Google Stadia: Streaming Games Works…sort of

For the last week influencers and reviewers have been playing Google Stadia. Yesterday, the review embargo was up, and a deluge of universally disappointed people spoke out about how the technology was there, but the service just wasn’t up to it. It’s been a rough launch for google, and its missing a lot of the features it’s expected will eventually come to the platform. 

I can understand why there is so much disappointment around this, they promised a lot and naturally people expected that promise to be mostly fulfilled on launch. The closer to launch we got, the more and more features were confirmed as “coming soon” basically stripping down the launch from the full platform to just being a beta or Early Access launch for those who really want to play it.

I’ve seen a few people mention this, and I think google may have missed a trick by not sticking a big fat “Early Access” label on Stadia until 2020 when they have the full suite of features up and running. That early access tag is superficial in a lot of ways, basically they’ve been honest and just launched what they have now, and will add the rest later, but it has led to a lot of questions about why they have launched a severely undercooked product into an incredibly competitive market.

The lack of features is alarming, some basic functionality just isn’t there from what I can see, for example buying a game can’t be done from all platforms, only really the Google Pixel phone, and you can’t play on the phone unless you have a USB-C to USB-C connector which evidently wasn’t sent out with the controller. It feels like they should have delayed the release but didn’t want their first entry to the games industry to be a delayed launch, although I don’t think this is any better for their reputation.

What’s more important to me personally, is that the technology is working. People are playing games on their TV’s at home, walking to a shop, and carrying on whilst walking right from where they left off. That is the dream for me, and as much success as the Nintendo Switch has had, I cannot wait until I can play games like Jedi Fallen Order at home and then on my journey to work.

The fact the tech works is far bigger news that I think it’s being credited for, but it really shines a light on the infrastructure needed to play these platforms. The internet is the key component that new streaming technologies need but the infrastructure just isn’t there for most of the globe. I am in a privileged position where I have great internet in my home and enough GB on my data plan to never have to think about it, but even I will struggle with playing games on my journey into work because the signal just isn’t consistent on trains. 5G internet will fix some of these issues, but even then, my train goes underground for a large part of my Journey so that’ll be the point where I have to stop playing.

The thought of getting to lunch time and being able to carry on from where I was is delightful though. That dreamland is now on the horizon, and I am very excited for the next couple of years when we will see this tech thrive. Stadia has launched this week and is the first out of the gate. Its rough launch has been tough on Google (Bless them, hope they’re going to be okay) but I have no doubt that the people at Microsoft have been watching with eagle eyed curiosity.

Next year they will be launching Project X Cloud in its entirety, and they will be watching Stadia and probably have more of an eye on how the technology is working than the services. They have a huge advantage in the fact they have libraries of 1000s of games ready for people to play, they just have to get the technology right. Their service is already made, the Xbox store, game pass, gold, it’s already ingrained in their ecosystem and Xcloud just opens their platform to more people. Quite how their platform will perform, or how the pricing will work, I am not sure, but I am certain they will be taking notes and making sure they get this right.

The Xbox camp has been steadily making all the right choices to position themselves as the front runner of the next generation, while stadia is an unknown and Nintendo won’t launch a streaming service until 2037. Their main competition will of course be the PS5, a console we know almost nothing about. There are rumours everywhere but what’s true and what’s industry speculation is hard to pick apart, the only guarantee is that games streaming will be a part of it.

Years ago, they launched a game streaming service to little fanfare. PSNow is a service that’s been improving for years and I think will be a big part of their next generation, even if they revamp its brand to make it feel like a new product. Playing anywhere isn’t a sure thing, but they’ve also been dabbling in that for several years as well with Remote play.

Stadia’s stumbling out the block shouldn’t scare people off streaming games platforms but should serve as proof of concept. It works, it just needs to be correctly implemented with the right services. Perhaps Google will get it there sooner rather than later, but if they don’t, I am confident Microsoft and Sony will.

ChAzJS

 

 

Advertisements

This Week In Gaming – 05.04.2019

This week Jason Schreier, the best journalist in the gaming industry drops a huge story about Anthem, Borderlands 3 gets a release date and the next Assassins Creed may have been leaked in The Division 2. All that plus the usual waffle this week in gaming. 

What I’ve been playing

I’ve had a busy week, so I have only really played more of the same. Apex and The Division 2 continue to dominate my gaming time, although I am getting the hankering for a single player experience. With Days Gone just weeks away I am trying to hold out for that, but some of my old favourites are calling me.

All the Borderlands news has made me tempted to jump into Borderlands 2, but on top of that my all time no.1 favourite game of all time Skyrim is sitting there on my Xbox and PS4 dashboards, tempting me to dive back in and replay through all of the stories I know back to front. I think I can hold out for another few weeks, with the satisfaction of those sweet sweet Apex Legends Wins and the satisfying grind of The Division sustaining me.

I look forward to updating you on my 500th Skyrim play through next week.

Kotaku Anthem Article

If you are reading this you probably have somewhat of an interest in the Gaming industry. If you do, I suggest you follow Jason Schreier on Twitter. He is the top journalist in the gaming industry in my opinion. His latest excellent story comes from Anthem developer BioWare, and 19(!) anonymous sources who detailed the troubled development of EA’s much maligned game.

I encourage you all to go over to Kotaku.com and read the article, but the general story is that the game suffered a very confusing production process, with several decisions not being made until as late as 12 months before the games release. These important creative decisions combined with the problem that EA’s game engine Frostbite brought with it made the game a development nightmare. The issues are plentiful, but not particularly new to the triple A game development world. The story sheds light on the conditions that people are working in within the games industry and that sometimes the heads of these companies need to take a step back and look at the bigger picture.

BioWare is a studio that has the potential to produce the very best games we see. They created the excellent Mass Effect series as well as the Star Wars epic Knights of the Old Republic. They then saw more success with Dragon Age Inquisition, which insiders cite as the worst thing that could have happened due to the incredible crunch the studio went through to produce the Dragon Age game.

Crunch, if you don’t know, is the name for the big push developers make to finish a game by a deadline. It’s been a part of the games development cycle for years, but over the last few years we have been seeing a swell of discontent towards this process, as it really does have an effect on the mental health and happiness of the people who make the games we love so much. It’s a huge issue, and I personally think games should be given as much time as they need to be complete. If stories like this lead to better decisions from the people in positions of power at the big companies than I am all for it!

Borderlands 3 Release Date & incredible box art unveiled

With last weeks PAX event confirming the existence of Borderlands 3, 4 days later Gearbox have revealed that the game will be in people’s hands on 13th September 2019. Just 5 months away. This is excellent news to me, and I am glad they are going with the unveil and quick release approach being my preferred method, against the “Tease a game for years” method adopted by games like Last of Us 2 and Death Stranding.

They dropped a new trailer online, which showed off the characters and the villains, along with more shots of the environments we will be seeing in the game. Borderlands 3 looks like it’s going  to be by far the biggest one yet, and Guns with Legs certainly does seem cool, but I am not sure we are getting anything really new aside from the planets and the characters. My only question is; Is that Enough?

I love the borderlands games, they’re great fun and at the time were groundbreaking for the Co-op RPG genre. However so far Borderlands 3 seems like they are just giving us another Borderlands 2, but with more guns and more locations. To me, that kind of update is DLC level content not enough for an entire game.

I am assuming there are going to be a lot of small touches that will make the game smoother and more diverse in terms of class choices and gameplay styles, but so far we haven’t seen anything that’s made me really think this is a PS4/Xbox One game rather than a PS3 or 360 one. There is a gameplay demo coming in a few weeks so lets hope we see something then that wows me a little.

Assassins Creed Ragnarok

What a name that would be. One of my personal favourite games of 2018 was Assassins Creed Odyssey, and I have been toying with going back to the game regularly to see whats ben updated. Ubisoft confirmed there wouldn’t be an immediate follow-up, as they were focused on supporting the world they’d built with that excellent game.

Eagle eyed gamers have spotted posters in The Division 2 picturing a Viking holding a globe like ornament. Nothing in that right? except when you zoom in you can see the ornament is the infamous Apple of Eden from the Assassins Creed franchise. This poster along with concept art leaks with the title “Assassins Creed Ragnarok” attached to them have led to the assumption that the next game in the time hopping series will be set in the norse world of the Vikings.

On paper, it all makes sense. They are some of the most famous sailors in history, so the boat mechanics perfected in the last few AC titles are easily implemented, and the norse mythology is some of the most epic and ripe for storytelling we have available to us. On top of that, they were famously savage fighters, meaning the hack and slash gameplay perfectly suits the style of that time period. Comparisons may be made to the masterpiece that was God of War, but I think they are to wildly different games. AC has evolved into a sprawling, multi layered, branching story role-playing game set in a huge world with a hundred of hours of gameplay there for the audience’s enjoyment. God Of War is a much smaller story and I expect the follow-up to be a similarly intimate in nature.

I really hope this turns out to be true, but time will tell. Ubisoft have a history of hinting at future games in their current releases, so I think this has a pretty good chance of coming true.

Until next week!

 

 

This Week In Gaming – 22.03.2019

This week has been a relatively quiet one in the games studio, except for the small story about an entirely new platform entering the video game industry. So nothing major I guess. I posted a story about that earlier this week, but I’ll go over the key points here in case you missed it, go over the pros and cons of Apex Legends’ new battle pass, and Xbox’s disc-less console is leaked. 

What I’ve been playing

The Division 2 is a really intriguing experience for me so far. I didn’t like the previous games gameplay because of the bullet sponge enemies, and that was pretty much what ended my time with The Division. The sequel has pretty much dealt with that issue by introducing faster paced, easier to deal with enemies. I feel a bit more powerful than I ever did in the first game. The tougher enemies now are much more intelligently designed, with armour you can shoot off to reveal clear weak points for you to aim at and do more damage.

The intelligence of the enemies is something I have really enjoyed. Unlike some games, where enemies just clumsily charge towards you to fight, the enemies here duck behind cover, and try to reposition and flank you. This has caused an issue for me, as so far I have been playing solo, meaning I have been slogging through tough levels in need of some back up. This week I will be playing more with people, either matchmaking or just with mates, and I think the tactical side of the game will really shine through here.

On top of that, I have been slowly allowing my mild addiction to Apex Legends to grow. I love playing this game, its tense, its fun, and the satisfaction you feel when you get that sweet sweet W is so gratifying. It has that “One more match” hook that all great games have and I am all in on the game now.

Apex Battle Pass

Speaking of Apex Legends, this week saw the release of the Battle Pass. I immediately signed up, and I went in thinking it would be a great addition. In reality, I think the service is a little disappointing. There are no challenges, which is what i was hoping to get. The challenges in the Fortnite battle pass give a whole new reason to play the game in different ways, but Apex have missed that element here. There are just levels to go up, not particularly dissimilar to the leveling system there already is in the game, just with more cosmetic rewards for leveling up. It’s a kind of carrot on the end of the stick, but one that I am not sure will keep gamers satisfied.

I hope they add more to the pass in the next few weeks, as at the moment I am not sure they have justified the £10 they’re charging. I am happy to pay it, as this game has already served up tens of hours of gameplay for me and I have loved all of it. There has been some understandable backlash from the fans, as people expected something much more in line with the offerings available on Fortnite. The excuse Respawn will give is that this is the first pass, and its early days for the game still.

For me, that excuse doesn’t really cut it considering they do not exist on their own in this genre. They can easily see what Epic is doing with their battle pass, and they obviously know as the name and system are almost copy and pasted into Apex. The developer needs to improve this to avoid further backlash, and they also need to speed up with content drops for the game. The battle pass came at the same time as the first new hero for the game, but the map has stayed completely untouched. We now are used to the ever evolving world of Fortnite,  and as much as I hate to keep comparing the two, that is the competition Respawn have. They need to keep evolving the game, and fast, or they risk being discarded and people returning to fortnite.

Disc-less Xbox

I wrote last week about a disc free Xbox being rumoured, and we now have seen the box. A report on the website WindowsCentral.com showed a photoshopped version of images they had been given by a source inside Xbox. To be honest, it is hardly a shocking revelation. The disc-less Xbox One S looks like a standard Xbox One S, but without a Disc tray.

The specs are confirmed to be a 1TB hard drive, which is good and has enough capacity for 20-25 games. The report also confirmed the new release as being the lowest price point to date for the current generation Xbox line. This all points towards giving people on the fence about Xbox One an easy to swallow price and  couple of games thrown in to get you started. Those games are Sea of Thieves, Forza Horizon 3, and Minecraft. There is no Game Pass thrown in, but as it’s a ridiculously low price for such a great service already, that isn’t too much of an extra expense for consumers considering the bang for their buck.

In other Xbox news, Xbox boss Phil Spencer promised that Microsoft are “Going big at E3”. This came in response to questions about Google’s impressive first showing at the Games Developer conference this week. Their announcements at E3 are likely to be spectacular, as the confidence Spencer is speaking with suggests he was not too frightened by Google’s Stadia unveiling…

Stadia unveiled to the world

Google Stadia is the internet giants first foray into the games industry. Launching as their own platform, google wasted no time in stating clearly that this is a “next generation” platform, and referred to Xbox One and PlayStation 4 as “Previous Gen”. So what does their console look like?

Well, it doesn’t look like anything. It’s entirely based on streaming games. There is no box, just a controller, and a google chrome browser. For TV’s you will need a chromecast device, but I can imagine they will develop an App for smart TV’s to remove that barrier to entry for people. Their message is very much one of inclusion, stating they want to bring powerful, high-end PC gaming to the world. The sheer power and ambitious nature of Stadia is impressive, and their plans are certainly a bold way to start out in the gaming industry.

Promising full 4K, HDR streaming to any screen, anywhere in the world is a very brave statement. What has come out after the conference is a bit more about exactly what is required for this service. Gone are the days of games requiring graphics cards and high processing power, now all you need is an internet connection. That is, a connection of at least 25 mbps to stream in HD, 4k will require 5-10 mbps more. If you don’t know what mbps you are getting right now, go to fast.com to find out. I get a solid 40-50 mbps, but I live in a relatively built up, busy area with a good service i pay decent money for. What is unclear is exactly how wide an audience this service can reach given the world isn’t on an even playing field when it comes to connection speeds.

Check out my over excited post from Wednesday for a more detailed breakdown of the announcements google made, but honestly I am really excited for the service. I am worried about the widespread success it can achieve given the demands it will put on people’s internet connections, but that is a worry that google need to address for people, and as technology advances, infrastructure will expand and get better everywhere. We are heading towards a streaming future, and google are first to show their hand. Over to you Microsoft and Sony.

Thanks for reading!

Google Stadia changes the Game

19th March 2019 will go down in history as the day Google arrived in the gaming industry. Google held their GDC press conference where they unveiled Stadia. It is their new video game streaming platform. I will try to go over the main points but I urge anyone who has a keen interest in the games industry to go and watch the highlights of the conference on YouTube.

Stadia allows you to play top end video games using any screen, and using any controller, all via a Google Chrome browser. There is no need for a box, you can play everything regardless of the processing power you have available to you. Everything is done in Googles own data centres, and then streamed to your device.

At launch, which is yet to be confirmed exactly but will be 2019, Stadia will be able to stream at 4k, with HDR at 60 fps. If that’s gibberish to you, that is the best picture the current top end TV’s can handle. Google has built the data centres so that they can keep up with technology as it advances, meaning when 8k and  120 fps becomes the accepted level, Stadia will be able to get there with no hassle for any consumers.

All of these stats might not mean much to you, but to put it in terms that make a little more sense, one single instance of Stadia is more powerful than an Xbox One X and a PS4 Pro combined. That is impressive on its own, but Stadia does not just allow you to access one instance at a time. If the game requires it, there will be several processing units dedicated to your game, meaning the processing power is essentially limitless.

Developer Heaven

This news must be absolute heaven for developers, as it now means they no longer have to scale their ideas to the consoles they are being released on. To date this has never been the case, even PC gaming is limited by the most powerful PC’s as they run on one single processing unit. Right now we are pretty much at the limit of what video games can be on console with things like The Last Of Us 2 and Red Dead Redemption 2 the top end of what is achievable on these platforms.

On top of all the power, google announced a slate of tools for devs to utilise Stadia as best they can. I am not versed enough in the developer world to know what the applications of these services will be but by all accounts they seem incredible. It’s made me incredibly excited for where games are heading. Streaming technology allows devs to make games that can allow for 100s of people to play simultaneously. The example they used on stage was taking battle royale games like Fortnite from 100 players up to 1000, which is an insane idea.

Sharing is Caring

On their new controller is a share button, which is nothing particularly new. The special thing Google have is that they own YouTube. The share button now allows you to share your game as it’s being played around the world to anyone and everyone. This could change the way people watch video games, and must be a huge issue for streaming platform Twitch.

You can also share moments in games, and your friends will be able to jump straight in and play that exact game through their own device. It’s hard to make much sense of the amount of applications this technology has and it’s all part of this new platform.

One idea that really showed how innovative Google are being with this was the ability to jump into a game with your favourite youtuber from the channel as you watch them. If that doesn’t make sense, imagine you are watching a youtuber laying Apex Legends, you can click on “Join game” and it will put you in a queue to join into the exact game you are watching. That opens up a whole new world of interaction with content creators on YouTube and other platforms.

The future is here

Stadia is being built to give developers the tools to make anything they want, and let gamers play it however they want. Watching the stream felt odd, and the ramifications of this announcement will be felt around the entire games industry. Stadia Games and Entertainment is their own first party, focussed on making Stadia exclusive games, and that’s another example of how google are approaching this.

Microsoft and Sony will have been watching this conference and from all reports I know of, they will have been a tad worried about the new competitor on the block. Consoles are such a key part of the gaming industry right now, and have been for such a long time. Google today showed us a glimpse at a new world. A world without boxes. There’s no price point, and it requires a good internet connection but they are the only barriers to entry we are yet to find out about. They promised more will be revealed this summer, and I will bring you all the news on the site when it happens.

Stadia launches this year. Over to you Microsoft and Sony. Google has arrived in the games industry.

This Week In Gaming – 08.03.2019

This week we have Microsoft cutting out their discs, EA announcing no conference during E3,  and the new PS4 firmware update that allows you to play on your mobile. That and all my usual waffle about what I have been playing this week below. 

What I’ve been playing

This week has been a movie week for me, and therefore games have taken a bit of a back seat. I did however manage to finish off Anthem, and get my first win on Apex Legends. Two games I have written a lot about over the last few weeks. Apex continues to be a game I want to play more of, whilst Anthem is very much the opposite.

Anthem sits in a very weird place for me right now. I do like the game, in fact I like every part of the game. When combined though, something just doesn’t feel right. I am left with the opinion Anthem is a really good BioWare, single player game, with the multiplayer looter shooter components strapped onto the game to make it into a live service. It has great characters, but if you’re playing through the game with friends in your party you will miss the majority of the best moments in the game.

Enough about the games I played, and onto the news this week!

Microsoft leaving their Discs out

Brad Sams at Thurrott.com (full story here) has revealed Microsoft’s plans to release a new Xbox one which will be the first of the major consoles to launch without a disc drive. The new all digital Xbox is being released with the aim to lower the barrier to entry for customers into the Xbox ecosystem. This news is the latest in a number of customer friendly stories that have come out around the Xbox system in the last few weeks, and I for one think the signs are positive, as I have mentioned before.

A digital downloads only console is another sign for me that Xbox is keen to really shock the industry with its next platform. If they are planning for Xbox Scarlett to be available as a service, it will of course not have a disk drive. This new level of Xbox could serve as the gateway drug for a lot of people into this new world, a world without having to get up off my butt and find the case for the game I want to play.

rumours suggest the targeted price for the digital Xbox is less than $200 (Post Brexit that’s just a cool £30,000.00) so it seems the idea is to get this xbox in as many homes as possible and get their foot in the door before the next-gen. The question I have is whether or not this move is a little late in the day. By now, if you are a PS4 only owner you are heavily invested in their system, and unlikely to want to change. The low price point may be enough to provoke one or two impulse buys, but I just cannot see this making a dent in Sony’s stranglehold over Xbox when it comes to active consoles on the market.

That thinking does lead me to believe that once again Microsoft are playing the long game, possibly taking a hit financially here, to gain favor with the public and increase their public image with the next console war on the horizon. They do not have an exclusive game to attract fans like Uncharted or Spiderman, but they have a Game Pass which will give Digital only Xbox owners a huge range of games to play from day one. My guess would be each digital console will come with a few months Game Pass included, just to get people’s toes in the water of the Xbox well.

E3 weekend loses another conference

E3 was the major event of the year in the gaming industry up until just a few years ago. It’s one of those events that I have followed and enjoyed all of the news and content that comes out of the show. Over the last few years the event has seen its guest list of companies throwing press conference has steadily shrunk, down to the point where now E3 is just another event, along with the PAX events and even San Diego Comic Con. It is still the biggest event of its kind, but the gulf has largely disappeared.

EA left the official show a few years ago, and launched their EA Play weekend to coincide with the week of E3. Each of these events to date has featured a key press conference, with game announcements, trailers and unveilings presented in the same manner Sony and Microsoft have done for years. They have now decided to pivot to streaming events for different games, a move which I think only EA could pull off.

EA as a publisher boast one of the widest ranges of games on its roster. Alongside franchises like Battlefield, Anthem and Apex Legends, they have the entire flock of EA Sports titles like FIFA and Madden. This huge range means a more focused stream approach should allow viewers to just tune in and watch a good showcase of the games they are most interested in. At present, fans of battlefield have to sit through a whole EA sports section, which could be featuring games they have no interest in.

It opens up the old debate of “Does the industry still need E3?” and for me the answer is a resounding Yes. The show is a focal point for news announcements as well as a place we can see the full diverse range of video games. Here’s hoping nobody else pulls out of the show.

PS4 Firmware Update might hint at their plans

Now this story is almost entirely speculation on my part, but I had a lot of fun last week with the Xbox predictions, so here is my thoughts on the direction Sony might be heading with their next console. The most recent firmware update to the PS4 allowed for access from iOS devices. Now this has been possible for a number of years on Sony’s own mobile devices, but this is the first time we’ve seen PS4 games accessible outside of their own ecosystem as far as I know.

What’s interesting about this to me is the fact that some people at Sony are still working on mobile integration even this close to the announcement of the next console. Could Sony’s next console be able to be played remotely from anywhere? I doubt it, but why on earth are people there still working away on this type of unrequested feature if the technology behind it wasn’t going to aid with their next console. I have never seen much fanfare around playing games via mobile. As our phones become more and more like small PCs, the possibility of me actually enjoying a big blockbuster game via a mobile is increasingly likely.

There are absolutely no details of the PS5, and Sony has no reason to rush it out. I am, as you may have been able to tell, absorbed by the mind games both companies are playing. Right now Xbox has all the work to do, and they seem determined to do it. Sony is in the dangerous position of being on top of the mountain, with everything to lose. The next round of consoles may be the last we ever see, with a digital only world fast approaching, so the winner of this final bout between Xbox and PlayStation may find themselves as the leader of the pack for a long time.

And of course, Nintendo will always Nintendo.

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

 

 

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