This Week in Gaming – 01.03.2019

This week I go over what games I’ve been playing in the last 7 days, discuss the Pokemon 8th generation announcement, take a quick look at the anthem release and the big story this week for me is Xbox Game Pass potentially showing us a glimpse of the future of Microsoft’s gaming platform. 

What I’ve been playing

This week started with Anthem. It’s a fun enough game, and as my review last monday mentioned, I think it is a good basis for what could become a good, possibly great game. I have to say though, it has not kept me on the hook and wanting more. The last few times I have logged in, I have played Anthem because it’s what i feel i should do, rather than what I necessarily want to play. For me personally, that is a very bad sign.

I did eventually find myself dusting off my PS4 controller, and jumping back onto Fifa 19 for the first time in months. Perhaps it’s my beloved Arsenal’s recent form, but I had a scratch only Pro Clubs could scratch. For those who don’t know, Pro Clubs is the game mode on fifa where you control one player on the pitch, and have to play your position. Ultimate Team is where the money lies, and the career mode is where a lot of hours are clocked up, but for me Pro Clubs is where the best football minds on fifa go to show their skills.

I am not an excellent gamer, I don’t claim to be the best at COD or Fortnite or Apex, I am decent, and can have a great game now and then, but I know my limits. When it comes to Pro Clubs on fifa, I am confident in being one of the best players I know of, and in my position (Box to Box Central midfielder) I am the best I know of. Humble brag. Anyway, that’s what I did this week, played five games with some of my old fifa team mates online, and we won all five. Now enough of my bragging, onto this weeks news.

Pokey Mans

Detective Pikachu’s trailers have made me excited for a Pokemon film, more than I would have ever imagined. The first games Pokemon games I have played a few times through, and I have some great memories with them. Since Gen 1, i have fallen out of the franchise completely, and I could not name more than 3 of the Pokemon from Gen 2 onwards.

This week, Nintendo called a Pokemon Direct, where they unveiled the newest additions to the Pokemon franchise, Pokemon Sword and Shield. In what is apparently a UK inspired setting, we see a more detailed, 3D world, and some new features that I am sure excited the hardcore Pokemon fans. For me though, Pokemon needed to do something drastically different. By now, everyone knows what Pokemon games are, every kid has their pokemon game. Mine was years ago, and when I look at this new game, it seems like things have not changed beyond the graphics. The idea is still seemingly to take one of your 3 starter pokemon, slowly gather more, and then eventually beat the evil corporation and become the best trainer in the region.

I sincerely hope that these games are exactly what their audience want, but to get someone like me to be interested, I needed something closer to Breath of the Wild. I didn’t get into that game because Zelda’s world doesn’t appeal to me, the Pokemon world does. A full RPG game, with the Pokemon creatures out in the wild to be engaged with in a new way would have made me severely regret departing with my Switch. As it is, I am comfortable that I made the right decision for me.

Anthem out of tune?

I have written a lot about Anthem in the last week, and by now I am sure you are sick of reading it, if you are one of the few who reads this regularly. Thanks for the support if so! Anthem’s launch has been rough, and apparently the sales figures haven’t exactly blown anyones minds either. The headlines read particularly gloomy, with a fraction of Mass Effect Andromeda’s sales figures being touted as the number. In reality I think the number is a bit higher, but there is no doubt it has not caught the imagination quite like EA wanted, and perhaps expected it to.

Apex Legends launched just a week before Anthem, and seems to have done exactly what Anthem was expected to do. Apex has become a phenomenon, with people I wouldn’t expect asking me about that new game they’ve seen people on twitter or Facebook talking about. Anthem by comparison, has been a barely visible ripple in the pop culture pool. As I’ve stated a few times, I quite like the game, but something is missing when it comes to that buzz you normally get from a big  game launch. BioWare need to keep the support up, and deliver regular updates straight away to keep people coming back to the game. Something to keep an eye on in the coming weeks.

Game Pass, present and future? 

My apologies for the terrible pun sub-title.

This week it was found that Microsoft has begun to push elements of its Xbox infrastructure onto the Windows platform PC users are familiar with. I won’t pretend to understand the details, but there is a tonne of detail in the story linked here in a story on Thurrott.com by Brad Sams. Long story short, Microsoft seem to be getting rid of the differences between how xbox and PC games are run, and bringing them together so that Xbox games could potentially be run on a PC. What does all this potentially mean?

Earlier this month, we saw an announcement about xbox live coming to Nintendo Switch. This led to stories that Microsoft could bring Game Pass, the best deal in the games industry, onto the Nintendo platform. This would mean that Nintendo players could play Xbox games, possibly including exclusive titles like Halo, on their Switch. Now of course we know the Switch doesn’t have the power under the hood to run games requiring the power that a Xbox One can provide, let alone a Xbox One X.

How would they get around this lack of processing power? Potentially with their own games streaming service. I speculated last week that Google may be dipping into the market and being the first games streaming available for the public. Microsoft have already announced they are working on a similar project, and that more will be unveiled in the coming months. Could the Project Scarlett we have been told about be a completely new type of console. Is it possible Xbox will become a service? So on top of being a console you can buy, there is also a dongle you can plug into anything, and an app on your TV or devices, and even an app on Microsoft’s rivals consoles.

PlayStation is so far out in front of Xbox that Microsoft are having to make calls that are risky, perhaps not cost efficient, and they seem to be approaching it with the consumers desires at the forefront of their minds. Is their plan is to make their games, their brand, available anywhere. Imagine if Microsoft announce that they are making the vast library of Xbox games available to everyone, regardless of the console they can afford. All you need is a subscription to Xbox Live, or whatever name they give the service, and you are free to browse the library of games and buy what you want.

It is no secret that the console making companies lose money on their Hardware sales. They make their profits through the cut of the money they take from the sales of every game on the platform. With this kind of service, they will still need to build the hardware, but can save a lot on packaging all the complex components in a nice, living room friendly shell, and shipping them around the world. Instead they can install the centres they mentioned in their last E3 conference around the world, allow anyone to connect to it via the internet with a relatively low-cost subscription, and voila, everyone is buying and playing games on their platform. Cloud processing has been a reality for a while, and google proved with their Assassins Creed test last year that it works. Microsoft have something Google doesn’t the Xbox brand. A well-known name in the world, one that immediately makes anyone think of video games.

Could Xbox be ready to change gaming, and bring it to the entire world? I could be completely wrong, but who knows, maybe Game Pass on switch is just the beginning.

For more speculation, ramblings and opinions on games, movies and TV, follow Screenbunka on Instagram, Facebook and twitter. Thanks for reading!

Anthem – Review So Far..

EA owned studio BioWare have a long history of single player, character driven, branching story path games. Mass Effect is well-known as one of the most beloved series in the gaming world, and that studio’s new property is a very enticing prospect for a lot of fans. However, being the first “Live service” type game BioWare have attempted, there is a lot of skepticism over how well everything will work and whether EA have affected the choices being made by the developer too much from above. 

As a big Destiny player, I went into Anthem with my expectations in what I feel is the right place. I know this game has micro transactions, but they are all cosmetic, and the suits themselves are so customisable in terms of pain jobs that the options really don’t matter very much. I also went in knowing there would likely be connection issues and game bugs, as well as little quality of life defects which were all present in the first Destiny, and still present in Destiny 2. These types of games are sold as a platform for players to enjoy for a long time, not just one 20-30 hour play through.

That being said, I still had pretty high expectations when it gets down to the feel of the gameplay, the production design of the world, the lore, the characters, and the story. I played a few hours of the demo a couple of weekends ago and the flying felt fun, but the small slice I got was tough to judge thoroughly on the gameplay. The world certainly looks beautiful, with lush jungles, stunning waterfalls and cool looking javelins to look at as they zip around the environments. But does it all click together?

Javelin. 

The games core gameplay is designed around 4 different classes, each with different abilities. At the time of writing, I have used the Storm and the Ranger, with one the Colossus unlocked. 2 of my friends have been using the Interceptor and the Colussus, so I am aware of their abilities, but I stuck mostly with the Storm class, as they suit the way I want to play.

With different elemental abilities, varying from shooting ice or fire at enemies to calling down lightning strikes, Anthem certainly does a good job of making you feel powerful. Despite there being a wide variety of guns in the game, I found they was almost a secondary weapon. The abilities refresh quickly, and there is a deeper than it first appears combo system at play during the encounters. Mastering these combos is never really explained, but as I play more I am beginning to get a feel for how you are supposed to play the abilities in tandem, not just with your other abilities, but with other players.

Being with other players is a key part of Anthem’s design, as the game regularly warns you should you choose to set your privacy settings to private and play missions solo. The game does not scale things down for you, you’re on your own and you have to do everything the usual 4 person squad would have to do. This makes some levels impossible, like the challenging Strongholds. I got over my desire to solo every mission with Destiny, so it didn’t bother me having 3 other people jump in on missions in Anthem.

Javel-out

Anthem’s hub world, similar to the divisions home base, is a single player area for players to walk around, interact with characters and pick up missions. All of this is done in first person, which to me eliminates the point of you picking a character model right at the beginning of the game. It’s most similar to the ship in Mass Effect Andromeda, with a range of characters in their positions, ready to talk to you about any number of things. One of the things it doesn’t do that Mass Effect did so brilliantly, is make all of them interesting. There are 1 or 2 dull characters on your ship in mass effect, beyond that they’re all engaging, unique, interesting characters.

So far in my time with anthem, the reverse is true. There are a couple of interesting characters, but only a couple who I am really invested in. It’s not as if the voice acting and animations are great, they all are as good as you will see in any big video game these days. My problem is that the game thrusts a few characters at you and kind of expects you to understand references they make which I feel will only make sense if you read all of the entries in your bio.

With a few characters, like Owen and Faye, they deliver some intriguing characters who actually seem to have an arc of their own. Their dynamic, and their relationships with your character make for some of the more entertaining cutscenes and I hope a few other characters develop in the same way they did in my play through.

Teething Issues

Turning on Anthem for the first time this weekend, I expected to run into a lot more game crashing bugs and glitches, but I have only had to reset the game one time, and I have only disconnected two or three times. All pretty impressive for a game that struggled in its beta/demo, but then they will argue that is exactly why they did the beta in the first place.

What Anthem does struggle with is a few little choices that were made when it comes to the menus and end screens of missions. Changing guns is something you do regularly in these games, and yet Anthem not only hides such a trivial task behind 2 loading screens, it also restricts you to only using the guns and abilities you depart with. Forget to equip that new assault rifle or new Ice attack? You will need to end your expedition, sit through the loading screens to get back to Fort Tarsis, then another one to get to the Forge menu.

The end of each expedition is a cumbersome affair. You get your experience points and rewards laid out, all in comparison to the rest of your squad, and then you’re given the choice of Fort Tarsis, The forge, or the Launch Bay. The one option missing from this is the ability to jump straight into another mission. Regardless of how short the mission was, you have to go back and then redeploy from the home base every time. This kind of thing is something that I can see them adding in with a substantial patch in a few weeks or months, but I do wonder how this has been overlooked.

At times these little quality of life touches in a game are overlooked, but when they are not there, you feel like something isn’t quite right. The comparison is being made a lot between this and Destiny, but I do feel right now they are unfair. At launch, Destiny 1 and 2 were vastly different. Right now, Destiny 2 is a well oiled machine, and its audience know exactly what the drill is. Anthem needs time to find its audience, and it needs support from BioWare and EA to make sure they listen to the fans and make the right choices.

So my thoughts so far…

Anthem is a game that feels a little under baked to me. There are some excellent ideas here, and I seriously think in a few months with the support of BioWare we could be looking at a really special game. The Stronghold levels are excellently designed, mini raid levels that are rewarding and still challenging. It’s those missions I want to see more of. I am about 20 hours in, at level 20 and I am pretty sure I have plenty of game left between now and the end of the main story. I have heard the end game content in Anthem is great, which bodes well. Right now it’s pretty much exactly what I expected from the game, but for people not experienced with Live Service games like this or Destiny, it may feel a little weird to you.

It’s an odd thing that only video games as an entertainment medium can deliver, but Anthem is essentially in its infant steps right now. Give it some time, and I think this could become something be great.

Played on Xbox One

Gamertag: ChAzJS