This Week in Gaming – 22.02.19

This week I go over what games I’ve been playing in the last 7 days, speculate a little on what Google could be unveiling at their GDC panel, and look ahead to this week’s big release, EA’s Anthem. 

What I’ve been playing

Last week Shadow of the Tomb Raider was brought onto Xbox Game Pass, Microsoft’s stupidly good value for money subscription service. I thoroughly enjoyed the previous two games since the franchise reboot in 2013. I didn’t get round to Shadow when it released for one reason or another, but once I had to give it a go once it came to Game Pass.

Square Enix have largely stuck to the formula they have used in the previous 2 games, and not added a great deal I’ve found. A little disappointingly for me, the game feels similar to my time with Tomb Raider and Rise of the Tomb Raider, but has so far not hooked me into the story. The first two games had shades of Uncharted about them, with the hunt for some ancient treasure being the motivation behind some great character work. This time round the same motivations are there, and we do dive into Lara Croft’s childhood, but its missing that intangible element that just makes you want to keep going back and pushing onto the next part of the story.

I think the lack of a supporting cast we are invested in takes its toll on this third instalment. By the third game in the Uncharted series, we are just as invested in Sully and Elena as we was in Nathan Drake. Lara Croft is the only character I could name from any of these games, I couldn’t even come up with the name of her friend in this game that I have been playing this very week.

One potential reason I grew tired of Tomb Raider, is because I knew I was just a few button presses away from the addictive brilliance of Apex Legends. Neither Fortnite or PUBG ever held my attention quite like Apex is right now, and if I wasn’t writing this, I would be playing it. I went in-depth on a little more in last weeks post, but it’s honestly one of the most well made, excellently balanced games I have played in years. The battle pass comes soon, and with it hopefully a slew of challenges and objectives to mix gameplay up a bit.

Google is coming

This week Google announced that they are going to be unveiling something, no clues on exactly what, at a press event to be held at the Game Developers Conference in March. After the apparent success they had with allowing people to stream Assassins Creed Odyssey through Google Chrome, all signs point to some kind of digital streaming gaming platform.

Google have been expanding into new markets in recent years, with their Phones and tablets emerging as viable options in both markets. They have a very trusted brand, and if they can beat Microsoft and Sony to the punch on a reliable games streaming platform with no latency issues we could be seeing a new contender emerge. Nintendo will always Nintendo, so I don’t see this affecting them very much, but I am sure the big 2 console owners will be watching carefully come March 19th.

I for one hope they release some form of hardware. I don’t believe it will be a box like the current generation consoles, but more likely similar to their Chromecast devices, which can just be plugged into a TV. The device itself will be just a proxy through which users can connect to Google’s cloud processing servers, allowing for HD to 4K quality, high fidelity games to run via the cloud straight onto people’s TV’s.

Such a device could revolutionise how accessible games are, and I can see new TV’s, or even an App for smart TV’s being launched which would allow everyone access to the world of video games with a much lower cost to entry. The elimination of a chunky piece of hardware not only saves space in people’s living rooms, but also reduces the production cost per unit sold for the tech giant. Any news on a release date for the platform is scarce, but all will be revealed in a few short weeks.

Anthem out of tune at launch?

I have been looking forward to BioWare’s Anthem since I first laid eyes on the game a couple of E3’s ago. I love Destiny, and I am a huge fan of Iron Man, so the two being smashed together and being given a story crafted by the creators of the Mass Effect series is a match made in heaven for me. It’s currently installing on my Xbox as we speak and once this is written I will be diving into the game (I prefer PS4, but my mates play Xbox, what can you do).

The game has been “out” for about a week now, although the exact launch day is a little messy. If you have an EA Origin account on PC at a certain level of membership, you could download and play Anthem, the full game, from February 15th. I have EA Access on console, meaning I had 10 hours of gameplay for free, available from the same date. I didn’t take up that offer because of two reasons. For one thing, I knew I had a busy week, and wouldn’t be able to get a decent session in until friday anyway. Secondly, being a platform in a similar vein to destiny, I knew the launch would be a little rocky.

That thinking has been proved right judging by all of the discussion around Anthem this week. Game bugs, crashes and excruciatingly long load screens have all been cited as regular occurrences for players in this opening week. BioWare and EA have announced a Day one patch to deal with these issues, but even the developers themselves aren’t sure exactly when the game released as the patch was dropped on thursday.

I know a lot of people now lose interest in a game if it is broken on release, and i completely understand and sympathise with that logic. With Anthem though, I am willing to give it a bit of time to correct these issues. At launch, Destiny 1 and 2 were fraught with similar bugs and issues. The same is also true for Ubisoft’s own version of these shooter looter games, The Division. What we saw with all of those games, and what I hope we see with Anthem, is continuous support and updates from the developers to make the game the best version of itself that it can be. Destiny 1 and 2 are both excellent games, and I have spent far too many hours on the Destiny 2 grind, and the gameplay and loot cycle have kept me hooked. If Anthem can get into a similar place, we are looking good.

What does worry me, is the comparisons some are making with Bethesda’s “How to botch a guaranteed success” game, Fallout 76. That game released with a load of bugs and glitches, and without the community mod support that Fallout 4 received, no sign of them all being cleared up. Just this week Bethesda banned a player who had committed over 900 hours to the game because apparently he had collected too much ammo for the game and he was kicked off the servers permanently. If Anthem goes the way of Fallout 76, it will be the biggest disappointment in gaming of the decade for me.

I will find out this weekend, and my review in progress (which means I will update it and give a final verdict when I’m finished with the main story) with Anthem will be up on Monday morning at 8am, so check back for my in-depth thoughts on the shooter then.

Thanks for reading!

ChAzJS on XBL and PSN

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This week in Gaming – 15.02.2019

I love video games, and I love the industry news and events that come up, so I am going to post a round-up of stories that mattered to me in the last week in the gaming world. This week Activision Blizzard piss off the entire industry, Respawn take on Fortnite, and Nintendo announce new(ish) Zelda and Mario games. 

This week has been a tumultuous one for the industry, with Activision Blizzard’s earnings call with investors causing controversy. The short summary of the story is that Activision have had a record year, with huge profits, and their reaction to this news is to fire roughly 800 members of their staff. On the face of it, it’s an extremely unethical and irresponsible move from the people in charge at Activision Blizzard.

The business side of things, it seems like their reasoning is relatively sound. They are planning to cut down costs whilst producing more games, which is an understandably attractive proposition for any business. The worry here is that you cannot increase production, cut costs, and still maintain the quality of games that we, video game players, demand.

To play devils advocate, they have just lost Bungie, and the Destiny franchise has gone with the developer. It wouldn’t surprise me if some of the layoffs are related to the marketing side of Activision that were focused on the Destiny games. However, Activision CEO Bobby Kotick inferred that despite “recording record results” they still fell below the expectations for 2018, leading to revised, lower expectations in 2019 and this is why they are “restructuring”. Kotick avoids the words layoff and firing very purposely, spinning everything to a positive for the investors he was speaking to.

The people being laid off are all talents, and I am sure will find roles elsewhere, but its a measure of the unrealistic expectations the big video game companies have. They are not content with making a lot of money, they need to make all of the money. Every year has to be bigger, exponential growth is the target, and that is not an attainable one. Their “ambition” is much more suited to the word “Greed”.

Apex Legends FTW

In much more positive news, Respawn (creators of the underappreciated Titanfall franchise) dropped their take on the Battle Royale craze that has a hold of the gaming world lately with Apex Legends. They are not the first to jump onto the wagon of course, even Fortnite was after PUBG, which itself was a mod for another game before that.

Apex Legends takes the basics of the game, i.e. drop in a large map, scramble and scavenge for weapons, ammo, and armor, then fight it out/hide in a small room until you’re the last one left standing. Apex’s unique selling point, and the ace up its sleeve for me, is the hero shooter mechanics they introduce. Blizzard’s Overwatch game is the best example of a Hero Shooter, and what Respawn have done is take the best elements of that genre, and smash them together with the Battle Royale genre, and make it work perfectly.

I have played a fair bit of Fortnite, a little of PUBG, and a lot of Overwatch back in the day. Apex Legends is as accessible as Fortnite, as fun as Overwatch, and as intense as PUBG. I haven’t enjoyed playing any of the other games on my own very much, but Apex makes playing with randoms in your trio incredibly easy, all without having to use your mic. The RB/R1 button is used brilliantly to communicate with your teammates in a way that is actually effective.

The shooting mechanics are solid, better than Fortnite and PUBG, although perhaps a little behind Call of Duty Blackout. There is no building to master here, the main barrier to entry in Fortnite, and the class abilities are useful without ever feeling overpowered. It’s a very solid game, a great foundation for Respawn to build on and create a rival for Fortnite’s Battle Royale crown. At the moment there is only one game mode, but I expect to see a lot of support for Apex, just like Epic offered with Fortnite.

Nintendo New Game News

I recently sold my Nintendo Switch, as it had been sitting gathering dust for the last 6 months after I had finished with Overcooked. Smash Ultimate is fun, but i have a friend who owns it, and playing alone did not appeal to me at all. So after this weeks Nintendo Direct announcements, I have to say I am… happy I made that decision.

Fire Emblem has never been a franchise I know or care much about and it’s never appealed to me, but there is a lot of news for that out there if that’s your kind of game. There are 2 games I was intrigued by in the direct, Super Mario Maker 2 and Tetris 99.

Mario Maker seems like a great idea, allowing the huge community to create their own Mario levels will lead to some brilliant and creative experience’s. The Little Big Planet franchise had its hooks in me for a hot minute back in the PS3 days, playing other people’s creations was really entertaining. I was never a creator myself, but it was a really cool idea. Mario Maker aims to capture that promise, and deliver it with the polish we expect from the Mario franchise.

Tetris 99 I don’t fully understand, but it sounds fascinating. Essentially its Tetris Battle Royale. 99 players all play at the same time, the winner being the last one out I assume, or perhaps there is a timer and it’s whoever has the highest score in that time. Its a clever way to make tetris competitive, and it’s the only reason I miss owning a switch right now.

The other announcement people might really care about is the remake/remaster of Links Awakening. I never played it, I have never really enjoyed a Zelda game and the art styled doesn’t appeal to me, but I know I am very much in the minority on this one. For those of you that want to relive the 1993 Game Boy classic can do so later this year.

That’s it for this week in gaming, thanks for reading!

Credit to Kinda Funny Games Daily, Kotaku, and The Verge for some of the information above.