I’ve been very critical of games like PUBG and Fortnite: Battle Royale, not to be confused with regular old Fortnite, which everyone seems to have forgotten. Not as much here on my blog but definitely on Twitter. The concept has always looked and sounded terrible to me from the very beginning. It’s the reason I have never loaded up Fortnite: Battle Royale, even though it’s free on multiple platforms I own, and though I’ve been asked several times, I’ve never even considered buying PUBG. But I will admit that no matter how much you watch or read about a game, you can’t say you’ve truly experienced it until you’ve actually tried it. So with that thinking in mind, I finally tried a battle royale game.
As a part of my real job, I often have to try certain games to assess their potential marketing value. This weekend, for the first time in my career, a battle royale game came up. And as a professional, even though I had/have no interest in this genre, I still agreed to download and play one of these games through the lens of marketing.
I was tasked with trying an early access game called Fear the Wolves. This is a standard PUBG style battle royale game set in the same world as “The Zone” from the S.T.A.L.K.E.R. games. I played it. Took it seriously and genuinely tried to get into it. Even managed to get a kill and find several different types of gear. But I still don’t get it. I don’t understand why people enjoy these games.
Let me be clear. I’m not saying there was anything wrong with this particular game. It worked fine for what it is. The graphics weren’t anything to write home about, but the PUBG graphics were trash when it was first made available in early access as well, so that’s not the issue. The controls worked fine. I experienced a few small glitches, but that’s true for so many betas I’ve played at both indie and AAA level, so again that’s not the issue. I just don’t understand the appeal of these types of games.
This was my experience. Wait for more than I would normally wait for any game, but admittedly not the most I have waited for a multiplayer match in some past games. Then wait through a two to three minute countdown after I’ve already waited for matchmaking to end. This was unacceptable. But I understood why it was necessary. No one sits and waits for that matchmaking because it takes too long. So you tab out and screw around on Twitter while you’re waiting. But then because everyone is tabbed out they have to make a long countdown to give everyone time to tab back in. Then go through this really long helicopter sequence and pretend like where I choose to deploy is actually going to matter in the grand scheme of things. I will note that the controls menu said you can direct your parachute descent but this didn’t really work for me in the game so that was one glitch that actually did irritate me a lot. Hit the ground and then sprint to the nearest building only to find the same crappy pistols over and over again. Not once did I find a gun better than pistol. Found multiple types of pistols, but never any firearms better than pistol. Found an axe as well, which I of course never got to use because I never got close enough to anyone with it, since they had guns. Spend a bunch of time stressed out waiting in buildings hoping to ambush someone, only to have that stupid enclosing death fog (it’s actually called an “adrenaline infection” in this particular game) show up, forcing me to give up my post and run inward. But now that I’m running inward I’ve lost my element of surprise. Then I see someone and try to run up and kill them, again with my pistol, and even though I shoot them a bunch of times first they don’t die and eventually they kill me, often with a better gun. That was the whole experience over and over again.
Why is this fun for people? Even when I did get a kill, it was still not that gratifying in the grand scheme of things because I never got close to actually winning the matches. I spent more of my time in loading screens and then waiting around or looking for more crappy pistols than I did engaged in combat. It’s one thing when it’s a real stealth game like Metal Gear Solid 3 and you’re going out of your way to sneak up on people. But being in a huge map devoid of people only to then get killed in fairly boring encounters isn’t nearly as entertaining or gratifying as a real stealth game.
This is where the “git gud” crowd will chime in, but I honestly don’t think that applies here. Even if I was surviving longer, it would still be pretty boring, because victory is much easier to achieve by avoiding combat altogether rather than actually trying to engage people. So even if I was amazing, playing logically with the goal of winning would still be mostly waiting around and then eventually dying and having nothing to show for my better placement. It’s really a zero sum scenario where it’s fun to win and otherwise pretty boring or way too stressful but not in a fun way. It’s fun to play a PVP match like Destiny or COD, both games I genuinely hate, because it’s active, exciting, and consequential without being long winded and pointless when you finally do get killed. You can keep playing. You can make up for your death. You can go for revenge. Even though I don’t particularly like PVP games, and especially not those crappy FPS games I mentioned, I can still appreciate why they’re popular. But I have no idea why people enjoy these battle royale games. And I really don’t get how people can watch other people play them. That sounds unbearably boring. And I’m not even comparing them to story based games, which are by far superior both in development effort and gameplay experience.
Someone please explain it to me. If you grew up playing games in a pre-battle royale context, how do you enjoy these types of games? How are you not bored 90% of the time while playing them? I get that kids today have been groomed to play these games. So much of game development has been building to these sorts of hollow experiences in the last five to ten years. The move away from single player games, always online requirements, and microtransactions have all culminated in the battle royale concept. But kids aren’t even the biggest gaming market today. I don’t get how gamers who grew up in or before my era can play these types of games past casual level. If you grew up with Mario, Final Fantasy, Uncharted, and God of War how does this type of gamplay experience appeal to you? It’s not just single player games though. Look at the multiplayer stuff we’ve come from. Mario Kart, Goldeneye, World of Warcraft, and Halo to name a few. I don’t even like all those games, but I’d play them over these battle royale games any day of the week. Even the half and half stuff like Dark Souls, The Division, and GTA Online are way more gratifying for all players than these battle royale experiences. How does one actually enjoy playing a game where only 1 of 100 people can win while everyone is putting in the same amount of time and effort? How does one call an experience where you spend more time in lobbies than actually playing enjoyable? I simply don’t understand the appeal.
Some games got close to the sweet spot. Things like Sea of Thieves and updated No Man’s Sky are starting to get there. The Division, for all its faults, got very close as well. There’s even some merit to Destiny. But these battle royale games have gone too far. They took the concept of rogue likes, the size of RPGs, the mechanics of PVP FPS, and the scale of MMOs and squished them all together in a lazy smattering of tolerable graphics. They squeezed out all the good parts and left the skeleton of each genre. I like the concept of 100 people roaming Skyrim with the ability to rob and kill each other. But the story would still need to be there along with respawning and the ability to retain at least some of your valuables. Battle royale comes off like the Star Wars: Battlefront II of MMOs. All the heart has been pulled out to focus on pure gameplay mechanics, ultimately leaving a disappointing experience. But clearly I’m missing something because it’s currently the most popular genre both for concurrent players and stream views. What exactly am I missing? Because I just don’t see it.
This week, I got to attend an event called PlayStation Gaming Festival. I’ve never heard of this event before. I don’t know if it’s an annual thing that happens in Taipei and I’ve just never heard about it before or if this was the first time, but I attended and I’m very happy I did. I don’t want to focus too much on the event itself. Pretty much it was just lots of different PS4 game demos, including some PSVRP titles, a swag shop, and a “Bring Your Own PS4” LAN party, which I took no part in. My one real complaint about the event was that they showed a lot of demos for already released games, which I found very odd. They showed Nioh, which really irritated me because at first I thought they had a demo for Nioh 2, which I really wanted to try. They showed Horizon: Zero Dawn, which is more than a year old. They were featuring Frozen Wilds content, but that’s still almost a year old. They had Fist of the North Star: Lost Paradise, which is about six months old and Attack on Titan 2, which is about five months old. Both of these demos were featured, and I tried them, this year at Taipei Game Show so they didn’t need to take up space here. And most odd/irritating was that they had Assassin’s Creed: Origins. This was weird because they also had Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey, which is the soon to be released latest title in the franchise. But rather than having four screens of that setup, they only had two and then two of Origins right next to it. They should have just been running four screens of Odyssey. I waited almost two hours to try Odyssey because of this odd decision. Overall it was a good event though and I did get to try a number of new demos for unreleased games, which is the only reason I went in the first place.
What I want to do here is give a short first impression of each demo I tried. Please note a few important details. All of these demos were in Chinese. Not the in game dialog, but the settings. Dialog language was different for each game depending on the title. Some were in English, some Japanese, and some Chinese. But the HUDs, tutorials, and all non-dialog text was in Chinese, which I do not read. So with certain games I struggled to figure out exactly how the controls worked. I can of course get the gist of most games based on general gaming experience, but for more nuanced controls and special gameplay such as secondary items, I was not able to master any of them because I couldn’t read anything. Along with that, many of the games were set to Japanese standards/settings. What that means is the X button acts like the O button and the O button acts like the X button. Many Western gamers don’t realize this, but in Asia they use an altered control scheme for most games. Each demo session only lasted 10 – 15 minutes. So obviously I wasn’t able to get a full grasp of most of the games I tried. So please take these micro-reviews with a grain of salt and understand that I am giving my account of each game based on very little playtime and less than ideal gameplay conditions. All that being said, I still believe that my insight, due to my general gaming and reviewing experience, can be valuable to people curious about the titles I tried.
I will give one to three paragraph accounts of each demo I tried at the event with as much useful information as I can. Please note that the screenshots featured below were not taken by me. I was not allowed to take pictures of specific games during the event so I just pulled these images from Google for visual reference.
This game was probably the main reason I wanted to attend the event. It is the hype of all hyped games right now, and SONY is aware of that fact. It was the most featured game at the event both in the number of demo units available and in the banners and advertising for the event as a whole. It was of course the first game I played.
Spider-Man very much was inspired by Arkham City. It’s a full open world filled with people and interactive objects. The combat is very similar to the Arkham games, but it’s been noticeably adapted for Spider-Man’s style of movement and abilities. Fighting is very smooth, but not easy to master. You can get by in earlier fights with button mashing, but technique will play a big role as you progress through the game. One of the things I couldn’t master with a Chinese HUD was the special combat items. You can bring up an item cache and use special objects in combat such as a web bomb. These are in limited supply though and I didn’t get to find out how to refill them. I really liked how your fighting and the HUD were linked. What I mean by this is when you take a hit, say from a stun rod, the HUD gets fuzzy and shakes as if you’ve suffered a temporary injury from the impact. This made you feel the consequences of taking damage a lot more than in the Arkham games because the disorientation can negatively affect your ability to play, thus leading to further damage. It’s a good mechanic. The fights are very showy. There are even moments where the game slows down during special attacks so you can get a perfect screenshot.
The city is a large open world, full of tasks that are indicated by symbols floating in the sky. You can track specific objectives or just free roam. You unlock more of the map by doing the Assassin’s Creed perch thing on top of specific points. The difference is that it’s way easier to traverse buildings as Spider-Man because he can web swing, climb smoother/easier than an assassin, and literally sprint up buildings like Alex Mercer in Prototype. That being said, I was not a huge fan of the web swinging. It works, but it wasn’t as fluid as it could be. Like with the Arkham games, you can’t just latch on to anything with no understanding of what it actually is you’re grappling. Only specific points on buildings and other web capable structures can be latched to. This means you have to actually swing based on the proximity of the buildings around you and even then you have your limits. It’s a very “realistic” system in that you have to actually think about where and how you’re swinging. But it’s not as fun as it could be because you notice the limits of your mobility relative to what you’d like to do. It reminded me a bit of the Attack on Titan game but I actually think that is smoother because you don’t have limits on what you can tether to as long as a structure of a certain height is around. Spider-Man’s swinging system works well enough and is in no way a deal breaker, but I was hoping for something smoother that would let me move through the large city map effortlessly. The world is alive. There are random occurrences happening all the time such as crimes you can choose to stop or just ignore them. I stopped a restaurant robbery and then got involved in a police chase. The problem was I couldn’t figure out what to do once I landed on the car because no button indicators appeared and everything I tried just moved me to different sides of the truck without ever entering it. Ultimately I got thrown off of it and the truck got away. I liked the fact that you could fail at stopping crimes without the game resetting as if you died or failed. Suffice it to say that if you liked the Arkham games, you will definitely like this.
The first thing that needs to be said about Jump Force is that it does exactly what it needed to do. It allows me to pit my favorite anime heroes and villains against each other in a three dimensional field of play with smooth, highly accessible gameplay, really nice graphics, and fairly similar movement and controls for all characters. Let me be clear. This isn’t Injustice or Smash Bros. Each character doesn’t have their own unique weight and movement that severely affects play style from character to character. Or at least that’s not how it was in the mode they had running in the demo. Goku isn’t flying around the stage while Zolo is left on foot trying to jump up and land a few lucky strikes. Luffy can’t hit Sasuke from across the screen with stretchy arms. Everyone feels very similar, and that’s a good thing. The game is about having a fairly balanced anime themed match up that focuses more on the player’s management of their HP, energy level, and use of mobility rather than depicting a truly realistic matchup between characters with different powers from different worlds. Frieza can get beaten by Naruto and Goku doesn’t automatically win every fight. The only noticeable differences between the characters is their special moves. Each character has four special techniques that are specific to them and have different affects and damage levels. This is where they actually differentiate somewhat. The basic combat is very easy to pick up. Even with the Chinese HUD, I was eventually able to figure out how to do specials with all six of the available characters in the demo. This is because they have the same two button commands for special moves. The idea is not for them to be hard to use. The art is in knowing when to use them. They can miss, by the way. My only complaint about the demo was that they clearly had the AI set to easy. I never lost a match. So I can’t really speak to how balanced it is because I was dealing way more damage with my attacks than what I was taking from the PC. I assume this was intentional to make the demo more enjoyable for amateur gamers.
Jump Force looks good. The graphics do the characters justice, even when coming from different shows with different art styles. I will say that Frieza looks super creepy as a 3D model. They stayed true to the drawings from the show. There is something so gratifying about seeing Naruto land a Rasengan on Frieza. Or Luffy a multiple hands punch combo on Sasuke. This game is about having fun. Unless there’s a more complicated mode of play, I don’t see it being taken seriously in e-sports for more than a debut season.
Overcooked is a super niche indie game that you either love or you hate. I was surprised by the number of people who waited in line to try the demo for the sequel at this event. It plays exactly the same as the first one, which isn’t a bad thing. It’s just a new set of levels and plot, which is really all it needed. The only added feature I noticed, which I saw another player do but never figured out myself, was that you can use a comment wheel to visually verbalize what you want done. This would be extremely useful for online play without mics because it allows players to communicate non-verbally. I enjoyed the demo, I will be buying it, and anyone who enjoyed the first one will probably do the same. I will be picking it up on Switch though.
Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey
I haven’t played Assassin’s Creed: Origins yet. That means, assuming the combat and movement system for Odyssey is similar to that of Origins, I have not been formally introduced to this new control scheme yet. I struggled immensely to climb, run, and fight because I couldn’t figure out the nuances of things like dodging, countering, and blocking or even just how to run and speed climb. I don’t even know if all these mechanics still exist in the game. And the demo wasn’t helpful, even if it had been in English. It just dropped me into some random far along moment in the game with a bunch of gear. I got my ass handed to me twice by a group of Spartan soldiers. The game was very responsive, and I don’t assume it’s that hard to play once you actually learn the controls through an early on tutorial. The one thing I was able to quickly figure out was the bow, which works well.
The HUD is a bit busy in Odyssey. There is a lot shown on screen while playing in both text and symbols. But I appreciated the wealth of information the game was providing me without having to access menus or press special commands. The graphics are great. The voice acting is very realistic, to a point where I was questioning my own pronunciations of Greek words I thought I knew, like drachmae. Odyssey also has a dialog system similar to Mass Effect. You are given text options and have to pick one. These appeared to affect the story and the missions made available to you. The demo didn’t give me enough about the story, but I got to meet Socrates (Sokrates according to the game) as a younger man and have a debate with him about a rebellion.
Just Dance 2019
This was the first time I ever tried Just Dance with the PS Move. I do not like it. I will be buying Just Dance 2019 on the Switch. Overall, it was pretty much the same thing. The song menu was much different than that of previous games. It’s a scrollable menu of songs similar to when you scroll through a PSN sale as opposed to the usual rotating song reel you see in the previous games. And, assuming this wasn’t Just Dance Unlimited, it seems like they brought back access to some older songs I remember from previous versions of the game.
Sonic Mania Plus
Sonic Mania Plus has already been released, but it is fairly new so I guess it made sense to have at this event. Up until now, I hadn’t played it before. It is the same stressful, 2D gameplay I remember from my childhood. I wasn’t interested when I first heard about it, but after playing the demo I might consider it when it goes on sale.
Soul Calibur VI
Soul Calibur has always been one of my favorite fighter franchises. It’s smooth, has good graphics, individual character styles, and some of the best cameo appearances in all of gaming. In this installment, you get to play as Geralt of Rivia from The Witcher series. The game plays like the past ones. The spirit bar is the more traditional Street Fighter style one than the orbs you had in one of the more recent installments. Overall the game plays very well. They didn’t do too much to change the formula other than make the specials slightly easier to use and give you the ability to dodge them. There are also standoff sequences like in Injustice: Gods Among Us, where your spirit bar faces off against your opponents to decide the outcome, but I was not able to implement/initiate this consistently.
It’s still the great looking game it always was, complete with sexy, super revealing Ivy costume. The game looks good and plays well. Certainly a fighter worth buying that has stayed true to the roots of the franchise mechanically and stylistically.
The Legend of Heroes: Thors Military Academy 1204
I randomly tried this game by a Japanese developer called Nihon Falcom. Apparently this is one in a long running franchise of at least 14 games. It was in Japanese and I only sort of understood what was going on, but the gameplay was phenomenal. This is a turn based RPG that has you play with an active squad of four, but it’s not as simple as old Final Fantasy games. The field of combat is a three dimensional space where you location matters. You can’t choose to move to specific locations on the field. Your movements for each character in your team is driven by your attacks. As you attack different enemies on the field, your characters will disperse accordingly. The way they’re grouped affects the effectiveness and reach of enemy attacks. The same goes for your attacks. This comes into play with reference to magic attacks that have to be aimed. Even though I couldn’t read any of it, I was able to pick up how combat works fairly quickly and I found the system to be very satisfying. It’s a system where you walk around the map and enemies appear on the screen, but when you make contact with them a battle mode ensues.
The graphics are solid, but very Japanese. It looks like many 3D JRPGs with an aesthetic that’s both mature and youthful at the same time. Something I thought was really interesting is that you can use any of the members in your party as your on screen avatar when outside of battle and you can change them instantly just by scrolling through them with L1. I’ve never seen this in an RPG before done in such a convenient, efficient way. The game also has a “Hi-Speed Mode” that can be easily toggled on and off just by tapping R1. It speeds up everything including your movement outside of battle. I found it extremely useful since I couldn’t actually understand/read anything the characters were saying. Since I don’t know how connected the stories actually are, I don’t know if this is worth buying as the 14th game in a franchise. But if I only cared about gameplay, I would probably pick this one up.
I had heard the name before, but I really didn’t know anything about Code Vein. Since the demo was in Japanese, I still don’t know much. The best way to describe it is that it’s Bloodborne with a DmC aesthetic. I don’t know why I was in a series of cliffs tinted to look like Hell. But there sure were a lot of demonic looking creatures that kept respawning every time I died. The game plays like a Souls game but it’s even faster paced than Bloodborne and has a stereotypically JRPG anime art style, which isn’t a bad thing. I enjoyed the faster paced combat but I didn’t feel like there was enough of a balance between attacks and stamina. It feels as limiting as Dark Souls as far as number of consecutive attacks you can pull off before running out of stamina, but with the faster paced movement you feel it a lot more. They need to up the stamina amount to reflect the increase in movement speed or else you always feel too tied down. The game is challenging, like any Souls style game. I don’t think I saw a single person beat the demo boss and I couldn’t even reach the boss. But that’s fine. Thus is the nature of games in this genre. With practice and proper character development, which I assume plays a factor, it should be totally manageable.
While the core gameplay feels like a Souls game, Code Vein has a lot more technical additions. The HUD, which was in Chinese, has eight specialized actions/abilities, and quite possibly the ability to rotate wheels to more actions like in Nioh. That’s a lot of extra stuff to have to keep track of. I’m sure it’s like any other game, where you’ll only use maybe four of them a majority of the time, but it really crowds the screen. The HUD takes up so much of the bottom right corner that if you aren’t using a large monitor, which they were at this event, I could see it being a real problem. While I wouldn’t call it a bad game by any means, this isn’t something I’ll be picking up with all the other Souls style games currently on the market.
Shadow of the Tomb Raider
The latest installment of the current Tomb Raider franchise looks like another hit. The gameplay is pretty much the same. Seemed to be the same controls mostly, still working against Trinity, and another larger build minority character is there to help Lara with her adventure. This one looks really good visually. There was a scene where I was swimming through a cave and suffocated, but I wasn’t even sure if I was playing or watching a cinematic until after I died the first time, because the graphics blend perfectly now. It seems superfluous to say any more about Shadow of the Tomb Raider. It’s going to be very similar to Rise of the Tomb Raider gameplay wise because the formula works and there’s no need to really change it. If you played the last two, you should certainly buy this one based on what I experienced in this short demo. I know I’ll be getting it.
Recently they announced a lot of details about the upcoming Star Wars Episode IX. We know it will be released December 2019. We know that Luke, Lando, Chewbacca, and through the magic of editing, Leia, will all be returning in this “final” installment of the Skywalker epic. We know the new players will all be returning including Rey, Finn, Kylo, Poe, and Rose. On some level I think we can be thankful that it’s being written and directed by J.J. Abrams instead of Rian Johnson. We can be almost certain that this will not be the last Star Wars film, because Disney gonna Disney. But it may possibly be the last “Episode” in the current timeline. Most predictably, we know a lot of people are going to be unhappy with the movie, no matter what happens.
I don’t believe the movie will tank like Solo did. What do I mean by that? Solo tanked in the fact that it didn’t make as much money as was expected. That’s what tanking a Star Wars film is for Disney. Review scores don’t matter. The Rotten Tomatoes score doesn’t matter. Awards don’t matter. Even the general opinion of the public on social media doesn’t really matter to Disney in reference to this specific franchise anymore. All that matters is ticket sales. At this point, it’s an almost unsalvageable franchise critically because of all the bad blood. But that doesn’t mean it can’t still be a profitable franchise. And that’s why they’ll keep making Star Wars movies. Solo did badly because people boycotted it because of Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi. Solo actually wasn’t terrible. I enjoyed it. It wasn’t A New Hope, but I left the theater entertained and didn’t regret having spent the money to see it. And I truly believe that most people who actually watched the movie felt that way. The low scores and ticket sales were in response to The Last Jedi and not a legitimate indicator of Solo or what people actually thought of it. So the question is will this same responsive smear campaign and boycott happen to Star Wars Episode IX? I say yes and no.
Yes, there will be a smear campaign against Star Wars Episode IX. That will happen. It will get fabricated review scores that lower its IMDB and Rotten Tomatoes scores. People will complain about Disney and feminism, mistreating the Skywalkers, and everything else the internet likes to complain about in reference to the latest saga. But no I do not believe there will be a legitimate boycott the way things went for Solo. Solo was an easy movie to boycott because you could get away with not watching it. It’s the same thing with Rogue One. These side films, whether they’re good or terrible, don’t really matter. They don’t tell you any information that you absolutely needed to know to follow the general plot of Star Wars. When you walked out of Rogue One and Solo, literally nothing had changed. You aren’t in any way surprised or moved by the things you saw. And that’s the intention of those movies. To get people to pay Disney more money without impacting the main timeline of the Star Wars franchise. And technically it works. Rogue One did very well and most people said good things about it. But they’re both still inconsequential films to the franchise. This will not be the case with Episode IX.
Whether you hated Episodes VII and VIII or you loved them, if you’re a real Star Wars fan you paid to go see them. That’s the entire con of making a continuous franchise. Once you’re committed, you’re committed. I think Suicide Squad was terrible. I think Batman vs. Superman was terrible. I think Justice League was average at best. I think the Shazam trailer looks like trash. I’m still gonna pay to go see it. And that’s the game. Star Wars Episode IX matters. Not only is it the last film in the current saga, but it’s also supposedly the last Skywalker focused film, and it’s the very last film Carrie Fischer/Princess Leia will ever be in. And Billy Dee Williams, arguably the coolest (as in smooth and memorable as opposed to awesome) actor/character in the original trilogy, if not the entire Star Wars universe, is finally returning. All Star Wars people are going to go see it. Even the ones who absolutely hate the current saga, hate Disney for “ruining” Star Wars, hate feminism, hate minorities, and hate J.J. Abrams for The Force Awakens are still going to go see this movie. At the very least, everyone wants closure. People might completely stop supporting Star Wars and never sit through another film in the franchise again after they watch Episode IX, but they are certainly going to go watch it none the less, because people need an ending. The Matrix Reloaded (2003) sucked. We still went to see The Matrix Revolutions (2003). It’s for that reason that I don’t think Star Wars Episode IX will tank. It will almost assuredly get bad reception from the public. It will most likely get low scores on IMDB and Rotten Tomatoes. But unlike Solo, it will make lots of money.
So if we can all accept that we’re going to see the movie, let’s instead talk about how we should see the movie. We have more than a year to prepare ourselves for this last installment of the Skywalker family tree. Let’s get to it now so it doesn’t have to be a bloodbath during Christmas season 2019. Here are my thoughts on the current saga. I didn’t like The Force Awakens. I had tons of problems with it and how it ignored longstanding Star Wars canon. I felt like it was a lazy almost beat for beat remake of A New Hope, with a diverse cast and a female protagonist. I didn’t have a problem with the diverse cast. I didn’t have a problem with the female protagonist. But I had a lot of issues with the blatant disregard for the established rules of the Star Wars universe. But I was able to leave the film assuming that Rey was a Skywalker so at least I could justify a lot of her bullshit by saying well she’s a Skywalker so at least we know why she’s unjustifiably great at everything she does. But Rian Johnson took that justification away in The Last Jedi. I did not like The Last Jedi, but it was admittedly the best looking Star Wars film ever made. But the rules were pretty much all disregarded and thrown aside for some agenda that I still can’t really grasp or justify in my head. And Luke dies in the laziest way possible. It was a bad Star Wars movie. Though I actually do rank it higher than VII, and that’s what I really want to focus on.
I don’t want to talk about any of these movies in terms of general film making. That’s a pointless argument in this case. I only want to talk about them in terms of Star Wars film making. The Last Jedi is a better Star Wars movie than The Force Awakens for one simple reason; it follows the trajectory of its predecessor film. What do I mean by that? The main flaw of The Phantom Menace is that it’s attempting to build a foundation for a set of already existing films without rehashing the same ideas you’ve already seen in three extant movies. It’s this desire to link to the past films, that are actually set in the timeline’s future, without playing the same beats over again that led to some bad decisions. Like with midichlorians. Most people agree that midichlorians were a stupid idea that should never have been introduced. They justified some future bullshit which is pretty much all encompassed in Rey, but technically they were never mentioned again after Episode I. The reason The Phantom Menace struggled so much was that it didn’t have a trajectory to follow because it was prequel. It had to start from pretty much scratch and somehow set off a series of events that would eventually lead to A New Hope. Easier said than done.
In a lot of ways, The Force Awakens was in a similar boat but it does have a foundation of six other films preceding it. It’s tasked with starting a new arc of three films but it doesn’t have a pre-established endpoint, nor does it have to start from scratch the way The Phantom Menace did. Yet The Force Awakens does something inherently wrong that The Phantom Menace doesn’t; it breaks the rules of the universe. I have used the word “breaks” here because “changes” is a lazy way of saying retconned or ignored canon, neither of which are considered good things in most fandoms, SJW or not.
World building matters and the best franchises are the best franchises because they have well established worlds/universes with established rulesets. A good writer doesn’t throw out the rules. A good writer writes new ideas and creates new concepts while adhering to the rules. Let’s take the example of Rey in The Force Awakens. If we completely disregard the anti-feminist, alt-right crowd and accept the totally canon supported argument that a woman can be a powerful Jedi/Force user (Ahsoka Tano & Asajj Ventress), which we should, the film still presents a staggering number of issues with Rey.
It’s not the fact that she’s a woman that’s problematic. Nor is it the fact that she’s powerful in the ways of the Force. It’s the fact that a character with no training or even a basic knowledge of the Force is able to use high level Force abilities that Luke, one of the strongest Force users in the established film canon, wasn’t able to do without years of training even after being trained by Yoda, arguably the greatest Force user that ever lived. It’s the fact that she could go from no knowledge of the Force to using Jedi mind tricks and outclassing a trained Sith “lord” (Kylo Ren) in a matter of days that presented the real justifications for complaint. The rules of the universe were broken. Not just ignored but flat out broken. And the sad part was that this was all easily avoided with just a few extra scenes or a bit of altered dialog.
Rey could have already known about the Force, since lots of people do/did in the Star Wars universe outside of Jedi and Sith. She also could have had at the very least some light training while spending most of her life on a desert planet with nothing to do except salvage scrap and eat magical expansion cakes. Literally three lines of dialog inserted into any conversation with Finn, Han, or Maz Kanata could have fixed everything. “When I was a kid, I met a wizard of sorts. He taught me magic and said if I kept practicing I could be a great wizard one day too. I’ve practiced every day since then.” Problem solved. With just these three vague lines from off the top of my head added, everything else that happens in The Force Awakens could have still happened and there would be little justification to argue that canon was broken. That wouldn’t have made the movie great by any means. But it would have removed the main reason people, who aren’t blatant sexists, were unhappy with Rey. The Phantom Menace has a number of issues, but in no way does it break established canon. Even the midichlorians don’t actually break canon. They simply add to it in a stupid way. And that is why I rate Episode I higher than Episode VII.
So when looking at The Last Jedi in comparison to The Force Awakens, I think The Last Jedi is the better Star Wars movie for the simple fact that it follows the path set out by its direct predecessor film. Note that I’m not saying that it’s a good movie or even a particularly good Star Wars movie. I’m saying that it’s a better Star Wars movie than The Force Awakens. Episode VII gives canon the finger. That’s what makes it a bad Star Wars movie. Episode VIII doesn’t do that. Instead, The Last Jedi just accepts the fact that its direct predecessor film has already given canon the finger and just roles with it.
In a world where an untrained teenage girl can out Force a trained Sith lord directly descended from Darth Vader himself, why can’t the daughter of Darth Vader survive the vacuum of space by wrapping herself in a Force bubble and flying through an explosion of debris? In a world where a low ranking Storm Trooper, excuse me First Order Trooper, who has possibly never even seen a light saber before can pick one up and rival the combat ability of by now I’ve proven probably the worst Sith lord ever ordained, why can’t an entire fleet of repurposed imperial ships be destroyed by a single ship with almost no fuel in a hail Mary light speed maneuver?
The Last Jedi didn’t break the rules because the film takes place in a universe where the rules no longer apply. But you can’t technically blame The Last Jedi for establishing this lawless universe because that was done by The Force Awakens. The Last Jedi simply takes it to a new level and decides that if the most important rules are no longer rules then there’s really no reason to have any rules at all. Which is a sensible conclusion to make. It’s like how if someone proved beyond a reasonable doubt that there was no God then the world would sink into chaos like at the end of Preacher Season 1 or Sausage Party. If there are no rules then you would live like there are no rules. You wouldn’t continue the pain in the ass lifestyle of following rules that don’t matter just because it’s a nice thing to do. What’s the point when you can have a lot more freedom and fun doing whatever the hell you want? That’s what Rian Johnson did with The Last Jedi. Order disappeared from the Star Wars universe and he went all in on taking advantage of that.
Taking all that into account, the question now becomes how should we watch Star Wars Episode IX? Now we can choose to watch it like we’ve watched all other Star Wars movies if we want to. Hold it to the old guard rules of canon, compare it directly to Episodes IV – VI, and almost assuredly hate it for completely justifiable reasons, again ignoring the anti-feminist and anti-minority, alt-right crowd. But is it worth it? Should we hold a movie to the gold standard that takes place as the final act that’s already established itself as not even bronze quality Star Wars film making? I say no. Why should we put ourselves through that for the second time in a row? That’s just setting ourselves up for disappointment. Instead I’ve come up with an alternative way to watch this next and any future Star Wars movies in the main timeline.
Rather than compare Episode IX to Episodes I – VIII and hold it to the highest standard, we should only compare it to Episodes VII and VIII. If we accept that the old canonical rules pretty much died with The Force Awakens, as I have argued here, then what reason do we have to hold Episode IX to a pre-Episode VII standard? If you think about it logically, there really isn’t one. By that standard it will be bad and it will make true classic Star Wars fans angry. But I don’t believe it has to be bad if we base it solely on current saga standards, especially considering how low they already are.
If we watch Episode IX in the context of VII and VIII only then I believe it could be a fairly tolerable movie. We would go in knowing there aren’t any hard rules about how the Force works. We’d have an established context to why random characters with no background can be/are ultimately super important. Instead of going in expecting Avengers: Infinity War, we should go in expecting The Matrix Revolutions. In this way we wouldn’t have to leave the theater angry. We could just leave unimpressed but content with what we saw within the context of the current saga.
I know this type of viewing sounds hard to a lot of diehard fans, myself included. But is the possibility of seeing a move and finding it tolerable truly worse than the alternative? I’m not saying you should support the current direction Disney is taking with Star Wars. But if you are going to see the movie, and you know you will, then maybe it doesn’t have to be the terrible experience that you’re already expecting it to be. You have more than a year to prepare yourself so maybe take advantage of that and consider a new way of thinking. It took me a long time to do that, but I finally have myself so I know you can too.
For those of you who have been living under a rock for the past five or so years, Rabbids are these stupid rabbit like creatures that appear to be sentient but never seem to do anything other than make funny noises and cause trouble. They originally appeared in Rayman 4 (2013) but were so popular that Ubisoft decided to give them their own game series. I hate Rabbids. I think they’re annoying and add very little to no value to gaming history. I have gone out of my way not to play any game featuring them, including Rayman 4. But technically I haven’t played any of the Rayman games, outside of demos, so that doesn’t necessarily mean anything special. In any case, Rabbids irritate me.
It was my distaste for Rabbids that made me very unhappy when they first announced Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle for the Nintendo Switch. I actually really liked the idea of them making a Mario strategy game with a Banner Saga style grid battle system. While it isn’t canon, pun not intended, I was fine with them giving Mario and friends guns. The game seemed very interesting. But I could not stomach a Rabbids game. It felt so odd to see Nintendo allow Rabbids to enter the Mario universe. It was very out of character for the company and I’m still not entirely sure how it happened. It was the presence of Rabbids in the game that made me ignore it initially.
Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle was released just a few months before I finally purchased my Switch. I knew I was going to purchase a Switch and I knew when I was going to purchase it. What I didn’t know was that I was going to end up purchasing a Rabbids game on the same day. I had sworn the game off but then people started talking about it. So many people on Twitter were praising the game for its amazing gameplay mechanics. I didn’t have any particular reason to think the gameplay would be bad but my bias against Rabbids made me assume everyone was over exaggerating. They have in the past on multiple occasions. So I was still not planning on buying the game. Then the awards season hit.
Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle, to my surprise, won four awards for best strategy game and was nominated for several other awards from multiple game awards shows. I was shocked it did so well. It seemed like people weren’t exaggerating and that it really was that good. I have owned every console Mario game since Super Mario 64, and many from before that as well. Part of me was devastated to be skipping this Switch Mario game. And the promise of amazing gameplay in a genre I hadn’t really experienced in a Mario game before was also very alluring. But I still said I wouldn’t buy a Rabbids game.
It has always been a ritual for me to buy a stack of games when I first purchase a console. I’m not one of those people who buys a new system just to play one game. It needs to already have several games I want to play before I even consider buying it. On the day I went to buy my Nintendo Switch, multiple limiting factors came into play. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild Explorer’s Edition hadn’t been released yet and wouldn’t be for a few more months. Super Bomberman R was sold out in all the stores I went to because it had just recently been brought to Taiwan. I did eventually get it though. Snipper Clips was a game I was buying specifically to play with my girlfriend so it didn’t count in my stack of games to play with purchase. I would kind of say the same about Just Dance 2018 but less so. This meant that the only games I was buying for my new Switch to be played for myself at this point were Super Mario Odyssey, obviously, ARMS, Sonic Forces, and Splatoon 2. Two of those games aren’t even real single player games. It was at this moment that the clerk, who I actually know very well and trust his recommendations, suggested Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle.
With only two legitimate single player games, the great reviews, and the awards, I ended up buying my first Rabbids game. It hurt even when I was making the purchase but I did it. I bought Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle. I felt dirty. I felt like I had betrayed my morals. I did not feel happy about the purchase. But it was already done. And in Taiwan you can’t actually make returns for games so even if I wanted to change my mind, I couldn’t.
It took me seven months to finally start playing Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle. By that point I had beaten Super Mario Odyssey, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Sonic Forces, the Splatoon 2 single player campaign, gotten bored with both ARMS and Super BomberMan R, and had beaten other games on my PS4. It was time to give this game I had purchased a try. The start of the game was not promising. An annoying video that features the Rabbids prominently for several minutes before Mario even appears. I had to stomach through it and get to the actual gameplay.
Once you make it through the necessarily long tutorial and actually get to battle on your own, you realize right away that Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle really does have amazing gameplay. It’s different from any other Mario game I’ve ever played and it’s extremely well done. I was hooked so quickly. The other thing that’s really nice about it is that it has text based dialog and turn based gameplay. Meaning you can play it with no sound while doing other things and you don’t miss out on the experience much at all. I love to play it undocked while watching Netflix. It’s great. I don’t even have to hear the Rabbids making all their annoying sounds. The gameplay is creative, addictive, and convenient. And it’s easy to play just one battle and then step away. Jumping back in is fairly easy with the Switch’s sleep mode function.
So let’s actually talk about the Rabbids. It took me quite some time but I will admit that the Rabbids in this specific game have grown on me. This is due largely to the dynamic Ubisoft has created by making copies of the Mario characters as Rabbids. Rabbid Peach is one of the funniest characters I’ve seen in a long time because of the dynamic she has with Peach and Mario. Alone she is just a ridiculous character that spends too much time taking selfies. But when interacting with Mario and constantly competing with Peach, I find the character hysterical. Other Rabbids in the game are funny too. Rabbid Donkey Kong looks so awkward that you can’t help but laugh. Rabbid Mario’s mustache looks ridiculous. I haven’t gotten Rabbid Yoshi yet but I’m sure that’s going to be hilarious as well.
It seems I’ve learned to tolerate the Rabbids in the context of this game and they actually make me laugh. I really have to commend Ubisoft for creating such an excellent game and tip my hat to Nintendo for taking such a large risk with their most important franchise. I’m usually very good about gaming predictions but have to admit that I did not see this coming out nearly as well as it did. I enjoy Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle so much that it will be the first Nintendo Switch game that I actually purchase DLC for. I regret that I didn’t wait for the Gold edition originally because I really want all the content for this one. Maybe one day I’ll even buy a second Rabbids game.
Last week, THQ Nordic finally announced a release date for Darksiders III. This game has had a long, colorful history of problems, insecurities, and speculations. It was first announced quite some time ago, but it was never really a sure thing. Originally developed by Vigil Games and published by THQ, the Darksiders franchise began in 2010. A sequel, Darksiders II, was also released by the same studio and publisher in 2012, but sadly THQ went bankrupt soon after that. And since then the game has always been up in the air. In 2016, Nordic purchased THQ and founded the joint publisher THQ Nordic. For fans of the franchise like myself, this was good news because it meant we would hopefully get a Darksiders III, but it’s taken six years to finally get a release date. And it’s a new development studio . . .
I’m a big fan of the Darksiders franchise. I wasn’t a day one buyer, but I did purchase the original XBOX 360 version of the first game, which came with an art book and a physical copy of Red Faction: Guerilla, which is an amazing game that I never would have played if not for that free copy. I then pre-ordered the Limited Edition of Darksiders II (PS3), which I still have on my shelf to this day. I actually think I is better than II but I very much enjoyed both games. So I’m glad I’m finally getting a Darksiders III. But what I want to talk about is the playable character in the next game.
Darksiders III will star Fury. Now before we go any farther let’s make a few things clear. Fury is a female protagonist. I have no problems with that. I don’t care if it’s a female protagonist. I’m sure some people will argue that it should be a male character because they’re the four horseMEN, but anyone with a basic knowledge of the English language knows that horsemen is the gender neutral plural term for people who ride horses. So Fury being a female character is no problem for me and it shouldn’t be a problem for anyone. Fury uses a whip as her main weapon. I have no problem with this either. One might want to argue it’s slightly sexist to give the female character a whip because of sexual overtones and stereotypes inherent in the image of women with whips, but that’s about as stupid an argument as saying that she should be a male character. Each game features a different main weapon, with sword and scythe already being taken. So unless you wanted to do axe, which is basically a scythe when it comes to controls, or a club, which would probably play similar to War’s great sword, there weren’t a ton of great options left. I like whip weapons. I think they’re cool. Put a blade at the end and you’re essentially Kratos, my favorite action hack-n-slash character/franchise, with half the stopping power and range. A whip is fine for me and it’s a fine choice for the next game. What I’m not happy about is that the character is named Fury.
If you know anything about the lore of the four horsemen, then you know it’s a Biblical story about the apocalypse. Four horsemen will ride over the earth and put humanity through a lot of struggles before it all ends. That’s a short, non-religious explanation of who the horsemen are and what they’re meant to do. The names of the horsemen are Conquest, which is debatable based on the passages, War, Famine, and Death, who was supposed to be the last one to appear, not the second. So my question is why are we getting a game with a character named Fury and then possibly another with a character named Strife?
Now I know the real answer to this question. It’s most likely a combination of a few main things. The first is that the word famine doesn’t necessarily mean anything to many people today. War and death are still common use terms, but famine (mass starvation due to lack of access to food) simply isn’t a common term anymore. Which is kind of ironic considering the number of people in the world who are currently starving. So marketing a character with that name would be much more difficult than more common use words like fury and strife. To be clear though, those words are only slightly more common today than the word famine. The second is that the word fury is a more direct term for committing acts of violence, which is the premise of the game(s). Famine is a much more passive way for “people” to be hurt. So it’s not nearly as relatable or marketable for a game. But it’s the third issue that is probably the most important. What does/would gameplay for a character named Famine even look like?
Conquest I actually think would be easy to do, but the style and theme of such a word and character wouldn’t work in the Darksiders universe for two reasons. The first is that it’s not dark enough. The Bible describes this horseman as “. . . a white horse! Its rider held a bow, and he was given a crown, and he rode out as a conqueror bent on conquest.” It’s almost noble looking and kind of nice in a way. A regal looking rider conquering the world like Alexander the Great. This is too colorful and positive for Darksiders. The other issue is that it wouldn’t work in the franchise’s timeline. The first game starts after the apocalypse so there isn’t really any conquest to seek after because all the people are dead. I mean they could still have put the character in but I think it would have been quite out of place in the aesthetic they’ve created in this franchise. If anything I would say they should have split the fourth horsemen into two with one being Death and the other Pestilence. But admittedly the word pestilence is just as dated as famine and no easier to characterize in a hack-n-slash game.
The Darksiders franchise is about taking on the roles of the four horsemen. Each one has a set of powers and skills, as well as their appearance, that directly correlates to their name. War looks like a warrior. He wears thick armor, carries a great sword, and has a large build. Death looks like the grim reaper. He carries a large scythe, has a thin skeletal frame, and wears a mask that looks like a skull. Fury, being a more vague term to begin with, simply looks like a warrior, which is fine as long as the fury comes out in her personality. I assume that in her characterization there will be character flaws/attributes such as hotheadedness, jealousy, and a thirst for revenge. Her fighting style will probably be very fast paced and less strategic, but ultimately lethal. This all works fine for a character named Fury, whose name should evoke her character in the same way War and Death have in the past games. It’s a lazy renaming of one of the actual remaining horsemen names because it’s much easier to deal with. I’m sure this happened because it was too challenging to figure out what a fast paced hack-n-slash game would look like with themes like famine and, if we follow my suggestion, pestilence.
It’s an honest question that I have given a decent amount of thought to. What would a game starring a character named Famine or Pestilence look like? Let’s start with Famine. When I imagine a character named Famine they are very skinny as if they were on the brink of starvation. Their skin would almost be falling off their bones from malnourishment. Their armor would be dirty and made of something cheap looking like wood or copper. Their hair would be white or even almost transparent due to a lack of vitamins. They would talk very slowly as if they didn’t have the energy to do so. They would have a very depressing outlook on life as a whole. Describing who they are is easy though. The tough question is how would they fight? Assuming we have to remain in the hack-n-slash genre which, for the purposes of this franchise, I think is required, it’s not an easy question to answer. What would his/her weapon be? I think it would be a cleaver or other iconic looking butcher’s knife. Maybe two of them. Valid arguments could be made for why his pace of movement and attacking would be both fast or slow. If he’s starving, he would logically be slow. But if he’s starving that also means he’s really hungry and would seek out prey with greater intensity. Eating his victims would possibly be a component of his combat or at least finishing moves. The movement would be sporadic and there would need to be a component of endurance/energy that the player would constantly be fighting against such as in Dark Souls. The character wouldn’t have a ton of HP. Dodging would be just as important as attacking for Famine’s gameplay. This is all well and good on paper, but would it actually be fun? Who’s to say? My description of Famine sounds authentic, but would you want to play that game? Especially after having already played as War and Death. In my opinion, what I’ve described for Famine sounds like a much harder game than Darksiders I or II. And maybe that’s not a bad thing. But difficulty is only important once the game is fun. A lot of people like Dark Souls because it’s hard, but it’s not the difficulty that makes those games fun. It still comes down to design choices, mechanics, atmosphere, and controls. That’s why a lot of people prefer Bloodborne to Dark Souls. Personally, I prefer Nioh to either of those franchises but happily play all three.
Famine would be difficult but manageable. Pestilence is just hard. Character wise, Pestilence would of course be very sickly. Constantly coughing while talking. Covered in sores and boils. Probably a number of scars or stiches. His/her hair would be haggard and missing in places. They would wear loose fitting clothing that’s dirty and bloodstained. I don’t even think they would wear real armor. In a lot of ways I can see this character more as a female than a male character because I think it would add to the visual effect. As far as gameplay, I really don’t know. Poison would need to be an aspect, but the method of delivery in a hack-n-slash game confounds me. Personally, I actually think a projectile weapon such as a bow would be the better choice, but we already agreed to respect the genre type for the franchise. Maybe claws with poison tips. And a kiss of death finishing move or hold that stuns enemies. I think Pestilence is definitely the most challenging to do well. But now I want to see a studio try.
This franchise is now a lost cause on this issue, but I genuinely want a studio to attempt to make a game where you play as the embodiment(s) of famine and pestilence, actual horseman or not. It would be easier in a franchise that isn’t locked to a specific genre, but in general I still think it would be quite the challenge and I would like to see it done. Even better if they tie it directly to the Biblical passages related to the horsemen in a way truer than that of the Darksiders franchise. All that being said, I will of course be buying Darksiders III and I assume it will be as enjoyable as the first two were. Hopefully it’s better written than the second one was though. How do you feel about the name changes? Would you want to see a game starring Famine, Conquest, or Pestilence?
I really liked the first Ant-Man (2015). It’s a very small, pun not intended, very personal story about a man just trying to do right by his kid while also trying to do the right thing and be the hero his kid wants him to be. And I think the story is made even stronger by the fact that he, Scott Lang, is ultimately recruited by Hank Pym, because he’s literally in the exact same situation. In a lot of ways it’s a story about fathers trying to give their daughters the lives they deserve. It’s not a huge plot with a super villain that’s threatening the whole world. The antagonist is just a scientist trying to make a name for himself with a technology that if put in the wrong hands could have terrible consequences. And yes it could end up changing the world, but the narrative keeps the story very enclosed within San Francisco to a small number of people. But that’s not what I wanted from the sequel.
Ant-Man & the Wasp is set about two years after Captain America 3: Civil War and at the same time as Avengers: Infinity War, which Ant-Man does not appear in. In fact, it’s not until the very end of Ant-Man & the Wasp that they even make reference to Thanos and it’s very clear that’s it’s already too late for Ant-Man to even consider getting involved with that problem. Ant-Man & the Wasp is also a small scale plot with a limited number of players that again centers on the idea of fathers trying to protect and please their daughters. The difference is that in this film, romance, for both fathers from the first film, plays a larger role in the narrative. In many ways I would say this plot is even smaller than the first film. It’s not about trying to protect the world from a certain technology. There’s no evil scientist. Really there’s not even a proper villain. The film plays a lot more like Snatch (2000) where you have a number of different groups all seeking the same object for their own purposes, but none of them are out to do anything particularly good or bad with said object.
One character, and his cronies, is out to sell the object for profit, but he’s not a super villain or particularly threatening. He doesn’t even really hurt anyone. He just wants the money. And at the beginning of the film he sincerely offers Team Ant-Man the chance to work together with him for profit, but they say no. The second group, which was sold as the villain in the marketing, is by no means a villain. She has a legitimate problem that is life threatening and she believes that it can only be solved by robbing Team Ant-Man so she’s trying to do that. But she doesn’t have some nefarious end goal and she doesn’t actually want to hurt people. She’s just in a bad situation. Finally, you have Team Ant-Man and they’re just as selfish as everyone else. They have a goal that won’t help anyone outside of Hank and Hope. It’s not going to hurt anyone, but by no means is it heroic or particularly noble. It’s just a self-serving goal that will enrich their personal lives. And it won’t even help Scott. In fact, the entire film is about how Hank and Hope are forcing Scott to help them even though he’s on house arrest with a few days left in his sentence and if he gets caught using the Ant-Man suit or leaving his house he’ll have to go back to prison and lose his daughter. So really the movie isn’t even about Ant-Man being a hero. It’s about Hank and Hope making Ant-Man help them get something they really want.
The problem with this small, in many ways pointless narrative, is that it takes place after having already seen Captain America 3: Civil War, which is mentioned a number of times, and Avengers: Infinity War. In terms of Ant-Man, I wanted more. This is no longer the ex-convict just trying to get his life back together. This is a man who fought alongside the Avengers, against other Avengers, and lived. This is a man who we believed had escaped with Captain America at the end of Civil War. Not to mention, we’ve already seen Avengers: Infinity War. Who cares about this little vignette about the lives of the Pym family? I expect Ant-Man to be playing at Avengers level now. That doesn’t mean every Ant-Man movie needs to have other Avengers in it, but it does mean that the stories have to really matter. In Thor: Ragnarok, Asgard was destroyed. In Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, the entire universe was saved from a mad celestial trying to replace all life with himself. In Doctor Strange, an infinity stone was revealed and the world was almost plunged into darkness by an evil being from a magical dimension. Ant-Man & the Wasp, which is not a debut film for the main title character, is about the same scale as Spider-Man: Homecoming as far as importance. Except Scott Lang isn’t a high school kid. And even in that Iron Man shows up. This film just under does it in a time where the MCU and the character are way past the kid gloves.
I don’t want it to seem like the film was badly written, because it wasn’t. It was much funnier than the first one. The acting was great, including that of Michael Peña reprising his role as the over talkative friend. And most importantly, they really leaned into technology in this one. In the first movie, shrinking is used sparingly. It’s an origin film where Scott is just learning how to use it and really it’s under-utilized outside of a few fight sequences and sneaking around. In Ant-Man & the Wasp they use shrinking and growing a ton and it’s great. It was used realistically, as in they actually use it for pretty much all the things you would use it for if you had that technology at your fingertips. My only real complaint about the technology aspect was that way too many malfunctions occurred. It’s fair for a malfunction to happen once, especially at a really crucial moment. But there were multiple scenes where Scott’s suit, and only Scott’s suit, was malfunctioning. This was used for comic relief multiple times. But this is the second movie. By now the bugs should have been ironed out. Especially when they’re doing stuff like shrinking entire buildings and growing ants to the size of people. It just felt very lazy to keep playing the suit not working card over and over.
As per all MCU films, the movie looked great. The shrinking and growing effects were very clean. The cinematography was solid. The costumes looked good. The sound was fine. I was happy with the soundtrack. It’s by every measureable standard a modern day Marvel film. But it was by no means in the top five or probably even top 10 MCU films. In a lot of ways it felt pointless. It introduced the Wasp and possibly a couple other important reoccurring characters, but the film itself didn’t accomplish much. Like they very well could have sent the Wasp with Ant-Man in Civil War, which is brought up in this film, and it would have accomplished exactly the same thing. Unless they really leverage the two other possibly important characters introduced in future films, this was pretty much the same thing we got in Ant-Man except now he has a partner. Ant-Man & the Wasp is not a bad film, but I could literally tell you everything you need to know about it in one sentence. In a lot of ways it’s one of the only films in the MCU where I could say you could really just skip it and it probably won’t affect the rest of the MCU, or your experience of it, that much.
In recent months, we’ve seen a lot about the upcoming Anthem. Anthem is a shared world mech-shooter being developed by BioWare, who is of course under the umbrella of EA. The game was first announced at E3 2017 and was shown again at E3 this year in a big way. We think we know a lot about Anthem already. The marketing has been very good. The trailers are amazing. But a lot has also changed since it was first announced. When Anthem was first being talked about, it was being called BioWare’s take on Destiny. The studio drew the comparison themselves in certain interviews. Then the whole Star Wars: Battlefront II thing happened and EA has been trying to fix their image ever since. And they have made moves. They removed the loot box system from Star Wars: Battlefront II at launch and stated that though it would be re-added, it wouldn’t be as predatory as originally shown. They have done their best to move people away from the loot box conversation and announced that Battlefield V, being developed by the same studio as Star Wars: Battlefront II, DICE, wouldn’t have any loot boxes. So it’s hard to know exactly how Anthem will be now in the wake of all the bad press and changes EA has taken in response to recent mishaps.
I am very hesitant about Anthem precisely because they’ve drawn comparisons to Destiny. If you read my blog normally and have for a long time, then you know I have very negative feelings about Destiny. I pre-ordered the physical limited edition and I have regretted it pretty much since the announcement of The Taken King expansion, which I never played. It angered and still angers me that I gave Bungie $100 before the game even released for them to provide me maybe half a story, some crappy raids, and then tell me I had to pay another $30 or more dollars to get some actual additional story content. But if I had waited, I would have been able to get all the content, old and new, for like $30. That pisses me off. And we’re not talking about something like The Witcher 3 where you get a full game that’s almost too full and then for another $25 you get like two more full games’ worth of content. That would have been acceptable. Destiny just screwed me over. I did not buy Destiny 2 and I haven’t purchased any other games from Bungie, Activision, or Blizzard since then. And I wasn’t really a fan of any of those companies before Destiny either so I was already taking a leap of faith, but I really enjoyed the Destiny beta so I decided to take the plunge. The last Bungie game I bought before Destiny was literally 10 years before with Halo II. It will probably be another 10 years before I even consider buying another game from them.
That badly priced, content lacking experience is exactly what I’m afraid of happening with Anthem. By all rights I should just walk away now. But the trailers look so good. And I actually really do like BioWare. I haven’t played a single game by them I didn’t like. That includes Mass Effect: Andromeda, Dragon Age II, and Dragon Age: Inquisition. I wouldn’t say any of those are the best they’ve ever produced, but I consider all of those games and the others I’ve played by them to be fine titles. So I want to trust them. I want to play Anthem. But I don’t want to play another Destiny.
My issue with Destiny was not the gameplay. Mechanically, I thought it was excellent. It wasn’t the graphics. Visually I thought it was quite good, and I played it on PS3. My only real complaint, other than a number of unbalanced raid challenges which I consider forgivable, was the lack of fresh content for the price I paid. I don’t like replaying missions. I don’t like farming because of an unbalanced RNG rewards system. And I did not buy the game for PVP. I put a fair amount of time into the Crucible, but that’s not what I paid for. So I don’t have to consider that in my personal judgement of the game in terms of my satisfaction, or lack thereof, with it. This is not a review. I don’t have to be objective. I spent $100 of my hard earned money and didn’t get a full story experience. But I genuinely believe that if I had gotten all that year two content, as well as what I got in year one, for the $100 I spent, then I wouldn’t have left the game so unhappy. If I had not supported the game from day one and waited it out like I do for most games then I wouldn’t even be writing this post right now. None of this is BioWare or EA’s fault. It has nothing to do with them. But the shared world shooter genre is spoiled for me because of that experience others like it such as The Division. Yet I still want to play Anthem based on what I’ve seen.
The problem with games like Destiny and presumably Anthem is that the player’s enjoyment of it is directly tied to the presence and influence of other players within the experience. That’s why we get conned into buying them day one. We take the risk of them dying if we wait and then we can’t really play them at all. The only thing worse than Destiny year one would have been Destiny year one with no other players. But this line of thinking gave me an idea.
Why do we play these games on their terms? Why do we let studios tell us when and how to enjoy games? It didn’t used to be that way. You used to be able to buy a game when you wanted and play it the way you wanted. You shaped and enjoyed the experience you chose to have. Why did we let that concept die? People will of course say that the nature of games has changed. What with daily challenges, special events, limited time offers, and pre-order bonus content, it seems impossible to play a game on your own terms and get the full experience. Then there’s of course the fear of missing out on the experience altogether. You don’t want to be left out and you don’t want to show up to the party after everyone else has already left. But what if we as a community chose not to be limited by these factors?
What I’m about to say is all theoretical. It makes a number of assumptions about BioWare’s long term plans/actions for the game. It assumes the game does well overall from day one. And it assumes that extra content will actually be added over time like in Destiny and The Division. None of these assumptions have to be true. They are very likely based on empirical data from the last several years of gaming. But it’s quite possible they all end up being incorrect assumptions, in which case the entire concept I’m about to suggest would be a complete failure before it ever began. And to be clear, even if all these assumptions do end up being true, which I do believe will be the case, that still doesn’t mean that I believe what I have devised will actually come to fruition, because it relies heavily on the actions of other gamers which is never a recipe for success.
I propose a plan that I’d like to call simply Anthem Year Two. If we assume that there will be an official Anthem Year Two campaign, then that means we can assume that there will be Anthem Year Two content. And because this game is being published by EA, it’s fair to assume that this Year Two content will be at additional cost to the players unless you buy a full edition a la Destiny Year Two Legendary Edition. Again, waiting for year two means missing out on year one content while the bulk of other players are playing it. Now that doesn’t really matter as long as you have people to play with that are going through the year one content at the same time as you. This might be a limiting factor for PVP but that assumes you’re playing for PVP, which shouldn’t necessarily be the case when Anthem isn’t even being sold as a PVP game. In fact, it won’t even have PVP options at release. So let’s, at least for the purposes of argument, assume you’re playing Anthem for the campaign content and your only reason for buying day one is that you want to make sure you have people to play with when you’re playing the year one content and so on into year two. But what if instead of forcing ourselves to play year one content during year one, we as an organized community of gamers fabricated year one conditions in year two?
Here is what I propose. What if instead of forcing ourselves to buy Anthem day one, a large group, as in hundreds to even thousands of players, collectively committed to waiting for year two to buy the game? Say a large community of gamers all pledged that they would collectively wait for the Anthem Year Two Legendary Edition release to drop to $30 and would buy it the day it hit that price. And assume they all stuck to their word. What is the limiting factor in this scenario? Other than the waiting time, will our gaming experience be hindered in any way? Not really, unless you count possible spoilers as an issue. We could get all the content for a good price and have people to play it with that all started on a level playing field because we all would have started at about the same time. Just a year after the game was released. Why doesn’t the gaming community ever do things like this? I’ve never heard of a large organized group of gamers actively waiting for the second year content of a cooperative multiplayer game to be released before purchasing. We could shape the entire experience, down to the price, to our liking and needs. We would fully control the situation and be guaranteed a fair amount of content from the start with no wait time to access it. Why wouldn’t we do this? Why haven’t we done this? There are already huge gaming communities for just about every online game. No Man’s Sky was a steaming pile of crap and it had entire self-formed governments organized by players. So why don’t we just take control of the situation? Not just with Anthem but with every game like this. The Division 2, Jump Force, and the list goes on. We simply need to decide to wait as a collective, decide when the wait is over, and that’s pretty much it. It’s little more than a gaming union that doesn’t charge dues. Am I crazy or are we just all inpatient children too lazy to put in a small amount of effort for a better, more affordable overall gaming experience?