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!

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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 – 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