Where is the Profit Line?

A couple weeks ago, Jason Schreier wrote another insider article that brings light to issues, now seen as problematic, in game development. Mr. Schreier has made a career writing pieces like this about a great many games and studios such as BioWare and Anthem, Naughty Dog and The Last of Us Part II, and a number of other big ticket examples. I qualified my opening sentence, because it’s important to note that problematic practices, like most issues within society, are often tied to flavor of the month/year political/cultural opinions.

We have seen countless examples of people having no problem with a well-known or fairly obvious given practice and then suddenly turning on a studio for the same issue after a random article is printed about it or an employee, present or past, comes out and complains about it. What this tells me is that people seem to only care about issues as much as caring about them will gain them clout. That also means that conclusions like right vs wrong are subjective and not based on any sort or established set of rules. So I don’t think it’s accurate or fair to demonize one studio once it’s reported on while ignoring similar practices at another studio that just hasn’t gotten its five minutes of infamy yet. I also think it’s unfair to get mad at one company for following industry trends in order to maximize profits while not treating every other company with the same amount of ire before Mr. Schreier takes the time to write about them.

Clout ChaserThe article in question focuses on sexual misconduct at Ubisoft. I want to start by saying that none of the reported sexual misconduct issues are OK. Not all of them are illegal, but all of them should be seen as problematic in a professional setting. I’m not going to defend them and I don’t feel there’s any need to debate them. That’s not what this post is about. Another issue, that I actually do want to discuss in this post, that was also discussed in the article, is the minimization of female roles in Ubisoft games. In many ways this was actually the bigger news to come out of that article. Many other media sources reported on the article with a focus on this development practice at Ubisoft. You can read the full article but the summary of this particular issue is that Serge Hascoët, the chief creative officer, among others at Ubisoft, made it a point to limit the roles and focus on female characters in the games produced during his long tenure at the company. He was also accused of sexual misconduct, but those are two separate issues. And that’s the first problem.

Serge Hascoët was accused, and is presumably guilty, of sexual misconduct at his work place or with people related to his work place. As I already said, this is not OK and such behavior shouldn’t be defended. But to automatically link his misconduct with his game development decisions is, in my opinion, wrong. It’s an inaccurate linking of correlation with causation. One can both be a sexist and make successful business decisions. One can be both a sexual predator and be good at their job. We have countless examples of this in the film and television industry. Some of the greatest actors, producers, and directors of the last several decades have been outed as sexual predators. That doesn’t negate how good they were at their jobs or how seriously they took their jobs. It simply means they were both good at their jobs and trash human beings. So in the same mode of thinking, I think it’s more accurate to say that Serge Hascoët was a great chief creative officer and a trash human being rather than saying he was a terrible chief creative officer because he was a trash human being. Because making a successful game is measureable.

ubisoft-clubWe can debate whether or not there is one way to make a successful game, but we can’t debate whether or not he was good at making successful ones. His list of credits speaks for itself. He was the chief creative officer on more successful games than most developers even get to work on. Some examples include the Assassin’s Creed franchise, several Tom Clancy games, and the Far Cry series. And not just one installment either. He was leading the production of most titles in multiple franchises. Say what you want about his conduct, but the man clearly knows what makes a game that sells. And let’s make sure we address that point. A successful game is a game that turns a profit when you’re one of the largest publishers and developers in the world. A family run, publicly traded company, especially one that fought off a hostile takeover, cannot afford to make games that don’t sell. The objective definition of a successful game in this context is one that turns a profit. And the larger the profit the better, as is the way of capitalism. So in that mode of thinking, Serge Hascoët was great at his job and made Ubisoft several boatloads of money.

Many people will refuse to disconnect the two issues. They will say they are incapable of separating Hascoët’s personal misconduct with the sexist, and arguably racist, practices displayed in his work conduct. But most of these people almost assuredly have never and will never release a AAA game. Certainly not as the lead producer. The correct question is not were Ubisoft’s decisions concerning the minimization of female roles in their games sexist? Yes, they absolutely were. This is not debatable. But it’s also not the issue that needs to be discussed. The correct question is were Ubisoft’s decisions concerning the minimization of female roles in their games the correct business decisions at the time(s) they were made? This is the issue I really want to discuss.

HL Mencken Money Quote BigMany people hate this discussion because it addresses an issue that many people don’t want to acknowledge as the entire backbone of the discussion. And yes I’ve discussed it in reference to different events in the past. Game development is a business, plain and simple. Some games are willing to risk profits to make a statement, but every game needs to make a profit for the team to continue making games. A baseball player nearly bankrupted the state of Rhode Island trying to make a game. And that game, Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning, was actually really good. Games are expensive, time consuming, and high risk. Doing everything you can to make sure the game makes as much money as possible and keeping literally hundreds to sometimes more than a thousand people paid, and ideally employed for the next game, is the number one concern of any AAA game development studio. And that’s while dealing with a greedy board of directors that would rather see their annual dividends go up than their employees paid properly. So it’s really important for a game to be successful. Especially if development took years. So the question is did the decisions made by Hascoët concerning the reduction/exclusion of women in Ubisoft’s games improve, suppress, or have no effect on the financial success of the games he managed?

Ellie Mouth CoveredThe sad thing about this question is that we can never know for sure. We can use other examples, like The Last of Us Part II and Horizon: Zero Dawn, to try to extrapolate conclusions but we can’t ever know with 100% confidence what the real answer is. This is because of a number of factors. Some of these include the following.

  1. We have yet to have a Ubisoft AAA quality title with a female protagonist to know how one would perform.
  2. Ubisoft doesn’t make new IPs much so all their games in question are beholden to established franchise audiences, expectations, and canon.
  3. The games industry and community has changed significantly over time because of steps taken by Ubisoft and other publishers/developers by using mostly slow incremental steps towards more diversity.

Let’s look at Assassin’s Creed as a currently relevant franchise for this discussion. Over the course of now 13 years and 11 main platform titles plus another 11 spin-off titles on various platforms ranging from mobile to PSP to DS, Ubisoft has established a power house franchise that now is essentially too big to fail. Today they could do pretty much whatever they wanted and get away with it without the game tanking . . . to a point. But that took a lot of time and effort over many games, and other types of content such as animated films, books, comics, and one garbage live action movie. In those 11 main titles, only one features a female protagonist, and that position is shared with a male sibling. In a few others, female characters are playable for limited periods of time in specific sequences such as Aya, in Assasssin’s Creed: Origins. Two of the spin-off titles feature female protagonists as well. These being Assassin’s Creed III: Liberation and Assassin’s Creed Chronicles: China. Has the franchise been successful regardless of the minimization of women or because of it? That’s the question that needs to be answered. But really it first needs to be asked.

Paper Mario Color Splash Screenshot 2017-10-22 19-30-45It’s easy to demand a committed female protagonist in an Assassin’s Creed game in 2020 when you know the game won’t fail, even with all the naysayers online. But was that the case back in 2007? If Altair had been a woman from the start would Assassin’s Creed be the franchise it is today? If Ezio had been hung with his father and brothers and Assassin’s Creed: II, Brotherhood, and Revelations had followed his sister Claudia Auditore da Firenze, also a member of the Brotherhood of Assassins during the same time, instead would she, like Ezio, be one of the most beloved assassins in the franchise? It’s easy to say yes after the fact. But there’s no evidence to support that claim. Consider this; Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End (2016) sold 8.7 million copies in its release year. The Last of Us Part II, which is still in its release year, has sold about 4 million copies. It outpaced Uncharted 4’s opening week record, but now its sales have declined considerably since then compared to Uncharted 4’s sales pace in the same time frame. Why? Is it because Ellie is a woman and Nathan is a man? Can’t say for sure but a social media analyst would certainly argue that it’s a factor.

Caludia AuditoreTake it one step further if we want to have a discussion about all inclusion and not just gender. Is the fact that Nathan is a straight, white male and Ellie a lesbian a factor in the difference in sales? Again, impossible to know for sure but a social media analyst would certainly argue that it’s a factor. And more importantly, it’s a limiting factor. Compare the sales of Uncharted 4 to those of Shadow of the Tomb Raider (2018). Uncharted’s sales are way higher. That’s not to say that Tomb Raider’s sales are/were low. But it’s factually true to say Uncharted’s latest main line installment was stronger than Tomb Raider’s even though it came out two years later to a much more inclusive gaming industry and community. Or at least that’s how it seems. One could of course say maybe Shadow of the Tomb Raider just isn’t as good as Uncharted 4 and gender had nothing to do with it, and that may be true. But it’s not an objective measurement of comparison. Companies make decisions based on perceived facts. Even if the facts are suspect, decisions are made based on something. Not just guesses. You look at the numbers comparing multiple similar games, you identify their key differences, and you make seemingly likely conclusions based on them. That’s how entertainment works. Why does Thanos die at the end of Avenger’s Endgame? Because enough data can be shown that people like seeing the villain die at the end of Marvel films. If that wasn’t true he’d still be alive. In the same way, the data shows that male protagonists sell better than female ones in video games. That very well may be a self-fulfilling prophecy, but it changes nothing about how the data looks.

Horizon 2Let’s look at it another way. Horizon: Zero Dawn (2017) was a great success. So much so that the PC port and the recently announced sequel are both highly anticipated and are expected to sell millions of units each. But 2 questions should immediately come to mind. Would those sales numbers be higher if Aloy was a man and would that game have been as successful if it had been released with Aloy as the protagonist in 2007? Can’t say for sure on either question, but I bet if you took a poll of AAA game developers and they answered honestly you’d get an overwhelming number of them answering yes to the first question and no the second question. Again, cannot say for sure, but the data appears to indicate certain conclusions that inform the way creative directors like Serge Hascoët do and have done their jobs for now multiple decades. Still waiting for that totally awesome and financially successful Nintendo franchise starring a female protagonist that didn’t spend more than half her career being mistaken for a man in a suit of armor. And yes I do still remember when it was revealed to the wider public that Samus Aran was a woman. It was because of the ray-gun revealing her skeletal structure in the original Smash Brothers on the N64 and was widely reported in multiple gaming physical magazines. Many boys decided to change their Smash main after the news broke. And no that’s not an exaggeration. It’s a sad truth of our history and society. Remember how mad people were last year when they found out Hooded Justice was Black in the Watchmen show? That’s the world we still live in. And because of that, I believe the development decisions concerning the role of female characters at Ubisoft were profit driven rather than some systematic attack on women.

Jovan Adepo.photo: Mark Hill/HBO
Jovan Adepo. photo: Mark Hill/HBO

One of the examples expressed in Schreier’s article concerning the minimization of female characters is Aya in Assassin’s Creed: Origins. I thought this example was especially interesting because currently I literally just finished Origins for the first time last week. It was reported that originally the main protagonist, Bayek, was supposed to be killed off early on and the game would focus on his wife, Aya, getting revenge for her murdered spouse. Instead he was kept alive, made the main protagonist, and she played an auxiliary role with a few playable sequences. The fact that those sequences exist tell me that this report is most likely true. She was originally meant to be the main protagonist. But my experience with the game, which I’m happy to admit is biased as a heterosexual, African American male, makes me believe that making Bayek the main character was the right choice.

Throughout the game I have constantly said that I wanted Aya to play a larger role in the story. But I never thought that in terms of gameplay. I wanted her more present in order to develop her relationship with Bayek. That was the thing I disliked most about her character: the fact that her marriage with Bayek was so distant and odd. The character is attractive and Bayek goes out of his way to show loyalty to his wife, even when she is not present, constantly. Multiple female characters come on to him throughout the story and he always makes sure to let them know that he’s happily married. Yet to me his marriage was anything but happy. His wife was constantly a country away doing her own thing. Every time he asks her to stay with him she says she has work to do and can’t. She’s portrayed as the stereotypical working husband in many ways. I didn’t like this at all. I like her but wanted her more present, as Bayek’s wife. Of course you can say that’s the sexist view and that she shouldn’t be held to the misogynistic fantasies of the male player, but that’s not a business minded response. That’s a political response. Again this is about making profitable games. They made a character I liked and wanted more present, but failed to make her more present. But they did not make me want her more present as the playable character. Of course I can’t speak for everyone who played the game. Maybe a majority of other players did want to play more as Aya and didn’t like Bayek. But Bayek is a really great protagonist so I highly doubt that. He really is the best assassin since Ezio in many respects. I’m speaking as someone who hasn’t played Odyssey yet, for the record. But the point is I genuinely believe that I wouldn’t have liked the game as much with Aya as the main protagonist. But to be fair, we can assume they would have written her and the plot in general at least slightly differently if she was the main protagonist. So obviously that has an effect on my opinion. Making this another situation where we can’t say for sure if gender actually matters or if Ubisoft is just making causality out of correlation. It’s a tough question. But what’s not a tough question is how much money did the game make?

Assassin's Creed® Origins2020-5-19-1-50-10Assassin’s Creed: Origins has sold more than 10 million copies. It was released in 2017. Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate (2015) only sold about 5.5 million copies by 2017. Assassin’s Creed: Black Flag (2013) sold 11 million units by 2014. Now I can’t prove or disprove anything, but what I can do is compare the three titles from a completely objective standpoint devoid of context. The game that sold the most of the three has a white male protagonist as the only identified playable character. The game that sold the second most has a male person of color as the main protagonist with some portions of the game played as two other female people of color. The game that sold the least has the play time nearly split down the middle between a white male protagonist and a white female protagonist.

Having played all three, I can say that they’re all good Assassin’s Creed games. Syndicate was certainly the worst of the three, but I still feel like it was better than multiple other games in the franchise. So what was the factor that made Syndicate sell so much less than either of the other two games? You can’t use race as a factor here. And as these are all post Assassin’s Creed III games, story is possibly a factor, but I’d argue none of the games post ACIII have a particularly relevant meta story. Taken one step farther, I’d argue that while Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag is the best of the three titles for gameplay, it’s the worst for story. Not character development or world building, but specifically the plot. Meaning that there’s not really an objective way to compare these other aspects of the games. The only things that are 100% measurable factors that can’t be debated are the genders and skin colors of the playable characters in each of these three games. While you could say gender isn’t the reason for the large difference in sales, it should be obvious how someone could reach that conclusion based on the sales data. And as we have seen with countless games, the social media response to female protagonists in the Assassin’s Creed franchise, among other franchises, tends to lean more negative as well. So when you couple that with sales data those conclusions make sense on paper. I believe this is the root cause of Serge Hascoët’s design choices in Ubisoft’s games.

ac syndicateAs a community and industry, we need to be able to make a distinction between sexism and profiteering. I would argue that both of those things are problematic, but only one is a foundational property of our economy. So I can’t blame a company for chasing profits. So the question shouldn’t be is Ubisoft guilty of making sexist design choices? The question should be are sexist design choices in pursuit of profits acceptable? Is there a line where profits should no longer drive decision making in video game production? Consider this scenario. You’re chief creative officer of a AAA game. You have a team of people, men and women, who want to do a female protagonist. They are excited, passionate, and unified in their vision. You also believe, or even know, that putting a female protagonist in the game will have a large effect on the future of game development by making it more accessible to women as well as leading to a noteworthy increase in the number of future AAA games featuring female protagonists. You would greenlight that project. I’d almost argue you have a responsibility to do it. Choosing not to do it for no reason other than you don’t want to would be blatant sexism.  But what if you also knew that it would drop sales by 3 million units? The company would still be fine. No one would lose their job. You’d still get to lead the next game. But you would be costing the company 3 million units in sales. Would you still use a female protagonist? Would you willingly choose to sacrifice 3 million units of sales for a political agenda? This decision can affect people’s bonuses’ and even the future of the franchise. Even if the only repercussion is reduced sales, if you know that for a fact then you probably won’t choose to go with a female protagonist. And depending on your contract, you might have an obligation not to in that situation.

Female EivorI’m not saying that Serge Hascoët made the right design choices. Because I can’t prove that sales would have been lower for any of those many games he managed had he have not minimized the roles of female characters in them. But I can absolutely say that based on the data I have available, which is obviously way less than the data available to him when making such decisions; he made the choices that appear to have been the most profitable. And that was his job. Again, that doesn’t excuse his sexual misconduct in the work place. But we shouldn’t conflate bad workplace behavior with being bad at one’s job. Those are two completely different things. It’s an objectively false claim to say that he made games that weren’t profitable. In a way, to have included both issues in the same article was a bit dishonest and inflammatory because it paints every game developer as sexist for putting profits first in their development decisions. I don’t think that’s fair. Furthermore, I believe that the only reason that you will get to choose to play as a female Eivor in Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla is because of the years spent building a strong franchise that can now take those types of risks. That may not be the nice way to look at things, but the sales data, in my opinion, shows that it’s the accurate way to look things.

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Hype Development: Hyper Scape is Step 2

Two years ago, I wrote a review for the closed beta of The Crew 2. One of the topics I touched on was the inclusion of followers as an in game mechanic. Ultimately followers took the place of experience points in that game, but the point I made back then was that Ubisoft was addressing, kind of ironically but also not, the modern construction of value within our society. In other words, your accomplishments are defined by the number of people watching rather than the accomplishments themselves. The issue I had with this idea then, and still do now, is that it means people aren’t doing what they want to do, or even what’s the best experience for themselves, but rather they’re doing things in order to increase viewership. This is not a new concept. It’s no different than politicians lying to get votes or actors pretending to support causes in order to increase viewership of their movies. But what is different is that this idea is now seeping its way into gaming. Not just game playing, but more importantly game development.

More and more we’re seeing games that are being developed with the viewer and presenter experience in mind rather than just the gamer. We’re seeing games built around the idea of players being watched while playing rather than just playing with the understanding that some people will watch some people play games. Street Fighter V is a good example of this. The competitive community complained that the game had been made easier to complete special moves/attacks. Capcom did this so that matches would look more exciting when being streamed or during live competitive events. Understand what this means. A fighting game that has always been known for being technical and difficult to master was made easier so that people not playing the game would get a more exciting show when watching people who hadn’t taken the time to master the game play it online. While I have no problem with the idea of games being made more accessible to players, I absolutely take issue with the idea of changing one of the foundational qualities of the franchise in order to improve the experience of people who aren’t even playing the game. That’s such a weird way to even think about games. If I buy a game, I want the game to be fun for me and other people like me that are actually playing the game. I couldn’t care less about the experience of people who haven’t paid for the game and aren’t playing it. This was my fear when Ubisoft put followers in The Crew 2. Now they’re pushing this idea even further with Hyper Scape.

Street Fighter VI don’t like battle royale games, and I don’t think that surprises anyone who follows me. But this discussion is about more than just Hyper Scape or the battle royale genre. Hyper Scape is a newly announced competitive battle royale game. It was formally announced during Ubisoft Forward but was already in closed beta before that. Since Ubisoft Forward, it is now in open beta and will still be at the time this post was published. I’ve played multiple rounds and for all intents and purposes it’s a pretty standard FPS battle royale game when it comes down to basic gameplay. You fly into a closed map and try to kill other players/squads while the map slowly shrinks. There are a number of different types of guns and special powers. It also has some semblance of a story, which is a breath of fresh air for the genre. But the real difference with Hyper Scape compared to other battle royale games, and PVP games in general, is that it introduces viewer generated match conditions.

During play, once the game is officially launched, Twitch viewers will be able to vote during matches on occurrences that affect the tide of play.  From what has already been shown, this is currently limited to temporary match phases such as specific powers, item boosts, or other such low level effects. But those effects will affect match outcomes. Meaning that regardless of your skill level, planning, or current situation, the audience watching your match will have the ability to affect your gameplay situation and possible outcomes in real time. I don’t like that.

Hyper scape votingI don’t like the idea that I can lose a match because of input from outside viewers. I don’t like the idea of my competitive gameplay experience being shaped by the public in real time. This is certainly an interesting concept, and it’s much different from anything we’ve seen before (in real life) but I see it as cause for alarm. We know for a fact that Twitch viewers are petty, organized, and biased. We know they’re dedicated to affecting outcomes based on their own desires and narrow minded opinions rather than any sort of objectivity, fairness, or morality. The idea of letting them, or really any group of anonymous viewers, shape my gameplay experience should be seen as cause for alarm. Even while also commending Ubisoft for what truly is a technological achievement of game development.

Consider this scenario. It’s the final match of a Hyper Scape esports event with a huge cash prize on the line. One player is a man and the other a woman. For the purposes of argument let’s say they’re evenly matched when it comes to base skills. But they have strengths and weaknesses with specific weapons and conditions. The Twitch community, being the Twitch community, is made up of a combination of mostly simps and misogynists. In the competitive scene, it’s mostly misogynists while in the casual scene it’s probably about 50/50 between the two groups. So since this is an esports event we can assume the viewership is mostly misogynists. As such the majority of viewers in this scenario want to see the woman lose. Not because the man is the better player but simply because they don’t want to see a woman win. The vote comes up and there’s a choice between a match condition that favors the man’s skills and one that favors the woman’s skills. The vote would of course favor the conditions that would give the man the advantage. He wins and the crowd is happy that they were able to sabotage the female player. And all of this is completely acceptable within the rules of the game. There was no hacking or foul play. It was simply people exercising their ability to affect the game’s outcome based on their own biases. And it doesn’t really matter if the roles were reverse. Say the crowd was mostly simps and they wanted the woman to win. Same exact thing happens to the man. He doesn’t lose because he should have. He loses because the crowd chose to work against him. For me, this is a nightmare scenario for competitive gaming.

simp vs chadThis problem doesn’t just stop at PVP though. This viewer centered development style can easily worm its way into single player games as well. The same level of promotional value comes from streaming single player games if a streamer has the viewership. So why not make it so people can affect the gameplay experience of single player games too? Imagine a game like God of War being affected by viewer opinions. A streamer is playing and their stream gets raided by a bunch of haters. Then a scenario comes up where they get to vote on what powers/abilities/weapons Kratos can use. And they want to see the streamer fail, since they’re haters after all. So they vote to give the streamer the worst possible conditions for their play style to intentionally ruin their stream with stagnant progress. These are the types of issues I see in a scenario where viewers can shape the gameplay experience directly.

From what I’ve seen of Hyper Scape, it’s not that extreme yet. But it’s the second step in a process that Ubisoft seems to almost be leading unintentionally. The Crew 2 was step one. They referenced the idea and made it a fake gameplay mechanic. Hyper Scape is step two. Viewers will now be able to create small effects to the outcomes of matches in a possibly but not guaranteed successful battle royale esports title. How far will the next step go? And it’s not just going to be Ubisoft. They’re pioneering the concept, but they aren’t the only players in the game. What happens when EA implements this sort of concept? What happens when Nintendo starts letting people affect what happens to Mario while you’re trying to do a no death run? These are the sorts of future problems we need to start thinking about before it’s too late.

Destiny The Taken KingMany people might be thinking, why don’t you just play the game offline? But that’s not necessarily an option anymore. Hyper Scape is a battle royale game. That means there is no offline. Even if you aren’t streaming it, there’s almost certainly going to be someone among the 99 participants who is. You won’t be able to escape the public viewers. Think about games like Destiny that are always online even when you do play single player. What’s to stop viewers from affecting your solo gameplay experience when the world is a shared one with at least one person most likely streaming at any given time? These aren’t even extreme examples. They’re very probably outcomes.

Even without the idea of viewer direct influence on gameplay, games are still being developed with viewers in mind rather than players. In my book, that’s a bad thing. I’m not paying $60, excuse me now $70, for a game to be built around the enjoyment of people who didn’t buy the game while I try to slog through a lackluster experience that wasn’t built for optimum user enjoyment. At some point a line needs to be drawn, but that line will never be drawn within the current industry. Profit is all that matters and I’ll be the first to admit that viewer centered development is profitable. If I had a stake in a large publisher/developer I’d be pushing for games like Hyper Scape too. Because that’s where the money is. But who is working to protect the interests of the actual people buying and playing the games?

Guns AkimboMore and more it seems like we’re moving towards a system where gamers are content laborers working for free with the miniscule opportunity to make a profit while developers/publishers are making money on multiple fronts. They profit on selling the game, profit on ad revenue from people streaming the game, and then profit on merchandise referencing the game all while getting free advertising from streamers. And this model works for them because streaming has become so prolific. But now development is moving past the gamers altogether and being done for stream viewers. In the long run I see this hurting the experience of playing games. And if games raise in price while dropping in quality, then the number of people streaming them will ultimately decline as well. Especially when most people really won’t ever make a career out of it. The whole system seems to be slowly cannibalizing and people don’t even recognize it because it’s profitable in the short run.

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Physical Versions, Next-Gen Upgrades, & Stupid Consumers

Every so often a topic comes up that’s so incredibly obvious with the opposition being so criminally stupid that I just have to state the facts and the bare minimum of obvious logic to make a point that I would have hoped didn’t need to be made to begin with. This is one of those posts. I actually didn’t even need to write this post. I just wanted to have my prediction, to come later, published for the record.

Because of Microsoft’s, for once consumer friendly and absolutely correct, decision to essentially mandate that all new XBOX ONE releases that will have immediate XBOX Series X releases as well provide free upgrades to users that bought the XBOX ONE version, SONY has gotten on board and sort of mandated the same thing for PS4 titles that will soon after release on PS5. Some might argue that SONY’s decision had nothing to do with Microsoft’s announcement, and that may or may not be true, but it’s actually totally irrelevant to this discussion so grow up and let’s move on. One of the more relevant examples of this is/will be Watch Dogs Legion, which funny enough, I’m really looking forward to playing . . . on PC.

Watch_Dogs_LegionFor both XBOX and PlayStation users, Ubisoft will provide free next gen upgrades of Watch Dogs Legion. If you buy the game on XBOX ONE, you will get a free version of the game to play on XBOX Series X. If you buy the game on PS4, you will get a free version of the game to play on PS5. And all will be right with the world. But of course not the gaming community. It’s important to note that the free next gen upgraded version of Watch Dogs Legion, and all other games that will provide such an upgrade free of charge, will be digital versions of the game. That is to say that Ubisoft, Microsoft, and SONY, being businesses with an interest in profit, will not ship you a next gen physical copy Watch Dogs Legion just because you bought a current gen physical copy of the game. They will instead give your online network account, XBL for XBOX users and PSN for PlayStation users, access to download and play a digital version of the game on your next gen console. I assume there will be some way for other accounts on the console to also play the next gen version of the game, similar to how digital games work on consoles now, but I can neither confirm nor deny this claim at this time. What I can say is that if you buy a copy of Watch Dogs Legion on a current gen console, then you will be able to play a digital version of the game on a next gen console when logged into your current gen account that purchased/registered the game. I use the term registered here for those that purchased physical editions of the game.

I first want to recognize that this is an entirely new concept. Back in the day, we were never given free upgrades to cross gen titles. You either accepted playing it on current gen hardware, waited and bought it on next gen hardware, or bought two copies of the game. Those were your options. And you never had the ability to transfer saves. There were no free upgrades. I played The Force Unleashed (2008) on PS2 and only on PS2. I played Dragon Age: Inquisition (2014) on PS3 and only on PS3. It was actually one of the first games I can remember that later added a cross save transfer feature because they decided to keep making DLC for the game but only for the PS4 version. I wasn’t gonna wait to play those games, they didn’t give free upgrades, and I sure as shit wasn’t gonna buy the same game twice. Not like I had time to replay either of them anyway. The fact that we’ve now gotten to a point where publishers are just giving us next gen versions of games for free is amazing. *Glances at Nintendo angrily.*

Cyberpunk UpgradeHere’s the deal. You’re getting a free upgrade from current gen to next gen with the understanding that you’ve purchased a game that you couldn’t wait to play and will hopefully continue playing that game on next gen because in the future there will be additional, most likely paid, content that the developers/publishers want you to also play without expecting you to go back to last gen hardware after you’ve already made the transition to next gen consoles. Watch Dogs Legion is a great example of this because we all know additional content way down the road is Ubisoft’s bread and butter. There will be a Watch Dogs Legion gold edition, there will be paid DLC way after launch, and you probably will have had ample time to upgrade consoles long before Ubisoft stops producing content for the game. That’s just the way things work now. Especially for Ubisoft titles. They are not giving you a free upgrade just to own. And they are certainly not giving you a free upgrade so you can sell your last gen copy of the game. These are businesses after all. The fact that upgrades will be free is already more charitable than I would have ever expected from this industry. Expect paid DLC with meaningful content that should have been in the base game for pretty much every game that offers a free upgrade. Because publishers and developers will want to recoup those lost next gen version sales dollars somewhere.

I’m actually curious to see if there’s a time limit on these upgrades because an easy “scam” would be to wait for PS4 games to drop down to peanuts, buy them, and then get the free upgrade to play on PS5. The PS4 version of Watch Dogs Legion will probably drop to $20 within like six months after the release of the PS5. Meanwhile the PS5 version will probably retain its price for a while during the console’s transition period. So you could potentially get a new AAA for under $30 on PS5 within a year of the console even releasing. Don’t be surprised if they put a time limit on these free upgrades. The amount of money lost in this concept is more than I expect any large publisher to accept. And I consider Ubisoft one of the better ones. Wait till EA starts releasing games with free next gen upgrades.  In fact, they’ve already announced a time limit to get a free upgrade for Madden 22.

watch dogs legion physicalThe point is that you’re not being given two versions of the game for the price of one. You’re being given one game for the price of one that can be played on two machines. That’s the context these free upgrades are being given in. So it would make sense that certain protections would be put in place to protect publishers/developers from losing additional sales of their games due to people trying to game the system. One way one might game the system is to buy a physical PS4 copy of a game, at a discount as I expressed above, claim the digital PS5 version via free upgrade, and then go sell the physical PS4 version of the game. You can’t do this with digital versions of games because we still have no way to sell or trade digital games (legally). But physical versions are absolutely at risk for such practices. So companies need to protect themselves from this in some way.

The way it will work on PS5, and I believe on XBOX Series X based on what I’ve read, is that if you buy a physical version of a PS4 game then you will need to put that disc in the PS5 for the free upgrade to work. As in to play the game on PS5, you need the disc in the PS5 tray at all times. As in the way every physical game has worked for the entire history of physical games. Again, you are not getting two games for the price of one. You’re getting one game that can be used on two different machines. This makes sense, is convenient, and shouldn’t have been a problem for anyone. But this is the gaming community we’re talking about.

Watch Dogs Upgrade NoteThe PS5, and presumably the XBOX Series X, will have a digital only version of the console. Same console with no disc drive for a presumably lower price. How much lower still remains to be seen. The controversy, or nontroversy as I like to call such occurrences as this, came when Tim Warren, Senior Editor at The Verge (of course), tweeted that the PS5 free upgrade of Watch Dogs Legion would require the PS4 disc to be in the tray while playing. People got angry because they asked “What if you buy the digital only version of the PS5?” This presents an interesting thought experiment. The interesting part being trying to figure out what kind of mouth breather is stupid enough to buy the physical version of a game on PS4 knowing they are going to buy the digital edition of the PS5 and want to use the free upgrade? No one does this. No one has all this information in advance and still buys the physical version of Watch Dogs Legion and then the digital edition PS5. The only way this issue actually comes up for someone is they acquired the physical version of the game without purchasing it. They either won it, stole it, found a copy of it lying on the street, or received it as a gift. While all valid scenarios that have yet to be addressed, this is a very small percentage of users. There isn’t some large number of people who are going to end up with physical versions of PS4 games they want to play on PS5 that end up getting the digital edition of the new console. But people will act like there are.

While this is a non-issue, there are a number of people who will and have already complained about this. People are demanding that SONY create a scenario where people who do have the physical version of Watch Dogs Legion, and other free upgrade PS4 games, can still take advantage of the free upgrades on the digital edition of the PS5. And now they will.

PS5 VersionWhile there is pretty much no need to address this from a practical standpoint, the internet is not practical. People will bemoan SONY for not allowing people to make the switch from physical to full digital cross gen. And let’s be clear about why SONY is the one taking the brunt of this criticism. Microsoft hasn’t announced their digital only version of the XBOX Series X yet. Once they do, the same criticisms will be lodged at them if they haven’t already prepared a statement on this issue. They probably will, having seen people complain about the PS5 on this issue. But the point is SONY is being targeted simply because they showed their cards first.

Here’s how I foresee SONY will ultimately deal with this. It won’t be for at least a good six months to a year after launch, but the flood gates are now open so a solution is inevitable. My prediction is that SONY releases a disc drive accessory that connects to the console via USB . It’s a dumb solution but an actionable one. The technology is already fairly common. And of course the accessory will be expensive. In this case, I’m OK with that. People should have to pay extra for being inexplicably stupid. SONY will reap the benefits of that stupidity as they always have. Microsoft will then follow suit in the same way because XBOX Series X digital edition users will whine that they want a disc drive accessory too. The funniest part will be that all of them will pat themselves on the back and act like having the removable accessory is more convenient than just having the disc drive preinstalled in the console. What a sad time we live in.

PS5 Disc DriveIt’s interesting that we live in a time where something so obviously stupid and simple to deal with can become a huge issue that gets addressed directly by billion dollar corporations. At some point I feel like companies should just put their foot down and say enough is enough. But that will never happen after all the flak Microsoft got when they tried to pull that always online XBOX ONE crap. The difference there was that Microsoft was clearly in the wrong. The fact that people have leveraged moments like that to continually make bad arguments sound legitimate is sad but unsurprising. These are the same people that try to justify not wearing masks during a global pandemic. The point is that digital games are digital games and physical games are physical games. The fact that anyone thought that they would be able to buy a physical game and just get a free no strings attached digital version of the game on next gen consoles is laughable. Are people really that stupid? Yes, they really are apparently. And stupidity is profitable. I can’t wait to see what other pointless accessories are needed to quell the opinions of people who shouldn’t be voicing them out loud to begin with.

physical-vs-digital-coverA better question, that one also shouldn’t expect to work in their favor, is what happens if you buy Watch Dogs Legion on XBOX ONE but ultimately buy a PS5 instead of an XBOX Series X? This question is only relevant for third party titles. Obviously a platform exclusive like Ghost of Tsushima isn’t going to be part of a discussion about XBOX Series X. But a Ubisoft game will be on all four titles in question and is published by a neutral third party. So technically there really isn’t any reason why a person shouldn’t be able to get the free upgrade after changing sides. Even more so with Ubisoft specifically because of the Ubisoft Club system. Ubisoft actually has a way to verify who has their games on which platforms independent of SONY or Microsoft. Now with physical games, there’s not really a valid solution that protects the publisher. You can’t just put an XBOX ONE disc in a PS5 and expect it to work. Even though technically it probably could. But if you had a digital version of the game on XBOX ONE there’s not really any reason Ubisoft shouldn’t give you a PS5 version of the game if that’s what you want. Obviously you’d be foregoing the ability to claim an XBOX Series X version of the game in this scenario. I’m not implying this will happen. I’m merely saying that this is a topic of discussion that’s way more valid than expecting Ubisoft to just give you a free no strings attached replacement for a physical game in digital form on another platform. The XBOX ONE copy isn’t transferable or sellable in any way so unless they sell the entire console without deleting their XBL and Ubisoft Club account information from it, there’s no risk of a person selling their original copy of the game.

Obviously Microsoft and SONY would not be happy with the idea of Ubisoft or EA allowing players to switch sides like that and there would probably be some repercussions for implementing such a program. But it’s a much more valid demand from consumers than this digital edition PS5 nonsense.

How much do you think SONY will charge for PS5 their disc drive accessory?

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Optional Trophies

I am not a big fan of achievements/trophies in games. I appreciate that many people do like them. I understand that developers use them to “enhance” the gameplay experience by adding non-plot based challenges to games in order to lengthen the time in the tray. I also get that gaming has become a social spectacle and that many people use trophies/achievements as a way to garner clout within the gaming community. I have done this in a few instances as well, so please don’t consider it a statement of judgement but rather a statement of fact about current trends within the community. But in general, I preferred the time before achievements in games with the only real indicator of accomplishment being the completion percentage. This is why I continue to enjoy Nintendo’s games and platform in ways that I no longer can on PS4 and PC, in many but not all instances.

At one time I was something of an achievement hunter, when I was still playing games on XBOX 360. I mostly cast off this gaming lifestyle when I changed over to PS3 because the total sum of my accomplishments became fractured between platforms, ultimately rendering me perpetually behind my peers on PlayStation. This became even more true when I finally built my gaming PC, because now I had achievements on three different platforms, making it so none of them were particularly high by comparison to gamers committed to a single platform. Even on PC it became difficult to accurately collate achievements because I acquire games from a number of different platforms with either separate or even nonexistent achievement systems such as Steam, UPLAY, GOG, Epic Games Launcher, and Origin.

Game Launchers 2While my change in platforms led me to mostly ignoring achievements/trophies and the idea of obtaining full completions in games, I still have a few minor achievement expectations I hold myself to. I take the time to get at least one platinum trophy every year. This year it was Life is Strange Season 1. I may acquire others as the year progresses, but those will all be due to love of the game rather than a quest for the sake of achievement. 2018 was a great example of this. I platinumed TellTale Games Guardians of the Galaxy to get my annual platinum trophy for that year. But I went on to also platinumed Marvel’s Spider-Man, God of War, and Detroit: Become Human simply because I wanted to keep playing those games to full completion. I also try to get 100% completion in certain games such as story focused games within the Mario franchise and most open worlds I play by Ubisoft. For instance, I obtained all the moons when I played Super Mario Odyssey in 2018. Even though I’m playing on UPLAY and don’t really care about my score on there, I’ve gotten 100% completion in Ghost Recon: Breakpoint, Watch Dogs 2, and will soon acquire it for Assassin’s Creed: Origins all in the last year. To some this may sound like a lot of achievement hunting but in reality I hunt any sort of achievement other than complete the campaign in less than 25% of all the games I play, with some years varying by a large amount depending on what I play that year.

This next part is going to irritate a number of people. There are certain types of achievements I simply don’t like for different reasons. I’d say that was true for most people, with the reasons and types varying. For example, I absolutely hate all online PVP challenges in games that are not exclusively online PVP games. I like fighting games. I don’t love them, but I like them. I buy quite a few of them such as Dead or Alive, Injustice, and Mortal Kombat. I enjoy their campaigns. I enjoy their challenge modes. I have zero interest in playing online PVP outside of with friends. I especially don’t have the time to accumulate 100 or more online PVP wins. Also, even though I am a PlayStation Plus subscriber, I don’t like the idea of trophies that require you to pay extra to acquire them. Not everyone who buys fighting games is an online PVP subscriber, regardless of the platform they play on. And that brings up the question of fairness and validity in achievements/trophies.

PVP TrophyIs it fair for a game to require users to pay extra in order to obtain the platinum trophy? Lots of games have paid DLC, but I know of none that require you to buy the paid DLC in order to acquire the platinum trophy. Every game I’ve ever seen with both a platinum trophy and DLC allows you to acquire the platinum trophy without acquiring any of the DLC trophies. This is my Skyrim PS3 trophy as an example. I bought and completed the game before any DLC was released. So I have 100% completion for the Skyrim vanilla game while having 0% completion for any of the DLC. This is the fair way to do this. Because the expectation of people having to pay more to fully complete a game than people who bought the game at release is ridiculous. Also, the amount of effort required for later adopters to 100% a game shouldn’t be more than those who bought the game day one. Yet both of these issues are exactly what happens with fighting games. You have to pay an additional subscription fee, on console, to get the online PVP trophies and over time the achievement of those trophies gets harder because either the skill level of players grows well beyond late or casual players or on the far end the community has died off, making it nearly impossible to find enough people to play against in order to complete the achievements.

In my opinion, I don’t think it’s fair to have required online PVP trophies in a game that’s built mostly around an offline experience. And yes I do consider most fighters, such as Mortal Kombat and Injustice, as mostly built around offline experiences even if they do have an online PVP mode available. I buy both of those franchises for the story based campaign and single player challenges. Note I don’t have a problem with people who buy fighters to play online. That’s a valid reason and way to play those games. But it’s not everyone’s reason they play and because of the nature of online gaming on console today, it incurs an additional cost.

UPLAY ChallengesIn my ideal situation, none of those online PVP trophies would exist. But I know many people do like those trophies so while there are monetary reasons, as explained above, why I think it would be valid to get rid of them, I think a more effective outcome would be to make them optional. UPLAY’s PC achievement/challenge system is interesting in the fact that it has tiered achievements. In the case of UPLAY, they have challenges that net UBI coins and achievements that don’t.  They don’t differentiate them based on DLC versus vanilla game, but they do have a layered set of achievements. I think a similar system could be applied to trophies on PS4/PS5.

Similar to the DLC trophies, I think certain trophies should be present but not required to achieve the platinum trophy. Online PVP requirements in fighting games being a prime example. The trophies would be present in the list but not be required to obtain the platinum trophy. Frankly I’m a bit surprised we don’t already have such a system in place for PlayStation trophies. Not specifically with the fighting game example I’ve suggested but the idea of optional trophies in general. Most people can agree that there are certain trophies in games that are just bullshit. The replay a game on an easier difficulty trophies being a perfect example. If there were optional trophies, the platinum system could be way more balanced from game to game. Because you could now apply a trophy standard to all platinum trophies while still allowing developers to create whatever trophies they wanted. So if a developer really wants to have some bullshit trophies included that could still happen without it being required to obtain the platinum trophy. I think that’s a very fair trade-off for people who can’t be asked to waste their time doing clearly unnecessary achievements.

who's lineThe concept of non-required trophies and regulated platinum trophy standards got me thinking a step further though. What if they created a trophy points system where a platinum required a certain static number of points to achieve? Currently trophies already have a point value tied to them for your overall trophy score. Bronze trophies being worth less points than silver trophies and so on. So what if instead of games having an arbitrary number of trophies and the demand to obtain them all to get a platinum, there was a specific score requirement applied to all games in order to get a platinum trophy? Say bronze trophies are worth five points, silver ten, and gold fifteen as an easy to understand scoring system. Rather than making a person obtain all trophies in a game to get a platinum they would just need to reach a total trophy score for the game. Maybe 300 points just as an example.

Let’s say the game had 500 points worth of trophies for the purposes of argument. With this points system, the player gets to tailor their platinum based on what achievements they actually want to pursue instead of having to do all of them, including ones they have no interest in or find annoying. It also makes it so that every single platinum is equal in terms of value, and by extension effort. Of course it won’t be a perfect comparison from game to game because different types of gameplay are more and less challenging, time consuming, and in some cases not achievable for some players. But the point is that all platinum trophies would be held to some semblance of a regular standard. It’s kind of ridiculous that I can play Life is Strange, obtain only 10 trophies, and get a platinum meanwhile if I play Dark Souls III I have to obtain 42 trophies in a much harder gameplay experience to get what is essentially the same amount of value to my trophy score. What if instead I could just pick and choose the 10 trophies (9 bronze + 1 gold) I wanted to get in Dark Souls III and got a platinum just like I did in Life is Strange? Now of course there would need to be some adjustments made to the system and some games wouldn’t have platinum trophies at all, which is already the case with many games. But I think the idea of a more balanced platinum trophy system is ultimately a good thing.

Assassin's Creed® Origins2020-7-8-2-7-17The ability to pick and choose the achievements that matter to you makes for a better and more efficient gameplay experience for all parties without compelling players to waste their time in pursuit of a trophy they don’t want to deal with in order to get the trophy they actually care about. Not to mention it would allow people to skip trophies they have some sort of personal objection to. For instance, a lot of games where you can make choices task you with replaying them and making different choices in order to get all the trophies. But in my opinion that ruins the experience of a game with choices in it. Your choices matter and made the game personal to you. But if you have to go back and machine through the game with different choices that cheapens all the choices you made the first time around. Maybe I don’t want to see what happens in an alternative scenario where I didn’t romance a specific character or opted to sacrifice Ashley instead of Kaidan. That should be my choice. But when a trophy for both paths exists, that choice is taken away because I’ll have to play through both paths. There are also trophies a player just might not be comfortable with that they could now skip without losing out on the platinum trophy. Like in Assassin’s Creed: Origins there are trophies/achievements for killing elephants. I completed these because I wanted the 100% completion but I wasn’t happy about it. I happen to like elephants and didn’t like being tasked with killing them, even in a video game. Especially not after having just read about more than 350 elephants dying in Botswana in the same week I was doing those challenges. But in a scenario where I could pick and choose my trophies without sacrificing the platinum, I wouldn’t have to kill those elephants unless I wanted to.

This is a much different way of thinking about trophies and many people would definitely be against it. Many people think of trophies as a reason to brag. Many people hunt trophies for the prestige of having a higher trophy score. That wouldn’t necessarily have to change in this scenario because you could still achieve all the trophies if you wanted to. The idea here is more about acknowledging that not all trophies, and certainly not all platinum trophies, are created equal and that can and in my opinion should change. Regulating platinum trophies to be more equitable across all/most games would give them more meaning as a general concept even if at the expense of their prestige in certain games. At the end of the day there will always be bullshit trophies, but whether or not we actually need to acquire them is a topic of discussion that hasn’t been properly addressed up to this point.

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Ghost Recon: Breakpoint Terminator Event Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Can We Substitute Raids for Literally Anything Else?

The first game I can remember playing that had raids was the first Destiny (2014). There are a few things that need to be said about that statement right off the bat. First, this is absolutely not the first instance of raids in games. MMOs have been doing raids forever. In fact, that’s pretty much the entire point of MMOs like World of Warcraft. So I want to clarify that when I use the word raids I’m specifically referring to the modern definition where a game that can be played as a fully single player experience for a one-time fee contains or adds a special group challenge mission that is not indicative of the standard gameplay experience. Second, Destiny was a game where raids made perfect sense because of the standard gameplay and how people played it worked very similarly to raids to begin with. The only real difference between the standard gameplay and raids in the first Destiny was the number of people who could be in the squad at once and the difficulty of the mission. Otherwise the gameplay experience was fairly the same, because the game was built around group based gameplay.

Vault of GlassToday raids are added to pretty much any open world game with an online component. Even GTA Online has its own version of raids in the form of heists. The key difference between GTA Online raids and raids in say The Division (2016) is that there is a clear split between the online play and the single player campaign in GTA V (2013). The line is not so clearly defined in The Division, because that’s pretty much the point of The Division. Raids are especially common in open world shooters of various types. The key mechanism/motivation of raids is that you’re playing a mission with other people for the promise but not guarantee of better loot. That’s the only reason anyone plays them. The gameplay experience is in no way improved over the regular game. Raids provide additional content, but ultimately people only put up with them, often playing them multiple times, to get better loot. Not surprisingly, I hate raids.

I abhor raids. The entire concept annoys me but I find it especially annoying when it’s implemented into a game where it changes the way the player plays the game. The best recent example of this for me was in Ghost Recon: Breakpoint (2019). I’m one of the few people who actually really liked Breakpoint. Yes it is flawed, especially on PC. I can honestly say it’s one of the buggiest games I’ve played in the last 10 years. But the last Bethesda game I played was literally Skyrim on PS3 so there’s that. Even with the bugs, I still enjoyed Breakpoint. I took the time to do all the main and side missions for a total of about 50 hours give or take. I found the gameplay to be fulfilling, the story to be adequate, the acting to be solid, and the map to be impressive both visually and in size. What I loved more than anything else was the fact that I could play the entire game solo. I did every main and side mission solo. What I disliked about Ghost Recon: Wildlands was that it wasn’t built for solo play. They gave you three AI NPCs to assist but really they wanted you to play in groups. Breakpoint, in my opinion, went the other direction and built a game for solo players that allowed you to play with other people if you wanted to. This is my preferred approach to game development because I always prefer to play solo. I enjoyed Breakpoint so much for this reason until I finished the game and attempted to do the raid.

ghost-recon-wildlandsI finished Breakpoint with a gear score of 140. Raids require a gear score of 150. So the first annoyance I had to deal with for the raid was arbitrarily raising my gear score another ten points. Now to be fair Breakpoint has a garbage gear system where gear score and gear stats aren’t tied together directly. A game with a better gear system like The Division wouldn’t be as annoying to deal with this low gear score problem because it would mean increasing my total stats by ten additional gear score points which would translate to clear improvements across the board. In Breakpoint, it just means finding often worse gear with an arbitrarily higher gear score number attached to it. Thankfully you can craft weapons with higher gear scores in the shop so I was able to make up these missing points quickly, even if it meant equipping slightly worse gear in the process. Remember that the entire point of doing the raid was to get better gear so this would be a temporary problem with big returns in the long run, ideally.

Once I finally reached the required gear score for the raid, I had to do the thing that I had intentionally avoided doing for 50 straight hours: play the game with other people. Breakpoint is not The Division. It doesn’t push you into joining a clan, coordinating with other players, or literally even interacting with other people. It has options to do those sorts of things and there is a hub point where you can see other players. But honestly it’s a single player game and that’s how I played it. Now I was being asked to team up with three strangers to complete a presumably difficult mission. Add this to the fact that I live in a region where the standard language(s) is a language I don’t speak. So allow me to recount my entire raid experience.

Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon® Breakpoint2019-12-29-11-44-3The first thing I’ll say about raiding in Breakpoint is that the server, at least on PC, is pretty much dead. There’s an achievement in UPLAY for killing an enemy in the PVP mode that comes with UPLAY coins, which I always collect. I wanted to play PVP even less than the raid but I was willing to play one match to get one kill for the coins. I spent a combined total of 20 minutes in matchmaking and was never able to get a match. You need six to eight players for a standard Ghost War match. I was never able to get more than three in the lobby at a time. Ultimately I was never able to get into a match, since there are no bots, and I still don’t have those UPLAY coins, at the time of writing this. But let’s focus on the raid. There are slightly more people actually trying to do the raid in Breakpoint than those trying to play PVP. And by slightly more I mean like maybe five more people.

Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon® Breakpoint2019-12-29-14-45-8Unlike in Destiny, raids in Breakpoint require four players and by require I don’t mean recommend but you could solo them if you really wanted to and have 10 hours to waste picking off enemies one by one and chipping away at bosses. I mean you literally cannot finish, or even start, the raid without four people. There are sequences that require four switches to be activated at the same time. This means that if at any time a player drops out you cannot progress with the raid until they’re replaced. This happens all the time apparently. My first raid attempt was a dream scenario, in the noob sort of way. I entered a random group via public matchmaking and was dropped onto the side of a volcano I knew nothing about. I didn’t know where to go or what was happening. The other three players had been there waiting for someone else to join for some time. Ultimately I got killed by lava, respawned and then made my way towards the group. I still had no idea what was going on though. One of the players kept tossing down location notifications at me, which is apparently something you can do in the game that I wasn’t aware of having never played with other players before. The problem was I didn’t realize what they meant at first, because again I never played with other people before. Finally I figured out where to go and what they needed me to do: hit a switch while they all hit other switches. These guys had sat and waited for who knows how long plus the 10 minutes it took me to get to the switch just to progress forward in the mission. After hitting the switches we went to the final boss fight, which at the time I wasn’t aware of. Before I even realized what was really going on the other three had basically killed the boss. I got a few shots off to pretend I helped but ultimately these three veterans had completed the raid with a fourth who had dropped and then I got the credit at the end. Hooray for better loot. With these drops, some of which were not useful for my build of course, I was able to raise my gear score from 150 to 211 almost instantly. These players were all at above 260. I had now completed the raid firing less than one entire mag. Now I was only there for loot so this was great, but I wanted/needed more loot and I actually did care about the story aspect of the raid so I decided to run it again. Sadly two of these four players didn’t want to run it again so I had to find a new group.

Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon® Breakpoint2019-12-29-15-25-34Two of the players from my “successful” raid group dropped immediately. The third stayed. The game made me group leader and I was able to use random matchmaking to bring in two more players. This thankfully only took a few minutes. We entered the raid and started from the beginning. Before we even got through the official starting sequence, the last player from the previous raid went AFK without notice. We voted to boot him and brought in another random after a few minutes. Raids are bad because they force you to play with other players and other players are bad unless you know them. And even then they’re still often bad but at least you know them and that softens the blow slightly. These three guys didn’t have mics. That means using the text chat, which I’m actually totally fine with. The problem is that people often don’t use the text chat. This was one of those groups where they would use it only when they were annoyed with waiting. And then they would only say a few things like “hurry up”. The problem is that again this was my first raid. So I didn’t actually know what was going on, where I was supposed to go, or what the current objective was much of the time. I will definitely say that a big part of this came from the fact that the raid in Breakpoint is extremely vague and badly presented. The objectives aren’t clear, which is surprising considering how clear the objectives are in the main game. The locations you need to go to aren’t clearly marked, which for a four person cooperative experience just doesn’t work well. Last, but certainly not least, the text chat malfunctioned on and off for the entire duration of this raid attempt. Literally every five minutes the chat would break. You’d try to type a message and get back an error from Ubisoft saying the chat wasn’t working currently and to try again later. Coordinating four players, with the leader having no idea what to do, with no mics and no text chat is less efficient then the blind leading the blind. It was an absolute nightmare. And these other three players were raid vets, which in this case didn’t mean automatically working together to achieve a common goal. It meant three players running off solo to the next objective and trying to Rambo their way through it while I was trying to figure out where to go and stopping to pick up loot along the way. Again, I’m only doing raids for loot so you can be damn sure that I’m not just driving past chests. The whole thing was disorganized and terrible.

Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon® Breakpoint2019-12-29-16-10-14After like two hours of slowly making our way through the first half of the raid, we got stuck. These three players were all people who had completed the raid and yet we couldn’t seem to complete the latest objective. Like I said, the objectives were neither clearly defined or clearly marked on the map. Then one guy dropped. In some raid scenarios this sucks but it’s manageable. You can invite other people to join and still play while you’re waiting. And usually other people will join in rather quickly. That’s not the case in Breakpoint. You can invite random people to join, but you can’t move forward, depending on where you are, until they actually have joined. We were at such a spot. So we just stood there waiting for someone to join. No one did for a few minutes and then another guy dropped out. This is the nightmare scenario. You’ve spent two hours and still haven’t finished the raid then someone drops out. Then another. Now you have two people standing around and a decision to make. Do you keep waiting for additional players that may never come or do you risk starting the whole thing over by accepting an invitation to join another random group? Ultimately I chose the latter and ironically ended up in a group with the two guys who dropped out the first time at the very beginning of the raid. The first guy who dropped saw the two of us repeat players and dropped again. Ultimately I gave up on completing the raid and logged out of the game. And that’s everything that’s wrong with raids.

the division 2 raidThis was a garbage experience and not the first one I’ve had with raids. But the real question we should be asking isn’t how can raids be improved. It’s why do we have to have raids at all? In any loot focused game the better loot you can get the better your overall stats which should have a direct influence on your performance in game. That’s the only reason people do raids. They want the loot. That’s the only reason I agreed to waste my time trying to coordinate with three random assholes for two hours who didn’t even use mics in an online coop scenario. I simply wanted the best loot possible. And as I’ve already said, the raid loot is way better than anything you can find in the normal game. The jump from 150 gear to 260 gear is no joke. But why am I being forced to turn my single player gaming experience of 50 hours into a multiplayer gaming experience I don’t want? Why don’t developers ever acknowledge that my wanting the best loot doesn’t negate my desire to play alone? Why don’t developers ever add a single player raid alternative to their games for players like me? If I’ve invested the money and time to play and complete all the content then clearly I like playing the game and want to continue to. But if I’ve played the whole thing solo then clearly I don’t want to play with others people while still wanting the better loot.

There are so many options that could be implemented in this scenario. Give me bots for the raid. Make the raid possible for solo players. Add an additional solo mission that nets the same loot. Increase the value of regular loot spawns so I can eventually get all the raid stuff without playing the raid. It shouldn’t matter how I get the loot as a solo player. Just give me the loot so that when more solo content is added later I’m not lagging behind and unable to jump into it right away. To clarify, this is not just a Breakpoint problem. This is a Ubisoft problem. The same issues have happened to me in both The Division games. This is not just a Ubisoft problem. The same has occurred to me in other games like Destiny as well. This is a raid problem. Because the raid concept, in its current form, has always been troublesome for single player users. It’s an unnecessary mechanic that honestly serves no purpose. It’s not as if they couldn’t easily create challenging single player levels to supplement the content.

pokemon sword shield raidI am not saying raids shouldn’t exist or that companies should stop adding them to their games. I’m saying raids shouldn’t be mandatory to acquire the best loot in games that involve loot based character development. Let the players play the way they want to play. If someone wants to do raids, good for them. That option should be there in a shared world experience, which Breakpoint technically isn’t. But if a player doesn’t want to do raids that shouldn’t hinder them from being able to max out their gear. There has to be a way to balance out this issue for players of both types.

Now some might argue that giving people who didn’t do the raid access to raid gear is unfair because they didn’t earn it. First, this is not true. They still would have earned it, assuming they couldn’t just buy it in the in game shop. They would have just earned it differently. Second, why does this matter? The solo player plays solo. He/she doesn’t play raids or PVP unless forced to. So who would see or know that they got the raid gear without doing the raid? It’s not like they’re trying to play with other players to begin with. So why is it any other player’s business? As I said, I was placed in a raid at the end and given the credit for completing it. If you look up my profile it will currently say I successfully completed the raid one time. I have the raid completion emblem. For onlookers I have completed the raid, even though that’s absolutely not true. And honestly I don’t care if anyone thinks I completed the raid to begin with, because I play exclusively solo when not forced to play with others for better gear. Third, this issue of fairness, like in all games, only matters in PVP. So why not just wall the gear out of PVP? We’ve seen this in other games over the years. Just make it so that raid loot not earned by actually completing the raid can’t be used in PVP. This will be a non-issue for solo players because we don’t want to do PVP anyway so what do we care if we’re barred from using it in PVP? Problem solved for everyone involved and even those not actually involved who just like to complain about other people getting nice things. The truth is that we don’t need raids. So at that point developers should stop forcing us to play them if we don’t want to.

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Ghost Recon Breakpoint Wolves Collector’s Edition Unboxing

I’ve been away on my honeymoon for the last two weeks so I really didn’t have too much time to prepare a serious post for this week but I was inspired to write two posts while traveling so the next two weeks will be really good. To my surprise, Ubisoft sent me a Ghost Recon: Breakpoint Ultimate Edition key and the physical rewards of the Collector’s Edition. Since the game just came out two week’s ago, I thought it would be cool to share the photos of the Collector’s Edition physical rewards in lieu of writing a serious post. So here’s a gallery of all the awesome stuff that came in the Ghost Recon: Breakpoint Wolves Collector’s Edition.

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*I have not opened the statue yet because I am in the middle of putting in new shelves where the statue will ultimately stand so I haven’t taken it out of the package yet in order to keep it safe while my shelving is being installed. Sorry for the inconvenience.

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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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From Milan to Gamescom!

Last week, I was granted the privilege of attending the Mario + Rabidds: Kingdom Battle (MRKB) Summer Games Community Competition finals tournament. This event pitted four finalists against each other in the MRKB Vs. Mode live and in person at the Ubisoft Milan studio in Italy. Ubisoft paid to fly me to Italy from my home in Taiwan and paid for everything while I was there. This was an amazing opportunity and really my first legitimate entry into the world of competitive e-Sports.

This was a great experience. While at the studio I was able to try a prototype for a currently unannounced project from Ubisoft, which I can’t go into details about now for legal reasons. I also got to meet a number of different members of the MRKB development team and pitch my own ideas and feedback about what I’d like to see for the future of the franchise. It was especially informative and inspiring to meet the narrative director of MRKB. He gave me newfound hope that it’s not too late to achieve my goal of writing for a AAA studio. I also got to experience Italian food straight from the source as an added bonus.

Episode - Screenshot 2019-08-12 19-35-20

While I can’t say much about the things I saw during my visit to the studio, I can talk about the tournament. As I said previously, four finalists, including myself, were invited to compete in a Vs. Mode tournament. It’s important to note that the qualifying challenges were in single player mode and up until I was informed that the finals were a PVP Vs. Mode tournament, I had never played a single round of the Vs. Mode. Luckily for me this was true for the other three finalists as well. At the time I was informed about the tournament, I had played 65+ hours of the single player mode and zero minutes of the Vs. Mode. By the day of the tournament, I had practiced the Vs. Mode for about 20 hours.

Training for/in Vs. Mode was very difficult because it’s a local only PVP mode and I had no one to practice with. This meant playing 30 hours of PVP matches against myself. But thanks to my dedication I was able to use this time productively. I learned all the maps, mastered all the items, and developed a number of strategies for different scenarios. I also came up with what I consider to be the best possible three man squad in the game. According to what the other competitors reported going into the event, I put in more training hours than the three of them combined. And my hard work payed off.

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The tournament consisted of six preliminary rounds. Each competitor went up against each other competitor in a single match. Each victory scored you a single point plus they kept track of how many remaining characters you had in case of a tie. The top two scores would go up against each other one more time in the final round for one more single match. Of the four competitors, I was the only one to win all my preliminary rounds, of course taking me to the final round. The second place combatant that I had to battle again was the only one of the three to almost beat me. And if I’m honest he should have beaten me in our first match. I won by a single move. All the preliminary rounds were viewed by a limited number of team members from Ubisoft Milan but for the final round they had the entire staff watch. This added to the pressure considerably. I went on to win the final round and was declared champion of the Summer Games tournament.

Upon winning this tournament, I was informed that I was now invited to Gamescom, all expenses paid, to compete in the Grand Championship. Going into this tournament, I did not know such a prize was even on the line. I was shocked to find out that I would be taking another trip to Europe less than a month later to compete on a stage in front of hundreds to thousands of people for the grand prize. I still don’t actually know what the grand prize is, but going to Gamescom has always been a dream of mine so that’s a prize in and of itself.

Gamescom-2018

This final tournament to decide the MRKB Grand Champion will consist of the first and second place winner from each of the three Community Championship seasons and two community leaders with a new set of match parameters, which have not yet been disclosed to me. To the best of my knowledge, they have not released the match footage of any of the seasonal tournaments so I have no way of knowing how good the competition is going into the tournament other than the second place winner from my season. All I can do is continue training alone for this tournament and hope for the best. I really want to win this. If winning a tournament at Gamescom on stage doesn’t make you a legitimate e-Sports champion then I don’t know what does. So next week I’m off to Germany to compete in this tournament as well as experience everything Gamescom has to offer.

Important Note: Not only am I traveling to Germany to attend Gamescom next week, but I am also getting married exactly one month from the day this post was published. As you can imagine, I am extremely busy both at work and in my personal life. Between all the traveling, planning, and time away from home, I’m barely able to handle all my usual content creation endeavors. I’ve streamed less than five times in the last two weeks and it’s a miracle I haven’t missed any blog posts. That being said, I cannot say if I’ll be able to keep up with everything for the next couple months between Gamescom, my wedding, my honeymoon, and all the work I have to make up from traveling for these tournaments. So while I will do my best to continue posting weekly, as my record has gone untarnished for years, I ask you to please bear with me during this very busy time in my life in the event that I miss a few posts. As always, thank you for your understanding and support.

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As always, thanks for reading. Please take the time to follow my blog, leave a comment, and check out some of my other channels if you enjoyed what you read.

UbE-Sports (I’m Going to Milan!)

I’ve never been that fond of e-Sports. I do have a number of issues with the way they’re generally run and some ethical concerns about leading kids to believe that rather than focusing on school they should be playing Fortnite because maybe they can win $3M, but those aren’t the actual reasons I tend to dislike the concept/industry as a whole. Really my biggest complaint is that it’s the most repetitive, bland assortment of games, most of which I never had an interest in even before the term e-Sports existed. 9/10 times an e-Sports event/competition will feature an FPS, usually COD, CSGO, or Overwatch, a Battle Royale, usually Fortnite or PUBG, a 2D fighter, usually Steet Fighter, Smash Bros, or some junk title like BlazBlue (yeah I said it), some MOBA like LoL, or sports games, specifically Madden or FIFA. Of the literal thousands of games in existence and the countless types of multiplayer scenarios, 90% of e-Sports can be summed up with a handful of games in four genres. I find this appalling and disappointing.

E-Sports could and should be much more diverse and creative. There are lots of PVP scenarios that would be great in professional competitive spaces but the industry is chained to a lackluster list of mostly mediocre games in a few overplayed genres. I have very little experience in e-Sports for the simple fact that they rarely feature a game I even want to play enough to get good at. The last legitimate live gaming competition I participated in was a Smash Bros. Melee tournament in college. Not because there haven’t been other events since then. Just that there haven’t been any I was interested in. But it’s not that there are no competitive games I enjoy playing. I consider myself a single player gamer at heart, but there are lots of PVP games from over the years that I very much enjoyed and would have attempted to compete in at professional level. And I am not alone. The fact that events like Tetris 99 online cups and Splatoon 2 Splatfests are so popular prove this statement.

Tetris 99 cup

There’s also this modern conception that e-Sports means PVP. I don’t know why that is. When I was a kid we competed for high score. The Nintendo World Championships used to focus on single player games like Tetris and Super Mario Bros. That’s the entire premise of the movie The Wizard (1989). This was always my preferred form of gaming competition. Be the best at the game. Not the luckiest in a given randomized PVP scenario. In my opinion, there is a huge void in the big budget e-Sports industry as far as games included and types of competition.

One company that I respect immensely for their constant innovation in the PVP space is Ubisoft. More than any other large publisher, Ubisoft creates PVP and potential e-Sports scenarios that stray so far from the beaten path that they usually don’t even get the proper chances they deserve in the e-Sports industry. The best example of this is Assassin’s Creed multiplayer PVP. To this day I still would say that the PVP in Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood through III is the most innovative, original, and creative PVP gameplay I have ever experienced in more than 20 years of gaming. And it was so fun. Brotherhood was my favorite iteration of this system, and I took it seriously. I was so good at it by the time I stopped playing because I devoted so many hours to mastering it. Not because I wanted to get famous playing competitive video games, but because I actually enjoyed playing the game.

AC MP

While I would say Nintendo built the foundation of off the beaten path competitive multiplayer gaming, in the modern era Ubisoft is at the forefront of innovation on this matter. All the most creative and original PVP scenarios seem to be coming from Ubisoft these days. The recently announced Roller Champions is a great example of this. It should have been obvious to make a roller derby game in the style of Rocket League and yet no one developed a properly working one until 2019? And it’s really good too. I only played like 10 hours of it during the E3 demo but I was sold fairly quickly. It’s free to play and has great e-Sports potential. But honestly I don’t see it taking off and that’s because it’s not the standard aforementioned overdone crap so common to the e-Sports industry. Which is a real shame. It’s pretty depressing that the only way a new type of e-Sports concept can make any headway is if the company funds such events themselves. Rocket League is the exception not the rule. That makes it really difficult for indie projects that aren’t copy and paste FPS games to take off in e-Sports. Which not surprisingly is why you see so many clones.

Thankfully though, Ubisoft is quite flush with cash and they do fund many of their own e-Sports endeavors, big and small. This includes games like Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle (MRKB). I have written in the past about MRKB and how much I enjoy the game. One of the things I really respect about Ubisoft and the way they’ve handled this game is their dedication to community focused events. Recently they completed the third and sadly final season of community challenges.

Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle Summer Games 2019 Cover

The community challenges were online events where the community was given specific tasks to complete by following defined in game parameters within a time limit. This was actually really fun and added a lot to my enjoyment of the game after I completed the campaign. The most impressive part was that at the end of each season winners were selected from those who completed the online challenges to fly to Ubisoft’s studio to compete in a tournament and meet the developers.

There are a few aspects of this that are really important and that the rest of the gaming and e-Sports industry really should take note of. First, MRKB is not a super popular game. It’s highly acclaimed but it’s ultimately a niche Nintendo Switch exclusive. The fact that Ubisoft continued to support this game and invest into the community with competitive events and impressive prizes for the winners is spectacular. Second, the community events were for the single player mode. Ubisoft took a single player game and used it to create competition between players in an e-Sports like manner. That needs to happen more often like in the days of the high score. Single player games should not be ignored by the e-Sports industry and community simply because they don’t include direct conflict between players. Bowling, golf, and darts are just a few of many examples of actual sports that have professional levels of competition, are televised, and don’t include direct PVP style competition. Single player games can and should have a place in e-Sports. Finally MRKB is not fast paced. It’s a turn based tactical RPG. Because of years of programming, people who watch e-Sports have been misled into believing that only fast paced games have a place in e-Sports. This is sad and shouldn’t be true. People watch chess and poker. Neither of those are fast paced games.

ark pvpThe current e-Sports landscape is for the most part built on a foundation of lies instituted by companies like Activision and EA because they needed to convince people that there was inherent value in copy and paste annual releases. By tying them to e-Sports they were able to solidify this type of thinking into the very core of the industry. Ubisoft is one the few influential companies actually working towards some form of change, with the money and power to really accomplish something.

The thing that led to me writing this post is that I was actually chosen as one of the winners for the final season of the MRKB community challenge event. I’ve been invited to Milan to meet the developers of the game and participate in a VS Mode tournament. I can’t believe I was chosen for this. It’s truly a privilege to be able to participate in a competitive e-Sports event organized/hosted by a legitimate company. This may not be a $3M Fortnite tournament but it is an honor just to be able to participate in an exclusive gaming related event that almost no people in the world will ever get to based on my in game performance. Obviously I hope I win the tournament but just being able to participate is something I didn’t think would ever happen to me. I will definitely write a post about the experience once the event has concluded and I’ve returned home.

 

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E3 2019, A Post

Usually I make a post about E3 where I take some time to talk about the games shown and spend the rest of the post ranting about how the entire concept is outdated, biased towards undeserving members of the gaming community, and how it needs to be more accessible to the public or just die already. This year I’m not going to do that. Instead I’m going to just write my thoughts on a number of moments/topics addressed at E3 as completely disconnected mini-blog posts. There are some larger topics that I want to discuss in more detail and will in later blog posts, but this year for my E3 post I wanted to change it up ever so slightly. There will still be a fair amount of ranting though.

1. Who Won E3?

Usually you end with this but I wanted to start with it because it’s not actually the most important topic of E3 I want to discuss. So to cut right to the point, Nintendo won E3 this year. For me, winning E3 means garnering the most future sales . . . of games, not hardware. Now since I’m only speaking for myself, that means the winner of E3 is always the company that shows the most games that I leave the presentation at least 70% sure that I’m going to end up buying, preferably before the next E3. This was without a doubt Nintendo.

Nintendo Direct E3 2019

Now chances are I won’t buy all these games in the long run. But if I had an unlimited amount of time and money, these are all the games shown at E3 this year that I am not on the fence about wanting to buy. Meaning if they went on sale tomorrow and money was no issue, I would absolutely buy these games with no additional information. Note that I’m also not counting any games that I was already sold on before E3 because of previous announcements/presentations.

Microsoft

  • Star Wars: Jedi Fallen Order
  • Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot

Bethesda

  • Doom Eternal

Ubisoft

  • Watch Dogs Legions
  • Gods and Monsters
  • Roller Champions (Technically free to play but I’m counting it here anyway)

Square Enix

  • Marvel’s Avengers

Devolver Digital

  • Fall Guys Ultimate Knockout

Nintendo

  • Contra Collection
  • Luigi’s mansion 3
  • The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild 2
  • Animal Crossing: New Horizons
  • Cadence of Hyrule
  • Collection of Mana
  • Panzer Dragoon Remake
  • Ni No Kuni Remake
  • Astral Chain

New Ganon

The number of games I’m fairly likely to buy shown by Nintendo, again that I wasn’t already planning on buying going into E3, is more games than I’ll buy from all the other companies combined. Even if you remove the Breath of the Wild sequel because that was just a tease, it’s still overwhelmingly Nintendo with the victory. Nintendo won E3.

2. Screw Leaks & the People Who Leak Them

Every E3, as with every big gaming/tech event, there are usually some leaks. This was of course true for E3 this year as well. What I noticed this year, which may have happened in past years as well but went unnoticed by me, is that leakers were getting caught by developers/publishers and then people were coming to their defense. For instance, there’s this leaker on Twitter that was apparently contacted by Nintendo with a cease and desist order before the Nintendo Direct was shown. Because of this, they didn’t leak information about Nintendo’s presentation but did about basically all the other presentations. After they tweeted about Nintendo’s threats people came out of the woodwork to defend the leaker and get angry at Nintendo. This was of course not the only leaker but just one example. Even Jason Schreier tweeted in defense of leakers, which was shocking to me considering how much work he’s put into defending and supporting better treatment for developers.

 

Personally I hate leaks. When I was young and uniformed, I used to think leaks were so cool. Now that I have a job in the tech industry, I think they’re the worst thing ever. And I get really angry when people defend leakers with arguments like “the billion dollar corporation won’t be affected that much” because it shows a complete disregard for people like me, the marketers. It is true that in the grand scheme of corporate profits, leaks have very little effect. But profits have nothing to do with why leaks are bad. Corporations, of all sizes, have employees, sometimes full teams of them, that are responsible for creating and executing marketing plans for new products. It doesn’t matter what kind of product it is. It can be hardware, which is what I do marketing for, or it can be software, such as new games. All companies, especially the ones that show up at events like E3, have marketing employees. These marketing plans take a lot of work. They’re planned sometimes months in advance. They take a lot of time and effort and often cost a lot of money. What most people don’t realize is that when leaks happen, those plans often have to change on the fly or get cancelled altogether. Imagine if months of your work was instantly destroyed because some asshat found out some privileged information by taking advantage and betraying the trust of a friend or business acquaintance and posted it to the internet for some clout. That’s what leaks are. And it doesn’t just end there. Companies have to adjust marketing plans based on the fallout from leaks. This is essentially emergency crunch time but for marketers. And it doesn’t matter when and what the situation is. You can be at home about to eat dinner with your family and suddenly get a call that a leak happened and an entire marketing plan has to be changed in the next day in time for an event. Then you also have to deal with the fallout of the leak internally. Some companies take this very seriously and will do an internal investigation to find the source. People can get fired. Entire teams can get fired if the damage is large enough and they can’t discover the culprit.

 

No I’m not speaking in hyperbole. I’m speaking from personal experience. Last month was Computex. My company had a booth there. I was part of the team responsible for the show’s online and offline marketing plan. I personally wrote more than one of the press releases for the show. I also had to help setup the booth for the show the day before it started. Somehow we had a leak happen for one of our products the day before the show started. I was literally on site setting up the booth when a coworker rushed over to me with the news and handed me a laptop saying a press release had to be rewritten to adjust based on internet response to the leaked information. Now this was a low level leak. It wasn’t a flagship product, there wasn’t a huge marketing plan created for it at that point, and rewriting a press release in the middle of a soft construction site, though rushed and inconvenient, was not the end of the world. But that’s when a leak scenario is not that bad. Imagine if it was the night before E3 and you’re in a bar drinking celebrating the fact that your multi-million dollar marketing plan that took a team of more than 50 people months to plan and put into motion was finally finshed when suddenly you get a call from your boss saying the game has been leaked and the entire plan has to be shifted or even scrapped. That’s the reality of leaks for marketers. As much as people seem to care about developers, they never seem to care about all the other people involved in launching a game or product. Leaks have little effect on developers, especially in the short run. But they play havoc on the lives of marketers and marketers are not rich douchebags in suits drinking scotch laughing at the underlings. Marketers are the underlings. We’re struggling laborers just like any other employee at any other company. We’re not famous. People don’t praise and buy products because we’re creating the marketing assets for them. It’s thankless work that no one thinks about and it’s usually underpaid work, especially for the writers. So I hope the next time you hear about a leak you ignore it and remember that someone’s day is probably gonna be ruined because of it and that someone works hard for less than they deserve, just like you probably do.

3. Subscriptions, Subscriptions, & More Subscriptions

UPLAY + Stadia

It seems my fears are coming to fruition. The age of subscription services will be in full force within the next year. So many companies announced new subscription services. XBOX updated the Games Pass to a premium version, of course for a higher price. But they also announced a PC only version which I do think is a nice surprise. But they also announced a new cloud service. Ubisoft will have a subscription service. Square Enix implied they plan on launching a subscription service. And then there’s Stadia, which I already hate the sound of. The worst part is that Ubisoft’s subscription service will connect to Stadia. Meaning you have to buy a subscription service to play games inside a subscription service you’re also buying. It’s a recursive cost that will probably multiply exponentially overtime.   I fear a future where companies do away with buying single games altogether and they force you to do annual subscriptions that require subscription based platforms subletting on other subscription based platforms. Imagine if one day to play a PC game you need to use Microsoft Windows as a subscription service because you can’t purchase one off licenses anymore. But then you also need to subscribe to Stadia to run games on your lower range hardware. But of course you’re also paying an internet service fee to stream Stadia which will charge you a premium for bandwidth. Then you have to pay for the PlayStation cloud service subscription because you want to use your PSN account for your friend’s list and trophies. But you’re trying to play a Ubisoft game like Ghost Recon: Breakpoint so you have to subscribe to Ubisoft’s subscription service. Suddenly what used to cost $60 plus your extant hardware now costs like $19.99 to the power of 5 monthly. It’s a depressing dystopia for the gamers of tomorrow. I fear the day that GOG and Steam jump onto the subscription bandwagon.

4. Devolver Digital Made Light of My Fears

Devolver-Digital-E3-2019

I’ve actually never watched the Devolver Digital E3 presentation before. To me they’ve always been kind of an odd duck. They make/publish indie class games that I rarely ever play. I’m not saying they make bad games by any means. I actually own nine of their titles and I’ll almost certainly buy Fall Guys Ultimate Knockout. I also really liked Luftrausers and The Talos Principle, which I never actually finished sadly. But to me they’re also kind of an enigma. I almost never realize a game is published by Devolver Digital even if I’m very aware of the game. So I wasn’t even planning on watching their presentation this year. The only reason I did was because a friend told me I’d really enjoy it and that they made fun of a lot of things I talk about often. So I watched it and it was excellent, but it was also scary. They ironically discussed a number of issues and trends in the gaming industry that I’ve been talking about for years. It reminded me of when Ajit Pai did that skit about being a paid shill for ISPs. In the age of games as service models, loot boxes, unfinished games supplemented with paid DLC, and other such bullshit, I found it equally refreshing and horrifying to see a publisher talk honestly about these issues while simultaneously making fun of them in the pursuit of profit. It’s a weird time to be alive.

5. Star Power, Star Pricing?

kingdom-hearts-3When I was a kid, Hailey Joel Osment was a famous child actor because of his ability to see dead people (that’s a The Sixth Sense (1999) reference). When it was announced that he would be voicing the main character for the English version of Kingdom Hearts, it was a special moment. While I don’t assume he was the first legitimate movie actor to voice a video game character, he was the first that I could remember being fairly famous for acting in movies at the time of doing the game. It was common with TV actors, such as TC Carson as Kratos, but they never had as much value demand as movie actors and still don’t in most cases. The fact that Hailey Joel Osment stayed with the Kingdom Hearts franchise all these years and returned to voice Sora in Kingdom Hearts III is actually really cool. But what’s important here is that Hailey Joel Osment was never really an A-list star and more importantly he got into video game voice acting in a time where even A-list stars weren’t as meaningful to the public or as expensive as they are now. The other really important detail is that Hailey Joel Osment’s likeness wasn’t actually featured in the games he was voice acting in. The first truly epic actor I recall playing a character in a AAA video game and showing their full likeness was Kevin Spacey in Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare (2014). I’m not saying that this was the first instance of this happening. I’m just saying it’s the first one that I can remember. Also note I’m not counting movie tie in games because that’s a different animal. Now we’re starting to see the use of top tier actors in games as actual characters in the games become more commonplace.

cyberpunk-2077-keanu-reevesAt E3 this year both Keanu Reeves and John Bernthal presented games because they are featured characters in those games. This is cool. It’s also expensive. My fear here is that publishers will try to leverage this practice to ultimately raise the price of games. They’ve been trying to increase that $60 MSRP for like two generations of consoles. Every time a new gen is announced, a company, usually EA, mentions the prospect of game prices increasing, the internet goes into an uproar, and then it doesn’t happen. But what if instead of tying the price increase to hardware or development costs, like they usually do, they tie it to star power? Who could actually dispute the argument that John Wick costs more to include than normal video game actors? Does it not make perfect sense that having the Punisher play the villain in a game would cost considerably more for development than say Troy Baker? Not that I’m knocking Troy Baker’s talent by any means. But it’s ridiculous to think that he costs as much to put in a game as Keanu Reeves. Suddenly we’re seeing fairly successful and notable stars pop up in games way more often.  Norman Reedus, Mads Mikkelsen, and Guillermo Del Toro will all be in Death Stranding. And people are eating the star power up. Keanu Reeves’ presenting Cyberpunk 2077 at E3 is being called the best moment at E3 by a wide margin. Do you think all these actors are working because of their love of video games? Not likely. Now hopefully I’m wrong. Hopefully prices won’t increase and rightfully they shouldn’t with loots boxes, paid DLC, season passes, microtransactions, and so on. But if you start hearing companies say things like “games have moved past AAA” then those should be warning signs that price hikes are on the way.

ghost recon breakpoint6. CDPR Reinforces Bad Behavior

It seems every year there’s some diehard fan and/or paid shill that just yells too loudly and too often during these E3 presentations. I work in the tech hardware industry so presentations like this are usually attended by introvert tech nerds, some highly analytical, usually older media, and other industry members who can no longer be asked to get too excited about an increase in processor speed or the inclusion of additional RAM slots on a motherboard. So yelling during a press conference basically doesn’t happen in my neck of the woods. But gaming events are attended by gamers. Not only that, but they’re “press” events which in 2019 means streamers, YouTubers, and other people who make a living by being obnoxious, self-absorbed, and lacking in basic human behavioral standards. Not to mention a lot of them are too young and inexperienced to actually understand the concept of professionalism. So I get why yelling occurs. But as we saw at the Bethesda conference this year, yelling during the presentations other than at specific scripted/expected times can be burdensome to both presenters and the audience. It’s a problem that can’t really be solved in any intentional way, other than not letting those damn internet personalities in of course. What can be done though is that companies shouldn’t encourage it. Sadly CDPR did the opposite this year.

In a rather sincere moment during the Cyberpunk 2077 presentation, Keanu Reeves was sort of struggling to talk to the crowd because honestly talking to a live audience of gamers isn’t in his normal wheelhouse as an actor who says little in most of his parts to begin with. But he was genuine and sincere and people appreciated that, rightly so. A YouTuber screamed out “you’re breathtaking” to Keanu Reeves and he shouted it back. It was a nice moment. It was a cute moment. It was a moment where members of the audience once again showed their lack of professionalism. I think it’s funny that no one is talking about the fact that literally right after this exchange Keanu Reeves flat out says “I gotta finish this” because so many people were yelling and interrupting and not just letting him talk. Now that’s fine. It’s fine for people to get excited. It’s fine for people to yell during the presentations. Like I said, it’s unprofessional but it can’t really be helped. But it shouldn’t be encouraged. CDPR encouraged this behavior this year by promising the “you’re breathtaking” guy a free collector’s edition of Cyberpunk 2077. Sorry but I don’t agree with that decision. A person is privileged enough to attend E3. They’re lucky enough to have a direct exchange with Keanu Reeves. They’re essentially handed an infinite amount of internet clout and articles written about them that will surely increase their YouTube presence, among other things. As I write this, he seems to have gained at least 1000 new subscribers since the event happened. They get all this for acting unprofessionally and then they’re rewarded with a $250 collector’s edition of possibly the most highly anticipated game of 2020. This is just setting up E3 2020 to be an absolute shit show. Every YouTuber, streamer, and other internet personality will be actively trying to have their moment during the press conferences next year. If anything, CDPR should have rewarded someone who wasn’t at E3 but was streaming or live tweeting about the presentation as a show of solidarity for those not fortunate enough to make it to the event. This was a great PR move but it sets a terrible precedent.

7. Roller Champions Alpha Demo

Out of nowhere, Ubisoft released an alpha demo for an upcoming free to play game called Roller Champions. It’s like Rocket League mixed with Jet Set Radio minus the graffiti. It’s surprisingly fun and I’ve already played it enough to win consistently. The demo will not be available by the time this post is published but you can check out the gameplay from when I streamed it here. If you like quick round PVP sports games then you’ll definitely want to check this game out when it drops. I just hope it’s rewarding enough because free to play PVP games tend to get stale rather quickly.

Well that’s my round up for E3 this year. Not a terrible showing, but there’s certainly been better years. I do think it will be a good year of gaming, at least on Nintendo with a few heavy hitters set to release on other platforms before the next E3. As I said at the beginning, there are a couple specific topics from this year’s E3, not included in this post, that I want to talk about in more detail. Those will be published as individual blog posts over the next few weeks. What did you think of E3 this year?

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DJMMT’S Top 15 Tips for Starting The Division 2

The Division 2 dropped last week and I am loving it. Ubisoft was kind enough to grace me with a copy of the Ultimate Edition. Now normally I would of course write a full review of the game. But because I already wrote a very thorough review of the beta, I decided that it wouldn’t be super productive for my readers to write a review of the full game because much of the experience is the same. That’s not to say that no changes have been made since the beta, because a number of crucial ones have in fact been implemented, to my surprise. But they’re mostly smaller details that don’t warrant an entirely new review. So instead I decided, for really the first time in the history of this blog, that I would write an easy starter guide for the game instead.

My intention here is not to give you a fully encompassing guide to The Division 2. I’m only at level 11 and I’ve only played it for just under 11 hours. There are people who are already much farther along and can give you very specific tips for specific sections of the game. I don’t want to do that. My intention here is that if you haven’t started the game yet, or haven’t really gotten past the tutorial missions, then this guide will help you settle into the game more effectively from the beginning. Now of course these are my opinions on how to most effectively play this game early on. Some of the tips will be obvious, others might be obscure, and not everyone who’s already playing the game will agree on all of them. So take it all with a grain of salt. Just know that I’ve been playing the game solo up to this point, I’m averaging about 1 level up an hour, and while I have died a number of times, it’s not often and it’s rarely a surprise when it happens to me. So without further ado, here are my top 15 tips to starting The Division 2, in no particular order.

Tom Clancy's The Division 2 Screenshot 2019.03.18 - 01.39.53.91

1. Solo Play is A-OK

The Division 2 is sold as a squad based third person loot shooter, and it is, but team based play isn’t a requirement early on. The truth is that other players are a hindrance in many ways when playing a game. They tend to slow you down and aren’t going to necessarily want to do what you care about past the current mission. Thankfully, The Division 2 doesn’t require you to play with others early on. In fact, it discourages it in many ways. You can’t even join a clan until you get to around level 10. It’s not based on level, because it’s a progress/achievement based unlock, but the required challenges have a difficulty minimum of seven with a recommended difficulty of 10. You don’t need a clan to play with randoms via matchmaking and friends, but really you don’t need them early on. You can very comfortably play the game solo for the early portion of the game. I haven’t played with a single other player and I’ve not struggled to clear any missions or side missions. I do die on occasion, but not often. Rather than jump into playing with others, you should use the early stages of the game to get a feel for it and figure out your preferred playstyle, skills, and weapon types.

2. Armor Number Only on Gear (Does NOT Include Weapons)

While there is a large selection of armor with various enhancements of various types, the reality is that none of this matters early on. You should devote no time to looking at buffs, specs, enhancements and so on when choosing gear until you’ve hit at least purple gear and chances are you can probably do that all the way up to gold gear or even post level 30 legendary drops. Just look at the armor number, because the increased defense will do way more for you in the early stages than buffs will. You will find better armor, often with better buffs, literally every time you level up so it doesn’t make any sense to put effort into trying to create a steady build until you hit the armor wall and stop finding better stuff every other mission. Just wear whatever pieces you find with the highest armor stats, change them out for the next better thing frequently, and don’t think about anything else. Ignore colors all together early on because you will often find higher rarity gear with lower defense stats than gear with a lower rarity. Choose the higher armor stat. Rarity only really matters once you start getting mods, which you won’t for quite a while.

Tom Clancy's The Division 2 Screenshot 2019.03.19 - 19.49.38.83

3. Craft Armor (Don’t Buy It)

There are two main reasons for this. The first is that the farther into the map you get, the better stores you’ll find. So purchasing anything from the early vendors is a waste of credits because it’s almost all trash compared to what you’ll find in shops later on. I did see one purple mask in the first vendor early on but it wasn’t worth the price compared to the mask I already had at the time, even though it was only blue rarity. But more importantly, crafting is a lot more affordable. Some crafts do cost credits to complete but the prices are always better than buying directly from the vendor. Your crafting potential corresponds with your level, meaning the higher your level the better gear you can craft. This also means that every time you level up you can potentially improve your gear right away if you don’t want to stick it out for a gear drop, which in my opinion you should. One note about crafting is that, like in the first game, it’s RNG based on a performance range. You should not craft anything unless the minimum armor stat in the range is higher than your maximum armor stat on whatever type of gear you’re considering crafting.

Tom Clancy's The Division 2 Screenshot 2019.03.18 - 00.37.52.08

4. Try Different Weapons

You are going to find a ton of different types of guns. Most of them you will have no point of reference for either in real life or in games. Some of them you might know, and because of that you’ll probably consider sticking to them. Don’t! Everyone’s playstyle is different when it comes to shooters but this is not a traditional shooter. Aim matters, but not as much as in a normal shooter. There are headshots and weak points, but those aren’t required to kill enemies effectively in this game. This is an RPG, which means everything goes by the numbers. You get additional damage and XP for getting headshots, but that shouldn’t be your strategy for how to approach the game. Just use base damage to calculate your effectiveness. Whether you hit center mass, a leg, or a hand, the damage is basically the same. So don’t worry about being super accurate. Instead think about total DPS. The number of shots is technically irrelevant as long as you can kill your target(s) without reloading. That’s not to say that you should just pick up a chain gun and forgo all accuracy. Different guns will feel better or worse for different people. The point is that you should never disregard a gun because it’s not your preferred style of weapon because in a numbers game it may actually do better for you overall. So don’t be afraid to try new guns you pick up while looking for that ideal weapon.

Tom Clancy's The Division 2 Screenshot 2019.03.19 - 19.49.16.35

5. Damage > Range > MAG > RPM

Just like with armor, you are going to find a lot of weapons and be unsure which ones to use. Now as I’ve already said, you should try different types of weapons, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a stat based component to picking which ones to try. As with armor, you should be picking the most baseline effective weapons you can find and upgrading whenever possible. But comparing guns is a lot more complicated than comparing armor. I’ve found that the most effective way to compare guns is by comparing their specs in this order. Damage comes first of course. As I said, this is an RPG. So it’s not about getting one great hit. It’s about getting the most effective combination of hits in the shortest amount of time. I don’t measure effectiveness based on number of shots. I measure it based on number of reloads. Now of course number of shots is a factor of number of reloads, but every gun has a different mag size and will be only as effective as the shooter and situation. You’ll also find some guns that have really great damage but garbage everything else and ultimately aren’t that effective. Shotguns are the worst about this. You will find some amazing shotguns. But their range is usually garbage. If an enemy gets that close to you it’s often already too late. And most shotguns have trash reloading times. So while damage is important, range is only slightly less important. I’ll take a slightly lower damage sniper rifle over a higher damage shotgun any day of the week because you can play from the safety of distance and cover while still getting a large amount of damage and often about the same reload time. Really you want something that’s effective at mid to far range for most instances but easy to aim in close distances as well. My favorite beginner gun is the Classic-RPK because the range is quite good, the damage is fairly good, and it’s fairly stable.

Tom Clancy's The Division 2 Screenshot 2019.03.18 - 01.03.03.71

Next you gotta look at mag size. Now again, it’s not about number of shots fired as much as number of reloads. But the number of shells per a mag defines how often you need to reload. Even if it’s one shot one man, which it rarely is outside of using an SR, that still means that a five shot mag only lets you kill five enemies before having to reload or change guns. Yes you do get to carry two weapons and a pistol at all times, but I wouldn’t recommend hot swapping rather than reloading every mag as a normal method of play. You really should have your second weapon as a special scenario gun, which I’ll get into later on. I can’t tell you what the right number of shots per a mag is for you, but I can tell you that you should be able to kill a group all standing in a cluster without reloading. Whatever weapon you’re using, if a group of enemies maxing out at six people, assuming none of them are heavy armored, aren’t all taken down without reloading, then you’re using the wrong gun. Later on you’ll get mods and buffs that can heavily speed up your reload time, but you shouldn’t rely on that early on because mods won’t be coming for a while and even when they do that’s a high risk way to play the game, and the reason I don’t suggest maining a shotgun. Once you do get good mods though, I’d say sacrificing mag size for better reload speed is worth the trade off in most cases.

Tom Clancy's The Division 2 Screenshot 2019.03.18 - 21.46.15.93

Last but not least. You should consider RPM. While your secondary weapons can have a lower RPM, because it’s a special case weapon, your main weapon really needs to shoot fairly quickly. Again, unless you’re running a one shot one man build, it all comes down to DPS in an RPG. So the faster you can shoot, the more damage you can get, and the faster your enemies will go down. What you really want to do, once you get there, is find a high damage high RPM gun with a decent to high mag size, put on a fast reload mod, at the expense of some mag shots (around 15%), and then you have a powerful gun that’s fairly accurate at mid-range that reloads at a competitive speed and not often. Currently I’m using an M249 B which deals 402 base damage, shoots 550 RPM, and has a 100 shot mag. This is hard to use in green rarity class because of the lack of mod slots, but once you find a blue one and the mods to go with it, it’s a top shelf gun for beginners and veterans alike. But ultimately when comparing any two guns, compare the specs in the order I’ve given even if it means putting down a gun you really like. Chances are you’ll be more effective now and eventually find the gun you like again with better stats in the future.

6. Use a SR as Your Secondary Weapon

I don’t really play too many shooters and because of that my aim is often a bit shaky. I can count all the successful snipe kills in PVP I’ve gotten on my fingers because I’m terrible at it. But the sniping actually feels really good in The Division 2. Like surprisingly good. So good that I’m genuinely starting to feel like I actually have talent. So even if you’re not traditionally a sniper, you should be one in this game. Specifically because of how it affects the rules of engagement. Again, this is an RPG. You don’t need headshots to get kills. They net more XP and damage, but if you have a good SR and you’re not playing above the recommended level threshold you should be getting one to two hit kills for hitting enemies in the finger. The range makes this gun worth using for two main reasons. The first is that a lot of enemies will be trying to snipe you or take you out from long distance. Closing that gap can be difficult, dangerous, and time consuming. It’s way easier just to blow them away from long range. The other reason is that you can engage challenges from outside the challenge area with an SR and the progress counts. Taking control points is a great example of this. If you can find a good location where you can see the enemies clearly without crossing into the control point boundary, you can engage them and they’ll pretty much never come after you. They’ll shoot towards you if they see you but they won’t try to storm you or flank you. They’ll stay in the control point area and let you pick them off like flies. And they will not respawn. Because of this, the SR is one of the most effect tools a solo player can use. And because of the RPG style of gameplay, you literally just have to hit the broadside of a barn to be effective with it.

Tom Clancy's The Division 2 Screenshot 2019.03.17 - 15.03.09.49

When it comes to picking an SR specifically, I say focus on base damage coupled with mag size. RPM and reload speed aren’t as important because you should ideally be getting one to two hit kills. At the same time, there are some lower damage fast action sniper rifles if that’s your preference but these will give your position away quicker and won’t get one hit kills, which gives enemies a chance to take cover.

7. The Junk Function is Life

As with the first game, you’re going to find a lot of junk gear but not want to throw it out right away. You may want to sell it, store it for specific uses, or deconstruct it. At no time should you just throw it away. In The Division 1, every single piece of gear had to be dealt with manually. You had to deconstruct one piece at a time. You had to sell one piece at a time. It was slow and annoying. In this game you have the junk function, as well as the favorite function. You can mark pieces of gear with either a junk or favorite mark. This is helpful for organization but also for efficiency. You can deconstruct all junk in one shot. You can sell all junk in one shot. There is zero reason to deal with trash gear one piece at a time ever again. Once you upgrade your inventory to max capacity, you can just keep collecting and marking junk till the bag is full and then throw it out in one shot for a profit or crafting components. One of the best improvements from the first game.

Tom Clancy's The Division 2 Screenshot 2019.03.19 - 19.51.49.56

8. Cover Is NOT Optional

If you played the first game then you already know this. But this is a guide for noobs so I felt like though it should be obvious it should still be included. This is a cover based shooter. You cannot Destiny or Halo your way through this game and rely on shot accuracy and DPS to get through firefights. You have to use cover. You have to reload while in cover. You have to use the move from cover to cover function. If you’re not in cover that means you’re either sure you’re going to get the kill(s), moving to cover, or about to die. Always be in cover no matter how weak the enemies are.

9. Use Armor Packs at the End of Armor not Life

You can’t refill life in this game. It refills automatically by not taking damage for a certain amount of time. You can refill armor though, with armor packs. Armor is the white bars floating above your life bar. As long as you have armor, you HP won’t be affected. You can carry a limited number of armor packs at any given time as well as find more from enemy drops and certain refill boxes. Armor also restores itself after firefights conclude but refill packs don’t. Your first instinct may be to use armor packs only once your life bar is nearly depleted, believing you can win the fight and save the armor pack for a worse situation. This is the wrong mentality. There are too many stray bullets, hidden snipers, unseen grenades, and other massive damage attacks to take this kind of risk. As soon as your armor is fully depleted, get behind cover and use an armor refill pack. You’ll replace it later. There are also upgrades that increase how many armor refill packs you can carry and automatically refill them in safe houses. I recommend getting all of these upgrades as early as possible.

Armor

10. Early Progression Should be Natural

This genre is known for its XP and loot grind experiences and yes The Division 2 absolutely has that. But it’s in the late/end game. The level cap appears to be 30 currently. You do not need to grind for at least the first third of that if not more. I haven’t done anything a second time unless I failed it the first time. I haven’t gotten stuck in any missions for an extended period of time. I haven’t struggled a ridiculous amount while trying to complete challenges. You can naturally progress through the opening chapters of this game just by completing the challenges available. Do the main missions, do the side missions, collect the SHD caches, and complete the projects at your own pace without forcibly grinding XP. The early game is set up so that it’s very balanced and fair for a solo experience. You should not even be starting the road to grind fatigue for at least the first 10 – 15 levels of the game.

When it comes to entering new areas, each one has a suggested level range. I recommend finishing all the available single completion activities in an area and collecting all the SHD caches before moving to the next area. Based on my experience, you should be at the half way point of the level range at a minimum before entering the next area. So for example, the third area in the game has a level range of 4 – 8. This means you shouldn’t try to go in there till you’ve hit at least level six.

Tom Clancy's The Division 2 Screenshot 2019.03.17 - 14.56.38.89

11. SHD Caches First

Right away the game will deal you lots of different activities including main missions, side missions, random activities, and SHD cache locations. You should absolutely go for SHD caches first. These net XP, but more importantly unlock your permanent upgrades. Upgrades have a huge effect on gameplay. And there are a lot of them to unlock. So before you run into missions or try to take down that special bounty, just take the time to collect the SHD caches first whenever you reach a new area. And on your way to them you can unlock the safe houses. This way you’ll get some easy experience, upgrade faster. and ultimately be more effective overall. Note that almost none of the upgrades have level caps/minimums and the ones that do all have minimums of level 30 because they’re specialty upgrades. This means that from level one you can start unlocking the majority of upgrades as you collect more SHD points.

12. Control Points are Fast Travel Locations

In The Division 1 you only had safe houses, main landmarks, and DZ entrances as fast travel points. You could also fast travel to main missions. In The Division 2 they’ve added control points. These are basically not so safe houses. They are points on the map that you have to liberate through combat and then once liberated they’re occupied by friendlies. You can use these as fast travel locations. This is super convenient because it means now when you die you don’t have to go all the way back to the nearest safe house which is often not really near your last death location. It’s just in the same map area. Control points are placed in much more accessible locations around the map area so you can get back to the action much quicker. You can also lead enemies towards these points and friendly NPCs will help you fight them.

Tom Clancy's The Division 2 Screenshot 2019.03.19 - 19.59.06.39

13. Keep track of Hyena Boxes

In The Division 2 the main villains early in the game are known as hyenas. These are just thugs that wonder around in gas masks terrorizing people. You will get familiar with killing them very quickly. In certain missions you will come across hyena lock boxes. These hold special items but require special keys to open. Sadly keys are very rare and you will almost certainly not have any the first time you find a hyena lock box. In fact, you probably will find a number of lock boxes before getting a key. I still haven’t exactly figured out what nets keys. I only have acquired one so far. But I’ve found multiple lock boxes. It’s for this reason that it’s important to take manual notes about the location of lock boxes. I use screenshots of the map and physical location to keep track of them. Now obviously there will be guides online for this, but if you’re trying to play without walkthroughs then you need to keep track of these yourself due to the game’s lack of a manual map marker function. Really I’d like to see that patched in.

Tom Clancy's The Division 2 Screenshot 2019.03.17 - 01.15.16.44

14. Pop Your Skills Prematurely

One of my favorite improvements from the first game, and the beta, is the addition of number based skill cooldown meters. You can see the exact amount of time it will take for a skill to recharge so you can use it again. But there’s a strategy to this, depending on the specific skill you’re using. There are eight skill types available with multiple versions of each type. Some of them are single use and have to go through an entire cool down cycle. But some of them give you a bit more control of the situation. The turret being the best example. When you use the turret to completion, the cooldown time is 117 seconds. But you can end any skill prematurely by holding down the skill button it’s tied to. Doing this cuts the cooldown time in half. Smart players will use this to their advantage. You can see how much life/time the turret has left before it will disappear. If you destroy it at any time before it dies naturally, the cooldown time is only 59 seconds. That means that if you pop it manually just before it breaks down you can use turrets two times as often. And you can use this trick for any skill that’s not a one off. So obviously it’s not gonna work for the seeker mine because that’s a one off explosion and will always need to fully recharge unless not used at all, which does happen from time to time. It can still die off after being out a certain amount of time so in that situation you should also pop skills as soon as possible to get the reduced cooldown times.

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15. Turret is a Must (For Solo Play)

Of the eight available skills, all of which can be unlocked from the beginning, the basic turret is without a doubt the most effective skill for solo play. It really is like having a second man on the field. It auto-aims but can be directed at specific targets. It lasts a fairly long time unless destroyed. It has a 360 degree view so it can cover from just about anywhere on the battlefield. Its range is fairly decent. And most importantly it gets kills. A lot of AI support in games doesn’t finish the job. It does some of the work but leaves it to you to close the deal. The turret initiates the negotiation, negotiates the deal, and closes the deal all on its own. At the same time though, you can drop it and it won’t engage until you engage first or it’s attacked directly. This means you can set it up as part of a plan of attack without the set up starting the firefight prematurely. It really is the only required skill option for a solo player. Your secondary can be whatever floats your boat. I prefer the seeker mine but I’ve decided to try out other things for science.

That’s it for my start tips for The Division 2. If you have any more questions please leave them in the comments and I’ll answer them as soon as possible. You can also watch me stream the game almost daily on my Twitch channel.

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