Nioh vs Dark Souls

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

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

Nioh Souls

Combat

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

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

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Tonfa is not available at the start of the game.

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

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

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Economy

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

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

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

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

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Multiplayer

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

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

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

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Clans are similar to Covenants in Dark Souls

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

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

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Level Structure

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

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Character Development

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

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

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

Appearance

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

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

End-Game

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

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

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

 

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2017 Year in Review

As is tradition, I would like to do a post about gaming in 2017. I know 2017 was a rough year in reality. I would argue worse than 2016 in many ways. But we’re only gonna talk about gaming here and in that realm I would say though there were some definite low points, overall it wasn’t a horrible year. As I always say, I’m gonna do my best to sum up gaming this year but I’m only one man not being paid to do this so realistically I’m probably gonna miss a number of events and I’m only writing from one perspective. Also as we should be aware, I focus primarily, but not exclusively, on console gaming.

First, let me talk about how gaming was for me personally in 2017. It was a solid year. It wasn’t like 2016 where I was able to get through 52 games. But I was able to tackle an acceptable 22 titles. Of those 22, only two game were actually released in 2017. Those would be Mass Effect: Andromeda, which I will of course discuss later in this post, and StarFox 2 on the SNES Classic. In my opinion, the best game I completed in the last year was unquestionably Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End. Not only was it the best Uncharted game, but it was just genuinely one of the best games I’ve played in a long time. Naughty Dog just doesn’t disappoint.

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As far as completing my gaming goals for 2017, I did ok. If you look at my list of 2017 gaming goals from the beginning of the year, I had 12 main goals and six bonus goals. Of those 12 main goals I managed to complete nine of them which is pretty good. But I will say that I did not complete, or even start, two of the most important ones. That is play The Witcher 2 (yes that is a 2) and play Final Fantasy VII. I am making these two games a priority in 2018, starting with FFVII. I’ve even set my desktop and mobile wallpapers to FFVII images in order to motivate myself to play the game. Of the six bonus goals, I completed four of them, which is also pretty good. That’s an overall completion rate of 72%. Not an amazing grade, but definitely passable. Now let’s talk about the highlights of 2017 for the rest of the gaming community. Events are in no particular order.

Indies Take the Reigns

This was an amazing year for indie games. We saw some phenomenal releases of games that were not only critically acclaimed, but financially successful in record time.

PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds

I haven’t personally played this game, but one cannot deny the success or importance of it. Not only has it broken records for Steam concurrent users but it’s also sold at record numbers and rushed out an XBOX ONE release last minute. I actually take a lot of issue with this game. The fact that people are so misguided in their judgement that a movement actually formed calling for an early access game with no single player campaign to be considered for game of the year is insane. It’s one of the most preposterous things I’ve ever heard. But it only shows just how successful the game is. It will be interesting to see what this means for AAA FPS games. If an indie studio can make a single mode FPS game with no campaign or serious production value and only charge $30 for it then how will companies like Activision continue their current COD business model?

Cuphead
Winner of Best Indie Game (The Game Awards 2017)

Cuphead

I knew this game would be a success when it was first announced at E3 back in like 2013. I was actually the person who created the Cuphead wiki page on IGN when I worked for their E3 wiki team that year. It’s beautiful, different, retro, and has a very Disney style story based campaign. It’s already gone double platinum and has spawned various articles and fan creations.

Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice

This game had basically no publisher and kind of came out of nowhere but they’ve already sold enough copies to be profitable. There was a lot of controversy at the beginning about saves possibly getting erased and really I think that ultimately helped the game. This is just another example of how large publishers like EA are blatantly lying to the public when they say single player campaigns are no longer viable and/or profitable because this game is objective proof against that statement. Hellblade also addresses mental illness as part of the gameplay and adds both an interesting perspective to gameplay and brings the conversation about mental illness to the forefront of the gaming community, both of which are good things.

A-Hat-in-Time

A Hat in Time

This game hasn’t been out too long but it’s doing very well both critically and financially. People really seem to like it, which is great because we need more traditional single player platformers other than just Nintendo first party games and Ratchet & Clank. Hopefully the success of this game will inspire other larger studios to revisit the genre with more than just HD remakes of older games.

EA Screws Everything Up

I’m not going to say it hasn’t happened before, but I can’t recall any other year where EA screwed the pooch so big, so many times, so quickly. Like if you took away EA Sports from the equation, I wouldn’t be surprised if they folded next year after all the bullshit they tried to pull in 2017.

Mass Effect Andromeda

Now personally I didn’t hate this game, but it was no Mass Effect 3. There was a ton of negative press and public opinion because of graphical issues. The story was kind of flat in the end. No DLC was released even though some was promised originally. The game was clearly rushed out; which is sad because it had so much potential. And this really hurt BioWare, which sucks because they used to be one of my favorite studios. But it’s clear that most of these problems are the fault of EA management rather than bad work on the developer side. EA keeps shoehorning in multiplayer, loot boxes, and open world into games, forcing developers to work on too much too quickly and ultimately put out lackluster games, all while being forced to use an engine that’s really only good for one genre. But the worst part is that EA refuses to acknowledge this. They just keep blaming the studios for the failures. They even shuttered BioWare Montreal.

MEA Cover

Visceral Games

EA shutdown Visceral Games, the studio that brought you Dead Space. But what was really bad about this was when, why, and how they did it. The studio was in the midst of creating a single player, linear, story focused Star Wars game. Also known as exactly the type of game real Star Wars fans have been waiting for since like The Force Unleashed II. Then when asked about it, EA made a statement that sounded like they were declaring an end to single player, linear campaigns. They then came back and said that’s not what they meant, but it just goes to show you that EA can’t be trusted because they refuse to just give a straight answer about any topic. And that policy of using marketing speak instead of concrete words is finally coming back to bite them in the ass. And it absolutely did not help them that they were releasing a Star Wars themed multiplayer shooter with a joke of a campaign just a few months after closing down Visceral Games and stating that they were not killing but were changing the scope of their project considerably. Read my full thoughts on the closing of Visceral Games here.

Star Wars Battlefront II and the Loot Boxes

Star Wars Battlefront II is the sequel no one really asked for. It was a cash grab game made to symbiotically increase sales and popularity of the Star Wars IP with Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi. The true irony being that both works garnered a ton of controversy and negativity among the populous. The film did at least make money though.

stock down

Because of a combination of predatory business practices, bad blood over the Visceral Games Star Wars game, and an unacceptably long series of social faux pas, Battlefront II has done terribly. Its sales were considerably lower than its predecessor out of the gate. Disney forced them to completely remove microtransactions from the game until further notice, but they are supposed to be returning at some point. It was reported that EA’s stock value dropped by about $3 Billion because of this whole travesty of a game release. And the company is now responsible for the most downvoted comment in Reddit history.

The most important thing about this entire series of events is that it showed that we as a group actually do have real power over the gaming industry. Our comments, tweets, Reddit posts, and angry YouTube videos do make a difference when we work as a single unit with a common goal. This whole ordeal proved that if we would just get organized we could truly change things. And things are changing. Apple now requires all mobile apps with loot boxes to display the possible win percentages. And politicians in the United States and other countries are starting to discuss legislation about stopping predatory monetization practices in games.  You can read my full account of the Star Wars Battlefront II controversy and timeline here.

mari odyssey

Nintendo Owns It Hard

Nintendo has the odd habit of doing everything the public says they shouldn’t and then making a killing in sales and approval, both critical and public, and no one can ever seem to understand why or how they make this work. They’re just a magical company that shits gold time and time again. Here are some of their highlights for 2017.

Switch

They released a new console that people weren’t sure about and that many said would cannibalize their own handheld market. The console is doing very well and has already outsold the Wii U by leaps and bounds. Not to mention, the top two contested games of the year were both first party Switch games (The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild / Super Mario Odyssey). I wasn’t even planning on buying a Switch this year, but they finally got me with Odyssey.

Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle

Everyone said it was impossible to make Rabbids not the most annoying thing ever. I too was one of those people. The idea of a turn based RPG starring Mario and Rabbids sounded ridiculous. In fact it still does. But ultimately it won best strategy game at The Game Awards 2017.

GOTY Zelda

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

Objectively speaking this was the best game of 2017. It won the Golden Joystick Awards. It won The Game Awards. It made the Switch a financial success much sooner than expected. It’s being called by many the greatest Zelda game ever made, which is a bold statement to even consider making. This is like the new Final Fantasy VII. I haven’t personally played it yet, but from what I understand your children’s children will still be talking about this game.

SNES Classic

The best way to make money is to do so without doing anything you haven’t already done before. Nintendo exercises this statement boldly with the SNES Classic and the NES Classic before it. It’s another amazing trip down memory lane, they’re sold out everywhere, and scalpers are making a killing reselling them. Because Nintendo refuses to manufacture enough of them in order to artificially keep demand high. I actually was able to get one and I have to say that it’s an amazing console.

Animal Crossing Pocket Camp

Mobile Games

The idea of Nintendo getting into mobile games was offensive and worrisome. They already control the handheld market. How would they possibly participate in both markets without quality lacking somewhere? I still don’t really know how to answer that question. But I do know that Super Mario Run was the most downloaded app at one point in 2017. And people seem to love Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp.

Newsworthy Trailers

The business of trailers seemed to stand out a lot in 2017. Three games stand out the most. By newsworthy I don’t mean the best looking or even most anticipated trailers. I mean trailers that garnered actual news stories other than just “check out this trailer”.

Death Stranding Trailer

Death Stranding is the latest example of everything that’s wrong with celebrity game development. Just because a specific name, studio, or actor is tied to a game does not mean it will be good. We have seen no gameplay footage and gotten no concrete details but everyone is creaming their jeans over Death Stranding simply because it’s being made by Kojima. The latest trailer makes no sense, tells you nothing, and gives no sort of clues about the gameplay but everyone was losing their minds over it.

Death-Stranding

Last of Us 2 Trailer

I actually really liked this trailer. It doesn’t show us any gameplay footage, but we can assume that because it’s a sequel the gameplay will at least be similar to the first game. What this trailer does show us is that in a Walking Dead style of narrative, zombies are not the biggest problem in the post apocalypse. It’s actually other people. We are shown that we can expect powerful, violent, uncomfortable scenes from the next installment of The Last of Us and that’s a good thing. But many people were angry about the fact that the trailer shows women being tortured. Personally I thought this entire debate was hypocritical bullshit because the women were being tortured by a woman so this can’t be misconstrued as some form of sexism or even objectification for the male gaze. But internet gonna internet so whatever.

Detroit: Become Human Trailer

Similar to the way people reacted to The Last of Us 2 trailer, a lot of people were really unhappy with the child abuse shown in the latest trailer for Detroit: Become Human. There was a lot of debate about whether or not this kind of thing was ok to show in the marketing of video games or be shown in video games at all. I think this is hypocritical because we wouldn’t be having that conversation when talking about film. Gaming is an entertainment medium with the largest population of users being legal adults. It is perfectly acceptable to address serious themes in such a medium in the same way that it’s socially acceptable to have such things depicted in movies.

Detroit

Destiny 2

To nobody intelligent’s surprise, Bungie and Activision did exactly what I expected of them. Destiny 2 used the same bullshit scheme of overpromising, under delivering, hiding all the content behind additional paywalls, and delivering no end game; and that shouldn’t have surprised anyone. But this time they screwed up and put a vanilla game trophy behind a DLC paywall when they released an expansion and that really hurt their reputation and supposedly their stock price, for at least a time.

Horizon Zero Dawn

Probably the best example of why EA is bullshit from 2017. Guerilla Games created a beautiful, big budget, story based single player game. And it sold like hot cakes. People loved it. Critics loved it. Sony loved it. They even released a large expansion and priced the whole game fairly with it. Many non-Nintendo gamers believed it should have been game of the year. I definitely think we’ll see a sequel to this game and I hope other studios/publishers take Horizon Zero Dawn as an example for future projects.

Bethesda

Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus (Most Socially Aware Marketing Campaign of all Time)

Bethesda makes good games. I don’t love all or even most of their stuff, but I have always respected them as a company. But this year what they showed more than anything else is that they do not function in a vacuum. The company makes marketing campaigns and quite possibly games based on current events and popular opinion. I’ve never played any of the Wolfenstein games, old or new. I’ve always known about the franchise but I’ve never been that interested. I took an interest in Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus strictly because of the ad campaign. Trailers and banners with calls to action saying “Make America Nazi Free Again” hit so close to home in 2017. And this campaign wasn’t lost on anyone. Trump supporters were pissed about being called Nazis. Liberals thought it was hilarious and pre-ordered the game just to support the message. It was amazing marketing and ultimately I do think I’ll end up not only buying this game but also the previous titles to get the full story.

Save Single Player Games

Bethesda didn’t stop with Wolfenstein. They also went after EA and launched a campaign to save single player games. Also a super relevant and socially aware ad campaign that absolutely increased sales.

xbox one x

XBOX ONE X Released

Microsoft released “the most powerful console on the market” and people still don’t know what the point of that is if you don’t have a healthy lineup of exclusive titles that you can’t play on a much better PC, which the console doesn’t. They claim this console is for the fans who want the best of the best but even those people are smart enough to build a PC when you look at the games available. And to top it all off, Microsoft keeps focusing on bringing back old titles which often don’t even look good in 4k. It’s like they’re trying to compete with Sony and Nintendo at the same time and failing on both fronts.

Honorable Mentions

A few smaller things happened in 2017 that are not worth going over in detail but should be mentioned when grading the year in gaming as a whole.

Bubsy: The Woolies Strike Back

This actually happened and that’s worth talking about in and of itself.

PCNioh

Nioh (PC Version)

This was entirely unexpected and while it’s pretty shitty for early adopters I think it ultimately was a good thing because it lowered the price on both platforms and made all the content easier to access for all late adopters.

Sonic Forces

This happened. Amazing concept to allow people to create their own Sonic characters, but the game itself is about what we’ve come to expect from modern Sonic the Hedgehog. I still bought it predicting that would be the case for some reason.

Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy

Even on their worst day Naughty Dog only ever creates gold and this was far from their worst day.

Overall I’d say 2017 was a solid year for gaming. There were definitely some serious low points, most of which the fault of EA. But the high points outnumber them tenfold. I look forward to 2018 hoping for another year of excellent gaming but I’m curious to see what we get from Nintendo because they came out of the gate with some heavy hitters. I don’t want to see the Switch peter out after only a year.

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Rick, Morty, & Cronenberg

This is and will always be a gaming blog, but a few months back I declared that this would no longer be an exclusively gaming blog. I even took the time to change the title of the blog from ‘DJMMT’S Gaming Blog’ to ‘DJMMT’s Gaming (& More) Blog’. But to be honest I really haven’t been true to the “& More” part of the title up until now. So I wanted to take the time to write about something not gaming that is still very much important to many if not most of the members of the gaming community today. I’m talking about Rick & Morty.

I, like any sane human being, love Rick & Morty. It’s an amazing show that’s funny, relatable (in a weird way), somewhat educational in the fact that it gets people thinking about scientific concepts even if not being completely realistic about them, and most importantly, it’s expertly written. It’s one of the only shows I can remember watching and saying it has only gotten better over time. Just about every episode is better than the last one and I don’t think there’s been a single episode that I was genuinely displeased with. Really no other show can make that claim for me. Not even Game of Thrones. I recently re-watched the first three seasons and I was impressed to find that there are really no inconsistencies in the writing. Everything is tied up really nicely and even the continuity of the writing from episode to episode and between dimensions is all pretty much perfect . . . except for one episode, that I noticed.

jessica

In Season 1, Episode 6, named Rick Potion #9, Rick creates a special love potion for Morty that will make Jessica fall in love with him. It works but because she had the flu when the potion was applied, it mutated and spread turning everyone into violent, love crazed maniacs, all trying to pretty much rape Morty to death. This potion is based on vole DNA. To counter this potion, Rick creates another potion based on praying mantis DNA, which then turns everyone into giant praying mantises that still want to rape Morty to death. Then Rick makes a third potion that infuses the DNA of several things (koala, rattlesnake, chimpanzee, cactus, shark, golden retriever) including dinosaurs (which are expressed as a single species rather than naming a specific type of dinosaur) and turns everyone into what are referred to as Cronenbergs.

The name Cronenbergs, in my opinion but not verified by a confirmed source, is in reference to director David Cronenberg, specifically because of his film The Fly (1986) where Jeff Goldblum’s genes are accidentally spliced with a fly, mutating him into a fly man and eventually a giant humanoid fly and then in the end splicing in metal turning him into a monstrosity that Geena Davis ultimately shoots in the head. By the end of the film, Jeff Goldblum is a disgusting amalgamation of parts similar to the mutated people at the end of Rick Potion #9.

cronenbergs

If we assume that I’m right about why the writers chose to refer to these monstrous mutants as Cronenbergs then the assumption is that both Rick and Morty have seen The Fly, which is why they are both comfortable referring to them as Cronenbergs almost instantly. This all makes perfect sense. But at the very end of the episode in the post credits scene something odd happens. In the same way that Rick and Morty escape to a dimension where the world hasn’t been “Cronenberged” (and the Rick and Morty of that dimension have died for unrelated reasons), a Cronenberg version of Rick and Morty portal into the now Cronenberged world of our Rick and Morty. Cronenberg Rick refers to Morty as “Cronenberg Morty”. The two go on to say that they come from a world where everyone started off as Cronenbergs and then Rick accidentally turned them into normal people (but for some unmentioned reason didn’t use the process on themselves). The Cronenberg Rick and Morty decide to stay in the now Cronenberg world and take the place of Rick and Morty C-137 in that dimension.

Cronenberg_Rick

There are two problems I have with this ending. The first is that Cronenberg Rick and Morty use the term “Cronenberg” to refer to mutated people. This makes no sense. The term Cronenberg applies to people who have been mutated to look abnormal like in the film The Fly by David Cronenberg. That’s why the term makes sense. But in a world where everyone was born a mutant, there is no justification for the term. In a world where everyone is a freakish mutant, David Cronenberg would not have made a film about a normal looking man mutating into a monster. If anything the film would be about a freakish monster mutating into a normal looking person, and normal people would be referred to as Cronenbergs. But Cronenberg Rick and Morty ignore this logical conclusion and refer to mutants, including themselves, as Cronenbergs. How and why would this be the case?

the fly
The Fly (1986) by David Cronenberg

Now clearly from the outside, the writers did this for the purposes of reference language already used in the episode in order to keep the viewers comfortable. But as far as writing goes, which again is perfectly sensible and consistent throughout the rest of the show, this is a travesty. It breaks an otherwise perfect show. I even tried to think of a justification for it occurring. The only way I could see Cronenberg Rick and Morty using the term Croneneberg to identify people that look like them is that they may have watched The Fly on interdimensional cable, which doesn’t actually get shown until two episodes after Rick Potion #9 in Rixty Minutes. They still would have had to decide to use the director’s name as an inside joke to refer to themselves, but that almost seems like creating a slur to refer to yourself and others with your mutated condition. They also could have traveled to a dimension with regular looking people, saw the film, and then did the same thing, but it still assumes they would decide to make a slur of sorts to refer to themselves. This seems out of character for Rick and certainly for Morty.

Paper Mario Color Splash Screenshot 2017-10-03 21-30-17

 

My other issue, which falls into the same episode, is that on multiple occasions, both at the end of Rick Potion #9 and in Season 3 Episode 1, The Rickshank Rickdemption, Morty’s original family from dimension C-137 are shown to have survived the Cronenberg outbreak and continued living their lives as post-apocalyptic scavengers. In both of these episodes Beth, Jerry, and Summer have survived but Cronenberg Rick & Morty are nowhere to be seen with them. It seems odd, considering Morty’s temperament, that they never tried to meet up with their alternate dimension family. Now this isn’t an inconsistency like them using the term Cronenberg as much as a peeve because if the creators took the time to show them enter that dimension it seems only logical that they would have referenced them in some way later, especially after taking the time to revisit that version of Earth two seasons later.

Now of course neither of these issues detracts from the show as a whole. It has and I hope will continue to be of the highest caliber of quality comedic writing. But I wanted to point out these two continuity issues, see if anyone else noticed them and has any theories about them, as well as see if anyone else has noticed any other inconsistencies throughout the show. Let me know your thoughts in the comments.

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Don’t Lie to Consumers

It seems like more and more often today developers promise things for announced games and then ultimately don’t deliver. Probably the most notable example in modern gaming history is No Man’s Sky. It was only this month that Hello Games finally released a major update that delivered on some of the promises that were originally made and then broken. But I don’t necessarily believe that No Man’s Sky is an example of a developer blatantly lying to consumers. For me, that particular game is an example of indie developers reaching above their means and getting punished for it. But what about when a larger developer, such as DICE or Blizzard, blatantly lies to the public and fails to deliver what they promised?

Earlier this month, Ninja Theory released a game called Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice. Now personally I consider Ninja Theory to be a reputable developer of fairly decent size. They publish their own games with multi-platform releases. They’ve created great works over the years that everyone has heard of and most higher echelon gamers have played. I think it’s fair to hold them to a higher standard of game development and management expectations. So for me I think it’s a topic worth discussing when a developer like Ninja Theory lies about a key component of one of their games as part of its launch marketing.

ninja-theory

I have not yet gotten to play Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice. But I know I eventually will once the price drops. In fact I was sold by the opening sentence on the game’s Steam page. “From the makers of Heavenly Sword, Enslaved: Odyssey to the West, and DmC: Devil May Cry, comes a warrior’s brutal journey into myth and madness.” That sentence and the genre listing (action, adventure) is all they needed to sell an old schooler like me. Action adventure is my bread and butter and I loved each of the games listed in that sentence. So whether or not I was going to buy Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice was never in question. The only real question is when? But one thing that turned me off of the game, but ultimately did not change my mind about eventually buying it, which I haven’t yet, was this rumor about permadeath.

I don’t like permadeath. I grew up in the NES/Arcade era and there are still tons of games that I’ve never finished simply because I wasn’t good enough to beat them without continues. Today, gamers have even less patience and time than they did when I was a kid. That’s both gamers my age and older who have been gaming since that era, and new gamers just starting out today. No one has time to put several hours into a game only to have all your progress lost. I don’t discourage developers from putting permadeath as an option in their games today. But like most unconventional mechanics, I believe that it should be optional. We have the technology today to allow gamers of all types to tailor their gaming experiences to their own wants, needs, and preferences. I play games for the story. I don’t like replaying things. Permadeath is a no go for me. Some play games for the challenge. They don’t care about the story. They like permadeath. Neither of us is more or less of a gamer. And neither of us should have to suffer through an experience we don’t like in a game we’re interested in just so the other person can have maximum enjoyment. The technology exists today where a developer can grant us both maximum enjoyment. They need only add a trophy to differentiate the permadeath player from the continues player. Anyone who doesn’t think that’s fair probably voted for Trump and thinks they have a right to dictate the lives of other people.

hellblade permadeath

Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice had a huge rumor attached to it during the initial release window that if you died too many times your save would be deleted. This was a huge point of controversy all over the internet. Many forums, blogs, and gaming sites posted and debated this issue quite a bit. Ultimately though it was discovered that this was actually a lie. Ninja Theory put this out to the public and even has it stated in the game as a gimmick. The protagonist in the game suffers from delusions and the story is that she imagined the permadeath thing because her brain was playing tricks on her. Now first let me say kudos to Ninja Theory for connecting a mechanic, or at least the rumor of one, to the actual plot of a game. I love when developers make the story and gameplay work together as equally important parts of a whole. That’s how all games should be made and that belief is why I don’t play games like Overwatch. Also kudos again to Ninja Theory for being able to put out a rumor and keep it a secret until after launch. Even today, I’m sure some people still think the game has permadeath. But ultimately it doesn’t.

Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice does not actually have a permadeath feature. No not even in the hardest difficulty. Now personally I’m fine with that, which I already expressed earlier in this post. But what I’m not fine with is a developer blatantly lying to the public. Especially not as a way to hype their game. That’s basically false advertising. While it’s certainly not the kind of advertising that increases sales noticeably. In fact, I think it might lower them. It’s still a blatant lie to consumers. No it’s not the same as Hello Games promising multiplayer and then there not being any multiplayer. But it’s still a betrayal of consumer trust. If even one person bought the game specifically because of the permadeath feature, that’s a huge problem.

cover

 

Developers should not lie to consumers. Especially not as part of launch marketing. This last week BioWare announced that there would be no more single player DLC for Mass Effect Andromeda. That’s a problem. While I personally am not affected by the news because I never buy story DLC and hadn’t planned on it with Andromeda either, it clearly stated during the release window that the game would have additional single player content added in the future. I bought the Deluxe Edition. Plenty of people bought the game expecting additional content to be added later and now they won’t get it. That’s false advertising which is akin to theft. It’s exactly what happened to me with God of War: Ascension. I preordered the Collector’s Edition because of the promise of additional single player content which I was supposed to obtain with the season pass. Ultimately they never released any, made all the multiplayer DLC free for everyone, and never returned my money or compensated me in any way for having paid extra for a literally useless season pass. Developers should not lie to consumers. It’s not ok. In any other industry we’d be talking about a class action lawsuit. There almost was one in the UK for No Man’s Sky. If a game can’t stand on its own two feet and the developer can’t sell it honestly, then it’s clearly not ready for release or shouldn’t be released at all.

The problem is that developers have forgotten that they are in the business of entertainment. They’ve started to think that just because they make games means they deserve to make sales. That’s not how entertainment works. Making a game only gives you the right to potentially make a profit. It’s the quality of that game and the strength of the marketing that ultimately leads to profit. But if the marketing isn’t honest, then it’s not acceptable marketing. Personally, I think this trend is a serious problem. Look at games like Destiny and The Division. Both games that didn’t flat out lie, but were very dishonest in how they were presented pre-release. I preordered both games and while I don’t regret The Division as much, I do wish I hadn’t purchased either game. Lying to consumers or misrepresenting products to consumers, which for all intents and purposes is lying, is not and should not be considered an acceptable practice in the gaming industry or any industry for that matter.

Have any games burned you recently?

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Daughters and Sons (God of War IV)

If you’ve been reading my blog for a long time then you know that I’m a huge God of War fan. At one point it would have been accurate to even call me a fanboy because I thought Santa Monica Studio could do no wrong with this franchise. That ended with God of War: Ascension. It was a game that didn’t need to be made, didn’t do anything particularly new or impressive, and cheated me on the season pass. Even though they promised future DLC they actually released no additional single player content and all the additional multiplayer content was released for free. That means I paid for a season pass that literally got me nothing, except some PSN avatars and a dynamic theme. Since then I have not ceased to be a fan of the franchise, but I’m also no longer a diehard fanboy. I now judge the series from a much more objective standpoint and have often been very critical of more recent decisions. A good example of this is that I have been avidly opposed to the upcoming God of War IV pretty much since the announcement.

god-of-war-kratos-norse-thor

I was highly against the idea of God of War IV not because I want the franchise to end. Quite the opposite actually. It’s one of my favorite franchises of all time. I still remember the first time I beat the hydra in the very first game. My uncle was watching and we were both blown away. This was in many ways the moment where I decided I wanted to work in the gaming industry. I wanted to be involved in something that would blow people away like that. The reality is that I want(ed) to see many more games in the franchise but I don’t think they need to make any more starring Kratos. In my opinion, God of War III ended perfectly.  We were led to believe that Kratos killed himself and that his story was over. Now it’s fine that he’s still alive in this upcoming installment because it’s canon that Kratos never stays dead for long. He died in both God of War I and II only to come back and whoop some more ass. But his story concluded perfectly at the end of III. I really see no reason why they felt the need to continue his story. I felt the same way with how they handled Ascension. It was a pointless game that just milked Kratos because he’s marketable. What I wanted was for a new character to be introduced that would take on a similar plot to destroy the gods of his culture that had nothing to do with Kratos or Hellenic beliefs. At most a Kratos Easter egg is all I would have wanted. But instead they chose to once again focus on Kratos but now he’s in the Norse world.

norse mythology
That fight better happen.

Let me be very clear and say that there is nothing wrong with setting a God of War game in Norse mythology. That’s one of the best cultures to do a God of War series of games in. But making Kratos the star takes so much away from the overall plot. What I like about God of War is that the franchise is not just mindless hack-n-slash battles and large breasted sex mini-games, though both of those things do add a lot to the experience. While some people won’t agree, I actually think the God of War franchise has a great story with a great main protagonist. Kratos is a man plagued by the fact that he was tricked into murdering his wife and daughter and then later his mother as well. His whole life is just one big shit show that was orchestrated by the gods. This motivation makes for a great adventure where a man takes his destiny into his own hands and literally kills all the gods, except Aphrodite, in vengeance. The story is powerful, visceral, cathartic, and most importantly, memorable. But one of the main reasons the story works so well is that Kratos is part of it on a cultural level. He’s not some visitor from another land like William in Nioh. And he’s not some random faceless, emotionless NPC turned playable character like the Dovahkiin in Skyrim. He’s actively a part of Greek culture and starts out as a true believer, actively serving the gods to make penance for his crimes. This is such an important part of the story.

Placing Kratos in Norse mythology makes no sense. There’s no real justification for it and he has no real connection to the culture and gods of that world. He’s just a stranger mindlessly toppling a religion like a conquering Spaniard taking over South America. It’s not personal to him. I think that’s the main reason they gave him a son in this game.

old kratos

I am so avidly opposed to the Dad of War concept. In fact, I even wrote an article about it on Gaming Rebellion. There are a number of reasons I don’t like it. Again, remember that this entire line of thinking follows my original opinion that Kratos should not be the main protagonist of any more games. The trailer makes Kratos seem like this caring father to a less than impressive son. If you’ve played all the other games then you too found his lack of a bad temper, patience, and calm demeanor to be very uncharacteristic of Kratos. His son literally shoots him at one point in the middle of a battle and Kratos pretty much shrugs it off. I’m sorry, but that’s just not Kratos.

Mechanically speaking, the concept doesn’t really fit a God of War game. Obviously having not played it yet, I can’t say for sure, but I imagine the game will have some similarities to Enslaved: Odyssey to the West. You’ll be responsible for protecting and commanding this boy. While this will be a new addition to the gameplay, which can be a good thing for longstanding franchises, it will most likely slow the game’s combat down noticeably. God of War is traditionally fast paced combat. To destroy that general concept essentially ruins Kratos’ legacy. This could have been easily avoided as a problem if they would have just changed main characters so we had no long established expectations of him as a main protagonist. But again, I think the lack of connection and thus emotion in reference to the Norse mythology from Kratos is the main reason they decided to add in a child. It automatically gives Kratos some emotional baggage to connect with the story.  That’s a lazy trick, but I understand it. My only real question is why did they choose a son instead of a daughter?

enslaved

Let me preface this part of the article by saying that this is not about to turn into an SJW argument about why female characters should be portrayed more in games. Not at all. The fact is that I genuinely believe that it would have suited this already questionable story better to have made the next God of War game to be about Kratos and his daughter instead of a son. There’s a logical, canon based reason for this opinion.

One of Kratos’ darkest moments and emotions comes from the fact that he murdered his own daughter, Calliope. And the theme of fathering a daughter comes up all throughout the franchise. It’s especially important in Chains of Olympus, III, and Ascension. And in all these instances Kratos never truly succeeds at saving his daughter, surrogate or actual. This is exactly why I think he should have a daughter in IV instead of a son.

calliope

The new story shouldn’t be about him trying to raise a boy who already seems to be weak and useless. It should be about him raising a daughter and gaining redemption for the daughter he lost. But this time he doesn’t just try to protect her. He raises her to protect herself. Suddenly his new found patience and affection would make perfect sense. And it would keep the tension extremely high because you would constantly be expecting something terrible to happen to the daughter, like so many times before. Also Nordic culture happens to be one of the only cultures American males, the main market for the franchise, are familiar with having female warriors so it wouldn’t even be out of place for Kratos to have a girl fighting alongside him. On all counts this just seems like a sorely missed opportunity that would have helped so much with continuity between the Greek games and this new series of Norse ones. I really don’t see how they missed this. I already don’t like the boy and much of the reason for that is because he displays characteristics that would make way more sense coming from a daughter of Kratos.

I’m certainly gonna buy God of War IV, but this will be the first main console title in the franchise that I don’t buy at release. This was an opportunity to tell a powerful story that would have altered the Kratos mythos noticeably without coming off as odd for the character. Instead we’re stuck with this daddy day care scenario where his whiny, useless son just gets in the way and cries about killing deer. I expect better from Santa Monica Studio.

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Character Creators Kill Characters

This is an awkward time in game development. It’s a moment where more people than ever before are playing video games. No longer is it realistic to claim that any one group, gender, race, religion, or country makes up the majority of gamers. The gaming community now contains people from all walks of life from just about every country in the world. There are arguments about which markets matter the most based on size, but as far as actual gaming audience is concerned, it’s pretty much everybody.

This diverse array of gamers is a good thing for many reasons. But because of the selfish narcissism of most people, especially gamers, we’re also seeing some terrible repercussions because of this diversity. Today, more than ever before, people (not just gamers) have gotten it into their head that they matter a majority of the time. Things like Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube have given everyone a voice and for some reason that has led every asshole with a smartphone into believing that their opinions matter and that all works of entertainment should be tailor made for them specifically. And when it’s not made for them they whine, organize, riot, and literally destroy people’s careers and lives.

Your Opinion Big

I’m not talking about any one particular group here. Because so many groups are guilty of this new brand of arrogance. White men, homosexuals, racial minorities, women, and so on. All these groups and many more have on numerous recent occasions complained about a specific game or the industry as a whole simply because it did something they didn’t like or didn’t focus on their identifying group. Even not including a particular group in a game can cause an uproar. The problem with all this is that it has led many developers to try to work around the problem in ways that are easy and shown to be effective for basically all types of gamers. For me one of the worst ways this is being done today is with character creators.

Character creators are an interesting problem because they come from the best intentions. In many ways they’re the perfect form of escapism. When a game has a good character creator, you can literally put yourself in the game or be whoever you want to be. The problem is that this is mostly superficial. Let me clarify that moving forward, all mention of games in this post will refer to plot based campaigns. Multiplayer PVP scenarios are pretty much irrelevant to this particular discussion other than in the fact that they only add to the problem I’ll be addressing in a roundabout way. Multiplayer plot based campaigns are completely relevant though and definitely should be considered when thinking about this topic.

TLoU

Arguably the most important thing about a plot based campaign is the story. I said story there instead of plot because there is a difference. A game can have an amazing plot but if the story isn’t told right then the experience of the campaign will ultimately fail. The way a story is told, the way the characters interact, and the reasons behind why things happen in a story are all important parts of the experience. Think about any game with a good story and imagine if things where presented differently. Let’s use The Last of Us as an example. A game that’s often championed for having such an amazing story. Now imagine for a second if the game had done just a few things differently. All other things being equal, how would people have responded to the story if Joel had lost a son instead of a daughter, it’s revealed that Ellie will have to die to save the world at the beginning of the game, and/or Joel was Asian instead of Caucasian? I think most people would agree that while the gameplay would still be good and the plot would still be interesting, the overall experience of the story would be much less powerful if even just one of those three proposed changes had taken effect. The drama of the story comes from the fact that Joel and Ellie connect on a familial level because she reminds him of his deceased daughter. And the fact that he believes the world can be saved without her having to die from the beginning is what allows that connection to form by the end, literally sacrificing the rest of the world as a consequence of that connection. But in a scenario where you could create your own character, that story would be considerably less powerful.

Joels Daughter Dying

Joel and Ellie aren’t blood relatives. It would have been completely believable and possible for a Black, Asian, Latino or member of any other ethnic group, man or woman, heterosexual or homosexual to be put in the scenario of Joel. The story is that random survivor is tasked with escorting a random girl across the country. Either character could have been any mixture of identifiers and the story would still make perfect sense. But any significant change of profile could drastically reduce the impact of their relationship and by extension story. Therein lays the problem with character creators. They hurt the story in a game. Because no matter much effort a developer tries to make a character neutral story, it will never be as good as a targeted narrative. It’s literally impossible to do.

Modern Tomb Raider games are so powerful because of the vulnerability assumed by a young Lara Croft, a Caucasian female from a wealthy family whose biggest problem was losing her father at a young age. Imagine how much less impressive the character would be if she was a South American boy from Brazil who grew up in the slums of Rio de Janeiro. Now I’m not saying that a great story couldn’t be told starring a Brazilian male from humble beginnings. I’m just saying that the impact of the story in moments where men trapped on an island capture the character and threaten various physical abuses wouldn’t be nearly as powerful if he was the protagonist. That’s what storytelling is: Putting characters in situations that are impactful for them, not you. You as the audience are supposed to put yourself in the shoes of the character. Not the other way around.

Lara Captured

The problem with plot based games using character creators is that either the game is written for a specific character/audience, usually a heterosexual Caucasian male, and then blanket applied to all created characters regardless of important details like race, gender, and sexuality, or the game is written in such a way that nothing personal ever happens. Take Far Cry 5, which I can’t wait to play. The story of a deputy going into rural Montana to stop a predominantly, if not exclusively, White cult that is literally kidnapping and sacrificing people to their image of God. The game will have a character creator that will allow for male and female characters of any race. Now I don’t think it’s ridiculous to assume that if I, an African American male, walked into rural Montana today that I would probably be treated differently than either a Caucasian or Latino male and even more differently than a female of any race. And if that part of Montana was being run by a redneck cult, I believe that would be even more noticeable. Unless of course the cult genuinely has no preferences for their victims because their god told them that all people who aren’t in the cult need to be equally discriminated against and they were all pure and true believers/followers. But let’s be honest and admit that all people would not have the exact same experience walking into rural Montana. Having not yet played the game, I cannot say for sure if Ubisoft has done anything to differentiate the experiences of created avatars based on race and gender among other identifiers in this newest Far Cry. But I can say that in general most games don’t. Especially those from Ubisoft. I played The Division as a Black male. I didn’t experience anything that called attention to the race of my character. Sure the game is set in a post-apocalyptic virus state but it’s still New York City. Someone would say something about race at some point. They wrote the story as if all people are exactly the same. For the most part, that’s what happens in games with character creators. And it’s the least effective means of storytelling a majority of the time.

cover

Some companies do put in the time to at least try to differentiate characters you create in their games. BioWare, specifically with Dragon Age, is a good example of this. The ability to choose things like origin, species (which is different from race in reality), and sexual preference all help to differentiate the gameplay experience of each player and try to tailor an experience relevant to their avatar. And they do a decent job. But part of the reason they get away with it is that they create games with scenarios where human differentiation doesn’t really make sense. In both Dragon Age and Mass Effect, you have multiple species of people living among each other. There are prejudices. There are questions about species mixing and sexuality. There are ethical and moral issues that players are forced to make decisions about and then hear the opinions about these choices from various NPCs. But none of these moments take into account current real life human experiences, because they don’t really have to. People today may differentiate based on skin color, but I can guarantee you that if tomorrow five other sentient species of alien races started living on this planet basically all people would stop seeing human race as an issue. You’re not gonna think twice about the Black guy down the block endangering your neighborhood when your next door neighbor is a giant walking lizard that can lift you off the ground and rip you in half. Human racism makes no sense in these scenarios. Hell, it barely makes sense in current real life scenarios. The games still have racism, but it’s never between members of the same species.

DAI Character Creator

That’s how BioWare chose to deal with the problem of balancing out character creators and narrative. It works, but not every game has aliens and sentient non-human races. That trick won’t work in Far Cry 5. That game will most likely just suffer from bland character experiences and rely heavily on the enemies being so interesting that you ignore the fact that your own character is having a pretty much vanilla experience. What’s sad though is that people are happily championing the spread of character creators in games. All these minority groups are happily accepting White male characters with coats of paint rather than demanding games with plots written for their group. For me that’s a problem, not only because I do want to see more actual games starring Black protagonists but also because I play games for the story. And I don’t like bland plots that aren’t personal. In a PVP scenario I love creating my own character. In a game that pretty much has no real story like Dark Souls, character creators are fine because that’s pretty much all gameplay anyway. But when a company is trying to sell me a plot as the main selling point of the game, I expect a well written, personal, and realistic story. That story doesn’t have to be about someone I personally identify with, but it needs to be good. But there’s the rub. Most people today don’t seem to have my open minded tolerance for games that aren’t made for them specifically. They would prefer superficial experiences where they can take screenshots of their avatar looking the way they want so they can post them on Twitter rather than experiencing an Oscar worthy narrative. For me that’s a problem.

Dark Souls Character

The issue of diversity in video games is definitely an important one. But I would never agree that it’s so important that general quality of single player campaigns should go down as a result of trying to fix that issue. Instead I think this should be seen as an opportunity for developers of all sizes to make more games with more variation between them. Rather than try to make a game for everyone that no one will love. Make everyone their own game and everyone should be happy with their one game (a year). Not every game needs to be for everyone and not every group needs to be represented in every game. Instead when groups are represented in games it should be done to the highest possible quality and realism. That’s why for me the modern proliferation of character creators in games isn’t a good thing. I’ll take one well written game starring a Black guy over five empty games where I can pretend the character is a Black guy any day. Thoughts?

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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 and Patreon if you enjoyed what you read.

That Monitor Is So Not “Gaming”

Last week was COMPUTEX. For those or you that aren’t familiar with the event, it’s basically CES Asia, but bigger and with many more models. This was my second year in a row attending. Last year I went as press and this year I worked a booth as a member of the PC DIY industry. I don’t want to do a full write up of the show, but I’ll just say a few words. It was an interesting show this year, but not nearly as spectacular as last year. This year I saw much of the same from the heavy hitters like MSI, Zotac, and ASUS. The most impressive things I personally saw came from smaller companies I hadn’t heard of before.

One thing that really stood out to me was the number of companies selling “gaming monitors.” If you google the term “gaming monitor” no definitive link comes up. Instead what you get is a bunch of articles ranking and reviewing “gaming monitors” and stores like Best Buy trying to sell them. The issue here is that there is no official definition or set of standardized guidelines for how to determine what actually is a gaming monitor. What this has led to is a flooded market of wannabes misusing the phrase to try to sell subpar pieces of equipment at higher prices. Of course a gaming monitor must be a monitor that a PC gamer would purchase for the purpose of gaming, but technically you can game on any modern monitor. I think it’s interesting that the term “gaming TV” isn’t actually a thing while “gaming monitor” is. When you google “gaming TV” similar search results come up, with mostly ranked lists and reviews, but in general it’s not a widely used term. To drive the point home: searching “gaming monitor” on Best Buy brings up a list of options while searching “gaming tv” brings up a list of random products, many of which are not even TVs at the beginning of the list.

Computex

What I noticed at COMPUTEX was that most of these smaller companies were selling “gaming monitors” as any monitor that’s curved and has at least 144Hz. In my opinion, the curve is not an adequate qualifier for a gaming monitor. Plenty of people purchase curved monitors and TVs for use outside of gaming. A curved monitor in no way provides an experience required by or exclusive to the needs of gamers. Arguably, a curved monitor doesn’t even necessarily improve the gaming experience. I think the 144Hz definition is a little bit closer because there are very few if any serious applications outside of gaming that require or even seriously make use of that much output frequency. Yet I still would argue that just having that high a frequency alone doesn’t necessarily qualify as a gaming monitor. Imagine, for the purposes of argument, that someone offered a 144Hz monitor that could only run a maximum of 720p. In 2017 would that be considered a gaming monitor? Again, it could definitely be used for gaming but would anyone seriously consider buying it? Most likely not. 1080p has become the standard minimum screen resolution for both TV’s and monitors and has been for a number of years, gaming or otherwise.

ASUS No 1

ASUS defines gaming monitors with a less than technical approach. They instead focus on the practical applications when defining their monitors as/for gaming. They refer to themselves as the “No.1 Gaming Monitor Brand”. Their main justification for that isn’t focused on specs or features though. Instead they list off game genres and how their monitors perform when playing them. They state that they are the “best gaming monitors for Cinematic Games” listing MOBA, RPG, RTS genres with some generic details about performance such as “immersive life-like visuals”. They do similar things with “Fast Games” listing FPS and racing, and “Console Games” listing no specific genres. This means of defining gaming monitors may be a little more specific and provides some practical examples for why gamers would want their monitors, but it in no way gives specific reasons for why these monitors perform better at playing these games. It’s important to note that ASUS’ gaming monitors do have a number of technical features that I believe do actually make them “gaming monitors” as opposed to just monitors that you can play games on, but those features aren’t being used by the company to define them as such in their marketing.

ASUS site

I think Best Buy does the best job of genuinely trying to define what gaming monitors are in an objective, spec focused manner. If you search “gaming monitors” on Best Buy’s site you will get a list of five features/categories: 1ms Response Time, 144Hz, IPS, G-Sync, and FreeSync. I like this list of features a lot. I don’t necessarily agree with the inclusion of IPS, but in general I like the idea that they have defined gaming monitors based on technical specs that fall outside of visual aesthetics of the monitor itself and at least 4/5 of the categories are features that only gamers would actually care about. I think G-Sync and FreeSync are the most important features for a gaming monitor and response time comes in at third. Hz frequency is at fourth. My personal priorities and preferences when picking a monitor are irrelevant though. What’s important here is that all of these monitors, with possibly the exception of the IPS section, are categorized by things that only gamers would take the time to care about and really consider as deal breakers when picking a monitor. I especially like that resolution isn’t part of the list. A 4K monitor is not definitively a gaming monitor. Plenty of people use 4K for watching TV and for work based applications like graphic design. Many if not most games still aren’t even capable of running in 4K.

Best Buy Gaming Monitors

As I’ve been trying to pick a monitor for my own rig recently, I posed the question to Reddit. I had an overwhelming percentage of people say that G-Sync/FreeSync and 144Hz were the most important thing when picking a monitor for the purpose of gaming. They even went on to say that if you have to choose between 4K and G-Sync/FreeSync that the Sync option was hands down more important for gaming 100% of the time. That feedback and my own research made me opt to buy an ASUS ROG Swift PG278QR. With my 1080 GPU, that monitor will give me the best gaming experience I can afford at a size that works for my needs, based on my research.

Personally, I think this is a really important issue. The industry should create a set of minimum standards and guideline when defining a gaming monitor to prevent companies from arbitrarily raising prices without delivering any technical/performance based justification for calling their product(s) “gaming monitors”. I saw so many nice looking, but ultimately non-performing monitors at COMPUTEX this year. Sure they would have given you at least 1080p at 60Hz, which is technically good enough. But that’s pretty much a standard monitor these days, whether you’re gaming or not. In the same way that mechanical keyboards must use mechanical switches, monitors should have some sort of defining quality based on the specs/features that objectively categorize them as “gaming” or not. Otherwise less experienced and unknowledgeable consumers will continue to be tricked into buying lower priced third party and first party units that ultimately deliver less than the current standard in high end gaming.

*Just wanted to take the time to mention that I finally started a Patreon page. I don’t expect to get rich, but after nearly four years of dedicated gaming content creation I thought it was time. Anything helps so even if you aren’t able to donate, please consider sharing the page.

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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.