Skyrim Review

I’ll be off Azeroth, catch you later Hyrule. In the land of Skyrim.

Recently I’ve purchased and started playing Skyrim. Again. This is the third time I’ve purchased Skyrim. I first experienced the game when it launched on Xbox 360, and a second time on PC. This time I’ve picked it up on Xbox One (playing the X enhanced version). This is probably indicative of how long the game has been out, as well as how many formats the game has been ported onto.

It’s difficult to believe that it has been so long since it was released. However it still plays as well as it ever did and its opening moments, particularly the first dungeon, are still a highlight. And even with the newer versions out now, it was still impressive as to how good this game looked on Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3.

The Xbox One X version runs at dynamic 4K resolution at 30 fps, pretty rigidly sticking to this target. It includes access to mods through the Bethesda Creation Club. Although nothing on the scale of the PC version. The PC version will run at higher framerates or look better but this is one of those games where the half refresh rate doesn’t hurt the game too much. Fast pace moments are less common than slow scenes dialog with NPCs or inventory management etc.

Audio is still powerful and atmospheric, controls and the user interface works well on a controller. Quests are engaging and the world is still stunning. That being said the game has aged in places and it show its roots as being a game from the last-generation. Combat particularly can be messy and doesn’t work as well as peers from its time such as Dragons Dogma or Dark Souls. Ranged DPS and magic can be quite technical and refined but close range melee combat lacks finesse. It often feels like button mashing rather than anything more strategic.

When I first played Skyrim I didn’t understand all of the mechanics having not played much of Oblivion or the earlier games. However since having played The Elder Scrolls Online I’ve got a far greater appreciation of the lore and world. And in this sense Skyrim, and the Elder Scrolls games in general, really excel. It is a rich, vibrant and lore heavy world full of character which is believable and somewhere you want to explore.

I’m not sure I’ll ever complete the story or play this game to completion. But I do look forward to finding new things on this version. Overall it is an absolute classic videogame and the Xbox One X version is a bargain for the amount of content. It is disappointing it lacks a selectable higher fps mode or the VR option of the PlayStation 4 and PC. But it feels like a solid version otherwise. It is still loaded with Bethesda open-world jank. Even within a few hours I’ve seen an NPC get stuck on a chicken and a moose trying to run into a fence amongst other things. And seen the game lock up the Xbox One. Still hard not to love it and enjoy it though.

Titanfall 2 Review

A great first-person shooter, that is perhaps almost perfect.

I rather enjoyed the first Titanfall. Although I didn’t pour hours into it, it did give me around 15-20 hours of some great entertainment. Unfortunately like many games of its ilk I got bored and moved on to other things.

In some ways I felt Titanfall was a true follow-up to Call of Duty Modern Warfare. Particularly given how so many of the people made both games after the founders of Infinity Ward split off to form Respawn Studios. Whilst Call of Duty settled into yearly map packs, Titanfall delivered a more evolutionary take on the twitch run and gun gameplay.

I picked Titanfall 2 up for just over £8 on Xbox One to primarily enjoy the campaign (I will conveniently forget about also buying it on PC, sigh). And in the main really enjoyed it. Game looks, sounds and feels perfect at times. Graphics are stunning on Xbox One X at UHD.

The campaign took me just over 10 hours to complete, so it’s clear I took a bit longer than most to complete it. The campaign is definitely worth a play through at least once primarily because the ‘gunplay’ is just so good. Everything feels right, not just whether it’s the shooting, running about, the wall running and parkour or the sense of power when you board your titan. The pacing and level design is pretty much spot on although I have a few quibbles such as the ‘show where to run’ as too much signposting, the boss battles being overly easy apart from one, collectables being lazy and the ending section being annoying. That said these are very minor complaints.

With regards to the multiplayer I can’t really comment in that I have little interest to try it more. It’s very good and feels like an evolution of the first game with lots of improvements, but I’ll probably move onto other games now. I do wish Titanfall 2 had more PVE content because as it feels that technically it’s there and ready for it.

Anyway a great sequel. Campaign is worth playing if you enjoy single-player First Person Shooter games and the multiplayer is one of the best out there.

Azeroth calling

Not that long ago I wrote a blog piece about how I felt a bit burnt out on Games as a Service (GaaS) and I was falling out of love with them. That said in videogaming it’s hard to stay away from these sort of games. And this August saw the release of World of Warcraft: Battle for Azeroth. Despite not wanting to play it, I find myself being pulled towards the game as it feels like every Twitch streamer and YouTuber on the planet has been racing through the game to level their character to the new max 120-level. Hell back in Legion I even pre-ordered the new expansion!

WoW is a game I’ve always been behind the curve on. I first tried it in 2007 but never particularly clicked with it first time. I can’t explain why but something wasn’t quite right about that first time with a warrior in Elwynn Forrest. MaybeI just had other games at the time I wanted to play. Either way it wasn’t until Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning came out (remember that?) that I had a strange desire to play an MMO. And Blizzard had recently introduced a new Refer-a-Friend scheme that meant I could level-up with a friend as well as earn them some rewards.

Unfortunately I burnt out somewhere around level 38. This is when Wrath of the Lich King had just come out. Over the years I revisited WoW a few times during each expansion, but sometimes not staying around for long. Either way it would take until Warlords of Draenor before I would even make it to max level with a character. Since then I’ve played around levelling other classes but just have my one original toon (Draenai Shaman) at 110. Although I still have a free 110 boost on the account from already buying Battle for Azeroth.

Realistically I always don’t get that far in WoW, burning out levelling new toons or soon after reaching max level. I always have dreams of mount hunting or levelling my professions but it never seems to happen. With Legion though even if I scratched the surface I felt I got to a good place at least levelling one of my toons.

WoW for me is still a unique experience. Even though it’s not a solo-friendly game at endgame, it’s still arguably my favourite MMO even after all these years. I have lots of fun playing the game and enjoy the levelling process, world and lore. I suspect that I will still be playing it for many more future expansions yet. I do love the fact that it’s full-price content drops just continue to build on the same world. That progress you made all those years ago is still somewhere on your account and characters.

So even if I try and avoid the urge to go back to Azeroth, it is probably very likely the urge will get me one day. The question is when…

August Update

Thought I would get into the habit of monthly updates on games played since my initial update last month launching the site.

August is school holidays so I have been pretty busy with limited time for gaming. But since my first update I have managed to complete one game at least. Woot!

Completed/Shelved

  1. Titanfall 2 – completed the campaign
  2. Fortnite: Save the World – shelved this

Titanfall 2 completed the campaign on regular difficulty. Overall really enjoyed the campaign, but not likely to play multiplayer much more. Fortnite (Save the World, not Battle Royale) I’ve decided I just don’t like it. I purchased this back in March when it was cheap. The PVE mode is just not that good and I can see why it didn’t do that well. It doesn’t help that it is one of the most egregious and aggressive freemium games I’ve experienced. Which is very galling considering the premium you are paying for access.

Been playing (my current Grouvee playlist is here)

  • Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Wildlands – since getting this on Xbox One in the recent Amazon sales I have been playing this again. On third region, about 10 hours in.
  • Forza Motorsport 7 – opening Seeker cup all done.
  • Mass Effect 3 – purchased this on release. Last save from 2014! Progress made through the story.
  • Skyrim Special Edition – purchased for Xbox One (I have it on PC too). Comparing versions has made me realise just how good that original Xbox 360/PS3 versions looked.
  • Rage – started playing via GamePass.

So that is 1 game completed for August, and 1 shelved.

New game pickups

Halo 5, forgot to add this onto my Grouvee profile. Completed this in just under 10 hours via GamePass. Worst Halo campaign yet. Also purchased Alan Wake on Xbox 360 disc from a Carboot for £1. Pretty good condition with the DLC code unused.

Updates

On Grouvee created a new GamePass shelf to track games I’ve played on Microsoft’s subscription service. So far just Halo 5 and Rage. Obviously this might grow if I try out more games on the service. I won’t add these games to my Xbox shelf so they don’t get counted as part of my collection.

Up next

Try to complete Rage, Wolfenstein: The New Order and Mass Effect 3. Not sure I can get all of these done, but ideally would like to complete this handful of  games.

Also will start doing some short reviews or impressions of games and post them on this site and Grouvee where appropriate. Only really previously done a short review or two on Steam.

Madden ultimate money

On Tuesday YouTuber Angry Joe released a video (link here) that is very critical of Electronic Arts (EA) and Madden 2019. Suggesting prioritisation on the Ultimate Team and microtransactions rather than working on long standing issues, or improving the overall game. I can’t really argue with the points he made. And of course this video could just as easily been about FIFA.

For some reason after this year’s E3 show I seemed to read many people think that EA has given up on lootboxes. When in reality it has done no such thing. Whilst lootbox mechanics suit sports games more than other titles, I will never personally support any games where you can use real money to purchase lootboxes.

And the only addition I would make to Angry Joe’s video, is that Madden (or FIFA) are far from the only free2play, freemium games masquerading as $80+ games. Games like Overwatch, Rainbow Six Siege, GTA Online amongst others are also free2play games that shouldn’t be charging any entry fee in their current form. Remember high quality shouldn’t mean the game can’t be free2play.

Either way it is good to see EA getting more heat and criticism for it’s overly aggressive business models. Hopefully Angry Joe’s video helps.

Good & bad customer service

Thought I would write up a quick blog post after experiencing the good and bad of large companies over the past few days.

The bad

Amazon. Decided I wanted one of these new PlayStation 4 Pro 500 Million Limited Edition Consoles. And I knew they would be available for pre-order on Tuesday, 14th August in the UK. Amazon had them available from after 7am and I placed an order. Soon after 8.30am they were no longer available. Therefore I didn’t feel the need to order one from PC World/Currys, GAME, Smyths or Very. Unfortunately Amazon.co.uk had made a mistake and should have listed the item from 10am.

So they cancelled all orders and relisted the item for preorder at 10am the next day. Unfortunately it sold out in minutes (or seconds) – even when I knew of the ‘available from’ link.

They neither apologised directly or proactively contacted all those they let down. And whilst they reimbursed me a small amount after I complained it wasn’t reflective of the error. I still have had no apology or response to my complaint. Ultimately their mistake cost me a limited edition PS4 Pro. I might just shop elsewhere for pre-orders in future.

The good

Bethesda Game Studios. Accidently created a new Bethesda account on Xbox One Skyrim when I already have an account. Emailed their support, and was met with a response in under 30 minutes. They understood the problem, offered two solutions, explaining the consequences. And once I had selected the solution they left the ticket open to make sure I was happy. #textbookcustomerservice.

It bodes well for Fallout 76 players if the CS is that good. Thank you Bethesda.

What cross-play should mean

Update 27 September 2018:
Sony announced that cross-play is coming to Fortnite on PlayStation 4. I’ve written a new blog to reflect this news. So whilst some of the criticism below is outdated the thrust of the blog remains.

Original Blog Post:

During the recent criticism of Sony and Epic for locking-out Fortnite accounts on other systems, there seemed to be a lot of feedback that cross-play should be allowed. But that this wasn’t a new thing. However since Epic opened up their game with an update in March of this year I simply don’t recall an incident like this before. In other words a major release such as this that lets you play your game on any system.

Just to be clear cross-play matchmaking is the ability to play multiplayer with users of the same game on other platforms. This isn’t new. However Fortnite also allows for cross-play progression and purchasing. This is new. And also brilliant.

You see publishers and developers have loved transitioning from Games as a Product (GaaP) towards Games as a Services (GaaS) because of the greater earnings potential and the record revenue and profits being made. Online only games with potentially multi-layered business models (i.e. buy to play with season passes, DLC and microtransactions etc). But arguably part of offering a service rather than a product is being available to as many people as possible and on as wide a range of platforms as possible. All other entertainment industries have embraced allowing consumers to take their media with them. Even with restrictive Digital Rights Management (DRM) systems if you buy a movie from Google Play Store, or an eBook from Amazon Kindle, you can watch or read on your mobile phone, videogame console, computer, browser or numerous other devices. Same with all the streaming services, like Netflix or Spotify.

So why is it that games like Warframe, GTA V, The Elder Scrolls Online are separate entities on different formats. Why can’t I play my PC Elder Scrolls Online character on PS4 or Xbox versions even if I have to buy the game again? Given how some of the most expensive games to play are actually GaaS games, it arguably isn’t an unreasonable request for a consumer to have access to their purchased on more than one format. Certainly when games have a lifespan of over a 5 or 10 years then it’s also very conceivable formats will change over that time.

Of course it isn’t relevant for all games to offer cross-play. Many games are largely single-player, or small budget indie affairs and rely on buy-to-play business models. And here it would never make sense for cross-play to be offered.

In SkillUp’s recent Youtube video interview with Digital Extremes (the makers of Warframe) he asked if he can continue to use his existing Warframe account with the new Nintendo Switch version. The muted and slow response was both slightly predictable and disappointing. They talked about a possible one-time account transfer as they did offer for PC players who wanted to move to the new PS4 or Xbox One versions. But realistically a one-time transfer brings about its own risks and pitfalls that the customer is fully expected to accept and live with (i.e. what if the Switch version stops being supported).

For me the positive reasons for publishers and developers to embrace cross-play progression, play and purchases simply outweigh the negatives. I applaud Epic for making Cross-Matchmaking, Progression and Purchases a thing for consumers even if for now those who play on Sony’s systems can’t utilise this. And Sony and Epic do deserve massive criticism for their handling of Fortnite cross-play debacle. Denying access to consumers own accounts and purchases they have made is completely unacceptable and needs resolution, like yesterday.

Personally I think Fortnite has probably changed my view of what I should expect from GaaS or Live Services. If companies can’t or won’t bother offering cross-play. Then I’m not sure I can be bothered with their games.

Time to transition away from PC gaming

I love games irrespective of platform and I’ve never once classed myself as a PC or console gamer. That being said I have definitely spent more time on one platform at some time or another. Thinking about it the PC has been my ‘main’ platform since 2012. And this isn’t the first time. In 1996 I purchased my first PC and through the late nighties and early millennium definitely played PC games more than any other format.

However I will probably spend more time on consoles moving forward. Why? Simply put, PC gaming is getting more and more expensive. Or at least buying and maintaining a reasonable high-end setup is getting much more expensive. Even more so if you live in the UK due to the fall in value of Sterling versus the US Dollar ($) or Euro (€) since 2016.

Whilst owning PCs has never been a cheap hobby, there is a definite and undeniable shift upwards in prices. And it isn’t all driven by supply constrained components. As shown by Apple’s recent iPhone X driven success, selling less at more, can be more profitable. High-end GPUs, RAM, monitors and storage are all very expensive at the moment. Nvidia created a new price tier with their £1,000+ Titan GPU years ago. But even mainstream high-end AMD or Nvidia GPUs are commonly over £700. And at this point the Nvidia’s GeForce 1080 series is over two years old. Fairly ancient in technology terms. When the time comes replacing or upgrading my 2015 i7 5930k CPU, 32GB Ram, Nvidia GeForce 1080 GPU and 144hz IPS monitor setup isn’t going to be cheap.

But crucially is it worth the cost just for gaming. Subjectivity aside for me there is a growing sense of maybe not. In this age of largely multiplatform games, how important is the extra frames or eye-candy? I have to be honest, apart from running above 30fps, I struggle sometimes to notice the benefits of better PC graphics when comparing games I own on both PC and console. What’s more noticeable is the control method or where my friends might be playing. And in some cases 4K and HDR on consoles has impressed me more than recent PC specific enhancements.

Also with the shift to incremental console upgrades, the perceived gap between console and PC is becoming less. Certainly compared to the last generation of consoles where really limited 30fps@sub-720p resolutions tended to be the norm. And new (probably) AMD Zen-based CPUs are going to make a big difference when it comes to the new consoles in 2020.

So I think it’s time to embrace the change. I don’t want to give up on PC gaming for good as the library of unique games is simply too great. But if I ‘main’ on consoles then I just dont need as expensive a PC setup anymore. So perhaps a good chance to ditch the big, space consuming desktop and go with a relatively inexpensive gaming laptop. Either way I don’t need to do anything just yet. I can still get a few years out of my current PC. And just think about replacing things if they break down.

To be honest my mindset is already changing. I purchased an Xbox One X earlier this year with a Samsung UHD LCD TV. And my latest purchase has been a Creative SoundBlaster X7 to drive sound for all my PC and consoles. Replacing my Creative SoundBlaster ZxR that I had in my PC since 2013. A fairly future proof setup irrespective of whether I buy a desktop or laptop PC next.

So as Nvidia prepare to unveil their latest series of PC GPUs, I think I’ll just sit back and await the inevitable outcry about the prices on places like Overclockers UK forums. Feeling fairly chuffed in my choices and happy not to feel compelled to be caught up in the PC hardware rat race. Vive la différence.

I’m outta GaaS with Live Services

Excuse the pun. Somewhere on my Grouvee profile there is an entry for Path of Exile. Playtime around 15 hours. It should be much more. But after trying to get into the game twice I had to really pull myself away from it and uninstall it. Even though I was really enjoying it and wanted to play on.

So why did I uninstall it? I had to. I just couldn’t commit to another GaaS (Games as a Service)/Live Services game. There is only so much time in the day or money you can spend. And given the grindy, all time consuming nature of GaaS games this is even more true.

I remember Jim Sterling saying in one of his recent Youtube videos that he tries to have one service game and that’s it. And that’s probably a sensible recommendation. Although that’s very hard given just how many games have or are switching to this model.

Recently Digital Extremes (DE) hosted their annual convention for their online game; Warframe (another online game I really enjoy). And whilst the internet raved over the new major updates I couldn’t help but be a little bit disappointed. A version on Switch. Couldn’t care if I have to replay everything (and a one-time account switch isn’t going to make one iota of difference). Fortuna – a new location on Venus, like 2017’s Plains of Eidolon. Which were essentially their own economy and grind that I have barely touched. And Railjack. Group content that doesn’t appeal. And even more Warframes. More things to collect. More grind. As much as I love the game there’s still loads I haven’t done after years of owning it. And unless I commit to it much more, at the expense of other games, probably never will.

Who doesn't love Rhino?

Probably unpopular opinion but I can’t help but think that Warframe needs to sort out some basics. Start committing more development time to improving old graphics, old loading screens, UI improvements, stability, removing bugs and crucially making the new player experience much, much better. Also making sure that the new player isn’t faced with a gigantic wall of content before they can catch up.

Of course DE admitted in the recent Noclip ‘making of’ documentaries on Youtube that ultimately there’s a balance between maintenance and new content. I suspect the allure of revenue and profit will always pull them more to the latter.

But this is an aside. With Warframe even though I’ve currently spent nearly 350 hours playing it, I feel like I’ve only scratched the surface. That there are simply too many frames, too many weapons or too many collectables for me to keep up with. Of course you don’t have to collect them all, but who doesn’t want to have a large library of frames, be well equipped for the endgame or have loads of cosmetic options. To look good whilst being a ‘space ninja’.

And with some of my other favourite GaaS games it’s no better. In Guild Wars 2 I have three level 80 characters. I’ve spent ages exploring the world. But I’ve never completed my personal story. Barely scraped the expansions; Heart of Thorns or Path of Fire. Last year I finally got around to trying The Elder Scrolls Online. And my ‘to do’ list has grown even bigger there too. Despite days of playtime I only have a Champion Points 121 Altmer Sorcerer. I’ve not even got to proper end-game (160). And whilst I’ve completed some of the regions and faction quest lines, I’ve still not been to Morrowind. And the home of the Elves (Summerset) is but a pipedream.

I suspect that I am going to have to make some tough choices with these games. And to be happy with more focused, realistic goals. I don’t want to give up on any of them yet as I adore these games. And all of these examples above will probably be around for years yet. Either way I need to be careful about signing up for more GaaS moving forward. Games like The Division or Destiny scare me less because in reality I don’t believe they are true GaaS games. As bi-annual or three-yearly releases there’s a finality about them. But games like Path of Exile or Warframe will continue their unrelenting content grind. At least until people stop buying.

Hopefully this is a case of less is more. And recognising that actually playing less service-type games might be good thing. For me.