (GG2) absolutely delivers. I can honestly say that this is the last launcher I will ever use for my normal day to day gaming needs. That being said, there are a number of caveats which sadly still requires me to make use of other launchers to get the full spectrum of PC gaming and management services I require for all my PC gaming needs. The second thing I want to say is that this is absolutely still a beta build and while I have been using it as my go to launcher, it has a number of bugs and fixes that need to be made. It lags at times when trying to apply tags to games from the grid view. It even crashed once and made me have to restart my whole system.

General Activity Feed.pngIn practice, GG2 is basically Facebook for your games via other game launchers. I say that intentionally with all the good and bad that comes with the Facebook platform. The way it works is that you manually connect each launcher you have installed on your system into GG2’s interface by logging into each launcher via GG2. You can connect or disconnect launchers/services you have connected at any time. To me there does seem to be a level of security risk with linking and logging into all your platforms at the same time and handing that login information to GOG. But you make the same sort of decisions with connecting your social media to your phone every day. I will also acknowledge that each launcher you connect has you login to the launcher’s official login window as opposed to a special GOG one so maybe they aren’t actually being given your login information directly. You can’t actually buy any games, other than from the GOG store, in GG2. In fact, you can’t even access stores from other launchers from within GG2. It’s strictly a platform for managing your games while replacing GOG Galaxy 1.0 for GOG related purchases and gaming.

What GG2 actually does is import your library page from each connected launcher, along with whatever play progress data it can find, and mashes all those libraries together in a single, convenient UI. The launcher separates each connected platform via convenient tabs, but the default page shows you your entire collection of games as one massive list. It can be viewed in either grid view with imported cover images for most games, or list view which shows the name and platform each game comes from. When you choose a specific launcher tab it just filters the same view to that one platform’s games.

PlayStation GameI was quite impressed with the amount of information GG2 imported for each game from each platform. It shows all your achievements/trophies, the date they were acquired, and your play activity for each game. As a note though, it only tracks data from PS4 on for PlayStation and GOG data after a certain year, when I guess they officially started tracking play data for users. Many of my games have no data shown. It imports your friends list from each platform and shows you a comparison of how you’ve done compared to your friends in each specific game. On the subject of friends lists, there’s a feed on the right of the launcher that shows friend activity across all platforms in real time, organized by platform. In one convenient location I’m able to see which of my friends are online in Uplay, PSN, Steam, and so on all at the same time. I’m able to see what games they’re playing and what they’re accomplishing in real time with time stamps. Even though the feed isn’t interactive, it’s super convenient when trying to pick which game to play, if you’re looking for a multiplayer experience. You can also hide/show the feed with a single button on the UI. The add friends and chat functions only work for GOG friends though.

Missing Covers PSNIt needs to be said that GG2 is still limited in what it can actually do in reference to non-GOG games. As the other launchers aren’t actually ceding control to GOG, you can’t directly launch games from GG2. When you press play on any PC game a login window for that game’s launcher will pop up before you can actually play the game. Even if you’ve told GG2 to remember your login information for all platforms, you will still have to manually login to each game’s perspective platform every time. Launch a Steam game, you have to go through the entire Steam login process. Launch a Uplay game, you still have to go through the entire Uplay login process. What GG2 is doing is essentially creating desktop shortcuts for all your games and organizing them into a single unified and curated list for you. I will say though that there are a number of bugs, as this is a beta. For instance, not all my games showed up. Sometimes they show up and then other times they don’t. Often a specific connected account disconnects the next time I load up the application and I have to reconnect it. Thankfully though, when this happens my tagging/filtering options remain intact.

From a security standpoint, this is a good way to do this. GG2 doesn’t actually have full access or control of your other accounts and thus if it was hacked, that wouldn’t necessarily allow the hacker to have access to all your games and account information. At the same time, it’s very inconvenient. Having all your games in one place with access via a single login regardless of where you purchased the games would be amazing, and GG2 almost gets there. Having to login again for that last step to actually play your games is depressing but ultimately manageable. Especially considering the time you saved by not having to open multiple launchers to figure out which game you want to play.

List SortingAs far as PlayStation and I assume XB1 titles, obviously you can’t play them from the launcher. GG2 simply says “launch this game from your console” when you click the play button for a console game. What would have been nice is at least being able to activate the app on console from your PC, but we’re not there yet apparently. It’s also important to mention that, at least for the PlayStation games since I don’t have an XB1, GG2 will only track games tied to your PSN account with a digital footprint. What this means is that all digital PS4 games, including ones you own but don’t have downloaded, will show up in your GG2 list under the PlayStation tab. But only PS4 games that you have actual progress in will show up when it comes to physical versions. I think this is because it’s using the trophy list to figure out which non-PC games you have.

I really like that GG2 shows when you own multiple versions of the same game on multiple platforms. It very clearly shows you how many versions you own, which platforms you own them on, and lets you select which version you’d like to interact with and check player data for. This is a clutch feature that I’m not sure I would have even thought about on my own. It’s not perfect at this point though as some games do show up twice in your list. I think it comes down to naming within each platform more than anything else. For instance, The TellTale Game of Thrones Season 1 game shows up twice in my list. One version on PS4 and the other on PC. But the one on PS4 is just called Game of Thrones while the one on PC is called Game of Thrones: A TellTale Series. So I think that’s why it happened. And yet it didn’t separate my three versions of Batman: Arkham Asylum, each with a slightly different name. In fact, it shows each slightly different name in the game’s main page when you click the versions owned tab. So it’s not an exact science at this point.

Multiple Versions OwnedWhat is actually much more useful and convenient than the tabs is the manual tagging and filtering system.  All your games on all platforms are shown together in one giant list as a default until you use the filters. GG2 gives you the ability to manually tag and filter all the games in your list in whatever way you want. You can also manually hide games from your list. The filtering system lets you use as many tags as you want concurrently to filter the list and tells you how many games using the tag(s) are currently hidden. As a bonus feature, you can click the notice and it will reveal the hidden games and hide the normally shown ones and then go back to normal when you click it again.

The filtering system is a feature I’ve had to do manually for years with folders on my PS4. It’s super convenient in GG2 and makes managing a combined list of more than 600 games much easier. I created three custom tags for filtering: Beaten, Backlog, and Trash. I tagged the games I have already completed with “Beaten”. This allowed me to filter out all the games I’ve finished when I’m trying to pick a new game to play. I tagged the games I actually would like to play from my collection with Backlog. This allows me to set apart games I would actually like to play at some point from the rest of the group, thus streamlining my decision making process. Finally, I tagged the games I would absolutely never play with Trash. My one complaint about the tagging system is that it has to be done manually one game at a time. You are unable to select and tag multiple games at once. This is a non-issue once you’ve gone through and gotten all your tagging done, but it’s hell when you go through and tag your entire collection the first time.

FiltersThere are also a number of small quality of life features that aren’t necessary but make for a way better experience. For instance, when you are scrolling through the grid and you click into a game’s page there’s a back button. Pressing it will take you back to the place in the list you were at when you clicked that specific game. You can give the games star ratings. You can look at your user data measured in daily, weekly, or monthly increments. There’s a general activity feed that shows everything you’ve done such as add games, get trophies/achievements, and play sessions. There are lots of little things like that which make for a great overall launcher experience.

My one big complaint, which doesn’t surprise me and I doubt it will ever be fixed, is that you can’t connect multiple accounts of the same platform. For instance, I have 2 PSN accounts and 2 Steam accounts. This is because I live in Asia but for the most part purchase games in American digital stores. Sometimes I’m forced to purchase a game through my Asian account(s) for various reasons. GG2 doesn’t account for this though so all my secondary account games are not shown in my collection. This is a problem easily fixed that will most likely never get added.

Store FeaturedOverall, I really like GOG Galaxy 2.0. It’s not a finished service yet, but as far as launchers are concerned, it’s the most convenient game organization and management tool I’ve ever seen. I wish I could connect my Switch account to it too. Even people who don’t use GOG can find a use for this if they’re buying their games on more than one launcher/platform. The organizational tools available make it a must for anyone with a large selection of games. I look forward to using the launch version of the software.

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Nioh 2 Open Beta Review

*This beta took place in early November but because of my crowded publishing schedule I wasn’t able to get this review up until now. The game doesn’t release until March 2020 so it’s not too late for this review to help you make an informed buying decision about the game.

I’ve been a Nioh fan since the alpha for the first game released. I’ve featured the alpha, the beta, the final pre-release demo, the full game, and most recently the beta for the sequel on my YouTube channel. To say I like the franchise would be an understatement. I’ve been chomping at the bit to play Nioh 2 since it was first announced like two years ago. To finally get to play a beta for it was a much needed experience.

For those unfamiliar with the franchise, Nioh is essentially Koei Tecmo’s take on the Soulsborne genre. In simplest terms, it’s a samurai themed Dark Souls clone. I believe that the first game’s success is the reason Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice was made. FromSoftware didn’t like the idea of another studio, especially one as large and successful as Koei Tecmo, taking their formula and, for all intents and purposes, improving it. But in my opinion that is exactly what has happened. I haven’t played Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice yet, but it’s on my list. I have played Demon’s Souls, Dark Souls I & II, and Bloodborne. I have to say that Nioh is my favorite game in this genre. And it’s not just because I prefer the samurai theme. There are specific quality of life differences that make the game more enjoyable for me. I’m not going to get into that here, but if you want to read a comparison of the two franchises you can find the one I wrote last year here.

Episode - Screenshot 2019-11-07 02-01-50

I spent about 20 hours in the beta and I was very impressed. There are a lot of new ideas here that I could spend a lot of time talking about. But what I’m actually happier about are the improvements to the original game. Visually, it’s a great game just like the first one was. The beauty of the Japanese settings coupled with the demon infested, war-torn character of the franchise once again delivers something eerily beautiful and daunting at the same time. The game uses landscapes to intimidate you before the action even starts. The high level of detail to create an authentic looking feudal Japan is awe-inspiring. The temples, castles, and even gear make you feel like you’re really visiting feudal Japan. Meanwhile the dark hues, black demonic auras, and mountains of corpses transport you into a nightmare that your only hope to survive is by fighting your way through. And remember, you will die. The subtle but effective use of sound helps support this atmosphere as well. There’s actually not a lot of noticeable music in the beta, but the effects are quite good and informative, just like in the first game. Using your ears can be just as important as using your eyes. Sound can notify you when you’ve been spotted, what kind of enemy has you in their sights, and much more.

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Enemy design is one of the most impressive things about the franchise as a whole. The level of detail put into creating monsters that intimidate the player long before actually fighting and dying against them is one of the things that makes Nioh a superior game. The sequel has not only lived up to the enemy design of the first game, but surpassed it. One of the things I was really happy to see was that for the most part enemies were not reused. At least not in the beta. Between the two stages I played in the beta, there were only four or five enemies I remember fighting in the first game and some of them were altered in some way.

The new enemies are somehow even weirder and creepier than the ones from the first game. Some examples include an amalgamation of corpses walking around like a spider with eight different human heads and a one legged boar demon with flowing anime style hair and a giant hammer that hops around like a frog. I was also really happy to see more female enemies in the beta. Not counting bosses and DLC, the first game had only one clearly female enemy in the entire game. The Nioh 2 beta featured two over the course of just two stages. I really like this because the addition of gender allows the monster designs a new level of creativity and variation. The new snake yokai works so well both visually and in terms of behavior because it’s female in form. As a male, it would be much less effective as far as presentation and believability.

Episode - Screenshot 2019-11-08 01-33-16

The level design impressed me a lot in the first stage of the beta. In reality, it’s not that big of a map. But the way it has been weaved together with crisscrossing paths, locked shortcuts, and multiple floors makes it seem way bigger than it actually is. It’s very similar to Bloodborne in that regard, where the world is not open but it feels like it is. The first stage has only three shrines (the Nioh equivalent of bonfires), but the level plays like it has at least seven or eight different sections. Koei Tecmo’s level design shows that it’s not the size of the map but how you use the space that matters. They do so much with only a little total area and it makes for an action packed experienced that doesn’t offer too much down time between fights unless you want there to be.

I am rarely a fan of character creation in story based games, and make no mistake, this is a story based game/franchise. That’s one of the main reasons I prefer it to Dark Souls. This isn’t a game that just throws lore at you and expects you to fill in the narrative on your own. There is an actual plot to the game that you’re a part of. Not much was shown in the beta, but the trend from the first game of interspersing cutscenes sparingly around the start of levels and to introduce boss fights continues into this sequel. The difference is, and I hope this is just because the beta wasn’t showing much, that the story seems less character driven. While I thought the concept of making a samurai themed game set in feudal Japan starring a white guy from Great Britain was odd, I actually liked William. I liked following his story and seeing him interact with people from Japan. I liked that a couple levels went back to the UK and had you fight other Brits. Story was an integral part of the game, as was dialog between your character, William, and NPCs. Parts of that seem to be weakened in place of character creation in Nioh 2.

Episode - Screenshot 2019-11-07 23-48-30

There is still a story, but your place in it appeared less pronounced in this beta. That being said, the character creator is great. You can choose your gender and manipulate their appearance in a great many ways. But the process is also fairly smooth and doesn’t take long. I grew quite attached to the female character I created over the course of the beta and may very well recreate her in the final game. Or I can just use the character import feature, which is really convenient. You can create characters and then upload them for other players to download with a character creation share code. This means when you see a cool looking character online you can copy them directly rather than trying to rebuild them yourself from scratch.

Nioh 2 Beta Share Code

The foundational gameplay is the same. If you played the first one then you will have little trouble walking on to Nioh 2. I did all the tutorial missions as a refresher and was back in fighting shape fairly quickly. There are some new features that you will need to learn if you want to master this game though. The gameplay was already great, but it’s the little tweaks that make this a sequel worth talking about in a sea of rehashed ideas, constant remakes, and lazy annual releases. So many things have been added or changed to make the gameplay, both in combat and in menus, better. For starters, there are now six controller layouts to choose from. I would still prefer fully customizable button maps, but six layouts is a solid number of options. There are various quality of life settings you can choose from in the menus, which can be accessed at any time during gameplay, remembering that like in Dark Souls you can’t actually pause enemies unless you’re at a shrine. You can choose how many item shortcuts you have ranging from four to sixteen. You can choose the color order/scheme to show item drop rarity. You can choose which notifications appear on screen during play, how big they are, and for how long they stay on screen. You can choose if/how the game notifies you in menus about new developments and acquisitions. This game really goes out of its way to make sure you’re happy with the gameplay experience on both a macro and micro level. They even added a small vendor to shrines that will sell you a limited amount of additional ammo and useful consumable items.

Episode - Screenshot 2019-11-07 02-09-57

One of the best improvements is the new skill development system. Rather than the old layout with scrolls connecting in a mostly linear path, you now have more customization options with a Final Fantasy style sphere grid. This makes it easier to see what you’re building towards when unlocking skills and buffs. It’s also visually easier to understand and see how much progress you’ve made in each development category. In the same mode of thinking, there is now a lot more information shown in the status menu with detailed stats showing things like weapon proficiency by type. The one thing I didn’t really like about the new skill development system is that nodes require all connected nodes to be unlocked before you can unlock them. This was irritating because it meant if I wanted something with two connected nodes unlocked that I had to unlock two other nodes. Often one of the nodes would be something I didn’t care to waste skill points on.

Combat has been improved as well at the micro level. One of my biggest issues with the first game was ki pulses. If you press a button, that isn’t actually part of combat, at the right time you get a key pulse which helps regenerate your ki (stamina) faster. I was terrible at doing these in the first game. Because it’s not at all intuitive. You had to actively choose to press a button that wasn’t going to actually be part of the combat in the middle of combat to get a ki pulse. In Nioh 2 you can unlock a skill that lets you ki pulse by dodging. This makes the game so much better for me because I actually do dodge all the time during combat. These sorts of tweaks and changes are what make this game a superior sequel.

Episode - Screenshot 2019-11-07 02-11-37

Nioh 2 also adds two new weapons to the already large arsenal from the first game, delivering a total of nine physical weapons types and three projectile weapons types. The two newest weapons are the switchglaive and dual hatchets. The switchglaive is a great weapon. It’s arguably too OP. It can be a spear that feels like a quick axe in mid stance, a scythe that feels like a hammer in high stance, and a single hand blade that feels like a tonfa in low stance. More impressive is that you can unlock skills that allow you to quickly change between forms. It’s like carrying three completely different weapons in one. One of the best things about the switchglaive is that its power is tied to magic. That means that every time you power up the weapon you are also powering up your magic and increasing its capacity. This alone is a good enough reason to main the switchglaive because developing it is killing two birds with one stone. The dual hatchets are two short axes. They feel like the dual swords with slightly less range but more speed like the tonfas. I really like both new weapons and decided to main them for the duration of the beta and possibly the full game as well.

Episode - Screenshot 2019-11-07 02-22-14

One of my biggest complaints about Nioh was the summoning system. Summoning other players was bothersome and being summoned by other players was bothersome. It’s probably why I played the whole game solo and only let other people summon me a handful of times. They fixed this problem by negating the need to actually summon real other players live. The first game had revenants. These are the fallen corpses of other players that you can summon and fight in hopes of obtaining pieces of their gear. This was a great mechanic that I’m glad was preserved in the sequel. But what they’ve done now is add a summoning component to this concept. Players can now drop a ceremonial grave wherever they like to be summoned for help by other players. But it’s not the player being summoned actually playing. It’s an NPC based on the build used when the false grave was dropped. Summoning these is so much more convenient than summoning real players. It’s instant for starters. It’s also much easier to control because you can summon anyone regardless of their stats and know exactly who is going to assist you. These summons cost ochoko cups which are easy to come by.

Episode - Screenshot 2019-11-09 03-37-26

The other great aspect of the new summoning system is the rewards you get for letting people summon you. You need a special consumable item to drop a summon sign but once you have it’s permanent until you drop another one within the same mission. A seemingly unlimited number of players can use it and you get rewards when your NPC is summoned and helps people. The first time I checked, I had already been summoned by 20 people. My one complaint about the system is that the rewards are trash. I didn’t even get 20 rewards even though it said I had helped 20 people. And you don’t get any amrita (the Nioh equivalent of souls) for being summoned in this way. The game should award you at least some amrita based on the amount that the user who summoned you earned while you were assisting them.

Though it’s not a requirement for me, many people would say a sequel needs to do more than just rehash the previous game with better graphics and cleaner gameplay. There needs to be some new mechanic or idea that revolutionizes the way the game works. In the case of Nioh 2, this new mechanic is yokai forms. In the first game you had guardian spirits. These were creatures that enhanced your combat by granting you special buffs and could be used for a god mode sequence that temporarily made you stronger and impervious to damage. It was a good system that worked well and made sense. But it wasn’t epic. Yokai are what make these games interesting. There are countless human enemies in Nioh and no one cares about them. It’s facing and defeating the yokai that matters. But you never felt at their level. Even when defeating them, you still felt like a human in a world of monsters. Now you get to be the monsters.

Episode - Screenshot 2019-11-02 02-05-37

You still have guardian spirits, but rather than just amp up your normal character with fancy lights like in the first game, you now transform into a yokai when you use your god mode. There are three yokai forms, each with a different combat style. Different guardian spirits are tied to each of the three forms. This means you now have to think about how you want to play the game and choose your guardian spirits accordingly rather than just picking the coolest looking one and forgoing some minor stat boosts or special bonuses. What might even be cooler than your god mode yokai forms are soul core transformations.

Every yokai has a soul and sometimes when you kill them these drop as collectable items, called soul cores. Soul cores allow you to transform into a yokai and unleash a powerful attack that’s signature to that specific yokai. It’s a one off attack that depletes sections of your anima bar based on the cost of the attack. These cores are developed just like gear. You can fuse them with other soul cores to improve them and set up to two at a time for each guardian spirit. Each soul core has its own individual power level and additional buffs. Like with justsu, you have a soul core capacity limit. Each core has a specific cost. You can only equip two that combined don’t go over your cost limit. But that limit is increased as you develop your yokai level. My one complaint is that souls cores seem to have a development cap but it’s not clear when you reach it. You can keep fusing cores to a higher level core even when you stop making progress. Or at least it appears to work that way. There needs to be a clear cap that notifies you when fusing additional cores would be a waste.

Episode - Screenshot 2019-11-07 02-09-53

Yokai forms also have their own skill grid and are developed just like weapons skills, magic, ninjutsu, and general samurai skills. This new system revolutionizes the gameplay in ways that I’ve only begun to explore in the beta. The god mode now has way more applications outside of boss fights and the individual yokai attacks via soul cores can fundamentally alter your combat style, if you want it to. And maybe most importantly is there is now a reason and reward to fighting the same enemies over and over. Soul cores, like gear, fuse best with souls cores of the same type, which means you have to kill the same yokai to get more of them.

The game’s structure is the same as the first one. Individual stages that are accessed from a world map. There are still twilight mode levels that have you play the same level again with harder enemies and better rewards. And there are still specialty missions such as duels with prestigious warriors. The game is stacked with replay value between the twilight mode, additional character development features, and a plethora of weapons to master. Even without the DLC you’re looking at 50 hours minimum if you don’t cut corners. I’ll also say that at this point the game, or at least the boss fights, seem quite a bit tougher than in the first game. But I’m also willing to admit that there’s a lot of nuance to using yokai forms and attacks that I haven’t figured out yet.

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What I wanted from a Nioh sequel is easy to define, but hard to identify. Or at least it was until I tried the Nioh 2 open beta. I wanted the same foundation with a number of slight adjustments, more/another story, and new monsters and stages. That’s all I wanted but Koei Tecmo delivered much more than that. This beta was excellent. I was only going to do the first stage to get the DLC reward and then stop but once I was in I was hooked and ended up doing the second stage as well. Now I have a Soulsborne itch and have to wait till March 2020 to scratch it. Might finally play Dark Souls III in the meantime if I can’t wait that long.

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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.

My Gaming Goals 2020

It’s a new year and that means up to 365 days of potential gaming! Looking back over the past year I had a lot of fun and made some real accomplishments. I finally got my streaming setup working the way I wanted including getting the camera and audio quality to a presentable level. I played a number of new AAA titles during their release window/year, which is usually pretty rare for me. I was able to complete the main campaigns for Kingdom Hearts III, The Division 2, Ghost Recon: Breakpoint, and got through most of Pokemon Sword. In general, I didn’t get to play as many games as I had hoped, but I had an awesome year of gaming. I won my first serious e-Sports competition and went on to compete at Gamescom. Even though I didn’t win the final tournament, just to have been included was a real honor and the chance of a lifetime. I also started a Facebook page to tie in with everything else I do related to gaming. Looking back over the year, I’m kind of surprised I was even able to get in as much gaming as I did. In 2019, I also got married, adopted a puppy, and traveled internationally on three different occasions. Thank God for the Switch! I also got a large haul of games for Black Friday so 2020 is looking great as well. Granted I was already severely backlogged so the next year of gaming was going to be great either way.

Here’s all the games I completed in 2019:

  1. Kingdom Hearts: Re: Chain of Memories (PS4) – 1/25/19
    1. Sora and Riku completed.
  2. Kingdom Hearts: 358/2 Days (PS4) – 1/30/19
    1. Completed all days and read all diaries and secret documents.
  3. Devotion (PC) – 2/24/19
  4. Pokemon: Let’s GO – Eevee (Switch) – 3/6/19
    1. Completed the Elite Four, got the Crown, Completed the Pokedex, defeated Red, Blue, and Green.
  5. Monster Hunter World (PS4) – 3/9/19
    1. Campaign completed.
  6. Just Dance 2019 (NS) – 4/10/19
    1. 5* all songs
    2. Emptied gift machine
  7. Tetris 99 (Switch) – 4/13/19
    1. Got first place.
  8. The Division 2 (PC) – 4/16/19
    1. Cleared all base content through tier 5.
  9. Smash Bros. Ultimate (Switch) – 5/8/19
    1. Completed World of Light
  10. Kingdom Hearts II (PS4) – 5/15/2019
  11. RAD Closed Beta (PC) – 5/27/19
    1. Reached an ending.
  12. Kingdom Hearts Birth by Sleep (PS4) – 6/18/19
    1. Completed all 3 campaigns.
  13. Kingdom Hearts Re:Coded (PS4) – 6/22/19
  14. Yoshi’s Crafted World (NS) – 6/24/19
  15. Crash Bandicoot 1 Remaster (NS) – 6/29/19
  16. Watch Dogs (PC) – 7/17/19
  17. Super Mario Maker 2 (NS) – 7/20/19
    1. All story mode courses completed.
  18. TellTale Batman Season 1 (PS4) – 7/21/19
    1. Platinum trophy acquired.
  19. Kingdom Hearts: Dream Drop Distance (PS4) – 7/28/19
  20. Knack II (PS4) – 8/13/19
  21. Kingdom Hearts 0.2: Birth by Sleep – A Fragmentary Passage (PS4) – 8/29/19
  22. Kingdom Hearts X Back Cover (PS4) – 8/30/19
  23. Cuphead (PC) – 9/3/19
  24. Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Wildlands (PC) – 10/18/19
  25. Kingdom Hearts III (PS4) – 12/28/19
    1. Platinum trophy acquired.
  26. Ghost Recon: Breakpoint (PC) – 12/28/19

Looking back at my gaming goals for 2019, I have to admit that I didn’t do a great job. Of the 10 main goals I set for myself, I completed 4 of them and 2/3 of a 5th one. As with last year, I didn’t even manage to complete 50% of my goals. To be fair though, Ghost of Tsushima was on my list and it didn’t actually release last year so technically that puts me at almost exactly 50% if you don’t count that one. I also didn’t manage to even attempt a single one of my bonus goals. A large part of this lack of success comes from the fact that so many of the games on my list were RPGs and Ubisoft style open worlds. Those games take a long time and now that I’m a husband and have a dog while still maintaining a perfect record on my blog, streaming regularly, and still working a full time job it’s just really hard to finish games. I put in more than 70 hours to complete Kingdom Hearts III and still haven’t even obtained the platinum trophy. I played Ghost Recon: Breakpoint for more than 40 hours before reaching the final boss of the main campaign. It’s a great time to be a budget gamer. It’s a terrible time to have little to no time to play games.

As this is a new decade, I’ve decided to make a change. Namely, I want to be more realistic about my 2020 gaming goals. I don’t want my 2021 post to be another sub 70% success year. So I’ve decided to be more practical in my goals for the following year of gaming. I don’t want to be too lofty but I still want to challenge myself to be greater. I will also continue updating this blog weekly, streaming multiple days a week where possible, and tweeting about gaming regularly among other things I normally do. So without further ado, here’s what I hope to accomplish gaming wise in 2020.

Gaming Calendar 2020

MY GAMING GOALS FOR 2020

1. MAKE A NEW TRAILER FOR MY YOUTUBE CHANNEL

I’ve had the same trailer for three years on my YouTube channel. The channel has changed significantly since then and I think it’s time to create a new one. What better time than at the start of a new decade?

2. FINISH POKEMON SWORD & SHIELD

I’m one of those people that actually enjoy video games and I have to say that I really like this latest generation of Pokémon. I’ve put almost 70 hours into Sword and I haven’t even faced the Elite 4 yet. I plan on completing the Pokédex in both Sword and Shield.

3. THE WITCHER 2

I built my PC three years ago to play this game and still haven’t . . .

4. THE WITCHER 3

Need to finish The Witcher 2 before starting this one.

5. THE LAST OF US – LEFT BEHIND DLC

I don’t know why I didn’t play the DLC when I originally played The Last of Us Remastered back in 2016. I think I was just burned out at that point because while I liked the game I didn’t love it the way everyone else did. I will definitely be playing The Last of Us Part 2 but not until the price drops. For the purposes of story I want to play this DLC before the sequel.

6. MARIO + RABBIDS: KINGDOM BATTLE DONKEY KONG ADVENTURE DLC

I love this game. It’s one of the best turn based RPGs ever made as far as gameplay is concerned. This was the game I ended up winning a tournament and competing at Gamescom in. I’ve wanted the Donkey Kong DLC for a long time but was waiting for a price drop. I finally picked it up during Black Friday.

7. DARK SOULS III

I’ve been wanting to play Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice for a while but I said I wouldn’t play it until I finished Dark Souls III. I’ve played Demon’s Souls and Dark Souls I & II so I really just want to close out the Souls franchise.

8. THE SURGE

I love the Souls genre of gameplay but my favorite versions of this concept aren’t actually made by FromSoftware. Nioh is the one I have enjoyed the most so far. The Surge is the same concept by a German studio with robots. I’ve been sitting on it for a long time and I’d really like to play the sequel so I need to get it done.

9. WATCH DOGS 2

I’m actually not super interested in Watch Dogs 2. I’ve heard it’s very good but I generally don’t care to be a hipster in Silicon Valley roleplaying as a hacktivist. The only reason I’m taking the time to play this is because I can’t wait to play Watch Dogs: Legion.

10. GHOST OF TSUSHIMA

I’ve been wanting to play this since the first trailer dropped. I had hoped it would release in 2019 but 2020 seems to be the year. This may very well end up being the only AAA priced game I pick up at launch for the entire year.

11. PLATINUM AT LEAST ONE GAME

I don’t hunt trophies and most of my games are not 100% completed. I just finish the campaign and move on. But every year I always take the time to get a platinum in at least one game on a Sony platform. It doesn’t matter what the game is. It just has to be a platinum trophy. This has been my custom since I first got a PS3. I haven’t decided what game it will be yet but it will be something. Last year I got two platinums.

Are you readyThat’s all I’m setting for myself this year. Obviously I will play other games, but in my attempt to be more practical and realistic in 2020 I’m only giving myself 10 goals for the next year of gaming. But more than half of this list is RPGs/Open Worlds so it’s still a tall order. I’ve included a couple DLC goals which I assume will be easier to complete. I’m also once again including Ghost of Tsushima with the hope that it really will get released this year as announced. I will be really disappointed in myself if I can’t complete more than half of these. I didn’t even set any bonus goals this year. But if I had to name one it’s Link’s Awakening Remake on the Nintendo Switch. My wife got that for me for Christmas and I’m really looking forward to playing it. I’m also going to try to stream more games from my goals list in order to save time. Often I end up streaming games not on my list because many of them are games I don’t think are great for streaming but this year I will try to overlap the two things more.

There are a lot of great games coming out this year so hopefully I can stay on course. 2020 looks like it’s going to be a great year of gaming no matter what I play. What are your gaming goals for the next year? 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.

The End of an Era: Gaming in the 2010s

As we enter 2020, it’s not just a new year of gaming but a new decade. In a way it seems appropriate that we’ll be getting a new PlayStation and XBOX this year almost as a way to usher in a new era for the gaming community. There were a lot of wonderful things that happened in the last 10 years of gaming. There were also a lot of terrible things.

Looking back at my own gaming history over the last decade has been very surreal. In 2010, I was still in college. I was still using an XBOX 360 and had no interest in switching over to PS3. I borrowed a PS3 from a friend just to play God of War III. The next year I finally got a PS3 and have been a committed PlayStation user since then. I’ve played on three different Nintendo consoles in the last decade and in my opinion they showed the most improvement and innovation from generation to generation. They’ve also had the smallest library of noteworthy games and the highest prices. Or more accurately the slowest price drop rates. PlayStation and Nintendo have proven time and time again that single player gaming is not only not dead but thriving. There have been a great many phenomenal single player games that have released over the past decade.

xbox 360 coverGaming hasn’t been all sunshine and roses over the last ten years. We saw many controversies, problematic movements from the public, blatant lies from many companies, the introduction of predatory practices and rampant profiteering, and  some very depressing cancellations among other things. I’m still not over the cancellation of Scalebound and don’t think I ever will be. Politics has gotten way too close to gaming both from a policy and public opinion standpoint. Games are being shaped and censored based on the views of people who don’t even play games. While I consider this a bad thing, it would be inaccurate to say that it hasn’t worked in the favor of consumers in at least one situation, namely Star Wars: Battlefront II.

The state of gaming journalism has become a combination of disappointing, depressing, and insulting. Also related to politics worming its way into gaming discourse from outside the player base, we have seen countless examples of writers blessed with the opportunity to get paid to write about video games wasting that opportunity on insulting players for things they don’t actually deserve to get insulted for. This is especially ironic considering the many things that players actually do deserved to get called out for like continuing to support microtransactions financially. Made all the more ironic by the fact that gamers keep complaining about microtransactions even while continuously spending massive amounts of money on them.

games as serviceThe games as service model was formed and proliferated way past the point of sustainability over the last decade. Some publishers have even stated publicly that they’d like all their games to use this model and have no plans of making single iteration story focused games anymore. At the same time, some publishers seem to have learned at least one or two lessons over the course of the last 10 years. Even EA delivered Star Wars: Jedi Fallen Order with no microtransactions or multiplayer.

We’ve seen the gaming community accomplish massive achievements as a group. Not all of which were positive. Some good examples include shifting how EA managed Star Wars: Battlefront II by organizing the most downvoted comment in Reddit history, getting Shenmue III released, and supporting a number of independent projects such as Cuphead. But we’ve also seen the negative side of that level of power with movements like GamerGate, many people trying to force developers to change their games even at the expense of their own creative vision, and as a result some games weren’t localized to US. I think the last decade was fairly great for gamers and quite profitable to some developers/publishers, too often at the expense of artistic integrity.

Cuphead Screenshot 2018.11.23 - 21.22.40.38It seems that in one way or another companies have tried to disrupt the current market by attempting to introduce new platforms and methods to access games, but just can’t seem to deliver something serviceable and accordingly priced for the current market. Examples of this include attempting to introduce new consoles, store fronts, and subscription services like the Ouya, Epic Games Store, and the latest attempt with Google Stadia. Subscription services seem to be the way many companies are trying to go in the next decade of gaming with Ubisoft introducing Uplay+, EA introducing Origin Premium, and Microsoft introducing XBOX Game Pass. What’s interesting is that all these services were announced after the mostly disappointing PlayStation Now failed to take the market by storm.

VR has become the gift that keeps on failing because companies seem to keep focusing on power and gimmicks while ignoring the main reason these headsets continue to be for niche audiences i.e. accessibility. The software has finally started to come around to a more normalized gaming audience with a selection of options, both AAA and indie, that actually have markets outside of rich kids who like FPS. But the headsets themselves are still too expensive and require too much power behind them, especially for players on PC, to become a widely used gaming medium. This fact is multiplied for users outside the US. I do think that in the next 10 years we’ll finally see this problem remedied though.

psvr amazonUltimately I’d say it was a good decade of gaming, but a number of problems were revealed and created that if not solved and/or put to rest can have drastic long-term consequences for the gaming community and industry. The current system of predatory practices, political conflicts, and inaccessibility is not sustainable. But the death rattle will last a quite a long time if nothing changes.

Now I’d like to look at my own gaming history over the last 10 years. Every year I make and usually publish a list of all the games I beat that year. Going through all of them and looking back over the many great games that were released was very nostalgic. I was also reminded about just how backlogged I am and how many great games I’ve still not played. I honestly could spend the next decade not buying any games and I’d still probably come out at the other end with a decent sized backlog remaining.

gaming timeline ps4I want to take the time to summarize the decade by discussing three games I played in each year: my top game for the year, an honorable mention that accomplished something special that year, and the worst game I played in that year. I want to note that I will only be addressing games I actually completed. Games I tried but never finished and games I have yet to play are not included in this. There will be much worse games than the one I mentioned in pretty much every year, but I didn’t play those so they weren’t included. It’s also worth noting that “worst game” is hyperbolic in nature. Really it’s more the game that I was most disappointed in or had strong negative feelings about because of issues that were a detriment to the experience of playing them. The fact that they’re even being mentioned in most cases is still an honor because it means they were memorable enough to have any sort of feelings about and seemed good enough for me to take the time to play all the way to the end to begin with. I also want to make it clear that I separated these games by release year, but didn’t necessarily play them all in the year they were released.

My Last Decade in Gaming: 2010 – 2019

2010

Best Game: God of War 3 (PS3)

This was the final installment of the original God of War franchise and characterization of Kratos. I had to borrow a PS3 to play this game because I had followed the franchise since the beginning but had gone for XBOX 360 instead of PS3 up to this point in that generation. It was so fulfilling to see the end of that story and even more impressive that Santa Monica Studio was ballsy enough to end the game with a supposed suicide. I had actually hoped that this was Kratos’ last installment but then they decided to milk him more with God of War: Ascension three years later, which was mediocre at best. We all know what ultimately happened to Kratos but if you had told me about God of War (2018) at this point I wouldn’t have believed you. The Nemean Cestus is still one of my favorite weapons in all of gaming and the way you get them in this game was absolutely phenomenal.

god of war 3Honorable Mention: Bayonetta (XBOX 360)

Bayonetta is like a cult classic that’s also main stream. She’s had her ups and downs, jumping between platforms, getting a sequel, multiple ports, and then the announcement of another sequel while also moonlighting in Smash Bros. This first installment of the character was a great game because it denied pretty much all convention and normalcy. Even now it seems like a fever dream when you write out what the game actually is on paper. But both men and women still love this female protagonist even as she kills angels, shoots guns with her ridiculously tall heels, and casts magic spells that require her to get naked on screen. She defies all logic and maybe that’s what makes her so special to gaming.

Worst Game: Fable III (XBOX 360)

I was really unhappy with how Fable III turned out. The first game was one of the best modern fantasy RPGs ever made. The karma system was good, the choices mattered but didn’t necessarily limit you, and the game didn’t take itself too seriously. Fable II wasn’t an all-around better game, but it too delivered on the fun factor with a funny, but forgiving karma system tied to a narrative that was serious but not annoyingly so. The third game just took the karma system past the point of enjoyment. Being the brother of a king who had lost his mind and ultimately having to rule a country in his place sounds fun but it wasn’t because they focused on all the worst parts of ruling a country and then bound the ending to all decisions you had made along the way in order to try to get you to play the game a second time to see the opposing karmic ending. It really just wasn’t a fun game.

2011

Best Game: Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception (PS3)

This was a tough year to judge. I went with Uncharted 3 because it was the supposed culmination of Naughty Dog’s spectacular treasure hunting franchise. Nathan Drake and Sully had been through so much by this point and it was nice to see it all wrapped up nicely, or so we thought. A lot of people didn’t like this installment, but it’s actually my favorite of the original three games. Visually it was amazing for the PS3, the gameplay had some great moments like the plane cargo sequence, and the characters had a great ending. The fact that they pushed out a fourth title that worked even better than this one truly shows just how capable Naughty Dog is at telling compelling stories.

uncharted 3Honorable Mention: Mass Effect 2 (PS3)

The reason I listed Mass Effect 2 in 2011 instead of 2010 is because this is when we got the PS3 version with all the additional content. This is one of the few RPGs I’ve played more than once over the course of just a few years and the only one I’ve played on multiple platforms in the same generation, since I played the XBOX 360 version first. What’s important to note is that the PS3 version is the definitive version of the game. The original sans DLC version is a completely different game that’s not nearly as impressive. It showed just how problematic it is for games to be released “unfinished” and lacking all the story content because the DLC directly affected the events leading into Mass Effect 3, which released the following year. Now when you buy the Mass Effect Trilogy collection you get all the content, but at the time of release this wasn’t the case and people were experiencing widely different narratives depending on which versions of both 2 and 3 they played.

Worst Game: Catherine (PS3)

I absolutely hated Catherine. I hate that it was rereleased in 2019. I hate the gameplay. I hate the preachy, nonsensical writing. I hate that people tried to apply real world politics to it and argue it was saying something about the LGBTQ community. I hate that it was taken seriously as a mainstream game. Everything about it was hacky and ridiculous while the gameplay was unnecessarily unfair. I won’t say difficult because the basic mechanics weren’t hard to grasp. It was how the game manipulated the levels in real time that made playing it way more troublesome than it really needed to be. Not to mention the developers had the nerve to include three different endings as if the game was worth playing through more than once. It’s still a wonder that I finished it a single time. I’ve said this multiple times in hyperbole, but it’s the most appropriate way for me to describe Catherine. I would rather jump out of a window and slit my own throat on the way down than play that garbage game again.

2012

Best Game: Mass Effect 3 (PS3)

There are very few games that deliver as much catharsis and gravity as Mass Effect 3. The culmination of Commander Shepherd’s good work trying to bring the galaxy together and fight the Reapers was absolutely phenomenal. The only other “end” of a franchise that was as powerful as this one was God of War III. The irony being that both games went on to release another installment. But it’s not actually the single player mode that I think was most impactful for me in Mass Effect 3. This was the first massively fulfilling online cooperative experience I’ve ever had. The non PVP, cooperative multiplayer was so much fun to play. I literally played more than 500 hours of the multiplayer and at one point was in the top 10% of players in the world. I may have even been in the top 1% at one point but I don’t want to overstake my accomplishments without evidence present. It was so well made, so challenging, and so enjoyable. I made friends, tracked achievements, and got good at shooting in a game like never before. Since then I’ve never had another cooperative multiplayer experience as fulfilling as Mass Effect 3 though I have gotten close a few times.

mass effect 3Honorable Mention: Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning (PS3)

I don’t think there’s ever been a game as externally problematic and scandalous while concurrently being so good as Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning. A game created by an ex baseball player that cost a state millions of dollars because of embezzlement just sounds like a train wreck, but it’s honestly one of the best fantasy RPGs ever made. The gameplay is phenomenal and has definitely inspired later games. In my opinion, it still has the best mage class and the best class restructuring system of any long form RPG. It was a full length game with tons of side quests and a compelling main questline. The ending was good but left open ended for a sequel which even today people still want to see made even though the company and development team is completely disbanded. Usually projects with such troubled development either don’t release or come out terrible. This came out great and is still worth playing even in 2020.

Worst Game: Prototype 2 (PS3)

Prototype 2 is not a bad game so much as it’s a lackluster sequel with a stereotypically mediocre main protagonist, which I find personally disappointing because of how rare Black main protagonists are in AAA franchises. It’s the story of a Marine whose daughter gets killed in an accident, caused by the protagonist of the first Prototype(a much more interesting game), so he’s out for revenge. The gameplay is pretty much the same, which is fine. But the story is way less interesting. The first game is about politics, corruption, profiteering, and the runaway military industrial complex in America. This game is “white man killed little girl so Black daddy have to kill him”. It delivers stunning dialog from the main protagonist like “I hate f&$king computers.” A line that I still think was offensive in the portrayal of an African American in a time where pretty much no African Americans were being portrayed as main protagonists in video games. It’s by no means a terrible game. But it is terribly unoriginal.

2013

Best Game: Tomb Raider (PS3)

I was not a Tomb Raider fan growing up. I was aware of the games but never had any interest in playing them. To this day I own all the old ones on Steam but have never taken the time to try any of them. The 2013 reboot of the franchise was given away as a PS+ freebie back in the days when that service was actually good. I played it and absolutely fell in love with the franchise. The gameplay is excellent, the writing is good, and the graphics are beautiful. It’s a brutal, semi-realistic survival game with magical elements and interactive puzzles. I’m so glad I got to play this game and that they made another two games after it. I’ve yet to play Shadow of the Tomb Raider but I just got it on Black Friday so I’ll be getting to it soon hopefully. I’d say this is one of the better reboots of a franchise in the last 10 years.

tomb raider 2013Honorable Mention: The Wonderful 101 (Wii U)

Nintendo never fails to lead the gaming industry in noteworthy innovation with a focus on fun. They may not always be successful in their innovative endeavors, but every risk they take is in pursuit of fun. They don’t change the formula in order to make a political statement or try to corner a market that doesn’t even exist. They simply want to create experiences that people will enjoy simply by experiencing them. No game expresses this better than The Wonderful 101. It’s a fairly ridiculous game that conceptually makes no sense when looking at the physics of it all but it’s super fun. It’s one of the only games I actually would like ported to the Switch from the Wii U because once people play it, they’ll realize how good it actually was and demand a sequel. Many games try to appeal to the minds of children and appear to be cool. Few games actually feel like they came from the mind of a child that just wanted to do something they thought would be cool. That’s how The Wonderful 101 feels.

Worst Game: Anarchy Reigns (PS3)

It’s hard to mess up a sequel this badly but Platinum Games, a studio I actually really like, managed to do it here. MadWorld (2009) for the Wii is one of the best motion control games ever made. It’s probably the best third party game that ever released on the Wii. The writing was solid, the action was super over the top brutal, the graphics were phenomenal, and the main character was a complete badass. It was as close to a perfect game as could have been released on the Wii. The sequel on the PS3 was complete and utter trash. I still can’t believe I platinumed this game. It had six full game completion trophies with no retroactive difficulty trophy gains, meaning you had to play it six different times on three different difficulties in order to get the platinum. It was nothing like the original game, the story was mediocre, and don’t even get me started on how broken the multiplayer was. The sad part is the game actually had good ideas. They were just executed so poorly pretty much across the board.

2014

Best Game: Alien: Isolation (PS3)

I am not a fan of either horror or survival games. I am however a fan of the original Alien film. What this game does so well is simulate that same feeling in the form of a game. Written as almost a direct sequel to the original film, this game handles literally every aspect of game development well. It’s scary, it’s well balanced, it’s fair, and it’s unforgiving. It is the best horror game I have ever played and the fact that a sequel was never made is borderline criminal. The one flaw this game has is that you can’t do anything about the Xenomorph. You can’t scare it away with any of your weapons and you can’t escape from it. You have to execute the stealth perfectly for the Xenomorph sequences. I feel like you should be able to scare it away with fire or certain weapons and items. Other than that, it’s a perfect game and I will die on that hill.

alien isolationHonorable Mention: The Wolf Among Us (PS3)

It’s sad what became of Telltale Games. Their software was fun, though dated visually and a bit repetitive. In a way, The Wolf Among Us kind of started it all. They had several other games before this one like the Sam & Max series, and The Walking Dead season one had already been released, but the company didn’t really get popular until they introduced us to Bigby Wolf. They created an episodic model that most studios would get lambasted over. Their graphics engine was over used and out of date by the end of the company’s run. But for many The Wolf Among Us was this magical experience that just worked. It was compelling writing, a justifiably comic book art style, and a great main character. Honestly the entire model was unsustainable, but this specific game was the sweet spot. The fact that we’ll probably never actually see a season two is kind of a shame but probably for the best at this point.

Worst Game: Dragon Age: Inquisition (PS3)

I want to point out that I’m specifically referring to the PS3 version of Dragon Age: Inquisition when I say it was the worst game I played. The game actually won GOTY for 2014, but that wasn’t the PS3 version. This was such a broken experience on PS3 that it’s the game that finally made me retire the console and move to PS4. It constantly lagged and skipped. My first save file got corrupted like 30 hours in and forced me to start the whole thing over. It was just too powerful a game to run on a last gen system. It’s actually a phenomenal game that I thoroughly would have enjoyed if I had been playing it on the appropriate platform. If I wasn’t so backlogged I’d have probably picked up a complete edition on PS4 and replayed it with all the DLC.

2015

Best Game: Splatoon (Wii U)

What I like most about Splatoon is that it’s another example of Nintendo circumventing conventional wisdom and proving that fun trumps everything. They showed that you can make a highly competitive shooter that isn’t violent, graphically intensive, or at all realistic and still make a widely successful and engaging experience. I played so many hours of Splatoon PVP even though I hate shooters and I usually can’t stand PVP. I didn’t end up connecting with the second one nearly as much as the first but Splatoon was definitely one of my most played games on the Wii U for the simple fact that it was really fun, even for someone who doesn’t usually go for shooters.

SplatoonHonorable Mention: Toukiden: Kiwami (PS4)

Toukiden: Kiwami was such a great game because it was almost the game that ultimately is Monster Hunter World. In my opinion, that game inspired MHW in many ways. It’s a demon hunting game with up to four teammates in a squad. It gives you the option of using NPC teammates, which is really helpful. The demons come in many shapes and sizes and have removable limbs. It was clearly inspired by older Monster Hunter games but improved on the formula in a number of ways. There is a huge amount of content and a decent enough but ultimately ignorable story. It’s the game that made me ultimately want a game like MHW to get made.

Worst Game: Star Wars: Battlefront (PS4)

The Star Wars: Battlefront reboot was bad for two main reasons: no single player campaign and no bots. The addition of those two things would have made it a much different and far better experience. The game had modes I wanted to play, like the dogfighting mode, but you couldn’t play them unless you had a full lobby. The player base dropped off so quickly that this became nearly impossible for any except the most common modes. This made completing  certain achievements nearly impossible. The gameplay actually wasn’t bad and the concept worked fine, as it had in the original Star Wars: Battlefront games. But this version was executed poorly do to assumptions about traffic that just didn’t happen.

2016

Best Game: Tom Clancy’s The Division (PS4)

The Division was good because it was a number of new experiences coupled with an interesting setting that pretty much only Ubisoft seems to be trying to deliver in recent years. An RPG style shooter set in New York City in the holiday season where you play as a dark ops agent for an organization so secret that agents don’t even know who else is a fellow agent. Not to mention the Dark Zone concept was a great blending of single player and multiplayer gameplay without separating the game into differentiated campaign and PVP modes. As with most games as service games, the content lagged behind the player base in the late game, but it was still a massive achievement and had a fairly large amount of content ultimately delivered. It was one of the few instances where I was an active part of a clan and devoted a large number of hours to playing the game with other people. Sadly I didn’t connect with The Division 2 nearly as much as the first game but I did develop an overall appreciation for Ubisoft shooters.

the division 1Honorable Mention: The Last Guardian (PS4)

The Last Guardian isn’t so much an amazing game as much as it’s an amazing moment in gaming history. This was a game that was supposed to follow one of the most highly respected cult titles ever made. Shadows of the Colossus was neither AAA or particularly main stream and yet it is widely loved by pretty much everyone. It’s been ported to both the PS3 and the PS4 from the original PS2. The sequel took like 10 years to finally release. I waited with hope the entire time. Many people said it would never happen but it finally did. Honestly the game is just so so. It’s my least favorite in the boy with horns franchise but I was glad to see it release, glad to play it, and happy that I got the collector’s edition. Trico is also one of my wife’s favorite game characters of all time.

Worst Game: One Way Trip (PS4)

This is an indie game you haven’t played and you’re better for it. It’s the only game on this list that I was “forced” to play in order to write a review. I know we’re supposed to respect and value games for the achievement of having even been made and distributed to main stream platforms but not this time. One Way Trip is what happens when you tell everybody that if they just work hard enough they can make their dreams come true regardless of their talent for something. It’s pretty much what happens when a college student says “it would be cool if they made a game for drug addicts to play while high”. It’s so bad that it’s even worse than so bad that it’s worth playing just to experience it. Calling it a game is dishonest because really it’s more of a visual novel with choices and the occasional slightly interactive gameplay sequence. The writing is off the walls ridiculous and the graphics look like you’re expected to be high to truly appreciate them. This is the only true indie I mentioned in this entire list because it was so bad that I couldn’t even look past it for something more meaningful from 2016. Don’t ever play this game.

2017

Best Game: Super Mario Odyssey (Switch)

I knew I was going to buy a Switch as soon as they were announced. I have bought every Nintendo home console since the NES and that’s not going to change anytime soon. At the same time, I also knew that I wasn’t going to buy a Switch at launch. I needed them to release a pile of games I actually wanted to play and a nice bundle deal before I was going to buy one. Super Mario Odyssey was the straw that broke the camel’s back. I literally shed tears the first time I watched the Odyssey trailer. It was the Super Mario game I had been waiting for since I was a boy. An open world Mario platformer with HD graphics that I could play at home and on the go. They had me at open world Mario platformer. The game delivered so well and I have no regrets about buying it or a Switch.

Super Mario Odyssey Screenshot 2018-01-18 02-16-56Honorable Mention: Nioh (PS4)

I’m a big Nioh fan. I’ve written extensively about the franchise, posted several hours of gameplay videos, and played all the prebuilds before it launched. Personally I prefer it to Dark Souls. What is interesting about the game is that it showed that a studio other than FromSoftware could both do the genre successfully and use it to construct a main protagonist focused narrative without detracting from the gameplay experience. I believe that it was the success of Nioh that directly led to the creation of Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice. Samurai Dark Souls just makes sense but for whatever reason Koei Tecmo was the first studio to figure that out. I am so happy that we are finally getting Nioh 2 this year and I look forward to more from this franchise.

Worst Game: Mass Effect: Andromeda (PS4)

I am not one of those Mass Effect: Andromeda sucked people. I didn’t have major graphics errors when I played it. I didn’t have game breaking bugs or glitches. I had lag at times and some stuttering, but nothing as bad as what I’m getting in Ghost Recon Breakpoint on PC right now. It’s not that it’s a bad game. In fact it’s a fairly good game in comparison to many of the other games that released in 2017. The problem with Andromeda is that it didn’t live up to its legacy. I, like so many others, bought it because I wanted more of the experience I got playing the original Mass Effect trilogy. What I got just didn’t live up to that. And in a way it might be precisely because the game took too much from the original games rather than innovate and create something new. So much of the game references the original trilogy while simultaneously failing to live up to it. It’s not a bad game. It’s simply the most disappointing game I played in 2017.

2018

Best Game: Monster Hunter: World (PS4)

The reason MHW is here instead of God of War is because Capcom accomplished something that Santa Monica Studio didn’t have to. They took a franchise that I wanted to love but always hated and made it playable for me. I have always loved the Monster Hunter concept. The idea of working together with others to hunt giant monsters has always appealed to me. The basic concepts of the franchise such as tracking, choosing your preferred hunting weapons, and causing injuries to ultimately bring down monsters all appeals to me. But the gameplay has always sucked before MHW. Every time they put out a new Monster Hunter, I would try it and hate it. The controls were always rigid and confusing. The mechanics always asked too much of the player in order to make it arbitrarily more challenging. This was never the way to go about this. MHW changed all that by making the game accessible for non-hardcore Monster Hunter players. The gameplay is much more fluid. The character development is way more straight forward. The graphics are really good. It’s the Monster Hunter game that I had spent years waiting for and they delivered that past my expectations and continue to do so. I had to force myself to stop playing the game because it was so addicting and had so much content but I had so many other games I wanted to play. I know there’s a version of me in the multi-verse that’s still playing MHW and hasn’t gotten the least bit tired of it.

monster hunter worldHonorable Mention: God of War (PS4)

Obviously this was an amazing game. Cory Barlog should be commended for both using a character that everyone, including myself, wanted retired and for changing the God of War franchise so drastically while still delivering such a phenomenal game. I’m still shocked that Kratos delivered a Thor gameplay experience better than any of the games actually featuring Thor as a playable character. I went into the game a naysayer and I was proven wrong. There’s a reason it won GOTY in 2018.

Worst Game: Starlink: Battle for Atlas (Switch)

I actually really like Starlink. There’s a lot about it that’s superior to many other games of the same type. In my opinion, it’s what No Man’s Sky should have been in many regards. But it’s so broken by microtransactions and the toy gimmick, which they ultimately did away with for the PC version of the game. I played the deluxe edition of the game on Nintendo Switch and as such my experience was much better than that of many players. Plus I got to use Star Fox. But if you didn’t have the deluxe edition your experience was severely degraded. So much so that I ended up writing two separate reviews for the game to account for the difference in enjoyment players would have depending on the version they bought. So really it’s not that this was the worst game I played as much as it was a game I played that was worse for many other people who might have also played the game.

2019

Best Game: Kingdom Hearts 3 (PS4)

This choice is riddled with bias, if I’m completely honest. For one, I’m currently playing it as opposed to having already beaten it like all the other games in this list. Also I have yet to play Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, Death Stranding, or any of the other GOTY 2019 nominees, save for Smash Bros. Ultimate so I’m much more limited in my personal 2019 experiences at this juncture. There’s also the fact that I’d been waiting  14 years to play Kingdom Hearts 3. I spent much of 2019 playing all the other games in the franchise in order to prepare for this game. It really is quite good and visually stunning, so I’m not sure how it got snubbed on a GOTY nomination in the first place. But in any case playing it was more cathartic than anything and I’m glad to finally be done with the franchise (fingers crossed).

kingdom hearts 3Honorable Mention: Pokémon Sword and Shield (Switch)

The last time I played a mainline Pokémon game was Gold and Silver on the Gameboy Color. I was just starting middle school, had essentially no real life experience, all I cared about was catching ‘em all. Now literally 20 years later I find myself playing a new Pokémon game. There are six generations of Pokémon I’m only slightly familiar with because of Pokémon GO.  There are mechanics I had never even heard of before like Surprise Trade. And for the first time I’m breeding Pokémon with eggs. You could do that in Gold and Silver but I wasn’t aware of that as a kid. Pokémon Sword and Shield are phenomenal in the fact that a game I haven’t played in two decades still interests me so much. I’m enjoying these games immensely. The graphics are unimaginable coming directly from Gold and Silver. The number of Pokémon available is insanity. In my head there’s still only supposed to be 151. It’s like waking up in the future and seeing how far technology leaped. I couldn’t care less about what the haters say. These games are great and I’m happy to be playing a new Pokémon game on a home console for the first time. That’s the main reason I haven’t played in five generations. I stopped buying handheld consoles after the Gameboy Advance.

Worst Game: Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon Breakpoint (PC)

As with Dragon Age: Inquisition, I don’t think this is actually a bad game, just an unoptimized one. In fact, I really enjoy Ghost Recon: Breakpoint immensely compared to Wildlands. There are a few changes that I didn’t like but ultimately this is a much better game that I find considerably better mechanically, visually, and narratively. But the game is riddled with performance issues. My PC is pretty solid. I have a GTX 1080 GPU, 32 GB of DDR4 RAM, an i7-6800k CPU, and the list goes on. It’s not the current highest end PC you can build but for a system built more than two years ago it’s fairly respectable. But I get so many bugs and glitches while playing Breakpoint. Lots of stuttering and lag, countless minor glitches, and a number of errors that have caused me to fail missions and get locked into loops forcing me to reload a checkpoint. I’ve even had the game glitch on me at the end of a mission and force me to replay an entire mission objective. It’s a really fun game when it’s working properly but it just doesn’t run smoothly enough. I don’t know if it’s just the PC version or the game as a whole, but it is a shame that such an impressive game is crippled with so many performance issues.

So that’s my last decade in gaming. It was actually really good. A lot of these games still hold up today and are worth visiting if you haven’t tried them. Many games from the past decade are still in my backlog and honestly I may not move forward for a while and just spend some time focusing on completing more games from this era. There are seven Yakuza games plus a spinoff (Judgement) that I’d like to play, as a good example. I think that a lot of lessons could be learned from the past decade of gaming. I just hope both the industry and the community actually learned them. I look forward to the next decade of gaming. It already looks promising with the many power house titles announced for 2020. Out of the gate we’re already looking at some real fire games like Cyberpunk 2077, Ghost of Tsushima, and Marvel’s Avengers. How was gaming for you in the last decade? What were your favorite and least favorite games? Let me know in the comments.

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