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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E3 is Knocking on Heaven’s Door

It’s no secret that I’ve been over E3 for quite a few years now. If you’ve been reading my blog for a while then you know I think it’s an outdated media event that does little in service of both the consumers and the companies presenting that couldn’t be done in much more efficient and cost effective ways. I also see the idea of praising media personalities with a weeklong party where they pretend to work while critiquing hard working devs based on a couple images often released years in advance is preposterous. So I’m fine with the event pretty much dying off and have said as much many times. It seems Sony is in agreement with me because now for the second year in a row they have announced that they will not be attending the show.

Let’s be very clear about something, right off the bat. Neither Sony or Nintendo needs E3. To say otherwise is either willful ignorance or a bold faced lie. E3 needs Sony and Nintendo. Yes there are other companies outside of the big 3 that present at E3. EA, Ubisoft, Devolver Digital, and others all present and that definitely matters. In fact, it’s safe to say that, just like last year, even though Sony wasn’t officially at E3 they still attended. The number of games that were presented at E3 2019 that will ultimately release on PlayStation hardware was more than enough to say that PlayStation users/fans were given plenty of reason to continue being happy as PS4 owners. So it’s more accurate to say that Sony not attending gets most of the benefits of E3 but none of the hassle and expenses. It’s kind of like how Kleenex is a brand but everyone just refers to all tissues as Kleenex at this point because the brand name has become synonymous with small squares of soft white paper for blowing your nose. PlayStation simply is part of console gaming DNA at this point so even if they don’t formally attend every game not specifically locked to XBOX consoles will almost always end up on a PlayStation console as well. Unless of course it’s a Nintendo exclusive. So from a business standpoint Sony doesn’t really need to be at E3.

Sony and E3 BreakUpI have been really happy with Sony’s continued support of the State of Play series. Similar to Nintendo with Directs, I think this is the future of gaming announcements. I still remember when Reggie Fils-Aimé said at E3 some years back that the purpose of moving over to the Nintendo Direct system as opposed to doing formal presentations at E3 was in order to reach a broader audience of Nintendo users around the world in a more direct and accessible way. I agreed with this statement so much and that’s even more so the case having now lived outside the United States for more than five years. The Nintendo Direct system is way better for the millions of gamers who aren’t fluent in English and/or don’t live in North America. Seeing Sony follow suit is a good thing. And if E3 dies in the process I’m perfectly fine with that.

Since the announcement that Sony would be skipping E3, I’ve seen a lot of people online malign Sony, calling them things like anti-gamer, selfish, and out of touch. I find comments like this to be laughable, ironic, and in true American style, extremely narcissistic and self-serving. I’m no Sony Pony and I’m happy to acknowledge a list of issues I have with how the brand has operated the last few years, but their choice to leave E3 isn’t an example of them being bad for consumers. One of the things that I really liked about Sony’s announcement that they were skipping E3 again is that they also stated that they would be participating in “hundreds of consumer events across the globe”. I totally believe this statement because I’ve been seeing it first hand for years. I go to Taipei Game Show every year and Sony always has the largest booth with tons of demos. I tried Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice and Kingdom Hearts III months in advance because PlayStation demos were available at that show. Sony also hosts a special event in Taiwan that’s essentially an E3 show floor that only features PlayStation games. At Gamescom 2019, which I attended in person, PlayStation had one of the largest spaces at the show. Quite possibly the largest. What all these examples have in common is that they didn’t take place in the US and weren’t focused on by American media. And that’s the point. Sony is expanding their focus to gamers of all places, cultures, and languages. Americans don’t like that because they’re used to being the center of attention and nothing expresses that more in the gaming community than E3.

PlayStation FestivalRemoving the focus from E3 is a slap in the face to all Americans, and honestly that’s a good thing. And I’m speaking as an American born citizen. Gamers come from all over and they should all have equal access to news, demos, and attention from the publishers they patronize. Sony isn’t anti-gamer. They’re pro gamers worldwide. They may be a for profit company and thus are selfish by nature, but pulling out of E3 isn’t an example of that. Microsoft never shows up to Taipei Game Show. Would it be fair to call them selfish? Maybe. But it’s no more selfish than Sony not showing up to E3. Sony isn’t out of touch. The PS4 sold way more than the XB1. Why? Because Sony understands that the US isn’t the only market and has taken steps to expand their market reach outside of that one country. A country they aren’t originally from by the way.

Microsoft will of course be at E3. It’s an American based company with a predominantly pew pew focused audience made up of mostly Americans. They have almost no market penetration in Asia. How could they possibly even consider not going to E3? It’s pretty much the only AAA focused show they really matter in every year. And once again they’re gonna focus on things like Cyberpunk 2077, a cross platform game that you will be able to play on PS4/PS5. Free advertising for Sony yet again. Sony is playing chess and winning while Microsoft is losing at checkers. Microsoft better hope that third party publishers like Ubisoft don’t eventually bow out of E3 as well or it will basically be an XBOX circle jerk event they have to foot the entire bill for. And having done corporate budgeting for events like Computex myself, let me tell you that it is not cheap by any stretch of the imagination.

cyberpunk-2077-keanu-reevesPersonally I have no problem with E3 going the way of the dodo. But even if I was still a fan of E3 I’d still completely understand why Sony no longer attends. And make no mistake, they no longer attend. Every year now people will wait for the announcement as if there’s a chance they’re going back, but they won’t. That ship has sailed and there ain’t no turning back. Especially now that a lot of media have already turned on E3 after last year’s data leak fiasco. Enjoy it while you can kids because E3 will be dead in no more than 10 years. And that’s a conservative estimate. If this year’s show tanks hard enough, it’s probably dead in five. See you at Taipei Game Show.

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Pokémon Sword & Shield Expansion Woes

Let me start by saying that I have been a supporter of Pokémon Sword and Shield since the first trailer. I have defended Game Freak throughout this entire debate over whether or not the latest generation of Pokémon games is good or not. I am happy with the graphics. I am happy with the number of Pokémon that were originally included. I am fine with the story, though I do miss a Team Rocket style villain narrative. I purchased the double pack on launch day and have put 80 hours into Pokémon Sword at the time of originally writing this. By the time of publishing it will be considerably more. I still maintain that Pokémon Sword and Shield, though far from perfect games, are good additions to the Pokémon main franchise. And I would have said this was a successful generation . . . until this latest Nintendo Direct.

On January 9th, Nintendo announced that Pokémon Sword and Shield would be getting a paid DLC expansion pass. Now we don’t have all the information yet but what we do know from the presentation is that two additional wild areas are being added to the games with additional story, characters, clothing, and Pokémon. Supposedly 200 or more additional Pokémon will be added to the games comprised of mostly older Pokémon, some with Galar versions, and a few new additions. Both new areas and content will be added to your version of the game with the purchase of a single $30 expansion pass. A different expansion pass is required for purchase for Sword and Shield meaning that if you want the expansion pass for both games you have to purchase two $30 DLC expansion passes. I’m sorry but I can’t defend Game Freak on this decision.

Pokemon Expansion Pass WallpaperI have a lot of problems with the way Pokémon Sword and Shield are being managed. At face value I was fine with the games at launch but in light of this new information I’m very unhappy. I always buy both games in the Pokémon generations I participate in. There’s little reason for this. You could always trade to get the Pokémon missing from your version. And with the ability to keep multiple saves you could make sure to get all the starters and legendaries. Sadly you can no longer have multiple saves in one account. So while you can build multiple accounts and trade between them, if you can find another Switch or friend to be a middle man, you can’t do everything with the simplicity that you once could. I don’t agree with that but I guess I understand it. But with this generation the differences between the two games are more than just Pokémon available. There are legitimate differences in the content for each game such as the gym leaders. I really don’t like this change. Even though I bought both versions, I am against the idea that players who only bought one version didn’t get to experience all the content this generation of Pokémon has to offer, even before an expansion pass was announced. But I could at least acknowledge that in differentiating the content, there’s more value in buying both versions.

Pokemon UpdatesThe problem with adding additional content, paid or otherwise, is that while it adds value to purchasing one version it decreases the possibility/value/necessity of buying both. As I said, I’ve put 80 hours into Sword and I still haven’t completed the Pokedex or the Battle Tower. The longer it takes me to complete Sword, the less likely I am to play Shield. Because one can only play the same game for so long. Especially with so many other games to play. But more importantly the expansion pass is paid content. It’s one thing to ask someone to buy two versions of the same base game. It’s a much different discussion when paid DLC comes into play because now you’re turning an already big $120 purchase into an exponentially higher one by adding divergent paid DLC to both versions. Suddenly $120 becomes $180. Then another expansion pass turns into $240 and so on. If they had told me from the beginning that they were going to continue updating the games at cost I would have never bought both versions because either version would have been sufficiently long enough and continuously growing to the point of making a second playthrough unnecessary and undesirable. Yet at the same time the content is different thus adding to the amount of missed content by not playing and paying for both versions plus DLC.

Pokemon Expansion Pass New CharactersContinuously adding content to a single Pokémon game is a great idea in theory. But if that was going to happen then there shouldn’t have been two different versions. Think about Pokémon Yellow, Crystal, and Emerald. There was always only one version of the extended content games for that very reason. It’s too much to ask players to play the game up to four times. Really it’s too much to ask players to play the game two times and really that’s what’s good about the expansion pass. Players can now go straight into the additional content without replaying the base game. But that content should be the same for both versions of the game. Or really there should just be one version of the game so everyone gets to play all the content in a manageable amount of time for a manageable cost. At the very least the DLC should be the same for both versions or you should get both versions of DLC for buying the expansion pass once. Never before in any game on any platform have people been asked to purchase the same DLC twice to experience everything a game has to offer. That’s ludicrous even by EA standards. The fact that I’m citing EA as the good guy versus Nintendo is sad and appalling for so many reasons.

Expanded VersionsAnother issue I have with the expansion pass is that now we actually do have a responsibility to be honest and acknowledge that all those gen 8 nay-sayers were right. I defended Game Freak’s decision to limit the number of Pokémon to just 400 because of limited resources and time. That made sense to me and seemed fair. But now less than two months after release I’m being told that 200+ Pokémon are being added less than a year after release at cost? That’s fishy. That timeline does not say to me that Game Freak didn’t have time to add more Pokémon. That tells me they purposely left Pokémon out so they could then justify adding paid DLC. If this was more than a year after release and the game was already basically dead and they were trying to bring new life into it and they said they had spent the last year working to create more content I could buy that. I’d still not be happy with being asked to spend an additional $30/$60 for the additional Pokémon but the added areas and story would make it seem more justifiable. But not even half a year after release I’m being told more than half the currently available Pokémon are almost ready at a 50% markup from the base price. I’m sorry but that is just flat out predatory capitalism. Sure you don’t technically have to spend money to get them because you could trade for them but come one. Who in their right mind will trade for more than 200 Pokémon and what would even be the point? The fun is in catching them. This could have been managed way better. At the very least it should have been announced before launch so people could make a more informed decision about buying the games. Especially when you consider how Nintendo handles pricing for games and DLC.

pokemon double pack no shjeldIf I had been told about this DLC before launch I would have only bought Pokémon Sword and I probably wouldn’t have even bought that at launch. Because we all know there’s going to be a Pokémon Sword “Full Version” that includes the DLC. And we know that while the base version and expansion pass prices will never go down separately, the full version will get slight discounts for holiday sales. Look at Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle as a relevant example. If you bought the vanilla version of the game like I did then you were forced to buy the DLC at full price to get the additional content because the season pass never went down in price on the e-shop. But if you waited then you could have gotten the gold version of the game that includes the season pass at a major discount. That’s exactly what’s going to eventually happen with Pokémon Sword and Shield. And that’s fine when you’re made aware of it before making an initial purchase. Take Ubisoft games not on Nintendo Switch for example. They are extremely transparent about their content cycle so you know almost exactly what you are and aren’t getting when you buy their games at launch and choose the vanilla version over the gold version. But Game Freak didn’t give us the ability to make an informed and financially sound purchasing decision for this gen. I would much rather have bought one version of the game and DLC for $90 than bought two versions of the base game and no DLC for $120 plus one or possibly both expansion passes for an additional $30 or $60.

From Nintendo’s point of view this is all working according to plan. They wanted us to buy both versions of the game and at least one if not both expansion passes. That’s more money for them. But we’ve seen countless times that screwing over your user base with backhanded pricing models only works so well in the long term. I don’t see many people buying into gen nine knowing how things now work with the franchise. I know I won’t be buying another Pokémon game at launch. And I certainly won’t be buying both versions if I’m going to have to account for paid DLC as well. So while they may have made more money in the short run, they’re only hurting themselves in the long run. And again I’m speaking as someone who defended the release versions of Sword and Shield. I supported Game Freak’s initial product. But I can’t in good conscience do that now. Because it’s now clear that they did just cheap out and pull content to charge us for it soon after release.

National DexLet us also remember that this is just the beginning of the profiteering. Pokémon Home, which was mentioned in the Direct as well, is a paid service that will let you bring your other Pokémon into the games. You can’t trade with yourself to get all the Pokémon even if you do buy both versions unless you take the time to create a second account and install it onto another Switch. This makes the idea of picking up a second Switch seem way more sensible than in the Gameboy days. Because now trading with yourself is way more trouble and a security risk when you do it with a borrowed console. It’s like every aspect of Pokémon has become more inconvenient and costly while the overall quality of the experience has gone down. And the worst part is that it didn’t have to be this way. There are a few very simple measures that could have been implemented to make the entire experience way more user friendly and cost effective so that it didn’t seem like Game Freak was taking advantage.

For starters, Pokémon Home, which I personally wouldn’t be using either way, should absolutely be a free service when all Pokémon aren’t in the latest game to begin with. That should have been used as an apology not a means of profit. If all the old Pokémon were available in the base game then it would be totally justifiable to charge for the luxury of bringing Pokémon over from another platform and generation to the Switch. The DLC should not be different between both versions. Even if the base games are different, they should not be asking players to purchase DLC twice. It should be that once you’ve played through both versions of the base game then you just commit to one version as the games continue to grow. Or at the very least buying the expansion pass should give you all the content for both versions at a single $30 price tag, which is already too high a price for DLC, Nintendo or otherwise.

Pokemon HomeAt this point they really need to do away with the dual versions model if they’re going to run on a paid DLC profit model from here on out. There should just be a single version in each gen that contains all the available Pokémon, including legendaries, and then you just buy the game and additional DLC once each time to experience all the content. I’m honestly shocked that Game Freak actively did literally everything in their power to poison the well in this way when they already had about a 50% disapproval rating for these games at launch. The audience was split down the middle on whether or not Sword and Shield were good at release. Now that is going to shift considerably. And their long term profits will suffer because of it. In fact, these decisions really only make sense in a scenario where this is the very last new generation of Pokémon. I doubt that’s the case but imagine if it is. Suddenly all this blatant greed makes perfect sense. Because you would logically squeeze every dime you could out of the public before killing off the franchise. You wouldn’t have to care about long term customers because you’d know that you didn’t need them anymore. You could just milk them dry one last time and then not care if they were never going to buy another Pokémon game because you’d secretly know that they weren’t going to have the chance to regardless. Again, I don’t think that’s what is happening here, but it would make way more sense than what we’re currently seeing.

Slowpoke GalarHonestly I no longer know what direction I’m going in with Pokémon this gen. I was happy playing Sword and was almost done with the Pokedex. Then I was going to play Shield and be done for this gen after finishing that game and Pokedex. But now I have to decide if I buy the DLC, do I even take the time to play Shield, and how to manage all this divergent content. I’ve never regretted buying a Pokémon game before this gen. But the fun has all been sucked away with all these decisions that we’ve never had to make before while also having Game Freak spit in our faces. It’s an odd time to be a Pokémon fan. Maybe I too won’t be buying into gen 9 after this whole ordeal.

Update: Ultimately I sold my unused copy of Pokémon Shield at a financial loss and used the money to buy the Sword expansion pass.  I will never buy two versions of a Pokémon game ever again.

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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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GOG Galaxy 2.0 Beta Review

I’m a big fan of GOG and have been for many years. They’re actually my favorite storefront to buy PC games from. Though their selection is limited compared to Steam and other PC game distributors, I try to buy from them wherever applicable. One of the main reasons I really liked them when I first found out about them was how convenient their distribution system was. There was no launcher. You just went to their site and downloaded the entire DRM free game you purchased directly to be used offline. For me, this was always a better, more convenient option than Steam. Some years later, they released the GOG Galaxy launcher, which I was against at first because it meant having to have yet another launcher and that suddenly DRM was slowly, and sadly, becoming a thing for GOG. Make no mistake, requiring a launcher to access your games is a form of DRM. Having to login to access your games is a form of DRM. Eventually I gave in and started using GOG Galaxy. It’s good as far as launchers go, but there’s nothing particularly better about it compared to other launchers.

In the time since installing GOG Galaxy 1.0, I have had to add a number of additional game launchers to my system. Uplay, Origin, Bethesda, Epic Games Store, and so on. Every publisher has decided they need their own launcher now. I’m not one of those people who gets angry at companies for not putting their games on Steam. I understand their desire to want to make more money and spend less of it distributing their games. But like with TV streaming services today, there’s a point where there’s just too many entities offering what is essentially the same service with disjointed content. This is what first attracted me to GOG Galaxy 2.0.

LibraryGOG Galaxy 2.0 offers a simple value proposition: manage all your games in one place. It’s a launcher that allows you to see and manage all your games, including those you have on PS4 and XB1, in one organized collection. Honestly it sounded too good to be true when I first heard about it. While simple from a technological standpoint, I didn’t see how GOG, or really any company, would deliver something that actually connects all the games I have, except for those on Nintendo Switch, in one convenient location with user data and preferences from that many separate launchers and two non-PC gaming platforms. So I jumped at the chance to download the beta build as soon as I saw the announcement. I’ve now spent a fair amount of time using the launcher and thought it would be beneficial to write a review of my experiences.

The first thing I want to say is that GOG Galaxy 2.0 (GG2) absolutely delivers. I can honestly say that this is the last launcher I will ever use for my normal day to day gaming needs. That being said, there are a number of caveats which sadly still requires me to make use of other launchers to get the full spectrum of PC gaming and management services I require for all my PC gaming needs. The second thing I want to say is that this is absolutely still a beta build and while I have been using it as my go to launcher, it has a number of bugs and fixes that need to be made. It lags at times when trying to apply tags to games from the grid view. It even crashed once and made me have to restart my whole system.

General Activity Feed.pngIn practice, GG2 is basically Facebook for your games via other game launchers. I say that intentionally with all the good and bad that comes with the Facebook platform. The way it works is that you manually connect each launcher you have installed on your system into GG2’s interface by logging into each launcher via GG2. You can connect or disconnect launchers/services you have connected at any time. To me there does seem to be a level of security risk with linking and logging into all your platforms at the same time and handing that login information to GOG. But you make the same sort of decisions with connecting your social media to your phone every day. I will also acknowledge that each launcher you connect has you login to the launcher’s official login window as opposed to a special GOG one so maybe they aren’t actually being given your login information directly. You can’t actually buy any games, other than from the GOG store, in GG2. In fact, you can’t even access stores from other launchers from within GG2. It’s strictly a platform for managing your games while replacing GOG Galaxy 1.0 for GOG related purchases and gaming.

What GG2 actually does is import your library page from each connected launcher, along with whatever play progress data it can find, and mashes all those libraries together in a single, convenient UI. The launcher separates each connected platform via convenient tabs, but the default page shows you your entire collection of games as one massive list. It can be viewed in either grid view with imported cover images for most games, or list view which shows the name and platform each game comes from. When you choose a specific launcher tab it just filters the same view to that one platform’s games.

PlayStation GameI was quite impressed with the amount of information GG2 imported for each game from each platform. It shows all your achievements/trophies, the date they were acquired, and your play activity for each game. As a note though, it only tracks data from PS4 on for PlayStation and GOG data after a certain year, when I guess they officially started tracking play data for users. Many of my games have no data shown. It imports your friends list from each platform and shows you a comparison of how you’ve done compared to your friends in each specific game. On the subject of friends lists, there’s a feed on the right of the launcher that shows friend activity across all platforms in real time, organized by platform. In one convenient location I’m able to see which of my friends are online in Uplay, PSN, Steam, and so on all at the same time. I’m able to see what games they’re playing and what they’re accomplishing in real time with time stamps. Even though the feed isn’t interactive, it’s super convenient when trying to pick which game to play, if you’re looking for a multiplayer experience. You can also hide/show the feed with a single button on the UI. The add friends and chat functions only work for GOG friends though.

Missing Covers PSNIt needs to be said that GG2 is still limited in what it can actually do in reference to non-GOG games. As the other launchers aren’t actually ceding control to GOG, you can’t directly launch games from GG2. When you press play on any PC game a login window for that game’s launcher will pop up before you can actually play the game. Even if you’ve told GG2 to remember your login information for all platforms, you will still have to manually login to each game’s perspective platform every time. Launch a Steam game, you have to go through the entire Steam login process. Launch a Uplay game, you still have to go through the entire Uplay login process. What GG2 is doing is essentially creating desktop shortcuts for all your games and organizing them into a single unified and curated list for you. I will say though that there are a number of bugs, as this is a beta. For instance, not all my games showed up. Sometimes they show up and then other times they don’t. Often a specific connected account disconnects the next time I load up the application and I have to reconnect it. Thankfully though, when this happens my tagging/filtering options remain intact.

From a security standpoint, this is a good way to do this. GG2 doesn’t actually have full access or control of your other accounts and thus if it was hacked, that wouldn’t necessarily allow the hacker to have access to all your games and account information. At the same time, it’s very inconvenient. Having all your games in one place with access via a single login regardless of where you purchased the games would be amazing, and GG2 almost gets there. Having to login again for that last step to actually play your games is depressing but ultimately manageable. Especially considering the time you saved by not having to open multiple launchers to figure out which game you want to play.

List SortingAs far as PlayStation and I assume XB1 titles, obviously you can’t play them from the launcher. GG2 simply says “launch this game from your console” when you click the play button for a console game. What would have been nice is at least being able to activate the app on console from your PC, but we’re not there yet apparently. It’s also important to mention that, at least for the PlayStation games since I don’t have an XB1, GG2 will only track games tied to your PSN account with a digital footprint. What this means is that all digital PS4 games, including ones you own but don’t have downloaded, will show up in your GG2 list under the PlayStation tab. But only PS4 games that you have actual progress in will show up when it comes to physical versions. I think this is because it’s using the trophy list to figure out which non-PC games you have.

I really like that GG2 shows when you own multiple versions of the same game on multiple platforms. It very clearly shows you how many versions you own, which platforms you own them on, and lets you select which version you’d like to interact with and check player data for. This is a clutch feature that I’m not sure I would have even thought about on my own. It’s not perfect at this point though as some games do show up twice in your list. I think it comes down to naming within each platform more than anything else. For instance, The TellTale Game of Thrones Season 1 game shows up twice in my list. One version on PS4 and the other on PC. But the one on PS4 is just called Game of Thrones while the one on PC is called Game of Thrones: A TellTale Series. So I think that’s why it happened. And yet it didn’t separate my three versions of Batman: Arkham Asylum, each with a slightly different name. In fact, it shows each slightly different name in the game’s main page when you click the versions owned tab. So it’s not an exact science at this point.

Multiple Versions OwnedWhat is actually much more useful and convenient than the tabs is the manual tagging and filtering system.  All your games on all platforms are shown together in one giant list as a default until you use the filters. GG2 gives you the ability to manually tag and filter all the games in your list in whatever way you want. You can also manually hide games from your list. The filtering system lets you use as many tags as you want concurrently to filter the list and tells you how many games using the tag(s) are currently hidden. As a bonus feature, you can click the notice and it will reveal the hidden games and hide the normally shown ones and then go back to normal when you click it again.

The filtering system is a feature I’ve had to do manually for years with folders on my PS4. It’s super convenient in GG2 and makes managing a combined list of more than 600 games much easier. I created three custom tags for filtering: Beaten, Backlog, and Trash. I tagged the games I have already completed with “Beaten”. This allowed me to filter out all the games I’ve finished when I’m trying to pick a new game to play. I tagged the games I actually would like to play from my collection with Backlog. This allows me to set apart games I would actually like to play at some point from the rest of the group, thus streamlining my decision making process. Finally, I tagged the games I would absolutely never play with Trash. My one complaint about the tagging system is that it has to be done manually one game at a time. You are unable to select and tag multiple games at once. This is a non-issue once you’ve gone through and gotten all your tagging done, but it’s hell when you go through and tag your entire collection the first time.

FiltersThere are also a number of small quality of life features that aren’t necessary but make for a way better experience. For instance, when you are scrolling through the grid and you click into a game’s page there’s a back button. Pressing it will take you back to the place in the list you were at when you clicked that specific game. You can give the games star ratings. You can look at your user data measured in daily, weekly, or monthly increments. There’s a general activity feed that shows everything you’ve done such as add games, get trophies/achievements, and play sessions. There are lots of little things like that which make for a great overall launcher experience.

My one big complaint, which doesn’t surprise me and I doubt it will ever be fixed, is that you can’t connect multiple accounts of the same platform. For instance, I have 2 PSN accounts and 2 Steam accounts. This is because I live in Asia but for the most part purchase games in American digital stores. Sometimes I’m forced to purchase a game through my Asian account(s) for various reasons. GG2 doesn’t account for this though so all my secondary account games are not shown in my collection. This is a problem easily fixed that will most likely never get added.

Store FeaturedOverall, I really like GOG Galaxy 2.0. It’s not a finished service yet, but as far as launchers are concerned, it’s the most convenient game organization and management tool I’ve ever seen. I wish I could connect my Switch account to it too. Even people who don’t use GOG can find a use for this if they’re buying their games on more than one launcher/platform. The organizational tools available make it a must for anyone with a large selection of games. I look forward to using the launch version of the software.

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Nioh 2 Open Beta Review

*This beta took place in early November but because of my crowded publishing schedule I wasn’t able to get this review up until now. The game doesn’t release until March 2020 so it’s not too late for this review to help you make an informed buying decision about the game.

I’ve been a Nioh fan since the alpha for the first game released. I’ve featured the alpha, the beta, the final pre-release demo, the full game, and most recently the beta for the sequel on my YouTube channel. To say I like the franchise would be an understatement. I’ve been chomping at the bit to play Nioh 2 since it was first announced like two years ago. To finally get to play a beta for it was a much needed experience.

For those unfamiliar with the franchise, Nioh is essentially Koei Tecmo’s take on the Soulsborne genre. In simplest terms, it’s a samurai themed Dark Souls clone. I believe that the first game’s success is the reason Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice was made. FromSoftware didn’t like the idea of another studio, especially one as large and successful as Koei Tecmo, taking their formula and, for all intents and purposes, improving it. But in my opinion that is exactly what has happened. I haven’t played Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice yet, but it’s on my list. I have played Demon’s Souls, Dark Souls I & II, and Bloodborne. I have to say that Nioh is my favorite game in this genre. And it’s not just because I prefer the samurai theme. There are specific quality of life differences that make the game more enjoyable for me. I’m not going to get into that here, but if you want to read a comparison of the two franchises you can find the one I wrote last year here.

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I spent about 20 hours in the beta and I was very impressed. There are a lot of new ideas here that I could spend a lot of time talking about. But what I’m actually happier about are the improvements to the original game. Visually, it’s a great game just like the first one was. The beauty of the Japanese settings coupled with the demon infested, war-torn character of the franchise once again delivers something eerily beautiful and daunting at the same time. The game uses landscapes to intimidate you before the action even starts. The high level of detail to create an authentic looking feudal Japan is awe-inspiring. The temples, castles, and even gear make you feel like you’re really visiting feudal Japan. Meanwhile the dark hues, black demonic auras, and mountains of corpses transport you into a nightmare that your only hope to survive is by fighting your way through. And remember, you will die. The subtle but effective use of sound helps support this atmosphere as well. There’s actually not a lot of noticeable music in the beta, but the effects are quite good and informative, just like in the first game. Using your ears can be just as important as using your eyes. Sound can notify you when you’ve been spotted, what kind of enemy has you in their sights, and much more.

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Enemy design is one of the most impressive things about the franchise as a whole. The level of detail put into creating monsters that intimidate the player long before actually fighting and dying against them is one of the things that makes Nioh a superior game. The sequel has not only lived up to the enemy design of the first game, but surpassed it. One of the things I was really happy to see was that for the most part enemies were not reused. At least not in the beta. Between the two stages I played in the beta, there were only four or five enemies I remember fighting in the first game and some of them were altered in some way.

The new enemies are somehow even weirder and creepier than the ones from the first game. Some examples include an amalgamation of corpses walking around like a spider with eight different human heads and a one legged boar demon with flowing anime style hair and a giant hammer that hops around like a frog. I was also really happy to see more female enemies in the beta. Not counting bosses and DLC, the first game had only one clearly female enemy in the entire game. The Nioh 2 beta featured two over the course of just two stages. I really like this because the addition of gender allows the monster designs a new level of creativity and variation. The new snake yokai works so well both visually and in terms of behavior because it’s female in form. As a male, it would be much less effective as far as presentation and believability.

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The level design impressed me a lot in the first stage of the beta. In reality, it’s not that big of a map. But the way it has been weaved together with crisscrossing paths, locked shortcuts, and multiple floors makes it seem way bigger than it actually is. It’s very similar to Bloodborne in that regard, where the world is not open but it feels like it is. The first stage has only three shrines (the Nioh equivalent of bonfires), but the level plays like it has at least seven or eight different sections. Koei Tecmo’s level design shows that it’s not the size of the map but how you use the space that matters. They do so much with only a little total area and it makes for an action packed experienced that doesn’t offer too much down time between fights unless you want there to be.

I am rarely a fan of character creation in story based games, and make no mistake, this is a story based game/franchise. That’s one of the main reasons I prefer it to Dark Souls. This isn’t a game that just throws lore at you and expects you to fill in the narrative on your own. There is an actual plot to the game that you’re a part of. Not much was shown in the beta, but the trend from the first game of interspersing cutscenes sparingly around the start of levels and to introduce boss fights continues into this sequel. The difference is, and I hope this is just because the beta wasn’t showing much, that the story seems less character driven. While I thought the concept of making a samurai themed game set in feudal Japan starring a white guy from Great Britain was odd, I actually liked William. I liked following his story and seeing him interact with people from Japan. I liked that a couple levels went back to the UK and had you fight other Brits. Story was an integral part of the game, as was dialog between your character, William, and NPCs. Parts of that seem to be weakened in place of character creation in Nioh 2.

Episode - Screenshot 2019-11-07 23-48-30

There is still a story, but your place in it appeared less pronounced in this beta. That being said, the character creator is great. You can choose your gender and manipulate their appearance in a great many ways. But the process is also fairly smooth and doesn’t take long. I grew quite attached to the female character I created over the course of the beta and may very well recreate her in the final game. Or I can just use the character import feature, which is really convenient. You can create characters and then upload them for other players to download with a character creation share code. This means when you see a cool looking character online you can copy them directly rather than trying to rebuild them yourself from scratch.

Nioh 2 Beta Share Code

The foundational gameplay is the same. If you played the first one then you will have little trouble walking on to Nioh 2. I did all the tutorial missions as a refresher and was back in fighting shape fairly quickly. There are some new features that you will need to learn if you want to master this game though. The gameplay was already great, but it’s the little tweaks that make this a sequel worth talking about in a sea of rehashed ideas, constant remakes, and lazy annual releases. So many things have been added or changed to make the gameplay, both in combat and in menus, better. For starters, there are now six controller layouts to choose from. I would still prefer fully customizable button maps, but six layouts is a solid number of options. There are various quality of life settings you can choose from in the menus, which can be accessed at any time during gameplay, remembering that like in Dark Souls you can’t actually pause enemies unless you’re at a shrine. You can choose how many item shortcuts you have ranging from four to sixteen. You can choose the color order/scheme to show item drop rarity. You can choose which notifications appear on screen during play, how big they are, and for how long they stay on screen. You can choose if/how the game notifies you in menus about new developments and acquisitions. This game really goes out of its way to make sure you’re happy with the gameplay experience on both a macro and micro level. They even added a small vendor to shrines that will sell you a limited amount of additional ammo and useful consumable items.

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One of the best improvements is the new skill development system. Rather than the old layout with scrolls connecting in a mostly linear path, you now have more customization options with a Final Fantasy style sphere grid. This makes it easier to see what you’re building towards when unlocking skills and buffs. It’s also visually easier to understand and see how much progress you’ve made in each development category. In the same mode of thinking, there is now a lot more information shown in the status menu with detailed stats showing things like weapon proficiency by type. The one thing I didn’t really like about the new skill development system is that nodes require all connected nodes to be unlocked before you can unlock them. This was irritating because it meant if I wanted something with two connected nodes unlocked that I had to unlock two other nodes. Often one of the nodes would be something I didn’t care to waste skill points on.

Combat has been improved as well at the micro level. One of my biggest issues with the first game was ki pulses. If you press a button, that isn’t actually part of combat, at the right time you get a key pulse which helps regenerate your ki (stamina) faster. I was terrible at doing these in the first game. Because it’s not at all intuitive. You had to actively choose to press a button that wasn’t going to actually be part of the combat in the middle of combat to get a ki pulse. In Nioh 2 you can unlock a skill that lets you ki pulse by dodging. This makes the game so much better for me because I actually do dodge all the time during combat. These sorts of tweaks and changes are what make this game a superior sequel.

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Nioh 2 also adds two new weapons to the already large arsenal from the first game, delivering a total of nine physical weapons types and three projectile weapons types. The two newest weapons are the switchglaive and dual hatchets. The switchglaive is a great weapon. It’s arguably too OP. It can be a spear that feels like a quick axe in mid stance, a scythe that feels like a hammer in high stance, and a single hand blade that feels like a tonfa in low stance. More impressive is that you can unlock skills that allow you to quickly change between forms. It’s like carrying three completely different weapons in one. One of the best things about the switchglaive is that its power is tied to magic. That means that every time you power up the weapon you are also powering up your magic and increasing its capacity. This alone is a good enough reason to main the switchglaive because developing it is killing two birds with one stone. The dual hatchets are two short axes. They feel like the dual swords with slightly less range but more speed like the tonfas. I really like both new weapons and decided to main them for the duration of the beta and possibly the full game as well.

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One of my biggest complaints about Nioh was the summoning system. Summoning other players was bothersome and being summoned by other players was bothersome. It’s probably why I played the whole game solo and only let other people summon me a handful of times. They fixed this problem by negating the need to actually summon real other players live. The first game had revenants. These are the fallen corpses of other players that you can summon and fight in hopes of obtaining pieces of their gear. This was a great mechanic that I’m glad was preserved in the sequel. But what they’ve done now is add a summoning component to this concept. Players can now drop a ceremonial grave wherever they like to be summoned for help by other players. But it’s not the player being summoned actually playing. It’s an NPC based on the build used when the false grave was dropped. Summoning these is so much more convenient than summoning real players. It’s instant for starters. It’s also much easier to control because you can summon anyone regardless of their stats and know exactly who is going to assist you. These summons cost ochoko cups which are easy to come by.

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The other great aspect of the new summoning system is the rewards you get for letting people summon you. You need a special consumable item to drop a summon sign but once you have it’s permanent until you drop another one within the same mission. A seemingly unlimited number of players can use it and you get rewards when your NPC is summoned and helps people. The first time I checked, I had already been summoned by 20 people. My one complaint about the system is that the rewards are trash. I didn’t even get 20 rewards even though it said I had helped 20 people. And you don’t get any amrita (the Nioh equivalent of souls) for being summoned in this way. The game should award you at least some amrita based on the amount that the user who summoned you earned while you were assisting them.

Though it’s not a requirement for me, many people would say a sequel needs to do more than just rehash the previous game with better graphics and cleaner gameplay. There needs to be some new mechanic or idea that revolutionizes the way the game works. In the case of Nioh 2, this new mechanic is yokai forms. In the first game you had guardian spirits. These were creatures that enhanced your combat by granting you special buffs and could be used for a god mode sequence that temporarily made you stronger and impervious to damage. It was a good system that worked well and made sense. But it wasn’t epic. Yokai are what make these games interesting. There are countless human enemies in Nioh and no one cares about them. It’s facing and defeating the yokai that matters. But you never felt at their level. Even when defeating them, you still felt like a human in a world of monsters. Now you get to be the monsters.

Episode - Screenshot 2019-11-02 02-05-37

You still have guardian spirits, but rather than just amp up your normal character with fancy lights like in the first game, you now transform into a yokai when you use your god mode. There are three yokai forms, each with a different combat style. Different guardian spirits are tied to each of the three forms. This means you now have to think about how you want to play the game and choose your guardian spirits accordingly rather than just picking the coolest looking one and forgoing some minor stat boosts or special bonuses. What might even be cooler than your god mode yokai forms are soul core transformations.

Every yokai has a soul and sometimes when you kill them these drop as collectable items, called soul cores. Soul cores allow you to transform into a yokai and unleash a powerful attack that’s signature to that specific yokai. It’s a one off attack that depletes sections of your anima bar based on the cost of the attack. These cores are developed just like gear. You can fuse them with other soul cores to improve them and set up to two at a time for each guardian spirit. Each soul core has its own individual power level and additional buffs. Like with justsu, you have a soul core capacity limit. Each core has a specific cost. You can only equip two that combined don’t go over your cost limit. But that limit is increased as you develop your yokai level. My one complaint is that souls cores seem to have a development cap but it’s not clear when you reach it. You can keep fusing cores to a higher level core even when you stop making progress. Or at least it appears to work that way. There needs to be a clear cap that notifies you when fusing additional cores would be a waste.

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Yokai forms also have their own skill grid and are developed just like weapons skills, magic, ninjutsu, and general samurai skills. This new system revolutionizes the gameplay in ways that I’ve only begun to explore in the beta. The god mode now has way more applications outside of boss fights and the individual yokai attacks via soul cores can fundamentally alter your combat style, if you want it to. And maybe most importantly is there is now a reason and reward to fighting the same enemies over and over. Soul cores, like gear, fuse best with souls cores of the same type, which means you have to kill the same yokai to get more of them.

The game’s structure is the same as the first one. Individual stages that are accessed from a world map. There are still twilight mode levels that have you play the same level again with harder enemies and better rewards. And there are still specialty missions such as duels with prestigious warriors. The game is stacked with replay value between the twilight mode, additional character development features, and a plethora of weapons to master. Even without the DLC you’re looking at 50 hours minimum if you don’t cut corners. I’ll also say that at this point the game, or at least the boss fights, seem quite a bit tougher than in the first game. But I’m also willing to admit that there’s a lot of nuance to using yokai forms and attacks that I haven’t figured out yet.

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What I wanted from a Nioh sequel is easy to define, but hard to identify. Or at least it was until I tried the Nioh 2 open beta. I wanted the same foundation with a number of slight adjustments, more/another story, and new monsters and stages. That’s all I wanted but Koei Tecmo delivered much more than that. This beta was excellent. I was only going to do the first stage to get the DLC reward and then stop but once I was in I was hooked and ended up doing the second stage as well. Now I have a Soulsborne itch and have to wait till March 2020 to scratch it. Might finally play Dark Souls III in the meantime if I can’t wait that long.

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My Gaming Goals 2020

It’s a new year and that means up to 365 days of potential gaming! Looking back over the past year I had a lot of fun and made some real accomplishments. I finally got my streaming setup working the way I wanted including getting the camera and audio quality to a presentable level. I played a number of new AAA titles during their release window/year, which is usually pretty rare for me. I was able to complete the main campaigns for Kingdom Hearts III, The Division 2, Ghost Recon: Breakpoint, and got through most of Pokemon Sword. In general, I didn’t get to play as many games as I had hoped, but I had an awesome year of gaming. I won my first serious e-Sports competition and went on to compete at Gamescom. Even though I didn’t win the final tournament, just to have been included was a real honor and the chance of a lifetime. I also started a Facebook page to tie in with everything else I do related to gaming. Looking back over the year, I’m kind of surprised I was even able to get in as much gaming as I did. In 2019, I also got married, adopted a puppy, and traveled internationally on three different occasions. Thank God for the Switch! I also got a large haul of games for Black Friday so 2020 is looking great as well. Granted I was already severely backlogged so the next year of gaming was going to be great either way.

Here’s all the games I completed in 2019:

  1. Kingdom Hearts: Re: Chain of Memories (PS4) – 1/25/19
    1. Sora and Riku completed.
  2. Kingdom Hearts: 358/2 Days (PS4) – 1/30/19
    1. Completed all days and read all diaries and secret documents.
  3. Devotion (PC) – 2/24/19
  4. Pokemon: Let’s GO – Eevee (Switch) – 3/6/19
    1. Completed the Elite Four, got the Crown, Completed the Pokedex, defeated Red, Blue, and Green.
  5. Monster Hunter World (PS4) – 3/9/19
    1. Campaign completed.
  6. Just Dance 2019 (NS) – 4/10/19
    1. 5* all songs
    2. Emptied gift machine
  7. Tetris 99 (Switch) – 4/13/19
    1. Got first place.
  8. The Division 2 (PC) – 4/16/19
    1. Cleared all base content through tier 5.
  9. Smash Bros. Ultimate (Switch) – 5/8/19
    1. Completed World of Light
  10. Kingdom Hearts II (PS4) – 5/15/2019
  11. RAD Closed Beta (PC) – 5/27/19
    1. Reached an ending.
  12. Kingdom Hearts Birth by Sleep (PS4) – 6/18/19
    1. Completed all 3 campaigns.
  13. Kingdom Hearts Re:Coded (PS4) – 6/22/19
  14. Yoshi’s Crafted World (NS) – 6/24/19
  15. Crash Bandicoot 1 Remaster (NS) – 6/29/19
  16. Watch Dogs (PC) – 7/17/19
  17. Super Mario Maker 2 (NS) – 7/20/19
    1. All story mode courses completed.
  18. TellTale Batman Season 1 (PS4) – 7/21/19
    1. Platinum trophy acquired.
  19. Kingdom Hearts: Dream Drop Distance (PS4) – 7/28/19
  20. Knack II (PS4) – 8/13/19
  21. Kingdom Hearts 0.2: Birth by Sleep – A Fragmentary Passage (PS4) – 8/29/19
  22. Kingdom Hearts X Back Cover (PS4) – 8/30/19
  23. Cuphead (PC) – 9/3/19
  24. Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Wildlands (PC) – 10/18/19
  25. Kingdom Hearts III (PS4) – 12/28/19
    1. Platinum trophy acquired.
  26. Ghost Recon: Breakpoint (PC) – 12/28/19

Looking back at my gaming goals for 2019, I have to admit that I didn’t do a great job. Of the 10 main goals I set for myself, I completed 4 of them and 2/3 of a 5th one. As with last year, I didn’t even manage to complete 50% of my goals. To be fair though, Ghost of Tsushima was on my list and it didn’t actually release last year so technically that puts me at almost exactly 50% if you don’t count that one. I also didn’t manage to even attempt a single one of my bonus goals. A large part of this lack of success comes from the fact that so many of the games on my list were RPGs and Ubisoft style open worlds. Those games take a long time and now that I’m a husband and have a dog while still maintaining a perfect record on my blog, streaming regularly, and still working a full time job it’s just really hard to finish games. I put in more than 70 hours to complete Kingdom Hearts III and still haven’t even obtained the platinum trophy. I played Ghost Recon: Breakpoint for more than 40 hours before reaching the final boss of the main campaign. It’s a great time to be a budget gamer. It’s a terrible time to have little to no time to play games.

As this is a new decade, I’ve decided to make a change. Namely, I want to be more realistic about my 2020 gaming goals. I don’t want my 2021 post to be another sub 70% success year. So I’ve decided to be more practical in my goals for the following year of gaming. I don’t want to be too lofty but I still want to challenge myself to be greater. I will also continue updating this blog weekly, streaming multiple days a week where possible, and tweeting about gaming regularly among other things I normally do. So without further ado, here’s what I hope to accomplish gaming wise in 2020.

Gaming Calendar 2020

MY GAMING GOALS FOR 2020

1. MAKE A NEW TRAILER FOR MY YOUTUBE CHANNEL

I’ve had the same trailer for three years on my YouTube channel. The channel has changed significantly since then and I think it’s time to create a new one. What better time than at the start of a new decade?

2. FINISH POKEMON SWORD & SHIELD

I’m one of those people that actually enjoy video games and I have to say that I really like this latest generation of Pokémon. I’ve put almost 70 hours into Sword and I haven’t even faced the Elite 4 yet. I plan on completing the Pokédex in both Sword and Shield.

3. THE WITCHER 2

I built my PC three years ago to play this game and still haven’t . . .

4. THE WITCHER 3

Need to finish The Witcher 2 before starting this one.

5. THE LAST OF US – LEFT BEHIND DLC

I don’t know why I didn’t play the DLC when I originally played The Last of Us Remastered back in 2016. I think I was just burned out at that point because while I liked the game I didn’t love it the way everyone else did. I will definitely be playing The Last of Us Part 2 but not until the price drops. For the purposes of story I want to play this DLC before the sequel.

6. MARIO + RABBIDS: KINGDOM BATTLE DONKEY KONG ADVENTURE DLC

I love this game. It’s one of the best turn based RPGs ever made as far as gameplay is concerned. This was the game I ended up winning a tournament and competing at Gamescom in. I’ve wanted the Donkey Kong DLC for a long time but was waiting for a price drop. I finally picked it up during Black Friday.

7. DARK SOULS III

I’ve been wanting to play Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice for a while but I said I wouldn’t play it until I finished Dark Souls III. I’ve played Demon’s Souls and Dark Souls I & II so I really just want to close out the Souls franchise.

8. THE SURGE

I love the Souls genre of gameplay but my favorite versions of this concept aren’t actually made by FromSoftware. Nioh is the one I have enjoyed the most so far. The Surge is the same concept by a German studio with robots. I’ve been sitting on it for a long time and I’d really like to play the sequel so I need to get it done.

9. WATCH DOGS 2

I’m actually not super interested in Watch Dogs 2. I’ve heard it’s very good but I generally don’t care to be a hipster in Silicon Valley roleplaying as a hacktivist. The only reason I’m taking the time to play this is because I can’t wait to play Watch Dogs: Legion.

10. GHOST OF TSUSHIMA

I’ve been wanting to play this since the first trailer dropped. I had hoped it would release in 2019 but 2020 seems to be the year. This may very well end up being the only AAA priced game I pick up at launch for the entire year.

11. PLATINUM AT LEAST ONE GAME

I don’t hunt trophies and most of my games are not 100% completed. I just finish the campaign and move on. But every year I always take the time to get a platinum in at least one game on a Sony platform. It doesn’t matter what the game is. It just has to be a platinum trophy. This has been my custom since I first got a PS3. I haven’t decided what game it will be yet but it will be something. Last year I got two platinums.

Are you readyThat’s all I’m setting for myself this year. Obviously I will play other games, but in my attempt to be more practical and realistic in 2020 I’m only giving myself 10 goals for the next year of gaming. But more than half of this list is RPGs/Open Worlds so it’s still a tall order. I’ve included a couple DLC goals which I assume will be easier to complete. I’m also once again including Ghost of Tsushima with the hope that it really will get released this year as announced. I will be really disappointed in myself if I can’t complete more than half of these. I didn’t even set any bonus goals this year. But if I had to name one it’s Link’s Awakening Remake on the Nintendo Switch. My wife got that for me for Christmas and I’m really looking forward to playing it. I’m also going to try to stream more games from my goals list in order to save time. Often I end up streaming games not on my list because many of them are games I don’t think are great for streaming but this year I will try to overlap the two things more.

There are a lot of great games coming out this year so hopefully I can stay on course. 2020 looks like it’s going to be a great year of gaming no matter what I play. What are your gaming goals for the next year? Let me know in the comments.

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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.