The Last of Us Part 2 – Spoiler Free

It’s been a very odd few months in the world. Perhaps that’s the greatest understatement in history. The closure of cinemas, the halt of society as we know it, and the seriousness of the issues happening with the pandemic and the importance of the Black Lives Matter movement sapped the motivation to write anything, as there was so little in the areas I cover to write about.

Over the course of the last few months, I have watched films, played games and binged tv shows but rarely anything new. Mostly COD, FIFA, Brooklyn 99 and comfort films. Then last Friday, I got The Last of Us Part Two. I like the first one, but not nearly as much as some people, so this new one was intriguing, but I wasn’t super hyped in the build up to launch. On the day though, it felt very exciting to have something new, something I had not experienced. What I did not understand at that point, was just how unique this experience was going to be.

I have played hundreds of single player games in my life. I have watched even more movies than that. I have read countless books & comics. I have listened to podcasts that tell stories. Never before has anything I have experienced told a story in the same way that The Last of Us Part Two does, and with nowhere near as much emotional resonance.

I am going to avoid spoilers, which is going to make some of what you read here a little odd. There are points in the game where I genuinely did not want to carry on. Not because I wasn’t enjoying it, but because I just didn’t want to press the button that caused the next action on the screen. Or I didn’t want to do what the game was pushing me to do, because I had been played like a fiddle for 10 hours to be convinced of one thing, to then have it all flipped.

You are aware it is happening. This is not subtle; it doesn’t hide it like a magician to be revealed at the last moment. Part of what makes TLOU2 so remarkable is that you know exactly what they’re trying, and you tell yourself “There is no way that’s going to happen”, then hours later you find yourself frozen at the control because they’ve done exactly what you didn’t think they could.

Kinda Funny’s Greg Miller tells a story about how Metal Gear Solid was the first time he realised what video games could do. For years I was of the belief that video games had this barrier that prevented their stories from being truly complex and compelling on their own. The Gameplay always had to be part of the focus, and that would make always hold back the narrative in an odd way.

God of War in 2018, changed that for me, it told a story of a father and son that really resonated. The gameplay was fantastic, but the story was the thing that had me gripped.  TLOU2 has fine gameplay, its hectic, not the tightest mechanically but solid. The way they manipulate you and tear down the ideas you have in your head repeatedly throughout the game is unlike anything I have ever experienced.

This is a new level of storytelling. The more you think about the messages it portrays. That message to me was a lesson in how revenge, hate, vengeance, all of those horrible feelings can consume a person and make them miss out on the rest of what life holds for them. The events of the game are an extreme example, but at it’s heart, like most of the great stories, it’s a very human story that I have found myself relating to.

If we treat storytelling as a medium, encompassing games, tv, movies, books and anything else you can think of, The Last of Us Part 2 has topped it all. Nothing has stuck with me this much before. Whether you are a gamer or not, find a way to enjoy this. There are already YouTube “movies” of the game, showing you all the key scenes and elements that tell the story.

The Last of Us Part 2 is the most unique experience I have ever had with a piece of entertainment. It’s a new level for storytelling in games.

 

 

 

Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order – Spoiler Free Review

It’s odd for me to be nervous about a game, but that’s where I was about Fallen Order last week before launch. All the reviews were positive, but they were also comparing it to Dark Souls or Sekiro, games I just don’t enjoy the game play loop of. Dying repeatedly to figure out how to beat an opponent isn’t for me, and it doesn’t fit my idea of what playing as a Jedi should be. 

My first few hours with Fallen Order were intriguing, the world of course hooked me straight away, it’s Star Wars and I eat that up all day, but even the character of Cal was intriguing enough to get me into the story. The opening plays out as one large set piece designed to teach you the basics of movement and traversal. It works, and then it escalates to Uncharted levels of set piece. The camera tricks employed in one train sequence are excellent, and the opening ends with you being introduced to the crew you’re going to spend a lot of time talking to over the next 20-25 hours.

From there you travel to planets you’ll vaguely know (or know quite well depending on your level of fandom) and new planets we haven’t seen before. You learn new abilities, and your lightsaber becomes your pride and joy. It’s an odd thing to experience in the current gaming climate, where choice is everything, that you are given a weapon and that is it. The lightsaber is your weapon, the force abilities you collect as you go compliment it, but most of the plentiful combat is done with the iconic weapon.

That icon status helps a lot towards making it feel special, and the customisation you can apply to it is just nuanced enough to make it feel like it’s your lightsaber, and that nobody else will have quite the same one. It’s your lightsaber, and once you’re used to the combat, it feels brilliant. You can bat back blaster bolts from your standard storm troopers with ease, and then the more difficult ones require a little more thought. Late game, you will have to plan your moves in combat, but when it all comes together it looks and feels fantastic. Force Pull someone close to you and you just end them right there and then with one stab of your weapon, then you can deal with the rest of the enemies advancing on you one by one.

The combat feels well balance at the bottom two difficulties, the baby ass baby mode that I notched it down to for most of the game to get through the story provided just enough challenge to stop it being a cake walk, but lets you feel like a badass. The higher difficulties are where it becomes more like a Dark Souls or Sekiro game, relying on you avoiding being hit and picking your times to strike. The lightsaber forces you to need to get close for your most powerful strikes, but just rushing in is never a good idea.

The AI is mostly good, but there are some minor bugs at times when enemies just stand a stare at you for a bit before they remember they’re trying to end you. These things are a little bit annoying because they break the immersion a little, something that’s little but makes a different when you’re talking about the top tier games of this generation. That should give you an indication of how much I enjoyed this game.

Beyond all the game play, the story is what keeps you driving on through the hordes of enemies. Cal is not the most charismatic protagonist, he doesn’t quite have that Nathan Drake or Kratos personality, but the game play means he feels like your own character in the world, and the supporting cast around him are great. The two ship companions have some good banter between them and Cal, and one of them becomes more and more integral to the main plot as the story goes on.

The villain is an enjoyable one, at first seeming like a throwaway inquisitor, but by the end is a fleshed-out character who I almost cared for in a weird way. One character who is introduced later into the game, I found really intriguing from a Star Wars lore point of view, and it did make me wonder if there could be more stories with some of these characters.

All the game play, characters and story combine well with the stunning set pieces at the beginning and end of the game. Without any spoilers, the ending has some of the best moments in Star Wars and adds to the lore in an interesting way. There is one part of it I found myself going “Wtf I just did all that and this what you do with it” but when I thought about it, it made some sense in context of the story.

I have seen Star Wars Jedi Fallen Order described as a greatest hit of this generation and I understand why. It takes elements from Uncharted, God of War, and Dark Souls and combines them in a cocktail shaker to make this incredibly fun experience that I would encourage all Star Wars fans, and most gamers, to try out.

Everything in that shaker gets a little bit diluted by the other parts though, and therefore it feels like all three of those games without being as good at any of what they do. For example, while the set pieces are spectacular, none reach the heights of the Uncharted series. The game doesn’t quite have the polish and attention to detail that made God of War such an intricate, perfectly crafted gem of a game, and the story doesn’t have quite as much impact. The combat is really good, but it feels like a slightly toned-down version of the Sekiro system.

Fallen Order does so much of this very well, but nothing perfectly. It’s a Jack of all trades, Jedi Master of none. The fact I am even comparing it to these games shows you the level its very close to being, but it’s just a little below that tier, and that might push people that come to it for one of those elements decide to jump to another of those games. If you want stunning set pieces, go play Uncharted, and so on. If you want a game that combines elements of all of it though, then Fallen Order is a great game for you.

In a year where there have been very few games that have wow’d me, this is creeping near the top of my game of the year list. It hasn’t been nominated for the game awards because for some reason anything released after October just gets binned off until next year, which makes Fallen Orders prospects a little more ominous when The Last of Us Part 2 and Cyberpunk 2077 are here.

For me the Star Wars-iness covers over the little niggles that keep it behind the top tier games, and whilst I can’t argue it’s better than any, it’s certainly up there near them. What it certainly is, is the most fun I have had on any video game in 2019, and what more can I really want from a game where I am a Jedi.

9/10 – Respawn proves itself as one of the best developers in the business

ChAzJS

The Last of Us: Part II now has a release date

Who would have thought it? The Last of Us Part 2 looks better than any game I have ever seen graphically, and in a trailer just shy of 3 minutes I have all the information and motivation I need to be completely in for this game. And most importantly, it comes out on the 21st February 2020. 

I have to be honest; I was not particularly excited for it before yesterday. I was intrigued but I needed something to give me a reason to think this game was going to live up to the brilliant first game. The Last of Us is such a great story that another trip in that world is borderline risky. We haven’t seen a sequel to Citizen Kane, and that is what the first game was for video games.

If you’re avoiding spoilers, then obviously steer clear of the trailer, as it sets up the story of the game and I know some people will want to avoid any information at all. For me it delivered the perfect amount of intrigue and motivation. The trailer sets up several questions, give you some unexpected answers, and reminds you of how dire the world of TLOU is.

It’s one of the better trailers any video game has ever produced, and it featured very little gameplay if any. That being said I am not sure, as I think this game will look like a movie in and out of cutscenes and being able to tell when you’re in control won’t be easy for people watching.

Naughty Dog have my complete trust when it comes to games, but I was unsure I needed another Last of Us story. Now I am 100% in and any doubts I had are gone. I went from meh to give me it now in the space of 3 minutes and I genuinely cannot wait to experience this piece of art.

There were other games shown during the State of Play event, but I haven’t caught up yet due to being worse for wear the last few days. It feels like I haven’t written for ages, but it’s only been since Monday. I will make up for it tomorrow by going through all the State of Play and Inside Xbox information as well as all the rumours about a new Batman game from WB Montreal. If those rumours are true, I wonder what game Rocksteady have been working on for the years since Arkham Knight.

More on that tomorrow, until then thanks for reading.

ChAzJS

 

Borderlands 3 Review

The wait for Borderlands 3 has been a long one. It’s been seven years since Borderlands 2 really popularised the looter shooter genre, and in that time, we have seen several games take a similar model and be successful. The main one that comes to mind is Destiny 2, a game I really enjoy and think has perfected that addictive cycle of wanting to keep playing to get that next weapon. 

One key difference between Borderlands 3 and Destiny 2, is that the multiplayer isn’t as prominent. The multiplayer side of Borderlands now is a bit laggy and I prefer playing solo which is unusual. I have played a couple of hours in some mate’s games, but my own campaign has been entirely solo. I have just beaten the first Vault, so I am not 100% through yet, but I’ve certainly played enough to know what this game is all about.

The story is driven by antagonist The Calypso Twins, a pair of powerful siblings who are using a twitch like streaming platform to gain followers to join their cause and fight for them. That gives them an army of varied types to blast away with the plethora of guns in the game as you, the Vault Hunter, are tasked with beating them to the vaults. The game brings back several old characters from previous games, all the main characters from Borderlands 1 and 2 are on the cover and there’s characters from side games like the Pre-sequel and even TellTale’s “Tales from the Borderlands” game which is a nice touch and brings everything together.

I won’t go into the story any more than that, but so far, it’s a fine story, and that is all it is. The twins are fun villains but they’re missing the magic that Handsome Jack brought with him. It’s a tough bar to reach, but that is the precedent set when you deliver one of the best video game villains ever. Of course, I am not all the way through the game yet, and they have done some nasty stuff so far, so maybe they will get up near that level by the end of the story.

The reason to play Borderlands isn’t really for the story though, that’s just the vehicle that delivers the enemies for you to shoot, punch, explode and splatter at your leisure. I played as Zane and found his duel abilities all combine quite well. The shield he drops is a mainstay for me, and I swap out his doppelganger and drone abilities as and when I get bored of playing one or the other. They all feel very useful though, and although he doesn’t have an ultimate akin to the others like a giant mech suit that drops down for another playable character, but he does have a more consistent effect on the battlefield. Playing solo his shield provides a very useful defensive option that has save my bacon countless times throughout my time with the game and the drone can pester enemies for you and keep things from getting out of hand.

Each of the abilities are linked to their own skill trees, and as you level up you invest points into the trees to unlock augments and effects that change the way you use your arsenal. Late game, these options become very customisable and will make for some great gameplay fun trying out the different load outs. These abilities all contribute to the core gameplay, but none of them are vital to the game as the incredible selection of guns.

Guns are what Borderlands 3 does best, and it does it by giving you absolutely hundreds of them within hours of the game. It’s rare to get two of the same gun, and if you do it will have two different sets of effects and stats, so there is an even smaller chance of ever getting the exact same gun two times besides from the legendary weapons that your friends might stumble upon too. Every gun has a twist, every gun is powerful in its own way, and they are all brilliantly brought to life with attention to detail you wouldn’t expect in a game with so many options on the guns. Firing pins pop in and out of guns as they fire, a lot of guns have clip counters on them that count down, there’s pipes and nozzles flashing all over the place, it’s the best part of the game and I am glad they got it right.

I don’t believe I have kept the same set of weapons for any two consecutive missions yet, which is testament to the games loot system which is balanced heavily towards giving you way too much. early game you will find yourself having to throw out guns and items in favour of storing more valuable loot in your backpack, but as you invest more into the storage upgrades you can really start making plenty of in game money to keep yourself stocked up on ammo. You can buy weapons but so far, I have not bought one, there just isn’t any need.

Borderlands 3 delivers almost exactly what I expected from it, which is Borderlands 2 with just more stuff. There are more guns with some new tricks and features, more enemies with some slightly different attributes, and some new planets to explore. The planets all kind of have the same desperate tone so far, even if the environment looks different. They all are being attacked by the same enemies and that means you’re having similar fights everywhere, just the scenery is different. The boss fights are varied and fun, offering twists on the normal game play beyond just being bullet sponges, which there are of course.

It’s More-derlands, with nothing ground-breaking being introduced to the formula. They know what works, and they’ve worked on perfecting it. If you enjoyed the previous games you will enjoy this one for sure, just don’t expect anything new. It feels a little like a game made with blinkers on, ignoring the outside gaming world and sticking to its Guns.

That isn’t necessarily a bad thing though.

7/10 – More, More, More.  

 

 

 

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 – 29.03.2019

Borderlands 3 was finally unveiled by Gearbox with a great trailer in a press conference littered with technical problems. On top of that we had Sony debuting their “State of Play” events, which was essentially a Nintendo Direct but for PlayStation, and Days Gone released a trailer that finally got me excited for the game. All that and the usual waffle this week in gaming!

What I’ve Been Playing

Today, thursday, I won 3 games of Apex Legends. Each win justifies the past hour of poor loot drops and quick deaths after deploying worth all the pain. I am absolutely hooked on this game and long may it continue. The new character has added a new dynamic to the game, and I think the community is ready for some map changes. The battle pass disappointment has fallen by the wayside, and now I am just chasing the sweet sweet nectar of victory.

I have been playing a bit of The Division 2 as well, teaming up with a mate really does make the game a lot more fun. Clearing rooms of enemies strategically covering one whilst the other moves into a new position to get a better angle is very satisfying. The game showed me the first signs of the loot cycle, something which I think could get me hooked given enough time. I am going to keep going back to this as there are no other games out soon that I am waiting for. The next big games out are late april when Mortal Kombat and PlayStation exclusive Days Gone hit the shelves, but more on Days Gone later.

What I have not played, nor had any real thought about in the last couple of weeks, is Anthem. A game that dominated the news in the build up and then dominated the news in all the wrong ways weeks later. The game is decent, and then you finish the story, and that’s it, it’s over. It was built to be a new, live service that gamers could keep coming back to. The problem is the loot is terrible, and being in the looter shooter genre that is a bit of a problem. I reckon the game will be better in 6 months, but it’s released in a really odd place in term of where the game is in its development, and it almost feels unfinished.

Borderlands 3 unveiled

I have written before about my appreciation for the Borderlands games. I saw a post on Reddit remarking that Borderlands 2 is a Desert Island game, and that is an excellent way to describe the franchise. They are huge games, giving players hours and hours of content. Gearbox knows it’s a popular franchise, as they have now remastered the original Borderlands game, and will be releasing an Ultra HD update for the Handsome Jack collection which has Borderlands 2 and the Pre-Sequel, which is hundreds of hours of gameplay for people to enjoy while they wait for the main event.

Now, the Borderlands 3 trailer itself is excellent, showing off the game well, and even if the graphics don’t seem particularly different from 6 years ago, I reckon in-game we will be able to see the effects of a the generation jump. However the excellent trailer was the end cap on a bizarre press conference, with Gearbox chief Randy Pitchford using it to display his magic skills and seemingly promote himself as a celebrity. This weirdness was broken up by some laughable technical hitches, with the trailers faltering and at one point stopping completely. Right up until the Borderlands 3 trailer debuted in all its glory… At the second attempt, after the initial display seemed to be jumping as if it was lagging.

Technical issues aside, the audience in the room ate it up, because it was the return of a truly beloved Franchise. Cosplayers cheered and whooped at every reveal in the trailer, and laughed at every joke. The game is bringing back all of the characters we have grown to know over the last few games, and although it featured plenty of gameplay we didn’t get any definitive information of whether the game is a straight up sequel that plays just like Borderlands 2, or if this is going the Live Service route. My gut feeling from the trailer is that the game is going for a straight sequel, Co-op fun game, with more characters we can enjoy just like the previous games did. The villains look stylish and hopefully they can be half the villain Handsome Jack was, although even that is some task. The trailer ends with the promise of more news on April 3rd, so keep your eyes out for next week’s TWIG (This Week In Gaming, what a great acronym) as we will have all the news there.

Sony in a State of Play

PlayStation owners Sony have been slowly changing the way they do their announcements. From cancelling the annual PSX event, to pulling out of the mega-show that is E3, they have been moving towards a new way of delivering their news. This week they released their first “State of Play” video. I say that as that’s exactly what it was, a video, with games listed off with a little bit of info from the disembodied voice. This approach is somewhat impersonal compared to the friendly faces that brought us the PS4 years ago, with no Shuhei Yoshida or Shawn Layden present to talk through the developments.

Sony delivered the video, featuring announcements of several VR games including Iron Man VR and a Five Nights at Freddy’s VR title. Their focus on VR caught me a little off guard if I’m honest, but it has made me consider whether VR is a worthy investment. I have been intrigued by the prospect for years, and Beat Sabre very nearly tipped me over the edge, but the investment just never seemed worth the money. With games like Blood and Truth coming, something that looks like a real triple A title but only for VR, I might have to rethink that stance.

The showcase ended on a bit of an odd note, with a trailer for Mortal Kombat 11. Sure it looked excellent, but we already knew that and it wasn’t really a wow moment to go out on. What did wow me was the trailer they showed for Days Gone, Sony’s new exclusive.

Days Gone finally makes sense

I have loved just about every PS exclusive i have played on the PS4. The Last of Us, Uncharted 4, Horizon Zero Dawn, Spiderman and God Of War are all absolutely exquisite games. They represent the very best of what games can be. Days Gone is the next up to bat for Sony’s exclusive titles, and until now I have been underwhelmed by everything I have seen. The gameplay has always looked slick, and they world is beautiful. But that is not what makes any of the exclusives work for me.

This newest trailer finally showed us what has been missing from any gameplay demo we have seen so far. It showed us a story, and it showed us characters that we can get invested in. So far Days Gone has been Starkiller from the Force Unleashed games riding around on a motorbike killing zombies. For the first time in that trailer I saw Deacon, as he interacts with other characters and we get hints at a character behind the familiar face of actor Sam Witwer.

It’s still not top of my anticipated list, and I am not expecting it to challenge Horizon or God of War for the top of the Sony exclusive library, but I am actually now excited to play the game. The promise of an engaging story does more for me than any gameplay video could, as that is what I like most in video games.

Aside from those sweet sweet Apex W’s though. Obviously.

 

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

 

 

God Of War (2018) Spoiler free Review

It’s rare I do a game review, but when a game came along and went so far above my already lofty expectations I had to write about it. God Of War is a franchise I’ve never been big on, the hack and slash nature never appealed to me but the buzz around this year’s sequel was too high to ignore.

It follows the series’ protagonist Kratos, who previously has just been an angry fighter and not much more beyond that, and his journey with his son Atreus to scatter the ashes of his late wife. That is the core of the story. No saving the world or taking down the gods or contrived plot device so many games use to push stories along. Even games as excellent as the Uncharted series tend to have that treasure you’re looking for to push you along.

God of War features 10 characters, including peripheral ones, in a 20-30 hour story. There are hints at other players in the background but we never see them, and that gives the game’s story some real power as by the mid to late game you’re very invested in every character that pops up. I’ve heard it compared to a grand theatre show, or an indie movie with big action set pieces, and they’re both very apt comparisons. The whole game, if played without turning off the console, is all on one long camera shot. There are no cuts, there are no loading screens, it’s one long story told as if there is a camera man behind Kratos on his journey.

The relationship between Kratos and his son is so well done. Kratos, the flawed character he is, is not very good at being a dad and has left a lot of Atreus’ upbringing to his mother. Experiencing the characters struggle to adapt and be a good father is compelling and it’s often the moments between cut scenes and action sequences that the best moments in the game can be found. The two of them talking and learning about each other feels so natural and intriguing I often found myself waiting in the boat or outside an objective just to make sure I got to the end of the conversation they were having. I honestly can’t say any game has made me do that before.

In with all of the excellent and compelling story telling is some of the most satisfying and rewarding combat I’ve played in any game. The leviathan axe is yours to use immediately, and the intuitive controls make combat so much fun. The variation in styles you can adopt means you’re never bored, and the ability to call your axe back to you exactly like Thor in the MCU calling back his hammer never fails to feel awesome. So satisfying I would often launch my axe past enemies just to call it back through the enemies before going for the kill.

I know there are lots of lapsed gamers, not having the time to sink hours into games in between their busy lives. If you are one of those, and only have time for one game played out over a year, this should be it. God of War is possibly the best game since “The Last of Us” and it may even be better than that masterpiece.

Good: Everything. Seriously it’s incredible.

Bad: It’s PS4 exclusive,but that is just another reason to grab Sony’s machine.

10/10 – wow.