Jaded's Pub

The Elder Scrolls Online’s latest patch/DLC, The Dark Brotherhood, finally hit consoles this week and what a difference it has made for pack-rat crafter types like me. Why? Craft bags.

So what’s a craft bag? Basically it’s a container that holds all your crafting materials and makes them available to all characters. In other words it works like a bank for crafting materials only you don’t have to go to a bank to use it. And it’ll hold virtually unlimited amounts of stuff (the limit is somewhere in the millions of items).

The only “bad” news is that in order to put stuff into your craft bags, you need to be an ESO Plus Member. I know we all wish everything was free but ZOS has to make money and this seems like a perfect item to put behind a paywall. First, casual players probably have no use for craft bags; if you’re not heavily into crafting there’s no need for it. Second, if you’re playing and using the craft bags and you get distracted by another game you can cancel ESO Plus and still pull materials from your craft bag; you just can’t put more in. So just make a point of stocking up while paying and you’re good.

It’s also worth noting the ESO Plus comes with a monthly stipend of Crowns, and you get roughly (maybe exactly?) as many Crowns for your $15 sub as you’d get by just buying $15 worth of Crowns, so you can look at it that way too.

Anyway so what’s the big deal? My typical ESO play session used to be to adventure on my adventuring character for an hour and then spend 30 minutes muling crafting materials and gear over to my crafter character. I don’t sell gear (unless it has the trait that makes it extra valuable) since I need the crafting experience you get from deconstructing it (as well as the raw materials you get from breaking things down). At this point I have 130 slots in my bank (saving to expand) and 170 slots on my adventuring character (ditto) and I still constantly had inventory problems due to tons of crafting materials and bits of gear I was saving for research.

The The Dark Brotherhood patch hit and that all went away thanks to Craft Bags. I played all Wednesday night and most of Thursday night before my adventurer had to finally hit the bank to unload stuff. Since the bank was almost empty he muled everything over in two batches and my crafter quickly broke down all that gear and gained some levels and materials to do writs.

It just makes a huge difference to me and I couldn’t be more pleased.

Of course there’s also all the new Dark Brotherhood content (which you get free for being in ESO Plus) and a lot of other quality of life updates to the UI. And poisons, which I’ve barely scratched the surface of. I hadn’t gotten a character to Veteran Levels so their removal didn’t impact me much but those are gone too. All in all, seems like a really good patch/update to me.

Earlier this week Microsoft announced Project Scorpio, a new version of the Xbox One due out in the Fall of 2017. Microsoft made some bold promises: Scorpio will do 4K gaming and be fully VR ready. We’ve seen a variety of reactions from existing Xbox One users. Some (like me) are excited about Scorpio while others feel betrayed by the fact that Scorpio will render their existing Xbox One “obsolete.”

I have a theory: I don’t think Microsoft expects the majority of XB1 owners to upgrade, at least not right away. I think Scorpio is a machine for PC gamers. Here’s how my crackpot theory works.

First, price. Scorpio isn’t going to be a $300 console. In order to do real 4K gaming it’s going to have to be in the $500-$1000 range. Console gamers will clutch their chests in panic at that price but hardcore PC gamers who’re used to spending $400-$500 for a state of the art graphics card upgrade won’t be quite as shocked. My prediction is that, at launch, a base Scorpio will be $749 and a bundle with an Oculus Rift will be $999.

So price is a kind of tangential point. What’s more interesting is the fact that starting this fall many Microsoft-published games will be “Play Everywhere.” What that means is you buy the Xbox One version and you get the Windows 10 version for free. That’s how Microsoft is pitching this now, but of course it works the other way around, too. These games also support cross-platform play. Xbox One and Windows 10 users play on the same servers and your save games will work on both platforms as well.

Now Microsoft can start marketing titles like Gears of War 4 and Forza Horizon 3 to Windows 10 users. So here I am, Joe PC Master Race, and I buy Forza Horizon 3. Now I need an Xbox Live account, so I sign up for that. And I start playing online and starting building a Friends list as I meet interesting people. [Topic for another post: will Windows 10 players need a paid Xbox Live Gold sub to play online? Anyone know?]

And even though as a PC gamer I don’t really think about it, I’m also starting to build an Xbox One gaming library. As a PC gamer I have no interest in the Xbox One with its feeble innards. It struggles to do 1080P gaming at a decent frame rate! Not a machine for me!

But now here comes Project Scorpio, and now Microsoft is pitching it to me in almost the same way Valve has been pitching Steam Machines. Here’s a way to take your Windows 10 games and play them from the comfort of your couch, at the same framerates and resolutions you’re accustomed to. You already have a library of games you can play on it. You already have a community of friends to play with. All you really need is to buy the box.

Oh and as a bonus you can play 4K Blu-ray discs and the family can watch Netflix and Hulu on it too. And if you’ve always been kind of curious about all the fuss around Halo, you can run that too as long as you have the console anyway. And yes, Scorpio will support mouse and keyboard if you still hate controllers.

Over time of course Scorpio will drop in price and little by little the existing Xbox One audience will upgrade and soon enough, in Microsoft’s ideal scenario, the Xbox One gaming community and the Windows 10 gaming community will become one big happy family buying stuff through the Xbox Store.

So that, I think, is Microsoft’s long-term plan. And I do think it’s a long-term plan. “Play Everywhere” is the first step, Scorpio is the second, but it’s going to be a long-term play to get everyone in the same pool.

Disclaimer: I have no inside knowledge, this is all as much a ‘thought experiment’ as anything. I just don’t know how Microsoft will successfully market a $750 console to console gamers. (Though don’t get me wrong…I’m getting one!) I think PC gamers are their only viable market, at least during the launch window for Scorpio.

At their press conference yesterday Microsoft announced the new Xbox One S, a smaller, slightly more powerful Xbox One console coming in August. It looks like a nice piece of gear, but I’m bummed about one thing: there is no Kinect port on it. Instead you have to use an Adapter (if your existing Xbox One and Kinect are registered with Microsoft you can get it free) and plug your Kinect into a USB port.

This bums me out. We really like Kinect. Specifically, we really like voice controls on the Xbox One for when we’re watching video (I don’t think either of us cares a fig about the camera stuff). So we want to keep Kinect, at least until Microsoft offers something better. But the Xbox One S, like the Xbox One, has only 3 USB ports. On our current Xbone one port is being used by the OTA Adapter (which admittedly is a lot less interesting now that Microsoft has scrapped plans to add DVR functionality for OTA broadcasts), one is being used for external storage. The other is left open for things like syncing controllers. If I were to purchase an Xbox One S I’d have to use all 3 USB ports, and one of them is on the front of the new system so I’d have a wire permanently dangling off the front of the machine. Nope.

In broader terms, removing the Kinect port seems to indicate Microsoft is packing it in and giving up on Kinect. Interestingly the Xbox One S has an IR blaster on the front of the unit (the Kinect uses an IR blaster to control your non-Xbox gear) and it still has a pass-through HDMI connection so they don’t seem to have given up on being your media center.

This summer Microsoft is rolling out Cortana on the Xbox One and you can use ‘her’ via a headset. I guess, moving forward, Microsoft expects everyone will be using a headset to do voice commands. I guess Microsoft thinks the entire Xbox audience is composed of single people who sit alone in a room with their Xbox.

For us, voice commands are used mostly during media playback which we enjoy together. For one of us to have to wear a headset to issue voice commands is just ridiculous.

Of course there’s an easy fix: Microsoft needs to release a ‘room microphone’ for the Xbox One S, or perhaps a media remote with a microphone built in, though I hasten to add that the mike needs to be always listening. If I have to grab a remote and press a button to use voice commands, I won’t bother (I’m looking at you, Amazon Fire TV).

Assuming the IR blaster on the Xbox One S works as well as the one in Kinect (and given that the Kinect is perched up high on top of my TV, I’m not 100% convinced this will be the case), adding a microphone would give us back the capabilities of the Kinect that we actually use.

Unless something changes I’ll be skipping the Xbox One S because we like voice commands and the new console just seems less voice-friendly. I feel like Microsoft is back-sliding at this point in its attempt to win back gamers. Honestly our Xbox gets used a LOT more as a media center than it does as a game machine, but presumably we’re no longer the intended Xbox audience.

I’m really interested to see how they pitch Project Scorpio next year.

Yesterday Microsoft released details on the next update for the Xbox One. One of the biggest and most anticipated announcements (for me anyway) was bringing Cortana, Microsoft’s digital assistant, to the Xbox One.

Over the past years I’ve come to really appreciate voice commands. It took awhile to get through that awkward phase where I felt silly talking to a machine but I can’t even remember why it felt silly now. I use voice on the Xbox, on my phone, on our Amazon Echo in the kitchen, and on my computers. Not for everything, but for some things it just makes sense.

So for the most part I’m thrilled that Cortana is coming to the Xbox One. I have just one concern; apparently the trigger phase will be “Hey Cortana” instead of “Xbox.” Microsoft is doing this in order to offer a consistent user experience across devices, but this is one case where a consistent user experience could work against them.

The problem is that at any given moment, there may be as many as three Windows 10 devices in the same room as the Xbox One. My experience is that for voice commands to work they need to be always listening. If you have to press a button or something, you may as well not use them. So most of our Windows 10 devices are in ‘always listen’ mode in terms of Cortana.

For a laptop it’s possible to speak quietly so that when I say “Hey Cortana” only the machine in front of me ‘hears’ me, but the Xbox is across the room. When I say “Hey Cortana I want to play Forza” I’m sure the Xbox will fire up Forza for me, but will my laptop start up Forza Apex, too? Will Angela’s laptop tell her it can’t find a Forza title to play?

Dear Microsoft, your next Cortana update needs to make the system smart enough so we can set trigger names for each of our devices. (I should add that it may be they’ve already thought of this…I took my Xbox One out of the Preview program so I haven’t had any hands-on time with the new feature yet.) I should be able to say Hey Xbox to get something to happen on my Xbox, Hey Surface to get something to happen on my Surface tablet, and so on. Even better, let us set our own names. I’ll name my desktop Bert and my laptop Ernie and be able to trigger Cortana on only the device I want it to activate on.

Please don’t read this as bitching. I’m really happy Cortana is coming to the Xbox even with this one drawback. Right now the Xbox voice commands are way too rigid. I actually can’t say “Xbox play Forza” today. I have to say something like “Xbox, play Forza Motorsport 6” or whatever the official name of the game is. For this reason I don’t launch games via voice on the Xbox currently because it’s too fiddly. Once Cortana rolls out voice commands should feel a bit more conversational; I’m really looking forward to that.

I mentioned on Twitter that the new hotness in gaming seems to be arena-based MP titles. We’ve got Battleborn, Overwatch, MOBAs are springing up all over the place; the company behind The Order: 1886 is now working on some arena-based MP title, Cliff Blezinski’s BossKey is making one; every developer seems to want to tap into e-sports in some way. I said that this ‘movement’ made me happy both because I know tons of people love those games (and believe it or not, I like it when my friends are happy) and kind of because I don’t. Having all the hugely hyped games be of zero interest to me is making it easy for me to get out of Gaming as a Hobby.

Someone responded saying they could play nothing but single player RPGs and still have too many games. I agree; I have a ton of unplayed or little-played games laying around. And I don’t plan to stop playing games as one of the things I do. I’ve just been kind of easing away from being a Gamer. And it’s hard to articulate what I mean by that, particularly in 140 characters. I’m not even sure I can do it in a blog post.

For years, gaming has been what I did when I wasn’t working. It was my primary hobby and I self-identified as being a gamer. I followed the hype-train and spent lots of money on whatever was the flavor-of-the-week. And as often as not I’d play that game for a week and then set it aside. I read the gaming blogs and followed gamers on social media and in those rare moments when no game was calling to me I felt adrift. Like “I have nothing to play… WHAT DO I DO NOW!?”

But I don’t have to tell you that the gaming community and social media are combining to create a seething pit of toxicity. It’s not JUST gaming, to be fair. There was a great post titled Fandom is Broken making the rounds and it talks about this issue as it pertains to many aspects of fan-driven activities, from comics to gaming to movies. (Is that a generic and inoffensive way of putting it?) When No Man’s Sky was delayed last week, the developers found themselves on the receiving end of death threats. Heck even the reporters covering the news got some. It’s fucking insane the way (some) fans behave these days.

I kind of don’t want to be a part of any of that any more. I cut almost all the gaming blogs out of my RSS reader and replaced them with sites like Southern Fried Science and Brain Pickings. Instead of spending my spare time reading hateful comments on a post about some new MP game I’m reading posts that make me think or maybe teach me something. At the same time I’ve backed away from social media quite a bit. I cut out Facebook and Google+ completely, though I still dip my toe into Twitter now and then. But not nearly as often as I used to. That has freed up a lot of time and I’ve been spending it sharpening my development skills and learning new things. That feels really good.

The overall result of these changes are that I spend less money on games, which is a good thing because we don’t have an abundance of extra cash laying around. And when I do sit down to play a game, I’m playing a game I want to play (rather than a game that the hype-train says I must play), and playing it the way I want to play it, which is almost always single player (even if it’s something like The Division that most people play multi) and usually at my deliberate, methodical pace. I’m level 9 in The Division on PS4!

Which is a long-winded explanation of why I’m glad the gaming industry has decided to shit out a million e-sports titles that I don’t care about. I’ll keep on quietly working through my backlog while I wait for the Mafia III-hype train to come by this fall. That seems to be the next ‘big hype’ single player game in the pipeline. Although I’m giving serious consideration to Grand Kingdom which comes out later this month and I bet you’ve never heard of it.

I’m still playing games, sure. But I don’t want to be called a Gamer any more than I want to be called a Reader or a TV Watcher. Playing games is just one of the things I do in my leisure time. Please don’t lump me in with these crazy people ranting and foaming at the mouth because a game was delayed, or a patch broke a feature, or some other inconsequential thing that makes them get so mean.

Playing Lately: Alienation, The Division, Sword Art Online: Hollow Fragment, The Elder Scrolls Online

Uncharted 4: A Thief’s EndI finished Uncharted 4 last night, and I’m in a real funk about it.

I’ve loved this series since game #1. That makes me an oddity within my ‘circles.’ While my twitter feed is full of folks gushing over Overwatch or Battleborn or Doom I don’t have the slightest interest in any of those games. I have friends who are playing Uncharted 4, to be sure, but I don’t get the sense that they LOVE the series like I do. I’m not sure any of them have played through all the other games in the franchise.

Naughty Dog is one of a small handful of developers who seem able to tell [what to me is] a really compelling story with characters that I really care about, and do it over the course of a generous, but not grueling, single player campaign. (According to the statistics screen, Uncharted 4 took me a little over 16 hours to play through.)

There are certainly games that deliver spectacle or compelling characters, and lots of RPGs tell a good story if you’re willing to devote 50 hours to extract it. But Naughty Dog just gets the mix so right. The only other developer I can think of that nails the mix so perfectly is Rockstar. Red Dead Redemption remains one of my all time favorite games.

I will miss Nathan Drake and Elena Fisher as much as I miss the characters from beloved books and TV series after they end.

I don’t want to talk any more about the story because I do hope folks will experience it for themselves, but I just need to gush about what a great job the team did. The voice talent is all top notch and you get the feeling there was real chemistry between the actors. The characters were beautifully flawed gems. It took me a while to warm to newcomer Sam but I got there after a few hours. The environments were truly breathtaking. Several times I said to Angela (who got hooked early and was there for probably 14 of the 16 hours I played, acting as co-pilot and puzzle-solver) that I’d love to meet the people who created these amazing spaces because they must have spectacular imaginations. There were so many “Oh shit!” moments and audible gasps from both of us.

Now admittedly in terms of gameplay, this isn’t the greatest series ever. The shooting is just OK. There’s a lot of climbing that I find super-fun but not all that challenging. There’s a lot of driving in this one and it was surprisingly fun. But the biggest issue with the gameplay is that there are times when I was so engrossed in what happens next in the story that I felt like the gameplay was interrupting me. 🙂

Y’know I guess it boils down to the fact that I don’t approach Uncharted games as games, really. I approach them as experiences. (Is that a vague enough term?)

I mean clearly these ARE games and you need to accept game weird-logic like the fact that a character who can throw a grappling hook 70 feet across a chasm while hanging to the side of a cliff with one hand can’t also throw that rope to a partner on a ledge six feet overhead. And of course there’s the dichotomy of Nathan Drake, the charming, wise-cracking and easy-going vagabond adventurer, and Nathan Drake, the dude who killed 600+ enemies during my playthrough (again, statistics screen).

Naughty Dog has said this will be the last game featuring Nathan Drake but maybe not the last Uncharted game. And I’d give Uncharted featuring another character (and I have a good idea who that character would be, and I’m sure you will too after you finish) a try for sure, but to me Nathan & Elena ARE Uncharted. Without them, I’d treat any future game as a new franchise.

It’s worth mentioning some awesome features that Naughty Dog gave us in this game. First, there are QTE’s that have you tapping a button many times. If you don’t like this kind of mechanic, there’s a setting that allows you to just hold down the button for these events. If you think that’s not a big deal than you don’t have arthritis in your fingers like I do; the constant rapid tapping of a button really hurts me fingers so I was happy they offered an alternative. They also gave us an amazing photo mode that lets you manipulate your screenshots in all kind of ways, including hiding the characters if you want. Last, the game seems to auto-save every time you pause. While I did save my progress manually at the end of every session I don’t think I needed to. I never touched the Load function.

Oh speaking of loading, did I mention the only time you see any kind of loading screen or break in the action is if you die. It’s a hard game to put down because it just flows seamlessly from start to finish, transition in and out of cut scenes and between characters without any kind of boundary event. Also they’re very generous with checkpoints so if you do die you rarely have to repeat much content. And if you get stuck for too long the game accommodates, giving you the option to pull up a hint, or perhaps by having an AI colleague point out something you missed. I also suspect, but can’t confirm, that the difficulty of a combat encounter eases up a tad if you die many times in one battle.

The whole experience just feels so polished and well-thought out, and my goodness the game looks amazing. And now that I’m done with it…I just don’t know what to do with myself. I feel like I’ve experienced the best that gaming has to offer and anything else is going to feel like a step down. Now CLEARLY I’m being hyperbolic and I’m still basking in the glow of having such a wonderful experience, but I honestly can’t think of another franchise that I’m looking forward to, at least not it terms of characters I want to spend time with, if you know what I mean. (And now a brief moment of silence for when Halo games told a compelling story about  Master Chief and Cortana rather than focusing on e-sports.)

Everything changes, and that includes gaming. I’m sure Uncharted 4 cost a ton to make and I’m not sure there are that many of us who love single player games left. Heck even GTA V skipped single player DLC in favor of producing multiplayer content that Rockstar could monetize. I’m not saying single player games will go away, but I think we’ll see fewer and fewer lavish single player productions like the Uncharted series. Damn, I’m going to miss this series.

Heck maybe I really HAVE seen the best that gaming as to offer, at least in terms of my own personal preferences. Farewell Nathan and Elena, and thanks for all the wonderful adventures.
Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End

Greetings loyal readers! It’s been quite awhile, eh? I’ve been playing ESO on the consoles almost exclusively for the past few weeks, but nothing worth sharing. Just grinding out crafting writs and working my way through the quest lines. Not blog-post worthy but I’ve been having fun. When not playing I’ve been watching a lot of ESO videos of builds and stuff.

So what does this have to do with esports? Listen I know you all love Twitch and watching people play League of Legends for big cash prizes. I like to watch some LoL from time to time too. I think we’ve established that broadcasting game matches is a Thing that people like.

But now it’s time to move beyond that and expand the offerings on Twitch and the like. What I want to see now are professionally commentated dungeon runs from MMOs. I came to this decision when two vectors crossed in my brain. First, when I haven’t been playing ESO I’ve been re-watching Log Horizon, which is an anime that takes place in an MMO world. I really enjoy the (faked) battle scenes when the gang is doing raids. It’s fun watching them puzzle out how to bring down bosses even though, y’know none of it is real.

And I’ve also been reading JZH Gaming’s blog lately. He posts videos of his ESO dungeon runs. This is the last one I watched:

I like this video for a lot of reasons. First, it’s a speed run so it doesn’t go on for hours. Second, the leader guides the group through the dungeon in a calm way. The rest of the gang also acts like, well, adults. No one is screaming or playing dub step over their mike. It almost feels choreographed and I feel like I’m not only watching a team take on a challenge but I’m learning a bit about this trial, too. Third and much less significantly, this was done on the PS4 version of the game and I have some platform pride over it. There’s this stereotype that console gamers are all potty-mouthed children and it’s cool to see this group overcome these obstacles while maintaining their composure. I wanna be friends with these people!!

But it is hard to hear what the leader is saying at times, plus she’s busy playing so doesn’t have time to elaborate. Which led me to imagine a Twitch channel that had professional commentators who could follow a group through a dungeon and give a kind of play-by-play of what is going on, in the same way that good LoL commentators can help viewers understand the details of a LoL match.

Of course before that could happen, the game developers would have to add some kind of spectator mode so the commentators have the tools to show off what is happening. Wouldn’t it be cool if you could watch a group take on a dugneon boss and flip back and forth between what the tank is doing, and what the healer is doing?

Eh, maybe I’m dreaming. But I think it’d be cool. But until the rest of the world catches up with my brilliance 🙂 I’ll keep watching JZH’s videos and hope he does more runs with this bunch. If you have some favorite dungeon run videos, why not post links in the comments. I’m not looking for “more dots” and Leeroy Jenkins. I’m looking for a team working together “professionally” to get a job done.

I find videos like this kind of inspiring. They make me want to play ESO better.

marquisLet’s get something straight right away. It’s pretty clear that Gearbox’s new game Battleborn is primarily intended to be a multiplayer game in the same vein as Blizzard’s Overwatch and Boss Key’s Lawbreakers. As a primarily single player gamer I’d normally ignore all three of these titles, but Gearbox has gone the extra mile and added Story Missions that you can play alone. I wanted to see if there’s enough to this mode to make the game worth a purchase, and the open beta (running now on PS4 and starting next week on Xbox One and PC) gave me that opportunity.

I know my buddy Chris will be angry that I’m ‘reviewing’ an unfinished game but my intention is to talk about broad design choices rather than bitching about the fact that there was a queue to get in. (Which is all I’m seeing at some sites…people please pull your heads out of your collective asses; you WANT there to be queues when a beta test is running because it means the servers are being stressed and the developers are gathering data they can use to make the launch go smoothly.)

For my first story mode mission I let the RNG pick a character for me and wound up with Marquis, a dapper faux-British robot with a sniper rifle, time dilation bubble and robot owls that attack enemies. Think of a horribly twisted C-3PO with weapons and you’ll get the general idea. Off I went to fight Isic, a maniac disembodied head in a robot suit that has an extensive lair for us to infiltrate.

Gearbox has put a lot of work into building out a huge selection of heroes to choose from. They list 25 on the site now and I think at least 5 more are confirmed to be coming in the weeks and months after launch. They’re all kind of twisted in some way; these are the people that brought us Borderlands after all. It’s worth noting that the same kind of humor is in Battleborn; lots of sadistic comments from the head baddie, directed at both the player and the evil henchmen. If the humor in Borderlands bugged you (~raises hand~) the humor in Battleborn probably will too. And vice versa.

Taking a page from MOBAs, Battleborn starts you out with a level 1 character and you gain levels during a match/mission. Each time you gain a level you get to pick one of two tweaks to your base skills. I really liked the trait “Time Killer” that caused enemies in my time bubble to take damage. There’s a ton of stuff to pick up as you play, but rather than the constant rain of weapons in Borderlands, here you’re picking up various currencies and short term boosts like speed buffs. Some of these currencies you spend in a match to buy gizmos from dispenser units, others I think are used to augment your character with permanent benefits (or cosmetic items) between matches.

It all sounds really good on paper. But sadly I have to say I didn’t find Battleborn to be very much fun to play. And again, I’m talking about playing it as a single player game. You can do the Story Missions co-op with friends which I imagine makes them much, much more entertaining. I wish I could tell you what was wrong with the game but I’m no game developer. From time to time Marquis will kill someone and quip “That felt curiously un-satisfying.” and every time he did I’d nod my head in agreement. It was all curiously un-satisfying for me too. I realize this isn’t very helpful, but let me tease out a few specific issues.

First was the length of the mission. It took me something like an hour to play through and while you can pause the game, I didn’t see any way to save your progress. If I can only play when I know I have a solid hour ahead of me, I won’t be playing much. (I have the same issue with Epic’s Paragon MOBA which I’m also testing, by the way.) I know there are plenty of folks who play competitive games that run this long, so this is definitely a personal issue. Actually all of these will be personal issues.

Second, even though it’s a story mission, it feels like a combat arena. So while you progress from section to section, it still doesn’t feel in any way like a story. It’s just a solo arena, really.

Third, the boss encounters take forever. I get why this is; if a boss is meant to be fought by 1 person or a party of 4, it has to be a big encounter. If a solo player could kill a boss in 3 minutes a party of 4 would steam-roll over it and not even notice it was a boss. So the solo player is left spending a lot of time whittling down the boss encounters. Oddly they weren’t particularly hard. I died 3 times during my story mission but never to one of the bosses. To me they just felt kind of tedious.

Fourth, the loot system. I guess I miss that rain of new guns from Borderlands. Getting a wad of credits just doesn’t feel as satisfying. But Battleborn isn’t a shooter-RPG or an anything-RPG. It’s at its core a competitive MP game and since your character progress persists between single player and multiplayer missions, letting solo players farm missions for awesome weapons would probably cause a balancing nightmare.

So what’s the common theme here? All of these issues would either be mitigated or would vanish completely if I was playing with a group of friends. With the company of other players the mission would go faster, the bosses would die quicker, and I’d get my entertainment from interacting with friends and not miss that there’s not much story to the story missions. I think the loot issues would go away if the missions were over quicker and I could get to the between-mission stuff to spend some of those currencies.

Bottom line: I applaud Gearbox for putting in a single player mode, but I think it’s a mode for us to use now & then when no friends are around. I don’t think the story missions are enough to make the game worth purchasing if you intend to play it solo. I DO think it’ll be really fun game to play with your buddies, though. Think of the solo story missions as a side-show to the main event of MP co-op and competitive matches and you’ll be good.

Here’s a random 5 minutes of non-boss fighting. I’m playing on Normal difficulty and even though I clearly suck, it wasn’t overly difficult. This is pretty early in the mission and you can see I’m still figuring out what things I should shoot to get loot and such.

Had a friend ask me how Dead Star is. My answer ran so long I decided to post it here. Apologies in advance for the rough post. I have to be at work in 2 minutes.

Dead Star is available on PC and PS4 and there is cross-system play (which you can disable if you only want to play with folks on your platform).

Here’s my answer to my friend’s question of how it is, and what it is:

To answer your question about Dead Star, it’s a competitive twin-stick space shooter with some MOBA elements.

I think everything has a different definition of MOBA though. Here everyone starts at level 1 at the start of the match and you gain experience by gathering and delivering ore to space stations, by taking over enemy and neutral stations, or by combat.

Each match takes place on a map with a handful of hexagonal space sectors, each sector has a space station. Each team starts with 1 station and the rest are neutral. You take over a station by destroying its defenses and then hanging out near it while a timer counts down. Delivering ore to a station you control will level it up and improve its defenses. You win by occupying all the stations that border your enemy’s home sector. Once you occuWhen this happens it starts the count down of a giant space cannon that eventually destroys the enemy’s home base. You can win by destroying it manually too but I’ve never seen that happen.

There are 3 classes of ship (a fast and weak scout which has a bonus when it comes to taking over a station, a slow but powerful frigate, and an in-between class that carries more ore than the other classes) and ‘brands’ of ship to pick from. You can take a selection of any 3 ships into a match and can spawn in on any of the 3 when you die.

At the end of the match you get components that you can use to augment your ships; I’m still figuring that bit out. And you level up as well. I’m up to level 5 I think. And I think max is 15. I don’t think levels have any direct bearing on your gameplay; they just indicate how long you’ve been playing and collecting components to augment your ships with.

There are 5v5 and 10v10 matches, I’ve only ever had the smaller ones spawn and they take 15-20 minutes most of the time.

I like it, but my only issue is most battles seem pre-determined pretty early. If you screw up at the start of the match it seems to be hard to catch up, and of course if you have people on your team doing something dumb, forget it. Like one match I had a guy who seemed to think he was on the other team and he kept attacking his own team (there’s no team killing so he wasn’t doing any damage, but he wasn’t helping either).

Anyway, it’s free for PS+ and it’s a quick download. You should check it out.

I think I’m in one of those gaming funks that most of us fall into now and then. Most of this week I’ve spent doing daily crafting writs in The Elder Scrolls Online (I got my new XB1 character to 15 and we’re supposed to do a dungeon run on Monday and I didn’t want to get too far ahead of everyone else so haven’t been adventuring) and…that’s about it. I’ve popped into The Division and even Forza 6 a couple of times but neither is holding me.

Mostly this week I’ve been watching TV (the excellent PBS series Wolf Hall) or fiddling with a new laptop that my job sent me. I work from home and generally use my own gear, but a few idiots have been working from their virus-ridden home machines and uploading contaminated files to work data repositories, causing major headaches for IT. So new policy means I have to stop using my machine and use the machine they gave me. “Moving in” to that machine took a couple of days. Too much stuff!

I got to pick the machine I wanted, within reason, and decided on a 15″ HP Spectre x360. Since my co-workers use stupidly expensive Macs I was able to upgrade the x360 a bit, and got 16 GB of RAM and a dual core i7 processor. The IT Director threw in a stylus to use with it, too. Even with the upgrades, my machine was still cheaper than the Macs she usually has to buy. It doesn’t have discrete graphics so it is definitely not a gaming machine, but it doesn’t have to be for this purpose. The screen is really nice (though I didn’t ask for the 4K upgrade) and both touch and the trackpad work really well. I actually prefer it to my Surface 3, to be honest.

I’ve also been watching some videos from Microsoft’s Build conference, which has me kind of itching to build something.

I used to semi-panic when games started to hold no interest for me. They’ve been my primary hobby for so much of my life. But I’ve gone through this phase enough times now that I know that’s just what it is: a phase. In a few days or a few weeks I’ll be enjoying the heck out of games again.

But until then, the blog will probably be a bit quiet.