19 Hours into Bravely Default & Still Lost

A few weeks back I got it into my head to have another go at Bravely Default on the Nintendo 3DS (the release of a demo for Bravely Default 2 on Switch had a lot to do with this). I’d played the game at launch and had put 19 hours or so into it before drifting away. With no clue what I was doing, I decided to start over.

Now, as it so happens, I’m back at 19 hours and I still have no clue what I’m doing. The game has a huge ‘job’ system. So far I’ve unlocked nine of the twenty-four jobs. Why so many? No idea. I only have four characters, but they can swap jobs at any time. Question is, should they?

The Right Way to Play?

I’m not sure what the “right” way to play is. Should I pick one or two jobs for each character and just level those, or should each character take on (eventually) six different jobs so I have each one maxed? Are there jobs that every character should learn? Does any of this even matter? Is it just preference? At any time a character can be leveling one job and using the abilities of a second job, so at the least each character should know two jobs for maximum performance. Beyond that…just not sure.

So far I barely use the “Abilities” of melee-focused jobs like Knight or Monk. My characters seem to do more damage with basic attacks than they do with abilities. Magic-focused jobs (White/Black Mage) are different of course. I need someone to act as Healer and someone to be able to do elemental/magic damage against monsters resistant to physical attacks. Should that be one person (that’s how I have it now… a Black Mage with White Mage support abilities) or two?

Geez this all sounds like I’m griping but the thing is, I’m not. I’m really enjoying trying to figure this all out. My first instinct was to go online and look up optimal strategies or what not. I started doing a little of that but took someone’s advice to just play the way I wanted to and see how things work out. Turns out actually playing the game myself is more fun than following some expert’s instructions. Go figure!

I Get By With a Little Help From My Friends

Of course talk is cheap when you have as much backup as I do. Bravely Default has an asymmetric multiplayer system where you can “Summon” the character of a friend to help out in battle. Since the game is so old I have plenty of friends who are much higher level than me and for now they act as a “Get Out Of Jail Free” card when a fight gets tricky.

There’s also a system where you rebuild a town after which the town’s denizens will gift you items. Town building takes real-time, but I’m playing the game so slowly that my town is already maxed out and I get gifted items that are way over-powered for the baddies I’m fighting.

Eventually I’ll presumably ‘catch up’ with both these systems and have to earn my progress the old-fashioned way. Hopefully by then I will have figured out a system.

It’s been a long time since I really got hooked on a turn-based JRPG like this one. I’m really enjoying myself. I just wish I was playing on a slightly larger screen. I really have to peer at the 3DS screen and I can only play for 30-40 minutes before it becomes uncomfortable. Of course the sequel will be on the Switch so I’ll play that on the TV.

I’m really going to miss E3 2020

The first Electronic Entertainment Exposition was held in 1995, and I was there. (Prior to E3, gaming was relegated to a small section of CES.) I went to the first couple of E3s and had an absolute ball. When I left the gaming industry E3 was one of the things I really missed.

Over the years I’ve attended ‘virtually’ as best I could. In days or yore that meant tuning into TV coverage on G4 TV or Spike TV but of course in recent years so much is streamed that you can’t really watch it all. Every year I take at least a few days off of work so I can see as much as possible. At the least, I’d watch all the press conferences which are always my favorite part of E3 (even if they’re technically not really part of E3).

I know there’s been a lot of push back against the show recently. Pundits say it no longer serves a purpose and is too expensive. Sony pulled out last year and had done so this year even before the show was canceled. Nintendo still had a booth but a few years back they axed their big press conference in favor of a pre-recorded video.

This isn’t the first time we’ve seen pushback. After years of expansion, in 2007 E3 was rebranded as the “E3 Media and Business Summit” in response to complaints the show had become too consumer-focused, too big & flashy (and expensive). While E3 was supposed to be for industry professionals, it’s never been hard to get a ticket, particularly in the Internet era. Throw up a website (like this one) and say you’re part of the industry and you’d get in.

If you don’t remember the E3 Media and Business Summit, I wouldn’t be surprised. The format was a flop (at least for the at-home audience) and by 2009 E3 was a big flashy spectacle again.

With E3 gone this year, I think next year (assuming we’ve come to grips with COVID-19 by then) there will be a lot less griping about the format. I don’t think I’ll be the only one who misses E3 this year.

I know companies are going to do their best to recreate the buzz of E3 with online-only events, but early signs (Microsoft’s event last week, for example) show how hard that is going to be. The important thing about the actual E3 show is that it was massive, and with mass comes a gravitational pull. Even companies that weren’t technically attending E3 held their events during E3 week. That got both the at-home audience and the mainstream media’s attention, and that attention just fed the beast and made the show even bigger and more entertaining for those of us ‘on the outside.’

I know in theory E3 is still supposed to be about making B-to-B business deals and such, but the amount of hype generated among consumers by the event is, I think, even more significant. With no E3, no Gamescom and no Tokyo Games Show I suspect companies are going to have to spend even more on marketing than they normally do.

Maybe I’m talking nonsense, I dunno. I’m not an industry insider. I just know I’m really going to miss the spectacle of the show. The anti-E3 contingent gets its way this year. We’ll see if by next year they still think having no E3 is a good thing. My prediction is that at least some of them will have changed their tune by then and I won’t be the only one glued to YouTube watching the show next year.

Year in review: Is it me, or the industry?

I don’t generally go in for year-in-review or ‘top games of the year’ posts, but there’s been something on my mind that kind of lines up with reflecting on the past year.

With December winding down the big ‘holiday season’ of game releases has come to a close. I get amped for this season every year, and I was amped this year too; until it got here. Then I found myself bouncing off of new release after new release.

So here in the ‘prime new game’ part of the year I’ve been playing Assassin’s Creed Odyssey (2018), LOTRO (2007!), Red Dead Redemption 2 (2018) and most recently, The Witcher 3 (2015). I mean I’ve tried new games like Star Wars Jedi Fallen Order, Greedfall, Ghost Recon Breakpoint and The Outer Worlds but I’ve bounced off them all for one reason or another. The only new games I put any significant time into were Death Stranding, (and I’d probably play that a lot more if it were on another platform other than Playstation) and Gears 5.

Looking back over the year, this isn’t really a new trend for me. New games I played a significant amount of were Anthem (which, personally, I quite enjoyed) and Days Gone (which I not only finished but got the “Platinum Trophy” for). The rest of the year I was playing things like SWOTOR, FF XIV, ACO, No Man’s Sky, or noodling around with VR. Even Days Gone wasn’t “new” by the time I got around to playing it.

I’m not sure if this was just a weird year for me or if the gaming industry is moving away from the kinds of games I enjoy. Or maybe a little of each. In general I feel like I’m becoming more of a casual gamer. These days I rarely latch onto titles with a steep learning curve (back in the old days, the thicker a manual was, the more likely I was to enjoy the game) and I have absolutely zero interest in any kind of multiplayer experience. I guess my sweet spot is narrative-driven single player games and there aren’t that many of those.

I haven’t measured or anything, but I feel like I spend less time gaming now than I have, well, since gaming was a thing. I’ve been watching a lot more TV/YouTube and spending some time doing non-digital hobbies. Oh and I’ve been blogging a lot less. In fact I’ve been thinking about shutting the blog down completely.

But then there’s that light on the horizon: Xbox Series X and PS5. Whether that light turns out to be a warm welcoming campfire or the headlight of a train that it about to squish me, I’m not sure. Maybe one or both of those systems will get me excited again. Last year around this time I was getting back into PC gaming but that only lasted 6 months or so; I just still prefer the simplicity and comfort of console gaming on the couch, with Lola laying beside me keeping me company.

I guess until next fall things will remain pretty quiet. Any “hot” new games that come out for the Xbox or PS4 will probably be re-released in “Enhanced” versions for the new consoles once they launch, so I’ll wait on those versions. Even if they aren’t re-released, (and assuming MS and Sony make good on their backwards compatibility promises) the games will run better on the new hardware and be cheaper by then. So in either case I’ll wait to play this year’s big new games on next years fancy new hardware.

I guess 2020 is going to be The Year of the Backlog for me, which is OK; it’s cheap anyway!

A Month of Stadia

Streaming game service Google Stadia has been available for about a month now and I thought I’d recap what’s been happening with the service

The launch was a mess and it unfortunately set the tone among “influencers” who decided that Stadia was going to be their “negative videos draw eyeballs” topic for a while (I’m sure Anthem breathed a sigh of relief) but at this point most of them seem to have moved on.

Let’s get the bad news out of the way first. The elephant in the room is performance. While Stadia works really well in terms of lag/latency (for me at least), we’re constantly left scratching our heads when it comes to graphics quality. Stadia offers 10.7 teraflops of processing power, we are told, but generally speaking the graphic quality of games seems to land right around that of an Xbox One X (6 teraflops).

So if you have a PS4, Xbox One S, or a Switch, Stadia can offer you a graphics upgrade. Those of us with reasonably powerful PCs, Xbox One Xs or PS4 Pros are looking at a cross-grade situation, and gamers with high end gaming PCs are looking at a downgrade.

This leads to a lot of “What does Stadia offer me?” questions from serious gamers and the answer is, frankly, “Not very much.” Stadia is reasonably portable; you can play on a cheap laptop at a coffee shop, or on a selection of phones (or basically any device that you can run Chrome on) but it requires a steady Wi-Fi connection. It’s hard to justify purchasing a game twice just to be able to play at a coffee shop, particularly since Destiny 2 is the only cross-save game on the service, as far as I know.

There’s also the issue of the still very small library of game titles, but presumably that issue will sort itself out over time. The price of games keeps springing up as an issue but I’m not sure how fair that is. Borderlands 3 is $38.99, for example. That’s a “Pro” deal but everyone on the service now is a “Pro” so… Anyway price controversy sometimes seems to be based on perception as well. For example Darksiders Genesis launched on Steam for $30 and on Stadia for $40 which caused an uproar, but the price on Xbox and PS4 will be $40 when the game launches. People seem to think of Stadia as another place to play PC games, rather than a separate platform, so they expect pricing parity with Steam. (Why a game is more expensive on consoles is a valid question, but that’s a question for the publishers, not the platform holders.)

With all the bad news out of the way, Stadia seems to be a hit with a certain segment of the community. If you hang out on the Stadia or particularly the StadiaDadia sub-reddits you’ll find a community of “used-to-be” gamers who’re getting back into the hobby thanks to Stadia. The no-fuss, no-hardware Stadia experience appeals to these people who have no interesting in spending money on a console or gaming PC.

At launch Stadia was ‘missing’ a lot of features. I put that in quotes because it seems like some of the missing features are really “features that game developers haven’t taken advantage of yet.” For example last week Ghost Recon Breakpoint launched on Stadia and it’s the first game to support “Stream Connect.” This allows you to let other players see your stream.

In other words, say you’re in a 4-man fireteam in Breakpoint. You could have 3 picture-in-picture windows showing you what the other three members of your team are currently seeing. The idea is that this allows tightly coordinated actions to take place. I could see it being useful as a teaching tool as well.

Other missing features weren’t dependent on developers, and these are slowly being rolled out. We can finally buy games through a web browser, and the Achievement System (or at least, a first pass at it) came out last week.

So what about me? I confess I’m pretty disappointed in the graphical quality of games. I was hoping Stadia would be an improvement over the Xbox One X and/or my mid-tier gaming PC; sadly it is not. It’s hard to justify buying a game on Stadia at this point; why fracture my game collection? These days I’m back to reaching for the Xbox controller rather than the Stadia one most of the time. I DO really love the load times of Stadia games (Destiny 2 loads SO much faster than on the Xbox or Steam) and it’s kind of cool to buy a game and be playing it literally seconds later.

I still have hope for the service in the long term, but with Xbox Series X and PS5 coming out in less than a year I think Stadia needs to get better fast. Or maybe Google is content to gather in all the folks who can’t be bothered with having a bulky console in the entertainment center.

Bottom line: if you’re reading my blog you’re probably a serious enough gamer that you have hardware that can offer a better experience than Stadia currently does; I really hope that eventually changes.

The Stadia launch

Yesterday was the day Google Stadia launched. I guess I’ve seen worse product launches, but not many.

So here’s the deal. Back in June Google urged gamers to pre-order the Stadia Founders Edition in order to start playing Stadia as soon as possible and (potentially more importantly), to be able to reserve your Stadia name. The promise was that codes to reserve names would be sent out in the order that pre-orders were received. So the earlier you pre-ordered, the more likely you were to get your name.

My story isn’t so bad. I pre-ordered that day, within minutes of the pre-order page going live. I paid an extra $14 for expedited shipping. Here we are on Launch Day+1 and I still don’t have my Founder’s Edition. Meanwhile people who ordered in August got theirs first thing in the morning yesterday.

However I DID get my code shortly after noon yesterday and was able to reserve my username. Also since Stadia isn’t really hardware, I was able to use the service via Chrome on a PC. More on that in a minute, but I hope that $14 I paid for expedited shipping bought someone a nice lunch because it sure didn’t get me expedited shipping!

Other people had a much worse time. Plenty are still waiting on codes, or Founder’s Kits, or both. Over on Reddit folks are sharing when they got their codes vs when they pre-ordered and it is pretty clear there’s neither rhyme nor reason to how the codes are being sent out. I saw folks getting very upset that a person who pre-ordered much later than they did got their code first and snagged a username that a June 6th pre-orderer was hoping to get. People are rightfully pissed.

Of course this will all pass. But that isn’t all that is wrong with the launch. The service is just not ready. You can play games, there’s a Friends list and that’s about it. All the whiz-bang gee-gaws that Google promised, like being able to launch a game directly from a YouTube video, are MIA. You can take screenshots and record clips, but when you do you can ONLY view them on your phone, with no way to share or export them. Lots of little “Uh, wut?” issues like that.

Also for some reason a LOT of people got the idea that you paid for Stadia and got access to a whole library of games. I’m not sure where that came from but I think it was from dodgy game journalism. It isn’t the case. There are 2 tiers of Stadia. A free tier (not available yet) and a $10/month Pro tier (you get 3 months of that with the Founder’s Edition). The Pro tier is similar to Playstation Plus or Xbox Live Gold. It gets you 1 or 2 free games per month, discounts on game purchases and (in theory) better quality streams. The free games for this month are Destiny 2 and Samurai Showdown. Beyond that, Stadia offers a digital store offering mostly full price games.

So I wish that was all the bad news, but it is not. Despite all of Google’s talk about the processing power of the Stadia servers, (10.7 teraflops!) games seem to be running at pretty modest settings. I had hoped Stadia would be the way I could play PC games at max or near-max settings; games that my laptop couldn’t handle. So far, at least, that has not proven to be the case. The Stadia version of Destiny 2, according to Bungie, runs at roughly the same as middle PC settings.

So Stadia… dead in the water, right? Well, maybe not. Fact is, it works. When you push all this cruft aside and try to play a game, it works really well, at least from Chrome. Yes Destiny 2 looks prettier when playing through Steam, but my laptop’s fan is screaming in protest the whole time. Playing Destiny 2 on Stadia feels kind of magical. I open a browser window to stadia.google.com, (leaving open the the dozen programs I have running) click an arrow that looks like the Play arrow on a YouTube video, and I’m in the game. The laptop’s fan is silent. Loading times are much faster than on my local machines. If Stadia introduces lag (and it must) it isn’t enough for me to feel. I tend to get motion sick with too much input lag (before I got my new TV with a low input lag, I couldn’t play FPS on consoles without getting queasy) but Stadia is totally comfortable.

So there is hope. And in fact the ideal audience is already happy. Over on the Stadia sub-reddit there’s a group calling themselves “Dadias”. These are folk who used to be gamers but got married, had kids, and don’t have gaming PCs or modern consoles because they don’t game enough for them to be worth the investment. These guys & gals last played games on a PS3 (or earlier) and they LOVE Stadia. They love that when they’re playing on the TV and the kids want to watch a show, they can just switch seamlessly to a laptop (or even a Chromebook) and continue playing. They didn’t have to clear a $250-$300 console purchase with the spouse, or clutter up the living room with an ugly box. I think these people are the near-term audience for Stadia.

IF Google actually invests in this service and gets the graphics quality up, then Stadia could be a contender for me in years to come. When some new PC game comes out and my laptop can only run it at medium settings, and Stadia can run it at high, I’ll probably buy the Stadia version rather than upgrading my PC. I just don’t anticipate this happening much before 2021.

That’s the possible future. For today there’s not a lot of reason for you to get Stadia if you have a gaming PC, PS4 Pro or Xbox One X. Those systems all run the games better than Stadia is running them today. (If you have a base PS4 or Xbox One, then the Stadia versions would probably be an upgrade for you.)

Oh one last note. A lot of journalists are comparing Stadia to Microsoft’s xCloud and pointing out that XCloud is a better deal. Keep in mind the xCloud is running on Xbox One S units back in the data center and it only runs on mobile phones for now. The output is 720P. Stadia is definitely more powerful than that. We also don’t know what the pricing of XCloud will be. If all you want to do is run games on your tiny phone screen than yes, xCloud is probably the way to go. But for monitors and big-screen TVs you’re probably going to want more power. At some point I suppose xCloud will transition to Project Scarlet units but that won’t be for a few years yet. I just think it is too early to call a winner between these two services.

OK so about Google Stadia…

I was going to write a long-winded post about Stadia, then decided not to and whined about it on Twitter, after which a few people indicated that they were actually interested, so here goes but I’ll keep it brief.

If you’re a PC gamer today, Stadia in 2019 probably isn’t intended for you because:
1) You already have a PC that can play recent games
2) You already have a community to play with
3) Most of Stadia’s gee-whiz features probably won’t be ready at roll-out anyway.

So who IS Stadia 2019 for? Tinkerers, for sure. People who just like to try new things. Also possibly console gamers who’re getting stick of 30 FPS and can’t wait for November 2020 (when the new consoles come out) to address that. Mobile gamers who want to expand beyond the offerings currently available to them. And lastly, “Dads” who USED to be gamers but dropped away from it when life got busy and now they aren’t willing to invest in updated hardware but they might enjoy playing a game now and then. In fact I’ve seen Stadia referred to as Dadia.

Now I (being the resident weirdo) actually am interested in Stadia in 2019. I have the pesudo-4K 30 FPS experience on consoles, and I have a laptop that can run most recent games on High settings at 60 FPS but only at 1080P. I don’t really have a PC gaming community I’m attached to. So if Stadia really can get me 60 FPS 4K PC gaming, I’m willing to switch to it, at least for some titles. Mind you, I am not convinced that promise will be kept, but I will at least try it to see.

My “perfect” Stadia would run PC games with RTX graphics at 60 FPS/4K. I know Nividia is starting to deploy RTX in some of their GEForce Now data centers but I dunno if Google will be that cutting edge. But anyway, that’s why I am interested. If I had built a desktop PC (that I could upgrade) rather than buying a gaming laptop Stadia probably wouldn’t be nearly as appealing to me in 2019.

But what REALLY intrigues me is Stadia in 2021 or 2022. It’ll either be dead (“Hey remember that Stadia service that was a thing for 5 minutes?”) or I think it’ll be pretty cool. If game developers embrace it and build games that harness all that available power (the first of these should be Robot Entertainment’s Orcs Must Die 3 which is using the power of Stadia to generates LOTS of orcs) the service could be really special. But even if that doesn’t happen, assuming Google keeps the hardware up to date we’ll be seeing instances where the PC gamers of 2019 are faced with the choice of either upgrading their hardware, or switching to Stadia; I think at the point the service could start gaining traction with PC gamers.

So those are my brief (!!?) thoughts.

Bonus other reasons I want Stadia:
1) My laptop hard drive is always full and I’m sick of juggling stuff. I connected an external drive but somehow my C: drive still keeps getting full
2) I like the idea of playing the same game on the TV, on a cheap laptop, or on my phone. I kind of do this already using Parsec but Stadia should make it better
3) I’m intrigued about things like YouTube integration

But there are concerns:
1) It’s PC gaming, but without mods. That’s a big loss
2) Will my ISP decide to start capping me if I use Stadia heavily?
3) If Google pulls the plug, my games go poof. I’ll probably stick primarily to F2P games and Ubisoft games since if you own a game on UPlay you can play it on Stadia

Ghost Recon Breakpoint & Microtransactions

There’s a lot of fuss and hate over on reddit and YouTube about the amount of microtransactions (MTX) in Ghost Recon Breakpoint. Mostly it seems to be coming from people who haven’t played the game. I have played it and wanted to chime in.

First, yes there ARE a lot of MTX available. That’s not up for debate. The question is, do you need to buy this stuff. Should you even buy it? In my experience the answer to both questions is no.

Here’s an example. There’s a gun attachment I decided I wanted to get. I could do it two ways.

Method 1: I could go into the store and spend real money on it.

Method 2: I could take a quest that led me to the same item in-game. I chose this one. Here’s how that played out.

First, I have the game set for Exploration Mode which means I don’t just get a Waypoint on my map to go to. I COULD turn off exploration mode and I’d get one, but that’s not fun to me. In exploration mode I got a few hints about where this item would be.

So I consulted the map, looked around for landmarks mentioned in the clues and figured out where the item was. (To be honest, it wasn’t at all hard to do…I wish it had been harder.) The area in question had a few item caches and I’d have to check them all. It was also over 2 km away. Off I went.

My trip there was hella fun. I rode a motorcycle for some of it, went on foot for other bits. Once I got caught in an open area with an enemy helicopter incoming. I dropped prone and rolled in the mud to camouflage myself. Another time I had to crouch behind some rocks while an enemy vehicle passed by. I thought about taking them out but when a 2nd vehicle followed close behind I knew I’d made the right decision.

It wasn’t all stealth though. I took out quite a few small patrols as I went, and got some upgraded gear drops for my trouble.

One really cool thing I discovered is that going downhill in this game can be tricky. Depending on how fast you’re moving and how steep the hill, you can start to lose your balance. If you fall you’ll take a nasty tumble. Fortunately I was playing a medic and could heal myself (actually I think all classes can heal themselves out of combat). I quickly learned that crouching and/or moving slowly lets you navigate down hills much more safely.

Finally I got to where I thought the item was and the place was crawling with enemies. As I was playing solo this became almost a puzzle. Someone compared solo Breakpoint to Metal Gear Solid 5 and that sounds about right. I started by using a sniper rifle with a suppressor to take out the guards in high towers, then snuck in and started rifling through weapon crates for my part. Got more gear upgrades but no part. The last crate was, of course, at the top of a tower guarded by 2 enemies.

Gear up! And get a damned shave!

Couldn’t figure out how to stealth by them so I engaged them, which alerted a bunch of their friends. I had to flee for my life. I ran up a hill to a tree line and crouched down. I used the sniper rifle to thin out my pursuers and then moved to another location and hid for a bit. When things settled down I entered the camp from another angle and got up into that tower and got my part. Then it was a matter of sneaking back out and making off with the goodies.

By the time I left that camp I was in love with the game; that whole journey had been so much fun. (Although it is far from perfect and could use a lot of polish; hopefully it will get that polish in post-launch support; most Ubi games do.)

So I dunno, maybe I’m doing it wrong. Maybe I should be complaining that I could have skipped actually PLAYING THE GAME and just purchased that weapon part.

This same argument came up when Assassin’s Creed Odyssey came out, too. You could buy outfits and gear, and you could even buy experience boosters. People argued that the game was balanced to ‘force’ you to buy things but I’ve played AC:O twice, on Xbox and on PC, and never felt the need to buy anything. In fact I felt like experience rolled in too quickly; the idea of buying a boost just seems game breaking to me.

I can only assume the people angry about these MTX are the people who need to be the first and the best; they feel compelled to take every shortcut they can to beating the game, or maxing their character, as soon as they possibly can. I guess that kind of person “needs” to buy from the MTX store.

But for those of you who want to buy Breakpoint to, y’know, actually PLAY the game? There’s no issue with MTX. They’re there, sure. But you don’t need them. Please don’t let them dissuade you from buying, if you’re interested in the game.

Addendum: I just want to add a bit based on Azuriel’s comment. I’m not trying to praise Ubisoft for having MTX in this game. (Though I honestly do feel if they are there and players other than me want to funnel a steady stream of revenue into the coffers it’ll increase the chance of long-term support.) This post was in response to the mis-information going around about the game; basically suggesting it was unplayable if you just purchased the game and didn’t spend extra on MTX. That is most definitely not the case.

I just feel like these days EVERY major release is met with some kind of manufactured controversy so that YouTubers can get more views and I’m kind of sick of it.

If you are fundamentally against any game that has MTX, definitely stay away. But just please believe me when I tell you, you can buy this game and have fun with it without spending a dime on MTX.

Oh and one more data point. There are no “lootboxes” here that are purchasable with real money. All the MTX offers are for specific items, not “a change to get…” gambling-style lootboxes. That alone feels like a step in a positive direction.

My hopes for Watch Dogs: Legion

We’re about six months away from Watch Dogs: Legion, Ubisoft’s 3rd open world hack-a-thon. I loved Watch Dogs and didn’t love Watch Dogs 2, which I think puts me in my usual lunatic fringe position. Given that, none of my hopes for Watch Dogs: Legion will probably come true but I wanted to throw them out into the void just in case.

Most of the Watch Dogs (the original) hate seemed to be about the main character, who many gamers saw as boring or too wooden. I saw him as an excellent anti-hero character. He was motivated by revenge after his enemies caused the death of his niece. He’s like the hacker version of The Punisher. You don’t see Frank Castle cracking jokes and wearing funny hats, and neither does the protagonist of Watch Dogs. He’s not a good guy; he’s a driven guy. Great character, IMO.

But many found him boring, so for Watch Dogs 2 they introduced Marcus, a young hacker who runs around with a crew of colorful characters. When they’re not on missions they’re shopping for clothes and stuff. Their lair is beneath a game store. The world they have to play in is more GTA than in the first game.

That’s all fine to an extent, but thematically things fall apart early on (it might get better later in the game; I’ve never made it too far). The goal of this gang is to get followers (which substitute for experience points) and to do that they need to pull off missions that feel more like hi-jinx than anything too serious. Examples (and to be fair I’m writing all this from memory so I may get some details wrong) are stealing the script from an upcoming movie so they can release it on the web, and stealing a reputed “smart car” being used in that movie so they can drive it around the city while sporting their crew’s logo.

Still all well and good, until the missions begin when the violence turns out to be way out of proportion to the activity. As Marcus sneaks into an office building to get the script, any of the many heavily armed guards who spot him will immediately open fire, shooting to kill. Likewise, Marcus is armed with plenty of hardware to lethally respond to any and all threats.

It just felt wrong for people to be killing each other over a movie script. Also wrong for Marcus to go back to his crew, cracking jokes, after finishing the mission. Show some remorse Marcus; those guards had families!

Now to be fair you CAN try to play non-lethally but IMO that ramps up the difficulty quite a bit. Marcus carries a melee weapon that is a billiard ball in a lanyard; he’ll either swing this and clock someone in the head, or use the lanyard to choke a person until he passes out. I believe there is also a tranq gun or you can use the environment to electrocute guards. Technically non-lethal but still pretty violent.

In the best cases you can hack your way through a mission and remain undetected. That feels thematically most appropriate but, for me at least, these puzzle solutions were pretty tough and I’d often grow impatient, go in guns blazing, then feel remorse for having done so.

So bottom line, some of this is on me for not being more clever and patient, but I’m putting some of it on the devs as well.

Anyway, I hope Watch Dogs: Legion has missions where the objectives and the level of violence sync up better. Make the bad guys feel like they deserve what they get. Don’t ask me to kill a security guard who is guarding a movie script or a record album.

My second issue with Watch Dogs 2 is a much more practical one. The missions tend to have a lot of steps and if you fail one, you have to start the whole mission over (at least, in many cases). Nothing makes me lose interest in a game faster than making me play part of a mission over and over in order to get back to the part that is proving to be a challenge for me. So please, Ubisoft, more check points in missions. If that makes the game too easy, put in a ‘hardcore’ mode that disables the checkpoints or something.

Gears 5 Campaign is not ready for prime time

Update 9/11/19: I played for a few hours last night and these issues SEEM to have been rectified. Nothing wonky happened and I was back to having fun. So fingers-crossed, this post is no longer relevant. Original post follows:

I was pretty excited to jump into Gears 5 Thursday evening, and initially I was not disappointed. Friday night I had fun as well, though at one point I had to exit the game when it froze. Saturday, as I moved deeper into Act 2, I start encountering more and more issues. I’m sad to say, I’m putting the game back on the shelf for now.

I’m bummed because I’m loving the game…when it works. But there is something wonky with the saving/loading system and four times now I’ve had to replay chunks of the game because of issues. In some cases the auto-save will just keep running and running and never finish. In some cases I get an error saying “Unable to save game” after which I have to go back to the last checkpoint. And in still others I’ll enter an area and “triggers” (ie doors I need to open, switches I need to throw) will be inoperable and I’ll have to reload a checkpoint.

Even this wouldn’t be so bad except the checkpoints are spread out and reloading can mean re-playing a few battles, including some tough ones. It can also mean going through an area carefully searching for collectibles and “components” that you use to upgrade your robot pal…a second time. Or put another way, your last checkpoint could be 10-20 minutes ago depending on how hard the fights have been. (There seem to be “I just died” checkpoints and “return to the game” checkpoints. The former are fairly frequent but it’s the latter that you have to pick after a glitch happens and they’re farther apart.)

What I’ve learned is that if your character and his/her companion stop talking about what they’re doing, you’re probably glitched and sooner or later you’re going to have to reload an earlier checkpoint.

Hopefully The Coalition can fix this all soon and if they do I would give Gears 5 a hearty recommendation.

What really puzzles me is that the game has gotten rave reviews from the “pros” (I know we hate Metacritic but the score there is 85 currently) and none of them mentioned these glitches, but lest you think I am alone in experiencing them, I’ll direct you to this thread in the forums.

Just another example of how you can’t trust professional reviewers these days.

UPDATE: The Coalition posted an update/acknowledgement of the issue:

An Embarrassment of Riches

Image by Steve Bidmead from Pixabay

I stole my title from @scopique‘s tweet promoting his latest blog post. He sees having too many games on the market as a potential problem, and I kind of agree with him. Games start to feel so disposable when there are so many of them around.

But you know me, I’m Mr Positive! (Ha, I couldn’t get that out with a straight face.) Most years I have a mental checklist of all the games I’m going to be playing in the Fall, but I never got around to doing that this year.

And now I’m suddenly swamped. There are SO MANY games I want to play. Gears 5 launched for some (including me) last night and so far I am LOVING it. The Ghost Recon Breakpoint beta also started yesterday and I loved that. I’ll be there at launch (Oct 4th) to play that one. Tuesday Greedfall comes out and I am cautiously optimistic about that. Destiny 2’s new expansion drops Oct 1 and again, I am cautiously optimistic about that.

Then there’s the Monster Hunter World expansion, the Legend of Zelda remake, Borderlands 3 (which normally isn’t my cuppa but I think if all my friends are playing I won’t be able to resist), The Outer Worlds, the probably too-weird-for-me-to-skip Death Stranding and the new Star Wars game.

Most of these are in September and October, a few are in November. But these are just the ‘off the top of my head’ titles; I’m sure there are more I’m not thinking of.

And let’s not forget the games I’m already playing like No Man’s Sky, Days Gone, Dragon Quest Builders 2 and I’ve recently jumped back into Assassin’s Creed Odyssey.

I’m going to have to figure out how to clone myself so one “me” can go to work and the other “me” can hang out and play games all day. And even if I could accomplish that, there STILL probably wouldn’t be enough hours in the day to play all of these!

Back to Scopique’s post though: this IS kind of a problem, at least if you’re trying to sell games. If I can’t find the time (and money!) to play all the games I’m really excited about, what are the chances I’ll pick up some random lesser-known title because it seems interesting? I’m going to say, close to zero.

Exacerbating this problem is that so many of these games don’t end. A year after launch AC Odyssey is still getting new content. The Gears 5 team is promising on-going updates and content drops. I’m sure GR Breakpoint will be the same: Ubisoft has doubled-down on games as a service in what I see as a good way. Where will I find the time!?

Oh hell and I just realized I haven’t even thought about the VR games!