Scarlet Nexus, Finally

Back in December (I think?) I started playing Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age on the Xbox. It was on Game Pass and I was on a Final Fantasy bender. Then in typical fashion I got distracted and let it drop, but I still had it pinned near the top of the Xbox dashboard because I had every intention of getting back to it.

The other day I opened the Game Pass app and there under “Leaving Soon’ was “Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age.” Bummer. In theory I could drop everything and try to mainline FFXII and finish it by the end of the month (I think that’s when it drops from the lineup) but I know doing that when I wasn’t in the mood would just make me hate the game. I considered buying it, but it is still something like $40 which seems like a lot for a game that originally came out in 2006. Granted this is a remaster but still. Anyway, for now I wave farewell to FFXII and maybe I’ll snag it on sale at some point.

On the same day I got this news, I opened the Microsoft Rewards app to earn some sweet, sweet Microsoft Points/funny money. There was a challenge to “Earn an Achievement In One of Our Top 10 Games”. I looked at the list of games, which I think is more “The top 10 games we want to promote” than anything. Scarlet Nexus was in there.

Before it launched, there was a demo for Scarlet Nexus and I had played it and enjoyed it. I’d even planned to buy the game at launch but something came up…who can remember back that far? And then it popped up on Game Pass and I was happy I hadn’t spent $60 on it. Now I could play it for “free.” *happy dance*

Except I didn’t. This is my Game Pass Achilles Heel. A game I want to play hits the service, I get excited and put it on my mental list of “games I’ll play Real Soon Now” but…I forget that inclusion on Game Pass is transient. Generally games are on there for a year or two, maybe even longer, but most do eventually leave. Use it or lose it. Play it or… belay it? (I’ll work on that.)

So this Microsoft Rewards quest thingie was thankfully the kick in the ass I needed. I fired up Scarlet Nexus and quickly remembered how much I’d enjoyed the demo. It didn’t take long to earn an Achievement to get the Rewards points, but I didn’t stop there. Now I’ve been playing it for a couple nights and my intent, as of right now, is to finish it. Tomorrow that intent may change, what with me being me.

I particularly enjoy Scarlet Nexus while wearing headphones with the sound cranked up. I’m finding the music a delight, even though it is not really in my wheelhouse. The whole anime vibe of the game is enjoyable too, and the Others (the monsters you fight) are delightfully weird.

None of this is news to anyone. We all played the demo, and a good number of us enjoyed it, at least based on my Twitter circles.

So this whole post is really just a cautionary tale about waiting too long to play the Game Pass games you want to play. Don’t be like me, sitting here with my crushed Final Fantasy XII dreams…

I’ll come back to actually playing Scarlet Nexus in a future post. Maybe.

Game Pass Cloud Gaming Arrives on Consoles

It is finally here! Xcloud, Microsoft’s cloud gaming system for Xbox Game Pass, has been available on mobile devices and computers for a while now, but inexplicably not on the consoles themselves. Today it has arrived.

Here’s the official post about it.

Of course HOW to access it isn’t particularly clear.

Step one: Update your console. It’ll update automatically probably tonight but if you want to jump in now go to settings->system and choose updates.

Step two: Wait impatiently for update to complete

Step three: When the console restarts you’ll probably see all kinds of promotions for this new feature, but barring that, open the Game Pass app, open a game page, and from there you’ll see a “Play” button with a little cloud icon next to it. (See image at the top of this post.) You’ll also see the cloud icon on the game ’tiles’ in the game pass app.

I can’t take screenshots of the dashboard, so please forgive the photo of a TV. 🙂

Xbox One owners get this too, and can play Xbox Series X titles via Xcloud, though to the best of my knowledge there are no exclusive Series X|S games that are cloud-enabled yet. Flight Simulator is coming, though.

Windows Xbox App Games are Getting Mod Support

Just a quickie. I caught this video about what’s upcoming for Xbox Game Pass for PC users. I can’t find a text version because we as a society are too lazy to read I guess (or I’m too lazy to Google…maybe both) but the gist is that Microsoft is going to add mod support to games installed via the Xbox app.

It’s not clear to me if the same mods that work on other versions (Steam or Epic or whatever) will work, but I’d expect so. But what do I know about game programming and modding?

I do know that currently it’s a real pain in the ass to even find your Xbox app games, let alone try to mod them, so I expect this will be welcome news to PC Game Pass people.

If you’re an Insider I think you can start testing this now, or at least very soon. Maybe I’ll sign up to be an Insider…

[A little bit later…]
Well I guess it works. Now I just need a Skyrim mod to try out. Are there any of those? (That’s a joke.)

You have to enable modes via the … menu, then you can open the game folder, as I have done here. The explorer window that opened is behind the Xbox app in this image:

Microsoft Rewards Points

Today I want to talk about the meta-game I’ve been playing the longest: Microsoft Rewards Points (MRP). MRP are Microsoft’s way to try to incentivize you to use their products like Bing and Game Pass. You can learn about the program here.

I have three primary ways to earn MRP. The first is by visiting every morning while I have coffee. There I do the “Daily Set” which is some mix of clicking links and taking quizzes. A lot of these are ‘no-fail’ situations where you get points just by trying, but if you want to be sure you get max points you can check the MicrosoftRewards reddit. I find doing these Daily Sets kind of amusing just from the point of view of learning trivia-level facts and stuff.

The second way I earn MRP is via the Microsoft Rewards app on the Xbox. This is somewhat similar to the above system, and often asks you to “Check out this featured game” or something equally trivial. (Selecting these tasks takes you to the store, but you don’t have to buy the featured game in order to earn points. Just visiting the store page is enough.) Other times you’ll be tasked to do something like earn an Achievement in a specific game or selection of games. In fact there is a daily task for earning an Achievement that grants you 50 points. Overall this is another fairly mindless way to earn points.

The third and most interesting way I earn MRP is via Game Pass Quests. This is where things get fun. There are daily, weekly and monthly quests. The daily quests are boring and always that same: 1) log into the Game Pass app, and 2) play a Game Pass game. The weekly and monthly quests are more interesting. They task you with doing specific things in specific Game Pass games (at least some of them do). So “Drive 1 KM in Game X” or “Kill 10 enemies in Game Y” or “Play an online match in Game Z.” These are usually fairly quick to complete (though there are exceptions). What I enjoy about them is they prompt me to play games I usually wouldn’t play, and sometimes I find games I really enjoy. For instance this week one of the quests involved A Plague Tale: Innocence. I accomplished the quest objectives pretty quickly but by then I was hooked on the game. Now I’m going to finish it!

The point of all of this is to amass MRP so you can exchange them for various goodies. My preferred goodie is store credit. A $100 Xbox gift card can be redeemed for 91,000 MRP, which sounds like a huge number given some of the tasks reward 5 or 10 points, but they add up more quickly than you might expect (accumulation is helped by various “double points” events and other promotions). I’ve earned over 400,000 MRP since starting with the program. I don’t really track things but at least once a year I cash in for a $100 gift card.

It wouldn’t be worth it if earning the points was bothersome, but for me it has become a game in and of itself. I look forward to Tuesdays, which is when the weekly quests come out. What has made this even better/easier is Xcloud since a lot of the games can be played via streaming, meaning you don’t have to install them to complete the quest. The daily sets on the web are either inoffensive and quick, or they’re quizzes which are kind of fun for me to do because I enjoy trivia.

Anyone with a Microsoft account can sign up and start earning points, but it is when you’re a Game Pass member that the system gets really interesting. If you have Game Pass you might want to check it out!

For me, Microsoft’s Game Pass is a double-edged sword

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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