Finally Finished The Witcher 2

In 2013, I was in a really weird place in my life. Maybe the lowest I’ve been since I graduated college. I was living in a shitty town in a shitty state making pizza in a bar with a dual degree from an Ivy League university. No this isn’t the story of another failed liberal arts degree student. This is a story about love. My girlfriend, now wife, was attending graduate school in a small town I’d never heard of and I moved there with her to support her financially. What I wasn’t aware of when I agreed to move there was that there were no real businesses in that town except bars. I didn’t own a car at the time because we had moved there from abroad. And even if I had owned a car, we lived in a college dorm, provided by her graduate program, that charged a fortune for parking so owning a car in that scenario wasn’t really an option anyway. So I got the only local job I could find, which ended up being making pizza in a bar. I worked long hours, weekends, and was paid very little. But I did it because you gotta do what you gotta do.

At the time I owned a SONY Vaio laptop that was three or four years old. I had used it during college and couldn’t afford to replace it so I continued using it as my only computer option. It was good enough for basic things but it couldn’t run most games other than older emulators and indie titles. Some of my followers may remember my failed attempts to stream via that laptop back in those days. I spent most of my time gaming on my PS4 and Wii U and usually streamed via my PS4 directly to Twitch. I also recorded a lot of footage and uploaded it after the fact. My laptop could handle this. It just took a really long time to process the videos.

2020-04-16_0205_1During this time, a friend recommended that I try a game called The Witcher. It was a PC game made in 2007 by some Polish developer I had never heard of. I didn’t know a thing about the game. Today that seems ridiculous to say, but this was before The Witcher 3 was really being talked about. In fact, it was like right before. If you followed the company and the franchise, then you probably already knew about it and were looking forward to playing it. But if you weren’t already into the franchise then, like me, you probably knew nothing about it. And I’m someone who’s usually pretty knowledgeable about upcoming games even when I’m not looking to play them myself. I wasn’t really interested in playing The Witcher but both it and The Witcher 2 were on sale on GOG for like $4 together so I bought them more to appease my friend than out of any actual interest.

As with most games I buy, I didn’t end up playing The Witcher as soon as I bought it. A few weeks or maybe even months went by. Then suddenly The Witcher 3 began its mainstream marketing run. This was actually one of the last games I remember seeing commercials for on cable, because this was the last time in my life that I regularly watched cable TV. The game looked amazing. We know now that it was/is, but at the time the ads were the thing that really sold me. But I’m the type of person that needs to play all the games in a franchise in order. So my desire to play The Witcher 3 finally pushed me to start The Witcher.

2020-04-23_0147_1Thankfully my old laptop could run The Witcher. This shouldn’t be surprising because the game came out about three years before my laptop. I would call The Witcher the best bad game I’ve ever played. It can only be described as some of the best writing I’ve ever seen in a game coupled with some of the worst gameplay I’ve ever forced myself to slog through to the end. It’s not even accurate to call it a great game so much as a great experience. I absolutely hated actually playing it but I couldn’t get enough of the story, characters, and world. So when I finished it, I immediately knew that I was gonna play The Witcher 3 and literally loaded up The Witcher 2 as soon as the credits finished rolling. This is where my troubles really began.

The Witcher was released in 2007 and my laptop from 2010 could run it with little issue. Even though it wasn’t a gaming laptop, the leaps forward in technology over that three year gap made an office laptop viable for playing an old game. The Witcher 2 on the other hand was released in 2011. While it wasn’t released that far after my laptop, it was a modern game with hefty graphics for the time. Sadly my SONY Vaio just couldn’t hack it. Even at the lowest settings, I was not able to run The Witcher 2 smoothly. I was so depressed that I couldn’t play that game. At this point I no longer owned an XBOX 360 and for some stupid reason that was the only console the game was available on. I could have went out and bought a used one but I refused to go back to a console that had already broken down and been replaced on four separate occasions before I finally gave the system up for good. That meant that my only option was getting a new PC.

2020-04-23_0054_2It was at this moment that I finally decided to build my own PC. I had known multiple people in college who had built their own gaming desktops but the prospect of doing that always scared me. It seemed too difficult, too expensive, and too risky. But I decided that was as good a time as any because I really wanted to play The Witcher 2. The Witcher 3 was a non-issue because I could get that on PS4 if I wanted to. But I had to play The Witcher 2 first. I never do anything small. If I’m gonna do something, I’m gonna take it seriously from start to finish. I wasn’t just gonna build an OK PC that could barely run The Witcher 2. I was gonna build a hefty system that could easily tackle running The Witcher 3. It ultimately took me three years of studying, saving, and planning before I finally built my gaming desktop. By that time I had left that shitty state (and country at this point), moved back abroad, and had landed a job in the PC hardware industry. My passion for playing The Witcher 2 in many ways led me to where I am now.

I got the PC built but rather than play The Witcher 2 right off the bat I, like many gamers, got distracted by other titles. So the game I had built my PC to play got pushed aside for a long time. I’ve played countless games on my PC since then. If you watch my streams then you know some of the much more advanced games I’ve played on PC such as Watch Dogs 1 & 2, Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order, DOOM, Ghost Recon: Breakpoint, and the list goes on. I’m very happy with my PC and I’m proud of myself for the accomplishment it was to pay for and build it. But I didn’t actually end up starting The Witcher 2 till three years after it was built.

2020-05-10_2359_2Last month I finally started The Witcher 2, and last week I finally completed it. It took almost seven years of dedication to a single goal to reach this point. There were definitely distractions and roadblocks along the way, but I got here. It might not seem like the biggest accomplishment in the world, but to me it’s important. That’s why I felt it was necessary to document this moment here.

I committed to building a PC and playing The Witcher 2 in 2013. I finished The Witcher 2 on May 11th, 2020. And now I can finally play The Witcher 3. But I’ll probably put it off for like another three years because reasons.

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Animal Crossing: New Horizons is Good but Riddled with Unjustified Flaws

Having now played Animal Crossing: New Horizons for 170 hours, I can say two things. The first is that the game is a depth defying evolution of the concept since the original game released on the Gamecube almost 20 years ago. It’s accessible, simple, and addictive while not taking advantage of any of the predatory microtransactions Nintendo could absolutely get away with. It’s complicated enough to hold the attention of adults, both causal and serious gamers, while also being simple enough to be played and enjoyed by children. While it is not the best game ever made, it may be the most Nintendo game ever made in the last two generations or more of Nintendo consoles. The second thing I can say is that the game is riddled with quality of life problems. Not glitches or coding errors, but intentional problems that ultimately hurt the gameplay experience.

I have been absolutely floored by some of the island designs I’ve seen posted online. People have accomplished things that I couldn’t even imagine. The amount of things you can actually accomplish/build in Animal Crossing: New Horizons is insane. Yet my island still looks like garbage. One could argue that my island looks like garbage because I simply lack creativity, but I don’t agree with that statement. Now I’m not saying that I’m as visually creative as everyone else. I’m a writer by trade so visual design isn’t really my strong suit. But I do have plenty of ideas and a vision for my own epic island design. And I’m happy to acknowledge that the chances of the design I have in my head, or reference notes after I took the time to draw and plot out everything I wanted to do on paper, probably isn’t as impressive as many of the things that I’ve seen go viral online. But at the very least my island wouldn’t look like garbage if my vision could be realized. The problem is that at every turn the game goes out of its way to arbitrarily limit my ability to create my own vision. And again none of these limitations are due to glitches. They are intentional design flaws that can easily be fixed, but simply won’t be because Nintendo gonna Nintendo.

Landscaping and Island design isn’t the only place where the game has monumentally inconvenient limitations that are easily fixed but simply won’t be because reasons. There are a host of quality of life issues that simply don’t need to be present in the game.  So for this week’s post I wanted to go over my top 15 complaints about Animal Crossing: New Horizons. This is not an exhaustive list; and I’m sure some people will disagree with some of the things mentioned. But I believe every one of these issues could easily be patched out and would make the gameplay experience better for a majority of players. Better being defined as giving players the ability to maximize their own personal enjoyment and/or creative freedom. List is in no particular order.

Animal Crossing New Horizons Screenshot 2020-05-06 16-14-19

1. No Natural Island Features Should be Permanent

When you first start the game, you are asked to pick an island layout. If like me, you started the game on day one with little to no prior knowledge or plans in the works, then you chose a layout that seemed the most convenient at the time without knowing exactly what you were committing to. My island’s natural layout has been a nightmare for pretty much my entire time playing the game. It of course started with house placement. I knew exactly where I wanted my house to go when I first looked at the map layouts. That has never changed. What I didn’t know going into the game was that I wouldn’t be able to reach the location I wanted for my house until much later into the game. I thought I would be able to get the vaulting pole and ladder from the start and place my house exactly where I wanted it. Instead I was forced to put it in the complete opposite side of the island from where I wanted it because not only did I want my house on a mountain, but I also wanted an island with a single continuous river that went from end to end, locking me to only about 40% of my island’s total land for the opening portion of the game. As you can imagine, this was very annoying. But I was OK with it because I knew eventually I would be able to move my house and even reshape my river, if I wanted to.

Animal Crossing New Horizons Screenshot 2020-05-06 16-19-21Eventually I was finally able to reshape the land and the water, while also having the tools to go wherever I wanted. By the time I unlocked K.K. Slider (about 110 hours in), I finally had an established vision for what I wanted my island to look like. I set out to complete this task only to then realize my plan wasn’t possible because my river inlets from the ocean weren’t located in the right places. This cannot be altered, which I wasn’t aware of when I devised my grand plan. You’re simply stuck with the river to ocean connections you have. Now yes I could technically build my own rivers from scratch and just not connect them to the ocean at all. But that’s not really what I wanted. Furthermore, one of my inlets is located too high on my map which blocks me from having the perfect cliffs I wanted.

Along with the river mouths, you also have to contend with beaches and even worse beach stone. These black rocks eat up the sides and corners of your map for literally no reason and prevent you from having perfectly square edges to your cliffs. Some may also refer to them as OCD stone. Why Nintendo decided to make all these physical features permanent is beyond me. What I do know is that not only have they dashed my island landscaping dreams multiple times, but they also cost me so many hours of hard work because I had to alter several map units of land to account for them. This entire issue is stupid and shouldn’t be a thing. Just let me redesign my island however I want once I’ve reached the landscaping portion of the game.

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2. The Game Needs Mass/Rapid Landscaping Options

Being able to reshape land and water is extremely convenient. It’s one of my favorite aspects of the game. Even with the many limits it has to it, the fact that you can reform cliffs and rivers to create the landscape you want (mostly) allows for every island to be truly original. That being said, the process of landscaping is one of the most tedious and troublesome endeavors I’ve ever experienced in a Nintendo game. You have to manually shape each block unit of land in the game one at a time. It is appalling that there isn’t a Mario Maker style landscape editing mode where you can just build entire sections of cliff and water in a few seconds. I have spent literal weeks trying to build, and rebuild, the cliff structure I wanted. And this doesn’t include all the time I’ve had to spend moving around trees and flowers to do it.  I wouldn’t even mind having to pay a bells fee to do it. I just don’t want to have to spend hours to build a cliff after I’ve already taken the time to clear all the land. The cliff should be the easy part. And joy-con drift never angered me so much as it does while trying to landscape in this game. The game already has a unit based map. Allowing the player to draw cliff or water on it quickly rather than unit by unit landscaping would be an easy thing to implement.

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3. Build and Destroy Landscaping Functions Should be Separate Buttons

In order to keep the coding simplistic, Animal Crossing: New Horizons throws all landscaping functions into two buttons. You select what kind of landscaping you want to do by pressing the plus button and then the A button to make a selection. Then you use the A button to interact with the unit of land directly in front of you, assuming your joy-con doesn’t drift. If the landscaping selection you currently have active isn’t on the unit in front of you, the A button adds it. If the active landscaping selection is on the unit in front of you, the A button removes it. While simple in practice, this causes a lot of problems. Again, many of them are the result of joy-con drift. Often you end up removing land when you intended to add it. Or adding water when you intended to remove it. And vice versa. This could easily be remedied by dedicating the A button to adding landscaping options and a different button being dedicated for removing landscaping selections. Of course this would only be the case while the landscaping app is active. Having this function would save users so much time by not having them make unintentional landscaping mistakes throughout the entire process of terraforming their islands.

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4. Why Can’t I Build Giant Walls?

I have absolutely no idea why you can’t build two story cliffs, but it’s one of the most irritating limitations the game has. For some reason you can’t build a cliff on top of a cliff. You have to leave a space of at least one unit between the first level cliff and the second level cliff. So instead of building high cliffs you end up with big two step stairs. If I had to hazard a guess, I’d say the reason for this probably has to do with the incline limitations, which I will get to. You can’t make two story inclines, so building two story cliffs would prevent you from being able to access the tops of them. But I don’t see why that’s a problem because if  I’m building a two story cliff then clearly I don’t want it to be climbed to begin with. Also, couldn’t’ the ladder just extend if it was really an issue that needed solving? Not only is this issue visually troublesome, but it also wastes a lot of real estate. You only have so much land. Having to waste the outer edges one unit in all directions is quite a loss of total available land.

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5. Inclines Have So Much Wasted Potential

The only way to reach a higher level without a ladder is an incline. This is fine. Even the process of adding inclines for a fee is fine. What isn’t fine is all the things inclines should be able to do but can’t. First, inclines are locked to one cliff unit up and two ground units wide. Inclines are extremely useful but they could do so much more. You can’t build them adjacent to each other either vertically or horizontally.  They need a gap of at least one space. So if you wanted to make a two story cliff with an incline it would have an annoying one unit step between the two inclines. You also can’t build them side by side. Meaning you can’t build hills or epic continuous grand entrances.

You also can’t repave or plant flowers on inclines. Meaning if, like me, you wanted to use floor paths to build long “roads” that went up cliffs, you would not be able to fully coordinate their colors because inclines can’t be customized past picking from a limited selection of incline designs. The inability to plant flowers on them also means you can’t have continuous flower paths for your “roads” that go up cliffs either. While some of this may be a lot of trouble to remedy, much of it shouldn’t have been part of the game to begin with. There’s no reason you shouldn’t be able to install adjacent inclines and bridges.

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6. Construction Delays Progress so Much

Construction projects are a sensible idea. Moving buildings and adding/removing inclines being a bit more special so you aren’t constantly changing everything on your island makes you appreciate your decisions more. Having to pay for them does this adequately. But making me have to wait for the day to flip and only allowing me to move one building and one incline/bridge a day is such a waste of time. If I’m trying to reshape my entire island after acquiring the landscaping license, I shouldn’t have to wait a day to move each house on my island. I shouldn’t have to wait a day to demolish or move each bridge/incline I built in the early game while just trying to access more of the land and amass resources. It’s no wonder why some players, myself not included, use time travel. So much progress is stopped by limiting construction projects to one of each type a day. Just charge me express work fees and let me do everything in the same day. At the very least let me reshape the island in mass at least once after unlocking the landscaping license. Because obviously most players wouldn’t have put things where they are if they had had full access to all the tools and landscaping abilities you eventually get from the start.

Also, it’s completely ridiculous that you have to pay twice to change the surrounding landscape of a building or incline. I had my house in the perfect spot the first time I moved it. But I did not yet have landscaping abilities. Once I unlocked them, I wanted my house in the same general spot, but moved over three units and on top of a cliff. Doing this required moving my house to a completely different location by paying a fee of 30K bells and waiting a day for construction, then reshaping the land where I wanted my house, paying another fee of 30K bells, and waiting another day for construction. This sort of process was required for four of my islanders’ homes as well, ultimately costing me 460,000 bells and 10 days of waiting. The process should not have been that long, that expensive, or that troublesome.

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7. Housing Development Shouldn’t Be Limited

You can expand your house’s interior by paying off loans. This is fine. The prices may seem a little high but once you start playing the stalk market “correctly” money becomes almost a non-issue once you get past your initial landscaping costs. But there’s a limit to how big your house can be. In reality, this makes sense. But this is a video game. Why can’t I just keep expanding my house indefinitely? Or at least past the point of realistic practicality. You can only have a maximum of six total rooms in your house. You can’t control or expand the size of them and their dimensions are kind of inconvenient as well. Why can’t I just pay more bells to expand these rooms or add additional ones? If I want a living room, a kitchen, a bathroom, a workshop, a gameroom, a bedroom, and a guest room, why can’t I? I have plenty of bells. So just let me keep expanding. And let me keep expanding storage as well. You can get up to 1600 storage spots by the time you fully upgrade your house. But why place a limit at all? Just let me keep paying a flat rate of bells to expand my storage indefinitely. Why does it matter?

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8. Why Can’t I Stack Items Based on Space?

Certain items can have other items placed on them such as tables, chairs, and rugs. But then other items can’t even if there’s enough space to do so. For instance, the wooden speakers. This stereo system is quite big and it looks cool. But it takes up a lot of room. The top of it has enough surface area to act as a table or stand. So why can’t I put things on top of it such as potted plants or trophies? That’s something a person would actually do in real life. Yet because the game doesn’t designate it as a piece of stacking furniture, you aren’t allowed to do this. You can’t even put things on beds. So much space is wasted in an already limited space environment.

Animal Crossing New Horizons Screenshot 2020-05-06 18-12-11

9. Just Let Me Store Turnips For Goodness Sake

Once a week you find yourself having to store turnips in the most inconvenient of places. First I was storing them all over my house. Every open space of my floor would be covered in turnips. I wasn’t even decorating my basement because I needed the storage space. Then, like many other players, I took to building an outdoor storage area for them. This is more convenient in many ways, but it’s also a complete waste of real estate. Having to essentially sacrifice a large piece of land to store your turnips every week is an unnecessary inconvenience that adds no enjoyment to the game. Either let me store them in the storage or raise the single item volume considerably. I buy 16K turnips a week. That’s 160 item slots to store. That’s a ton of wasted real estate. And sure you don’t have to buy turnips every week, and certainly not in those large quantities. But in the weeks that you do, you need that space available so it makes more sense just to leave it open rather than build on it at all.

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10. Why Can’t I Turn the Camera When Outside my House?

The camera in Animal Crossing: New Horizons can be quite troublesome. You often can’t see things behind buildings and trees. But there are often important things there such as dig spots and bugs. You can turn the camera in the house just fine. In fact, it’s very convenient. But you can’t do this when outside your house and I can’t think of a single justifiable reason for this.

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11. Add a Fossil Record to the Museum

In the game, you have a phone that catalogues every fish and bug you’ve caught and whether or not you have donated them to the museum. Why the same is not true for the fossils is beyond me. I don’t even need a fossil record on my phone. Just put it in the damn museum, like literally any real museum would have. Finishing the fossil collection, which I finally managed to do by trading in the fossil market on Discord, is such a hassle because you literally don’t know how many or which fossils you’re missing without looking it up online. Even when you do try to look it up, it’s still fairly unclear what you’re actually missing because you have to manually walk the museum and try to figure it out. Just add a damn fossil list to the museum so it’s like an actual museum.

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12. Let Me Mass Buy Clothing in the Fitting Room

The fitting room in the Able Sisters clothing store is really nice. It’s exactly what you want when trying to decide which clothes to buy. But damn if it isn’t the most inconvenient thing in the world when trying to buy multiple colors of the same piece of clothing. If an item comes in multiple colors and I want more than one, why can’t I just buy all the colors I want at once? Making me have to pay, then exit the fitting room, then reenter the fitting room, find the item again, and pay again is completely unnecessary. Just let me buy as many items as I want at once.

Also, let me know which items I already own. The crafting table tells you what items you already have in your pockets and in storage. Why doesn’t the fitting room do the same?

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13. Why Do the Store’s Close?

I work a full time job. I am not alone. I have to commute to my job. I am not alone. I can’t use my Switch at work. I am not alone. Nook’s Cranny doesn’t open until 8 AM and closes at 10 PM. This means that anyone who has to leave for work before 8 AM can’t sell things they are carrying from the night before and can’t check the morning prices of turnips, much less take advantage of them. Anyone who works late can’t purchase or sell anything at Nook’s Cranny either. There are days where I have to leave for work before 8 AM and don’t get home till almost 8 PM. Then I have other responsibilities like cooking dinner and walking my dog. That makes the operating hours of Nook’s Cranny very difficult for me. And I don’t even have children. But one must ask why does the store close at all? This isn’t real life. They don’t need to sleep. Tom Nook and Isabelle never close the Residential Services office. So what’s the deal with Tom’s nephews? The store should definitely reset every day like the calendar does with new announcements. And if for the sake of balance you wanted to argue that the turnip purchasing time should still be locked to specific hours of day, I could understand an argument for that. But the store closing is unnecessary.  Or at the very least remove the fees for using the box to sell items. I don’t mind waiting till the next morning to get my funds in the mail. That’s a realistic mechanic I guess.

Don’t even get me started on the Able Sisters shop. Why does it close an hour earlier than Nook’s Cranny? What is the justification for that? Realistically you only need to visit it once a day, assuming you aren’t strapped for bells, in order to do all your business there. But it’s still the same issue of availability. If someone isn’t able to get to their Switch between the hours of 8 AM and 9 PM, then when do they get to purchase and design new clothing items? The game may be geared towards kids, but adults play it. If the shops have to be open for limited hours, at least let the player set those hours for their island. Maybe the employees sleep during the day and work through the night.

Animal Crossing New Horizons Screenshot 2020-05-06 18-22-18

14. Why Doesn’t my Nook Phone Have a Debit Function?

I have a bank account and a smart phone. That is literally all a person needs to make purchases without carrying cash. So why can’t I purchase things from shops without the cash in hand? Just let me pull the funds needed directly from my bank account. Not for Daisy and NPC purchases, because that wouldn’t be realistic or practical. Though Zelle is a thing. But if I want to buy a chessboard from Nook’s Cranny with 3 million bells in the bank but not 95,000 bells in my pocket just let me purchase it with funds directly from my bank account so I don’t have to run to Resident Services, access the bank account, withdrawal the funds, and then run all the way back to Nook’s Cranny.

While we’re at it, let players access their bank accounts from other islands. Not their storage because that would be unrealistic. But as with my digital purchases argument, the technology is already there. The entire purposes of bank accounts is so you can access your funds anywhere that has an ATM. Every island has an ATM so let players pull bells from the Resident Services on any island.

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15. Add a Dynamic DIY Vendor

Much of the game is built around the idea of interacting with NPCs and the environment to get new recipes. Characters like Celeste are key to making the most out of your crafting experience. But in my opinion there are serious issues with the volume of DIY recipes acquired as well as the ability to get the ones you want. I find it very irritating when I’m trying to complete a seasonal set like the bamboo collection and I get drops of repeat bamboo recipes before I’ve even finished the collection. That forces players to have to try to deal with the market and convince other players to trade them the recipes they want/are missing because the game itself doesn’t seem to be providing them.

While I won’t outright say you should just be able to buy every recipe in the game whenever you want, I do believe there should be a constant stream of DIY vending that takes bells or even Nook Miles. Technically the game kind of has this at Resident Services, but the list of available recipes is fixed. That shouldn’t be the case. As with the Nook Shopping service, the DIY choices should be changing daily. Like with turnip prices, it should be completely random with some days giving you repeats or junk recipes while other days can include super rare ones. Every day players should have the ability to acquire at least one new recipe no matter how much time they put in. This also makes every day seem eventful in some way even when nothing particularly special is otherwise going on.

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So there are my 15 biggest complaints about Animal Crossing: New Horizons. I want to clarify that I love the game. I have played it literally every day since it released. I have never time traveled and I take my progress in the game very seriously. I play the stalk market like a pro and have great aspirations for my island and its residents. But the game is severely lacking in a number of quality of life features that would make the experience of playing the game way more convenient and fulfilling. The game is by no means bad, but it could be considerably better.

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Focus on the Objective

If you’ve been following me for a while then you know I don’t really like shooters and I tend to hate PVP games. Especially those with no story based campaign. To this day I can proudly say that I have never played a single match of Fortnite. While I enjoy the art style and quirkiness, I absolutely loathe the Overwatch model. These games simply aren’t for me. So when I was invited to try the closed alpha for Rogue Company I went in assuming that I would dislike it. I was pleasantly surprised to find that this wasn’t the case.

I don’t want to write a full review of this alpha. Not only was/is it under an NDA, but it was also very limited in what was available so writing a full review at this point would most likely do the game more harm than good in a way that won’t necessarily be beneficial to consumers. What I will say is that the game blends a number of different styles together in order to make a very satisfying gameplay experience. It has the single life mechanic of a battle royale game coupled with the condensed maps and team mechanics of Overwatch. This is done in a first to five rounds won model. The two modes available in the alpha were 3v3 fights to the death and 4v4 objective matches. I enjoyed both modes. The pacing is very fast with single life elimination. The gameplay, though flawed mechanically in certain ways, is very well balanced and accessible to amateur players. The best way to describe it is the weapons are balanced in a way where the amateur shooting first isn’t automatically going to get creamed by the more experienced player like you see in so many other shooters.  The in game money system that allows you to upgrade between rounds worked fairly well and added a layer of depth to the game that I think harkens back to CS GO but in a more refined form. I have to say that it’s the first team based round by round shooter with no story that I’ve ever actually enjoyed playing.

Dark Souls 3 Screenshot 2020-03-14 12-57-00I spent most of my time playing the objective mode in the alpha. This was much simpler than Overwatch’s objective mode. It’s just a bomb in the center that you have to reach before the other team and hack with a single button held for about four seconds. Once the bomb is hacked you have to defend it for 60 seconds. The other team can re-hack the bomb and claim it for themselves. The same rules apply afterwards. Hold it for 60 seconds to win the round. The “problem” with this mode is that when combined with the single elimination mechanics it devolves into killing the four guys on the other team first equals a win. You can win the round by completing the objective, which takes the time to reach the bomb plus the time to hack the bomb plus the 60 seconds defending the bomb. This is how the mode was actually meant to be played. But you can also just kill the opposing team’s four members in a fraction of the time, if your team is better, and net the same results i.e. a victory for that round. As you can imagine, once people caught wind of this they stopped caring about the objective entirely.

I’m one of those people that actually care about the objective. That’s why I play(ed) the objective mode as opposed to the team kill mode. When I first started playing, I was misled into believing I was playing with people but was actually in the bot mode. I had so much fun. Not because the bots were easier but because they were playing for the objective. Rather than just going for kills, the bots had been programmed to play as if completing the objective was the only way to win. This made for a much more interesting and varied gameplay experience because while killing the opposition mattered and happened, it wasn’t the main focus of each round. Both sides played for the objective as their main concern. This shaped the way they approached the map and the firefights. Once I started playing with actual people, I quickly started to enjoy the game less. This was because human players didn’t care about the objective.

Dark Souls 3 Screenshot 2020-03-15 00-39-35Playing Rogue Company’s objective mode, and so many other shooters with objectives I’ve tried, with humans always ends up being the same garbage experience. This is because everyone except me always seems to think they’re playing slayer mode and just ignores the objective. This makes sense when you look at the framework for how these types of games work though. Notice that people who play shooters rarely discuss wins. Have you ever noticed that before? No one ever describes their win percentage when talking about how good they are at shooters. The talk about their K/D ratio. In a way this makes a lot of sense. K/D ratio is more effective at describing an individual player’s skills in the game while wins accounts for a number of external factors that aren’t all related to the individual player’s performance. You can be the best in the world but if you’re playing a team based game against the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th best in the world and the other members of your team are crap then you probably still won’t win the match. Also, even when you do get a good team, the map layout usually gives one team the advantage. In Rogue Company, the objective location changes each round but it’s always to a particular spot from a preset list of locations on the map. These spawn points absolutely deal an advantage to one team over the other and I could see no formula for how these spawns were decided. Some matches my team got the advantage multiple times over and other matches the other team got the advantage more often than we did. It was random and yet clearly gave an advantage to a particular team. Factors like this play a huge role in determining why K/D seems to matter more than win percentage to most committed players of shooters.

KD Ratio meme

Another huge factor in why players tend to ignore the objective is the rewards system in these games. Rogue Company, like most shooters of this sort, has player levels. You amass experience based on your accomplishments and that experience levels up your account. Leveling up presumably has some benefit, but as this was an alpha, I don’t know what the particular benefits will be in this particular game. I assume it will be similar to most other shooters by being a mix of cosmetic options, avatars, and titles. There is of course always the prestige of having a higher level as well. Experience is given based on accomplishments but kills always net more than completing the objective in these games. Completing the objective may be the stated purpose of the game but the experience points given to the individual player for completing the objective never compares to racking up kills. So if you’re a player that cares about leveling up your account, it is the objectively correct decision to focus on getting more kills rather than completing the objective. Again acknowledging the fact that killing off the other team will get you a win even if you ignore the objective completely.

Ignoring the objective becomes the standard of play because it’s always profitable. This is so common that playing for the objective becomes a taboo. This was definitely the case in Rogue Company. As I said, I play for the objective. It’s what I like to do. It’s the reason I play that mode in these types of games in the rare instances that I do play them. I was criticized multiple times during the alpha for trying to prioritize the objective. People would take the time to jump on their mics or text chat to tell me to stop going for the objective and just focus on killing. That angered me, but I understood their reasoning behind it. The truth is that by being the only person on the map playing for the objective, I tended to die first fairly often. But let’s unpack that a bit. Seven of eight players on a map ignoring the objective and one playing for the objective and getting criticized for it should not be seen as acceptable from a game design standpoint. Why even make an objective mode if 87% of players are just going to ignore it anyway? Because there are simply too few players like me who will risk victory for love of the game. What should have happened was not that my three team mates criticized me for pursuing the objective but instead cover my ass so that I can get the objective before the other team does. That’s the intended way to play. But it’s not the common way people play.

greed is goodIt’s very telling when you look at the scorecards from the matches I played. It was extremely common to see something like me with the lowest score on my team but with the most objective completions while the person with highest score on my team would have zero objective completions but the most kills. It’s no wonder most players ignore the objective and I can’t blame them for that. But this, in my opinion, should be considered bad game design. Yes the gameplay loop is fun. Yes the combat is balanced. Yes the round to round character development system is well made. But if more than 2/3 of your players are flat out ignoring the gameplay methodology you’ve built into the mode then it’s a badly designed mode. And that’s not a knock against Rogue Company specifically. That’s a criticism of all these shooters. Because they all tend to have this same issue. So my question is how do “we” fix this?

There has to be a way for a developer to create an objective mode in a shooter that has a fulfilling gameplay loop, meaningful objectives, and encourages people to actively prioritize completing the objective(s) over mindlessly killing the other team regardless of the objective being completed. I don’t know what that looks like. I don’t know if it’s already been done, because I don’t play every shooter. But I do know that this is something that I’ve never witnessed before.

Overwatch-XP-ScreenI’ve got some ideas. Maybe completing the objective should net the individual player way more points. Like 10x that of a single kill. Or maybe the game shouldn’t let anyone get killed permanently until the objective is completed. Or maybe if the round is ended without the objective being completed everyone gets zero points or at least severely reduced points. I don’t know the answer but I do believe there’s a way to make a meaningful objective mode in a team based shooter where people on both teams actively care about the objective more than getting kills. But then we have to ask the question does it matter?

If 87% of players will happily ignore the objective in a game, maybe the answer is to stop building objective modes in these games. Clearly people don’t care about them. But is it that they simply aren’t made to be meaningful enough or that most players genuinely don’t want them but play in that mode for some other reason. Maybe they prefer the maps for example. In Rogue Company the objective mode maps were much more interesting than the one straight slayer map that was available. There is a risk that making an objective mode where players have to actually play for the objective could backfire on the developer. People might say they don’t like actually having to take the objective seriously and ultimately not play the mode. This is a real risk to be considered. But I believe that there’s a way to do it successfully. I believe that players will change their conduct when motivated to do so in an effective and meaningful way.

Rainbow-6-SiegeI don’t know if what I’m looking for in a team based shooter already exists. It may have been here for years and I just don’t know about it because of how rarely I play shooters. Maybe that’s exactly what Rainbow Six Siege is and I just don’t know about it. In any case, I want a team based shooter with Rogue Company’s fast paced gameplay loop with an objective mode that actively motivates players to take the objective seriously. Until then I’ll probably keep ignoring team based shooters with no story mode.

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Let’s Take a Backlog Year

When I was a kid there were no backlogs. Games were released very sparingly with maybe one to two new releases every two to three months at best. And many of those releases were skippable. Holiday season was the time when the good games dropped. I still remember waiting for Christmas to get The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time (November 1998). This was a time when replaying games was not just common but the norm. There simply weren’t enough games to play. Not to mention that games were more expensive.

When I say more expensive what I really mean is that the prices didn’t drop. It’s fairly common to see a new release drop from $60 to $30 or less within a few months today. With the exception of Nintendo, it’s pretty much the norm. I bought Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order a month after it released for $16 in a holiday sale. Worth every penny and then some, by the way. We didn’t have those price drops when I was a kid. Games simply were the price they were. We also didn’t have weekly free games on Epic Game Store, monthly free games on PlayStation Plus, and so on. You bought or borrowed every game you played, the prices weren’t discounted much if at all, and there weren’t a ton of games to play. This meant that you were usually caught up on games you actually wanted to play, assuming you had the money or friends to borrow games from. It’s not like that anymore.

Epic Free GamesI often feel like we as gamers have become spoiled when it comes to the volume of games available to us these days. There are just so many great games to play releasing so often now. In 2020 we get Yakuza: Like a Dragon, Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot, Animal Crossing: New Horizons, Doom Eternal, Cyberpunk 2077, Nioh 2, Ghost of Tsushima, The Last of Us Part 2, Marvel’s Avengers, Watch Dogs: Legion, God & Monsters, and Romance of the Three Kingdoms XIV. That’s just 12 of the many AAA titles releasing this year. We can also be sure that most of them will either have additional content added or will take hundreds of hours to play at a minimum. Then there’s the many remakes/remasters coming as well such as Final Fantasy VII, The Wonderful 101, Resident Evil 3, and so on. We have well over one knock out game a month. There’s enough content to get every normal gamer through the year with games to spare.

ghost of tsushima
Cannot wait!

Not only are there plenty of new games to play this year but there are also all the games we still haven’t gotten to play. When I was a kid, we were waiting for the next release. “I have nothing to play” was a literal statement of fact. Not a metaphorical statement of preference based irony. I haven’t had nothing to play in a good 10 years. My backlog is so preposterous that I know I will never actually complete it. I have unplayed copies of Final Fantasy XV, World of Final Fantasy, The Surge, The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening Remake, Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor & War, The Witcher 2 & 3, Shadow of the Tomb Raider, and countless other AAA titles sitting in my backlog with the intention of playing them. And that doesn’t even account for the fact that my Black Friday/Christmas sale purchases from 2019 just arrived at the end of February adding all of this to my already preposterous backlog. That is to say that I have well over one AAA game a month at my disposal for the next several years without ever buying another game. And remember that this doesn’t include the countless indies I have and would like to play, doesn’t include the various freebies from Epic Game Store and PlayStation Plus, when I don’t already own them (looking at your Shadows of the Colossus and Sonic Forces) and doesn’t account for all the retro ports I never beat as a kid and would like to play available on Nintendo Switch Online.

 

PS Plus March 2020My backlog is quite large, but it’s not abnormal. I don’t know any gamers that aren’t backlogged. Pretty much every person I know that considers them self a gamer has accepted the fact that they will always be backlogged. Backlogs are like the US national debt. We as people have simply accepted it as part of life and though we may complain about it constantly we have no intention or putting in any serious effort or life changes to reduce it by a noticeable amount. Being a gamer means you simply are backlogged as a natural state of being these days. I believe that this is the first time in gaming history that we’re in a position where the industry can take advantage of that fact.

Let me preface the rest of this post by acknowledging that what I’m about to write is never going to happen. I’m aware of that fact. I have no delusions about the fact that this idea, though good and productive for all parties involved, goes against the status quo and would never actually happen. But I think it’s important to put it out there anyway.

Rainbow-6-Siege
Rainbow Six Siege

As I said, games used to be in limited supply and expensive. The prices couldn’t drop in order for larger publishers to remain profitable because they had a limited number of products and no additional revenue streams. Now we’re in the completely opposite situation. Not only are there so many games to play, but those games continue to be relevant with additional content for multiple years in the case of some games. Rainbow Six Siege is four years old and just broke its concurrent player record on Steam. Games last way longer now and have tons of additional revenue streams with things like DLC, expansions, microtransactions, and e-sports revenue. What this actually means is that a company can put out a game and continue to support that game for a long time and remain profitable without releasing a new game for quite some time. What if that became normal practice?

 

cyberpunk-2077
You can wait . . . unless coronavirus destroys the world.

People often complain about games getting delayed, such as Cyberpunk 2077, but there’s not really a valid reason to complain about those delays. As I’ve said, everyone is backlogged. You don’t need to play Cyberpunk 2077 today. You’ve almost assuredly got something else to play that you haven’t already beaten. You can also lean into online multiplayer in many games if you have absolutely no backlog to speak of, which is ridiculous. There are also plenty of free and older discounted games to take advantage of during the wait for a new release. Delays also mean a game gets more of its bugs worked out before launch. It means less patches required day one. It means less crunch time for the developers. There are lots of good things that come out of delays with very few bad things, unless a project ultimately gets cancelled because of a delay, such as with Scalebound (never forget). So generally I don’t have a problem with delays. So why don’t companies leverage all the time they need to get a game right from launch like they used to? I’m tired of large day one patches, broken games that need to be fully updated, and hearing about developers getting worked to death to make an arbitrary deadline. It’s simply not necessary when people can fill the time. Especially when you’re a company like Ubisoft where people can fill the time with other games already published by Ubisoft. Personally I’m nearing the end of Watch Dogs 2 and still need to play Assassin’s Creed: Origins & Odyssey. So the fact that Watch Dogs: Legion got delayed doesn’t faze me in the slightest bit. If anything it helps me.

Watch Dogs 2 Screenshot 2020.02.16 - 13.42.33.77
Finished Watch Dogs 2 just after writing this.

When you look at this year’s AAA lineup you can see a large amount of corporate representation. Just about every large publisher is putting out something noteworthy this year. And most of these will be long form games with DLC, games as service content, and or plenty of base content. So why do any of them need to release another big game in 2021? What if instead every publisher agreed to make 2021 a development year? All studios will not publish any games and will instead allow all developers to work without a 2021 deadline so they maximize the performance of their games that would have released in 2021. Why isn’t that a thing? All larger players agreeing to periodically take a year off releasing and just ride their current revenue streams, allowing studios more time and gamers a year to focus on their backlogs. This is the first time in history that taking a year off publishing new titles won’t break the larger players. With so many additional revenue streams available now, they don’t need to release new games as often as they do and can still remain profitable.

2020 releasesImagine what you could get done if you had an entire year where you were guaranteed that you wouldn’t miss out on any new games. How would that make you feel? What would you do with that time? You’d finally put some real work into your backlog. You’d revisit games you wish you had time to revisit. It could be a super productive time for many gamers. And people could save money for the next year of games.

Now obviously everyone wouldn’t care for this. Indie studios that can barely keep their doors open couldn’t take a year off like this and shouldn’t. Streamers that focus on new games at release would be starved for content, which isn’t really a concern of mine but it is something that should be acknowledged. Also let’s not forget that the PS5 and XBOX Series X are scheduled to release at the very end of 2020 so them not releasing any games in 2021 specifically is a tall order. But that’s a specific situation that doesn’t happen every year. So focus on the concept rather than the specific dates.

XBOX Series XAgain, this won’t happen. Too many powerful people would complain too much about a year off with no additional revenue streams being added to the mix. And too many whiny gamers that don’t want to work on their backlog would take to the internet with change.org petitions and angry Reddit posts. Changing the status quo is hard. Changing the status quo when it will reduce profits, even if only temporarily, is nearly impossible. But I think it’s important to note that for the first time in history, such a thing could be comfortably implemented without a required lapse in total gameplay hours for consumers and without AAA game companies having to suffer real losses from not releasing for a year. The only scenario where a company really loses is if they were already gold and ready to launch because that would mean idle time for that studio where no work is actually getting done. But something as radical as an entire year devoted to backlog play would be coordinated in advance so studios shouldn’t end up in that situation in most cases.

Deserve a VacationI think the idea of granting a year of gaming furlough to both consumers and developers would be a good thing. I think there would be many positive benefits to it, including the fact that gamers would be that much more appreciative of new games after having to wait an additional year to play them. People wouldn’t be nearly as critical when they spent a year playing only older games.

What would you do with a backlog year? Would you be able to keep yourself occupied or would you have absolutely nothing to play? Would you appreciate the time to catch up with older stuff and save money or is it a non-issue for you?

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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.

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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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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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.

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.

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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.

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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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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.