Animal Crossing: New Horizons is Good but Riddled with Unjustified Flaws

Having now played Animal Crossing: New Horizons for 170 hours, I can say two things. The first is that the game is a depth defying evolution of the concept since the original game released on the Gamecube almost 20 years ago. It’s accessible, simple, and addictive while not taking advantage of any of the predatory microtransactions Nintendo could absolutely get away with. It’s complicated enough to hold the attention of adults, both causal and serious gamers, while also being simple enough to be played and enjoyed by children. While it is not the best game ever made, it may be the most Nintendo game ever made in the last two generations or more of Nintendo consoles. The second thing I can say is that the game is riddled with quality of life problems. Not glitches or coding errors, but intentional problems that ultimately hurt the gameplay experience.

I have been absolutely floored by some of the island designs I’ve seen posted online. People have accomplished things that I couldn’t even imagine. The amount of things you can actually accomplish/build in Animal Crossing: New Horizons is insane. Yet my island still looks like garbage. One could argue that my island looks like garbage because I simply lack creativity, but I don’t agree with that statement. Now I’m not saying that I’m as visually creative as everyone else. I’m a writer by trade so visual design isn’t really my strong suit. But I do have plenty of ideas and a vision for my own epic island design. And I’m happy to acknowledge that the chances of the design I have in my head, or reference notes after I took the time to draw and plot out everything I wanted to do on paper, probably isn’t as impressive as many of the things that I’ve seen go viral online. But at the very least my island wouldn’t look like garbage if my vision could be realized. The problem is that at every turn the game goes out of its way to arbitrarily limit my ability to create my own vision. And again none of these limitations are due to glitches. They are intentional design flaws that can easily be fixed, but simply won’t be because Nintendo gonna Nintendo.

Landscaping and Island design isn’t the only place where the game has monumentally inconvenient limitations that are easily fixed but simply won’t be because reasons. There are a host of quality of life issues that simply don’t need to be present in the game.  So for this week’s post I wanted to go over my top 15 complaints about Animal Crossing: New Horizons. This is not an exhaustive list; and I’m sure some people will disagree with some of the things mentioned. But I believe every one of these issues could easily be patched out and would make the gameplay experience better for a majority of players. Better being defined as giving players the ability to maximize their own personal enjoyment and/or creative freedom. List is in no particular order.

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1. No Natural Island Features Should be Permanent

When you first start the game, you are asked to pick an island layout. If like me, you started the game on day one with little to no prior knowledge or plans in the works, then you chose a layout that seemed the most convenient at the time without knowing exactly what you were committing to. My island’s natural layout has been a nightmare for pretty much my entire time playing the game. It of course started with house placement. I knew exactly where I wanted my house to go when I first looked at the map layouts. That has never changed. What I didn’t know going into the game was that I wouldn’t be able to reach the location I wanted for my house until much later into the game. I thought I would be able to get the vaulting pole and ladder from the start and place my house exactly where I wanted it. Instead I was forced to put it in the complete opposite side of the island from where I wanted it because not only did I want my house on a mountain, but I also wanted an island with a single continuous river that went from end to end, locking me to only about 40% of my island’s total land for the opening portion of the game. As you can imagine, this was very annoying. But I was OK with it because I knew eventually I would be able to move my house and even reshape my river, if I wanted to.

Animal Crossing New Horizons Screenshot 2020-05-06 16-19-21Eventually I was finally able to reshape the land and the water, while also having the tools to go wherever I wanted. By the time I unlocked K.K. Slider (about 110 hours in), I finally had an established vision for what I wanted my island to look like. I set out to complete this task only to then realize my plan wasn’t possible because my river inlets from the ocean weren’t located in the right places. This cannot be altered, which I wasn’t aware of when I devised my grand plan. You’re simply stuck with the river to ocean connections you have. Now yes I could technically build my own rivers from scratch and just not connect them to the ocean at all. But that’s not really what I wanted. Furthermore, one of my inlets is located too high on my map which blocks me from having the perfect cliffs I wanted.

Along with the river mouths, you also have to contend with beaches and even worse beach stone. These black rocks eat up the sides and corners of your map for literally no reason and prevent you from having perfectly square edges to your cliffs. Some may also refer to them as OCD stone. Why Nintendo decided to make all these physical features permanent is beyond me. What I do know is that not only have they dashed my island landscaping dreams multiple times, but they also cost me so many hours of hard work because I had to alter several map units of land to account for them. This entire issue is stupid and shouldn’t be a thing. Just let me redesign my island however I want once I’ve reached the landscaping portion of the game.

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2. The Game Needs Mass/Rapid Landscaping Options

Being able to reshape land and water is extremely convenient. It’s one of my favorite aspects of the game. Even with the many limits it has to it, the fact that you can reform cliffs and rivers to create the landscape you want (mostly) allows for every island to be truly original. That being said, the process of landscaping is one of the most tedious and troublesome endeavors I’ve ever experienced in a Nintendo game. You have to manually shape each block unit of land in the game one at a time. It is appalling that there isn’t a Mario Maker style landscape editing mode where you can just build entire sections of cliff and water in a few seconds. I have spent literal weeks trying to build, and rebuild, the cliff structure I wanted. And this doesn’t include all the time I’ve had to spend moving around trees and flowers to do it.  I wouldn’t even mind having to pay a bells fee to do it. I just don’t want to have to spend hours to build a cliff after I’ve already taken the time to clear all the land. The cliff should be the easy part. And joy-con drift never angered me so much as it does while trying to landscape in this game. The game already has a unit based map. Allowing the player to draw cliff or water on it quickly rather than unit by unit landscaping would be an easy thing to implement.

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3. Build and Destroy Landscaping Functions Should be Separate Buttons

In order to keep the coding simplistic, Animal Crossing: New Horizons throws all landscaping functions into two buttons. You select what kind of landscaping you want to do by pressing the plus button and then the A button to make a selection. Then you use the A button to interact with the unit of land directly in front of you, assuming your joy-con doesn’t drift. If the landscaping selection you currently have active isn’t on the unit in front of you, the A button adds it. If the active landscaping selection is on the unit in front of you, the A button removes it. While simple in practice, this causes a lot of problems. Again, many of them are the result of joy-con drift. Often you end up removing land when you intended to add it. Or adding water when you intended to remove it. And vice versa. This could easily be remedied by dedicating the A button to adding landscaping options and a different button being dedicated for removing landscaping selections. Of course this would only be the case while the landscaping app is active. Having this function would save users so much time by not having them make unintentional landscaping mistakes throughout the entire process of terraforming their islands.

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4. Why Can’t I Build Giant Walls?

I have absolutely no idea why you can’t build two story cliffs, but it’s one of the most irritating limitations the game has. For some reason you can’t build a cliff on top of a cliff. You have to leave a space of at least one unit between the first level cliff and the second level cliff. So instead of building high cliffs you end up with big two step stairs. If I had to hazard a guess, I’d say the reason for this probably has to do with the incline limitations, which I will get to. You can’t make two story inclines, so building two story cliffs would prevent you from being able to access the tops of them. But I don’t see why that’s a problem because if  I’m building a two story cliff then clearly I don’t want it to be climbed to begin with. Also, couldn’t’ the ladder just extend if it was really an issue that needed solving? Not only is this issue visually troublesome, but it also wastes a lot of real estate. You only have so much land. Having to waste the outer edges one unit in all directions is quite a loss of total available land.

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5. Inclines Have So Much Wasted Potential

The only way to reach a higher level without a ladder is an incline. This is fine. Even the process of adding inclines for a fee is fine. What isn’t fine is all the things inclines should be able to do but can’t. First, inclines are locked to one cliff unit up and two ground units wide. Inclines are extremely useful but they could do so much more. You can’t build them adjacent to each other either vertically or horizontally.  They need a gap of at least one space. So if you wanted to make a two story cliff with an incline it would have an annoying one unit step between the two inclines. You also can’t build them side by side. Meaning you can’t build hills or epic continuous grand entrances.

You also can’t repave or plant flowers on inclines. Meaning if, like me, you wanted to use floor paths to build long “roads” that went up cliffs, you would not be able to fully coordinate their colors because inclines can’t be customized past picking from a limited selection of incline designs. The inability to plant flowers on them also means you can’t have continuous flower paths for your “roads” that go up cliffs either. While some of this may be a lot of trouble to remedy, much of it shouldn’t have been part of the game to begin with. There’s no reason you shouldn’t be able to install adjacent inclines and bridges.

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6. Construction Delays Progress so Much

Construction projects are a sensible idea. Moving buildings and adding/removing inclines being a bit more special so you aren’t constantly changing everything on your island makes you appreciate your decisions more. Having to pay for them does this adequately. But making me have to wait for the day to flip and only allowing me to move one building and one incline/bridge a day is such a waste of time. If I’m trying to reshape my entire island after acquiring the landscaping license, I shouldn’t have to wait a day to move each house on my island. I shouldn’t have to wait a day to demolish or move each bridge/incline I built in the early game while just trying to access more of the land and amass resources. It’s no wonder why some players, myself not included, use time travel. So much progress is stopped by limiting construction projects to one of each type a day. Just charge me express work fees and let me do everything in the same day. At the very least let me reshape the island in mass at least once after unlocking the landscaping license. Because obviously most players wouldn’t have put things where they are if they had had full access to all the tools and landscaping abilities you eventually get from the start.

Also, it’s completely ridiculous that you have to pay twice to change the surrounding landscape of a building or incline. I had my house in the perfect spot the first time I moved it. But I did not yet have landscaping abilities. Once I unlocked them, I wanted my house in the same general spot, but moved over three units and on top of a cliff. Doing this required moving my house to a completely different location by paying a fee of 30K bells and waiting a day for construction, then reshaping the land where I wanted my house, paying another fee of 30K bells, and waiting another day for construction. This sort of process was required for four of my islanders’ homes as well, ultimately costing me 460,000 bells and 10 days of waiting. The process should not have been that long, that expensive, or that troublesome.

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7. Housing Development Shouldn’t Be Limited

You can expand your house’s interior by paying off loans. This is fine. The prices may seem a little high but once you start playing the stalk market “correctly” money becomes almost a non-issue once you get past your initial landscaping costs. But there’s a limit to how big your house can be. In reality, this makes sense. But this is a video game. Why can’t I just keep expanding my house indefinitely? Or at least past the point of realistic practicality. You can only have a maximum of six total rooms in your house. You can’t control or expand the size of them and their dimensions are kind of inconvenient as well. Why can’t I just pay more bells to expand these rooms or add additional ones? If I want a living room, a kitchen, a bathroom, a workshop, a gameroom, a bedroom, and a guest room, why can’t I? I have plenty of bells. So just let me keep expanding. And let me keep expanding storage as well. You can get up to 1600 storage spots by the time you fully upgrade your house. But why place a limit at all? Just let me keep paying a flat rate of bells to expand my storage indefinitely. Why does it matter?

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8. Why Can’t I Stack Items Based on Space?

Certain items can have other items placed on them such as tables, chairs, and rugs. But then other items can’t even if there’s enough space to do so. For instance, the wooden speakers. This stereo system is quite big and it looks cool. But it takes up a lot of room. The top of it has enough surface area to act as a table or stand. So why can’t I put things on top of it such as potted plants or trophies? That’s something a person would actually do in real life. Yet because the game doesn’t designate it as a piece of stacking furniture, you aren’t allowed to do this. You can’t even put things on beds. So much space is wasted in an already limited space environment.

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9. Just Let Me Store Turnips For Goodness Sake

Once a week you find yourself having to store turnips in the most inconvenient of places. First I was storing them all over my house. Every open space of my floor would be covered in turnips. I wasn’t even decorating my basement because I needed the storage space. Then, like many other players, I took to building an outdoor storage area for them. This is more convenient in many ways, but it’s also a complete waste of real estate. Having to essentially sacrifice a large piece of land to store your turnips every week is an unnecessary inconvenience that adds no enjoyment to the game. Either let me store them in the storage or raise the single item volume considerably. I buy 16K turnips a week. That’s 160 item slots to store. That’s a ton of wasted real estate. And sure you don’t have to buy turnips every week, and certainly not in those large quantities. But in the weeks that you do, you need that space available so it makes more sense just to leave it open rather than build on it at all.

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10. Why Can’t I Turn the Camera When Outside my House?

The camera in Animal Crossing: New Horizons can be quite troublesome. You often can’t see things behind buildings and trees. But there are often important things there such as dig spots and bugs. You can turn the camera in the house just fine. In fact, it’s very convenient. But you can’t do this when outside your house and I can’t think of a single justifiable reason for this.

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11. Add a Fossil Record to the Museum

In the game, you have a phone that catalogues every fish and bug you’ve caught and whether or not you have donated them to the museum. Why the same is not true for the fossils is beyond me. I don’t even need a fossil record on my phone. Just put it in the damn museum, like literally any real museum would have. Finishing the fossil collection, which I finally managed to do by trading in the fossil market on Discord, is such a hassle because you literally don’t know how many or which fossils you’re missing without looking it up online. Even when you do try to look it up, it’s still fairly unclear what you’re actually missing because you have to manually walk the museum and try to figure it out. Just add a damn fossil list to the museum so it’s like an actual museum.

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12. Let Me Mass Buy Clothing in the Fitting Room

The fitting room in the Able Sisters clothing store is really nice. It’s exactly what you want when trying to decide which clothes to buy. But damn if it isn’t the most inconvenient thing in the world when trying to buy multiple colors of the same piece of clothing. If an item comes in multiple colors and I want more than one, why can’t I just buy all the colors I want at once? Making me have to pay, then exit the fitting room, then reenter the fitting room, find the item again, and pay again is completely unnecessary. Just let me buy as many items as I want at once.

Also, let me know which items I already own. The crafting table tells you what items you already have in your pockets and in storage. Why doesn’t the fitting room do the same?

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13. Why Do the Store’s Close?

I work a full time job. I am not alone. I have to commute to my job. I am not alone. I can’t use my Switch at work. I am not alone. Nook’s Cranny doesn’t open until 8 AM and closes at 10 PM. This means that anyone who has to leave for work before 8 AM can’t sell things they are carrying from the night before and can’t check the morning prices of turnips, much less take advantage of them. Anyone who works late can’t purchase or sell anything at Nook’s Cranny either. There are days where I have to leave for work before 8 AM and don’t get home till almost 8 PM. Then I have other responsibilities like cooking dinner and walking my dog. That makes the operating hours of Nook’s Cranny very difficult for me. And I don’t even have children. But one must ask why does the store close at all? This isn’t real life. They don’t need to sleep. Tom Nook and Isabelle never close the Residential Services office. So what’s the deal with Tom’s nephews? The store should definitely reset every day like the calendar does with new announcements. And if for the sake of balance you wanted to argue that the turnip purchasing time should still be locked to specific hours of day, I could understand an argument for that. But the store closing is unnecessary.  Or at the very least remove the fees for using the box to sell items. I don’t mind waiting till the next morning to get my funds in the mail. That’s a realistic mechanic I guess.

Don’t even get me started on the Able Sisters shop. Why does it close an hour earlier than Nook’s Cranny? What is the justification for that? Realistically you only need to visit it once a day, assuming you aren’t strapped for bells, in order to do all your business there. But it’s still the same issue of availability. If someone isn’t able to get to their Switch between the hours of 8 AM and 9 PM, then when do they get to purchase and design new clothing items? The game may be geared towards kids, but adults play it. If the shops have to be open for limited hours, at least let the player set those hours for their island. Maybe the employees sleep during the day and work through the night.

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14. Why Doesn’t my Nook Phone Have a Debit Function?

I have a bank account and a smart phone. That is literally all a person needs to make purchases without carrying cash. So why can’t I purchase things from shops without the cash in hand? Just let me pull the funds needed directly from my bank account. Not for Daisy and NPC purchases, because that wouldn’t be realistic or practical. Though Zelle is a thing. But if I want to buy a chessboard from Nook’s Cranny with 3 million bells in the bank but not 95,000 bells in my pocket just let me purchase it with funds directly from my bank account so I don’t have to run to Resident Services, access the bank account, withdrawal the funds, and then run all the way back to Nook’s Cranny.

While we’re at it, let players access their bank accounts from other islands. Not their storage because that would be unrealistic. But as with my digital purchases argument, the technology is already there. The entire purposes of bank accounts is so you can access your funds anywhere that has an ATM. Every island has an ATM so let players pull bells from the Resident Services on any island.

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15. Add a Dynamic DIY Vendor

Much of the game is built around the idea of interacting with NPCs and the environment to get new recipes. Characters like Celeste are key to making the most out of your crafting experience. But in my opinion there are serious issues with the volume of DIY recipes acquired as well as the ability to get the ones you want. I find it very irritating when I’m trying to complete a seasonal set like the bamboo collection and I get drops of repeat bamboo recipes before I’ve even finished the collection. That forces players to have to try to deal with the market and convince other players to trade them the recipes they want/are missing because the game itself doesn’t seem to be providing them.

While I won’t outright say you should just be able to buy every recipe in the game whenever you want, I do believe there should be a constant stream of DIY vending that takes bells or even Nook Miles. Technically the game kind of has this at Resident Services, but the list of available recipes is fixed. That shouldn’t be the case. As with the Nook Shopping service, the DIY choices should be changing daily. Like with turnip prices, it should be completely random with some days giving you repeats or junk recipes while other days can include super rare ones. Every day players should have the ability to acquire at least one new recipe no matter how much time they put in. This also makes every day seem eventful in some way even when nothing particularly special is otherwise going on.

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So there are my 15 biggest complaints about Animal Crossing: New Horizons. I want to clarify that I love the game. I have played it literally every day since it released. I have never time traveled and I take my progress in the game very seriously. I play the stalk market like a pro and have great aspirations for my island and its residents. But the game is severely lacking in a number of quality of life features that would make the experience of playing the game way more convenient and fulfilling. The game is by no means bad, but it could be considerably better.

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Animal Crossing: New Horizons is Predatory Capitalism at its Worst

When I was a youth, the very first Animal Crossing was released for the Nintendo Gamecube. It was such an odd game. The concept was different from anything I had ever considered playing before. It was like The Sims and DinoPark Tycoon had a baby. But it was intriguing, so I bought it. It was a surprisingly fun game. I still remember it quite fondly. And I’m speaking as a person who doesn’t play games like Minecraft, Stardew Valley, or The Sims and have never had any interest in those types of games. But Animal Crossing was just the right level of resource management and progress to be fun for a casual sim player.

More than one sequel to Animal Crossing has been released since the first one launched in 2001. The franchise expanded into handheld consoles and mobile games. I skipped all of these. It’s not that I didn’t want to play more Animal Crossing. It’s just that I never owned any of Nintendo’s handhelds after the Gameboy Advance and didn’t want to. It wasn’t until two decades later that I finally purchased another Animal Crossing game for the Nintendo Switch. This is of course the recently released Animal Crossing: New Horizons.

Animal Crossing New Horizons Screenshot 2020-04-21 15-08-20I really like New Horizons. It’s by no means a perfect game but it is quite fun, for whatever reason. It delivers that same feeling I got playing the original all those years ago. It is interesting how the game is very much driven by money and Capitalist ideals while also being very relaxed and easy going. People often joke about Tom Nook being a robber baron type but if we’re honest he gives you interest free loans and lets you pay them off at whatever pace you like. He’s very fast about completing construction projects and doesn’t charge you extra for labor. Money is certainly a component but it’s not the driving force of the game. Really the game is just about building a community that makes you happy. I have seen so many amazing creations, designs, and concepts developed in New Horizons. I have visited islands that made me feel like an inferior Resident Representative because of how shitty my island looks by comparison. It is a delightful game that allows people to express themselves in ways I couldn’t have even conceived of when playing the original Animal Crossing back in 2001. But money is still a part of the game and that fact has brought out the worst in Nintendo’s user base.

Animal Crossing New Horizons Screenshot 2020-04-21 15-00-12Nintendo fans, which I do include myself in, often get a bad rap. We are known for our incessant complaining and unruly demands.  We are often labeled as some of the most virulent members of the gaming community. While XBOX and PlayStation users are constantly at each other’s throats, Nintendo users are usually fighting each other and attacking the people who make the games we play. Look at how people responded to Pokémon: Sword & Shield. Look at how the Smash Bros. Ultimate community behaves when it comes to discussing DLC characters. One has to admit that Nintendo fans are often guilty of heinous levels of nonsense. Many people see Nintendo fans as childish. The fact that most Nintendo games are geared towards younger audiences definitely adds to that image. At the same time, that childish image has allowed Nintendo fans to be seen as some of the most wholesome members of the gaming community as well. Nintendo fans aren’t complaining about loot boxes or the level of gore in a game. We just want to be able to give our characters purple hair and green shoes. Or at least that’s how the stereotypes tend to come off. If you had asked me which group of gamers were most likely to try to take advantage of each other for profit, I never would have said Nintendo users . . . until I played Animal Crossing: New Horizons.

Royal CrownWhile money is not meant to be the main focus of New Horizons, it does play a crucial role. Money allows you to do all the fantastic things you want to do. Increasing the size of your house costs money. Changing the layout of your island’s buildings and infrastructure costs money. Adding new villagers to your island costs money. Buying the awesome clothes you want like the Royal Crown (sold at the in game store for 1,200,000 bells) costs money. Now the point of the game is to take your time. Things don’t cost money to make you care a lot about money. They cost money to give you a concrete reason to keep playing the game. To keep catching and selling fish and insects. To keep cultivating fruit. The money is there as a motivator to keep you playing the game. But the online component of this particular Animal Crossing installment allows money to control the way players play the game both alone and with others. And it has brought out the worst in people.

Over the 105 hours I’ve played New Horizons I’ve come to understand the game as having three main stages of gameplay which I will refer to as early game, mid game, and late game. Note that I’m not saying this was Nintendo’s intent when building the game. I’m just saying that based on what I have witnessed in other players and felt myself, this is how users are playing/experiencing the game.

Animal Crossing New Horizons Screenshot 2020-04-21 14-58-58Early game is some of the most gratifying but also depressing gameplay. Everything is new. Everything is fun. You are motivated to do all kinds of things without complaining. I chopped so much wood during the early game. Every day I went through my entire island and shook all the trees for twigs and then hit them all for wood piles. I did this almost religiously without complaining. I made sure to hit every rock, dig every dig spot, and catch as many fish and bugs as I could. Why? Because I needed more money. I needed to turn my tent into a house. I needed to expand that house for more storage space. I needed to buy land plots so I could add more villagers. I needed money. In the early game, I was happy to do manual labor in order to acquire that money. For me, it was about work ethic. If I wanted to expand, I had to be willing to earn it. And for a long time I did earn it. I paid off all the home loans save for the last two with manual labor. I paid off two inclines and two bridges with manual labor. Every piece of furniture or clothing I acquired was either crafted, sourced from the environment/villagers, or paid for with manual labor. I didn’t even get to play the stalk market for the first time until I was already on my second to last home loan, built the Nook’s Cranny store, and had manually paid for at least five villagers to move in. I did this because I had a vision for what I wanted my island to be and I was motivated to work towards it.

Animal Crossing New Horizons Screenshot 2020-04-21 14-58-46Late game is when the player has finally reached their vision. It’s when you’ve paid off everything, gotten the clothes you want, gotten enough houses for the number of villagers you want/need, and have finally built the island you want. The infrastructure, the building placement, the land marks. All these things that make your island a home are finally acquired and in place. It will have taken you lots of time and several million bells to accomplish, but it can eventually be done. Late game, which I haven’t personally reached yet, is an interesting place, because it’s like the early game in that you’re playing for the enjoyment of it. You don’t have things you have to do anymore. You have things you want to do. You don’t have to farm every day for bells. If you want to fish or catch bugs you just do it for love of the game. Money is no problem. You have millions of bells stored in the bank. You simply play the game because you want to and wait for special occurrences and events. It’s the way the game was meant to be played and it took time and hard work to get there. It’s a beautiful place that all Animal Crossing players hope to reach some day. But to get there you have to get through the mid game.

Animal Crossing New Horizons Screenshot 2020-04-21 15-10-26Mid game is a bad place. It’s where most players are currently and where you spend the bulk of your time and effort. This is where you are now a bit jaded and tired of manual labor. You have found certain ways to make money faster. You play the stalk market regularly. And worst of all, you’ll do just about anything to make a quick bell. Because you need those bells. You’re not in it for the fun anymore. You’re in it for the vision. You want to build that amusement park with giant robots and rides. You want a perfectly paved road system lined with Imperial walls and high end bridges. You want that royal crown. Fun is gone. Now it’s about respect and prestige. You know what you want and you see it in reach. But it will cost you a lot of money. And making that money manually is just gonna take more time than people in 2020 want to devote to hard work. So you start wheeling and dealing. And you become a monster.

New Horizons has an optional online component. They want players to interact with each other both locally and online. In order to motivate players to do this, they have built in a number of incentives. People, being people, took advantage of this fact and have turned to profiteering. This is the mid game in a nutshell.

Animal Crossing New Horizons Screenshot 2020-04-21 15-10-17One of the quickest ways to make money in New Horizons is the “stalk market”. The fact that it’s a play on the phrase “stock market” is intentional and sadly prophetic. Every Sunday morning, you can buy turnips. They are sold by a single traveling vendor at a price that fluctuates from week to week. You then have seven days to sell them to a different vendor and hopefully make a profit. The vendor that buys them from you changes prices twice a day every day except on Sundays when they aren’t buying. If you do not sell them within seven days of purchase, they rot and become useless. As the old adage states, “buy low, sell high” is the name of the game. The way it’s meant to be played is one week the vendor may sell the turnips at 104 bells and then the other vendor will hopefully buy them from you at an increase. Say 155 bells as a common example. You then have to choose if you want to sell at that price or wait for a better one. Sometimes a better price comes and sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes a price lower than the best you saw comes that will still net you a profit and sometimes the price is lower than what you bought at. The name of the game is knowing when to sell. Most of the time the sell price is relatively normal. It usually falls somewhere between 80 and 200 bells. The price you bought at usually ranges between 90 and 120 bells. So if you invest 100K bells you’ll probably net about 50% in profit or about 50K bells total, give or take. But every so often the buyer will offer a crazy high price like 600 bells. Enter predatory human capitalism.

Animal Crossing New Horizons Screenshot 2020-04-21 15-11-15Now you can play the right way and just buy and sell on your own island. Or you can play the smart way and buy and sell on whatever island you can get to with the best price. This week my island had a turnip selling price of 108 bells. That’s a pretty meh price all things considered, but it’s very normal. I didn’t buy on my island. Instead I went to the Discord and found an island selling turnips at 91 bells. I bought my turnips there. Then a day later my island was buying at 107 bells. Now if I had bought at 108 from my local vendor, that’s a losing price. I would absolutely have needed to wait for a better price later in the week and hope it eventually came. But since I bought at 91 bells on a different island, I could have turned a profit selling at 108 bells. I didn’t do that though, because it’s not smart and only mildly profitable. I found another island buying turnips at 621 bells. I sold there. I flipped 250K bells worth of turnips in less than 24 hours for a profit of about 1.6 million bells. Before that, the most money I had ever had at one time was 750K bells, which I earned from manual labor. I made more than double that in a fraction of the time. It’s a great way to get to the late game faster. It should be no surprise that islands that can offer those services are in high demand. And anything with a high demand can be used for profit. Even when used by Nintendo gamers.

Animal Crossing New Horizons Screenshot 2020-04-21 15-02-52Nintendo wanted people to interact with each other in friendly ways. They wanted people to help each other with the occasional friendly trade or visit for fruit. That’s not how people are playing the game though. People are using the benefits of their islands to make staggering profits. Here’s the scenario. Person A has invested one million bells into turnips at a price of 94 bells. That’s a good price. It’s also a big investment. Person A only has seven days to flip those turnips before they rot. If they aren’t sold in time, that’s one million bells down the drain in the form of 10,638 rotten turnips, which cannot be sold for anything. In fact, I think there’s even a fee to dispose of them. Person B has a vendor buying turnips at 600 bells. If Person A can manage to sell his 10,638 turnips at Person B’s island, he will net a profit of about 5,382,800 bells. Assuming he can flip those turnips at those prices on the first day, that’s more than five million bells made in less than 24 hours. Now Person B can choose to be a good Samaritan and just let Person A come sell at his/her island. But that doesn’t help Person B at all. Person B has to do some things in order to let Person A sell at their island. Person B has to be online the entire time it takes Person A to sell. If it takes multiple trips, because of carry inventory limits, then Person B has to wait around for Person A to make multiple trips. Person B can’t do much on their island while Person A is there, due to limitations set by Nintendo to make sure nothing nefarious happens like thefts or people being trapped on foreign islands. Person B also has Person C, Person D, and many other people also wanting to sell their turnips at 600 bells a piece. Person B will logically feel entitled to something in return for helping Person A make all those bells. And arguably Person B isn’t wrong.

Rotten TurnipsPerson A understands Person B’s situation and offers to share some of those bells or something else they might have that Person B wants in exchange for letting them sell their turnips at a profit. But Person C also wants to sell on Person B’s island. And Person B only has a limited amount of time before the turnip price changes. So Person C offers Person B more than what Person A offered. Now Person B is in a position of power. Person B can make demands. Person B can hold an auction. Person B has a supply that’s highly in demand. And Person B knows it.

I didn’t get to flip my turnips for free. I got to buy at 91 bells for free because I found a good Samaritan, but those are rare. Most people on the Discord are charging an entry fee to buy/sell turnips on their island, when the prices are good. And some of those fees are absolutely ridiculous. I had to pay a fee to sell my turnips at 621 bells. It cost me six Nook Miles Tickets (NMT) to travel to that island and sell my turnips. NMT are weird in the fact that their value is very relative. There are many different ways to qualify them. For whatever reason they have become the main currency in the Discord market. I think the best way to qualify them is based on the amount of manual labor it takes to acquire them. Without getting into the minutia of it, it’s fair to say that one NMT takes about 2 hours to acquire on average if we’re talking minimum earning rates. So six NMT equals about 12 hours of gameplay labor time on average, if you earned them honestly. I did not, but we’ll come to that later.

Animal Crossing New Horizons Screenshot 2020-04-21 14-59-16The point is that the owner of the island where I flipped my turnips charged me 12 hours of labor as an entry fee for something he did not earn. And I paid it happily. Because that was actually a really good price in the market. A large number of players charge astronomically high prices just for entry to their islands. 10 NMT is common. Rare materials and recipes, special items, and large numbers of bells are all common demands. The most ironic part being that they often refer to these taxes as “tips”, as if they’re optional. It’s a disgusting display of greed and opulence. But again, this is what happens when you’re in the mid game. Because you don’t want to be there so you do whatever it takes to get out as quickly as possible. And I am just as guilty as everyone else.

The problem with this predatory profiteering behavior in New Horizons is that it spreads like a virus. One person doing it leads to more people doing it because they all need to come up with fast ways to acquire the means of paying the entry fees to other players. I needed to flip my turnips. This required NMT. Now I could spend my Nook Miles and buy them, but as I said, that’s about two hours of labor per a ticket. It was much easier and more efficient to take part in my own greedy business dealings . . . and that’s exactly what I did.

Animal Crossing New Horizons Screenshot 2020-04-20 00-04-34Celeste is an NPC that occasionally visits your island at night. She visits maybe three times in a month at most. Every time you speak to her on a new date or island, you get a special rare recipe. There is a list of these rare recipes that can only be acquired from her or from someone else who acquired one from her. Some of her recipes are also seasonal, meaning you have a limited amount of time to acquire them before you have to wait an entire year to get them again. So being able to visit islands that have her is very high in demand. So high in fact that people will literally line up to visit them and happily pay a “modest” fee.  The night I bought my turnips, Celeste showed up at my island. I had already spent several hours trying to find an island that would let me sell my turnips at a good rate (600+ bells each) for a “fair” price. The demands were often atrocious. 10 NMT, super rare recipes, 5% of the total turnip earnings, and other ridiculous demands. It was a gross display of greed. Eventually I realized that I simply couldn’t afford to pay these entry fees if I did not also play the game in order to amass resources to pay them. So I too succumbed to the allure of predatory Capitalism.

Animal Crossing New Horizons Screenshot 2020-04-21 15-11-19I advertised on the Discord that I would let people come to my island to see Celeste for their choice of 99K bells (the minimum unit currently used in the market for passage to other islands), one NMT, or any number of rusted parts. Let’s be very clear what I was doing. I was charging people to come to my island to spend a few minutes with Celeste. Celeste is not part of my island. I did nothing to get her to come there. She just showed up for a visit and I trapped her there so I could sell visits to her off to needy strangers for personal gain. Essentially I participated in forced prostitution. Nobody’s going to call it that, but in reality that’s what it was. And it was damn profitable. In a span of just two hours, Celeste had serviced more than 20 customers. I amassed six NMT, four or five rusted parts, and enough money to pay off my second to last home loan (1.7 Million bells). Business was booming. The only reason I finally stopped pimping out Celeste was that it got to 3AM and I had to work the next day. Ultimately I used those six NMT I “earned” to pay for passage to sell my turnips. All of this was/is gross. It’s a disgusting display of greed, selfishness, and a complete lack of ethical business practices. Even Gordon Gekko would be ashamed. Yet so much of the player base is doing it, and they’re unapologetic about it.

Turnup ExchangeThe online business of New Horizons is so commonplace and so lucrative that someone created a website to help people manage their visitors. Turnip Exchange lets users post their island to a public list and automates the entire process of finding and queuing players to visit their islands. It’s scary how well it works and how realistic it is to real world business practices. It’s impersonal, it’s efficient, it’s Capitalism at its worst. Yet I played along. We all do. That’s just how the mid game is. You don’t want to be there and people are charging. So you have to charge in order to be able to pay the fees other players are charging. It’s an endless cycle of mindless consumption and greed. And it’s all happening with wholesome intentions. We all just want to build our dream islands and reach the late game. That desire has turned us all into monsters and ultimately the game is made worse for it. But I need to amass like 10M bells to accomplish everything I want, so what choice do I have?

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Ghost Recon: Breakpoint Terminator Event Review

I’ve never been a fan of the games as service model. It’s honestly crippled my experience with a lot of games. More specifically a lot of Ubisoft games since that’s become their staple model for games. The fact is that, like many if not most gamers, I’m severely backlogged. Like I have games I bought years ago that have never been opened. I’m not alone in this. It’s a common “problem” for gamers. Especially for those of us who buy in bulk during sales. Because of this, I rarely have the time or patience to go back to a game I’ve already “beaten”. I put the term beaten in quotes there because it’s hard to even declare a game beaten in the games as service model. That’s why “finished the main campaign” has become the more appropriate way to describe the experience of playing these games in the last several years.

Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon Breakpoint Screenshot 2020.01.31 - 23.00.30.95.pngI have played some great games from Ubisoft and missed out on much of the later released content, even though I basically always get the gold edition of their games. The Division is the best example of this for me. I think The Division was one of the best online cooperative experiences I’ve ever had. I had an active clan that played daily. We did everything. Beat every side mission, got every collectible, and dominated the dead zone. But eventually we all got bored and moved on to other games, as is normal for gamers. Then months after we had all moved on they started introducing new content. But we weren’t all in the same place at that point. Some of us did come back right away. Others never came back at all. I tried to go back in super late and it just didn’t work out. And I heard the newer content was really good. But I never really got to enjoy it. I was busy enjoying other games. This was my experience with The Division 2 as well, save for the fact that I never formally linked up with a clan in that one. It’s these sorts of experiences that have sort of ruined a number of great games for me because I always feel like I’m missing out on the content I paid for (Gold Editions). But I simply don’t have the time, or patience, to wait around in a game that is currently idle while waiting for new content. This is kind of why I’ve steered away from games as service titles as of late.

Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon Breakpoint Screenshot 2020.01.31 - 22.46.55.26.pngAll that being said, I started playing Ghost Recon: Breakpoint day one. I thoroughly enjoyed the campaign and side missions. I had a terrible experience with the raid, which did release while I was still playing the campaign, so I do at least commend Ubisoft for that. But once I was done with the campaign, I was pretty much done. I completed my time with Breakpoint at the very end of December. Since then I’ve completed six other games. January was a rather productive month for me. At the very end of January, almost exactly one month after I finished and moved on from Breakpoint, Ubisoft held the Terminator event. The trailer was/is very good. The marketing email I received was also very compelling, as many Ubisoft emails I receive for games I’m already playing/have played are. So I decided to jump back in. Breakpoint was still fairly fresh in my mind and I happen to be a big Terminator fan. But I have to say that the main reason I was compelled to jump back in was that I had literally just finished a game and hadn’t yet started my next one coupled with the fact that this was a limited time event. Those two factors just happened to line up perfectly. If either wasn’t true then I can’t honestly say that I would have given this event a shot. But I’m very glad I did.

Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon Breakpoint Screenshot 2020.02.02 - 22.17.00.49.pngThe Terminator event was really good. One of the best limited time events I’ve ever played in a shooter. I usually hate limited time events but this one handled things correctly and that’s what made it fun. The first thing I want to absolutely praise about the event is that it was short. I don’t mean short as in the amount of time it lasted. I mean short as in the amount of time it took to fully complete. There were 21 available rewards in this event plus two plot based guns. We were given nine days to finish the event (beat both the main missions and enough side missions to collect all 21 rewards) but it only took three days to actually accomplish this. And when I say three days, I don’t mean 72 hours. I mean three days of completing two daily missions a day plus the two main side quests. Overall this only took me about six to eight hours of actual play. And I consider that a good thing. This event wasn’t asking me for a new commitment. It was just asking me to visit an old friend for a little while. That made it enjoyable. I got to remember what I liked about the game without having to dive back in whole hog. The rewards were good. Mostly cosmetic, but stuff I actually enjoyed using. I bought those in-game store Terminator skins and used those Terminator shades. Are they useful? Not at all. Are they fun for old school movie nerds? Hell yeah!

Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon Breakpoint Screenshot 2020.02.01 - 04.02.07.15.pngIt was fun playing story missions that only took a few hours but that tied in directly to the Terminator narrative. It was interesting fighting Terminators and having to use a special gun to destroy them. It was cool having a boss fight where you pretty much fight Arnold Schwarzenegger by another name and haircut. It was a nice weekend experience. That’s the kind of content a backlogged gamer is comfortable going back into an already beaten game to do. No long winded commitment that’s gonna make me have to learn an entirely new gameplay scheme. No months long timed daily missions scenario. Just a nice story driven weekend where I get to shoot killer robots instead of run of the mill soldiers.

The story worked really well because it was based on an already well established IP. They didn’t need to explain too much about what was going on because everybody already knows how Terminator works. So they could quickly throw you into the action and let you start fighting killer robots immediately. It also fit really well with the fact that Breakpoint is already about fighting killer drones. This event also worked well because of the large map size. While most will agree that the Breakpoint map is way too big, this actually does make implementing events like this way easier. They can easily drop random stuff into the map without it being too noticeable to those who aren’t interested in playing the events. They could drop Decipticons into the map and there’s still a good chance you might never see one.

Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon Breakpoint Screenshot 2020.01.31 - 22.09.59.64.pngMy only real complaint about this event was the microtransactions content. There were a few skins I really wanted that required spending real money to get even when I have the gold edition of the game. I didn’t buy them but I have to say that this was the first instance where I actually took issue with microtransactions in Breakpoint. Up to this point I always felt the complaints were unnecessary because they didn’t actually affect the gameplay experience that much. And while sure they didn’t affect actual gameplay in this instance either, a Terminator event where cosmetic Terminator stuff is locked behind an additional paywall is pretty much the equivalent of affecting gameplay, in my opinion. But that also comes down more to the limited selection of Terminator cosmetics available without using microtransactions. If there were more skins than just Terminators available at no additional cost then I wouldn’t care so much that I couldn’t get things like a Kyle Reese skin.

While I absolutely loved this event and would most likely play more like it, I have to say that the game as a whole is still riddled with glitches. Even after 12 GB of patches and updates before starting the event, I still experienced a ton of problems. My entire experience with the final boss of the event was odd because the boss room didn’t even render for me. I was walking around only able to see enemies and completely blind to the room’s layout. It’s a wonder I got through the mission at all. Joining up with other players is still a lot of trouble. The fact that there was no event specific matchmaking options was quite annoying but I actually did end up doing some co-op play for the event missions a couple times anyway.

Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon Breakpoint Screenshot 2020.02.02 - 01.52.45.56.pngAll in all, I consider the Terminator event to have been rather successful. It’s certainly the type of content I’d like to see more of and the way it was managed was very convenient and accessible. I have never gone back in and tried to do the raid again but if they keep doing events like this then I can definitely see myself returning to Breakpoint every so often for more short term events.

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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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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.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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Chewie Finally Gets a Medal (Star War Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker Review)

WARNING: This is not a spoiler-free review. If anything this is more a discussion piece meant to be read post viewing rather than a traditional film review. Many spoilers ahead. You have been warned.

I saw Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope for the first time in 1997 when it was rereleased to theaters. Greedo shot first! I was eight years old. Without warning my mother took me and my younger sisters to see this movie. To this day I still don’t know why she took us to see it. She’s not a sci-fi fan. My sisters aren’t sci-fi fans. I believe she just thought I would like the movie and decided to force herself and her two young daughters to sit through it for my benefit. In any case, I absolutely loved the movie and became a Star Wars nerd. To this day A New Hope is still my favorite Star Wars movie of all time.

A New HopeI consider myself a classic Star Wars fan. I believe in the canon. I believe in the established rules of the universe. I have taken the time to learn a lot about Star Wars outside the movies. I don’t hate the prequels but I’m happy to admit that they’re bad. I do hate Revenge of the Sith and I don’t know why people defend it. I was angered by The Force Awakens. I had massive problems with that film and to date I have never watched it a second time. But I do not hate the film. It has tons of problems, but honestly I believe most of them could be corrected with a few minor changes. Maybe one day that movie will get the George Lucas style patch treatment and become decent. I absolutely loathe The Last Jedi. I don’t even consider it a Star Wars film. It’s the most insulting, condescending movie ever made within an established IP built around a developed universe with fairly well defined rules. It left me so bitter that I considered not watching Episode IX, for just a second. My wife was so unhappy with The Last Jedi that she refused to pay money to see it in theater and had me go watch it alone so I could let her know how it is. She plans to watch it at home when it’s available for streaming.

Given how I felt about Episodes VII and VIII, I was very apprehensive going into The Rise of Skywalker. I expected it to be bad. Let me clarify, I didn’t think that highly of J.J. Abrams before he made The Force Awakens. I liked Super 8, but I wasn’t amazed by it. I enjoyed his Star Trek films as much as any diehard Star Wars fan can enjoy them. But to say that I turned on him because of Episode VII would be a false statement, because I wasn’t with him to begin with. Rian Johnson I had even less of an opinion on than Abrams. I liked The Brothers Bloom. I did not like Looper. I haven’t seen anything else by him. So my judgment of these latest Star Wars films has nothing to do with the directors/writers and everything to do with Star Wars and Star Wars alone. And to be clear I’m speaking as someone who has a B.A. in Cinema Studies and believes that the original Star Wars script (the original pitch script not the shooting script) is one of the worst screenplays ever written by an employed member of the Hollywood film industry. George Lucas is an abominable writer in his own right. So please don’t read my judgments as comments made with rose-tinted glasses.

The Force AwakensAs I have already said, this is NOT a spoiler free review, but I am taking the time to warn you one more time before we get into the real meat and potatoes of Star Wars Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker. For those who haven’t seen the film, go see the film. I highly recommend it. For the rest of you who will continue reading, let’s get down to business.

I’d like to start by presenting my rankings of the nine mainline Star Wars films as it currently stands.

  1. Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope
  2. Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back
  3. Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi
  4. Star Wars Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker
  5. Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace
  6. Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones
  7. Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens
  8. Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith
  9. Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi

Look at that list again. I ranked The Rise of Skywalker fourth best. That’s basically the highest praise I could possibly give any Star Wars movie not in the original trilogy. I need you to understand how impressed I am with J.J. Abrams after watching that movie. He made a movie I ranked third from the bottom, let some joker follow his movie with the worst of the worst, and then jumped to the highest possible rank that anyone could ever hope to achieve outside of George Lucas himself building a time machine, going back to 1977, and ruining the original trilogy. I was so impressed with Episode IX that I hope they never make another Star Wars film, because no future film, possibly from any IP, will ever hit me as positively on an emotional level as The Rise of Skywalker did. I’ve watched 11 different feature length live action Star Wars films. I’ve only cried in The Rise of Skywalker, and I cried multiple times. This ladies and gentlemen is a real Star Wars film. Now allow me to tell you why.

Rey cryingI’ve thought long and hard about this and I’ve come to two conclusions about Star Wars films. The first is that Star Wars films are not actually for children and haven’t been since Return of the Jedi. They are marketed as for children, as Disney wants it to be so, but this is inaccurate. At most they are child friendly, as in children can safely watch them without parents having to worry about the content shown, but they are not for children. Star Wars movies are for adults. The only real topic of debate is which adults are they actually for? The second, more important conclusion, is that good Star Wars films, at least in the mainline sagas, are not good films. In fact, I will go as far as saying that it’s fairly impossible to make a good film that’s also a good Star Wars film.

I have a Bachelor of Arts in Cinema Studies. I know a hell of a lot about “good film making”. I know why the movie that makes the most money every year almost never wins the Oscar for Best Picture. I know why established paid film critics grade a film one way and then the audience grades it completely opposite. It’s because the established conventions of traditional quality film making are very clearly defined over several decades of intentional implementation. The problem, if it can be called that, with the textbook definition of good film making is that it almost directly opposes good Star Wars film making. A New Hope was considered good film making at the time of release because it revolutionized special effects, established the modern sci-fi genre, and possibly began the modern day blockbuster film system. But it’s also full of hacky writing, plot holes, and it’s fairly predictable. I’m not saying these are bad things. I’ve already stated that A New Hope is my favorite Star Wars film. I’m just acknowledging the fact that even the very first Star Wars film isn’t an example of “good film making”. The fact that every single film in the mainline nine has the line “I have a bad felling about this” should tell you everything you need to know about the quality of Star Wars films in comparison to movies that most people agree are just objectively good movies. Because again, good Star Wars movies aren’t the same thing as good movies and vice versa.

Return of the JediWhat makes a good Star Wars film? This is the question that has plagued writers and directors since 1983. Possibly 1980, if you’re one of those Return of the Jedi nay-sayers. I believe that the question is hard to answer because the question isn’t framed correctly. The question shouldn’t be what makes a good Star Wars film. The question should actually be “What is the goal of a Star Wars film post 1983?” The answer to that question ultimately shapes how a person approaches making a Star Wars film in 2019. Disney would say the goal of a Star Wars film is to captivate and excite new audiences to the franchise with a focus on children and non-nerd females with the understanding that the established audience is already established and thus will go see the movies regardless of how they are. If this is your thought process going in then it makes sense that you would do things like ignore established canon, create Mary Sue characters, and shit on old favorites, and their fans, by doing things like killing off Han Solo in the opening film of the saga. In my opinion, it’s not that Episodes VII and VIII were made incorrectly. It’s that their objectives were wrong to begin with.

I vehemently disagree with Disney’s answer to the question “What is the goal of a Star Wars film post 1983?” As an old school Star Wars fan, I believe the goal of post 1983 Star Wars films should be to create films that continue to prop up the original trilogy as the greatest films in the series while rewarding fans for their long-term loyalty to the franchise. If that’s your mindset, you’ll make a much different film than you would going in with Disney’s goals. Now obviously the goals I’ve stated as correct Star Wars filmmaking aren’t nearly as lucrative in the long term. They aren’t going to expand the franchise’s market nearly as much. They aren’t going to appeal to outsiders at all. It’s simply not as profitable on paper. That’s not to say that Star Wars films can’t work to expand audiences while accomplishing these goals. It’s just to say that the expansion will be much more tempered and not nearly as fast. I think the way a good Star Wars film expands the franchise’s market is by including moments that get new audiences interested in checking out the older films. Episode IX absolutely takes the time to do that. The best example of this is the inclusion of and dialog surrounding the character and legend of Lando Calrissian. The movie goes out of its way to make you like Lando, show you that everyone knows and respects Lando because of events in the past, and establish that Lando’s character could still do even more. So when you leave the movie, if you don’t already know who Lando was prior to Episode IX, you will leave wanting to know more about him and that will encourage you to go back and watch the original trilogy. That’s how you expand the Star Wars audience while still making good Star Wars films. The reason The Rise of Skywalker works is because it understands the goals of making a good Star Wars film, while its two direct predecessors don’t.

Rogue OneRogue One is an objectively good movie. It has good characters, solid character interactions and development, real stakes, and a surprising ending. Or at least it would be surprising if it didn’t have the name Star Wars attached to it. You could have easily released that film and never connected it to Star Wars and it would have been just as well received. Maybe even more so. But in my opinion it’s a terrible Star Wars film. It accomplishes literally nothing other than taking people’s money in exchange for telling them a story they already knew going in. There is nothing of consequence shown in Rogue One. No characters that actually matter are shown, save for cameos of Darth Vader and Moff Tarkin. No information that we didn’t already know that has any long term consequence to the Star Wars film universe is given. It’s basically Star Wars fan fiction. That’s why I didn’t like that the film was made. It’s a good film but it’s a bad Star Wars film. It doesn’t include any of the things that make Star Wars movies Star Wars movies. Again save for the cameo of Darth Vader at the end.

The problem with The Force Awakens is that J.J. Abrams refused to commit to a side. He tried to make both a good film and a good Star Wars film. As a real Star Wars fan, it feels like he was talking to a room full of people that we were invited to enter but he wasn’t actually talking to us. He simply included us in the room because it seemed like the right thing to do. That’s why it’s a bad Star Wars film, but it’s still absolutely a Star Wars film. The Last Jedi on the other hand isn’t a Star Wars film at all because Rian Johnson did commit to a side. It just happens to be the incorrect side for making good Star Wars films. Watching Episode VIII is so angering for old school Star Wars fans because it feels like we weren’t even invited into the room. He was absolutely not talking to us at all. He just wanted to make a good film that people with no background in Star Wars would enjoy and connect with. He even went as far as saying that he wasn’t trying to do Star Wars in an interview. He wanted to do something completely different. I believe he made the wrong choice and that’s why I ranked his film at the very bottom of the totem pole. I will however commend him for at least committing to a side. I would rather see a director make a hard decision and risk the entire franchise being destroyed then see one fence sit and pretend to make a good Star Wars film while really just trying to cater to his/her Disney overlords.

Lando Episode 9The Rise of Skywalker succeeds where The Force Awakens fails because J.J. Abrams finally committed to making a good Star Wars film. Watching it didn’t just feel like Star Wars fans were invited into the room. It felt like everyone else was asked to leave the room and he was only talking to us true fans, occasionally inviting Rian Johnson in for a stern lecture about following the rules of Star Wars. That’s what makes it a good Star Wars film. That’s not to say that the film is perfect. It’s absolutely not. I have a number of notes. For instance, the film goes out of its way to pander to Black viewers. So much so that it made me uncomfortable and I am an African American. A Black female character, not the first in the film with a speaking role, is introduced fairly a ways in. The only two characters she talks to for the entire rest of the movie are Finn and Lando, the only two Black male characters with speaking roles on the rebellion side. Her exchange with Finn came off like a weird callback to slavery and the exchange with Lando makes absolutely no sense. They defeat Emperor Palpatine and the first person she talks to is the old Black guy? And after talking to him for less than 60 seconds they decide to go off on a new adventure together? That’s not how Black people interact. Because that’s not how people interact.

There are plenty of other flaws I could list. Like why was Babu Frik in the ship with Zorii Bliss at the final battle? It would make no sense and has never been established that high level engineers just jump into battle ships to go along for the ride. Like he’s literally just standing on the dashboard looking cute. The movie is definitely flawed. But none of the flaws I mentioned make it a bad Star Wars film. They make it a politically questionable one. And, as with all Star Wars films, not a good film in general. But as far as Star Wars films go, the flaws don’t detract from the movie.

Jannah and Finn WorkIf I had to sum up why The Rise of Skywalker is a great Star Wars film in one sentence that sentence would be “Chewie finally got a medal.” Leia dies and leaves a medal from A New Hope to Chewbacca. This adds literally nothing to the story in this film. It doesn’t affect the plot in any way and if you completely removed that scene it would change nothing to the non-Star Wars fan viewer. But it’s one of the most important moments in the entire post 1983 franchise for real Star Wars fans. A New Hope was an amazing film that featured no non-White humans. Not one. So in a weird way Chewbacca filled this sort of every other man role for minority viewers and pretty much anyone who wasn’t a straight white guy with short hair. Now later we, as in Black people, got Lando. But pretty much anyone who couldn’t identify with a straight white guy or girl in A New Hope only got Chewie or a droid. And no one identifies with the droids. At the end of A New Hope you’ve watched a pretty much perfect movie and the best Star Wars movie that has ever and will ever be made and the heroes get medals but for some reason, that to this day I still don’t know the answer to, Chewbacca gets snubbed. He just doesn’t get a medal. No explanation. No answer. He stands on the stage and just doesn’t get a medal. For more than 40 years real Star Wars fans, of all races, have complained about the fact that Chewie didn’t get a medal in A New Hope. J.J. Abrams making the choice to feature that scene where Chewie gets a medal from Leia is exactly what post 1983 Star Wars is supposed to be. It’s supposed to be referential, nostalgic, and self-aware. And that’s exactly what The Rise of Skywalker is.

A New Hope MedalI cried multiple time while watching Episode IX. Not a single tear was shed due to some emotional sympathy for any of the characters. Not a single tear was because the narrative was so powerful and emotionally moving. Every tear I shed was a tear of nostalgia. The movie is 142 minutes of J.J. Abrams apologizing to real Star Wars fans for the last two films by acknowledging and rewarding them for 42 years of dedicated service as fans. They brought Lando back. They brought Han back. They brought Palpatine back. This was the first time since 1983 that all the original heroes appeared in the same movie. Luke, Leia, Han, Lando, R2D2, C-3P0, presumably Obi-Wan Kenobi and Yoda’s voices, and the Millennium Falcon all appeared in the same movie 36 years after the last time that happened. Of course I cried in that movie. It’s not particularly original, and it’s not supposed to be. The plot has twists but ultimately isn’t too unpredictable, and it’s not supposed to be. It’s not an example of generally good film making, and it’s not supposed to be. What it’s supposed to be is Star Wars, and that’s exactly what it was. Apology accepted J.J. Abrams. You’ve earned my forgiveness, because you did your research and listened.

I haven’t actually read any of the other reviews for Episode IX but I’ve seen the headlines and it’s very divided. Now I don’t really see how an OG Star Wars fan could not like this movie. Because it’s basically a movie made to clean up the messes made in the last two films. When viewed from that framework I don’t really know how it could have been any better other than nitpicky issues like the ones I brought up already. It’s literally made for us. And that starts from the beginning of the film. In fact, the movie goes out of its way multiple times to trick you into thinking that it’s going to be another The Force Awakens and then flips it on you to let you know that they actually listened this time. In the first 10 minutes of the film Poe light speed skips the Millennium Falcon. Now any traditional Star Wars fan knows that YOU’RE NOT ALLOWED TO DO THAT. Why? Because the late, great Han Solo said that you’re not allowed to rush light speed travel back in 1977 when Luke suggested it. So seeing it in the opening minutes of the film was really jarring. Until you realize why it happened. As soon as they land the Falcon, Rey who wasn’t with Poe and Finn in that light speed skipping scene, shows up and the first thing she says is “You can’t light speed skip the Millennium Falcon.” This is one of many important meta moments in the film. They’re intentional and they matter. These are moments where J.J. Abrams is acknowledging that the last two films got it wrong, that the rules actually do matter, and that when they’re not adhered to that needs to be addressed and apologized for in some way.

finn and poeAnother big example of the film acknowledging and apologizing to the true fans was the faux death of Chewbacca. You spend about 10 – 15 minutes thinking Chewbacca is dead and it’s an angry 10 – 15 minutes. It’s like a consider walking out of the theater in disgust 10 – 15 minutes. But then it’s revealed that actually he’s alive, he gets saved, and he gets a medal. I believe this was an apology for killing off Han in such a vainglorious way in The Force Awakens. And bringing his ghost back to redeem Ben Solo was exactly what I needed to see happen. So was Ben dying at the end of the movie. Him turning back to the light side was great. Him giving up his life and saving Rey was great. Rey kissing him was great in such a meta way. But he still needed to die. Because you don’t get to just kill Han Solo. Again J.J. Abrams, apology accepted.  So my assumption is that the negative reviews aren’t from old school Star Wars fans, save for those who disliked VII and VIII so much that they just refuse to enjoy Episode IX regardless of how good it is, but from new agers who actually liked Episodes VII and VIII. I understand how those people could hate Episode IX because it basically fixes most of the things wrong in VII as best as it could and pretty much erases VIII. Like there are multiple moments where the movie openly shits on The Last Jedi, and I loved every second of it. Like the fact that Rey is Palpatine’s granddaughter was just the best reveal ever after that garbage orphan nonsense in The Last Jedi. Screw the broom boy. I don’t care about him.

last-jedi-broom-kidAs I said at the beginning, I hope they don’t make more mainline Star Wars films. I know they will but I don’t want them to. But since they will, I hope Disney and future directors takeaway the key lessons that this saga and this individual film have hopefully taught us all. Star Wars is not about gender. A woman can be the protagonist or a man can be the protagonist. It doesn’t matter. What matters is the rules surrounding the Force and how that person navigates them. To say Rey was disliked because she’s a woman is dishonest and inaccurate. Rey was disliked because she didn’t adhere to the established rules of the Force. She also had some attitude problems. I particularly liked that her main takeaway in The Rise of Skywalker was that she couldn’t do it alone. She spends the whole movie getting her ass metaphorically kicked until she finally accepts that she has to trust her friends and let them help her. Star Wars isn’t about sexuality, unless we’re talking about bloodlines being built up for the next generation of great Force users. In general, characters can be gay or straight. It doesn’t matter because that’s not, nor should it be, the focus of Star Wars. I was really happy with how tasteful their inclusion of a lesbian couple in Episode IX was. It’s not talked about. It’s not focused on. It’s simply shown in a celebration scene and then they move on, like normal people would in a story that has nothing to do with sexuality

Star Wars can and should include everybody, but it shouldn’t change to suit the whims and desires of anybody. Star Wars shouldn’t focus on or justify anybody specifically because of their race, gender, or sexuality. Star Wars is a universe of rules. As the long as the rules are followed, the rest of the stuff doesn’t really matter one way or another. And thankfully all the rules only concern how the Force works, who gets to use it and to what level, the limitations of technology, and respecting established canon. Other than that, have at it. Make a Black Jedi. Make a gay Sith Lord. Make a trans rebel commander. It doesn’t actually matter. Because if we’re talking about that then the movies have already gone too far by focusing on those things when that has nothing to do with Star Wars. Nobody in the movies ever calls Lando Black. He just is Black and that should be good enough for Black viewers. And it was for Black viewers in 1980.

Mace Windu PurpleStar Wars is about good vs evil and good always wins in the end. But good doesn’t win because it’s stronger. It wins because those on the side of good are stronger together. The climactic scene near the end when Lando shows up with an armada of random ships was beautiful because that’s exactly what Star Wars is supposed to be about. I especially liked the line delivered by the Final Order Commander’s first mate when asked where this navy from. He says “It’s not a navy sir, it’s just people.” That’s what Star Wars is actually about. It’s not that everyone is an epic hero that gets to lead an army or wield the Force. It’s about how while there are some people who stand above everyone else, everyone else has a role to play and even if we don’t know their names, they’re just as important because good only wins when everyone helps. That’s why we don’t need random people sprouting up around the galaxy being the next great Jedi. Because that’s not their role. But that in no way diminishes the fact that they are needed for good to triumph over evil. For most people, that’s your role in Star Wars. And if you have a problem with that, the problem is with you, not Star Wars.

Rey Star WarsIn conclusion, Star Wars Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker was a roaring success. It was everything I wanted from the final act of this saga and more than I expected from it. J.J Abrams has redeemed himself as a Star Wars director in my eyes and I’m glad that I’m able to say that. If you’ve read this far, I commend you. If you’ve read this far and haven’t seen the movie, I hope you now choose to go see it. Thank you for reading and may the force of others be with you. Sorry scratch that. That’s actually the garbage original phrase that was written in the first draft of the original Star Wars screenplay by George Lucas. What I meant to say was May the Force be with You.

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