Jaded's Pub

Well the holidays are just about over, and before I throw myself into my least favorite time of the year (I detest the Jan-May part of the year with no breaks from work to look forward to) I figured I’d sneak in a final blog post.

Since Watch Dogs has its hooks in me and it is the only thing I’ve been playing, I’ll talk more about it. In my last post I mentioned some of the reasons gamers were down on Watch Dogs when it first came out. Now that I have a lot more hours into the game I wanted to revisit them.

First, the driving model. I thought complaints about that were fairly valid but I’m not so sure any more. Yes it took some time to adjust to driving in Watch Dogs but you could say the same for any arcade racer. I’m pretty comfortable driving now and have pulled off some truly hair-raising sequences where my car is on the ragged edge of control but I actually pull it together and make it out intact. In a game like Watch Dogs that’s really the kind of model you want. You want a certain amount of chaos in there since chaos breeds interesting and unexpected conditions.

Second, the boring side missions. I think part of this complaint is really due to difficulty. Since this is an open world where you can take on the side missions in pretty much any order, the difficulty of the side missions doesn’t ramp up smoothly (if at all). Worse, they tend to be harder earlier in the game. As you progress you level up and get skill points that you spend on tools that can make many of the side missions easier. For me the side missions have gone from pretty difficult to ‘just right’ and now they’ve gotten easy enough that I tend not to use finesse; I just go in with guns blazing, either literally or figuratively depending on the mission.

Early in the game I was primarily playing side missions; now I’m focusing on the main story and just do the side missions to break things up. If I was a person who tried to get all the Achievements/Trophies then I’d have a lot more side missions to do and I guess I might feel like they grew boring over time.

Third is the online stuff. I’m really torn on this. Sometimes when I’m hacked I have a great time trying to track down the other player. Other times I’m just about to start an activity and I get invaded, and that, I have to admit, can be annoying. You travel across the map, get to the “Start Mission” marker, click on it and get “Mission Unavailable” and suddenly you’re being invaded. This has happened to me 4 or 5 times. If I run off to fight the hacker then I need to once again travel back to the mission start. Or I can just walk away from the game and wait for the other person to win the invasion and then go back to what I was doing. Suggestion for Watch Dogs 2: Just let us Forfeit an invasion and have it end quickly.

As for other complaints (graphics and story), I just don’t agree. The story is pretty convoluted… the main driving force is that you need to rescue someone from the hands of another hacker. But to save the person you have to do the hacker’s bidding, which is kind of a plot within the plot. But overall I’m fine with the story so far. It provides motivation for the protagonist and exposes him to some very evil people that you don’t mind having to take out.

And I think the graphics are quite good. The weather system in particular deserves mention. When it rains, it doesn’t just start raining. You can actually see the clouds start to gather and blow in. And sometimes it rains a little, other times it rains a lot with thunder and lightning and all that.

Explosions and clouds of smoke look great too. I have to admit there are times when I’ll go to a busy intersection and flip the traffic light to Green in all directions and just watch the mayhem that ensues. Cars charge through the light in all directions, resulting in a huge accident, and one or more will catch fire and eventually explode, creating even more chaos.

I’d also like to give a shout out to the ambiance of the city. Now that I’m a notorious vigilante people recognize me and I hear whispers as I move around. If your ‘street cred’ is good they’ll be less likely to report you and I’ve had people whisper to me “I know who you are but don’t worry, I won’t tell the cops!” But I’ve also had the opposite happen. When a brawl with a gang spilled out onto the streets and caused mayhem and civilians to be hurt or killed I’ve had an NPC shout “You aren’t a hero! You’re a sociopath! Look at what you have done!”

It’s enough to make this version of Chicago feel real enough that I find myself not car-jacking to get a ride (though parked cars are fair game, I admit) and stopping to prevent crimes or chase down a criminal just because if ‘feels right.’ When I hear a conversation where a man and a woman are fighting and the man is getting threatening, I’ll put myself in the middle of it to break it up, even though it’s not a “gamified” occurrence, just kind of an ambient conversation.

So yeah, I’m still really enjoying Watch Dogs. I’m in Act III now which has gotten a bit more difficult and I hope it doesn’t get too much harder. Last night I did a mission and it took me 5 or 6 attempts to beat and probably an hour or more of real time. I was starting to get a little frustrated. I’ve unlocked pretty much all the skills so my character won’t get much stronger than he is now. If the difficulty goes up much more it’ll be on me as a player to hone my own skills, and at my age I struggle enough with not letting my skills atrophy! :) I guess as a worst case I could turn the difficulty down. Hopefully it won’t come to that.

For the past few weeks I’ve been rummaging through my PS4’s hard drive, looking for games I haven’t played in a long time so I can decide if I want to delete them or not (in spite of upgrading to a 1.5 TB drive, the PS4 is full). Most of the time I’ve booted a game up, played for a few minutes and felt OK nuking them. Then I came to Watch Dogs, which my buddy Scott had recently gone back to and finished.

Watch Dogs, which was announced in June 2012 but didn’t come out until May 2014, was one of those games that enjoyed (?) an incredibly huge hype cycle. As with most games where the hype goes into overdrive, it didn’t live up to expectations. My recollection was that it got a lot of hate, but I couldn’t remember why I had stopped playing it.

I started a fresh game and was really enjoying it, so I decided to spend some time googling to see if I could remember why everyone (at least according to my often faulty memory) was unhappy with the game at launch. My first stop was Metacritic where I was surprised to see the PS4 version of the game had an average score of 80. USGamer gave it a perfect score of 100 and Giantbomb gave it a 60 and everyone else was somewhere in-between. So clearly the critics didn’t hate it (though with so much hype an 80 average score might have been seen as failure). Maybe it was just the players who were unhappy. I poked around in GameFaqs for a while and found a few reasons why folks were so down on it:

  • 1) The final game didn’t look as good as the reveal trailer. That seems like something we should almost expect at this point, but maybe things were different back in the good old days of 2014.
  • 2) The driving physics are wonky. This is a legit complaint. The high performance cars have so little traction that they’re comical to try to drive. I’m slowly getting the hang of them but you definitely do have to learn to drive anew here. Or you can do what I usually do and drive a dump truck or something. Those handle fine and are fun as hell.
  • 3) Boring side missions. I’m going to speculate that these complaints came from completionists who feel like they must experience every bit of content in a game even if they’re not fun. So far the side missions are fine, but if they get boring I’ll stop doing them.
  • 4) Dull story. This one I can’t comment on yet since I’m not very far in.
  • 5) The online/mp system. While you’re playing Watch Dogs another player can invade your game and try to hack you. Some folks seemed really bugged by this. Of course you can turn it off, but there is a notoriety level that goes to zero if you turn off the online stuff. See above re: completionists.

I really don’t remember why I stopped playing Watch Dogs, and I didn’t get very far into it when I first played it. Maybe something else came out and distracted me with its shiny new-ness. Whatever the reason I’m glad I came back to it. It’s certainly not a perfect game (my biggest gripe is that missions could use more checkpoints) but I’ve been really enjoying myself. It’s pulled me away from all my newer games!

It’s also actually been fun re-playing content since my experience has been different in some cases. For example there’s an early mission where you have to hack a console that’s pretty deep in a construction site patrolled by enemies. I remember really struggling with this mission when I first played since there are so many guys to get past and so many ways to fail. I eventually beat it, leaving a trail of bodies behind me.

This time around, for whatever reason, I circled the area before taking any action. And I found a break in a fence that let me sneak in far enough to hack a security camera. From there I bounced to another camera (in this game if an object is visible and in range you can hack it, basically), and then to another. I was just scouting the location. Then I noticed a guard with a body camera. I hacked his body camera and I could see the console I needed to hack, but it was out of range. Then I noticed a speaker near the console, so I hacked that to make it play some strange sounds. The guard went over to check out what was going on and and I rode along in his body cam. He got close enough to the console and I hacked it. Mission success! I just snuck back out through the gap in the fence and I was done. Zero combat. No bodies to clean up.

Maybe I’m enjoying it more because I’m not in a rush to finish it? I’m not trying to storm through it as fast as possible to get on to the next thing?

Last night I was working on my Xbox, moving everything off the internal drive and onto an external drive. It was taking forever and I was surfing YouTube on the PS4 while the Xbone crunched away. I wound up watching some “Top 10 Trailers” videos and it got me thinking.

Remember this trailer for The Division from a couple of years ago?

We all know that gameplay trailers like this one are staged, but I still find them really entertaining, and I got to wondering if other people also found them entertaining. I find myself thinking about how awesome it would be to have a group of friends who’re this organized to play with. (Step 1 to reaching that goal would be for ME to get that organized!)

Most of the Let’s Play videos I watch either have 1 person muttering to themselves as they play, or they have a bunch of guys (usually it’s guys) telling each other dick jokes or swearing at each other.

I would LOVE to see some Let’s Play videos that are more serious and more organized, but to get there I think they’d have to be scripted like that The Division trailer is. (I don’t mean to single The Division out; in fact 343 Studios did a whole mini-documentary on what it took to put together their scripted gameplay trailer for Halo 5.)

In all honesty it’d probably be a lot of work and whomever undertakes the challenge (yes, I’m throwing this out as a challenge!) would have to have a group of friends patient enough to play and re-play sections of a game until they got some good dramatic moments in there. Maybe it just isn’t feasible.

I’m still curious if I’m the only one who enjoys these trailers so much, too.

BTW that first trailer is old and out of date. In particular there is no longer the ability to come in via a Tablet to help out friends. (Second screen experiences already seem to be falling out of favor.) Here’s a more recent gameplay trailer from the game. I really enjoy this one too!

Back in days of yore we had two ways to try to suss out whether we should buy a new game: wait for our friends to play them, or read reviews in a (print) gaming magazine. Sometimes a game would be on store shelves for weeks before we could read reviews. Can you imagine waiting that long? These days if reviews aren’t available on launch day sites feel they need to post an article about “Where is our review of [insert game name here.]”.

Then came the Era of Demos. We’d get demos either in the ‘cover disk’ of print magazines or from online services like Compuserve, AOL, or GEnie. It was a golden age; virtually every game had some kind of demo we could try for ourselves. (OK maybe that statement is colored by nostalgia a bit, but there were a lot more demos than we have today.) Now that demos have more or less died out we have Twitch streams and “Let’s Play” videos on YouTube where we can just watch someone play a game and form our own opinions.

Demos started the decline of the game review as a purchase recommendation tool, I think, and things have just gone downhill from there. I’m sure there are still some people that read them and use them as their primary reason for buying or not buying, but I’m guessing most of us are like me. We might read a review but we put a lot more weight on asking friends on social media and checking out gameplay streams. That assumes we didn’t get into the almost inevitable beta and we didn’t buy into Early Access. If we missed these options we probably know someone who had access to them and we can ask them if a game is any good. At this point I read reviews, if I read them at all, as a form of entertainment rather than as a buying-decision tool.

I was thinking about this because of Star Wars: Battlefront and Halo 5. The first one got pretty mediocre reviews, the second got rave reviews. If you hit up Metacritic the cumulative reviews aren’t that far apart but if you drill in you’ll see the more “serious” sites gave SW:Battlefront pretty low scores. For example Shack News, Giant Bomb and Destructoid each gave it a 60/100. These same outlets gave Halo 5 a 90, 80 and 70 respectively. [This is why the ‘cumulative score’ at Metacritic is crap, but the site is useful just as a handy way to skim review scores of many individual sites.]

The bottom line is that professional game reviewers, taken as an aggregate, think Halo 5 is better than Star Wars: Battlefront.

I own both games, and I like Battlefront more. That’s subtly different from saying Battlefront is the better game. If I were writing reviews of both of them I’d probably score Halo 5 higher as well. But on a personal level, Halo 5 unlocked at midnight on a Monday and and I played it like mad and finished the campaign about 24 hours later. And I’ve barely touched it since. I bought Star Wars Battlefront at launch too, and 5 weeks later I’m still playing it a few nights/week.

The most consistent fault reviewers found with Battlefront is that it is a ‘shallow’ experience. And y’know, I think that’s why I like it. I’ve tried Halo 5 MP a few times and it feels like serious business. People get pissed when they lose, which makes me feel like I’m really letting them down if I don’t play well. Y’know what I don’t find fun? Pressure. I get stressed out just contemplating playing Halo 5 MP. I’m not an e-sports jock and in general I’m not a very competitive person. I play games to have fun, not to feel like shit because I let down a team (and not to make someone else feel like shit for losing, either).

I’m sure there are people who take Star Wars: Battlefront seriously too, but I’m blissfully unaware of them. After my side takes a thrashing and we’re waiting for the next round to start, everyone is doing ridiculous emotes and that’s the only measure I have of their state of mind. I’m going to assume angry people aren’t doing silly emotes. And when my side wins handily…still silly emotes while waiting for the next round.

The game is also chaotic and random enough that I never even know how I’m doing. I’ve been in first place and I’ve been in last place, sometimes on the same night. I’d say I average a little below the mid-point of the scoreboard.

Anyway I’m getting off-track. The point is for me personally Battlefront was the better use of my gaming budget, even though I agree Halo 5 is objectively a better game. Had I only been able to afford one of the two, professional reviews would’ve pointed me towards Halo 5; they would’ve steered me wrong.

How can we fix this? I’m not sure we can. The problem is that most game reviewers aren’t like me, nor can they play like me. If I’d had to play Battlefront for 5 hours/day for a week in order to get a review written I’d probably feel much less favorable towards it. There are a lot of modes in the game and some of them I really don’t like, so I just ignore those modes and focus on the ones I do enjoy. A reviewer can’t do that, s/he has to review every aspect of a game. And almost by definition a game reviewer is more ‘hardcore’ than I am; if they were casual gamers they probably never would’ve gotten into reviewing games.

None of this is speculation. Back in those old print days I was a professional game reviewer and one of the editors of a print gaming magazine. I know that tight deadlines impacted how I felt about a game. Also over time popular genres would get reviewed slightly less favorably because I’d played so many of them already. For me it was the days when real-time strategy games were on top. When I was playing my 25th RTS of the year I had a different view of things from the reader who was playing his second.

I wish I had a suggestion for how to ‘fix’ reviews, but I don’t. The only thing I can fix is me, and my fix is just not to pay very much attention to them anymore and instead ask like-minded friends how they felt about a game, or failing that, watch someone play on Twitch or YouTube.

2015 is almost done and it’s that time of year where I both start to reflect on the past and try to visualize the future.

I bought a lot of games this year, and particularly this fall. I really didn’t play most of them very much (and I have a good number that I haven’t even touched). That needs to change, and rather than me playing more, I think it’s time to buy less, and there’re several reasons for that.

First is financial. As I mentioned, my freelance writing gig ended in October which means my annual income in 2016 will be reduced significantly. At the same time our expenses are going up; Angela’s ACA health insurance tripled in price (though to be fair it’s still a lot cheaper than what I pay through work). The result is that we’re going to have to pay a lot more attention to money going forward. I haven’t really ‘felt’ this yet since my last freelance check came in November and December was one of those months where I got an ‘extra’ paycheck between rent payments (I get paid bi-weekly so twice a year there’s an extra check).

Second is lack of interest. Over the past few months more and more often when I sit down on the couch during my usual ‘gaming hours’ I find myself turning on some music and reading the paper, a magazine or a book instead of playing games. Maybe it’s just a phase; I was playing Destiny a real lot for a while there and maybe this is just a kind of ‘rest period.’ Or maybe its just part of getting older. I wrote recently about pretty much giving up on platformers and lately I’ve found myself feeling frustrated by any kind of fast moving genre. I tried going back to Infamous: Second Son a couple weeks ago and found it now made me really motion sick! Or maybe it’s just too much of a good thing. Some times I struggle so much with trying to decide what to play that I just decide to play nothing.

So between a lack of $$ and a lack of interest, I’ve decided to put a strict budget on my gaming. Starting in January I’m going to set aside just $15/month to spend on games. While that sounds pretty strict, there are some loopholes. First I get free games through Xbox Live, Playstation Plus and EA Access (though of course I can’t pick what I get). Second, my credit card ‘reward’ program gives me Sony Reward points that I can turn into Playstation Network $$ cards every few months. Third, I have a ginormous backlog. Fourth, Uncharted 4 is already pre-ordered and paid for. :)

The overall goal is to save money, make smarter purchasing decisions (I’m particularly annoyed with myself for buying some expensive “deluxe” versions of games that I wound up barely playing at all: Forza Motorsport 6 and Halo 5 but come to mind), and ease the vague sense of guilt I feel when I look at my collection of unfinished or barely-touched games.

It should be fairly easy to keep this resolution for the first 2/3rds of the year, but it’ll be much more challenging when the 2016 holiday launch season kicks in around August. I guess I’ll see how it goes.

Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise: there’s no upside to getting old. I’m speaking from experience. In terms of ‘traditional’ video games I’m in what I imagine is a fairly small group: folks over 50 who still spend a lot of time with a controller in their hands. Old age means your eyesight starts to go wonky (I had 20-20 vision for most of my life, now I wear $500 progressive bifocals and I have to get them upgraded every few years), your joints start to hurt and your reflexes (both mental and physical) start to slow down.

A few months ago Rock Band 4 came out. I had a lot of fun playing Rock Band back when it was hot so I bought the game/guitar controller bundle for RB4 as soon as it came out. So far I’ve played it once. I have just enough arthritis in my hands that trying to play on that controller causes me a lot of joint pain in my fingers. That wasn’t a problem as recently as Rock Band 3 that came out in 2010. But once your body starts to degrade, things go downhill alarmingly quickly. If I played through the pain it might get better (I can use a traditional controller without any pain I think because I’m so used to it) but so far I haven’t wanted to play badly enough to endure the discomfort.

RB4 is just one game and its loss isn’t all that great, but this week I discovered an entire genre has been closed to me: side-scrolling platformers. Earlier this week I was going through my PS4 collection looking for games I felt good about removing from the hard drive, which is getting pretty full. I stumbled on Guacamelee! Super Turbo Championship Edition, which I believe was a PS+ freebie a long time ago. Or maybe I bought it during a sale…who knows? In either case I had it installed but had never played it.

So I tried it, and it was super-fun for about 3-4 hours. But as is the case with most platformers, the farther in you go the more complex the moves you need to use to progress and soon enough I came to a section of the game that I just couldn’t get past. I knew WHAT I had to do, and if I was playing back when I was 45 I’m sure I could’ve cleared it without too much difficulty. But now? I just couldn’t keep my fingers moving fast enough for long enough to pass through this area. This passage had me doing that ping-pong wall jump routine that many platformers challenge you with, in order to move vertically up a shaft. The twist here is that 1 wall is in the “dead” world and 1 wall was in the “living” world so in addition to wall jumping back and forth I had to phase between worlds as well.

In mechanical terms, I had to tap X, then X again (a double jump with a brief pause to get enough height to make progress), then R2 to phase between the dead and the living world, and then push & hold the left stick left or right to stick to a wall. That sounds easy, right? And it was, but I had to do it smoothly about 6 times to get to the top of this passage. And time and again I’d do something stupid on repetition 4 or 5.

I spent about 10 minutes trying to get past this segment and decided maybe I needed to take a break (I’d been playing for a while). So I did and came back to it fresh and spent about 20 minutes and STILL didn’t get past it. At that point I gave up, and deleted the game from my PS4 (in part because I was trying to clear up space and in part so the icon wasn’t sitting on my dashboard mocking me).

It’s possible that had I kept trying I might have eventually gotten past this section, but the other thing about getting old is that you become more and more aware that you have a finite amount of time left to live. I know that sounds way dramatic and it’s not like you think in these terms, but it’s more like a background hum of “I don’t have the time to waste on this.” I mean video games are inherently a waste of time I guess, but at the same time I find they can be super-satisfying and often relaxing. But there are a LOT of games I want to play (with more coming all the time) so when it’s taking me too long to get to the next “rat pellet” (by which I mean some kind of dopamine producing happy moment) I move on to something new.

After I deleted Guacamelee! I went back to clearing out old games, and I found a few other platformers and realized that for the most part, I may as well delete them too. I’m not meaning to pick on Guacamelee! in this post. I don’t think it’s an unusually hard platformer. My issue is with the entire genre (specifically 2D side-scrolling platformers). With a limited palette of moves to work with, the only way for designers to ramp up the challenge as you move through the game is to either ask you to string together longer and longer combos of moves, or making the timing required more and more precise. Neither of those things is a good fit for an aging gamer who doesn’t have the mental and digit-al (digits like in fingers…get it?) dexterity that s/he once had.

Another genre I’ve given up on is competitive MP shooters that are played in small arenas, because again my brain-to-finger connection just isn’t fast enough to compete with younger gamers (games that offer more space to move around in tend to also reward tactics and sometimes I can still do OK in those).

I’m not sure what genre I’ll have to give up next and I hope I don’t find out for a while. But in broader terms as both the console gaming audience and the developers who make games age, I wonder if we’ll ever see a time where some games cater to older players. I read an interview with Cliff Bleszinski (I can’t remember where) in which he said that his next game is going to offer some kind of class or weapons meant for older gamers because he (and he is way younger than me) is already feeling that he can’t keep up with the youngsters who can snap off headshots without breaking a sweat. That was pretty encouraging to me and I hope more developers adopt a similar philosophy.

It won’t be easy though, because if a developer makes a game and puts in giant bright red sparkly letters across the box that the game is intended for gamers over 60, the 20-something internet blowhards will still rip it to shreds as being too easy and the game will end up with a 40 at Metacritic (in spite of the old gamers loving it) and the publisher will lay off the entire dev team. It’s why we can’t have nice things.

On the bright side, I only have 20 years or so left to worry about any of this.

Yesterday early access for the free Star Wars Battlefront DLC, Battle of Jakku unlocked. I’ve really been enjoying my time with it so far.

This scenario (there is only 1 map for it) takes place between The Return of the Jedi and the upcoming The Force Awakens. The Empire is in full retreat and the Rebels are closing in on their base on the desert planet Jakku. This is an asymmetrical scenario: the Empire is always on defense, the Rebels always attacking.

The battlefield is a desert strewn with crashed spaceships and other debris. They gives the snipers out there some long sight-lines, but there’s also enough cover to keep you safe from them if you play smart.

At the start of a battle the Rebels are tasked with taking over one of 3 control points (it doesn’t matter which one and they only need one). When Rebels occupy the area of these control points unopposed a clock-gauge starts filling up. If it fills completely the Rebels have won that segment of the battle. At that point the 3 control points wink out of existence and two more appear deeper in Empire territory. Once again the Rebels have to take one of the control points. If they succeed, those control points vanish and two more appear even deeper. If they take one of those control points, one single final point appears and if they can take that, they win.

The Empire just defends. The Rebels have a timer (and get some bonus time everytime they take a control point) and if they don’t win before time runs out, the Empire wins.

So far I’m loving the dynamics of this mode. At the start of the match with the three initial control points the battle is quite spread out but as the Rebels push deeper into Empire territory everyone is funneled together. The battle for the last control point can get really intense.

The Empire has AT-STs while the Rebels have Landspeeders. Both of these can be tough to bring down with no big turrets. I haven’t yet seen any Tie Fighters or X-Wings, nor have I seen any hero units. It’s possible I’ve just missed them but I played about 8 matches.

If the Empire pushes the Rebels off a control point, the gauge doesn’t “unfill” as far as I can tell (or if it does, it happens very slowly). This means the Rebels can take a control point through successive assaults even if they get wiped out at the end of each assault. With no voice chat to help organized the teams the battles have a very organic feel to them as players move from control point to control point trying to capture (or defend) a point that is wavering. Having a JumpPack can be pretty handy since it’ll let you move from point to point quickly.

Battle of Jakku is arriving just in time. Walker Assault needs some balancing now that there are plenty of players who have the knack of using tow cables to bring down the Walkers. During the beta many gaming blogs commented on how unbalanced Walker Assault was in favor of the Empire. It wasn’t, it just took a few days for players to figure out how to win as the Rebels. But EA capitulated to the gaming blogs and made it easier for the Rebels anyway, and now it’s pretty tough for the Empire to win, at least until we figure out a good defense against tow cables.

It’s still fun, mind you, but when you see 1 lone player take down 2 Walkers with tow cables it kind of makes everyone else feel less relevant.

Anyway, Battle of Jakku is a nice change of pace and I look forward to playing more of it.

PS: Sorry for the lack of video. I wish the PS4 would let me capture a clip without exiting to the share menu (the Xbox One lets you do this if you have a Kinect). Every time I try to share something I get killed; as with most shooters standing still isn’t healthy in Star Wars Battlefront. So I never get around to capturing video.

Holy smokes, time flies. I can’t believe it’s been over 2 weeks since I posted. I haven’t really been doing too much worth talking about I guess, but just so Google doesn’t decide the site is dead again, here’s a recap of recent gaming.

My last post was about being conflicted over Star Wars: Battlefront. Well OF COURSE I bought it, because when in doubt I always take the road of retail therapy I guess. The good news is that I’m glad I did. It is exactly the gaming experience (for me) that I expected it to be. I play a few matches a few times a week. It’s kind of my “side game” and it is perfect for me as a side game. I stick almost exclusively to Walker Assault, one of the 20 v 20 modes, and I tend to wind up somewhere in the middle of the rankings. At a guess I’d say that 11th is my sweet spot, though I have been as high as 5th and as low ~blush~ as 19th. I’ve dabbled with a few of the other modes and they’re more fun than I expected them to be, but Walker Assault always calls to me and after 3 or 4 matches of that I’m ready to play something else.

The game is getting a lot of hate but that’s EA’s problem, not mine. I’m enjoying my time playing and I’m glad I made the purchase. It IS too expensive for what you get but for me it was worth paying full price in order to be able to play while the servers are still nice and full. It takes seconds to get into a match right now and that is worth something to me, being as impatient as I am. There’s a lot of complaints about things relating to playing with your friends but since I don’t play with anyone else that stuff isn’t relevant to my enjoyment of the game. I guess what I’m saying is that while I’m enjoying myself, don’t take that as a recommendation; I’m kind of a weirdo in what I like and don’t like.

I was really enjoying Fallout 4 and I need to make sure it doesn’t drift off the homescreen of my PS4 but for the past couple of weeks it has been pushed to the side. My plan is to play Fallout 4 on and off for about a year :) so I’m not in any great hurry.

I strongly believe in voting with my wallet when a company does something I’m enthusiastic about. When Zenimax released the Imperial City expansion for The Elder Scrolls Online it seemed to me like it was dedicated to the PvPers and instanced dungeoneers so I ignored it. But then they brought Orsinium to the consoles, and that expansion had a lot of stuff for solo/open world PvE players so I wanted to support it. I bought the big bundle of crowns and spent most of them on the Deluxe Edition of Orsinium (because, duh, it came with a mount and pet and how could I resist them). I wound up buying Imperial City too just for the sake of completeness. Then during the Black Friday insanity the big pack of crowns was almost 50% off so I bought ANOTHER one, and those will sit in my wallet until another expansion comes along (I know they’re working on at least one more, the Thieves Guild expansion).

So suddenly I’ve been playing Elder Scrolls Online again. This time out I am completely ignoring the instanced content; no grouping for me. I started to research builds and that wasn’t fun so I said “screw it” and came up with my own builds. The whole beauty of TESO is that you’re supposed to play however you want, and that’s what I’m doing, and it’s working during the leveling part of the game. If I get serious about it I can always re-spec after doing research. I’m not even playing to level, really. I’m just playing to explore. I’m jumping between 3 (sometimes 4) characters leveling them as a dysfunctional ‘family’ since they’re spread all around the world. I probably spend more time crafting than I do fighting, and that includes shuffling materials between characters with is time consuming but kind of soothing.

Basically Bhagpuss is my spirit animal for this Elder Scrolls Online outing. I’m focused on solo exploring and just kind of enjoying the world. I spend a lot of time reading books I find, or trying to get to places that I think I maybe shouldn’t be (yet). With 3 starting zones, a couple of which I’ve barely touched, there’s a lot to do that is more interesting to me than following instructions on a website to build a character that is uber-powerful and completely boring to play.

On Friday I’ll have a new game to play. Xenoblade Chronicles X comes out for the Wii U. I got a Wii U shortly after launch (through kind of a fluke, my boss ended up with two so he sold me his extra) and I bought two games for it: Zombie U for me and Scribblenauts for Angela. And those are the last two games I bought for it until this month, when I’m grabbing Xenoblade for me and there’s an Animal Crossing game that Angela wanted, though I suspect she was more interested in the Amiibos that came with it than the game itself. Zombie U was pretty meh but Xenoblade is getting lots of praise so I’m hoping that I’ll FINALLY get some use out of the Wii U.

Star Wars Battlefront launches tomorrow. I haven’t pre-ordered it yet, but I’ve come close a few times. I’m still not sure what I’m going to do.

You see in the beta, and during EA Access’s “Early Access” period that started late last week, I’ve found the Walker Assault and Supremacy modes to be really fun, but the rest of the game feels like throw-away content. And I like the meta aspects of SW:Battlefront. Here, at last, is a competitive multiplayer game for the rest of us. The e-jocks hate it because anyone can jump in and have fun. The blasters have no recoil and long ranges which I’m told (by commenters on various posts, so it must be true) makes Battlefront a “no skill” game. To which I say “Good, you e-jocks take your attitudes and go back to COD or where ever is in vogue among your kind.” I almost feel a responsibility to pick the game up just to support this decision.

The modes I love most really capture the feel of Star Wars well, too. I frequently find myself just kind of taking it all in. The first time a Tie-Fighter comes screaming out of the sky, clips an obstacle and spins out of control before crashing in a fiery explosion right in front of your face…well if that doesn’t evoke some kind of a smile you’re just no Star Wars fan.

There’s no voice chat in Battlefront which is another reason the e-jocks hate it, and another reason I love it. I can jump into a game and play and not have to listen to crappy music or racial slurs, or be told how much I suck. I can just have fun and do that thing I do where in my imagination the folks I’m playing with are decent people rather than the awful, awful individuals I usually meet in MP games. (And of course if you WANT to chat with your friends you can just start a Party out of game and chat that way.) With 20 people per team (again, in the 2 modes I like) it’s easy to blend in and just be OK and not wind up at the bottom of the charts and feel like you’re dragging your team down. Usually the people on the bottom just spawned into the game shortly before it ended, anyway. You can pretend to be one of those guys! In any case, the point, for me, is not to win (though I do try). It’s to spend a few minutes experiencing a Star Wars battle from the inside.

But it IS generally “a few minutes.” It’s not a game I find myself playing for hours at a time. I jump in, do a few matches, get my fix and move on to something else. Is that worth $60?

If this was a single player experience it’d be an easy choice: Wait for a sale or something. But if I’m going to play I kind of want to play it while the servers are nice and full and games spawn quickly. Plus with new Star Wars movie out next month, there’s the whole Star Wars fever aspect.

But the other big downside is the crazy-expensive season pass. The base game is $60, the season pass is $50. I wouldn’t care about this except for the fact that Season Pass holders get access to new content 2 weeks ahead of everyone else. That means if you don’t have the season pass and opt to buy DLC, you’re going to be experiencing it for the first time playing against people who’ve spent 2 weeks mastering the nuances of the maps. Since this really ISN’T an e-jock kind of game, that might not be as big of a problem as it sounds. but in general I don’t like how hard they’re trying to motivate us to spend $50 on a season pass of mostly unknown content.

Of course if I just opt to buy the initial game and say no to all DLC, that doesn’t impact me at all.

So pros, cons, confusion. It’d also be easier if I hadn’t purchased so many great games lately. I’m still pretty heavily invested in Fallout 4. If Battlefront had launched last summer I would’ve been all over it. I could wait, but again I kind of want the full server experience (and to not be the one level 1 guy playing with a bunch of level 50 characters).

Maybe I should flip a coin…

So I had an odd thing happen in Fallout 4 and wondered if anyone else has seen this kind of thing. This post will contain minor spoilers for random (I think!?) events.

So I was headed out past Tenpines Bluff for the first time, traveling pretty much directly east. I came to a small cliff and at the bottom was a derailed train. Climbed down and met a woman selling a Brahmin. Bought it and asked her to deliver it to one of my settlements. Started checking out the train and got jumped by some ghouls. My dog and I took care of them in short order. While looting the bodies I heard voices.

I followed them to a small shack and inside were two men, one threatening the other with a gun. Both were named Art and both looked alike. It was the classic sci-fi conundrum of which man was the real dude, and which was the carbon copy. I tried to use my powers of persuasion to de-escalate the situation but failed. (Had I known I was going to have to be persuasive I would’ve slipped into my sequin dress and replaced my welder’s goggles with sexy sunglasses!) In the end I was pretty much forced to attack one of them, which I did. He put up quite a fight but I won. The other Art thanked me and started wandering off but then curiosity got the better of me (me, in this case, referring to the player, not the character) and I attacked the 2nd Art too, already planning to reload my last save game but just curious if I’d be able to tell which was the “real” Art by the corpses. My plan went awry when he killed me, though.

So I loaded the save game I had from Tenpines Bluff and headed in the same direction. Found the same woman selling the same cow and I bought it again. Started searching the train but did NOT get jumped by ghouls this time. Then I noticed Art wandering down the tracks away from the train. I chased after him and tried to talk to him but he said “I just want to be left alone.” and kept going. I went back to the shack where I’d seen the two Arts arguing in my other game and found a corpse…of Art. And a synth core. So I guess this time the real Art took care of the Synth without any help from me (even though I believe I got to the scene a little faster thanks to no ghouls).

Maybe I’m reading too much into this, but I’m kind of excited about the possibility that the game world kind of chugs along without you, and so depending on when or where you are, or maybe depending on a random number generated when you start or load a game, you’re going to experience difference events in different play-throughs, or the same events in different ways, or… something.

I mean the reality is it’ll be a miracle if I actually finish Fallout 4, but still it’s nice to think that if I do finish it and love it so much I want to play through it a second time, some of my experiences will be different.