We NEED to Boycott Nintendo Switch Online

If you read my blog regularly then you know that I am very big on consumers taking control of the gaming industry through organized management of our spending practices. I often write pieces calling for people to actively take charge of the industry’s general direction through boycotts and selective support of certain products and practices. I have on more than one occasion been accused of hyperbole and over dramatization of the situations I write about. Part of the reason for this is that I’m usually looking at the big picture which means predicting long term repercussions that can and often do take years and even multiple generations to manifest. All the way back in 2013, when my blog was still hosted on IGN, I wrote a long post where through thorough analyzation and educated guesses based on past events, I predicted that SONY and eventually Nintendo would ultimately do exactly the same bullshit that Microsoft was doing at the time with XBOX. This post was focused mostly on practices surrounding things like paid online multiplayer access, paid DLC content, and the general direction of all three companies. At the time, many people viewed SONY as the player friendly company that had our best interests in mind while Microsoft was the greedy, evil corporation who only cared about profits. Nintendo was the good egg that would never betray us. Now, five years later, SONY is pretty much the equivalent of Microsoft when it comes to management of their platform and Nintendo is steadily following suit with paid DLC, season passes, and literally this week they will be implementing paid online multiplayer subscriptions. I was right on literally 100% of my predictions about the way the industry was going five years ago. They called me a madman. They called me paranoid. But I knew I was right. Sadly the post no longer exists because IGN removed all user blogs from their website, but I probably have the original draft in a Word document somewhere if anyone really wants to read it.

Current Gen

So in that context, we really need to talk about Nintendo Switch Online. Last week, Nintendo published their latest Nintendo Direct. Overall it was pretty solid. But with less than a week prior to going live, they finally gave some actual concrete details about their new subscription based online service. It is in every way a tragedy. It’s insulting to gamers. It’s not offering anything of value that we didn’t already have for free. And it doesn’t even compare to its competitor services in application or value. Similar to when Nintendo replaced Club Nintendo with My Nintendo, it’s a total shit show.

Let me quickly summarize what the service looks like. For $20 a year, or $35 a year for a family plan, which still needs to have more concrete details published, you get cloud saves, online multiplayer, the ability to use your smart phone to talk to other people in the games you’re playing multiplayer with (you know because it’s a phone), access to a supposedly constantly growing library of NES games, most of which you already own in some other form or have already played and don’t care about anymore, and you get access to “special offers”. These offers currently include the “opportunity” to pay $60 plus I assume shipping (and possibly tax) to buy NES themed Joy-Con controllers you don’t actually need to play any of the NES games and a special Splatoon 2 skin representing an e-Sports team you don’t care about or probably even know. New offers will supposedly be added in the future but for now that’s all there are. It’s objectively a bad service. Not to mention it’s on a platform with a very limited library of popular multiplayer games. If you don’t include Splatoon 2, Mario Tennis Aces, and the unreleased Smash Bros. Ultimate there’s almost no reason to even care about multiplayer on the Nintendo Switch. There are a scattering of games here or there that have multiplayer. Like I play Just Dance online all the time. Some people still play Mario Kart Deluxe and even ARMS online. There are some indies like Overcooked 2. But for the most part the Switch is not a multiplayer platform. You’re buying games like The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and Super Mario Odyssey. Remember that even the upcoming Super Mario Party won’t have full online capabilities. You’ll be able to play a select list of mini-games against other players online and nothing else.

club nintendo

The Switch simply is not a platform that has enough dedicated AAA multiplayer value to warrant charging people for the service. And the other benefits are so minuscule and in some cases downright insulting that charging anything for them is egregious. You can’t even send messages to people directly through the console. You have to use your phone. Who in their right mind thought it was acceptable to charge people a fee to use their phone, which they’re already paying a fee to use, to send messages? That would be like buying a soda from McDonald’s and then being charged an additional fee to drink it inside the McDonald’s. To top it all off, Nintendo has decided that they can get away with this because they’re only charging $20, which is cheaper than PS+ or XBL. That’s not a justification. You don’t get to offer a shitty, totally unwanted service at a lower price than a competitor’s service and expect people to be OK with it. Because as much as I hate paying for PS+ at least it’s a subscription that actually provides me with services. I get free current gen games with the service. I get discounts on new games with the service. I can do things like send messages, send pictures, and create chat lobbies with friends on the console with the service. I can even shareplay with the service. It’s overpriced for sure. The games they’ve been offering in the last few years are much lower in value than in the PS3 era for sure. But it’s still a service that has general value above what I was getting when it wasn’t a mandatory service. Nintendo Switch Online offers none of that except cloud saves, which I don’t need in the first place on a portable console with an SD card memory system. My saves are fine. So we need to fix this.

Switch Online Pricing

Usually when I write posts like this it’s about long term issues concerning specific games or services that will have an effect on the future of gaming. But in this case, we’re literally talking about today. Yes there are long term repercussions for supporting Nintendo Switch Online, but the short term effects are just as noticeable and important. The service goes live tomorrow. I don’t want to be insensitive about the fact that the Direct was postponed because of a natural disaster, but it’s very suspect that we were given actual details about this new online service less than a week before it goes live. By all rights I should have published this post days ago but I didn’t even have enough time to properly analyze the details of the service and get the post prepared until now. Usually I publish my blog posts on Wednesdays but this was too important to delay till after Nintendo Switch Online goes live.

Just like we did with XBOX One when it first announced always online, or with Star Wars: Battlefront II, we need to actively and loudly boycott and publicly declare our disgust with Nintendo Switch Online in its current form. Do not give them the ability to take this service forward in this way. Yes I understand that I’m asking you to not enjoy some of your games that you’ve already purchased to their fullest extent. I too own ARMS and Splatoon 2. I too plan on purchasing Smash Bros. Ultimate day one and realize that the experience will be crippled for many people without the ability to play online. But we need to think long term here. This is a crucial moment because it will shape the way Nintendo handles online service forever. With this platform and all future platforms, this is a watershed moment. A moment that we didn’t properly handle when XBOX Live Gold was first announced. A moment that we didn’t take seriously enough when PlayStation Plus was turned into a mandatory service. We have an opportunity here to tell Nintendo an emphatic NO. That we will not allow ourselves to be taken advantage of simply because the price is lower than what Microsoft and SONY are charging, which are also overpriced services we shouldn’t be paying for in their current form either by the way.

NES Joycon
$60 for the crap after paying for the subscription!

I’m not saying we should never be willing to pay Nintendo for an online service. I don’t want to pay for such things and I genuinely believe we shouldn’t have to pay an additional fee just play the games we already paid for. But I already pay and have paid SONY for online multiplayer for a number of years. So it would be hypocritical for me to deny Nintendo the same privilege. But I’m not going to just hand them money for a subpar service just because they’re charging less for it. I’m calling for a boycott to incite change to the service. Not a permanent decision never to pay them for online multiplayer. What we need is to hold out as a group of concerned and conscientious gamers until we get a service that works for us and compares to the other services we’ve already been paying for. That means the essentials of course such as working online multiplayer with better servers than we were already using when multiplayer was free. It means a working messaging and voice chat system that doesn’t require us to own other forms of hardware that have nothing to do with the console we’re playing our games on. It means cloud saves that aren’t deleted when you unsubscribe or let your service lapse. It means not having to check in every week. You will literally lose your service continuity if say you got married and didn’t take your Switch on your honeymoon. That’s absolutely ridiculous. It means a library of current gen games made available as part of the service at no additional cost. It means noteworthy discounts on new games from the e-Shop. And yes that $20 price tag needs to remain consistent even with these additional aspects of the service. Especially considering the lacking multiplayer library to begin with.

Switch Voice Chat

As a Switch owner myself who uses my console literally every day, I implore you to stand with me on this. Do not sign up for Nintendo Switch Online when it goes live tomorrow (September 18, 2018). Hold out. Demand a better service and refuse to settle for the time being just so you can continue playing Splatoon 2 or Mario Tennis Aces. Make a small sacrifice in the short term for much better results in the long run. Tweet about it. Post about it on Reddit, Facebook, and every other platform you use. Make YouTube videos declaring your decision to boycott and why. Discuss it while you’re streaming on Twitch. Do not give in to Nintendo’s clear betrayal of their values and user base. This is not the service that the late, great Satoru Iwata would have wanted. We NEED to boycott Nintendo Switch Online right now and not let it even start to get a footing. This is not just crucial for Nintendo users, but for all console gamers. If this service is profitable, it will only serve to show Microsoft and SONY that they can lower their service quality, even more, and still get away with it. Now is the time for action. It may only be $20 today but that $20 means a life time of regret for gamers present and future.

Thank you for reading.

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Nioh vs Dark Souls

This past weekend, I finally finished the main story of Nioh. It took me just over 70 hours to complete. I am not finished with the game because there are several post-game missions, an entire new class of items you unlock by finishing the main story, a new game plus mode (which I probably don’t have time to play), and a number of DLC missions, which I do plan on completing. I have to say that this was an excellent game. I have some complaints, which is true for every game I’ve ever played, but overall Nioh was quite the positive gaming experience.

I played both the alpha and beta of the game, but didn’t get around to actually playing it till they had already announced the sequel, which was the main reason I finally got my ass in gear with this one. What I find interesting is that many people I’ve spoken to aren’t fans of Nioh because of their relationship with Dark Souls. I understand but don’t agree with this point of view. First, because the games really are quite different in many respects. And second, because Dark Souls I & II (still haven’t gotten around to III) are no more or less flawed than Nioh. All three of these games, and Bloodborne, all have their own issues which are subjective design choices that some people will like and others will hate, while many won’t care one way or the other. So rather than write a straight review of Nioh, I thought it would be more useful to write a comparison of Nioh to Dark Souls with a focus on some key design choices/differences between the two franchises.

Nioh Souls

Combat

People tend to differentiate Dark Souls from Bloodborne because of the combat pacing/style. Dark Souls is seen as the slower more defense focused game that relies heavily on technique and strategy. While Bloodborne is seen as the faster paced more offense focused game that relies more on real time skill and reaction. Having played both games, I can agree with this assessment on some level. I tend to prefer Dark Souls, which is interesting because I hate blocking in games generally. What I like about Nioh is that it allows the player a lot more differentiation while still keeping it really simple, when it comes to combat. Dark Souls offers you 22 different weapon types with various weapons in each category, but they’re all fairly similar, with the exception of magic. It’s one handed short weapons or two handed great weapons, plus bows for ranged attacks. The combat is focused much more on stats than actual weapon performance other than one handed vs two handed. But you do have a fair amount of control over the pacing of combat between those two differentiations, not to mention you have the option to play with or without a shield. You also have to take weight into account when playing Dark Souls and it has a huge effect on gameplay.

Bloodborne is less varied in specific weapon options with only a single version of each type of weapon, but each of the 15 weapon types is fairly different plus there are 11 different secondary weapons to choose from. You are afforded a lot more variation among the Bloodborne weapons, but the pacing of combat is very similar for all weapon types. Add this to the fact that there are no shields in Bloodborne and weight doesn’t have to be accounted for and you have a very fast paced, but less varied gameplay experience than Dark Souls.

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Tonfa is not available at the start of the game.

The problem with both Dark Souls and Bloodborne, when it comes to combat, is you have a lot of choices, but few options. Ranged attacks and magic aside, Dark Souls really just comes down to one handed vs two handed weapons, shield or no shield in the case of choosing one handed, and weight class, which affects agility. Bloodborne is similar in making you choose between one handed and two handed combat, but it gives the player the option of using any weapon in either way and allows you to change in real time. But with the lack of weight and similar style the weapons carry, you can pretty much commit to a play style early on and ride it out the whole game. For instance, I used two handed axe for probably 85% of the game.

Nioh takes a much different approach to combat differentiation than either Dark Souls or Bloodborne. While those two franchises approach the issue from the style of traditional action games, Nioh is more similar to a JRPG. Rather than bogging you down with tons of weapon types, there are only six: katana, axe, kusarigama, spear, dual-swords, and tonfa. As well as three ranged types: bow, rifle, hand cannon. Each weapon type is wholly different, but true differentiation comes from the fact that there are countless variations of each type of weapon as well as the ability to manipulate, reforge, and evolve them. The speed and style of combat is contingent on numerous factors. You have to account for weapon type, weapon stance (low, mid, high), armor weight, magic and ninja enhancements, natural weapon enhancements/buffs, learned skills/techniques, and you can forge your own buffs into weapons. All while also considering your character’s build. The thing I really like is that the game forces you to take the time to “master” all six weapon types to get maximum character bonuses. This allowed me to find which type of weapon actually works the best for my style of play. You also get to carry two main weapons and two ranged weapons which can be hot swapped at any time. While it’s easy to settle into a specific weapon type, you are still constantly honing and evolving your use of any weapon type as you learn new techniques, magical enhancements, and acquire different/better versions of a weapon type. Combat is never really mastered, so much as it slows down in its evolution.

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Economy

The Souls franchise, spanning all the way back to the original Demon’s Souls (2009), takes its name from the fact that the one and only currency available in the game is souls. You use them to level up, buy things, and upgrade gear. This system works because it’s simple. With a single currency to do everything, you don’t have to worry about exchange rates, what resource to focus on accumulating, or how to manage and distribute your rewards. You have one thing for everything all the time. The problem with this system is that when you die, and fail to reclaim your souls, you are royally screwed. You lose your progress towards everything you’re working towards all at the same time. That level up, those upgrades, that new weapon. It’s all gone in one foul swoop. Realizing this, Nioh went a different way.

Nioh has two currencies, amrita and gold. Amrita is the equivalent of souls but it can only be used to level up. Its sole purpose is to make you physically more capable. Gold is used for everything else. Buying items, selling items, upgrading gear, forging new gear, and pretty much everything else is done with gold. It’s the currency of the game. Amrita is simply the currency of your character’s development. In most games, xp is permanent while gold can be lost/stolen. In Nioh, it’s the reverse.  Just like with Dark Souls, you can lose your amrita when you die and fail to return to your corpse. But your gold is permanent until you spend it.

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What’s nice is that you get both gold and amrita from killing enemies, just at different rates. You can also choose to trade gear for either gold or amrita, depending on what you want. This is why I find this system superior. The player is given a choice in how to prioritize their loot. If you don’t want to level up but want better gear, you can choose to focus on amassing gold. If you want to level up, you focus on amassing amrita. And in the late game this becomes key because leveling up becomes way slower than improving your gear with crafting and upgrades.

There is technically a third currency called glory, which you get from fighting revenants, but it’s not as useful and it’s not required to get through the game. I honestly didn’t use it at all except to buy character transformations, which I’ll address in the appearance section.

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Multiplayer

One of the main selling points of Demon’s Souls, and by extension Dark Souls, was the multiplayer interactions. This includes co-op, PVP, and communication through hints. I have to say that both games franchises/games get a little right and a lot wrong, but in different ways. The worst part about PVP in Dark Souls is that it’s never by choice for the victim of invasion. You can be playing the game with no interest in fighting or even interacting with other players, soon to reach the next bonfire, only to be invaded and often killed by no fault of your own. One of the worst things in the game(s) is that there are invasion hot spots where you literally can’t progress forward because you can be back to back invaded by the same player who’s already proven to be stronger than you. One of the only ways around this is to play offline, but then you lose the ability to summon help, so it leaves you in a catch 22. Nioh doesn’t have this problem.

There is no invasion in Nioh. You never have to fight against anyone you don’t choose to. If you want a PVP match you have to go into the PVP lobby and create/find a match. That’s how it should be. But the regular game is not devoid of special interactions against other players, or at least a version of them. The revenant system is the bridge that connects PVP and PVE. When you die, you leave a corpse. It has your gear, traits, fighting style, and abilities. When other people play through a level, they can see your corpse and choose to challenge it in a duel. If they can defeat it, they get some gear matching the gear you were wearing when you died in that spot. You don’t actually lose any of your gear. What’s great about this system is you can see the level and class of gear of the corpse before battling it so you can decide which fights are worth your time as well as moderate how difficult these opponents are. This allows you to have the PVP experience and rewards without actually having to be bothered by other people or wait for them to be online in order to get rewards from fighting them. And the revenants are different from each other. They have different gear and use different tactics based on the player they’re derived from. Some use magic, some fight more conservatively, some are terribly easy even when they’re a much higher level. It’s a great system that allows everyone to have the encounters they want without negatively affecting those of other players in the process. And just to spice it up a bit, there are moments in the game where revenants are summoned automatically, similar to the bell ringing maidens in Bloodborne. In key areas there are sages playing a Japanese guitar like instrument. This automatically summons any revenant you get too close to within the vicinity of the music. Once you’ve killed the sage, the automatic summoning ceases. What’s really nice is that once the sages are killed they’re dead for good even after you die and respawn.

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Communication between disconnected players is an important part of both Dark Souls and Nioh, but it’s done in completely different ways. In Dark Souls you can leave messages for other players. This is a nice system, but it’s also annoying for everyone involved. As a person leaving a message you have to choose the best spot to leave it so that people will see it. You have to piece together a message with sentence fragments because you aren’t given the ability to just write whatever you want, which is a good thing. Even after all that work people still might not notice or take the time to read your message. And even if they do read your message, if they don’t up-vote it the message will eventually disappear no matter how useful it actually may have been. The person reading the message has to find it, actively read it, interpret the piecemeal language in the context of the current setting, and up-vote it to make sure it doesn’t disappear for other players. Very few people actually want to go through any of this trouble. Not to mention that it’s extremely difficult to leave helpful messages to players that also have to be located in places they will actually see. In reality, the only information players absolutely need in a Soulslike game is how other players died. Missing a chest sucks, but it’s not the end of the world. And if you really want to find all the items, you’ll use an online walkthrough. The only information that will truly affect players is knowing what’s coming to kill them. So Nioh focuses only on conveying information about deaths between players directly. This is also done through the revenant system and it’s way more convenient than the messaging in Dark Souls. When you die and leave a corpse/revenant, players can also see how you died. It’s easy because there aren’t even any commands needed unless you actually want to fight a revenant. Just walking near their corpses instantly tells players how they died, what level they were when they died, and the gear they were carrying. And that’s really all the information you need. Being able to see how other players died gives you a clear hint about what’s coming up to try and kill you so you can be ready.

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Clans are similar to Covenants in Dark Souls

I would say neither Nioh nor Dark Souls handles coop matchmaking well. Both do certain things well, but both also have fundamental flaws to their systems which make things terribly inconvenient for the player(s). Dark Souls has the more convenient summoning system in that you can at any time drop a sign in any location and other players can summon you. You can summon up to three people, which is really convenient. It’s a nice system because you can be playing the game and farming while waiting to be summoned. The hitch is that you can only summon people when you’re alive, which requires using an item or helping someone else beat a boss. Overall thissystem makes it so you never have to waste any time while waiting to get summoned by other people. Nioh fails in this regard. To play coop as the summoner, you can only summon people from in level shrines, which are the equivalent of bonfires. There are two to four per a stage. There is no alive or dead system in Nioh, which is a good thing, but summoning requires single use items, which you find as loot from killing enemies. You can carry up to 99 of these at a time, which is nice, but they are not easy to find early on in the game. So you have struggle alone early on if you actually want/need summons to move forward. Personally, I think Nioh is easier than Dark Souls and I didn’t summon anyone to beat the main story. This was not the case for Dark Souls I & II or Bloodborne for me. What’s really annoying about the system in Nioh is that you have to do it at a shrine, meaning you have to reset all the enemies you’ve already cleared to summon someone and you can’t summon from the boss door like you can in Dark Souls. But thankfully you can go back to shrines while a summon is active, refilling all yours and their health and items. Being summoned is even more inconvenient in Nioh. You can’t just drop a sign or ring a bell and go on with your day until summoned. You have to go to a menu on the world map and enter a summoning lobby. You then have to wait until you’re summoned to play in a stage. On the flip side, you can set parameters for summons such as which stage you’d liked to be summoned to and difficulty level. But if no one wants to summon then you just sit and wait rather than farming while you’re waiting. And you can be rejected by players once summoned, which might happen for various reasons.

What I find superior about summoning in Nioh compared to both Dark Souls and Bloodborne is that there are no level caps or level scaling. If you are on the first stage as a level 5 and you want to summon a friend who is level 150 and has already beaten the game, you can do that. If you want to bring in a high level player to stomp the boss for you, the game doesn’t scale them down to your level. It lets them play to the full extent of their power and abilities. And that’s how it should be. If you want to earn it, that should be your choice as the player. If you want your friends to help you, then that should be your choice as well. But you can only summon one player in Nioh as opposed to three in Dark Souls.

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Level Structure

Dark Souls and Bloodborne are full open world games where you make your way across the land finding bonfires or lanterns along the way, which can then be used as warp points. There isn’t really a right way to go, but you have to figure out where to go to move forward in the story. I find the system inconvenient because you have no real direction. Many people enjoy this style of play because they like feeling in control, but I find it a large waste of my time for games like this. Nioh is broken into missions. There is a world map with clearly defined main missions and sub-missions. Each individual mission is a contained open world that you can freely explore within the confines of, but there is an entrance. The only way out is by completing the mission objective, which is usually but not always to defeat a specific enemy, usually a boss. I prefer this system. The game has the same level of stress as any other Soulslike game while you’re in the thick of it, but you don’t always have to be in the thick of it. There is structure and clearly defined goals. You can skip sub-missions or play them all. You don’t accidentally miss bonus bosses before beating the game. You control everything because it’s all clearly laid out on a world map. This also makes organizing your matchmaking easier, even though the system in general is inferior, because you don’t have to deal with the trying to put your spot down in the right area problem you get in Dark Souls. You can handle all of that from the world map.

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Character Development

Character development at base level is similar between Dark Souls and Nioh. In Dark Souls you have nine stats that can be advanced one at a time in exchange for souls. In Nioh you have eight. These stats improve certain specific features of your character and make them better able to handle certain weapons, armor, skills, and general performance. It’s the same system. But the gear development and aesthetics systems are much more robust and user friendly in Nioh.

Developing weapons in Dark Souls is done by going to a black smith and trading materials and souls to level up a weapon. You can slightly differentiate the development of weapons by using different materials to take new development paths. The weapon’s performance is based solely on stats depending on the development paths you’ve taken with the specific weapon. In Nioh, you don’t level up weapons until the end game/NG+ when you get divine weapons, but that’s not relevant to a first play through. Weapons are split into five categories based on rarity (color in menu) which kind of translates to potential. The same is true for armor in all respects except familiarity, which I’ll explain. You can get the same piece of gear at any of the five rarity types. The rarity level defines how many natural enhancements it has and its maximum familiarity potential. Familiarity is essentially how much the attack stat on any weapon can increase with use. The highest possible familiarity is 999, but this is only available on divine items after beating the final main story missions. During the first playthrough, 900 is the maximum possible familiarity. So your goal is to get purple, the rarest type, rarity gear for all your items because it offers the highest familiarity bonus for weapons and the most natural enhancements on gear. Natural enhancements can be anything. Sometimes it’s more damage against certain enemy types. Sometimes it’s higher amrita (souls) yields. It can be resistance to certain types of damage or increased damage of a certain type. Even lower weight and blacksmith costs can appear as a gear enhancement. So even when you find a rare item with high starting stats, it might not be the enhancements that work best for you. That’s OK in Nioh though because you have the ability to reforge and evolve items. Gear can be broken down and crafted into new things. Gear can be absorbed into other gear to make it stronger, or weaker if you combine something stupid. You can even forge new stats into gear.

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In Dark Souls you don’t really have techniques. You have gear of various types and stats. But fighting is focused on the technical aspects of using that gear and applying it to the combat situation you’re in. There are heavy and light attacks and some charge moves, but that about does it for what you can do. Nioh has specialty techniques that you develop with special points in either samurai, ninja, or mage categories. These techniques can be specific combos, buffs, spells, specialty items, and specific moves. Many of them are tied to specific stances within specific weapon types. You can get really technical in this game if you want to and mastering certain techniques can make all the difference.

Appearance

Nioh has one the best appearance systems I’ve seen in any Soulslike game ever, and it doesn’t even have a character creator. Dark Souls lets you create your character, but you are stuck looking like whatever armor you are wearing, regardless of how bad it looks. It the problem of so many RPGs. Your best stuff doesn’t look cool and your cool stuff doesn’t perform the best. Nioh gets around this by letting you refashion gear. Any piece of gear you find can be skinned over to look like any other piece of gear regardless of what it is. Some gear looks awesome and some gear looks like trash. But with refashioning you just spend a modest amount of gold (modest for the end-game anyway) and you can make that awesome piece of gear look like whatever gear set you like. In my case I use the best mid-weight gear I have but I refashioned it to look like the DLC gold set, because I’m a sucker for shiny gold gear. I have the performance I need to succeed, and I shine while doing it. You can refashion weapons as well. Some weapons look so cool with elaborate designs and paint jobs, while others are boring and devoid of color. But appearance has nothing to do with performance. That’s why the refashioning system is so important.

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Nioh may let you customize your gear to look however you want, but you can’t create your own character. You play as William, a British white man with blonde hair. The only customization you have for him is his hair style. But what is nice is that you can get transformations. As mentioned previously, there is a third currency called glory. You can only get this from killing revenants. It can be used to buy special crafting materials, but what it’s most useful for is buying transformations. You have the ability to transform William into any character you meet in the game. That includes villains you face and female characters. You just buy the transformations with glory and you can change your appearance an unlimited number of times to whatever transformations you own.  Transformations do not affect gameplay or stats. It’s a nice way to let players look the way they want to in case you get tired of being a blonde white man running around killing monsters in Japan. For instance, I like being a Black Samurai, based on a historical character you duel later in the game.

End-Game

Both Nioh and Dark Souls have NG+ modes, but what’s nice about Nioh is that it has actual end-game content that takes place within your first playthrough. Defeating the final story stage unlocks several bonus sub-missions as well as more story that connects into the DLC. You also get a new class of items after you complete the final level, which can be used for this end-game content before you start a NG+ run. I will probably never play NG+ but I still have several hours of play to look forward to in Nioh before I put it on the shelf for good. I have never played past beating the final boss in Dark Souls or Bloodborne, because I simply had no reason to and have no interest in replaying the same game.

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What’s nice about the NG+ though is that it’s directly connected to your original playthrough. It’s not even called NG+. It’s referred to as “Way of the Strong”. From the world map you can switch between normal play and NG+ play from the same file as often as you like. The NG+ levels are the same stages with higher difficulty and better rewards but you don’t have to have a completely separate playthrough from your original. This is nice because it allows you grind with better yields or in normal difficulty at the same time, taking advantage of either depending on what your goals/needs are. And the DLC content is attached in the same way so you can always jump around to play whatever you want at any time. This is made possible because of the level based structure mentioned previously. So while I don’t see myself finishing NG+, I may very well run a few stages for better gear that I can then use to complete the end-game missions and DLC. It’s the best of all worlds.

I want to be clear in saying that I am not arguing that Nioh is superior to Dark Souls. I am arguing that Nioh is not a clone of Dark Souls. It’s part of the Soulslike genre which started with Demon’s Souls, but it is an original game with considerably different design choices, aesthetic, and gameplay. As with any two franchises or even just individual games, there are both good and bad things about both Nioh and Dark Souls and there’s no reason to ignore one simply because it’s not the other. If you haven’t played Nioh but you do play Dark Souls then I highly encourage you to try it out. Especially with the sequel on the way.

 

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Finally Tried a Battle Royale Game . . . And I Still Don’t Get It

I’ve been very critical of games like PUBG and Fortnite: Battle Royale, not to be confused with regular old Fortnite, which everyone seems to have forgotten. Not as much here on my blog but definitely on Twitter. The concept has always looked and sounded terrible to me from the very beginning. It’s the reason I have never loaded up Fortnite: Battle Royale, even though it’s free on multiple platforms I own, and though I’ve been asked several times, I’ve never even considered buying PUBG. But I will admit that no matter how much you watch or read about a game, you can’t say you’ve truly experienced it until you’ve actually tried it. So with that thinking in mind, I finally tried a battle royale game.

As a part of my real job, I often have to try certain games to assess their potential marketing value. This weekend, for the first time in my career, a battle royale game came up. And as a professional, even though I had/have no interest in this genre, I still agreed to download and play one of these games through the lens of marketing.

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I was tasked with trying an early access game called Fear the Wolves. This is a standard PUBG style battle royale game set in the same world as “The Zone” from the S.T.A.L.K.E.R. games. I played it. Took it seriously and genuinely tried to get into it. Even managed to get a kill and find several different types of gear. But I still don’t get it. I don’t understand why people enjoy these games.

Let me be clear. I’m not saying there was anything wrong with this particular game. It worked fine for what it is. The graphics weren’t anything to write home about, but the PUBG graphics were trash when it was first made available in early access as well, so that’s not the issue. The controls worked fine. I experienced a few small glitches, but that’s true for so many betas I’ve played at both indie and AAA level, so again that’s not the issue. I just don’t understand the appeal of these types of games.

Fear The Wolves

This was my experience. Wait for more than I would normally wait for any game, but admittedly not the most I have waited for a multiplayer match in some past games. Then wait through a two to three minute countdown after I’ve already waited for matchmaking to end. This was unacceptable. But I understood why it was necessary. No one sits and waits for that matchmaking because it takes too long. So you tab out and screw around on Twitter while you’re waiting. But then because everyone is tabbed out they have to make a long countdown to give everyone time to tab back in. Then go through this really long helicopter sequence and pretend like where I choose to deploy is actually going to matter in the grand scheme of  things. I will note that the controls menu said you can direct your parachute descent but this didn’t really work for me in the game so that was one glitch that actually did irritate me a lot. Hit the ground and then sprint to the nearest building only to find the same crappy pistols over and over again. Not once did I find a gun better than pistol. Found multiple types of pistols, but never any firearms better than pistol. Found an axe as well, which I of course never got to use because I never got close enough to anyone with it, since they had guns. Spend a bunch of time stressed out waiting in buildings hoping to ambush someone, only to have that stupid enclosing death fog (it’s actually called an “adrenaline infection” in this particular game) show up, forcing me to give up my post and run inward. But now that I’m running inward I’ve lost my element of surprise. Then I see someone and try to run up and kill them, again with my pistol, and even though I shoot them a bunch of times first they don’t die and eventually they kill me, often with a better gun. That was the whole experience over and over again.

Fear The Wolves

Why is this fun for people? Even when I did get a kill, it was still not that gratifying in the grand scheme of things because I never got close to actually winning the matches. I spent more of my time in loading screens and then waiting around or looking for more crappy pistols than I did engaged in combat. It’s one thing when it’s a real stealth game like Metal Gear Solid 3 and you’re going out of your way to sneak up on people. But being in a huge map devoid of people only to then get killed in fairly boring encounters isn’t nearly as entertaining or gratifying as a real stealth game.

This is where the “git gud” crowd will chime in, but I honestly don’t think that applies here. Even if I was surviving longer, it would still be pretty boring, because victory is much easier to achieve by avoiding combat altogether rather than actually trying to engage people. So even if I was amazing, playing logically with the goal of winning would still be mostly waiting around and then eventually dying and having nothing to show for my better placement. It’s really a zero sum scenario where it’s fun to win and otherwise pretty boring or way too stressful but not in a fun way. It’s fun to play a PVP match like Destiny or COD, both games I genuinely hate, because it’s active, exciting, and consequential without being long winded and pointless when you finally do get killed. You can keep playing. You can make up for your death. You can go for revenge. Even though I don’t particularly like PVP games, and especially not those crappy FPS games I mentioned, I can still appreciate why they’re popular. But I have no idea why people enjoy these battle royale games. And I really don’t get how people can watch other people play them. That sounds unbearably boring. And I’m not even comparing them to story based games, which are by far superior both in development effort and gameplay experience.

Fear The Wolves

Someone please explain it to me. If you grew up playing games in a pre-battle royale context, how do you enjoy these types of games? How are you not bored 90% of the time while playing them? I get that kids today have been groomed to play these games. So much of game development has been building to these sorts of hollow experiences in the last five to ten years. The move away from single player games, always online requirements, and microtransactions have all culminated in the battle royale concept. But kids aren’t even the biggest gaming market today. I don’t get how gamers who grew up in or before my era can play these types of games past casual level. If you grew up with Mario, Final Fantasy, Uncharted, and God of War how does this type of gamplay experience appeal to you? It’s not just single player games though. Look at the multiplayer stuff we’ve come from. Mario Kart, Goldeneye, World of Warcraft, and Halo to name a few. I don’t even like all those games, but I’d play them over these battle royale games any day of the week. Even the half and half stuff like Dark Souls, The Division, and GTA Online are way more gratifying for all players than these battle royale experiences. How does one actually enjoy playing a game where only 1 of 100 people can win while everyone is putting in the same amount of time and effort? How does one call an experience where you spend more time in lobbies than actually playing enjoyable? I simply don’t understand the appeal.

Fear The Wolves

Some games got close to the sweet spot. Things like Sea of Thieves and updated No Man’s Sky are starting to get there. The Division, for all its faults, got very close as well. There’s even some merit to Destiny. But these battle royale games have gone too far. They took the concept of rogue likes, the size of RPGs, the mechanics of PVP FPS, and the scale of MMOs and squished them all together in a lazy smattering of tolerable graphics. They squeezed out all the good parts and left the skeleton of each genre. I like the concept of 100 people roaming Skyrim with the ability to rob and kill each other. But the story would still need to be there along with respawning and the ability to retain at least some of your valuables. Battle royale comes off like the Star Wars: Battlefront II of MMOs. All the heart has been pulled out to focus on pure gameplay mechanics, ultimately leaving a disappointing experience. But clearly I’m missing something because it’s currently the most popular genre both for concurrent players and stream views. What exactly am I missing? Because I just don’t see it.

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These Aren’t the Horsemen I Read About

Last week, THQ Nordic finally announced a release date for Darksiders III. This game has had a long, colorful history of problems, insecurities, and speculations. It was first announced quite some time ago, but it was never really a sure thing. Originally developed by Vigil Games and published by THQ, the Darksiders franchise began in 2010. A sequel, Darksiders II, was also released by the same studio and publisher in 2012, but sadly THQ went bankrupt soon after that. And since then the game has always been up in the air. In 2016, Nordic purchased THQ and founded the joint publisher THQ Nordic. For fans of the franchise like myself, this was good news because it meant we would hopefully get a Darksiders III, but it’s taken six years to finally get a release date. And it’s a new development studio . . .

I’m a big fan of the Darksiders franchise. I wasn’t a day one buyer, but I did purchase the original XBOX 360 version of the first game, which came with an art book and a physical copy of Red Faction: Guerilla, which is an amazing game that I never would have played if not for that free copy. I then pre-ordered the Limited Edition of Darksiders II (PS3), which I still have on my shelf to this day. I actually think I is better than II but I very much enjoyed both games. So I’m glad I’m finally getting a Darksiders III. But what I want to talk about is the playable character in the next game.

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Darksiders III will star Fury. Now before we go any farther let’s make a few things clear. Fury is a female protagonist. I have no problems with that. I don’t care if it’s a female protagonist. I’m sure some people will argue that it should be a male character because they’re the four horseMEN, but anyone with a basic knowledge of the English language knows that horsemen is the gender neutral plural term for people who ride horses. So Fury being a female character is no problem for me and it shouldn’t be a problem for anyone. Fury uses a whip as her main weapon. I have no problem with this either. One might want to argue it’s slightly sexist to give the female character a whip because of sexual overtones and stereotypes inherent in the image of women with whips, but that’s about as stupid an argument as saying that she should be a male character. Each game features a different main weapon, with sword and scythe already being taken. So unless you wanted to do axe, which is basically a scythe when it comes to controls, or a club, which would probably play similar to War’s great sword, there weren’t a ton of great options left. I like whip weapons. I think they’re cool. Put a blade at the end and you’re essentially Kratos, my favorite action hack-n-slash character/franchise, with half the stopping power and range. A whip is fine for me and it’s a fine choice for the next game. What I’m not happy about is that the character is named Fury.

If you know anything about the lore of the four horsemen, then you know it’s a Biblical story about the apocalypse. Four horsemen will ride over the earth and put humanity through a lot of struggles before it all ends. That’s a short, non-religious explanation of who the horsemen are and what they’re meant to do. The names of the horsemen are Conquest, which is debatable based on the passages, War, Famine, and Death, who was supposed to be the last one to appear, not the second. So my question is why are we getting a game with a character named Fury and then possibly another with a character named Strife?

4 horsemen

Now I know the real answer to this question. It’s most likely a combination of a few main things. The first is that the word famine doesn’t necessarily mean anything to many people today. War and death are still common use terms, but famine (mass starvation due to lack of access to food) simply isn’t a common term anymore. Which is kind of ironic considering the number of people in the world who are currently starving. So marketing a character with that name would be much more difficult than more common use words like fury and strife. To be clear though, those words are only slightly more common today than the word famine. The second is that the word fury is a more direct term for committing acts of violence, which is the premise of the game(s). Famine is a much more passive way for “people” to be hurt. So it’s not nearly as relatable or marketable for a game. But it’s the third issue that is probably the most important. What does/would gameplay for a character named Famine even look like?

Conquest I actually think would be easy to do, but the style and theme of such a word and character wouldn’t work in the Darksiders universe for two reasons. The first is that it’s not dark enough. The Bible describes this horseman as “. . . a white horse! Its rider held a bow, and he was given a crown, and he rode out as a conqueror bent on conquest.” It’s almost noble looking and kind of nice in a way. A regal looking rider conquering the world like Alexander the Great. This is too colorful and positive for Darksiders. The other issue is that it wouldn’t work in the franchise’s timeline. The first game starts after the apocalypse so there isn’t really any conquest to seek after because all the people are dead. I mean they could still have put the character in but I think it would have been quite out of place in the aesthetic they’ve created in this franchise. If anything I would say they should have split the fourth horsemen into two with one being Death and the other Pestilence. But admittedly the word pestilence is just as dated as famine and no easier to characterize in a hack-n-slash game.

4 horsemen art

The Darksiders franchise is about taking on the roles of the four horsemen. Each one has a set of powers and skills, as well as their appearance, that directly correlates to their name. War looks like a warrior. He wears thick armor, carries a great sword, and has a large build. Death looks like the grim reaper. He carries a large scythe, has a thin skeletal frame, and wears a mask that looks like a skull. Fury, being a more vague term to begin with, simply looks like a warrior, which is fine as long as the fury comes out in her personality. I assume that in her characterization there will be character flaws/attributes such as hotheadedness, jealousy, and a thirst for revenge. Her fighting style will probably be very fast paced and less strategic, but ultimately lethal. This all works fine for a character named Fury, whose name should evoke her character in the same way War and Death have in the past games. It’s a lazy renaming of one of the actual remaining horsemen names because it’s much easier to deal with. I’m sure this happened because it was too challenging to figure out what a fast paced hack-n-slash game would look like with themes like famine and, if we follow my suggestion, pestilence.

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It’s an honest question that I have given a decent amount of thought to. What would a game starring a character named Famine or Pestilence look like? Let’s start with Famine. When I imagine a character named Famine they are very skinny as if they were on the brink of starvation. Their skin would almost be falling off their bones from malnourishment. Their armor would be dirty and made of something cheap looking like wood or copper. Their hair would be white or even almost transparent due to a lack of vitamins. They would talk very slowly as if they didn’t have the energy to do so. They would have a very depressing outlook on life as a whole. Describing who they are is easy though. The tough question is how would they fight? Assuming we have to remain in the hack-n-slash genre which, for the purposes of this franchise, I think is required, it’s not an easy question to answer. What would his/her weapon be? I think it would be a cleaver or other iconic looking butcher’s knife. Maybe two of them. Valid arguments could be made for why his pace of movement and attacking would be both fast or slow. If he’s starving, he would logically be slow. But if he’s starving that also means he’s really hungry and would seek out prey with greater intensity. Eating his victims would possibly be a component of his combat or at least finishing moves. The movement would be sporadic and there would need to be a component of endurance/energy that the player would constantly be fighting against such as in Dark Souls. The character wouldn’t have a ton of HP. Dodging would be just as important as attacking for Famine’s gameplay. This is all well and good on paper, but would it actually be fun? Who’s to say? My description of Famine sounds authentic, but would you want to play that game? Especially after having already played as War and Death. In my opinion, what I’ve described for Famine sounds like a much harder game than Darksiders I or II. And maybe that’s not a bad thing. But difficulty is only important once the game is fun. A lot of people like Dark Souls because it’s hard, but it’s not the difficulty that makes those games fun. It still comes down to design choices, mechanics, atmosphere, and controls. That’s why a lot of people prefer Bloodborne to Dark Souls. Personally, I prefer Nioh to either of those franchises but happily play all three.

famine

Famine would be difficult but manageable. Pestilence is just hard. Character wise, Pestilence would of course be very sickly. Constantly coughing while talking. Covered in sores and boils. Probably a number of scars or stiches. His/her hair would be haggard and missing in places. They would wear loose fitting clothing that’s dirty and bloodstained. I don’t even think they would wear real armor. In a lot of ways I can see this character more as a female than a male character because I think it would add to the visual effect. As far as gameplay, I really don’t know. Poison would need to be an aspect, but the method of delivery in a hack-n-slash game confounds me. Personally, I actually think a projectile weapon such as a bow would be the better choice, but we already agreed to respect the genre type for the franchise. Maybe claws with poison tips. And a kiss of death finishing move or hold that stuns enemies. I think Pestilence is definitely the most challenging to do well. But now I want to see a studio try.

This franchise is now a lost cause on this issue, but I genuinely want a studio to attempt to make a game where you play as the embodiment(s) of famine and pestilence, actual horseman or not. It would be easier in a franchise that isn’t locked to a specific genre, but in general I still think it would be quite the challenge and I would like to see it done. Even better if they tie it directly to the Biblical passages related to the horsemen in a way truer than that of the Darksiders franchise. All that being said, I will of course be buying Darksiders III and I assume it will be as enjoyable as the first two were. Hopefully it’s better written than the second one was though. How do you feel about the name changes? Would you want to see a game starring Famine, Conquest, or Pestilence?

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Ant-Man & the Wasp Review – 7/10

I really liked the first Ant-Man (2015). It’s a very small, pun not intended, very personal story about a man just trying to do right by his kid while also trying to do the right thing and be the hero his kid wants him to be. And I think the story is made even stronger by the fact that he, Scott Lang, is ultimately recruited by Hank Pym, because he’s literally in the exact same situation. In a lot of ways it’s a story about fathers trying to give their daughters the lives they deserve. It’s not a huge plot with a super villain that’s threatening the whole world. The antagonist is just a scientist trying to make a name for himself with a technology that if put in the wrong hands could have terrible consequences. And yes it could end up changing the world, but the narrative keeps the story very enclosed within San Francisco to a small number of people. But that’s not what I wanted from the sequel.

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Ant-Man & the Wasp is set about two years after Captain America 3: Civil War and at the same time as Avengers: Infinity War, which Ant-Man does not appear in. In fact, it’s not until the very end of Ant-Man & the Wasp that they even make reference to Thanos and it’s very clear that’s it’s already too late for Ant-Man to even consider getting involved with that problem. Ant-Man & the Wasp is also a small scale plot with a limited number of players that again centers on the idea of fathers trying to protect and please their daughters. The difference is that in this film, romance, for both fathers from the first film, plays a larger role in the narrative. In many ways I would say this plot is even smaller than the first film. It’s not about trying to protect the world from a certain technology. There’s no evil scientist. Really there’s not even a proper villain. The film plays a lot more like Snatch (2000) where you have a number of different groups all seeking the same object for their own purposes, but none of them are out to do anything particularly good or bad with said object.

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One character, and his cronies, is out to sell the object for profit, but he’s not a super villain or particularly threatening. He doesn’t even really hurt anyone. He just wants the money. And at the beginning of the film he sincerely offers Team Ant-Man the chance to work together with him for profit, but they say no. The second group, which was sold as the villain in the marketing, is by no means a villain. She has a legitimate problem that is life threatening and she believes that it can only be solved by robbing Team Ant-Man so she’s trying to do that. But she doesn’t have some nefarious end goal and she doesn’t actually want to hurt people. She’s just in a bad situation. Finally, you have Team Ant-Man and they’re just as selfish as everyone else. They have a goal that won’t help anyone outside of Hank and Hope. It’s not going to hurt anyone, but by no means is it heroic or particularly noble. It’s just a self-serving goal that will enrich their personal lives. And it won’t even help Scott. In fact, the entire film is about how Hank and Hope are forcing Scott to help them even though he’s on house arrest with a few days left in his sentence and if he gets caught using the Ant-Man suit or leaving his house he’ll have to go back to prison and lose his daughter. So really the movie isn’t even about Ant-Man being a hero. It’s about Hank and Hope making Ant-Man help them get something they really want.

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The problem with this small, in many ways pointless narrative, is that it takes place after having already seen Captain America 3: Civil War, which is mentioned a number of times, and Avengers: Infinity War. In terms of Ant-Man, I wanted more. This is no longer the ex-convict just trying to get his life back together. This is a man who fought alongside the Avengers, against other Avengers, and lived. This is a man who we believed had escaped with Captain America at the end of Civil War. Not to mention, we’ve already seen Avengers: Infinity War. Who cares about this little vignette about the lives of the Pym family? I expect Ant-Man to be playing at Avengers level now. That doesn’t mean every Ant-Man movie needs to have other Avengers in it, but it does mean that the stories have to really matter. In Thor: Ragnarok, Asgard was destroyed. In Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, the entire universe was saved from a mad celestial trying to replace all life with himself. In Doctor Strange, an infinity stone was revealed and the world was almost plunged into darkness by an evil being from a magical dimension. Ant-Man & the Wasp, which is not a debut film for the main title character, is about the same scale as Spider-Man: Homecoming as far as importance. Except Scott Lang isn’t a high school kid. And even in that Iron Man shows up. This film just under does it in a time where the MCU and the character are way past the kid gloves.

Ant-Man-Wasp

I don’t want it to seem like the film was badly written, because it wasn’t. It was much funnier than the first one. The acting was great, including that of Michael Peña reprising his role as the over talkative friend. And most importantly, they really leaned into technology in this one. In the first movie, shrinking is used sparingly. It’s an origin film where Scott is just learning how to use it and really it’s under-utilized outside of a few fight sequences and sneaking around. In Ant-Man & the Wasp they use shrinking and growing a ton and it’s great. It was used realistically, as in they actually use it for pretty much all the things you would use it for if you had that technology at your fingertips. My only real complaint about the technology aspect was that way too many malfunctions occurred. It’s fair for a malfunction to happen once, especially at a really crucial moment. But there were multiple scenes where Scott’s suit, and only Scott’s suit, was malfunctioning. This was used for comic relief multiple times. But this is the second movie. By now the bugs should have been ironed out. Especially when they’re doing stuff like shrinking entire buildings and growing ants to the size of people. It just felt very lazy to keep playing the suit not working card over and over.

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As per all MCU films, the movie looked great. The shrinking and growing effects were very clean. The cinematography was solid. The costumes looked good. The sound was fine. I was happy with the soundtrack. It’s by every measureable standard a modern day Marvel film. But it was by no means in the top five or probably even top 10 MCU films. In a lot of ways it felt pointless. It introduced the Wasp and possibly a couple other important reoccurring characters, but the film itself didn’t accomplish much. Like they very well could have sent the Wasp with Ant-Man in Civil War, which is brought up in this film, and it would have accomplished exactly the same thing. Unless they really leverage the two other possibly important characters introduced in future films, this was pretty much the same thing we got in Ant-Man except now he has a partner. Ant-Man & the Wasp is not a bad film, but I could literally tell you everything you need to know about it in one sentence. In a lot of ways it’s one of the only films in the MCU where I could say you could really just skip it and it probably won’t affect the rest of the MCU, or your experience of it, that much.

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Anthem Year Two

In recent months, we’ve seen a lot about the upcoming Anthem. Anthem is a shared world mech-shooter being developed by BioWare, who is of course under the umbrella of EA. The game was first announced at E3 2017 and was shown again at E3 this year in a big way. We think we know a lot about Anthem already. The marketing has been very good. The trailers are amazing. But a lot has also changed since it was first announced. When Anthem was first being talked about, it was being called BioWare’s take on Destiny. The studio drew the comparison themselves in certain interviews. Then the whole Star Wars: Battlefront II thing happened and EA has been trying to fix their image ever since. And they have made moves. They removed the loot box system from Star Wars: Battlefront II at launch and stated that though it would be re-added, it wouldn’t be as predatory as originally shown. They have done their best to move people away from the loot box conversation and announced that Battlefield V, being developed by the same studio as Star Wars: Battlefront II, DICE, wouldn’t have any loot boxes. So it’s hard to know exactly how Anthem will be now in the wake of all the bad press and changes EA has taken in response to recent mishaps.

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I am very hesitant about Anthem precisely because they’ve drawn comparisons to Destiny. If you read my blog normally and have for a long time, then you know I have very negative feelings about Destiny. I pre-ordered the physical limited edition and I have regretted it pretty much since the announcement of The Taken King expansion, which I never played. It angered and still angers me that I gave Bungie $100 before the game even released for them to provide me maybe half a story, some crappy raids, and then tell me I had to pay another $30 or more dollars to get some actual additional story content. But if I had waited, I would have been able to get all the content, old and new, for like $30. That pisses me off. And we’re not talking about something like The Witcher 3 where you get a full game that’s almost too full and then for another $25 you get like two more full games’ worth of content. That would have been acceptable. Destiny just screwed me over. I did not buy Destiny 2 and I haven’t purchased any other games from Bungie, Activision, or Blizzard since then. And I wasn’t really a fan of any of those companies before Destiny either so I was already taking a leap of faith, but I really enjoyed the Destiny beta so I decided to take the plunge. The last Bungie game I bought before Destiny was literally 10 years before with Halo II. It will probably be another 10 years before I even consider buying another game from them.

the witcher 3
Still the best there is.

That badly priced, content lacking experience is exactly what I’m afraid of happening with Anthem. By all rights I should just walk away now. But the trailers look so good. And I actually really do like BioWare. I haven’t played a single game by them I didn’t like. That includes Mass Effect: Andromeda, Dragon Age II, and Dragon Age: Inquisition. I wouldn’t say any of those are the best they’ve ever produced, but I consider all of those games and the others I’ve played by them to be fine titles. So I want to trust them. I want to play Anthem. But I don’t want to play another Destiny.

My issue with Destiny was not the gameplay. Mechanically, I thought it was excellent. It wasn’t the graphics. Visually I thought it was quite good, and I played it on PS3. My only real complaint, other than a number of unbalanced raid challenges which I consider forgivable, was the lack of fresh content for the price I paid. I don’t like replaying missions. I don’t like farming because of an unbalanced RNG rewards system. And I did not buy the game for PVP. I put a fair amount of time into the Crucible, but that’s not what I paid for. So I don’t have to consider that in my personal judgement of the game in terms of my satisfaction, or lack thereof, with it. This is not a review. I don’t have to be objective. I spent $100 of my hard earned money and didn’t get a full story experience. But I genuinely believe that if I had gotten all that year two content, as well as what I got in year one, for the $100 I spent, then I wouldn’t have left the game so unhappy.  If I had not supported the game from day one and waited it out like I do for most games then I wouldn’t even be writing this post right now. None of this is BioWare or EA’s fault. It has nothing to do with them. But the shared world shooter genre is spoiled for me because of that experience others like it such as The Division. Yet I still want to play Anthem based on what I’ve seen.

The Taken King

The problem with games like Destiny and presumably Anthem is that the player’s enjoyment of it is directly tied to the presence and influence of other players within the experience. That’s why we get conned into buying them day one. We take the risk of them dying if we wait and then we can’t really play them at all. The only thing worse than Destiny year one would have been Destiny year one with no other players. But this line of thinking gave me an idea.

Why do we play these games on their terms? Why do we let studios tell us when and how to enjoy games? It didn’t used to be that way. You used to be able to buy a game when you wanted and play it the way you wanted. You shaped and enjoyed the experience you chose to have. Why did we let that concept die? People will of course say that the nature of games has changed. What with daily challenges, special events, limited time offers, and pre-order bonus content, it seems impossible to play a game on your own terms and get the full experience. Then there’s of course the fear of missing out on the experience altogether. You don’t want to be left out and you don’t want to show up to the party after everyone else has already left. But what if we as a community chose not to be limited by these factors?

tc-the-division-year-one-content-roadmap

What I’m about to say is all theoretical. It makes a number of assumptions about BioWare’s long term plans/actions for the game. It assumes the game does well overall from day one. And it assumes that extra content will actually be added over time like in Destiny and The Division. None of these assumptions have to be true. They are very likely based on empirical data from the last several years of gaming. But it’s quite possible they all end up being incorrect assumptions, in which case the entire concept I’m about to suggest would be a complete failure before it ever began. And to be clear, even if all these assumptions do end up being true, which I do believe will be the case, that still doesn’t mean that I believe what I have devised will actually come to fruition, because it relies heavily on the actions of other gamers which is never a recipe for success.

I propose a plan that I’d like to call simply Anthem Year Two. If we assume that there will be an official Anthem Year Two campaign, then that means we can assume that there will be Anthem Year Two content. And because this game is being published by EA, it’s fair to assume that this Year Two content will be at additional cost to the players unless you buy a full edition a la Destiny Year Two Legendary Edition. Again, waiting for year two means missing out on year one content while the bulk of other players are playing it. Now that doesn’t really matter as long as you have people to play with that are going through the year one content at the same time as you. This might be a limiting factor for PVP but that assumes you’re playing for PVP, which shouldn’t necessarily be the case when Anthem isn’t even being sold as a PVP game. In fact, it won’t even have PVP options at release. So let’s, at least for the purposes of argument, assume you’re playing Anthem for the campaign content and your only reason for buying day one is that you want to make sure you have people to play with when you’re playing the year one content and so on into year two. But what if instead of forcing ourselves to play year one content during year one, we as an organized community of gamers fabricated year one conditions in year two?

anthem preorder

Here is what I propose. What if instead of forcing ourselves to buy Anthem day one, a large group, as in hundreds to even thousands of players, collectively committed to waiting for year two to buy the game? Say a large community of gamers all pledged that they would collectively wait for the Anthem Year Two Legendary Edition release to drop to $30 and would buy it the day it hit that price. And assume they all stuck to their word. What is the limiting factor in this scenario? Other than the waiting time, will our gaming experience be hindered in any way? Not really, unless you count possible spoilers as an issue. We could get all the content for a good price and have people to play it with that all started on a level playing field because we all would have started at about the same time. Just a year after the game was released. Why doesn’t the gaming community ever do things like this? I’ve never heard of a large organized group of gamers actively waiting for the second year content of a cooperative multiplayer game to be released before purchasing. We could shape the entire experience, down to the price, to our liking and needs. We would fully control the situation and be guaranteed a fair amount of content from the start with no wait time to access it. Why wouldn’t we do this? Why haven’t we done this? There are already huge gaming communities for just about every online game. No Man’s Sky was a steaming pile of crap and it had entire self-formed governments organized by players. So why don’t we just take control of the situation? Not just with Anthem but with every game like this. The Division 2, Jump Force, and the list goes on. We simply need to decide to wait as a collective, decide when the wait is over, and that’s pretty much it. It’s little more than a gaming union that doesn’t charge dues. Am I crazy or are we just all inpatient children too lazy to put in a small amount of effort for a better, more affordable overall gaming experience?

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Say No to Unlicensed Shilling

Recently we experienced E3 2018. As I stated in my E3 2018 post, I thought this was an exceptional year for the show. The best I’ve seen in years actually. As with any E3, many announcements were made. And as with many if not most gaming announcements, there was some controversy. This is of course because entertainment is subjective and people always have different opinions and preferences when it comes to their entertainment. And there’s nothing wrong with that. But what’s become a huge problem in the gaming community is unlicensed (unpaid) shilling.

Let’s be very clear, when talking specifically about game design choices such as mechanics, genre, and art style, there are very few wrong opinions. As an example, some people like their games in first person. Some prefer them in third. While there are certainly good and bad arguments in support of both, neither can be said to be objectively right or wrong. When talking about issues not related to design choices, there are certainly wrong opinions, such as that it’s not OK for a woman to be on the cover of an FPS game set in WWII. But I’m not talking about that. I’m talking specifically about the validity of differing opinions on completely subjective topics within the world of game design.

battlefield 5

Everyone has the right to an opinion and everyone has the right to voice that opinion. But what’s become the norm is people trying to stop other people from voicing their opposing subjective opinion. This is a problem for a number of reasons. First of all, you’re not right. Your opinion is an opinion. The opposing opinion is an opinion. Neither side has more of a right to voice their opinion than the other outside of more specific contexts, which aren’t relevant to the discussion here. Everyone should be able to voice their opinion on a game’s design choices without being attacked for it. But that’s not even the biggest issue.

A shill is a person who appears/pretends to be a member of the public that is secretly working for a company. Shills use the perception of being a consumer to try to influence other consumers to support a company both financially and critically. The key feature of a shill is that they’re paid by a company to covertly influence the public to support that company. While I don’t like shills, I respect them. Like with any job, they are paid to provide a service and they do it. It’s no different than being a lobbyist, lawyer, or IRS agent. They have a dirty job that often calls for them to act unethically at the expense of hardworking people but it is their job and they do it because they have bills to pay too. But there is no excuse for unlicensed shilling. When a person is not paid by a company and goes out of their way to defend them and argue for them against other consumers, it’s not only illogical but also counterproductive for consumers as a whole. Getting paid to do a job is sensible. Doing a job for free is the height of stupidity. This is unlicensed (unpaid) shilling.

will not work for free

Negative reception isn’t a bad thing for consumers. In fact, it’s an objectively good thing. When people send out angry tweets, write critical blog posts, post negative remarks on Reddit, and make dissenting YouTube videos, that’s a good thing for consumers. Even when you disagree with the negative opinions voiced, it’s still good for you as a consumer. Realistically speaking, larger studios and publishers no longer go out of business due to lack of sales. EA, Ubisoft, Rockstar, Sony, and so on aren’t going anywhere. There are too many power house franchises and so many customers worldwide that it would be almost impossible for any of these larger companies to go bankrupt. Studios within those companies like Visceral Games can be shut down, but that’s not a question of financials. It’s simply management making decisions about the future direction of the company. What that means is that there is no excuse to defend these larger companies because the longevity of their business is in no way affected by consumers posting their views, whether positive or negative, on social media.

The benefits of negative opinions being pushed out on social media is that companies respond to them in a number of ways, that either help all consumers or at least the unhappy ones without harming the ones that weren’t unhappy. Negative reception causes prices to drop faster. Negative reception causes free additional content to be released. Negative reception adds additional gameplay options to games to meet demands. Negative reception almost never harms players, unless it’s so bad that a game gets cancelled because of it, which is very rare in the AAA space. So there’s really no excuse to fight against other consumers about opposing opinions on social media because you’re only harming yourself in the long run by removing cause for these companies to grant extra boons to the entire public.

dead trooper

I’m of course talking about larger studios only. Indie studios and games work a bit differently because of limited budgets and manpower so in many, but not all, situations there is a valid reason to shill for them. It’s very possible that enough negative reception could kill off an indie studio by driving it into bankruptcy. So let’s be very clear about the context of this discussion and stay focused on larger studios and projects.

Two notable examples of unlicensed shilling I saw during this year’s E3 surrounded Smash Bros Ultimate and Cyberpunk 2077. The reception to the Smash Bros Ultimate announcement(s) were overwhelmingly positive. This game has every character that’s ever been in the franchise returning for free with no paid DLC, as of yet announced, plus new characters and stages. This is great news for all Smash Bros. fans. But let’s not pretend like the Smash Bros. franchise has a perfect track record and that the team hasn’t screwed many players over throughout the franchise. I’m a Roy main. It’s been 10 years since I could use my main. Do you know why Roy is back? It’s not because for the past 10 years me and people like me have been silent and not voiced our anger about our mains not being available. It’s because we were vocal about it. There’s no paid DLC characters in this Smash Bros. like there were in the last one. Do you know why? It’s not because Nintendo decided to be benevolent this time around. It’s because a large number of people voiced their anger over this issue since the last game. It was the voicing of negative opinions that made Smash Bros. Ultimate the great game it will be. Not the positive opinions and the shills defending everything Nintendo does like mindless drones. Negative posts made the franchise better. Unlicensed shilling made it worse.

Everyone is here

A lot of people are angry about Waluigi not being playable in this latest Smash Bros. Personally I don’t care about this topic but I respect their desire to have him playable and I support them voicing that opinion. Yet tons of people have gone out of their way to try to put down the pro-Waluigi crowd from voicing their desires. Why? What do you gain from telling people “he’s already an assist trophy”? With enough support of the issue, Nintendo may patch in Waluigi as playable later. Why try to prevent this? Why even get involved? Nintendo doesn’t need your help. They’re a multi-billion dollar company with teams of lawyers, PR reps, and marketing teams. There is no reason for you to come to their aid. If anything, you should be helping your fellow consumers have their needs met. Nintendo will be just fine even if millions of angry tweets are posted calling for Waluigi to be playable.

To clarify, I’m advocating people voicing their negative opinions about game design choices. Not attacking private citizens who happen to be game developers. Attacking people in their private lives for doing their jobs is never OK. I don’t think Sakurai is a god like too many people do, but there is no justification for attacking him personally for any choices made concerning Smash Bros. If you aren’t happy with something tweet Nintendo and the Smash Bros. account and keep your posts focused on the game. If you see someone attacking a developer personally, you should come to that developer’s defense. That’s not what I’m talking about here.

Waluigi

I would say Cyberpunk 2077 had an even more polarizing announcement during E3 this year. CD Projeckt Red announced that the game would be a first person shooter. Many people, myself included, were unhappy about this and took the time to voice that opinion. Many people were also very happy about the announcement. The difference is that the pro-FPS crowd went out of their way to attack those of us voicing our desire for the game to be in third person. Now there are many legitimate reasons to be unhappy with this game being an FPS game. If you want me to go into those in detail, let me know in the comments. But it’s not the purpose of this post so I’m not going to do that here. The real issue is that so many people felt like it was necessary to come to CD Projekt Red’s aid over this issue. No one is worried about the game being cancelled. No one is concerned that the negative reception may get the studio shut down. These are not issues on the table for discussion. What is on discussion is CD Projekt Red adding the option to play in third person. What is on the table is many people not buying the game at release because it’s in first person, causing the price to fall faster for everyone. Neither of these things are/would be bad for consumers. So why try to stop them from happening? The first doesn’t affect you if you want to play the game in first person and the second helps you if you aren’t a day one buyer regardless of the reason why you aren’t a day one buyer. So what is to be gained from attacking your fellow consumers for having an opinion you don’t agree with?

cyberpunk-2077

Some people will argue that CD Projekt Red could end up changing the game into a third person only game with enough negative reception as a justification for their unlicensed shilling, but that’s an illogical conclusion. The game is already being made in third person. CD Projekt Red has stated that they intentionally built the map to work “better” in first person. Many people are excited to play the game in first person and have stated as much. Even with all the negative reception in the world, what would be the logic in completely removing the first person gameplay option altogether? That wouldn’t make any sense. What can, and should, happen is that both first and third person gameplay options are made available like in Star Wars Battlefront and later versions of Skyrim. Why anyone would be against giving players the option to play in their preferred view is beyond me.

The point is that you stand to gain for every negative post made about a game and gain literally nothing from the positive ones. That’s not to say that you shouldn’t post when you’re happy about something a studio announces because you definitely should. These are hardworking people who take pride in their work and enjoy being commended for it. But that in no way means that people who aren’t happy about something in a game shouldn’t be allowed to voice their opinions as well. And all consumers stand to benefit from those negative opinions being posted. So please stop shilling for free. It’s serves you in no way, makes you look like an idiot for being illogical, and costs you possible free benefits such as free additional content and multiple gameplay options in the long run. I liken unlicensed shilling to a person defending the integrity of a pickpocket from an angry mob while the pickpocket is stealing said person’s wallet. Defend your fellow consumers, not the companies that don’t need your help to stay in business.

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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.