Cross-play coming Fortnite (at last)

So the news broke yesterday that Sony has at last caved in and will be allowing cross-play between Fortnite players on PlayStation 4 and the ‘blocked off’ Xbox One and Nintendo Switch. However even better Sony is enabling everything that cross-play means, so matchmaking, progression and purchases.

Quite why this took 4 months to announce this U-turn is anyone’s guess. Although it is likely that the bad PR was simply too overwhelming for Sony to ignore. And like last year’s Star Wars: Battlefront 2 fiasco another great example of the consumer’s power to pressurise big businesses to back down. The communication up until yesterday had been incompetent. Epic and Sony simply choose to ignore this problem which is not a good strategy when their customers have spent money on their game and platforms. What was missing from yesterday’s announcement was an apology. Either from Sony or Epic. Locking of Epic accounts was simply disgusting.

Either way for all Fortnite players light is the end of the tunnel and coming. And it is good news for all. Even those who don’t venture off the PS4 version. Hopefully more games can be made cross-play between all consoles now, and Sony doesn’t just stop with Fortnite.

So in light of this significant change, and now all platforms holders are not hopefully blocking cross-play the focus perhaps unsurprisingly shifts to publishers. And already people like Pete Hines at Bethesda Game Studios, are finding that out. It seems ironic that Bethesda was vocal in the criticism of Sony’s previous stance on cross-play given that we have now learnt that Fallout 76 doesn’t even support cross-play. I’ve said this is my earlier blog post, but ultimately I think people’s expectations have changed. People don’t want artificial barriers in their games. And publishers can expect much more criticism to come their way.

Is there any valid reason why more games shouldn’t support cross-matchmaking, progression and purchase. Games like The Elder Scrolls Online, Warframe, GTA Online, Madden, FIFA, Rocket League etc. No, of course not. To borrow this brilliant .gif from those geniuses over at ResetEra. The correct answer to which games need cross-play next is…

via GIPHY

September Update

Autumn has arrived. It has been fairly busy with DIY, a new PC setup, looking after the children, new NFL season (go Bears!) and work. These are all keeping me away from playing videogames. However the big news is that I jumped back into World of Warcraft after buying some game time. As I mentioned in my earlier blog post the temptation proved to be too strong.

New game pickups

  • World of Warcraft: Battle for Azeroth (game time)
  • Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition (PlayStation 4)
  • Forza Horizon 2: Storm Island DLC
  • Animal Crossing amiibo Festival

I purchased Tomb Raider Definitive Edition for PlayStation 4 in a recent PSN sale. I also picked up Storm Island DLC for Forza Horizon 2 following the recent news that the game is being removed from Xbox Live at the end of this month.

Animal Crossing amiibo Festival was really cheap from Argos. Although I won’t play the game, it feels like a nice addition to my small Wii U collection.

Been playing (Grouvee link)

  • Rage
  • World of Warcraft: Battle for Azeroth
  • Forza Horizon 4 Demo

Continuing with Rage but I have not made much progress. In World of Warcraft: Battle for Azeroth I’ve been enjoying levelling my main (Blood Dead Knight).

Also tried the Forza Horizon 4 Demo. The new 1080@60fps Performance mode for Xbox One X is great and the updated handling model makes the game seem closer to the Forza Motorsport series in the way the cars drive. The addition of seasons might just be a masterstroke too.

No games completed or shelved this month. Eek!

Updates

I have purchased an ASUS Stix GL703GS Scar Edition laptop. The main specifications are: Intel Core i7 8750H, 16 GB DDR4 RAM, Nvidia 1070 and 17.3″ 1080p 144hz IPS G-Sync Display.

I purchased this as an attempt to downsize my gaming PC setup. I’ve sold the old PC parts and moved some of the storage drives over to my Unraid server. Only a small downgrade on my previous PC although I’ve wanted to try out a gaming laptop setup for a while now.

Initial impressions are the build is solid, G-Sync is stunning but the laptop can be noisy. Playing any games and it sounds like the original Xbox 360 design. #hairdryer

Also I have updated the About page of the site to include a bit more detail about the current gaming hardware I own.

Up next

Largely the same as last month. A few older games I would like to progress and complete (Rage, Wolfenstein: The New Order and Mass Effect 3). With regards to WoW:BfA hoping to get my Death Knight to max level.

A solo player’s wishlist

So recently I wrote a blog post lamenting the lack of options in most multiplayer games when players don’t want to play or group up with other players. It’s fine that there are multiplayer only games and it’s great that so many good ones exist. However I think the following suggestions are some realistic ideas which can help to open up a multiplayer game-like experience for a solo PVE player, but crucially without taking the focus away from the main audience.

Bots, bots, bots…

Given that most games use AI, adding bots to any multiplayer mode seems pretty logical. Particularly when most players, even those who only play multiplayer, often request practice modes. Games like Call of Duty, Unreal Tournament and Quake series have long since included bots. And given that even community mods like Battle Royale Singleplayer Experience (BRSE) Mod for Arma 3 have built a whole 64-player BR mode, it seems not too much of a stretch to suggest it is possible for developers to implement.

Rocket League has some offline game modes.

Offline Progression

It’s interesting new games such as Rainbow Six Siege and Star Wars: BattleFront 2 (2017) have included bot/solo modes in their progression systems, i.e. you earn renown for playing Terrorist Hunt on Rainbow Six Siege. However it often seems to come at a cost of a much reduced reward versus playing online. Last year Ubisoft significantly reduced the amount of renown you could earn in Rainbow Six Siege solo PVE modes to apparently stop people farming renown too fast. As renown is a virtual XP currency you can use to purchase some in-game purchases they were clearly worried about impact on their financial revenue. Battlefront 2 does a similar thing with a daily arcade cap.

I have yet to hear a good reason for why levelling in offline modes isn’t acceptable but at the very least let players earn XP in an offline profile. Doom (2016) or Counter Strike: Global Offensive have bots, but no ability to earn XP or unlock anything, thereby negating any point of playing these modes beyond practising. Call of Duty Black Ops implemented an offline multiplayer mode which shows offline progression can work really well.

Developers and publishers seem to forget that solo players have spent money on your game too and are another source of revenue for in-game purchases when respected. Rainbow Six Siege’s Terrorist Hunt modes showed promise at launch but seem to have been a ‘tick box exercise’ for when the game launched with no real support since.

Dynamic Content

Group content is great fun, but why can’t content vary depending on the number of players? ARPG’s have been doing this for years. Including solo modes or scaling content isn’t necessarily a bad thing and potentially an easy way to open up content to all players.

Games as a Platform

This is a thing already. Games like the The Sims, Sid Meier’s Civilisation series. Like GaaS but potentially opening up a new way to sell single player content and make content not centred on multiplayer content commercially viable. You could argue season passes and DLC (free or paid) fit into this category as well. Certainly one other way to open up a multiplayer focused game to a new audience is sell the content that allows a solo player to experience the game. For example, want to play this game offline against bots, then here’s the single player component – only £29.99 or so on.

Longevity

Solo modes are a very good way to ensure some longevity when the servers are switched off. As games like Lawbreakers have already recently demonstrated, some games can have a short shelf life.

And that’s all the suggestions for now

But on a final observation developers and publishers seem to view offline modes as increasingly not worthy of the their time. Potentially a threat to their online player base. For example, if everyone plays solo modes then the online population will decrease etc. But what I think they fail to realise is that they aren’t currently appealing to this type of player. In other words it’s an audience they are completely missing and not selling games to.

 

When the ideal product just doesn’t exist

For a while I’ve wanted some wireless headphones, with a microphone to use on all formats; so PC, Microsoft Xbox One and Sony PlayStation 4. And possibly Nintendo Switch in future. Nothing too fancy, just some budget headphones with reasonable sound quality and microphone for times when I need a wired headphones.

So if you want a wireless set of headphones just for the PC. Easy. Lots of choice, either through proprietary wireless, or Bluetooth. And as my Creative SoundBlaster X7 supports the AptX codec there are even more options. However I want something that works on the Xbox and PlayStation lots of these products won’t work with both consoles. There are some interesting budget options for each console such as the PlayStation Gold Wireless headset or the Turtle Beach Stealth 600 (both under £100).

However once again neither option works on both formats. The PlayStation Gold Wireless will support Xbox through a wired connection to the controller but won’t work with the SoundBlaster X7 through Bluetooth and require the use of the included USB dongle. The Turtle Beach Stealth 600 use the same proprietary connection as an Xbox One controller but again won’t work on PC without a dongle. There are more expensive offerings such as the Astro A50 or the Plantronics RIG 800 series but again have the exact same problems. So in summary I can get a reasonable set of Wireless headphones that works well with one format, but not all.

So given the complexity and restrictions of the products I’m just going to accept defeat and give up looking for now. For the few times I need voice comms on console I will just use an old Astro A40 headset with the controller port.

However I do hope that the next generation Xbox supports external DACs and AMPs like the PS4 does. If it does, it would make setting up a half decent set of headphones and microphone much easier. Currently the PlayStation 4 supports external devices like the SoundBlaster X7 with wireless voice comms (via the BT-W2 Bluetooth adapter) which makes life much easier, whilst the Xbox One doesn’t. This means at the moment the Xbox One feels a bit of a mess, and unnecessarily restrictive by comparison.

Single player campaigns aren’t always the answer

More and more the Videogame industry has moved to Games as a Service (GaaS) and multiplayer only games. And we have countless examples from developers that tell us that is what their consumers want. However one thing that is often asked is whether a new game has a single player campaign. I feel this is the wrong question. What we really should be asking is whether ‘this game has compelling single player content?’. As someone who prefers playing Player Versus Environment (PVE) content solo, this is the question I tend to ask of many games before I try them.

And just to be clear matchmaking isn’t always a solution either. Whilst this should be standard for any game offering up group content there are those that get anxiety or simply don’t want to group up with other players.

No Bros. required

Best of times, worst of times

I loved playing multiplayer games such as Team Fortress Classic, Day of Defeat, Halo, Battlefield Bad Company 2, Call of Duty etc. over the years. However online multiplayer games have some major downfalls. Other players can be toxic, they require much more time commitment and can be more challenging. Sometimes it is nice to play a more relaxing game.

Therefore it seems a shame when games have components for single players but fall short or ignore the solo player altogether. While many might retort ‘just play a single player game’. This response simply misses the point. Multiplayer style games can offer new unique gameplay. Indeed new emergent genres like Battle Royale cannot be experienced in other game styles. And with the industry moving increasing towards Player Versus Player (PVP) Live Services the choice for those not wanting to play those games is becoming less and less. Not only that but these GaaS platforms tend to be better supported.

And whilst this blog post is musing about games from lots of different genres where it can wildly vary;  it isn’t impossible to open most if not all games to single AND multiplayer audiences. I can’t help but feel moving forward that the way developers think about content needs to evolve rather than just split games into single or multiplayer only experiences.

So below are a few online multiplayer games which I’ve played over the years that surprisingly can be really fun for a strictly Solo player:

Call of Duty: Black Ops (multiplayer mode)
Treyarch came close to delivering the ultimate pseudo-multiplayer experience for solo players. Black Ops Combat Theatre mode allowed a solo player to level up, unlock weapons and perks in exactly the same way as the online experience but against AI bots. It was only let down by the inability to complete challenges or prestige (earn a badge and keep levelling up). It’s inclusion never made the experience any less for the hardcore multiplayer audience. Call of Duty : Ghosts would later go on to offer a similar Squads mode allowing for some offline progression, but once again falling short of the full depth of the online experience.

Warframe
Whilst is has been moving toward more and more group content recently the core of the game still doesn’t omit solo players. Whether it’s levelling different warframes, grinding materials or parts, levelling mastery rank, there is loads to do. In structure this game is very much like an ARPG. And therefore like Diablo 3 or Path of Exile, is very accommodating for solo and group players.

The Elder Scrolls Online
MMO’s often cater for the solo player when levelling, such as World of Warcraft. But then at the end-game offer just group content for progression, i.e. increasing gear score etc. However The Elder Scrolls Online, is actually much more forthcoming in catering for solo players at end-game. Indeed the developers are aware many of its playerbase are solo players. Sure there is group content, but you can craft, level or loot even as a solo player taking part in the end-game. Actually ESO has some of the most robust methods for organically grouping players in the open world or one of its numerous dungeons. It is also a very casual, friendly MMO. I’ve written in more depth about this game before.

The Division
I played this game for over 200 hours as a solo player. Never once grouping up with any other players. My end game build was pretty high end (literally a High End build). Whilst there is group content and the game is arguably more fun as a group you can play the end-game as a solo player. Unlike the first Destiny game which offered little content to do after the max level is reached, The Division does a much better job of offering lots more dynamic content. I hope the sequel is just as solo friendly and doesn’t move towards more group content.

Unreal Tournament & Quake 3 Arena
Very old games but both include full support for mixing up human and AI bots. I spent hours on these games playing solo against bots in various modes. In the days before RPG-like progression systems became the norm.

There are probably more examples but these games above stand out for me. In a future blog post I’ll list some of my thoughts on features I would love to see in games to make them more solo friendly.

Recommended Software: Unraid

For several years I have been running a home server to store data, home movies and other media. Whilst I fully embrace the cloud the simple fact is that sometimes you need to store data locally. For around the last 7 years, I’ve migrated from a Synology DiskStation to a self-built server and onto a HP ProLiant Gen 8 Microserver. Although I researched Unraid before I preferred running Ubuntu Server primarily to get to grips and learn Linux.

Anyway earlier this year I wanted to add some unused hard disk drives to my setup, which were different sizes, and I stumbled across a recommendation for Unraid. As I was going to have to rebuild the server anyway, I thought I would try it out. Then in the last week I’ve upgraded another 2 of the 5 hard disk drives. And Unraid didn’t skip a beat. Without loss of any data my storage array was simply rebuilt and the existing docker containers (Plex, Airsonic) were restored from a community app backup.

So just over four months on, how do I feel about Unraid? To put it simply, I think it’s probably the ‘go-to’ software for pre-built, NAS-Linux distros. Or at least right up there with any of its peers. As close as you can get to working out of the box without going for something like a Synology or QNAP pre-built NAS. The web interface is quick to learn and functional, dockers are amazing and avoid all kinds of grief if you have to start again, and the ability to easily setup Virtual Machines is really cool. My basic license of Unraid cost me about £43 after USD to GBP conversion and it’s been a bargain overall.

Of course this isn’t really ‘gaming’ related. Although having a home server with lots of storage makes it far easier to simply backup your PC game installs by dragging them to your server when you want to free up space (69GB The Elder Scrolls Online, Doom (2016) nearly 80GB etc.).

Unraid can be used in a gaming PC setup in a variety of scenarios as made famous by Youtube channel Linus Tech Tips, but if you want to know more, check their website: https://unraid.net/.

I’ve just been really impressed with Unraid and wanted to sing it’s praises.

The Division 2 pre-order mess

I wrote a short while ago about some of the games I was most looking forward to in the next 12-months. And following a couple of hundred hours on The Division, it’s sequel is one such game.

I finally got around to looking at the different versions available and it’s a mess. Far too many versions across physical, digital releases and different regions. In the UK it’s £87.99 for the Ultimate Edition on Xbox Live, which is the only way to get all of the content including the additional stash space. Although the descriptions are very unclear and include no explanation of what you are actually getting for your money (i.e. how much stash space for starters). I would imagine it’s bare bones content and probably a waste of money that will be minuscule in comparison to what Ubisoft sell in their in-game cash shop. It’s no wonder the reception to this news on Youtube and Reddit has been so very negative.

However all of this nickel-and-diming such as the pre-order items, very expensive complete versions, inevitable microtransactions (and lootboxes), Year 2 passes are seriously dampening my enthusiasm for this game. I’m put off Red Dead Redemption 2 for similar reasons but certainly because it is so expensive for the full version. I know The Division 2 isn’t doing anything different from other major releases, but it still doesn’t make it hard not to stomach. It’s also a shame that Ubisoft can’t come up with a fairer business model.

Given that I regretted buying Destiny 2 (now a freebie on PlayStation Plus) on release and I didn’t really start playing the first game in earnest until patch 1.4 landed, the sensible thing to do is going to be to wait for the inevitable price drops. Or when I’m ready to play the game.

However as ever this means not crumbling and giving in when the ‘new’ game allure hits and Ubisoft ‘advertises’ the hell out of the game through Twitch and Youtube. Going to try and be strong.

The Elder Scrolls Online Review

A casual friendly MMO and enjoyable Elder Scrolls game

If ever there was a game that can be described as divisive, then I think this game might be one such example. This MMO from Zenimax Online Studios (from the same organisation as Bethesda Game Studios) launched in 2014 to mixed reviews and anger from Elder Scrolls fans who wanted another single-player game. It was a subscription only PC game. Since then it has gone through loads of changes; transitioning to a buy to play business model, launching on consoles in 2015, the One Tamriel update in 2016, meaning you could go and do anything. And two large expansions arriving last year and earlier this year.

I first picked up the game in Febuary 2017 and at this point have played well over 200 hours on PC over a few different characters, getting near the end-game. Overall the game runs quite well although fps can and does chug when in large populated areas.

The Elder Scrolls Online can be a very pretty game at times

As someone who prefers solo PVE content and can be fairly slow, or casual in tackling content I would probably go as far to say this is one of the best MMOs I have played. There are 3 massive faction quest lines, one overall campaign and loads of zones to clear before you even get to the DLC and expansions (although the game calls them chapters) content. And everything you do is levelling some aspect of your character and can be tackled in any order you like. So you can simply go straight to the latest content if you so wish.

PVE questing is a very strong point in this game. Apart from fully voiced NPCs, quests don’t descend into kill/collect/gather ‘X’ number of items that so many other MMOs do. Quests often have choices and usually resolve around mini stories. One thing the game does well is organically group players. As you explore the world you will see and meet other players. This works really well for the Delves (solo) and Public dungeons. The game has PVP but I haven’t played it.

Combat is handled quite well. The combat is action based with telegraphs and markers for enemy attacks. It lacks the finesse of a game like Guild Wars 2 but is fairly enjoyable. In part due to the limited number of skills you can equip on your skill bar.

The game doesn’t have a gear score. Virtually everything you find will be for your current gear level. Once you get to Champion Points 160 gear is then end game as the game no longer scales gear up anymore. Champion Points are earned after max level and essentially allow you to spec up your character with additional skills and stats. They can take a fair while to earn to 160 although they are account based.

In fact the game has level and progression for pretty much everything. Your characters level, your 3 class skill trees, weapon, armour or other skill lines including guilds and DLC, crafting, mounts, backpack and storage and so on. Levelling even one character in all these areas will take a very, very, very long time. Like the main Elder Scrolls you level up skills by using them.

The game feels like an Elders Scrolls game. The gameplay, lore, world, User Interface all feel spot on. I do think it is popular to bash this game which isn’t based always on fact. In some ways this game does things better than the mainline games. Combat and crafting are much better, for example.

The race and class system is very flexible and again as a solo player allows for some truly creative freedom rather than being stuck to certain play styles. However any serious end game play in groups or guilds usually resolves around certain race/class builds.

In terms of negatives, the game still has the Star Trek-like looking humanoid races in my opinion, but to be fair so do all Elder Scrolls games. Certainly races like Khajit look rubbish in comparison to Char from Guild Wars 2, for example. And node stealing can happen albeit very rarely.

I think the biggest problem I have with game is it’s business model and maintenance schedule. The game continues to have an optional subscription but has an in-game cash shop which in late 2016 introduced lootboxes. These have since been tweaked to be worse. It seems that the most desirable items are being developed for these lootboxes. On top of this the game does DLC which whilst available to all subscribers, has to be purchased if wanting to own permanently. So that’s a subscription, collector’s editions, DLC, Expansions, in-game cash shop and lootboxes. Whilst none of this is abnormal for a MMO its feels an overly egregious business model and a massive negative against the game.

For EU players another issue is the weekly maintenance on the server which is done overnight for North American players so they avoid any disruption. But for EU players this means the game is unavailable during the daytime. It feels like a clear message that EU players aren’t as important to Zenimax Online Studios.

I think some of the criticism levelled against this game is sometimes unfair. It is an MMO first but still a good Elder Scrolls experience. For fans of the series there is a lot to recommend. Particularly if you want to experience Tamriel with friends.

Where The Elder Scrolls Online excels for me is as a solo friendly, fairly casual MMO experience. And on this basis I would recommended for anyone interesting to check out. However be wary of the overly aggressive microtransactions which otherwise really spoilt a solid experience.