Happy Bloggiversary 2018 (5 Years and Going Strong)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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2018 List

 

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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.
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Is there a Social Contract in Cooperative Gaming?

Disclaimer: This is not a post about social justice, safe spaces, or toxicity in gaming and/or the gaming community. I know in today’s troubled times titles like this automatically make people think about politics in gaming. This post has nothing to do with any of that. I just used the title I felt was appropriate based on the actual definitions of words.

If you’ve been reading my blog or following me on Twitter for a while then you know I hate multiplayer games. I hate that the industry is steadily moving towards always online shared world experiences. I hate that end game is all but a thing of the past. I hate that DLC is the new normal and that it’s getting to the point where I can’t just buy a fully finished game that gets to a hard plot based end point and then is just over so I can move on to the next game. I like single player games. I like the solitude of gaming alone. I like being able to fully complete a game without relying on participation from other people.

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Games like Destiny, The Division, and I’m sure in the future Anthem irritate me because they require me to interact with and rely on other people to get a complete experience. Possibly even more irritating is that so often they try to pretend like that’s not the case. But anyone who has actually played any of these games knows that it is absolutely always the case. Sure you can play these games alone. But you can’t really beat them in a normal amount of time at a normal level of play. Sure some people can solo raids, but that’s not normal nor the intended way the developers design raids to be played. You can make a clan/league, set it to private, and not let anyone else join. But the chances of you being able to do enough on your own to get valuable league challenge rewards are infinitesimally small. In so many games today, you are forced to play and coordinate with other players. Even mobile games have leagues now.

When I play a game, I play to reach the end. I don’t just play games arbitrarily as long as I’m “having fun”. I don’t just start games and say I’ll play till I get bored. I take my gaming seriously. Starting a game for me is a commitment. I commit to reaching the end. And if I don’t know if I want to reach the end, I don’t play the game. I certainly don’t buy the game. This has become extremely difficult in a world where end game means the game has no clearly defined ending. What I now do is set end goals for myself and stop playing once I’ve achieved that. I got the platinum trophy in Skyrim. That’s when I stopped playing.  There was plenty more to do, but I had achieved my chosen goal and then stopped playing. I reached prestige level one in Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood multiplayer. I could have kept going. You can get all the way to prestige level 99. But that wasn’t my end goal. I’ve had to set my own clearly defined but ultimately arbitrary end goals more and more over the years.

Destiny2Clan

The end goal idea works fine for me in scenarios where my gameplay experience isn’t tied to other people via clan/league. But recently this has become more and more a necessity in many games. When clans first became a thing back in the OG Halo days, you didn’t have to participate. If you really liked multiplayer and didn’t like playing with randoms, joining a clan was a sensible option to fix this problem. But over time it has pretty much become a requirement in a lot of games in multiple genres. Take something like Injustice 2 where you get league rewards. This concept forces you to join and participate in a league or lose out on a steady stream of what can be really good rewards if your league is strong and active. A lot of games go out of their way to promote interaction among league members. Even mobile games with leagues now have built in chat functions, rewards for participating every day, and a number of other incentives to make you play cooperatively and actively with other people. This poses a problem for me.

I don’t particularly like playing games with other people online, but I take the commitment of joining an online team/community very seriously. When I join a clan, I’m part of that clan. I’m not just there to leech off other people without contributing. I contribute and I take my ability to contribute seriously. I make it a point to be as active as possible, contribute to the team goals/challenges as much as I can, and I don’t just abandon the league when a better option presents itself. Only in extreme circumstances will I change clans in a game. In fact, in the last 10 years I can only remember doing it one time. And there’s a long story behind why that happened. The problem for me in this scenario becomes ending the game. As I said, I always have an end goal. I’m not just playing to play. And even when I join a clan it’s in pursuit of that end goal. It’s not that I want to join. It’s that I believe joining will get me closer to my end goal faster and more efficiently. And it does. But when I reach my end goal I’m still part of a league.

Injustice 2 mobile league

I get angry when people just drop out of leagues for no reason. Especially when they’re an active player that makes a great contribution. When they suddenly just exit the league or stop playing without saying anything, it genuinely irritates me. Because the league was relying on that player. All the members helped that player obtain rewards that couldn’t be acquired as a solo player and in turn relied on that player to do the same in return. So when a person just drops out with no warning it feels like getting robbed. At least that’s how it feels to me. And I don’t want to make other people feel that way. But what happens when I reach my end goal for a game?

COD clan

This is a big issue for me right now. I’m in leagues in games that I’ve already completed for my purposes. But I don’t feel right just abandoning all those other players who have come to rely on my contributions as a strong, active member of the league. But it’s still my time and effort. So what am I supposed to do in this situation? Do I keep playing until the league gets strong enough to not need me anymore? Do I keep playing till the league collapses for whatever reason so I don’t feel beholden to anyone? Do I just quit without saying anything because screw everyone else as long as I’m happy? I genuinely don’t know the correct answer to this question. All I know is that I’m involved in games that I don’t want to be involved in anymore but I don’t want to abandon people who have invested time and effort into helping me because I feel like I owe them in exchange for that assistance.

Do gamers have a social contract with each other when they join clans? Is there an unspoken social responsibility to support those who have supported you in games and come to rely on your support? How do you leave a league?

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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.

Where My Demos At?

I have spent my life being told lies like “technology will make life better, easier, and more convenient”. Hardware manufacturers have spent years telling me crap like “you have to pay extra for online services so we can provide the best user experience”. Yet looking back through the years, I’m of the opinion that in many ways things are worse now than they were when I was a kid. Rather than spend an eternity looking at every relevant topic in this discussion, let’s just look at the one most relevant this week. I’m of course talking about game demos.

This past week was Gamescom. I like Gamescom. I think it’s a good concept. Much better than E3 in my opinion. It’s open to the public. It’s not nearly as focused on press conferences. Actual gameplay footage and demos are a much bigger focus at this show. I have beef though. My problem isn’t actually with Gamescom. It’s with the fact that I’m expected to travel all the way to Germany just to play a 10 minute game demo for games that are coming out less than a year from now. Back in the day, this was totally unacceptable. If you grew up in the pre-online gaming era, you remember how hard it was to distribute game demos. You had to go to a local store to try games. Or you had to buy a game and they attached a disc with other demos on it. Or stores gave out demo discs. Some magazine subscriptions came with demo discs for you to try. All of these methods were troublesome, inconvenient, and costly for publishers. And yet they did them, a majority of the time. Very few AAA titles were released back in the day without a demo being available somewhere. The prospect of asking people to pay $50+ dollars for a game without them being able to try it first was laughable. No one was that stupid. Now we’re all that stupid and games cost more (when you factor in DLC and special editions).

demo disc ps1

There’s no excuse for every game not to have a playable demo in 2018. Especially every AAA game. We have the technology. They can do timed beta tests that last only a matter of hours all conducted digitally. They can patch your games and change things about them while you’re playing other games. So someone please explain to me why I have to fly all the way to Germany to try out Devil May Cry V. There were countless games shown at Gamescom for multiple platforms with fully playable demos. They could release just what was shown as playable for Cyberpunk 2077 and people would pay for it. That beta footage looked better than many games released this year. So why couldn’t I play it from my house on my PC or PS4? I’m not saying just leave it out there indefinitely. But there’s no legitimate reason why they couldn’t have released a timed beta demo for the length of Gamescom for many of the games shown.

Where we’re at technologically is way ahead of where we’re at logistically. Spider-Man is out less than two weeks from today. It’s been gold since late July. Why isn’t there a demo? We have the technology and have for more than a generation. Yet demos are rarer today than they ever have been. Betas might be more plentiful, but that’s not the same thing and really only applies to online multiplayer games in a majority of cases. There’s no excuse for it. Consumers have a right to try software before they pay $60+ dollars for it. Yet all major platforms no longer provide demos for AAA games most of the time. Steam has the two hour return policy, so you can kind of demo anything, which is great. But that’s not officially a demo. And it doesn’t help console players at all.

spiderman ps4 demo

Now there are of course some valid arguments about why a studio wouldn’t release beta content to the public. But in my book it’s hypocritical to let anyone play demos of a game at that point. Why does being press or having the money to travel to Germany magically make a person more worthy of playing incomplete game demos? Don’t let anyone outside the company play them if they aren’t ready to be played by the public. At least that would be fair. The current system is full of unfair bias while ignoring the technological capabilities we’ve had available for at least two gens of gaming.

I don’t blame studios/publishers though. I mean it’s definitely their fault, but we’re just as much to blame. When it was least convenient to distribute demos, we got them for most games. Now when it’s most convenient to distribute them, and moderate them as well, we get fewer than we’ve gotten since like the SNES. We let that happen. We allowed companies to stop putting out demos. I remember about half way through the PS3 era when I started noticing that AAA demos were becoming noticeably rarer. And very few people were talking about it. The public just let it happen, like we always do with gaming industry bullshit. We should have been more diligent.

dmc v demo

I want to see shows like Gamescom, Tokyo Gameshow, and E3 become more interactive for the public not in attendance. Any demo that’s available for the public to try at these shows should also be made available to the public at home for the duration of the show. I shouldn’t have to watch some asshole at (insert your least or most favorite gaming journalist firm here) play a game in order for me to make a buying decision. Let me test drive the car for myself, like we always did back in the day. It’s time consumers stop complaining about bullshit that doesn’t matter and exercise our power for things that actually make sense to complain about. This is one of those things that actually matters.

Here’s a list of just some of the demos we should have gotten to play last week or earlier, all of which will be released in less than a year.

  1. Darksiders III
  2. Shadow of the Tomb Raider
  3. Kingdom Hearts III
  4. JUMP FORCE (I actually played this at a PlayStation event nearly a month ago.)
  5. Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice
  6. Devil May Cry V
  7. Spider-Man (I actually played this at a PlayStation event nearly a month ago.)
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How to Watch Star Wars Episode IX

Recently they announced a lot of details about the upcoming Star Wars Episode IX. We know it will be released December 2019. We know that Luke, Lando, Chewbacca, and through the magic of editing, Leia, will all be returning in this “final” installment of the Skywalker epic. We know the new players will all be returning including Rey, Finn, Kylo, Poe, and Rose. On some level I think we can be thankful that it’s being written and directed by J.J. Abrams instead of Rian Johnson. We can be almost certain that this will not be the last Star Wars film, because Disney gonna Disney. But it may possibly be the last “Episode” in the current timeline. Most predictably, we know a lot of people are going to be unhappy with the movie, no matter what happens.

I don’t believe the movie will tank like Solo did. What do I mean by that? Solo tanked in the fact that it didn’t make as much money as was expected. That’s what tanking a Star Wars film is for Disney. Review scores don’t matter. The Rotten Tomatoes score doesn’t matter. Awards don’t matter. Even the general opinion of the public on social media doesn’t really matter to Disney in reference to this specific franchise anymore. All that matters is ticket sales. At this point, it’s an almost unsalvageable franchise critically because of all the bad blood. But that doesn’t mean it can’t still be a profitable franchise. And that’s why they’ll keep making Star Wars movies. Solo did badly because people boycotted it because of Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi. Solo actually wasn’t terrible. I enjoyed it. It wasn’t A New Hope, but I left the theater entertained and didn’t regret having spent the money to see it. And I truly believe that most people who actually watched the movie felt that way. The low scores and ticket sales were in response to The Last Jedi and not a legitimate indicator of Solo or what people actually thought of it. So the question is will this same responsive smear campaign and boycott happen to Star Wars Episode IX? I say yes and no.

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Yes, there will be a smear campaign against Star Wars Episode IX. That will happen. It will get fabricated review scores that lower its IMDB and Rotten Tomatoes scores. People will complain about Disney and feminism, mistreating the Skywalkers, and everything else the internet likes to complain about in reference to the latest saga. But no I do not believe there will be a legitimate boycott the way things went for Solo. Solo was an easy movie to boycott because you could get away with not watching it. It’s the same thing with Rogue One. These side films, whether they’re good or terrible, don’t really matter. They don’t tell you any information that you absolutely needed to know to follow the general plot of Star Wars. When you walked out of Rogue One and Solo, literally nothing had changed. You aren’t in any way surprised or moved by the things you saw. And that’s the intention of those movies. To get people to pay Disney more money without impacting the main timeline of the Star Wars franchise. And technically it works. Rogue One did very well and most people said good things about it. But they’re both still inconsequential films to the franchise. This will not be the case with Episode IX.

Whether you hated Episodes VII and VIII or you loved them, if you’re a real Star Wars fan you paid to go see them. That’s the entire con of making a continuous franchise. Once you’re committed, you’re committed. I think Suicide Squad was terrible. I think Batman vs. Superman was terrible. I think Justice League was average at best. I think the Shazam trailer looks like trash. I’m still gonna pay to go see it. And that’s the game. Star Wars Episode IX matters. Not only is it the last film in the current saga, but it’s also supposedly the last Skywalker focused film, and it’s the very last film Carrie Fischer/Princess Leia will ever be in. And Billy Dee Williams, arguably the coolest (as in smooth and memorable as opposed to awesome) actor/character in the original trilogy, if not the entire Star Wars universe, is finally returning. All Star Wars people are going to go see it. Even the ones who absolutely hate the current saga, hate Disney for “ruining” Star Wars, hate feminism, hate minorities, and hate J.J. Abrams for The Force Awakens are still going to go see this movie. At the very least, everyone wants closure. People might completely stop supporting Star Wars and never sit through another film in the franchise again after they watch Episode IX, but they are certainly going to go watch it none the less, because people need an ending. The Matrix Reloaded (2003) sucked. We still went to see The Matrix Revolutions (2003). It’s for that reason that I don’t think Star Wars Episode IX will tank. It will almost assuredly get bad reception from the public. It will most likely get low scores on IMDB and Rotten Tomatoes. But unlike Solo, it will make lots of money.

Lando-Calrissian-Cloud-City-Administrator

So if we can all accept that we’re going to see the movie, let’s instead talk about how we should see the movie. We have more than a year to prepare ourselves for this last installment of the Skywalker family tree. Let’s get to it now so it doesn’t have to be a bloodbath during Christmas season 2019. Here are my thoughts on the current saga. I didn’t like The Force Awakens. I had tons of problems with it and how it ignored longstanding Star Wars canon. I felt like it was a lazy almost beat for beat remake of A New Hope, with a diverse cast and a female protagonist. I didn’t have a problem with the diverse cast. I didn’t have a problem with the female protagonist. But I had a lot of issues with the blatant disregard for the established rules of the Star Wars universe. But I was able to leave the film assuming that Rey was a Skywalker so at least I could justify a lot of her bullshit by saying well she’s a Skywalker so at least we know why she’s unjustifiably great at everything she does. But Rian Johnson took that justification away in The Last Jedi. I did not like The Last Jedi, but it was admittedly the best looking Star Wars film ever made. But the rules were pretty much all disregarded and thrown aside for some agenda that I still can’t really grasp or justify in my head. And Luke dies in the laziest way possible. It was a bad Star Wars movie. Though I actually do rank it higher than VII, and that’s what I really want to focus on.

I don’t want to talk about any of these movies in terms of general film making. That’s a pointless argument in this case. I only want to talk about them in terms of Star Wars film making. The Last Jedi is a better Star Wars movie than The Force Awakens for one simple reason; it follows the trajectory of its predecessor film. What do I mean by that? The main flaw of The Phantom Menace is that it’s attempting to build a foundation for a set of already existing films without rehashing the same ideas you’ve already seen in three extant movies. It’s this desire to link to the past films, that are actually set in the timeline’s future, without playing the same beats over again that led to some bad decisions. Like with midichlorians. Most people agree that midichlorians were a stupid idea that should never have been introduced. They justified some future bullshit which is pretty much all encompassed in Rey, but technically they were never mentioned again after Episode I. The reason The Phantom Menace struggled so much was that it didn’t have a trajectory to follow because it was prequel. It had to start from pretty much scratch and somehow set off a series of events that would eventually lead to A New Hope. Easier said than done.

the phantom menace

In a lot of ways, The Force Awakens was in a similar boat but it does have a foundation of six other films preceding it. It’s tasked with starting a new arc of three films but it doesn’t have a pre-established endpoint, nor does it have to start from scratch the way The Phantom Menace did. Yet The Force Awakens does something inherently wrong that The Phantom Menace doesn’t; it breaks the rules of the universe. I have used the word “breaks” here because “changes” is a lazy way of saying retconned or ignored canon, neither of which are considered good things in most fandoms, SJW or not.

World building matters and the best franchises are the best franchises because they have well established worlds/universes with established rulesets. A good writer doesn’t throw out the rules. A good writer writes new ideas and creates new concepts while adhering to the rules. Let’s take the example of Rey in The Force Awakens. If we completely disregard the anti-feminist, alt-right crowd and accept the totally canon supported argument that a woman can be a powerful Jedi/Force user (Ahsoka Tano & Asajj Ventress), which we should, the film still presents a staggering number of issues with Rey.

asajj-ventress

It’s not the fact that she’s a woman that’s problematic. Nor is it the fact that she’s powerful in the ways of the Force. It’s the fact that a character with no training or even a basic knowledge of the Force is able to use high level Force abilities that Luke, one of the strongest Force users in the established film canon, wasn’t able to do without years of training even after being trained by Yoda, arguably the greatest Force user that ever lived. It’s the fact that she could go from no knowledge of the Force to using Jedi mind tricks and outclassing a trained Sith “lord” (Kylo Ren) in a matter of days that presented the real justifications for complaint. The rules of the universe were broken. Not just ignored but flat out broken. And the sad part was that this was all easily avoided with just a few extra scenes or a bit of altered dialog.

Rey could have already known about the Force, since lots of people do/did in the Star Wars universe outside of Jedi and Sith. She also could have had at the very least some light training while spending most of her life on a desert planet with nothing to do except salvage scrap and eat magical expansion cakes. Literally three lines of dialog inserted into any conversation with Finn, Han, or Maz Kanata could have fixed everything. “When I was a kid, I met a wizard of sorts. He taught me magic and said if I kept practicing I could be a great wizard one day too. I’ve practiced every day since then.” Problem solved. With just these three vague lines from off the top of my head added, everything else that happens in The Force Awakens could have still happened and there would be little justification to argue that canon was broken. That wouldn’t have made the movie great by any means. But it would have removed the main reason people, who aren’t blatant sexists, were unhappy with Rey. The Phantom Menace has a number of issues, but in no way does it break established canon. Even the midichlorians don’t actually break canon. They simply add to it in a stupid way. And that is why I rate Episode I higher than Episode VII.

Rey vs Kylo

So when looking at The Last Jedi in comparison to The Force Awakens, I think The Last Jedi is the better Star Wars movie for the simple fact that it follows the path set out by its direct predecessor film. Note that I’m not saying that it’s a good movie or even a particularly good Star Wars movie. I’m saying that it’s a better Star Wars movie than The Force Awakens. Episode VII gives canon the finger. That’s what makes it a bad Star Wars movie. Episode VIII doesn’t do that. Instead, The Last Jedi just accepts the fact that its direct predecessor film has already given canon the finger and just roles with it.

In a world where an untrained teenage girl can out Force a trained Sith lord directly descended from Darth Vader himself, why can’t the daughter of Darth Vader survive the vacuum of space by wrapping herself in a Force bubble and flying through an explosion of debris? In a world where a low ranking Storm Trooper, excuse me First Order Trooper, who has possibly never even seen a light saber before can pick one up and rival the combat ability of by now I’ve proven probably the worst Sith lord ever ordained, why can’t an entire fleet of repurposed imperial ships be destroyed by a single ship with almost no fuel in a hail Mary light speed maneuver?

light speed crash

The Last Jedi didn’t break the rules because the film takes place in a universe where the rules no longer apply. But you can’t technically blame The Last Jedi for establishing this lawless universe because that was done by The Force Awakens. The Last Jedi simply takes it to a new level and decides that if the most important rules are no longer rules then there’s really no reason to have any rules at all. Which is a sensible conclusion to make. It’s like how if someone proved beyond a reasonable doubt that there was no God then the world would sink into chaos like at the end of Preacher Season 1 or Sausage Party. If there are no rules then you would live like there are no rules. You wouldn’t continue the pain in the ass lifestyle of following rules that don’t matter just because it’s a nice thing to do. What’s the point when you can have a lot more freedom and fun doing whatever the hell you want? That’s what Rian Johnson did with The Last Jedi. Order disappeared from the Star Wars universe and he went all in on taking advantage of that.

Taking all that into account, the question now becomes how should we watch Star Wars Episode IX? Now we can choose to watch it like we’ve watched all other Star Wars movies if we want to. Hold it to the old guard rules of canon, compare it directly to Episodes IV – VI, and almost assuredly hate it for completely justifiable reasons, again ignoring the anti-feminist and anti-minority, alt-right crowd. But is it worth it? Should we hold a movie to the gold standard that takes place as the final act that’s already established itself as not even bronze quality Star Wars film making? I say no. Why should we put ourselves through that for the second time in a row? That’s just setting ourselves up for disappointment. Instead I’ve come up with an alternative way to watch this next and any future Star Wars movies in the main timeline.

Star Wars Main Eps

Rather than compare Episode IX to Episodes I – VIII and hold it to the highest standard, we should only compare it to Episodes VII and VIII. If we accept that the old canonical rules pretty much died with The Force Awakens, as I have argued here, then what reason do we have to hold Episode IX to a pre-Episode VII standard? If you think about it logically, there really isn’t one. By that standard it will be bad and it will make true classic Star Wars fans angry. But I don’t believe it has to be bad if we base it solely on current saga standards, especially considering how low they already are.

If we watch Episode IX in the context of VII and VIII only then I believe it could be a fairly tolerable movie. We would go in knowing there aren’t any hard rules about how the Force works. We’d have an established context to why random characters with no background can be/are ultimately super important. Instead of going in expecting Avengers: Infinity War, we should go in expecting The Matrix Revolutions. In this way we wouldn’t have to leave the theater angry. We could just leave unimpressed but content with what we saw within the context of the current saga.

third saga titles

I know this type of viewing sounds hard to a lot of diehard fans, myself included. But is the possibility of seeing a move and finding it tolerable truly worse than the alternative? I’m not saying you should support the current direction Disney is taking with Star Wars. But if you are going to see the movie, and you know you will, then maybe it doesn’t have to be the terrible experience that you’re already expecting it to be. You have more than a year to prepare yourself so maybe take advantage of that and consider a new way of thinking. It took me a long time to do that, but I finally have myself so I know you can too.

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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.

How I Learned to Love the Rabbids

For those of you who have been living under a rock for the past five or so years, Rabbids are these stupid rabbit like creatures that appear to be sentient but never seem to do anything other than make funny noises and cause trouble. They originally appeared in Rayman 4 (2013) but were so popular that Ubisoft decided to give them their own game series. I hate Rabbids. I think they’re annoying and add very little to no value to gaming history. I have gone out of my way not to play any game featuring them, including Rayman 4. But technically I haven’t played any of the Rayman games, outside of demos, so that doesn’t necessarily mean anything special. In any case, Rabbids irritate me.

It was my distaste for Rabbids that made me very unhappy when they first announced Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle for the Nintendo Switch. I actually really liked the idea of them making a Mario strategy game with a Banner Saga style grid battle system. While it isn’t canon, pun not intended, I was fine with them giving Mario and friends guns. The game seemed very interesting. But I could not stomach a Rabbids game. It felt so odd to see Nintendo allow Rabbids to enter the Mario universe. It was very out of character for the company and I’m still not entirely sure how it happened. It was the presence of Rabbids in the game that made me ignore it initially.

Mario Rabbids Combat

Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle was released just a few months before I finally purchased my Switch. I knew I was going to purchase a Switch and I knew when I was going to purchase it. What I didn’t know was that I was going to end up purchasing a Rabbids game on the same day. I had sworn the game off but then people started talking about it. So many people on Twitter were praising the game for its amazing gameplay mechanics. I didn’t have any particular reason to think the gameplay would be bad but my bias against Rabbids made me assume everyone was over exaggerating. They have in the past on multiple occasions. So I was still not planning on buying the game. Then the awards season hit.

Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle, to my surprise, won four awards for best strategy game and was nominated for several other awards from multiple game awards shows. I was shocked it did so well. It seemed like people weren’t exaggerating and that it really was that good. I have owned every console Mario game since Super Mario 64, and many from before that as well. Part of me was devastated to be skipping this Switch Mario game. And the promise of amazing gameplay in a genre I hadn’t really experienced in a Mario game before was also very alluring. But I still said I wouldn’t buy a Rabbids game.

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It has always been a ritual for me to buy a stack of games when I first purchase a console. I’m not one of those people who buys a new system just to play one game. It needs to already have several games I want to play before I even consider buying it. On the day I went to buy my Nintendo Switch, multiple limiting factors came into play. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild Explorer’s Edition hadn’t been released yet and wouldn’t be for a few more months. Super Bomberman R was sold out in all the stores I went to because it had just recently been brought to Taiwan. I did eventually get it though. Snipper Clips was a game I was buying specifically to play with my girlfriend so it didn’t count in my stack of games to play with purchase. I would kind of say the same about Just Dance 2018 but less so. This meant that the only games I was buying for my new Switch to be played for myself at this point were Super Mario Odyssey, obviously, ARMS, Sonic Forces, and Splatoon 2. Two of those games aren’t even real single player games. It was at this moment that the clerk, who I actually know very well and trust his recommendations, suggested Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle.

With only two legitimate single player games, the great reviews, and the awards, I ended up buying my first Rabbids game. It hurt even when I was making the purchase but I did it. I bought Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle. I felt dirty. I felt like I had betrayed my morals. I did not feel happy about the purchase. But it was already done. And in Taiwan you can’t actually make returns for games so even if I wanted to change my mind, I couldn’t.

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It took me seven months to finally start playing Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle. By that point I had beaten Super Mario Odyssey, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Sonic Forces, the Splatoon 2 single player campaign, gotten bored with both ARMS and Super BomberMan R, and had beaten other games on my PS4. It was time to give this game I had purchased a try. The start of the game was not promising. An annoying video that features the Rabbids prominently for several minutes before Mario even appears. I had to stomach through it and get to the actual gameplay.

Once you make it through the necessarily long tutorial and actually get to battle on your own, you realize right away that Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle really does have amazing gameplay. It’s different from any other Mario game I’ve ever played and it’s extremely well done. I was hooked so quickly. The other thing that’s really nice about it is that it has text based dialog and turn based gameplay. Meaning you can play it with no sound while doing other things and you don’t miss out on the experience much at all. I love to play it undocked while watching Netflix. It’s great. I don’t even have to hear the Rabbids making all their annoying sounds. The gameplay is creative, addictive, and convenient. And it’s easy to play just one battle and then step away. Jumping back in is fairly easy with the Switch’s sleep mode function.

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So let’s actually talk about the Rabbids. It took me quite some time but I will admit that the Rabbids in this specific game have grown on me. This is due largely to the dynamic Ubisoft has created by making copies of the Mario characters as Rabbids. Rabbid Peach is one of the funniest characters I’ve seen in a long time because of the dynamic she has with Peach and Mario. Alone she is just a ridiculous character that spends too much time taking selfies. But when interacting with Mario and constantly competing with Peach, I find the character hysterical. Other Rabbids in the game are funny too. Rabbid Donkey Kong looks so awkward that you can’t help but laugh. Rabbid Mario’s mustache looks ridiculous. I haven’t gotten Rabbid Yoshi yet but I’m sure that’s going to be hilarious as well.

It seems I’ve learned to tolerate the Rabbids in the context of this game and they actually make me laugh. I really have to commend Ubisoft for creating such an excellent game and tip my hat to Nintendo for taking such a large risk with their most important franchise. I’m usually very good about gaming predictions but have to admit that I did not see this coming out nearly as well as it did. I enjoy Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle so much that it will be the first Nintendo Switch game that I actually purchase DLC for. I regret that I didn’t wait for the Gold edition originally because I really want all the content for this one. Maybe one day I’ll even buy a second Rabbids game.

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E3 2018 Does it Better

Last week was E3 2018. I’ve been highly opposed to E3 for the past several years. If you’ve been reading my blog for a while or follow me on Twitter then you probably know this already. I’ve had a great distaste for the event in recent years because there are just so many things wrong with the concept and format in the modern world. My largest complaint has always been that it’s not open to the public and serves as an unnecessary and expensive event that could easily be conducted digitally with current technology that serves no purpose other than to help washed out media entities gain undeserved hits for their ad revenue. It’s like Twitch streaming at the corporate level. This is the reason that I was very happy when Nintendo changed their E3 format a few years back. Their pre-recorded videos that focus on presenting games is exactly what gamers actually want, costs less money to produce, doesn’t help media get undeserved hits, and isn’t live so gamers from all over the world can experience it when it works best for them. Nintendo realized that E3 should be for consumers and that the format should be shaped to help us. I honestly don’t even watch the conferences outside of Nintendo’s E3 Direct anymore and haven’t for some time. I just check the highlights/recaps after the fact because I just need the info about new games and I refuse to support this wasteful media circle jerk.

I’m happy to say that after many years of voicing my complaints, some progress has finally been made. For the first time ever, E3 tickets were made available to the public. These were of course limited access and had a number of caveats to them, but they allowed normal people to purchase tickets directly from E3’s website and enter the event to see and experience new games at booths. This is how it should be. Like Computex and many other tech industry events, the focus should be on businesses and end users, not media. E3 is finally moving in that direction. And so this year I praise E3 for finally evolving the format. There’s still a ways to go but at least real progress has finally been made.

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In celebration of this year’s E3 moving towards tolerable, I will take the time to quickly recap my highlights from the show. I have to say that this year was quite good for announcements and new footage shown. Much better than I remember from past years. I certainly have a lot of saving to do and need to really work on clearing some of my backlog to make room for new games.

In no particular order, my highlights/recap of E3 2018:

  1. Kingdom Hearts III Release Date

Finally! I’ve waited since the original tease in 2006 for this game. Like with The Last Guardian, there were many times where I genuinely gave up hope that it would ever be released. They kept teasing it and showing images and footage over the years but they just didn’t give us anything substantial. I’m happy that we finally got a hard release date of January 29, 2019. I will be preordering it through the PS4 All-In-One bundle because I need a refresher course on the storyline and haven’t played most of the spin off titles anyway. At $100 I think it’s a bit more than I should have to pay after my years of loyalty but it’s certainly not an unfair price for the amount of content.

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  1. Spider-Man

We’ve seen this game before and didn’t get anything substantial as far as news during E3, but they did release more gameplay and this game looks great. I won’t be buying it day one, but it’s certainly on my must buy list.

  1. Roy Battle Royale aka Smash Bros. Ultimate

Let me be very clear about something. No intelligent person that’s been following Nintendo since the N64 was surprised by the announcement of a new Smash Bros. It was time for the latest Nintendo console to get an installment of this franchise. This is not the important part of the announcement. What’s important is that they brought back Roy. OK I clearly have a bias. All past characters will be returning and that’s great. For once, every single Smash Bros. player from any gen can main their actual main and we can truly have battles where, assuming the balancing is done properly, the true kings can be decided. I main Roy and Mr. Game & Watch in that order. I haven’t had my true main since Melee. Finally the king can retake his crown. Day one purchase and/or preorder.

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  1. Super Mario Party

I haven’t played Mario Party since probably 3. I didn’t have the ability to meet up with friends and play past the N64 era because most people wanted to play Smash Bros. or shooters in my college days and I haven’t had the people in my life since then to do so in later versions. I loved playing this franchise as a kid and I’m glad to see a return to the original format. As long as it has online play I’ll certainly be buying it, but probably not day one. If it doesn’t have online play then it’s a useless game for me because I simply don’t have the people to play with in real life.

  1. Fist of the North Star (PS4) NA Version

Really happy to see this being localized. I played it at the most recent Taipei Game Show and was really impressed by it. Loved the original Ken’s Rage on PS3 but never got the chance to play Ken’s Rage 2. Really happy they’re finally doing an English version of the latest game to be released in October. Gonna wait for a price drop but this is certainly a must play for fans of the games and anime/manga series.

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  1. Cyberpunk 2077

We’ve all been waiting for this game since the first announcement after The Witcher 3 changed RPG expectations forever.  The idea of getting an even bigger RPG set in the future by CDPR was mouthwatering. But then they announced it would be an FPS gameplay system. This was very disappointing to me and many others, if Twitter is any indication. There are people on both sides of the issue and that’s fine because everyone has the right to their opinion. My hope is that the game ultimately has both third and first person options so players can play the game the way they want but ultimately it is up to CDPR to present what they believe to be the best, most enjoyable game possible for their established consumer base. I’ll continue to watch this game with curiosity but can’t say if I’ll buy it or not with the current information available.

  1. Shadow of the Tomb Raider

They don’t really have to sell me this game. The first two games in the current Tomb Raider franchise were/are excellent. The fact that they’re making another game with the same studio is enough for me to purchase it. I’ve done very little research on this project because I trust the established team to continue to deliver a great gaming experience. Not a day one but absolute must play.

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  1. The Last of Us Part 2

Pretending like this game isn’t already a must buy for anyone who played the first one is just naïve. It was sold as soon as it was announced. I was very impressed by the gameplay footage shown and Naughty Dog is a studio that really doesn’t disappoint. I am unhappy that Joel hasn’t been announced as a playable character in the game because I really wasn’t done with him at the end of the first one. But I have no issue with Ellie being a playable main character because that’s the logical progression in the franchise. Really I wish they had done another game with Joel as the lead and then moved on to Ellie about half way through or in a third installment. But suffice it to say this is a must buy.

  1. Nioh 2

I still haven’t given Nioh its proper time, but finally started it for real last week. I purchased it a while ago and loved both the alpha and the beta. I know it’s a good game and I’m happy it’s getting a sequel. As long as it’s at least as solid as Dark Souls 2, the weakest in the Souls series according to most people, I think Nioh 2 will be just fine and even end up spawning a third game. Glad this franchise took off.

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  1. Jump Force

This game really came out of nowhere. I don’t normally buy the Shonen Jump games but this project looks amazing and I’ll probably end up picking it up after a price drop. The gameplay I’ve seen so far is awesome and really it kicks the crap out of the other anime fighters I’ve seen including the past Jump games, none of which I was interested in enough to buy.

  1. Ghost of Tsushima

I can’t recall the last time I saw a gameplay trailer that was so visually stunning that it nearly brought me to tears. This game is art in motion. It’s just visual perfection down to the individual blades of grass. I’d like to try the gameplay first hand so I hope they do a demo but from what I’ve seen I’m fairly certain I’m buying this game. And Sucker Punch has always done solid enough work, in my opinion, so I don’t really have many or even any doubts about this one.

  1. Death Stranding

I still don’t know what the hell this game is about. The gameplay footage shown didn’t make me want to play the game. It was just lots of walking. Beautiful landscapes and solid acting, but from what I saw it’s just a glorified delivery boy game with some freaky floating ghost type monsters and babies for some Kojima related reason. I’m not saying I’m not going to buy this game, but I’m not saying I am either.

  1. Beyond Good & Evil 2

This game is all hype at this point. They’ve shown no gameplay. They’ve shown no establishing story. Pretty much the only thing we know at this point is Jade and Pey’j are coming back, the graphics are beautiful, and the cast of characters is pretty diverse. Other than that it’s all speculation and Ubisoft is leveraging the cult following the first game has hoping that’s enough to guarantee sales because currently there’s no justifiable reason to consider purchasing or even really talking about this game in its current public form.

  1. Unravel 2

Really happy to see Unravel get a sequel. Really impressed that they released it with the E3 announcement. The coop looks great. It looks like everything I would want in a sequel. Definitely picking this one up after a price drop.

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  1. Anthem

I still just don’t know how I feel about Anthem. It looks amazing. It sounds great, but it reminds me of both Destiny and The Division way too much. My biggest concern is end game. Anthem looks like it plays well. Looks like the coop is quite good. Doesn’t seem to focus on PVP, which is a good thing. Won’t have gameplay affecting microtransactions. Amen. It sounds glorious. But they’ve not confirmed whether or not I’m gonna get a properly functioning narrative with a conclusive ending. I don’t need or want this game, or any game I play, to last forever. I just want it to last 60 or more hours without me having to replay missions or do PVP matches and have a story with a clear ending. That’s all I want. If they can guarantee me that there’s a conclusive ending to an overarching narrative where I can choose to stop playing and feel that I did everything the game has to offer, then I’ll buy it. That’s literally all I need to choose to buy this game. I’m happy with everything else I’ve seen and heard about it.

  1. Daemon X Machina

This game looks interesting. I don’t know much about it but I was sort of impressed by the Nintendo Direct footage. I’m not in love with the graphics, but I do love mech games and fighting giant bosses. I’ll definitely have to follow up on this more before I can make a final decision.

  1. Pokémon Let’s Go

I don’t really need to say much about these games. Either you want to play a Yellow remake with better graphics or you don’t. What I am not happy about though is that you are required to buy a Pokeball Plus to get Mew. That kind of bullshit isn’t right. That’s a $40 controller that can only be used for 1 (or 2 if you prefer) game. Completing the Pokedex should never be about microtransactions or additional purchases. I was actually considering picking the Eevee version up but after that announcement I decided I just didn’t feel comfortable supporting that type of shady business conduct. The ironic part being that I actually was considering buying the Pokeball Plus before they announced that Mew pay wall.

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Those are my highlights for this year’s E3. I want to make it clear that these are not the only games that were shown at E3 by any stretch of the imagination. These are simply the ones that stood out to me personally enough to warrant discussing them here. There are other games that were shown that I will be buying such as Just Dance 2019, like I do every year. And there were other games shown that I have little interest in but are very newsworthy such as Devil May Cry 5.

All in all, this was a great E3. Quite possibly the best I’ve seen in many years. I look forward to a great year of gaming. What are you most interested in from this year’s show?

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The Crew 2 (PS4) Closed Beta Review

I was invited to participate in the most recent closed beta for The Crew 2.  I streamed the footage, which you can view here if you’re interested. I wanted to review it to give those who didn’t get a chance to participate some insight into the game in case they were considering picking it up. Let me clarify that I have not played The Crew and in general I don’t buy modern racing games, outside of Mario Kart, but I do have a lot of experience with the genre.

The first thing I’ll say about The Crew 2 is that it’s a nice looking game. It has a wealth of detail in both the landscapes and the vehicles. I was very impressed by how good the water looks, how detailed the character models are, and the level of specifics that went into the vehicle models and paint jobs. While it may not be the nicest, most realistic looking game I’ve ever seen, it’s exactly what I require in a realistic modern racing game to be happy. That being said, there’s a wee bit too much brand placement in this game. I know that makes sense and has to happen because of the way these companies contract to have their vehicles and names in games, but it’s really over the top in this. At the start of every race you get a 3-2-1 countdown that comes off like the vehicle is modeling on a runway. And the brand name placement makes NASCAR look subtle on some of the stuff you’re driving. What’s interesting is that a lot of the branding is fabricated with made up brands to help make the real ones look less obvious but that just clutters the screen more. But overall it’s a nice looking game. One visual issue I did have with the beta, which I’ve had with countless others, is that the edges of the screen cut off. This didn’t affect my racing performance at all but it did prevent me from seeing all the HUD information including some of my stats, even in the pause menu.

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I really liked the photo mode in this beta. It allowed me to really make the snapshots I wanted with lots of control while maintaining the integrity of what you actually pulled off. You can choose when and where your pictures are taken from but you can’t alter the reality of them. If you were at point A you can’t shift your vehicle to point B because it would look cooler for the photo. That being said, finding the post event photo ops was not easy. The game claimed there was some kind of radar system but I couldn’t figure out how to use it. And since the photo ops are timed, it really hurt my experience. I was only able to get to one photo op in time and that was in a plane, which seemed to trigger automatically. To be clear, photo ops are an active challenge that leverages photo mode to net you rewards. You can enter normal photo mode whenever you want to take your own pictures.

Gameplay wise, I was very impressed by a number of things in this beta. The first was that my default avatar was African American. I don’t know if this was because Ubisoft knows I’m Black from my user data or if the default for this game is Black or maybe it’s random, but I really appreciated my default avatar representing me/not assuming I was Caucasian from the start. I actually ended up using one of the other characters, also Black, but right away was I pleasantly surprised by this occurrence. The map system works really well and teleporting to your next event is very fast. You can also of course drive to them, which was a big selling point of The Crew, but I never did that. The one thing I didn’t like about the map system was that at full view it didn’t show all the smaller events. You had to zoom into certain regions to see many of the events. The full view only shows you the main attractions. You can use the filters to show certain smaller events on the large view, but I wasn’t able to have everything showing at the same time. This may look cleaner but it doesn’t help the player as much when it comes to actually playing the game.

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I really liked how the map is instantly dynamic, allowing you to go from your local surroundings map at vehicle view all the way out to the full map view just by adjusting your zoom in real time with the shoulder buttons. No having to scroll between multiple map menus to see where you want to go next. You can just zoom in or out to whatever level of the map you want. At vehicle view you can even see the path you’ve driven for the last 10 minutes and rewind through it to recap where you’ve been and what you did. Great for capturing those awesome moments that took place when you weren’t recording. I also liked that you could pause during events without it affecting your progress. I didn’t try any races with other real players though so I can’t speak to how/if that works in a multiplayer scenario.

Since this is a racing game, let’s finally talk about actual racing gameplay. Probably the most noteworthy thing I can say about The Crew 2 is that your vehicle matters. In the 90 minutes that I played the beta, I drove off road vehicles, street racing cars, speed boats, planes, an F1 racecar, and an off-road motorcycle. Each of these vehicles handles differently. I don’t mean that the controls are different, because other than for a few subtleties they don’t. What I mean is that they genuinely feel different. Driving the speedboats is nothing like driving the planes. Even just driving the off road cars feels totally different at a control level than the street racing cars. Things like resistance, handling, vibrations in the controller when gears shift, and so on all feel very specific to the type of vehicle you’re driving. The specific vehicles in each category feel slightly different from each other as well, but it’s not as pronounced until you compare base level vehicles to much higher end stuff. This creates a very personal and dynamic experience for the player because you tend to do the events and vehicle types you’re better at. So for me that meant mostly ignoring street racing, which I suck at, and leaning heavily on off road and plane events. Your vehicle progression matters too.

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You can upgrade seven different internal aspects of your vehicles, like the gearbox, axel, and tires in the case of cars, to improve things like top speed, acceleration, and handling. But you don’t get these upgrades by paying for them with in game currency. You have to win the upgrades by completing events and then picking up loot. The amount and quality of loot you get appears to be dependent on the type of event you do, your performance in it, and some form of RNG. Loot comes in the form of specific parts in one of those seven aspects and can range in quality level from normal to rare from what I saw. And you can get up to 15 types of the same part, improved with each iteration of that loot drop. I actually really liked this system but it also felt limiting because you don’t necessarily get the upgrades you want when you want them. Say your car handles really well but the top speed is too slow. I couldn’t see any way to influence the type of loot you get for a specific vehicle so it’s possible, depending on how the algorithm works, to keep improving handling and not be getting the speed improvements you want early on. And these aspects matter a lot. I did a speed boat race where I drove the course perfectly with no errors but I got blown away by all seven NPCs because their boats were simply way faster than mine. I have no doubt that I could have returned to and won that race later after getting some upgrades but who knows how long it would have taken to get the upgrades I required to match their top speeds? To the best of my knowledge, there is no way to purchase performance upgrades for vehicles.

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You win money by completing events of various types. Money seemed to be distributed fairly enough, but you will still have to put the time in to get the nice vehicles you really want, which I don’t consider a bad thing. I appreciated being able to test drive the nicer stuff without being able to afford it because it motivated me to want to earn enough to unlock those vehicles. Money is used to buy new vehicles, but not performance upgrades for them. Every vehicle you buy requires time on the track and victories to upgrade them via loot drops. Some vehicles also can’t be purchased, but have to be won by completing challenges. The most common challenge I saw was “defeat your rival” but the beta didn’t let me get far enough to get a rival so I could beat them. The Crew 2 allows you to create the experience you want. It can be single player, multiplayer, or in the middle ground as a shared world that allows you to isolate yourself from other players while interacting with them indirectly. World records are a key component of this. There are countless challenges scattered throughout the map that have already been completed by others. The game shows you the current world record and allows you to attempt to beat it. It also records your accomplishments and adds them to the map for other people to try to beat. You can have an active crew of up to four players, a friends list, and up to seven friends in any one session/lobby at the same time. My only complaint about the gameplay was that it didn’t have enough tutorial resources for specialized events/occurrences. For example, one world record I attempted was a water drift in the speed boat. While it did show me the ghost image of the record being broken, I couldn’t figure out how to initiate it or what constituted a valid record attempt. Eventually I just gave up and moved on to something else. Some sort of tutorial or manual in game that was easily referenced would make the experience a lot more accessible in many such occasions.

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While I found the gameplay to be very good overall, I did have a few complaints and glitches occur. As I previously stated, the game assumes too much knowledge on the player’s part. I had to replay some events after a failure not because I wasn’t good enough to complete them but simply because I didn’t understand what I was supposed to be attempting to do. It’s not always as simple as win the race. A top land speed challenge was one such example of this. I went through it not sure what I was supposed to do the first time. It was only after I failed it that it explained to me what I was trying to accomplish. I completed it successfully the following try. I should have had this information before my first attempt. Along with this, there doesn’t appear to be any way to restart events mid-attempt. Meaning if you’re attempting a record and you know you failed, you still have to finish the race/event before you can try again. This gets old really fast with longer races. It’s sensible in a multiplayer scenario, but when you’re playing solo or only with NPCs, you should be able to restart mid-event. I couldn’t figure out how to logout of the game or return to the main menu. It auto logged me out after being inactive for a period of time, but when I tried to quit the game I couldn’t figure out how so I just exited the application with the PS button. I experienced a small number of glitches, which is fine for a beta. The beta froze one time, but it didn’t freeze my PS4. I simply had to close and restart the application. There was also one time where the game didn’t automatically change my vehicle for the event I was traveling to. This just happened to be when I was going from a boat event to a car event so it ended up tossing me onto a highway in a speedboat. Changing your vehicle is easy to do from the pause menu so it wasn’t a serious issue, but every other event I traveled to initiated an automatic vehicle change.

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One thing I really liked about this beta was the writing. The game has a plot of sorts, but not a set in stone story. Yet it comes off like you’re playing a game with a story. You are a new and upcoming racer trying to make it to the big time. You do this by joining racing crews, each led by a different and very realistic character who gives you a chance to join their crew. Each crew is different, focusing on different types of events, vehicles, and career choices/ideals. You can join all crews concurrently, so that’s a non-issue. I liked that each of these crew leaders came off as real people and you felt pressure to try to impress them so they would let you join their crew. And you feel the need to get into their crews so you can jumpstart your career. They even give you free vehicles when you get in but tell you it’s an investment in their own success through you, which is a nice realistic narrative touch. You even have a manager/mechanic who you have a seemingly close relationship with. While playing it, I really felt like I was my character because of the dialog, even though your character doesn’t actually say anything. But you see him in all these interactions and in the various vehicles while driving, which is an important touch.

The thing I both loved and hated the most about the driving, no pun intended, narrative and tied in gameplay mechanic was the follower count. The game has a social media mechanic where you have to collect followers. You do this by winning/completing events, doing stunts, setting records, and other such achievements. The amount of followers you gain for any specific accomplishment is based on the difficulty and popularity of what it is. You can gain a few for pulling off a random stunt. You can gain more than 1000 for winning certain races. Followers aren’t just for show. They are the limiting factor of your career. Money can buy you new vehicles, but followers buy you popularity which translates into access. The logic being that companies won’t sponsor you for races if they don’t think people will take the time to tune in and watch you participate. Your player ranking isn’t based on performance or experience. It’s based on follower count. When you start the game, you’re a “Rookie”. This lets you participate in level 1 events. You have to amass enough followers to reach the “Popular” rank to unlock more events. You can level up all the way to “Icon” but the beta stops you from getting past Rookie.

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Followers stand in place of experience. They do pretty much the same thing. I don’t know if real players can follow other ones to add to their follower count, but I could see that happening in The Crew 3 if not in this game. I think this is a really realistic mechanic that emulates the current real world of racing and entertainment in general. Followers mean everything today. So kudos to Ubisoft for realizing that could work effectively in a game. At the same time, this is exactly the type of thing I personally hate about the modern era and I don’t want to see my games affected by social media popularity any more than they already are. Imagine a world where follower count is tied to your actual social media following or even just in game following and you can’t access certain content until you’ve amassed enough real world followers. That’s a scary thought.

The sound was good. I feel like music is lacking in this game, but that also adds to the realism so maybe it’s not a bad thing. It’s crucial to a game like GTA, but this isn’t that sort of RPG style character role so maybe it’s not necessary. The effects sound exactly how I expect and want them to in a racing game. No complaints there.

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This was a good beta. The Crew 2 is a good racing game. I know I won’t personally buy it because it’s not really my genre, but I can very much appreciate that this is a high quality, ultra-realistic racing game that remains accessible to an audience of gamers that don’t know much about actual vehicles. Yet it still makes you at least start to think about internal parts and upgrades. It walks the line very well and plays in a way that all racing game enthusiasts can enjoy. If racing games are your thing, I can definitely recommend this game based on what I played. It has a ton of replay value, a seemingly lengthy progression system that retains balance, and long term goals with realistic achievement rates. Other than the lack of defined end game, I can definitely endorse purchasing The Crew 2 from what I’ve seen and experienced in this beta.

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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.