Archive for the ‘anthem’ category

The Failure of Destiny and Hopes for Anthem

May 19, 2018

I’ve been trying to finish Kingdoms of Amalur before posting again (great game but huge! You kind of reach a point where playing it feels like work) but as I browse Reddit and general gaming blogs (and their comments sections) some kind of post inspiration happened. Or at very least, I felt something akin to wanting to share opinions.

Now that my 3 hours a week of gaming time (and my high pressure customer service job) restricts me to single player games almost exclusively, I’ve become a pretty, um, dedicated Bioware fan. To where sometimes I feel I should rebrand the blog. Or rather, I probably would rebrand the blog if I logged into WP more than once every few months. Anticipating upcoming releases is new territory for me, but Bioware’s next title, Anthem is getting a lot of attention. I mean, beyond the fact that its getting pushed back so much that at this rate, the company is going to run out of money before release and we’ll never have good story games ever again. /dramatic

What I want to get to, though, is that I keep seeing the same statement from my fellow Mass Effect and Dragon Age fans: “I’m not excited about Anthem because I don’t like first person shooters nor multiplayer. That’s why I’ve never played Destiny.

This hits home because a few months (a year? dammit, where does the time go?) ago, I would have said the same thing. In fact, I did say almost that, just with my usual eternal optimist twist. I don’t like strangers in my games, first person isn’t my thing, you can’t fit a good story into a multiplayer shooter, blablabla.

Then I played Destiny 2.

And I liked how the game handles solo play vs co-op vs PvP. Well, I never tried the PvP element, but that’s what I liked. It was never forced on me and there was no sense of missing out by not PvPing. I didn’t even mind the first person playstyle. I would have had more fun in third (strangely enough, this was the first time I really enjoy playing melee in a game, and melee weapons give you a third person camera angle), but the weapons were so fun that playing in first was fine. (Besides, the demo video for Anthem makes it look like the game isn’t going to be in first anyway.)

Destiny, IMO, however, failed on two fronts:

1- The entire game feels like a fancy storefront for virtual colours. (To colour the gear of the first person character I rarely see.)

2- The writing is terribad. Like it reminds me of the low-budget 90s Saturday morning cartoons of my youth. Like it made Mass Effect Andromeda, in its sorely unfinished state, feel like a literary masterpiece. I mean, I’m not that picky about writing. I’ll critique complex writing (think original trilogy Mass Effect) and ignore “context writing” (think World of Warcraft or Skyrim). But with Destiny I could do neither. In fact, I didn’t level a third character because there’s no way I could sit through that garbage without wanting to scream at the game about how dumb it sounds. It wasn’t the story – I was fascinated by the story. It was literally the writing. I don’t know who was hired to do the dialogue and the lore, but it was such an obvious case of “I don’t give a shit, so here’s some cliche lines with a few insults to the player mixed in. Done. And if you want background info on anything, you can kiss my ass.”

This is an amazing opportunity for Anthem.

Destiny with good writing? PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE!!!

I know there’s a “that kind of gameplay doesn’t encourage storytelling” belief out there, but I assure you, I swear to you, Destiny could have included a rich, immersive, emotional experience. In fact, the setting actually encourages that. That’s why I was so angry about the writing. I wanted to role play my character, I craved good dialogue, I ached for deeper insight into the different aliens, I needed to build friendships and rivalries with the NPCs. The game could have offered all that but the writers said no. Or rather they said “forget everything you think you know” or some bullshit like that.

And let’s talk microtransactions.

Where (I felt) Destiny went wrong is that, if you make it through that awful storyline and are still playing, you can do a bunch of fetch quests and world events. These repetitive (but kinda relaxing, I have to admit) quests give you experience. After a certain amount of experience you get a lootbox which contains some dyes to colour your gear (which you rarely see anyway), maybe a new ship (which probably looks exactly like one of your other ships except this one might be faster, or have brighter colours or something) and if you’re lucky, you’ll get a ghost (which looks exactly like one of your other ghosts) that helps you find items on your fetch quests. Oh, and sometimes you’ll get a skin for a weapon you don’t own. All this junk takes up room in your inventory so you vendor/destroy it.

That’s it. That’s the game. An insufferable leveling process just to gain access to a giant, flashy advertisement that is somehow supposed to make you feel like buying more of those lootboxes.

The sad thing is that it probably works, since the devs seem to double down on pushing their game to be a storefront for useless items. WTF is wrong with people throwing money at this?

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mind microtransactions. Shit, League of Legends couldn’t take my money fast enough. But League of Legends had a good system. They didn’t charge me 100$ for the base game. Their lootboxes only gave me decent stuff. Decent stuff and only for champions that I owned. If I wanted something specific, I could outright buy it by paying a little more. And it didn’t really affect the gameplay, nor did the game revolve entirely around collecting for lootboxes.

I had no problems buying cute pets or cool mounts in WoW. Especially since they made great gifts. And while Dragon Age: Inquisition didn’t have any microtransaction, I would have gladly handed over 10-15$ for some extra gear skins. There is a risk here, if the base game’s cosmetics are so bad that you need to buy new ones to enjoy the game, you’ll get angry fans (and let’s face it – for a game that was all about beautiful scenery, the playable characters and gear skins were pretty sad), but if the base game is good enough and the purchasable looks are for diehard players looking for some refreshment, I think it can go over quite well. I know that by my third playthrough, I would have paid good money to have my characters wear something other than the Skin That Stalks. And in Mass Effect 3, I would have happily paid for nicer casual wear.

So microtransactions, and even random lootboxes, can be implemented in ways that enhance the game instead of taking away from it.

The Bets Are On

Being a Bioware fan that gave Destiny as try, I totally believe that Anthem can deliver where Destiny failed. The gameplay and setting are fun and workable, believe me! Bioware aims to create story-first games while Bungie makes it clear that story is just a chore for them. It’s always possible that Bioware falters – Mass Effect 3 was a series of good ideas that weren’t well connected to each other (and really crashed and burned at the end), DAI had great moments separated by extensive flower picking, MEA was…not finished – but no matter how badly they trip up, the writing will still be more engaging and satisfying than Destiny, in a way that “a little bit” is more than “nothing”.

As for lootboxes and other “the 100$ you paid for this game isn’t enough” items, it could go either way. EA, with their ever increasing spite toward their customers, could think up ways to make microtransactions even more detestable. Anyone hear more about those live services? What does that even mean? Are they going to force us all to get monthly subs a few months after the game comes out if we want to keep playing it?

On the other hand, the goal of Anthem is longevity (aiming for 10 years of TLC as per interviews with the dev leads). To achieve that, they need a business model that is sustainable (ie doesn’t piss off players). So while microtransaction are unavoidable, there’s hope yet that the development team uses their immense talent and creativity to sell products that are pleasant bonuses to, rather than center points of, the game.

Will You Pre-Order?

I’ve been swinging back and forth on this for the past year. I know that love it or hate it, I’ll buy the game and play it thoroughly so it only makes sense to pre-order, pre-download and enjoy whatever pre-order bonus I get. On the other hand, I feel like buying games before honest(ish) reviews are released just contributes to the current trend of half-assed triple A games. So it boils down to my greed and impatience vs my idealism for the video game industry.

In the end, the scale will tip one way depending how good the pre-order bonuses are and how slimy “live services” are expected to be.