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Somehow this weekend I found myself back in The Elder Scrolls Online. A random YouTube video triggered my desire to log in and once I did I remembered there’d been some big changes since I last played. One of those was the new Skill Adviser, a system intended to help players spend skill points as they level up.

One of TESO’s biggest barriers up until this point was that you could really gimp your character if you didn’t get the build right. As a newbie, the best way to avoid that was to do some research on the web to find a build put together by an advanced player and follow that. It’s what I did and honestly it wasn’t all that fun, but it did work.

The Skill Adviser [hereafter, SA], I assumed, was Zenimax’s way to obviate the need to turn to the web.

I decided to take it for a spin. I was playing on Xbox where I didn’t have any capped characters or high-level characters so I was, I thought, a good proxy for a new player. I did have a level 29 Stamina Templar and I started there. I reset his skill points and dove into the adviser.

For each class they offer 5 builds: a “newcomer” build, a Stamina DPS, a Magica DPS, a Tank build and a Healer build. The “newcomer” build for Templar is based on Magica and I didn’t want to reset my attribute points, and as rusty as I was I didn’t want to go Tank, so I chose the Stamina DPS build.

I have to say, it was a struggle. The build had you take just one self-heal and it was the one (sorry, I forget the name) that relies on having corpses laying around. My SA-specced StamPlar did fine fighting crowds of above ground mobs (I should note that all my testing has been done solo and outside of dungeons) but when a story quest led me to a 1 on 1 fight with a powerful opponent and no trash mobs to leech health from, I was doomed unless I had plenty of room to kite (the build pushes you towards dual wield and bow). I fought one end-of-mission boss (in a confined area) a dozen times before rage-quitting the mission. Finally I went ‘off plan’ and put a couple points into healing skills so I could self-heal and started doing MUCH better.

My assumption is that the Stam Templar DPS build it intended for group play with a healer. Or possibly for more advanced players who have access to better gear, better food and better potions.

My next test was a level 8 Dragonknight. I re-specced him and started following SA Dragonknight Tank build. Seems a natural fit. I almost immediate ran into problems where the SA was telling me to take skills I hadn’t unlocked yet. Further I never would unlock them because it never told me to take skills from the same line with lower requirements (which would cause that skill line to grow until the one it wanted me to take unlocked). I ditched that one quickly.

For my 3rd and final test I rolled a new character, a Nightblade, and followed the ‘newcomer’ build. It had me go Magica and so far this build is WEIRD but is working well. I’ve held my own against world bosses (can’t solo them but don’t get pancaked immediately) and delve bosses are no problem. I’ve had fights that have been a struggle but not an over-whelming struggle. More of “OK that didn’t work, let’s try another tactic” struggle, which are so satisfying when your new tactic works.

So why is it weird? At level 20 I have not put a single point into a weapon skill or an armor passive. Everything has gone into the Nightblade skill trees, including passives. One passive rewards wearing heavy armor so for now that’s what I’m doing, which seems crazy right? I’m running dual-wield on the front bar mostly because aesthetically it fits the combat style (a lot of nightblade skills are based on stabbing and such). So here is a magica-based, plate-wearing dual-wield ninja, teleporting into combat, then vanishing from sight and hitting again with a stun. Very mobile build…in heavy armor. On my back bar I put my single buff and my single dot (the other slots being dupes of the front bar for now) and I’m using a Restoration Staff (what?) that has a mana leech ability. Basically if I run low on mana I switch over to the staff to leech some from the target, but most of my time is on the front bar.

At some point I’ll go off-plan since I have like 7 skill points I can’t spend yet since I’m waiting for my class-abilities to level up enough to use them. But I’m waiting to see how far I can get just following the SA.

I have been told that at level 40 you get a free respec coupon as a level up reward. Based on my findings and that fact, I think the “intended” way to use the Skill Adviser is to start a new character, follow the “Newcomer” build to level 40, and then if desired switch to a more focused build. By that time all your class skill lines will be leveled up (as well as whatever weapons you’ve chosen to use). I also think we need to take the name literally: this is a Skill ADVISER not a skill dictator. If you feel like you need a skill that isn’t “advised” be willing to bend the plan to your needs.

I mean, that’s just a guess. We’ll see. Given the 4 year anniversary event going on, leveling is super fast (you get a 100% experience buff). You now get ‘level up rewards’ and at low levels you get a lot of gear that is +exp as well. I created my new character Saturday evening and hit 20 by end of day Sunday…I’m going to guess 6 hours total play time maybe? And I wasn’t really hurrying, just playing the game and enjoying the ride.

Poor Far Cry 5 got kicked to the curb during all this, but as a single player game it’ll wait. I’m really enjoying this 100% exp buff ride so I think I’ll stick with ESO for the next week until the event ends.

I tuned into one of these “Show of the Week” features that gaming YouTube channels like to do, and one of the hosts was talking about Far Cry 5. He wasn’t finding it very fun. He said he felt like he had a good handle on the game as he’d been playing for 5 or 6 hours and had cleared the first area.

I’ve been playing Far Cry 5 as well, and I’m having a lot of fun. I have also cleared the first area. The difference is, I’ve put 25 hours into the game so far. Clearly this YouTuber and I approach the game in very different ways, which got me thinking.

When I play an open world game, I just kind of let events sweep me along. I tend to avoid shortcuts like fast travel and so as often as not when I’m heading from point A to point B to do a quest, I’ll get distracted four or five times along the way. To me, that’s where the fun in these games lies. This is probably also why I’m not too fussed about if the story is any good. I know the micro-stories that come with side missions have made me laugh out loud at times, and moved me at others. But the ‘big story’ is almost incidental to me.

Other times I’ll jump in a car to go somewhere and a good song will be playing on the car’s radio so I’ll just joyride around for a while, listening to the music and watching the world whiz by.

I’m not claiming to be playing these games the “right” way and accusing this YouTuber of playing them wrong. I’m just playing them my way. I almost always ‘roleplay’ to some extent when I’m gaming. I just like to imagine I’m in some real world as much as possible.

So while I was pondering all this, my mind went back to my MMO days. I remember having heated discussions about fast travel in MMOs. I was against it, most people were for it. Most people felt like fast travel was a real convenience and not having it was disrespectful of a player’s time. I thought that forcing players to travel through the world was a good way to keep them immersed in the world, as well as keeping the scale of the world large.

History has shown that my opinion was the less popular one but deep down inside I still think I was right and one of the reasons MMOs don’t seem to be as ‘sticky’ any more is that they have so many convenience features that they no longer feel like virtual worlds. That said, as I’ve more or less abandoned MMOs I no longer care very much. These big open worlds that the game press loves to hate on are my bread and butter these days and have replaced MMOs for me.

Anyway, I feel bad for this YouTube fellow who is apparently plowing through Far Cry 5 as quickly as he can. I think he is missing out. For me, all the best times I’ve had have come from side quests, exploring and random encounters and for him to have taken down the first lieutenant inside of 5 or 6 hours, he must be ignoring all that good stuff. I dunno, maybe he has a review due. Nothing can ruin a game more than playing it with a deadline looming over your head.

I had yesterday off and spent an inordinate amount of time playing Far Cry 5 (something like 12 hours). Not enough to do a ‘review’ but enough to debate/debunk some of the negative reviews I’ve seen, so I wanted to do that.

Far Cry 5 is, duh, part of the Far Cry series. While it may not be true of the earliest Far Cry games, the last few have been wacky. Far Cry 5 is wacky too. So when you read reviews saying the story is no good or the developers squandered an opportunity to make a meaningful political statement, just understand that reviewer doesn’t play Far Cry games. If you DO and you enjoy them, you’ll enjoy Far Cry 5. Faulting Far Cry 5 for this is like faulting a Saints Row game for not having a serious story.

Mind you, there ARE some political jabs in there. For example an audio recording of someone running for mayor on a platform of keeping out Canadians. His plan is to build a border wall and move it 1″ north every year until Canada is part of the US “again.” Same rant talks about ketchup chips in the way some other politicians talk about tortillas. It’s ridiculous, I found it funny, and it is easy to walk away from.

I just feel like some outlets are going out of their way to find fault with the game. For instance Eurogamer had a problem with the fact that both sides of the conflict are made up of a diverse group of people, saying it “feels like a careful sanitising of the subject matter.” This is why I’d never be a game developer. If you don’t include a mix of races and genders you get accused of racism or sexism, if you do include a diverse population you get accused of sanitizing.

I’ve seen some odd blowback on micro-transactions which is RIDICULOUS. In this case it’s mostly journalists saying they are no big deal and gamers getting frothed up about how evil they are. In Far Cry 5 you’ll encounter shops to buy weapons and vehicles. Everything can be purchased with in-game money that you get from fallen enemies, completing quests, cracking safes and the like. Some of the more expensive items have the OPTION of buying them with “silver bars.” You can actually find silver bars in-game, or if you prefer you can purchase them with real money. Thing is, the in-game costs aren’t crazy anyway. The most expensive thing I can recall seeing was something like $7,000 and by the end of my day of playing I think I had $12,000 in my account, and that’s with buying lots of stuff and not making any concerted attempt to earn/save. It’s also worth noting that as you play you unlock better and better tiers of gear and you have to have stuff unlocked to buy it.

In other words if for some reason you have a stick up your ass about some other gamer buying Far Cry 5 and spending real money on the best weapon in the game the minute he starts playing…he can’t. He’d have to unlock it first. And since it is primarily a single player game why do you care anyway?

Some reviews talk about the bugs and this is a legit concern. There are some glitches here and there, and the sound in particular goes wonky now and then (where everyone sounds like they are talking to you through a tin can) but this is typical launch day jank stuff and doesn’t impact gameplay much. But for example I encountered a civilian driver burning out in reverse with the car’s front wheels apparently locked up and he just did that, creeping backwards down the road, until I got bored of watching him. It was just a random NPC so it had no impact, it was just weird. And honestly kind of amusing.

Anyway, I don’t want to write a huge wall of text about this, but I want to assure you that if you’ve enjoyed Far Cry 5 games, you’re probably going to enjoy this one too. There’s that same carefree sense of madness that we’ve come to expect where shit is blowing up and on fire and suddenly a wolverine charges into a firefight and changes the dynamic and all the while regular people come flying down the road in their cars and try to thread their way through the burned out husks of cult cars and ATVs as if it’s just a typical day of Sunday traffic.

It’s fun. I played it for 12 damned hours on day 1 and can’t wait to get back at it.

(For whatever reason, the audio on this clip is out of sync, but that’s an issue with the clip, not experienced in the game itself.)

This still isn’t my post about why I don’t like Sea of Thieves. Maybe that post will never get written. Heck I’ll just summarize:

I like how gorgeous the game is.
I like the sailing model…perfect balance of ‘game’ and ‘reality’ IMO

Everything else I don’t like.

OK with that out of the way… I’m not sure why I’m so obsessed with a game I don’t like. I think mostly it is because Microsoft has been ramming it down my throat for months (probably not down your throat unless you’re an Xbox gamer who follows Xbox folks in your social medias). I was really hyped for it because I’m a good little drone, and then it sucked ass and I can’t let it go.

For that reason I still hate-follow the game. A lot of conversation has been around the nature of the community. Is it toxic? Is it great? Depends on who you are and what you like. But one argument suggesting that the community is exactly what it should be keeps coming up: the name. In response to complaints about getting thrown into the brig as soon as you spawn into a game, or having the turn-in NPCs camped by bigger crews, or other disruptive behavior, I keep seeing some variation on “The game is called Sea of Thieves, this is exactly how it should be played.”

I find this kind of interesting. If the game had been “Fantasy Sailing Adventure” would the current behavior suddenly be not-OK? Did Rare deliberately market-research a name that would pull in the griefers? I don’t THINK so. One of my frustrations with Sea of Thieves is that in all their marketing interviews Rare paints a picture of a fun adventure game where you can go anywhere and do anything and all kinds of play are supported. They’ve also talked about their strategies for combating toxic behavior (spoiler: the brig is one of those and we can see how badly it has failed).

I still hope that some day Rare offers “private servers” or a PvE-only mode. Let me fire up a session that only my friends can join. I have no interest in being the ‘prey’ for a crew of players bored and looking for something to do. Of course without the PvP there’s not much to hold a player’s interest since there is no meaningful progression and the quests are fairly repetitive. Maybe what Rare really should do is sell the engine to a developer that knows how to make an actual game. And they can call it “Sea of Faux-Pirates Who Should Not Gank” or something like that.

Game Pass is Microsoft’s “Netflix for Games” service that gives you access to a bunch of games (169 currently) for $10/month. When I bought my Xbox One X, it came with a 1 month free trial of the service which I’ve been sitting on. This week Sea of Thieves launched and MS stuck it into Game Pass, so I decided it was time to cash in that free month.

Sea of Thieves is a bust for me — but that’s a post in and of its own self — so I dove into the Game Pass library to see what else was on offer. There’s a lot of filler but there are some pretty good titles in there too, stuff like Gears of War 4 and Halo Wars 2. I’ve been downloading a ton of different games and it’s been fun to have a gaming buffet to sample from. That’s the good news.

The bad news, for me because I’m weird, is the subscription fee. In the same way that when I used to subscribe to MMOs I’d have this sense of a clock ticking all the time, I feel the same way with Game Pass. I feel like I should be playing the Game Pass games because I’m paying for it (even though technically I haven’t paid a cent yet and even if I was, it’s $10/month, not exactly bank-breaking). I’ve been finding myself playing games that are “OK” just so I could get some use out of Game Pass, instead of playing games I absolutely adore (Assassin’s Creed Origins, I’m looking at you) but own outright.

The other downside is that the games feel really disposable. As soon as I hit a point that frustrates me or bores me the tiniest bit, I toss that game aside and move on to something new since I have no investment, either fiscal or emotional, in that title. It isn’t a game I’d been looking forward to or had spent money on, it’s a game I’m playing because it was ‘free’. (I realize this is in direct opposition to my first point about money spent and the clock ticking…none of this is based on logic.)

I think in future I’ll dip into Game Pass now and then. When there is a game that I really want to play in the service, I’ll subscribe and play it via Game Pass because why not? Assuming a game is $60, there are very few games I play for more than 6 months so Game Pass will be the cheaper option. In other words, subscribe for a specific title or titles rather than for the library of games in general.

Of course having said that, they’re adding City Skylines in April and that is a game I’ve wanted to try on the Xbox (or PS4) so I’m glad my subscription will be active when that arrives. Then in May State of Decay 2 comes to Game Pass (and Xbox in general) and I’m looking forward to trying that, too. So for both April and May there are games that should make the subscription worth having.

Until then, I have enjoyed revisiting, briefly, some games I played in yesteryear — stuff like Fable II and Darksiders — so I don’t have any real regrets. I guess I’m just sharing my weird reaction to having a “Netflix for Games” and it’s really strange because when it comes to actual Netflix, which I also subscribe to, I never feel that tug of “I NEED to watch stuff on Netflix because I’m paying for it.” I’ll watch what I feel like watching no matter where it is.

I guess the difference is that in a given month you can watch dozens of TV shows and movies and some are bound to be on Netflix, but games take a lot longer to play, so in any given month I’ll only play a couple. It’s much more likely that a month will pass without me touching a Game Pass game than it is that a month goes by and I don’t watch anything on Netflix, particularly if I’m really invested in some particular non-Game Pass title.

In fact I have Far Cry 5 pre-ordered and it drops on Tuesday so it’ll be interesting to see if I play anything from Game Pass once that arrives.

Microsoft loves reward programs. Every day I log in to earn my Microsoft Reward Points that I can use to buy random things, mostly Xbox things. I paid for my current year of Xbox Live using Microsoft Points. There’s an offshoot of MS Points called Xbox Live Rewards. Every month they offer “Missions” to undertake in order to earn points. One of their recurring missions is “Freedom Rewards” where you earn points by playing (or buying stuff for) Free-To-Play games. This month I decided to try to earn those points. I have to play 3 different Free-To-Play games for 5 hours each. If I do I’ll earn 1000 points which is like $1. So more a ‘thing to do’ than a ‘way to get rich.’

Anyway that’s what brought me to Crossout. It’s a Free-To-Play game on PC/Xbox/PS4 that centers around building armed cars and then fighting in them. The car building stuff reminds me of Banjo Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts a little bit. You start with a frame and a cabin then add wheels, fenders, paneling, bumpers, weapons (or course) and stuff like radar or extra engines. Of course you have to have the parts to build with, and you need to earn/buy those parts, so everyone might have a different box of parts to build from.

Building is kind of fiddly with a controller but is probably really fun on PC with a mouse. I mean, it’s fun on console aside from sometimes feeling like you’re fighting the UI. You have a power limit that is based on the cabin (plus some parts add power) and then things like weapons drain power. Armor adds weight. At the start of the game you’re basically driving cars/trucks but later you can get tracks, legs and even hover-engines. Everything you add to your car adds to its points value, and when you match-make into a round you’re supposed to be grouped with cars of a similar points value to keep things reasonably fair.

Once your car is built (and there are pre-made blueprints that will auto-build something if you don’t want to bother) you’re off to battle. There are ‘patrol’ missions that are you and other players vs AI, but the rewards for those are pretty meager from what I’ve seen. The meat of the game is in PvP battles which are usually “take over the enemy base or kill everyone” fights. There’s no respawning but a match only lasts a few minutes.

As you dish out and take damage, trying to drive and aim at the same time, parts fly all over the place. It is possible, and even advisable, to shoot out the tires of an enemy, or shoot the machine guns off their car. Ramming works, too. The combat is fun mayhem. Empty enough bullets into the cabin of an enemy and they’ll blow up. Later on you get flamethrowers and buzz-saws and all kinds of crazy looking stuff.

It’s a game I might have played well past the 5 hours I needed to tick off a checkbox on Xbox Live Rewards aside from one thing: the Free-To-Play aspect really holds it back. Progress is super slow at the start. You can earn a handful of common parts (which are rated like MMO loot: common, uncommon, rare, exotic, etc) but there’s no obvious way to move up to better gear outside of a LOT of grinding for common parts to sell for pennies (the marketplace is player-driven) in order to finally amass enough gold to buy what you want, or from opening your real-world wallet to purchase a Starter Pack. OK in fairness I should qualify that: if there’s a better way to climb up into a better tier of parts, I haven’t found it yet.

Well, in theory you CAN craft stuff but to do that you have to pay in-game cash to rent a workbench, and you need copper which you only earn from “Raids.” Raids are a special type of PvE mission that costs Fuel to enter. 20 Fuel per Raid. You get 100 Fuel per day. Of course you can buy more with real money. Each Raid you do gives you a few units of Copper, at least at low levels. Maybe it gets better later. Point being, you need to do a lot of Raids to get the Copper to craft, and you need to sell a lot of junk to rent the workbench. Or you can open your wallet to buy these resources, of course.

So now I’m forced to decide if I want to spent money on the game, or just move on. I think I’m going to move on. I’ve enjoyed my time so far but I can see where the thrill of the combat will start to fade, and the matches are all the same. There aren’t many maps to fight on, at least that I’ve seen. Maybe more unlock later. But I just feel like every path is blocked by the lack of some resource that I could in-theory earn by playing a LOT, or that I could spend real money to buy. They’re clearly trying to frustrate you enough to get you to spend.

I dunno, I just keep thinking “If I could pay $60 and get a full game to play, I would love this.” but it just feels to nickle & dimey to me. Heck if I knew a 1-time purchase of a $20 Starter Pack would kick-start me into the better goodies, I might even do that. But I just fear I’ll spend $20 today and next week will have to spend another $20 to keep going.

Still, for a game that costs nothing to get started in, it’s a great time for a few hours until you start yearning for fancier gear. No harm in giving it a download and trying it out.

It took me 4 months and a little over 60 hours, but I finally finished the main story of Assassin’s Creed Origins. Now before I wind up mis-representing the game, I should point out that the average time to beat the main story is 26.5 hours, according to howlongtobeat.com. I’ve often mentioned that I’m a slow-paced gamer and this is a perfect example.

It took me so long because first, I rarely used fast travel. I found the world so enjoyable to travel around that I generally opted to get from A to B by horseback or boat (or even running). Second, for a long time I was picking my quests by level rather than following a storyline. That caused me to ping-pong back and forth across the map (and I think it took away from the story since it all got fragmented at times…I wouldn’t advise playing this way). I did a lot of side quests and activities too (though not all…yet). Howlongtobeat says 47.5 hours for “main and extras” which is closer to my time.

One of the best post-launch decisions Ubisoft made was to add enemy scaling. This is optional but it’s a good way to remove the pressure to do side-quests before you ‘out level’ them (which was what led to my ping-pong playstyle). With scaling on, if you’re level 35 and doing a level 20 quest, the enemies will be level 33-35-ish, though unfortunately the rewards don’t scale up.

ACO has been my ‘comfort game’ recently. It’s the game I boot up when I just want to relax, explore, gawk at gorgeous visuals, and not stress out too much. I’m playing on the Normal difficulty with enemy scaling turned on and it’s a pretty easy game. If you decide to play and relish a challenge I’d bump up the difficulty a bit.

What’s really surprising to me is that even after finishing the story, I’m not tired of the game. Not in the least. I still have tombs to explore, side quests galore, treasures to plunder and of course the first DLC (The Hidden Ones) is already out and the 2nd is coming out this month. In fact it’s the DLC that caused me to decide to finish the story…I just didn’t want to get too far behind.

So yeah, this game is pretty special to me. Now granted I’m one of the few among my social circles that enjoys Assassin’s Creed games. I’ve finished all but the first. And I enjoy Ubi games. ACO feels different from other AC games; they’ve removed some of the more annoying mission types (like the ones where you have to follow a couple of NPCs while staying hidden) and they’ve added a ton of loot and RPG aspects. In fact it’s such an RPG now that the DLC raises the level cap.

From a purely AC stand-point, this isn’t my favorite AC game since the history they’re covering is not well known to me. One of the most fun aspects of AC games is the Forest Gump angle, where you’re an assassin involved with famous people and events we’re familiar with. Hanging at the pub as Jacob Frye, paling around with Charles Dickens and Charles Darwin? Yes, please. ACO has Ceasar and Cleopatra and those were pretty much the only names I was really familiar with. Just not my era.

But from a GAME stand-point, I feel like ACO is the most accessible game in the series. You don’t have to be a history buff to enjoy it; it’s just a good solid adventure/rpg. If it’s your first AC game you’ll be a little confused by some of the references, but nothing that will spoil the story for you. And for fans of the series, it’s fun to see how this all started, though it’s all pretty dark, as befits the subject matter. Heck they even reveal the origin of the Assassin’s Symbol. 🙂

And now, I’m going to dive back in while I still have some weekend left.

I never planned it, but I guess I’ve become an Ubisoft fan, just based on the games I wind up playing a lot of. In 2017 I played to completion every major Assassin’s Creed game aside from the original. I also played through Far Cry 4 and quite a bit of The Division and Ghost Recon Wildlands. And this year I’ve finished up Far Cry Primal (to the point of getting the Platinum trophy on PS4) and I’ve been playing Assassin’s Creed Origins since launch. Last time I checked I’ve put 40 hours into that game without touching any of the DLC. I’m still really enjoying my time in Egypt with Bayek.

For a long time Ubisoft was up there on the “hated publishers” list with EA, but I don’t seem to hear as much vile directed at them lately. I wonder if they’ve managed to get off the list somehow? Or maybe I’m just not visiting the right (wrong?) sub-reddits/social media spaces.

I think that a lot of their problems originally stemmed from buggy releases, and they’ve definitely improved there. I think perhaps Assassin’s Creed Unity was their low spot (though to their credit, by the time I got around to playing, it ran fine). What’s weird, though, is most of their games have micro-transactions but they don’t draw a lot of ire for them. I’ll never understand why the mob will fault one game for some issue and give another game a pass for the same issue.

Now I’m not saying everyone suddenly loves Ubi games. They tend to be huge sprawling open world games (most of them, anyway) with more to do than is feasible for most gamers. These are games that tend to drive completionists crazy. I learned, during my AC sprint, that the games are designed to offer more than anyone needs to do. The idea (I mean, I haven’t talked to the designers, I’m assuming here) is to give the gamer a buffet of choices and let them pick and choose the activities they enjoy and ignore the ones they don’t. There’s enough content to earn/unlock/levelup everything multiple times in most Ubi games…they don’t intend for you to do everything.

Once I understood and embraced that, I started to really love these games.

Ubi seems to be doing a good job in the “games as service” space, too. They’re willing to stick with games over the long haul, improving and expanding on them. This seems to have started with Rainbow Six Siege, which didn’t make much of a splash when it launched at the end of 2015, but here we are in 2018 and it is still getting regular updates and has quite a loyal following. The Division is another example of a game that Ubi has continued to refine and improve upon. For Honor is an example of a game that is still a work-in-progress; it didn’t do well at launch last year, and while they’ve continued to work on it, it still hasn’t gotten to where it’s drawing people back large numbers of players yet. SThey haven’t abandoned it but it remains to be seen if they can turn that one around.

“Games as service” is not a term most gamers seem to embrace, but somehow Ubi seems to be making it work. It probably helps that a lot of the improvements are free. I’m not sure if Ubi is making revenue on the microtransactions I mentioned or if it’s just long-tail sales as word of mouth brings new players to the games (they still sell DLC for newer games but I think for the older titles all the upgrades are free). Or maybe they’re just taking short-term loses as a trade-off for improving their reputation.

Whatever the case, I’m digging Ubi games lately. I’m looking forward to Far Cry 5 next month and I hope they keep releasing DLC for Assassin’s Creed Origins.

The most recent Sword Art Online game dropped on Friday. I usually buy these games when they are deeply discounted but for some reason (maybe a bunch of credit in my Xbox account) I snagged Fatal Bullet at launch. From watching gameplay trailers, it looked like the love child of The Division and the Sword Art Online anime and those are both things I enjoy.

Generally I’ve been liking SAO: Fatal Bullet, except for one little detail. It’s going to sound petty, but this little detail is preventing me from playing as much as I otherwise would.

In Fatal Bullet, rather than playing as Kirito or one of his gang, you create your own character (who meets the Kirito crew in game). You also create a 2nd character, an AI companion. I made “me” male and my AI female. HUGE MISTAKE.

While you can choose a voice for your character (the game is voiced in Japanese only), the AI companion has a fixed voice, and OMG is it ever annoying. It’s that “let’s get an adult voice actor to do a 6-year old girl” voice that we all know from watching anime. I always find those voices annoying to begin with, but in Fatal Bullet your AI chatters constantly.

In combat, it shouts at every thing you do and everything thing that happens. Enemy appears? It shouts something. You killed a level 1 bug and you’re level 20? It pumps its fist and shouts. It shoots something? It shouts. You pick up a piece of trash loot? MOAR SHOUTING! It shouts so often that it is often shouting over itself. In other words, something triggers one shout and before it is finished whatever it is saying, something else triggers another shout and they play over each other. And all at the high-frequency, chalk-on-a-blackboard pitch that makes my teeth ache.

Even outside of combat it is constantly talking. You’re in town sifting through your inventory? The AI is next to you yammering on about something (there’re no sub-titles for all these shouts and burblings so I have no idea what she is saying).

God it drives me crazy! I generally turn off the game because I’m sick of her.

I probably should re-start and create a male AI, but I already re-started once after I named my AI something and found out everyone else in the game is going to call her Rei. I thought that was dumb so re-started and named her Rei. And the game starts really slowly. I fear if I re-start a 3rd time I’ll just bounce off it.

My only hope is that eventually you can change her voice, which would help some. As the game proceeds I’ve unlocked other changes you can make. You can change her “emotes” from “Bright” to something like “Stoic” or “Serious” and I thought they might help, but nope, it all sounds the same. I just unlocked the option to change her clothing. Maybe eventually I’ll be able to change her voice.

I tell you what, though. I’d pay $10 for DLC that did nothing other than let me shut up all her random nattering. I mean, all the characters talk in battle to some extent — this is pretty common in a lot of games with NPC companions — but for some reason they dialed the quantity up to 11 for your AI companion in Fatal Bullet.

So that’s my petty peeve to start the week. What’s yours? Ever have a game that you didn’t like because of some tiny, mostly inconsequential, detail? Or am I the only one this picky?

Once again the hive mind is in a tizzy about microtransactions, whipped into a frothing rage by gaming sites generating ad-revenue through manufactured drama.

The game is Metal Gear Survive, a game the mob was pre-disposed towards hating anyway because they think Hideo Kojima was treated badly by Konami so now Konami is way up at the top of the “game publishers we hate list.”

The issue in question is one of character slots. The game charges you the equivalent of $10 in their real-money currency to purchase character slots beyond the first one. People are losing their shit over this.

While I’m not going to condone this (or maybe I am, see below) I think it is taken out of context. There are very few reasons you’d need more than 1 character slot in this game. There are no classes and you can unlock everything on a single character. You can redesign your character at any time for free. There are no “A or B” decisions that would lock you out of options.

The only thing you can’t change is your character’s gender. So maybe some players would want both a male and a female character for some reason (there’s no difference in the two other than visuals…no romance options or anything like that).

So I can think of 3 reasons why you might want a 2nd character slot:
1) You want both a male and female avatar for some reason.
2) Two people want to play the game on the same system profile
3) You leave the game for a long time, come back and want a fresh start but want to save your old progress

If you really want a 2nd character and don’t want to pay, just create a new profile and use that. It takes just a few minutes to do. It’s trivial to side-step this microtransaction. It’s worth noting that you can delete an avatar to free up your 1 slot (not that case in all games…again, see below).

So why would I be in favor of it? MGS launched at $40. I have no way of knowing if this was part of the reason why, but if I had a choice of the game at $40 with paid extra character slots, or paying $60 and having a couple extra slots I’d never use, I’ll choose the $40 package.

So why did they do this at all? Only Konami knows for sure. This is one of those “always online” games so I assume it has something to do with data storage on their end (your data is stored on their servers). Y’know how Destiny limits the number of slots you can have, one for each class? Same thing, I’d imagine. Destiny just doesn’t offer you the opportunity to pay to unlock more.

Let’s talk about Forza Horizon 3 now. You get 1 character slot in that game, too. There’s no way to buy an extra one. There’s no way to delete the one you have (it is stored on the Forza servers). If you want to re-start FH3, the ONLY way to do that is to create a new profile. (I know this from personal experience, which is also why I have a second profile on my Xbox. I wanted to start over.)

You know how much controversy that generated? Zero.

So Metal Gear Survive offers options that Forza Horizon 3 didn’t offer, though they charge for them. More options apparently equals more controversy. Konami would have had fewer PR issues if they’d not even implemented extra character slots. To me, that seems backwards. Why are we punishing a company for offering more options?