Posted tagged ‘new games’

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.

Advertisements

Let’s React to the Mass Effect: Andromeda News (Or Anti-News)

August 23, 2017

After months of speculation, it was made official a few days ago: There are no planned future patches for single-player or in-game story content for Mass Effect: Andromeda.

While they say patches and not paid DLC, I think it’s pretty clear they mean single player content period. They elaborate: “we will continue to tell stories in the Andromeda Galaxy through our upcoming comics and novels, including the fate of the quarian ark.”

Kotaku’s Jason Schreier called it in May and again in June and is now probably enjoying the biggest I-told-you-so of his career. Anyway, his posts caused the fandom to erupt in a “Is it true? Is he right?” explosion that took Bioware what feels like forever to confirm or deny. I feel like at this point, they’re just accepting all publicity as good publicity.

Speculating on the Why

I browse the Mass Effect subreddit pretty often. The audience seems younger and less thoughtful than the Dragon Age subreddit, but there’s sporadic decent discussion and frequent fantastic fanart.

Regarding Andromeda DLC, there are plenty of (relatively) long posts about how the game under-performed, how it was mocked by early reviews and how troubled the development process was (a topic also explored in depth by Schreier – I don’t normally endorse “professional” blog-like sites because I rarely like them, but if everything Schreier wrote is true, then that was some excellent reporting. And if it’s all made up, well, it was still one of the most interesting things I’ve read all year.)

All factors which most likely influenced the decision to abandon single player (for the foreseeable future).

What isn’t mentioned nearly enough though, is the less dramatic but probably main issue: in comparison to single player, multiplayer is really freaking lucrative.

Content DLC calls for a giant boatload of people: writers, voice actors, cinematics, animators, programmers, sound crew, testers, etc. A huge machine to put or keep in motion. All that to produce a few hours of story and gameplay that will sell for 10-15$ per player.

In multiplayer, players will throw 10-15$ at the game, over and over, for weapons and cosmetic items that already exist. They do have to keep the game fresh, but – and I admit to knowing very little about game development – it seems to me that APEX mission development requires a fraction of the team needed for single player DLC. Plus, it seems that the multiplayer team is sailing along smoothly, while the key single player developers, those who hung on until the end, are probably still trying to unlive the past few years.

Speculating on the future of Mass Effect

Will there be another Mass Effect game?

Everyone seems to think so. (Even Schreier posted Reddit that he guesses something would happen in 5-6 years)

I assume the game direction options are: 1) a prequel to the original games, 2) a sequel to the original games, 3) Andromeda 2, 4) a non-RPG game in the Mass Effect universe (think Blizzard’s Hearthstone).

Option 4 is the safest option from a business perspective – just like the current multiplayer, a card, an arena style or a MOBA would bring in the dough with minimal effort and risk. As an RPG player, I think this idea sucks massive donkey balls.

Option 1, a prequel, has been considered, I believe. Something about a focus group that revealed that fans adamantly want a sequel and not a prequel. I’ve seen fans say they’d like to play in a prequel world as another species, but believe it would never happen because apparently the larger player base only wants to play humans. Me, I think playing a non-human is trivial compared to a prequel’s bigger problem: one of the major joys in Mass Effect is discovering an unknown world and not knowing what will happen to it. A Mass Effect in known surroundings leading to a known outcome doesn’t sound very fun. In my humble opinion, of course.

A sequel, Option 2, would force some sort of backtracking on the endings. The meaning was a clear “fuck it, we’re done and we’re going to mess up the universe so they can’t force us back”. They all guarantee to leave the galaxy in one of several unplayable states. (So this recent tweet from former project director Casey Hudson made me chuckle.) While I would love to play some kind of investigator/explorer part of a galaxy rebuilding team, Synthesis Galaxy is awful and Refusal Galaxy would just be the same story with a different face. Destroy and Control could be worked with as a what-if, I guess. Cameos of beloved characters would also be a pain since pretty much everyone has the potential of being dead.

Then, Option 3, ME:A2. Popular opinion seems to be that the Andromeda setting is toxic. I disagree. The Andromeda setting is awesome. Going to a different galaxy totally blew my mind. At least for the first hour or so. It had, and still has, tons of potential. The weaknesses in the writing: the pathfinder’s progression, the shallow squadmates and new species, the sub-optimal placing of plot twists and the general lack of inspiration are all more due to the chaotic development forcing the game being published before it was finished. The bones of the story were interesting, they were just given to us without enough meat to sate our hunger. ME:A2, with a proper development team, using the first Andromeda’s loose ends could potentially be a exceptional gaming experience.

As for a time frame, I actually find 5-6 years to be short. Look at Dragon Age: Inquisition, a game that did well. It was released in late November 2014 and closed with its last DLC less than a year later. It’s been almost 3 years and almost 2 years since Trespasser, and while the team has made it clear that they’re actively working on DA4, there’s no formal announcement and probably won’t be until Anthem is released in (tentatively) Fall 2018. Which would set a Dragon Age release in 2019 or 2020, 5-6 years after DA:I. So for a franchise that has taken as many blows as Mass Effect, I don’t think 5-6 years is a long time.

What About These Comics and Books?

I wonder how they could wrap up the Quarian Ark story in a satisfying way via books or comics. While I doubt most of us are really attached to the bulk of our choices in ME:A, designating “cannon” pathfinders would ruin what little sense of ownership we felt over the universe. The other option, dodging the problem by not involving any pathfinders in the Ark retrieval, would be very, very difficult to pull off (yay APEX rescues the Ark! ….ugggg).

As for already published Mass Effect literature, I haven’t felt inclined to read any of original trilogy media, however I’m told the Drew Karpyshyn books are outstanding. I have read Nexus: Uprising (from Andromeda) and enjoyed it. (The selling point was that one of the authors, Jason M. Hough, hung out in the Mass Effect subreddit and made some very relevant posts. He seemed like a cool guy so I decided to read his book. I don’t regret it.) Supposedly the next book features Cora’s past. I’ll wait until it gets reviewed before deciding whether or not to get it. Same for any other Andromeda books. I am pretty unlikely to read comics though, just not my thing.

Looks like a grim future for us Mass Effect fans (and for us RPG fans in general, if the market keeps it’s current direction), but what can you do?

Finally, Project “Dylan” is a Little Bit Revealed

June 13, 2017

I think I read somewhere that Bioware’s new game was originally codenamed Dylan because it aims to be the Bob Dylan of video games. I’m not sure exactly what that means, but no matter how you look at it, it’s quite ambitious.

Bioware is more of a trend follower (or adapter?) than a trendsetter these past years. I suppose that’s the downside of getting big: you can only react to current popularity, pro-activity is too risky. But maybe Bob Dylan wasn’t a trendsetter either. I don’t know, his peak was before my time. Maybe it just means the game will be poetic, have cryptic lines and produce a lot of content. Or more likely they hope it’ll still be making waves 50 years from now.

Anyway, Dylan was revealed to be called Anthem and somewhat confirmed speculations that the game would be similar to Destiny.

I’ve never really watched a video game trailer ever (except for ones at gaming conventions where I’m confused, have no idea what I’m looking at and totally embarrass myself if eager devs ask what I think), but I watched both of Anthem’s trailers. Then I watched about 2 hours of trailers for other games. Then I watched Destiny trailers a few times to see what all the comparisons are about.

Post-apocalyptic

I was expecting this. After all, post-apocalyptic is what all the cool kids are doing these days. That or zombies. But I feel like zombies are going out of style. (Much to my happiness. I hate zombies.)

The trailer doesn’t actually say the story takes place after a massive destruction, but you have a walled middle eastern/south asian-style medieval city with random sci-fi elements and overgrown ruins outside so post-apocalypse would be a pretty safe assumption.

I haven’t played Destiny so it’s hard for me to compare, but I understand that the main premise is about the same: a walled surviving city surrounded by a savage outside world. Destiny looks more space sci-fi, though, with aliens and travel to other planets, while Anthem promises lots about robot suits.

Robot Suits

Never been a fan of robot suits. But I was never a fan of saving the galaxy from ancient alien robots as a military character in a shooter game either. Then I met Mass Effect and fell in love. I think I enjoy a good narrative enough that with the right story, told the right way, I could fall head over heels for just about anything. (Except maybe zombies. Need to be convinced on that one. No, wait! Don’t.)

Am impressed about the flying and swimming. Especially the flying. Love flying.

Co-op and solo play

According to the trailers and interviews/tweets from devs, the game will be playable solo and as co-op with friends. Unclear whether there is the option to make new friends either through the hubs or via matchmaking, though I would expect there to be. I’m an associal asshole who complains whenever there are strangers in my game, but generally people stick around in a game more when they can make friends. Even I, in all my reluctance, got hooked to WoW for a decade that way.

PvP is not confirmed yet. Jonathan Warner (game director) made that very clear in his interview. I would be very surprised if there isn’t PvP, the PvP market is too big to ignore, but I do think they’ll take into consideration that their fanbase tends to be more solo and co-op oriented. I can see fun side-PvP like battlegrounds or arena multiplayer.

I’ve said for years (though not on this blog so if I’ve never ranted to you IRL about this, you’ll just have to take my word for it) that what SWTOR should have been is a primarily solo game where you could invite your friends into your game (I called it Diablo 3 style because Diablo 3 was the only game I knew of at the time that worked that way), and interactions with strangers take place in hub cities, not in the wild where they break your immersion, gank you, taunt you and/or steal your quest objectives. So if this is the direction Anthem ends up taking, I’m excited to see what comes of it.

Since Andromeda was relatively weak story wise, I am craving a game that can recreate the emotional experience I got with the original Mass Effect trilogy. I don’t think Anthem, as co-op and exploration heavy game will be able to do that (the co-op aspect alone would kill it for me, I need privacy to feel), but it’s ok. I’m sure Dragon Age 4 will (one day in the distant, distant future) deliver, and in the meanwhile, Anthem will be something fun Ed and I (along with maybe old gaming friends we’ve lost touch with?) can do together.

Still A Long Wait

It’s actually fun to be anticipating a game. I know it sounds weird, but it hasn’t happened to me very often. In past years, as a WoW blogger, I rarely ventured outside the realm of “things I did with my guild” and “this is how I did this thing with my guild”. I didn’t pay attention to other games unless someone put them in my face. Then I was living out of backpack for two years and technology was reserved for researching guesthouses and bus schedules.

I feel like I’m expanding my horizons, even if my horizons are, for the time being, just reinforcing how much of a Bioware fangirl I am.

But anyway, what’s the estimated wait time? Fall 2018 or something?

*sigh* That’s forever.