Picking GOTY the Right Way

Every year The Game Awards disappoints us all by choosing a list of five or six games to contend for Game of the Year that usually makes little to no sense. They always nominate the arguably but not necessarily correct choice, a correct second choice when compared to the first, two or three games that are justifiable but not really contenders, and inevitably one game that just absolutely should not be there, ultimately robbing a more deserving game. For this post, I only want to talk about the Game of the Year category from The Game Awards. I won’t discuss any of the other categories.

This year the nominees for Game of the Year, listed in the order as shown on The Game Awards nomination page are:

  1. Control
  2. Death Stranding
  3. Resident Evil 2 Remake
  4. Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice
  5. Smash Bros. Ultimate
  6. The Outer Worlds

As soon as the nominees were announced, the debates and vitriol started to hit social media, as is tradition. This happens to be one of those really divisive years that always happens when a Kojima game is involved. I ended up tweeting a long thread about my views on how GOTY should be picked but then I realized that writing a blog post on the topic would be more appropriate because it would let me expand and describe my thoughts on the subject better than a string of 280 character blurbs. If you’d like to see the original twitter thread you can find it unrolled for easy viewing here.

Nominees.pngI want to clarify that the purpose of this post is not to try to tell people who to vote for specifically but rather to create an objective system for how people should approach voting for GOTY in general. This isn’t meant to be applied to any particular year of nominees but rather should act as a general guide that could be applied to any list of nominees in any year.

I think the first and most important part of choosing a GOTY is first defining what the term “Game of the Year” actually means, or more specifically should mean. As with real politics, a lot of people think GOTY means the nominee they enjoyed the most. This is incorrect thinking, in my opinion. GOTY, as with actual politicians, isn’t meant to best quantify your tastes in the options available. It’s meant to best exemplify the traits/values that define the award. In other words, you’re not supposed to vote for the thing you like but rather the thing that best exemplifies the topic you’re voting on. If you’re asked to vote which number is higher and the candidates are 5, 9, and 42, you’re supposed to vote for 42. It doesn’t matter if you like 5 better than 42. 42 is the highest number and thus the correct nominee to vote for. I believe GOTY can and should be approached with the same level of objectivity. The subjective portion is the debate about which of the nominees best meets the criteria of GOTY, but the criteria itself should be objective and the only basis of voting applied by each individual voter. That is to say, we might not agree on which game should be chosen as GOTY, but we should all agree on what GOTY is supposed to mean and be voting for whatever nominee we ultimately chose for the exact same reasons.

right waySo let’s define what GOTY actually means, or more accurately is supposed to mean. Listed on The Game Awards page as the description for the Game of the Year category is the following: Recognizing a game that delivers the absolute best experience across all creative and technical fields. That’s what GOTY is. It doesn’t say “Game I liked the Most” or “Game that got the Best User Score on Metacritic”. It’s supposed to be the game that best exemplifies the craft of overall game design and implementation within the highly competitive and comparative medium of video games. Let’s unpack that.

I believe that choosing the GOTY, based on the described category by The Game Awards, requires looking at several factors while considering a number of key points in order to keep things fair and balanced between the nominees. I’ll go over each one, in no particular order, separately before making a final conclusion on what I believe the GOTY pick for this year should be.

5 Pillars of GOTY.jpgA Game is made up of 5 Equally Weighted Factors

 

There is always debate about what matters most in a game. Is it the story, the gameplay, the graphics, or something else? Are certain factors more important than others? Can developers get a pass for cheaping out in specific areas of development? In my opinion the answer is always no. At base value a game consists of five areas of creativity that define its presentation to the player: Gameplay, Writing, Graphics, Audio, Length. None of these factors are more important than the others. They are all equally important in the creation of a video game and should all be weighted equally when comparing games. This is similar to how I have always approached reviews save for a larger focus on replay value and cost. The category isn’t Shooter of the Year. It’s GOTY. So the gameplay shouldn’t outweigh the story, because the story is no less important than the gameplay when “recognizing a game that delivers the absolute best experience across all creative and technical fields”.

A GOTY has to do all five things in tandem better than all the other nominees. The art of game development is understanding that there are limits to what can be done in each field with the time and resources available during development and deciding what can be sacrificed while maintaining an overall standard of quality higher than all the other games released that year, and ideally in previous years as well.

All-for-one-handsI’d like to take some time to discuss length specifically because it’s always a topic of debate. The appropriate length of a game is a very subjective topic that is often muddied by concepts like replay value. In my opinion, length also needs to be directly tied to actual value as defined by cost. I also think that a game being too long is just as problematic as a game being too short, but when factoring in value the longer game is always better than the shorter one. Replay value needs to be factored based on the level of direct repetition and the actual value of replay as opposed to subjective enjoyment.

A game that’s only 20 hours long that you enjoyed enough to play twice isn’t equitable to a game that’s 40 hours in one playthrough. Because it’s not accurate to say that everyone will want to replay the game. Replay value can only be counted towards length if there’s a legitimate reward of value for taking the time to replay it. This is hard for many games to do well; especially in the current landscape where nearly 100% of gamers are backlogged. There is no objective value in replaying Cuphead on the harder difficulty after completing it on the standard difficulty. If you completed it without using the easy mode then you experienced everything it has to offer content wise. That’s not to say that you shouldn’t replay the game on the harder difficulty if that’s what you want to do. But the game doesn’t magically double in length compared to the length of other games because you want to take the time to play it again. There’s no additional content, no meaningful rewards, and no alternate/additional story content gained from replaying the game on a harder than normal difficulty. It’s simply for love of the game, which can’t legitimately be applied because not everyone will love the game enough to want to play it again just for the fun of it.

replay value smash brosMultiplayer replay value is not authentic replay value. The length should only be counted based on the time it takes you to experience it all once. An hour of maps that you play 50 times is not objectively 50 hours of added gameplay. It’s one hour of gameplay you replayed 50 times. Length should only be defined by the amount of time it takes at face value to experience all the content the game has to offer one time.

GOTY doesn’t have to be replayable. It simply needs to provide the correct amount of gameplay for the best overall experience. A well-crafted one and done is no more or less valid than a game that asks you to play it multiple times. Especially if those replays offer little in the way of actual value outside of subjective enjoyment.

Each of the five topics should be weighted equally but compared separately between games. A game with shitty gameplay and great story is not better than a game with great gameplay and shitty story. Both are equally bad and should lose out to a game with both above average gameplay and story. But again it’s best of five categories. A game that does length, story, and audio better than a game that does gameplay and graphics better should win between the two. Because it’s a 3 factors to 2 factors comparison at that point. And three is higher than two. Now ideally this isn’t what ends up happening because it would be odd if in a given year the winner had garbage gameplay and graphics but the other nominees all had garbage audio, were too short, and were terribly written.

The Game Awards Nominees NoteThe Nominees Are the Nominees

The Game Awards gets the nominees as a whole wrong pretty much every year. There’s always at least one that just shouldn’t be there and there’s always at least one that absolutely got robbed. Last year it was Celeste that shouldn’t have been nominated. This year it’s Control. And make no mistake, no matter how much you personally may have liked Control, it wasn’t a more qualified contender for GOTY than Devil May Cry V, Astral Chain, and Fire Emblem: Three Houses. I have my thoughts about why Control was nominated but it doesn’t really matter. The nominees are the nominees and we can’t change that. Rather than fight about would should have been nominated, we should just accept the nominees and pick the appropriate choice from that pre-determined list of games and make sure not to allow the off pick to win or it could have devastating long term ramifications for the industry. It would have been absolutely horrendous if God of War and Red Dead Redemption 2 had lost to Celeste last year. And I’m speaking as someone who enjoys playing Celeste.

1200px-Port_of_Cape_Town
It’s a Port . . .

Ports, Remasters, Remakes, and Reimaginings

There is always debate about the validity and fairness of reused, rehashed, and remade games being contenders for GOTY. It’s a valid question and it’s hard to create a completely objective set of rules, but there are definitely obvious points that shouldn’t be considered debatable.

The issue comes down to comparative fairness, effort/work put in, and not allowing double counting. A game gets only one chance to win GOTY. Many games have come over the years that in other years would have definitely won GOTY. But that’s not how it works. A game has to be the best in the year it was released because all the games previously made were made with the knowledge of how the market responded to those past games. Letting a game get considered twice gives it an unfair advantage and more chances to win than every other game. It’s differentiating original games and their rereleased counter parts that’s tricky, but I say when in doubt always error on the side of caution.

02 The Last of UsThe question of fairness comes down to work put in compared to other studios in order to achieve comparable results, in each category. When given two games with similar levels of quality and no clearly superior choice, the one that did more work should be considered the winner.

Reimaginings don’t really need to be debated. If it’s a true reimagining where everything is redone, rewritten, and changed to the point of it not even being the same original game, then of course it should be considered as a potential GOTY candidate. Ratchet & Clank (2016) is an excellent example of a true reimagining that was absolutely valid to consider for GOTY. Note that “considered” does not mean “had an actual chance of winning” in this context.

20 Ratchet and ClankPorts and remasters by their very nature aren’t new games. Updating the graphics and adding a little DLC doesn’t compare to creating an entirely new game. The amount of time put into concept development, art style, visual assets, story development, voice acting, and so on just doesn’t compare to making a new game of similar quality. A port already got its chance at GOTY in its original form and shouldn’t be considered again. Remasters are glorified ports. A bit more work may have been put into improving them, but the bulk of the foundational work still doesn’t compare to all the new games released in a given year. Looking at examples like The Last of Us and Mario Kart 8 Deluxe from years past, it should be fairly obvious that like ports, remasters have no business being reconsidered as GOTY contenders.

Remakes are where things get tricky to define. There is no objective criteria for defining a remake. Some are little more than glorified remasters while others are completely new games. Some are able to reuse tons of assets while others have to start almost completely from scratch save for writing. So they need to be judged on a case by case basis. The one thing I think should be 100% undebatable is that in the event of a tie the remake should always lose out to an original release in the same year. Again, we need to take into account all five categories. The problem is that a true remake, such as Link’s Awakening, involves almost no creative development. The writing, assets, music, and length are all predefined. Yes a lot of work needs to be done to recreate those assets, but the creative aspects of the project simply don’t compare to that of making a new game from scratch. But again, it’s all comparative. If a remake looks genuinely better than all the original nominees in a given year then you give it the point for graphics. But if other games look similar or as good, then you award that point to one of the original titles. Directly ported things like writing shouldn’t be considered as valid for comparison. The points should never go to the reused content.

resident evil 2 remakeThis year’s nominees include Resident Evil 2 Remake. At face value many people do believe it was GOTY for 2019. I have to disagree. From what I’ve heard, the only thing about it that’s truly original is the gameplay. It’s been essentially redesigned. Everything else is pretty much a spirited recreation of the original game. That’s not to argue that Resident Evil 2 Remake isn’t a good game. Not including it is more an issue of fairness than an issue of quality.

I’m sure this issue will come up again with FFVII Remake next year. The difference is that Square Enix has stated that it will be intentionally different from the original. Having already tried the gameplay myself, I can say that it certainly looks and feels like a completely different game. But until we see how much of the game has changed from both a narrative and length standpoint it’s impossible to comment on whether or not it’s actually fair to consider it.

KojimaProductionsGame of the Year Doesn’t Mean Studio of the Year

A major issue that comes up a lot when judging games is the consideration of who made the game. This shouldn’t actually matter when picking a GOTY. The studio, director, actors, and so on are irrelevant. No matter how much you love Kojima, that doesn’t make Death Stranding a better game than it is. No matter how much you hate Ubisoft, that doesn’t make Ghost Recon: Breakpoint a worse game than it is. Games should be judged in a vacuum that only takes into account the comparative quality of each nominee. External factors, with the exception of how much content is actually original in the case of remake and remasters, should never be considered when choosing GOTY.

sekiro__shadows_die_twice_gxSales Numbers Matter, Long-term Popularity Doesn’t

GOTY implies it’s the game of the year for everyone, or more accurately a large percentage of gamers. That means that people had to actually play it, which implies they had to actually be interested in it. This is the sole reason that Control wasn’t appropriate to nominate. If a few people absolutely love a game, that’s great. But it’s not GOTY material. Because games are experiences made for an established gaming market. Making games that don’t appeal to that market may be innovative, but that’s not the point of GOTY. A contender needs to actually appeal to the community in order to be considered worthy of the title. Regardless of how much some people like a game, if few people were even interested enough to try the game then it’s not GOTY material. That doesn’t mean that the bestselling game in a given year should win that year. But there does need to be a minimum number of units sold to be able to imply that it appealed to a large percentage of gamers. Because GOTY is for everyone. Not just a small subset of people within a specific sub-group within the gaming community. Every gamer should be able to look at the GOTY and acknowledge it as a legitimate choice even if it wasn’t their favorite game in that year. That’s what was so good about the 2018 nominees. While there were two fairly clear frontrunners, five of the six nominees could have been chosen and no one would have legitimately been able to say the choice was biased. All six of the nominees were highly acclaimed and sold well. “Everyone” loved them all. Celeste wasn’t up to the standard of the AAA titles which is why it shouldn’t have been nominated, but other than that any of the games in the running appealed to gamers as a whole as opposed to a niche audience. You can’t say that about necessarily any of the nominees this year, mostly because the wrong games were nominated, but some games get closer than others. The ones that get closest are the ones that should actually be considered for GOTY.

Jedi Fallen Order WallpaperThe problem with the entire concept of GOTY is that it takes a year to decide on the nominees. That means that a game has to stay in people’s heads for a year. Honestly that’s a ridiculous ask. Because as I’ve said, one and done games are perfectly legitimate GOTY contenders. Take a game like Star Wars: Jedi Fallen Order. It just released in November 2019. It will be included in the running for GOTY 2020 because it missed the 2019 cutoff. The reviews are great. The public loves it as well. It might be the best EA game we’ve gotten since Mass Effect 3 and the best Star Wars game since The Force Unleashed II. But it’s ridiculous to think that we’ll still be talking about it in November 2020. Why? Because we’re about to go through a year containing Cyberpunk 2077, Nioh 2, The Last of Us Part 2, Marvel’s Avengers, Final Fantasy VII Remake, DOOM Eternal, Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot, and Yakuza: Like a Dragon just to name a few of the games coming in 2020. Even if Star Wars: Jedi Fallen Order is the objectively best game to release in the next year, we absolutely won’t still be talking about it after reaching the end of this gauntlet of big budget games and power house IPs. That’s not a fault of the game. It’s just the reality of an ADD ridden consumer base coupled with a constantly moving stream of new noteworthy games. It’s ridiculous to think we should still be talking about games we’ve already finished and moved on from after playing five or ten other impressive games released after it.

cyberpunk-2077Currently a lot of people are saying Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice isn’t being talked about anymore so it shouldn’t be nominated. That’s an irrelevant point. Since that game released in March, we’ve gotten Yoshi’s Crafted World, Mortal Kombat 11, Days Gone, Judgement, Super Mario Maker 2, Fire Emblem: Three Houses, Astral Chain, Monster Hunter World: Iceborne, Daemon X Machina, Link’s Awakening Remake, The Surge 2, Ghost Recon: Breakpoint, Luigi’s Mansion 3, Death Stranding, and Control. Of course we’re not still talking about Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice. Why would we be? And this was considered a mediocre year by the way. It’s this thinking that I believe ultimately led to Devil May Cry V getting robbed of a nomination. It’s simply too old by this point, because it came out before Sekiro did.

It doesn’t matter if we’re still talking about a game when the awards season comes up. What matters is how the game compares in the five expressed categories compared to the other games released that same year coupled with whether or not it reached the unwritten popularity by sales threshold. Remember that Sekiro was the third highest selling Japanese game ever to release on Steam. It sold over 2 million copies worldwide within 10 days of release. It absolutely deserves to be considered as a legitimate contender for GOTY.

death strandingInnovation Doesn’t Mean GOTY

Innovation is a good thing in the gaming industry. But only if the innovation pans out as a positive thing. Games are still products made for consumers in an established market. If a product doesn’t appeal to that market, then it shouldn’t matter how innovative it is. Look at the Wii U. It was extremely innovative. People didn’t like it. We didn’t award it console of the year simply because it dared to be different. Nintendo went back to the drawing board and tried again. Now we have the Switch, which is super successful. Awarding GOTY strictly because of innovation is incorrect thinking. A game still has to appeal to the market and hit all the other points I’ve expressed in order to legitimately be considered for GOTY. Innovation is good, but a lack of innovation isn’t automatically problematic. If the people want the same old thing then a studio can and quite possibly should choose to give that to them. Because remember what GOTY means: a game that delivers the absolute best experience across all creative and technical fields. The fields never change. How studios approach them does but the same five categories are set in stone and will be for the foreseeable future. This is the question that needs to be asked about Death Stranding. A lot of people have argued that it’s the most innovative game in years so it should win. I disagree with that thinking. It may very well be the most innovative game we’ve seen in years. But does it beat out the other nominees for gameplay, writing, length, audio, and graphics? Maybe it does. If you think it actually does then that’s the game you should vote for. If you think it leads in innovation but not in a majority of the actual categories, then it’s objectively the incorrect game you should be voting for this year.

controlIn conclusion, your GOTY vote shouldn’t be for the game you personally liked the most. It should go to the game that you believe best meets the criteria set by The Game Awards which is defined as “recognizing a game that delivers the absolute best experience across all creative and technical fields”. All the nominees should be compared based on all the major factors that make up a gaming experience: gameplay, graphics, audio, writing, and length (based on value as defined by price).

Looking at the nominees, I have to say that the wrong list of six games was nominated for this year. But as I said, the nominees are the nominees and that can’t be changed. So we must compare these six games and make a GOTY selection based on them. The fact is that Control didn’t sell well and we don’t really have any sales figures available for The Outer Worlds other than the phrase “exceeded expectations”, whatever that means. Honestly both of those games weren’t nearly as popular as they needed to be to consider as legitimate GOTY contenders. I don’t think they even need to be compared to the rest of the group. Death Stranding I actually feel like is getting hyped due to Kojima and how close to the nominations announcement it released, so I will absolutely acknowledge it as a contender but I don’t believe something that niche would have necessarily been nominated over many of the games that got snubbed if it had released earlier in the year. Resident Evil 2 remake was definitely popular, definitely well made, and definitely a safe choice to nominate. But because of the fact that it’s a remake, I believe there are games that didn’t get nominated that are at least as if not more worthy for a nomination than it was. So I won’t consider it a legitimate pick for this year either. Really it comes down to Death Stranding, Smash Bros. Ultimate, and Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice as the only objectively acceptable picks for GOTY based on this list of nominees.

Nominees top 3 2019It’s interesting that two of these three nominees are console exclusives (at the time of nomination) and all three are Japanese developed games. Smash Bros. Ultimate is the most massively appealing with more than 12 million units sold the month of release as a console exclusive. But sales figures aren’t the only thing that matters. In fact, it’s not even close to the most important thing. So let’s go down the list of categories one by one.

Game of the Year 2019 Assessment

Gameplay

For gameplay I’d say Death Stranding is the most innovative, but it’s also the least appealing to a general audience of gamers. Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice has the most controversial gameplay, having spawned an online controversy about accessibility in games. Smash Bros. Ultimate has the most accessible gameplay, but I’d also say it was the least innovative because this is several sequels into the franchise. But a lack of innovation isn’t a bad thing if it appeals to the consumer base. And the amount of additional fighters has drastically impacted the gameplay, even if only marginally to casual players. So I actually think that an argument could be made that Smash Bros. Ultimate wins out for gameplay not because the gameplay is necessarily superior but because of the three it’s the most widely liked/tolerated gameplay with little to no real controversy surrounding it.

Graphics

 It’s easy to say that Smash Bros. Ultimate has the least impressive graphics because of the art style but it also has the largest number of characters, settings, and objects of the three games in question. Counting it out really comes down to bias for art style more than objective comparison. That being said, many of the assets used in Smash Bros. Ultimate have been recycled from past games. Death Stranding has a much more expansive map than Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice but I wouldn’t argue that it’s necessarily a better looking game. Sekiro also has a lot more movement and interacting elements than Death Stranding. Between the three, I would give the win to Sekiro but I believe an argument can be made to award it to Death Stranding as well. Remember that the grading is subjective by nature. It’s the approach to grading that needs to remain objective.

Audio

 Comparing these three games for audio is tough. For music, it goes to Smash Bros. Ultimate. It has the largest library of music that pretty much any game has ever had. The sound effects for this fast paced fighting game are also fairly accurate and of great quality, especially for the hardware the game runs on. I’d probably award the audio category to Death Stranding over Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice but having not completed either game yet, I’m willing to acknowledge that my view on that could be inaccurate. When considering that most of the audio library for Smash Bros. Ultimate isn’t original content, I have to award the audio category to Death Stranding.

 Length

How do you compare length between a game with countless repetitive side missions, a die countless times Soulsborne title, and a fighting game? Honestly it’s hard to really define the length of any of these games and it’s even harder to decide if at least two of the games are the correct length for what they are. According to How Long to Beat, which isn’t necessarily a perfectly accurate rating system for game length, Sekiro is 27.5 hours for the main story while Death Stranding is 36. In general, longer is better if we assume neither game is longer than it needs to be. But there is an assumption that dying countless times to the same boss counts as fun. Equally so, there’s an assumption that delivering packages over and over is fun. The difference is that delivering packages is the point of the game, while dying is more of a repercussion of not playing the game well. The speedrun times for Sekiro come in at under 30 minutes while the speedrun times for Death Stranding come in at more than five hours while skipping cutscenes. So between the two I think Death Stranding beats out Sekiro for length. But we need to talk about Smash Bros. Ultimate. This is a fighting game, but it’s probably the most comprehensive fighting game ever made. There are 69 default characters plus six more DLC characters. If you play just 10 minutes per a default character, you’re already at 11.5 hours. The World of Light story mode is easily a three or more hour experience on its own. The spirit board mode is constantly updating. Plus there are a number of other modes like Classic Mode and the later added Homerun Contest all at no additional cost. Even if you never replay a single match and don’t play any online or PVP matches, you’re still getting way more bang for your buck from Smash Bros. Ultimate than you are in Death Stranding without having to arbitrarily add length to the games. So objectively speaking I have to award length to Smash Bros. Ultimate.

 Writing

At a glance most people will award the writing category to Death Stranding simply because it’s Kojima. I am not one of those people. I have always held that Kojima is a mediocre writer with interesting ideas. The fact that he uses names like Die Hardman, Deadman, and Mama for his characters is proof that he’s kind of an overrated hack when it comes to writing. That being said, his general narrative ideas are fairly good. Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice isn’t necessarily amazing writing, but it is some of the best writing to come out of FromSoftware in this genre for the simple fact that the game actually has a running narrative with a defined main protagonist as opposed to the usual character creation lore fest with no actually story they use in Dark Souls and Bloodborne. Smash Bros. Ultimate needs to be commended for having actually created a story mode that had an actual story. Was it high writing? No. But it was a huge leap forward for the franchise as far as narrative content is concerned. Really all three games can be awarded this category for different reasons depending on how much stock you put into innovation, outside the usual box development practices, and your own narrative preferences. So I actually won’t award this category to any one game and will leave it as a three way tie.

the-game-awards-2019Final Conclusion

Based on my assessments, here are the final results.

  • Gameplay – Smash Bros. Ultimate
  • Graphics – Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice
  • Audio – Death Stranding
  • Length – Smash Bros. Ultimate
  • Writing – Three Way Tie

Based on these results here are the final scores.

  1. Smash Bros. Ultimate – 3 Points
  2. Death Stranding – 2 Points
  3. Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice – 2 Points

My Vote GOTY 2019Ultimately I voted for Smash Bros. Ultimate as GOTY. At first glance I had chosen Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice and had even tweeted as such when debating it with someone who had read my original thread. But after taking the time to really examine the games, I came to the conclusion that the objectively correct choice for me was Smash Bros. Ultimate, as I have shown here.

Now again, I’m not saying you should vote for Smash Bros. Ultimate. I’m saying that your vote should be justified with an objective criteria that adequately meets the definition of the GOTY category as defined by The Game Awards. Your vote should not simply be the game you liked the most or that was the most popular on social media. Even the game that had the highest Metacritic score isn’t automatically the correct choice. Only by comparing the games with an objective set of criteria that is fairly applied to all of them with as little bias as possible can we hope to accurately choose the GOTY. Voting for this year’s GOTY is still open until December 11th at 6PM so so make sure you vote and do your best to vote objectively.

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PS5 – The Waiting Game

A few weeks ago, the PS5 was officially announced. I can’t say I was particularly surprised, but I will say that I didn’t personally want that announcement to come so soon. And based on the responses from many I’ve seen on social media, I was not alone in that opinion. The PS5 was of course bound to happen and I’m glad that it will. But the truth is that it feels very early. This probably comes from the fact that console generations seem to be getting shorter while the leaps in performance from generation to generation seem to be getting smaller, from a purely practical use standpoint. Numerically we’re seeing large leaps into 4K and even 8K performance, but most people don’t really see a difference, most people still don’t own 4K televisions, and the way games are played still hasn’t really changed much since the PS3. And if we disregard online aspects and DLC, then really games haven’t changed all that much on PlayStation since the PS2.

Graphics have gotten better, loading times have gotten faster, and more buttons have been added. But the general concepts in most games remain mostly unchanged. I’m not saying this is a bad thing. I like the consistency of PlayStation consoles and games. I like that it’s called PS5 rather than some weird confusing name that’s not really grounded in obvious logic. And I like that the controller hasn’t changed much since the PS3. I’m also really happy to hear that PS4 controllers will be directly compatible with the PS5, saving me a ton of money. But my point is that the PS5 feels early. I think the fact that the console industry has also shifted to half console releases like the PS4 Pro also plays a large role in my feelings about this “rush” into the next generation.

The Force UnleashedTo be fair, the PS5 is releasing seven years after the PS4. The PS4 released seven years after the PS3. The PS3 released only six years after the PS2. So in general Sony has stayed consistent. In fact they’ve stayed more consistent than Microsoft with XBOX and at least as consistent as Nintendo. So it makes perfect sense that they’re releasing the PS5 next year. But again, the PS4 Pro, which I personally don’t own, seems to throw things off. But I actually think it’s even more than that. When I got my PS3, two things had happened that were undebatable for myself and really most users. The first was that there were basically no more games available on the PS2 that I wanted to play and couldn’t also get on the PS3. The second was that games no longer looked and played well on the PS2. The last game I played on the PS2 was Star Wars: The Force Unleashed (2008). This was two years after the PS3 had already released. It was not the last game made for the PS2. But it was the first game I played on the PS2 that was also available on the PS3 that looked really bad. This is when I knew it was time to upgrade. The PS2 just couldn’t live up to the standard of the games being released anymore. So after I completed that last game I boxed the PS2 and never used it again. I still have it sitting in the same box.

My transition to the PS4 was similar to that of the PS3. The last game I played on the PS3 was Dragon Age: Inquisition (2014). It released 1 year after the PS4. This game was the first game I played on the PS3 that just didn’t perform well due to purely hardware based limitations. It froze, sputtered, deleted my save file, and just generally looked bad by comparison to the PS4 version. I knew long before I finished the game that it was time to upgrade to the next PlayStation console. This is how I have always moved from console generation to console generation. I use a console until it’s no longer viable for an acceptable gaming experience. That’s when it’s time to upgrade. To upgrade purely because something is new is nonsensical and wasteful. To refuse to upgrade for the sake of nostalgia is equally nonsensical. There’s a time and a place to upgrade to the next generation console. The issue with the PS5, in my opinion, is that 2020 just isn’t that time.

Dragon Age InquisitionI already said that there were two conditions required for me to upgrade to a next generation console: games available exclusively and performance. In my opinion, the PS4 is nowhere near dead performance wise. I’m still using a PS4 regular and I’m very happy with the performance. My games run fine. They look good. The controls don’t lag. The loading times aren’t bad. It’s still a very viable machine for gaming. And this is even more true for PS4 Pro owners. The PS4 Pro launched in 2016. That means if you bought one as your first PS4 then this generation has only lasted four years for you when the PS5 drops. That’s not long enough for a console generation. Even Nintendo does a minimum of five years per a home console generation. And supposedly the PS4 Pro kicks the crap out of the basic PS4 performance wise. That means pretty much no one normal is unhappy with the current performance of their PlayStation console if they bought a PS4 Pro, because as I said I’m using the basic PS4 and it still runs games great. So that second condition simply hasn’t come into play yet and I doubt it will within the next year based on the games I’ve seen announced to release within the next year. That means games will be the deciding factor for the PS5 at launch.

sekiro__shadows_die_twice_gxWe are arguably in the golden age of gaming when it comes to high quality options. I won’t argue that games are the best they’ve ever been in the more than two decades that I’ve been gaming. But I will absolutely argue that there are more games worth taking the time to play today than there have ever been before. And with all these remakes of older games, that list is growing exponentially on the PS4. My backlog has never been longer than it is this generation. There are so many games on my PS4 I still need to play. And I’m not talking about junk titles or unknown indies. I’m talking popular, well received and reviewed AAA titles. And that’s not even counting my PC backlog, which I don’t even really want to get into. I’m so backlogged this gen. I still haven’t even played Final Fantasy XV, Dark Souls III, or Horizon: Zero Dawn. I don’t even own Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, Shadow of the Tomb Raider, or Devil May Cry V yet. These are just a few of the titles I will absolutely be playing on the PS4 before I even consider buying a PS5. And there are still games coming to the PS4 this year that I will absolutely be playing before I upgrade. Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order, Shenmue III, and possibly Death Stranding if it’s not the garbage I think it will be. Plus there’s a list of titles coming out for PS4 next year that are must plays like Nioh II, The Last of Us Part II, and Cyberpunk 2077. There’s simply no practical reason for me to upgrade from my PS4 next year.

Jedi Fallen Order WallpaperNow it’s very likely that some of the unreleased games I mentioned will also be available on the PS5. And with the backwards compatibility announced, all of them will absolutely be playable on the PS5. We don’t know how the backwards compatibility will work yet, but we do know that the option will be there. Personally I’m hoping my entire digital PS4 library will be available to play on PS5 for nothing more than the price of a PS Plus subscription. Anything more than that and Sony is basically telling me not buy a PS5 for no less than three years, and that’s an extremely generous estimation of how long it’s going to take me to clear my current PS4 backlog without including not yet purchased and/or released PS4 titles. But the backwards compatibility is a double edged sword for Sony. On one hand, not losing out on my PS4 library motivates me to be comfortable upgrading sooner. But on the other hand, knowing that I won’t lose any of my PS4 games when I do upgrade motivates me to purchase them on PS4 and play them there until the system simply won’t run anymore because I know I won’t lose any of them when I do finally upgrade to PS5. If anything that security blanket is a reason to just wait for the inevitable PS5 Pro. Because maybe by that time I’ll actually be done with my PS4 backlog, the price of the PS5 will have dropped, and the PS5 will already have a large library of released games that have dropped in price. So it doesn’t make any sense for me to upgrade to PS5 at launch or even in the first year. And this is all without even considering my Switch and PC backlogs to tide me over. Even if I didn’t have another PS4 game I wanted to play, I still could wait out the PS5  Pro without getting bored. I haven’t even played The Witcher 3, Doom, or Middle Earth: Shadow of War yet (all games I own on PC). And Pokémon Sword and Shield have already been preordered on Switch, so that’s gonna take some time as well.

The Witcher 3Obviously I can’t speak for everyone but I don’t know anyone who isn’t backlogged. And I don’t know any realistic people who think the PS4/PS4 Pro runs like shit at this point. So it just doesn’t seem practical to launch the PS5 in 2020. The PS4 has a gigantic market share that’s still technically growing. And it’s a strong, stable base of players, most of which are very happy with their PS4. So happy that I don’t think they want a new console anytime soon. So I just don’t see the PS5 launching successfully next year. For the first time in my life as a gamer, we are in a prime waiting position to upgrade. As I’ve clearly shown, there is no reason to rush to the PS5 as a PS4 owner. Maybe XB1 owners will finally come over to Sony with the PS5 but PS4 owners simply don’t have to pick one up any time soon. I’m sure plenty of people will buy one at launch just to say they did, but in practical terms it’s unnecessary. There has never been as many games worth taking the time to play at the end of a generation as there is today. And the current generation hardware has never been so strong in comparison to the next generation hardware as it is today either. The practicality of buying a PS5 in 2020 as a PS4 owner simply isn’t there. So I will be playing the waiting game and I can wait a long time. The only way Sony will get me to buy a PS5 any time soon is to guarantee me that all my PS4 games will work on PS5 at no extra cost to me and release some amazing exclusives that aren’t also available on the PS4 and able to run adequately on it. I just don’t see them delivering all that in 2020.

Will you be picking up a PS5 near launch? If so, why? Let me know in the comments.

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I’m Going to Buy Jedi: Fallen Order and I Hate Myself for It

I hate monopolies. I think they’re one of the worst things about modern capitalism. I also hate the current framework for copyright laws as it allows bad decisions to be made in entertainment for the protection of corporate greed/profit. We are currently seeing this affect a number of IPs and a number of forms of entertainment. A really big current example is Spider-Man’s place in the MCU. Because Sony and Marvel/Disney can’t play nice, we the fans are robbed of Tom Holland’s Spider-Man in the MCU after he’s already been in several films and made a huge impact. This is monopolism of creative ideas and capitalism gone wrong.

In the same vein of thinking, I love Star Wars. More specifically I really love Star Wars games. But currently Star Wars games are being monopolized by EA. They have the sole license to produce/publish Star Wars games. Which means that as a consumer I’m forced to decide between playing Star Wars games from EA, a company I don’t trust or really want to support anymore, or not playing Star Wars games at all. This is not really a choice. This is a lose-lose situation that corporate shills and crony capitalists pretend is a choice in order to make bad arguments in defense of a system gone off the rails. Having to choose between something you love and nothing isn’t a choice at all. The choice only exists when you can get that something you love from multiple sources and can decide which source to go with. Star Wars games don’t have that.

Star Wars MonopolyAt the end of last month, a new trailer for Jedi: Fallen Order released. In true EA style, it’s a magnificent trailer. It’s the kind of trailer that made people excited for Anthem. If anything that’s the real magic of EA. They’re top tier marketers that have mastered the art of selling garbage at exorbitant prices and then throwing in microstransactions for good measure. EA has failed me, and other gamers like me, many times. EA has failed Star Wars more than enough times already. In general, I try to steer clear of their games now. I do support some of their indie projects, like when I bought Unravel Two, on sale of course, but when it comes to AAA titles from EA I haven’t bought one since Mass Effect: Andromeda, which I admittedly didn’t hate. But the fact that they screwed up so hard that even I didn’t buy a game produced by what was once my favorite developer and dream company to work for, Bioware, shows just how much damage EA has done over the years. Overall, I buy less than one game from them a year. And even that feels like too much a lot of the time. But where else can I get my Star Wars game fix?

I didn’t buy Star Wars: Battlefront II (2017). I supported the boycott and stuck to my guns. But where does that leave Star Wars game fans? I love Star Wars games and I love single player games. EA has a monopoly on Star War games at the moment. So logic concludes that I’m ultimately going to buy Jedi: Fallen Order against my better judgement. And if the comments section on this newest trailer is any indication, I’m not the only one.

Jedi Fallen Order Stand OffThis is an annoying place to be in that gamers have always been in since the advent of the console exclusive. We always end up getting coerced into buying things and thereby supporting companies that we don’t agree with or want to support. It doesn’t matter how much you hate Konami. If you want to play Castlevania then you are going to support them. And this is the situation that I once again find myself in with EA. Because the truth is that no matter how many times EA has screwed me. No matter how little faith and interest I have in a single player, non-shooter from Respawn Entertainment. The truth is that I am going to buy Jedi: Fallen Order. I am going to go against my own wishes and support EA, yet again. And honestly I hate myself for it.

The Jedi: Fallen Order trailer looks so good. But it’s EA so that doesn’t necessarily mean anything. In fact, history shows us that this will most likely be an ultimately disappointing and problematic game. But I’m still gonna buy it. A single player focused Star Wars game set before the sequels with a focus on narrative. How could I not buy it? But that’s a garbage place to be in. It’s essentially putting steak in front of a starving vegan and then telling them they have a choice in whether or not they want to eat meat. If there are no other options, they’ll eat the damn steak. And then they’ll feel really bad about themselves. They might even get sick from eating the steak because they’re haven’t eaten it in so long. There are so many reasons they shouldn’t eat the steak in that scenario. But they will. Because what choice do they have?

Jedi Fallen Order WallpaperThe last Star Wars game I played was Star Wars: Battlefront I (2015). It was a big pile of meh with some decent foundational gameplay mechanics. The last one I played that had good single player was The Force Unleashed II (2010). It’s about damn time for another steak! My fear is that like so many EA games in the past decade, the steak will look good when served and ultimately be disappointing. So I certainly won’t be buying Jedi: Fallen Order at launch. The silver lining of EA is that their games tend to tank in price fairly quickly because they ultimately do end up disappointing. But fingers crossed that this won’t be the case with their latest attempt at not totally wasting their exclusive access to the Star Wars IP.

What do you think of Jedi: Fallen Order? Does it look as good as I think it does or do I just have Star Wars tinted glasses? Let me know in the comments.

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State of Play Episode 3

Last week, we saw the third episode of PlayStation’s State of Play series. I thought I’d review it since it’s become a bit of a habit to do so. While not the most exciting gaming presentation we’ve seen this month, it certainly had its moments. So let’s get right into it.

The interesting thing about State of Play, is that Sony does time better than Nintendo. Nintendo’s most recent Direct was just under 40 minutes. They showed a lot but in a lot of ways the presentation sort of dragged on. I feel this way about most Directs. They cover a lot but there’s also a lot of fat that makes the presentation feel longer than it needs to be. I’m fine with this and actually love the way Nintendo does Directs for the most part, but it is something to acknowledge. The best way I can describe it is that when I get to the end of a Nintendo Direct I’m usually ready for it to be over. I wouldn’t say that about State of Play.

nintendo direct 9-4The third State of Play was about 20 minutes. By the end of it I was shocked that it was already over. It’s so streamlined with almost no fat to trim at all. And it gets right to the point. There’s no speaker introduction or speech about the happenings on at Sony. It’s just right into the games, which I personally really appreciate since I’m always busy when trying to watch them. The presentation opened with a new game. It was indie but it was effective. You instantly know why you’re there and what to expect. And in that 20 minutes they showed quite a bit.

My one peeve, which both Sony and Nintendo have become guilty of, is that they keep using these presentations to plug merch and hardware. They brought up Death Stranding, but in true Death Stranding style, didn’t actually say anything about the game. They just used the time to announce and advertise a Death Stranding themed PS4 Pro bundle. That’s not the kind of content that should be featured in these sorts of presentations. Just stick to games and gameplay content focused announcements and showings. But again, the presentation was so short that it didn’t really detract too much with that wasted time anyway.

death strandingNow let’s talk about the specific announcements that were made during State of Play Episode 3, in no particular order.

The Last of Us Part II

The Last of Us Part II got another trailer with more story details and a huge reveal of Joel making his way back into the game. This was definitely expected but it’s important that this news was finally confirmed. Also we were given a hard release date of February 21st, 2020. That’s not far off at all. I really need to take the time to play The Last of Us Part I DLC. The game looks great and it’s certainly going to be a GOTY contender for next year.

PlayStation Plus Free Games for October: The Last of Us Remastered & MLB The Show 19 

The free games for October were announced during the presentation. I don’t necessarily like time being wasted for that, unless it was the day the games were going live, but they clearly did it this way because it tied into The Last of Us Part II news. Honestly I get why they did The Last of Us Remastered but I don’t like the decision. Because it’s not even the first time they’ve given The Last of Us on PS Plus. We definitely got it before. Not for a long time, but I’m sure it was a freebie previously. I don’t have a problem with MLB The Show 19 being given, but it’s kind of cheesy to give out a sports game when we know the annual sequel is about to drop soon anyway. Both games are extremely low effort freebies hidden behind AAA veneer. I won’t be playing either of them because I already beat one of them and have no interest in the other.

ps plus 10-2019The Story of Modern Warfare

I don’t buy COD. I’ve never bought COD. I never will buy COD. But I do appreciate that since Advanced Warfare back in 2014, the franchise has made it a point of trying to make single player campaigns that matter. They’ve taken the time to invest in quality actors like Kevin Spacey and Kit Harrington over the last several years and they really do care about not being seen as the PVP shooter with garbage writing now. And I will say that the story trailer they showed during the State of Play was quite intriguing. And that’s not the first time I’ve said that since Advanced Warfare. So while I won’t be buying this latest Modern Warfare, I do commend Activision for finally taking single player seriously.

Humanity

The State of Play started with this crazy looking indie puzzle game that reminded me of games like The Last Guy. It looks weird and very Japanese and I’m totally interested. For an indie price and a good demo, I’ll definitely be picking this one up. And the fact that Sony decided to start the presentation with that instead of one of the heavy hitters shown in this State of Play is really cool.

Introducing the Limited Edition Death Stranding PS4 Pro Bundle

As I said, this sort of thing really annoys me and it’s not even the first time Sony has done it in only three State of Play episodes. Taking time just to plug yet another PS4 bundle rather than talk about the actual game is annoying. And honestly the PS4 doesn’t even look that good. It’s the controller that comes with the bundle that’s much more interesting. If they’d sell that separately they’d probably sell a lot more units than bundling a PS4 Pro this late in the gen.

death stranding ps4 bundleMediEvil PS4 Demo

I’ve been excited about this MediEvil remake since the first announcement. In Nintendo style, they dropped the demo during the State of Play and included a special bonus item for playing it. Conceptually, that’s really cool. But honestly that demo is trash. It was so short and uneventful that they might as well have just given me the special helmet just for downloading it. I completed the demo in just 26 minutes and more than half of that was reading books and watching cutscenes. There wasn’t even a boss fight in the game. I tried it before the demo at Gamescom and was already sold and I do appreciate getting the special item for playing the demo, but from a gameplay standpoint it was pretty much a complete waste of time.

Civilization VI Comes to PS4 November 22

Taking another page from Nintendo, they’ve ported Civilization VI to the PS4. I don’t really care since I don’t play Civ and the game came out three years ago, but I guess I appreciate the fact that games are getting ported to more platforms. I guess the port looked fine for Civ.

Arise: A Simple Story

This indie game looks beautiful. It’s seems to be a fantasy journey with a foundation of dark themes and puzzle based gameplay. The art style is beautiful yet subtle. And the protagonist is an older guy that’s past his prime, which is something I always like in storytelling.

Wattam

I love Katamari Damacy. I still remember when I got the first one for PS2 from a GameStop near my childhood home. And I only discovered it because Toonami did a review of it back when they used to do game features. So when I heard that a new game was coming from the creator of Katamari I was excited. But Wattam looks really weird. It wasn’t as clear as Katamari is at a glance. I didn’t really understand the gameplay after watching the trailer. But Katamari is weird so there’s no reason I shouldn’t give Wattam a chance. I hope they release a demo so I can make an informed buying decision.

L.A. Noire: The VR Case Files for PS VR

I don’t really care about L.A. Noire, which is funny because I’m from LA and I’ve often complained about the lack of games set there outside of GTA, if you count Los Santos. But L.A. Noire has never seemed interesting to me. Making it a VR game with special cases is a good idea, but I’m certainly not buying it. And I do take issue with the fact that it’s already on PS4 so people are being asked to repurchase it for a VR version.

la noire psvrAfter The Fall on PS VR 

Another VR FPS game. But this one has four player co-op so that’s nice. The game doesn’t look bad. I just don’t care about it because I’m not a fan of the genre and I don’t have a VR headset.

After-The-FallGorn on PS VR

Gorn is an interesting look battle game. It seems a bit more the type of game I’d want to play in VR. I think a lot more can be done with PSVR and I’m glad we’re finally seeing some more innovative stuff like Iron Man and this.

Stardust Odyssey Announced for PS VR

It’s hard to say at this point what I think of Stardust Odyssey. It looks like a space VR game in the style of No Man’s Sky leaning a little towards Starlink: Battle for Atlas. But the trailer showed during the State of Play, like the NMS pre-release trailers, makes the game look more impressive than it probably is.

Stardust-Odyssey-psvrUltimately I didn’t find this State of Play that impressive but I once again will commend Sony for using these presentations to show indie games that most of the public otherwise wouldn’t be aware of. And doing the release demos during the presentation thing was a great way to directly connect the audience with the content. And not just the content shown. By announcing the MediEvil trailer, I ended up going into the demos section of the PSN store and discovered a number of other demos I didn’t know even existed. Like Code Vein and Contra Rogue Corps. So this State of Play was even able to connect me with other games on PSN that weren’t shown. That’s the absolute best a company could hope for with these sorts of endeavors. There was some blatant fat that could be trimmed from what was already a short presentation. But if they did these more often then I’d be less irritated by the unnecessary hardware plugs and junk announcements. I do hope we continue to see this concept grow for Sony.

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Ghost Recon: Breakpoint Closed Beta Review

This is a little late, but as my schedule has been hectic with my wedding and moving in the last few weeks, it’s a wonder I have been able to do any gaming and/or writing at all. A few weeks ago, I was fortunate enough to try the Ghost Recon: Breakpoint closed beta. While I was only able to play for about 10 hours, I still wanted to take the time to write about my experience since the game will be launching next week.

I really need to commend Ubisoft for creating a shooter franchise that I actually like playing. I don’t like shooters or gun focused games in general. I have played a number of them over the years, but they are never my go to genre. I’ll take a third person shooter over a first person shooter any day of the week but in general I try to avoid shooting games altogether. I do find myself playing them more often in recent years though and mostly from Ubisoft. I played The Division 1 & 2 and I’m currently playing Ghost Recon: Wildlands as I gear up for Breakpoint. Other than that, Mass Effect: Andromeda is the last shooter I can remember playing that wasn’t completely cartoony, a la Ratchet & Clank. There’s probably another one I missed in there somewhere but in general I don’t play them often. I’ve completed a single Halo title (Halo 2), no iteration of COD or Battlefield, and when someone says GOW I automatically think God of War. To Ubisoft’s credit, they produced three of the four shooters I remember playing most recently as well as the next one I’ll be playing. And if you want to count Watch Dogs, then put that on the list for Ubisoft as well, making them 4/4 once Breakpoint drops.

Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon® Breakpoint Beta2019-9-6-23-12-50I think what I like about Ubisoft shooters is that they don’t feel like traditional shooting games. They’re always in third person, which is my definite preference, but have effective first person sniping, which is always my weapon of choice in shooting games. They lean much more heavily on story and dialog than gameplay and contain RPG elements which differentiate the experience of playing them from traditional shooters. They also don’t require me to have any interactions with other players, outside of raids in The Division, unless I absolutely want to have them, for me to have a fulfilling experience. One of the things that worried me about Wildlands was the four person team. The Division has no AI teammates so I assumed that the AI in Wildlands would either be non-existent or lousy. Even though I’ve owned the game for years, it wasn’t until seeing Breakpoint that I finally decided to actually play Wildlands. I’m happy to say that while it’s by no means a perfect game it’s much more enjoyable for me than I expected it to be.

While this is a review of the Ghost Recon: Breakpoint beta, I think it’s useful to compare it directly to Wildlands, and since I’m playing it right now and started it before the beta, I’m well equipped to do that.

Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon® Breakpoint Beta2019-9-6-23-30-47While Wildlands is all about the team effort, Breakpoint is about the solo hero. Both games allow you to play solo or as part of a group, but the way the games are constructed for these differences in play are very dissimilar. Wildlands was made to be played as part of a four man squad. It’s the reason they hand you three fairly decent AI teammates from the start of the game. Sure you can abandon them and go it alone but the game isn’t balanced properly for solo play so only very advanced or extremely patient players can play solo effectively. This is why the multiplayer aspect works so well. Playing with others is a smooth experience because it’s how the game was meant to be played. Breakpoint is at the opposite end of the spectrum. Though it has the functions needed to play with a four man squad, it’s not intended to be played that way. The game does not hand you AI teammates and it’s incredibly well balanced for solo play. You can play with other human players, which I did try once, but it doesn’t improve the gameplay experience in the way it does in Wildlands.

Breakpoint was constructed for the solo player and it is really fulfilling to play solo. It’s perfectly balanced to make you feel like a badass without feeling easy. No squad required. The first thing I did once I finished the tutorial and the game opened up for me was buy a sniper rifle from the shop and storm a base. Storming a base in Wildlands is hard even with a squad. You get discovered too quickly even when sniping from afar. Reinforcements show up too quickly and too often. Stealth infiltration is possible but far from practical in many if not most non-mandatory scenarios. All this makes sense given the setting that is a Bolivian narco state crawling with Santa Blanca gang members, working internet connections, and cell phones. The countless enemies, quick communication between them, and overwhelming odds are a feature not a flaw. But that sort of scenario is unruly and unenjoyable for the one man wolf pack player like me. I rely on the AI when playing Wildlands. In Breakpoint, not only do I not need the assistance, I don’t even want it.

Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon® Breakpoint Beta2019-9-8-0-16-7The setting of Breakpoint is an isolated island with limited connectivity, limited resources for everyone involved, and mostly isolated settlements and facilities scattered around a cluster of islands. It’s the perfect Rambo scenario. You can snipe your way through an entire base without having to worry about reinforcements showing up. You can track entry points from settlement to settlement because of the limited roads on the island that enemies will inevitably take because of their reliance on vehicles. Your drone gets plenty of range for the size and scale of the facilities being infiltrated. You still have to be smart and patient, but you don’t have to be an above average player to bring down a facility without help. And it’s not necessarily that there are fewer enemies. It’s just that the enemies are trained military personnel that aren’t standing around in giant clusters, making them lethal at close range but very manageable at a distance.

Breakpoint’s combat also has a number of quality of life improvements. Sniping, for instance, has a focused breathing function that allows the player to concentrate for a temporarily less shaky scope. Customizing weapons and gear plays a much bigger role in this game. You actually have a gear score which delivers noticeable changes to your ability to succeed. And yet the game is still a straight shooter. Enemy gear scores denote their lethality and armor level, but not your ability to kill them. Whether you’re weaker, evenly matched, or stronger than the human enemies, you can still take them down in one hit with a well-placed shot to the head. But you are not only fighting humans in this game. Drones are the bigger problem in Breakpoint and require a lot better performance and strength to bring down than humans in some cases.

Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon® Breakpoint Beta2019-9-8-0-15-23I never felt stuck when playing the beta. I never felt lucky. I surveyed the area, made plans, and executed them with little to no surprise. And that’s a good thing. I don’t like it when I take the time to form a plan and it just falls apart for some stupid reason. I enjoy the methodical, calculated approach that allows me as the player to feel like a spec ops agent rather than a thug. The gameplay is clean and reliable. The character development system works, though it could have slightly clearer explanations. I often found myself wondering what certain stats represented because just about everything in the game is represented with non-text symbols and the occasional abbreviation rather than clearly written out explanations. This was true for a number of weapons related things. The game makes a lot of assumptions about your previous experience playing shooters. For instance, I like to use a sniper rifle in most shooting games. But I don’t know much about guns in general and don’t play many shooting games. So while I knew right away that SNR meant sniper rifle in the weapons list, I had no idea what DMR meant. Looking at it I thought it was a sniper rifle, but officially it’s classified as a “designated marksman rifle” in the game. I had to Google it to learn that. This should be written out in the game somewhere. Even a digital manual in game would be fine. The same goes for those weapons stat symbols. Without a legend, I was making assumptions about what I thought they meant. This was one of my only complaints about the entire beta.

Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon® Breakpoint Beta2019-9-7-23-55-37While the game wasn’t built for playing with others, the multiplayer system works fine. I wasn’t able to try the PVP mode because it wouldn’t load for quite some time until I gave up. But I did try the campaign with a single additional player. Though many will not agree, I feel like playing with another player detracted from my overall experience. During this co-op session, we used the text chat instead of mics. The text chat is way more accessible from a menu navigation standpoint than in other Ubisoft multiplayer games I’ve played on PC. Playing with even just one other player makes a huge difference combat wise. The two of us stormed a facility and easily dominated it by using natural strategy. I found a high point and sniped while he played the ground and drew everyone into my killzone. It was beautiful. It was artistic. It was organized. It was fun. It was a bit too easy. Whereas in Wildlands I have died multiple times while playing with a four man squad (me plus three AI). In Breakpoint, the two of us had no problem storming that base, or anything else. The only two times we died during our session was when I was completely out of ammo and couldn’t find a refill, and when we went up against two ridiculously over powered tank drones. They were so over powered that we managed to die even though we rolled up in a literal tank. While I’m fine with feeling OP in games, I do feel like groups of players will feel the game is too easy.

Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon® Breakpoint Beta2019-9-8-1-34-46One of the worst aspects of playing with another random player was how this affected the map and navigation aspects of the gameplay. One of the coolest mechanics in Breakpoint is the maps system. In Wildlands, you are handed points of interest on a map. You go to those points and then they reveal other points with missions or special objectives/items. It’s textbook open world Ubisoft and it works fine. But it’s super unrealistic in the fact that the map means absolutely nothing. It’s just a platform to tell you which way to travel and where to fast travel to. In Breakpoint, you have to actually read the map. You aren’t given specific locations from finding intel. Instead you use intel to gather information about the whereabouts of locations based on map landmarks which you then have to find on the map and explore in game to ultimately find your target locations. This was so cool for me. The clues are clear but subtle in nature. They use landmarks and directions like “north of snake river”. Then you mark a point on your map north of the river manually and have to go there. But that doesn’t mean you’ve found your objective. You’re just in the vicinity of it.

Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon® Breakpoint Beta2019-9-7-15-16-51The game makes you actually explore the area and locate what you’re looking for like you would in real life. That’s actually how I found the first base I stormed accidentally. My objective was near there and when I was exploring I found a base. I thought that was the objective and cleared it out only to discover that it wasn’t my objective at all. While that would probably annoy some players, I thought it was extremely realistic and made the game way more interesting. But unless you’re playing with people who aren’t ahead of you in the game, this aspect of the gameplay is lost. The guy I played with was way ahead of me. I don’t even know why he was playing with me at all. My gear score was at like 19 while his was at 45. He had already cleared pretty much everything in the beta. This meant that every time I initiated a new objective, he already knew where it was. He would just mark it on the map for us and fly a helicopter there. That’s really realistic in a shared intel sort of way. And it’s very efficient when you aren’t in the mood to explore. But the fact that I was losing out on the exploration aspect of the game by playing with him made me want to play the entire game solo.

Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon® Breakpoint Beta2019-9-7-23-52-25The graphics are quite good. I tried it on both PC and PS4 and was happy with both. PC definitely looked slightly better, but I’m also running a fairly beefy rig. The landscapes are beautiful and the character models, though not Uncharted 4, are quite a bit improved over Wildlands, which was already pretty good. I was also really happy with the sound. Specifically the enemy dialog. You can use it to help pin point enemies and plan strategy around their locations in close quarters. It’s definitely a AAA quality game.

The beta didn’t go too far into the plot but it did establish the seriousness of the situation, justify your lack of an NPC team, and present a villain fairly well and quite expediently. What it didn’t give me was a why. And really that’s what a beta is supposed to do. Peak your interest but not give you enough to warrant passing on the game. I got my John Bernthal moments, though he never officially made contact with me during the beta and I understood the significance of him, a fellow Ghost, being the villain. It was a bit on the nose that your character has personal ties to his character, but in general the dynamic of Ghost vs Ghost plays really well for dramatic effect. What I didn’t get from the beta was any sort of establishment information about the Wolves, the rogue Ghost organization you’re fighting against. What I like about Wildlands a lot is the background videos that tell you about the structure and organization of the cartel. The beta didn’t give me any of that other than a similar character map of the hierarchy of the enemy organization. But at this point I’m not entirely sure if everyone on the map is an enemy or not, which actually makes for better writing, in my opinion.

Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon® Breakpoint Beta2019-9-6-23-39-25Overall I really enjoyed the Ghost Recon: Breakpoint beta. It played extremely well and got me excited for the full game. I’m fairly certain that I’ll be playing the bulk of the game solo but I can’t speak to the PVP mode since I wasn’t able to get it to work during the closed beta. I think this game will do really well but I can see a number of people complaining that it’s too easy in co-op mode. Sadly I won’t be able to finish Wildlands before it releases but I haven’t decided if I’ll wait to play it or not. I probably will because it feels quite a deal better as far as gameplay and going backwards mechanically in games never feels good.

Thankfully the open beta for Ghost Recon: Breakpoint starts tomorrow, depending on your time zone, so if you’re interested but still on the fence you can try it for yourself. “Sadly” I won’t be able to play the open beta because I’ll be traveling for my honeymoon.

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Pokemon Masters Review

A few weeks ago, the mobile game Pokemon Masters released. I have been playing the Android version since the day the game launched. As I actually have been playing it a decent amount, I thought it would be informative for others if I took the time to write a review of it. I rarely if ever review mobile games but I play them quite frequently so I feel that I’m experienced enough to judge the game fairly, and hopefully accurately considering the many hidden features the game has.

The first thing that needs to be said about Pokemon Masters is that it’s not a full Pokemon game. Pokemon, as in the original/core series, is an RPG that’s constructed based on two major aspects of play: capturing and battling. The core experience is entertaining because it challenges players to locate and ultimately capture Pokemon to then be trained and used for battle. It’s only by mastering both skills that one can truly master the games. Since the two mechanics are directly linked and both are required to beat the games, the gameplay never really gets old within each individual game. You can jump between exploring to capture and battling to train/improve your Pokemon to your heart’s content. This formula works and has for 20 years across like 10 generations of Pokemon games plus remakes, with a new one coming in just a couple months (Pokemon: Sword & Shield). That’s why the basic mechanics of Pokemon games haven’t really changed that much in all this time.

trainersThe problem with mobile Pokemon games is that they never get both parts right. Pokemon GO, which I’m still playing, gets the capturing portion almost perfectly. But the battles are garbage. They aren’t turn based and have almost no RPG elements to them in practical terms. Pokemon Masters, on the other hand, gets battling down fairly well, with a streamlined but working RPG system to boot, but the capturing aspect is pretty much non-existent. I believe this is intentional on both counts. Because while Nintendo does want you to play their free to play mobile games, they want you to buy their consoles and console games more. So no true Pokemon experience ever gets produced on mobile and I doubt one ever will.

Pokemon Masters is set on the man-made island of Pasio. On this island they hold a special tournament called the Pokemon Masters League (PML). The PML is not a traditional battle of two trainers and up to 12 Pokemon. Instead you battle with Pokemon & Trainer pairs, referred to as “Sync Pairs”, in three on three battles. As such, you do not capture Pokemon. Instead you meet and recruit other trainers and when they join you one of their Pokemon becomes available for you to use in battle as part of that Sync Pair. Trainers from all over the world have come to Pasio to form these Sync Pairs and teams or Sync Pairs in order to win the PML. Your character’s partner Pokemon is a Pikachu. This is the backdrop of the entire game.

pokemon-mastersThe main gameplay works at its core aspects. You battle three on three Pokemon battles with a great many exceptions where your opponents are allowed to have more than three members on their team. In this situation, only three Pokemon appear on the front line of battles and then they’re quickly replaced once you defeat the Pokemon at the front of the line. You are always shown how many Sync Pairs are on the opposing team at the start of a battle. Placement plays a role in this for opponents but not really for you because so far you can only take a maximum of three Pokemon into battle. You can choose their placement order on the field, as in left, right, or middle, but you aren’t able to control the order in which they’re attacked because all three are on the field at the same time. Your opponent can attack whichever of your three they want to at any time. And they often do attacks that hurt all three simultaneously.

Battles are not turn based. Instead they’re real time action point based like in Final Fantasy XIII. You have an AP bar constantly filling at the bottom of the screen based on time. It’s broken into sections. Each attack costs the entire team a certain number of those sections. In this way you must manage your three Pokemon and use their moves effectively in order to knock out all the opposing team’s Pokemon before yours are all knocked out. Battles have no time limit. Each Pokemon & Trainer pair can learn up to four techniques. From what I’ve seen so far, this is always two attacks and two status altering techniques. Status techniques can do different things such as heal, increase attack power, increase speed, refill AP bars, and so on. They can also be used to induce negative effects on opponents such as poison or confusion. Attacks and status techniques for each Pokemon are all predetermined and cannot be changed, to the best of my current knowledge playing the game.

pokemon-masters-battleDuring battle, each team has a sync move counter. Sync moves are special high damage attacks that are specific to each Sync Pair. You initiate them by running the sync move counter down to zero from nine. After using a sync move, the counter refills to nine. Certain Sync pairs seem to be able to affect the sync pair counter’s number and speed, but I have only witnessed this from enemy teams and haven’t been able to create these affects for my own team yet. Both attacks and status techniques run down the counter, but status techniques don’t require any AP to use. This affects strategy because you have to account for both damage and trying to get the sync counter to zero as quickly as possible. Matches are often lost because the enemy team got their sync move out first. Status techniques may not take AP but they still take time to cast so you are delaying your next attack by using them. Both teams have the sync counter showing so it’s important to watch the other team’s counter in order to prepare yourself for an upcoming sync move. Sync moves can be used an unlimited number of times during battle but so far I’ve never used them more than twice in any one battle.

When battling, you must consider time, attack points, and the opposing team’s weaknesses. Attacks must be targeted at a specific Pokemon by a specific Pokemon. You can easily change both attacker and target by pressing the new Pokemon you want to attack with or target. The opposing team will not attack based on who you’re currently using to attack. They will just attack based on the AI’s strategy, which is often quite effective and not just at random. The enemy AI will take into account weaknesses, status techniques, and sync moves as well. So it’s in your best interest to attack with the right Pokemon against the right target as quickly as possible while accounting for status techniques and sync moves during the process. The most common mistake I make in battle is using a sync move on the wrong Pokemon because I forget to change my target based on weakness to the Pokemon type using the sync move. There’s also an auto function where the game will battle for you with the team you selected, but as with most games the AI will not battle intelligently when being used from your side. It’s extremely annoying.

sync pairsWhile battle teams can only include three Sync Pairs and thus Pokemon at a time, your total team can include an unlimited number of Sync Pairs. The way to excel in battle is to pick the right set of three Sync Pairs to construct a team that will best take advantage of the weaknesses of the opposing team. The game always tells you what the most effective Pokemon types are for the upcoming battle based on the type weaknesses of the opposing team. You do not have to include your character, and his/her Pikachu, in your battle team. This is extremely important because electric types are not always the best choice for battle.

Trainers can be added to your team in two ways. They can be acquired as part of the story or unlocked in the store. The plot based trainers cannot be skipped. They are added as you progress through the story and meet them. Store bought trainers are from loot boxes that you can buy with gems. There are two types of gems: paid and non-paid. You can get non-paid gems from completing tasks, battles, and missions. Tasks are basically just story progression moments that require you to talk to people to progress the story forward. This is all on rails and can be easily clicked through if you aren’t interested in the story. Missions are constantly added goals that can be completed at any time. They can be anything from win a certain number of battles to spend a certain amount of coins in the store. The non-paid gems can only be used to purchase certain types of loot boxes. Paid loot boxes on average net better trainers. You can get the same trainer from loot boxes more than once. Each time you get a repeat, it strengthens that trainer’s sync move up to five. I don’t know what happens when you get a repeat trainer a sixth time, or even if you can.

pokemon-masters-screenTrainers/Sync Pairs are given a star rating. I’m not exactly sure what the rating denotes because some higher ranked trainers have worse Pokemon than trainers with lower star ranks. 5 stars is currently the top rank a trainer can have. Trainers can also be upgraded with special items that have to be collected by playing the game or bought in the store with coins. Sync Pairs have a level, like how Pokemon do in the core games. As you battle and use XP items, you can increase the level of your participating trainers and ultimately the stats of their Pokemon in battle. But each trainer has a level cap based on their star rating. The cap for three star trainers, the most common I’ve seen, is only 30, which is really disappointing. But you can use items to increase the level caps. The item cost isn’t terrible for this process. But the cost to increase a Sync Pairs star rating is ridiculous by comparison. You can quickly max out characters to the starting level 30 cap by using the very abundant minimum XP boost items. But once you get to the higher level caps, maxing out Sync Pairs requires way more XP which means lots of spending or lots of grinding. Trainers with a higher star rating can level up higher to start. You must also use items to unlock additional moves for Sync pairs. All of them start out with one attack and one status technique and have to have the other two moves unlocked. The first additional move is really easy to unlock but the second requires way more rare items. I have yet to unlock the final attack/technique for a single Sync Pair.

Pokemon in the game come from all over the world, as do the trainers that partner with them. All regions and types are represented. Some trainers have basic Pokemon and others you recruit will already have them evolved. Pokemon also differ in rarity. The story mode quickly netted me Starmie (Misty), Torkoal (Flannery), and Lucario (Korrina) with Misty (Starmie) and Brock (Onix) being the first two trainers I recruited.

rock training eventSome Pokemon can be evolved. But the process and cost of evolving is very high and will take a very long time for free players. You have to max out a Trainer with a Pokemon capable of evolving. Then you have to unlock the evolve mission for that Pokemon. You do this as soon as you win a battle with the maxed out Sync Pair. Then you have to purchase five evolve shards from the store. These require spending coins, the basic currency in the game. So you need to be smart when choosing which Pokemon to evolve because it will take you a while as a free player. Thankfully, most of the Pokemon currently available in the game are not able to evolve.

Along with the story mode there are also special timed events. These are basically just additional story chapters that don’t affect the main story but net additional items and xp. They can also be great a deal harder than the normal story mode levels. Currently only two of these events has been made available in the game so far; one focused on training and the other story. The story based on has a fairly lengthy completion time limit/window so pretty much everyone will be able to finish it if they started in the opening weeks of the game.

pokemon-masters-teamsVisually speaking, Pokemon Masters is very solid for a mobile game. The art style looks a lot like the anime, which all the main characters come from. It’s 2D but mimics 3D in certain elements. The colors are vibrant and clear and the UI is fairly manageable. The menus are a bit cluttered and lack more detailed descriptions that would be quite helpful, but in general it’s a manageable design. What’s nice is how fluid the battles look. Attacks look like the actual elemental attacks they should be. And you can tell how effective attacks were with visual and written cues on the life bars floating above each Pokemon. I would say the Pokemon models look better in Pokemon GO, but Pokemon Masters has a lot more detail overall. Especially in the people and settings.

The writing is actually a very complete story, thus far. I’m only on the 10th introductory chapter as I write this and I’ve already met quite a few characters and learned a lot about them and the island of Pasio. The motivation for the characters is all to win the PML but their personal reasons are each specific and developed. Each trainer also has their own optional side missions to help develop them as a character. There are villains, rivals, bullies, and impressive trainers for the characters to look up to. It seems like a full-fledged Pokemon story. At the same time though, there is quite a lot of dialog that I simply don’t care about. Because much of it is character development that within this context doesn’t really matter. I care about the island, the villains and their motivations, and what I have to do to find and battle the best trainers. I don’t care about the fact that some random trainer with a Pokemon I don’t want because I already have better ones is fighting to make their grandfather proud but is also learning to not let other people’s expectations define them. The game is written much like the show. Except it’s a game on your phone presented with text based dialog. So it gets rather boring, takes a long time to read, and since it is a mobile game I’m often playing it passively while doing something else.

special eventI think the developers were aware of this writing conundrum for players because the structure of the game is well defined and very convenient. The game is broken up into chapters. Each chapter is broken up into sections. Each section can be entered specifically and intentionally. They can also all be replayed. Sections clearly state what aspect of gameplay they are. Some are labeled story. These are just dialog. Some are labeled battle and tell you how many battles will occur within that section. HP and status techniques reset at the end of each section but not between battles within a single section. So it’s important to manage things like your limited number of heals when playing a section with multiple battles. Some sections are labeled boss. These are single battle sections with a very strong opponent, usually at the end of a chapter. This organization system works because it allows the player to rush through story moments if they don’t care without having to redo them if they lose a battle.

The game also features a training area but it’s not very clear about what it’s supposed to be used for. There are lots of different types of training sections but only the ones marked XP seem to have any value. The other ones don’t improve your trainers in any way that I’ve been able to recognize. They just help you practice different battle scenarios. Or at least that’s how it seems. This is another example of how the game needs clearer text descriptions in the menus. One of the major problems with training battles is that they, like with the main story missions, are Pokemon type specific. Meaning you either have to use the same Pokemon over and over again or be strong enough to win without taking advantage of types and weaknesses. This gets way more difficult to accomplish in the higher difficulty training levels.

 

Pokemon-Masters-Increase-PotentialOne thing I really don’t like in general about Pokemon Masters is all the hidden features. There are things that are required to progress through the game effectively that simply aren’t explained clearly. Level caps is a good example of this. I had no idea that you could raise level caps until I had already reached the initial cap for several Sync Pairs. There are also other hidden features that can be used to make your Sync Pairs stronger, but they’re often hidden. Some can’t even be unlocked until later in the game.

I’m not far enough in yet to be able to speak on the game’s replay value. I can say that I’ve yet to replay anything that I had already beaten except the XP training sections. The game also is already running special additional timed story events so at this point it seems like any other mobile game where the idea is to keep playing and experiencing additional content rather than replay old things you’ve already completed.

Pokemon-Masters-League-BadgeUltimately the battle system is quite good and the main reason I’ve continued playing the game. I enjoy the challenge of the battles and like the fact that I don’t always win but can usually identify what mistakes I made that caused me to lose. But while the battle system is good, the game does have a number of problems. The low starting level cap is terrible when coupled with the fact that the game doesn’t clearly tell you how to raise your level cap. I played several hours thinking I was stuck at level 30 until I finally got pushed up against a difficulty wall and had to Google it to confirm that the caps could be raised and how to do it. I also really hate that there’s a divide between free and paid gems. It should work like most mobile games where the in game currency is standardized and can be used to buy anything but you can get more of it quicker by spending real money, if you want to. They also need to make evolving Pokemon and Sync Pair star levels much less costly and inconvenient.

As I said early in this review, Pokemon Masters really feels like only half the experience of an authentic core Pokemon game. It has the battles and some of the training, but none of the discovering and catching random wild Pokemon. It definitely works as a stepping stone to keep me focused on Pokemon while I wait for Sword and Shield. And there’s still some aspects of the game I haven’t fully tapped into yet, or at least that’s how it seems. If you’re looking for a mobile game that keeps you coming back but doesn’t require the inconvenience of Pokemon GO, where you have to move around to play the game, this isn’t a bad option.

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What Makes A Male Character? (Cyberpunk 2077)

Last week it was announced that CD Projekt RED’s next game, Cyberpunk 2077, was doing away with gender options in its character creator. To no one’s surprise, the gaming community spent a preposterous amount of time arguing about it. Half the internet was happy about it and the other half was angry. The same tired, usually illogical, and almost always irrelevant and nonsensical arguments were made by both sides. You already know what they are so I don’t need to take the time to go into them. Suffice it to say that many people still seem to care what other people do in the privacy of their own homes when playing single player games.

Now I actually don’t like character creators in story driven games. Not because I have any issue with people designing their own characters in games. And not because I particularly care what types of characters people design. My issue with character creators is that they almost always lead to hollow, sub-par writing devoid of real impact and personality for the character being created. It’s very hard to write a story that carries the same amount of context, realism, believability, and personality for an ambiguous character as that of a narrowly defined one. For instance, Lara Croft is a young, British, heterosexual female that comes from a wealthy Caucasian family. Her experiences are specific and meaningful in her development as a character. The way she would realistically respond to things would be completely different from the way an older, American, homosexual male that comes from a poor African-American family would. And this is true for many if not most situations. There would for sure be some overlap in their responses to things, depending on the situation and setting. But when it came to character building and interactions with other characters they would have completely different responses in most cases.

tomb raider 2013 victimLet’s take a scene from Tomb Raider (2013) as a specific example. There’s a moment in the game where it’s implied that Lara may be sexually assaulted by one of her much older male captors. Now for starters, that wouldn’t even happen to the other character I described in most cases. Not all, but most. And if it did happen, the character wouldn’t even necessarily have the same reaction, or even possibly aversion, to the situation as Lara Croft does in the game. And that is not to imply that older gay men are OK with being raped by other older gay men. It’s just to state the very true point that a young inexperienced rich girl and an older, presumably much more experienced man simply wouldn’t respond to the situation the same way. That’s exactly why specified characters and the context of those characters matter. But when you can create your own character in a game, many of the scenarios that specified characters can experience simply don’t happen and shouldn’t happen because they just wouldn’t make sense in many if not most cases.

Say I created a character in a game that was intentionally unattractive, horrifyingly strong, and gigantic in stature. That character simply isn’t going to be sexually assaulted. It’s not going to happen in any realistic scenario. And if it did happen in a game, any person would rightfully think “that doesn’t make any sense”. So game writers, knowing that, wouldn’t include a scene in the game that includes a possible sexual assault because there’s no way to guarantee that it would make sense to all player created characters at all times.

fallout 4 ugly characterThe closest way to making a character creator make sense without watering down the content is to write multiple story lines that mostly overlap but have some key differing plot points based on certain parameters entered into the character creator, such as gender. You might force the player to choose male or female and then depending on the gender they chose the game would decide whether or not the assault scene would be included. You could take this a step further by adding sexuality to the character creator. This wouldn’t address the intentionally ugly problem, but you’d get closer to the plot making sense for all players regardless of the character they built. At the same time though, this would require multiple story lines to be created which would mean more development time translating to higher development costs. So it makes more sense just to water down the story and not include anything specific to a certain type of character, which is my entire point about character creator games leading to watered down plots.

Some games over the years have managed to do a pretty decent job at storytelling even with the presence of a character creator. The Mass Effect trilogy comes to mind. Yet I played the games with the default male character and so did many other players. That’s why even though the game allowed for character creation, Commander Shepard’s face is so iconic. In your head right now you’re thinking of a white man in his 30’s with short hair, light stubble, and blue eyes. Even though the game had a default female version, and many people played the game as a female, most people don’t picture the female Commander Shepard when they think about Mass Effect. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a single Mass Effect meme featuring the female version of Commander Shepard save for maybe a meme that showed both default gender options. So it’s very possible that while I think the game was written extremely well for a game with a character creator, maybe it wasn’t. Maybe if I had played it as a character that was a homosexual female of Latino origin I wouldn’t have felt like the character driven aspects of the game were that well written. I can’t say for sure. But I can say that a lot of games, including those that are praised highly, actually aren’t that great as far as developing the player’s created character. Dark Souls is a great example of this.

commander_shepardYou can create anyone you want in the Dark Souls games. You can make a person with blue skin, orange hair, and enough wrinkles to make Emperor Palpatine look youthful. But the games won’t give two shits about the way your character looks. The NPC’s won’t comment on it. The enemies won’t react differently to it. Your appearance and identity mean absolutely nothing in those games. And that doesn’t make them bad games. But I wouldn’t call the Dark Souls franchise an example of good character driven writing. The difference is that Cyberpunk 2077 seems to be selling itself as a character driven game where you can create any character you want. That’s a tall order and we’ve not seen CD Projekt RED even deliver a character creator game before. We know they can write because The Witcher series is one of the most compelling, best written franchises ever made. But they’re all focused on one heterosexual white guy who’s a social outcast and the closest thing to a hermit you can be without actually living alone in a cave. Meaning the character and thus the character driven writing has a defined and consistent context. And that’s exactly why it’s good writing.

All this is not to say that I have any problem with the fact that Cyberpunk 2077 has a character creator, or that gender options have been pulled from the character creator. All this is to say that I don’t believe that Cyberpunk 2077 will be even close to as well written from a character development standpoint as The Witcher 3. But let’s actually talk about the character creator nontroversy in the upcoming Cyberpunk 2077.

dragon's dogma-creationIf you’re not writing a character driven plot focused game, your character doesn’t really matter. Especially if you’re not applying conventional human norms to your character(s) to begin with, which would be the case in a Cyberpunk themed game most of the time. To be honest there’s almost no reason a character creator even needs gender in it unless, like in my previous examples, the story is actually affected by the gender of the character. Dragon’s Dogma is a perfect example of this. It’s a game with a story, but calling it a character driven story game is wildly inaccurate. You can create anyone in that game and it will change nothing about the gameplay experience. The only reason the character creator even has gender options in it is simply to speed up the character creation process. And that’s the case for most games with character creators if we’re honest.

It’s just much faster to ask people if their character is male or female so the limited number of default character models can be separated between having pronounced breasts and not having pronounced breasts. That’s pretty much the only thing of value the character creator in Dragon’s Dogma, among many other games, does. It just limits certain physical options based on a set of conventional appearance standards without having any actual effect on the gameplay. Body types, hairstyles, face renders, and voices are separated into two groups in order to speed up the character creation process. But really there’s no actual reason why a player shouldn’t be able to create a character that looks like Dwayne Johnson with pigtails and the voice of a Japanese schoolgirl while wearing a metal bikini. It would be uncomfortable to see for some spectators, but there’s no actual reason why anyone shouldn’t be able to create that character in a game where your appearance doesn’t actually matter. And thus removing gender limitations from a game with a story neutral character creator is and should be considered absolutely fine. Especially when you get into some of the more nuanced ways that people can actually look, act, and sound.

Saints_Row_the_Third_character creatorI once had a friend who was a five foot tall white female with long brown hair, a perfectly tight gym body, and the voice of a 30 year male smoker. That’s how she looked and that’s how she sounded, even though she was only 18 when I met her. Presumably, up until Cyberpunk 2077 it would have been extremely difficult for her to find a game where she could actually create herself in the game. She would have had little problem creating herself physically. And as she was a heterosexual, it would have been very easy to mirror her interactions with NPCs, where possible, fairly accurately. But getting her voice right would have been pretty much impossible. Now that’s not really fair. She wasn’t trans. She wasn’t homosexual. She wasn’t a smoker. She just had that preposterously deep and scratchy voice. In no way was that her fault, her choice, or a repercussion of any of her past decisions. Yet she was arguably a victim of game creator discrimination for all these years. Whereas I as a tall, heterosexual, African-American male with a stereotypically deep voice have pretty much never had a problem creating a character that looks and sounds close enough to myself, if that’s what I wanted to do, in a Western game.

Destiny-2-Character-Customization-1024x582I will admit that a lot of Asian produced games haven’t given me the ability to create myself, but I’m not their target audience to begin with so I don’t blame them for not taking the time to design assets for the handful of players that look like me that both will play their games and actually care about the fact that they can’t place themselves into the game. But for a Western developer that would be a huge problem if African-American men couldn’t create characters that resembled themselves in character creator games. And the truth is that many homosexual African-American male gamers can’t create themselves as far as voice and clothing options are concerned in Western developed games, and obviously Asian developed games but for an entirely different reason I’ve already gone over. So removing the gender limitations in a game’s character creator options isn’t a bad thing at all. And honestly, other than possibly making the process of creating your character take longer due to a lack of easily defined sorting practices, it doesn’t affect anyone’s gameplay experience in a negative way. It simply makes the experience for some players more positive by giving them the option to make characters they identify with on a more personal level. Again, if we’re not talking about a game where the context of the character’s experiences is driven by their gender, sexuality, or appearance, then it doesn’t really matter what limitations are or are not placed on the character creation tools from a gameplay standpoint. And for the bulk of games with character creators, it won’t. So I find it extremely ridiculous and illogical to be against this decision by CD Projekt RED. What I am against is the fact that they announced this development decision in the way they did.

Cyberpunk 2077 Mix It UpI have no issue with games being more inclusive. I have no problem with the gaming industry both on the screen and in the studios being more diverse. I still want character driven stories that are specific while making sense and having a clearly defined context, but in general diversity in games isn’t a bad thing to me. What is a bad thing, and I have written about this may times before, is using diversity as a selling point in order to pander to a specific audience. Especially when we consider the size of that audience within the gaming market. The way the removal of gender options from Cyberpunk 2077’s character creator was announced was via an interview. You can read an excerpt from the interview on this specific topic here. It’s very clear that this decision was made in response to the backlash of that supposed trans ad debacle. This character creation option is being used as an olive branch to the trans/entire LGBQT+ community so that people will stop calling CD Projekt RED transphobic and a “problematic developer”. That’s not diversity in game design. That’s not authentically trying to make things more inclusive for the LGBTQ+ community. That’s pandering for profits.

I get that game development is a business. I get that every decision, big and small, is profit driven. And most of the time I’m fine with all that. But I hate hypocrisy. I’m not one of those “keep politics out of games” people. I’m a writer. I play story driven games almost exclusively. I know games, and really all story driven entertainment, is political by nature. And anyone who thinks it isn’t is an idiot. Metal Gear Solid is political. Final Fantasy is political. Bayonetta is political. It’s all political. But I take issue with companies pretending their politics come from a place of support, love, and authentic concern. Because if it was authentic they wouldn’t have mentioned it at all. They would have just released the game with no gender options in the character creator and then people would have either noticed it and talked about it on their own or not talked about it at all. And LGBTQ+ players would have just played the game, thought it was cool that they could make the characters they wanted, and moved on with their lives. That would be authentic, non-pandering diversity in game design. If a company is doing something for recognition, it’s not authentic. And if they’re not being authentic then I don’t want them to pretend to be authentic.

mgs 3 patriotIf they had to say anything, I would rather have had a representative from CD Projekt RED just come out and say “Hey LGBTQ+ people, here’s a bone. We only did this to make you stop complaining about us. You never buy our games anyway, but hopefully now you’ll consider it.” That would be some real shit. I would respect them more for just coming out and saying it. Because right now they look like the good guys to one team and like they folded to the SJWs to the other team. But they know they can get away with it because all those people saying “I’m now not going to buy this game over this gender character creator thing” are clearly lying. There’s not a single actual gamer out there who was planning on buying Cyberpunk 2077 and now isn’t going to because the game won’t outright let them enter into the character creator that they’re a male. Not a single one. And CD Projekt RED knows that. So they can play both sides with impunity. And that is dishonest. Not to mention it strong arms LGBTQ+ gamers into buying the game. Because now that they’ve done this and got it reported all over the place, the only way to get other game studios to do it is to support the game and show that it has an actual effect on sales and popularity. It’s the female protagonist conundrum all over again.

remember meFemale gamers say “we want more female protagonists in games”, a company makes a game with a female protagonist, and it doesn’t sell. Then all the other companies get to say “well female protagonists don’t sell and we’re in the business of making money not political movements”. So every time a shitty game with a female protagonist gets released, women have to buy it or risk losing any chance of another AAA game with a female protagonist being made for a long time. The LGBTQ+ community is in the same boat. If they don’t support every game that offers LGBTQ+ options in it, they risk destroying any chance of another game with such options being made for literally years in the current market. I am 100% in support of CD Projekt RED’s decision to remove gender from their character creator, but I’m also 100% disgusted with the fact that they announced it this way. Don’t keep politics out of my games. Keep political posturing out of my games marketing.

I will be playing Cyberpunk 2077 and I will almost certainly be playing as a conventional looking, heterosexual, African-American male. I am 100% unaffected by the studio’s choice to remove gender from the character creator, but so many people aren’t. And instead of just letting them choose whether or not they want to buy the game based on the actual merits of the game, they’ve forced an entire group of people to give into their bullshit pandering tactics for the good of their group’s future representation in the video games industry by making a big thing out a fairly easily development change. It’s selfish, disgusting, and wrong. And the worst part is that because of how things work, people are and will continue to champion the studio for this PR move because it’s more than most studios deliver most of the time.

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