Compiling my favourite games of all time

Around Christmas time I got an idea for a future article on this website; compile a list of my favourite videogames of all time. I mean what better way to demonstrate the sorts of games which I have enjoyed and always cherished? It didn’t sound that difficult however in reality I have found it one of the most time consuming pieces to write for this site.

Not just because of the sheer number of videogames that exist or I have played over the years. What makes the task much harder is actually limiting it to a finite number of games there by putting pressure to be very selective. In addition just knowing when nostalgia is biasing your view or recognising the ‘new hotness’ isn’t that great after all, is very tricky. It can also be really difficult to rank games in a particular order.

In one particular instance I can think of one long revered game that was considered genre defining, and yet I couldn’t decide whether I preferred it to a much less heralded more modern game in the genre. A game I loved just as much. It has been very difficult to separate whether I preferred the older game or whether its greater impact is weaken by the fact that actually I’ve probably played more of the lesser, modern game.

Either way I have at last completed the task. After months or slowly working on this list I finally got to a list of my top 50 favourite videogames of all time. It might not be perfect but for now is probably largely there. One of the great things about compiling your list of favourite videogames ever is that it can’t be wrong. It won’t be the ‘best’ videogames of all time just the ones I liked the most.

Of course even with that said no list can be complete unless you have managed to play every videogame that exists and therefore I’m sure my favourites will have gaping holes populated by games I’ve yet to get around to playing. But that might make interesting to keep updating the list and see if it does change over time.

Anyway over the next few weeks I am going to publish my list for people to agree, or more likely disagree with. On the list are likely to be some common and obvious games that most people love. However there will some more curious and surprising choices. And as mentioned this should help to define more about me and help explain why I like certain videogames more than others.

Generation 8.5

When the PlayStation 4 Pro and Xbox One X were first rumoured I was relatively negative as to their existence. As a then mostly PC player with occasional console use the introduction of these machines felt like a way for the manufacturers to increase profitability rather than meet a specific consumer driven need. However as the two year anniversary of purchasing a PlayStation 4 Pro has passed (over a year with the Xbox One X) I thought I would write down my musings on the new ‘enhanced’ consoles and my experiences with them.

I’ve written this a few times now, but PC gaming is getting more expensive. Rising prices on many components including Graphics Cards, CPUs and monitors amongst others have really dampened my enthusiasm for gaming on PC. Made worst in the UK as the value of sterling has decreased (something PC components seem very sensitive too). This meant that last year I transitioned away from buying games on PC and buying or rebuying them on consoles instead. I even downsized to a gaming laptop.

I have a pretty even spread of titles across both the Microsoft and Sony ecosystems. So obviously now more of my gaming time has been spent on console versions of games which has been reflected in this blog. And surprisingly what I’ve found is a much better experience than I thought. As primarily a Xbox 360 gamer last generation, I moved towards PC again around 2012 and had limited experience of the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One in their early days. It was Destiny that really made me play the new consoles but I think like many I preferred the better visuals, framerates and cheaper prices of games on PC.

The new consoles in my mind are more the machines we should have had at their release in 2013. What I mean is that the more powerful internals go some way to addressing the underpowered base consoles. And indeed on the hardware side it isn’t difficult not to admire the Xbox One X specifically. Smaller than the PlayStation 4 Pro yet very quiet and overall feeling like a more premium piece of hardware.

From a software point of view whilst the PlayStation 4’s dashboard remains relatively similar to its original version, the Xbox One X came with a changed and improved user experience. Unshackled from the Kinect the UI is faster, cleaner and nicer to use. Albeit still weaker than the Sony offering. Microsoft announced this week that it has stopped all Xbox One backwards compatibility work to focus on the new hardware. However Microsoft’s backwards compatibility is a massive strength and a great feature. Even recently I’ve been enjoying Mass Effect 3 and knowing games like Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic have been enhanced for the Xbox One X is a massive selling point. I love Microsoft’s efforts with backwards compatibility.

Often PC fans will joke about the lower framerates, resolution or graphics of consoles. However even as someone who has spent lots of time on certain PC games I can’t really say playing a game on the Xbox One or PlayStation 4 bothers me that much. Take Doom (2016) for example. It might look slightly better on my PC and run at a higher framerate however it still looks great on my 4K TV particularly with the Xbox One X patch. I certainly don’t feel that the experience is in anyway worse. Right now it is hard to argue with the value offering of Sony’s and Microsoft’s consoles versus a PC. That isn’t to say that a console is the best solution for everyone however moving away from expensive PC hardware feels liberating.

And indeed even though many console games remain at 30fps there are an increasing number of PlayStation and Xbox One games at higher framerates now. Particularly eSports or multiplayer games. However there are some games which even allow a choice between higher framerate or resolution, such as the Xbox One X version of Rise of the Tomb Raider. With much better AMD Zen 2 CPUs next generation this will likely be something that only increases further.

Whether either enhanced console is worth it, is a subjective opinion. Some games don’t necessarily make the full use of their extra power and arguably the base experience is fine. However for me particularly in this era of 4K UHD and HDR the newer PlayStation and Xbox One consoles have come into their own and they have been a nice plus. Whilst I will always be a multiformat gamer I don’t regret buying these two machines. Although perhaps not without irony, as I begrudge the perpetual PC upgrade cycle, we might still see enhanced versions of the next PlayStation and Xbox in the future.

My thoughts on E3 2019

So another year and another set of E3 live streams passes by. Often I tend to keep up with E3 more by accident rather than passionately following events. However this year I’ve managed to see quite a bit and I thought I would write down my thoughts. Obviously the way things are presented to those of us not at E3 is probably a very different experience to those actually there. Particularly as we miss out on the show floor and playable games. That said I can only talk about what I saw and so outline my thoughts based on the conference schedule.

Google

Hard to criticise the Stadia showing. They have an impressive list of publishers, games and some influential people at the helm. The initial founders pack due in November this year seems to be good value (£119 in the UK). And the two types of account; Base (free) and Pro (£8.99 per month) make a lot of sense. Also they might just beat Microsoft to market. Like all these things success may depend on the service being good enough and latency deemed acceptable. But there are billions of Chrome and Android users out there.

Electronics Arts

Unless you were in to an existing EA game, the series of lengthy live streams wasn’t particularly notable apart from the unveiling of Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order. I am genuinely not sure what to think of this one although it was nice to see a fairly lengthy demonstration of the gameplay.

Microsoft

Microsoft have been praised over the last few years for their E3 shows. Even though they often are filled with CGI trailers, multiplatform games with very little new IP. Microsoft’s show format was the same this year although a few notable exceptions. Cyberpunk 2077 surprised with a release date and Keanu Reeves. It felt like the big standout from this show was just how impressive Xbox Game Pass has become. The new PC service has been well received and Microsoft were keen to remind us many games would be ‘day one’ on the service. Forza Horizon 4’s LEGO Speed Champions DLC looked brilliantly light-hearted and fun.

There was very little time spent on either xCloud or the announcement of new hardware. The Project Scarlet announcement seemed to mirror 2016’s Xbox One X acknowledgment. The hardcore fans probably understand the specifications Microsoft name dropped but the announcement lacked the impact of Sony’s recent instant loading demo.

Bethesda

Yeeeeaaaaaahhhhhhhhh!!!! Bethesda’s show used the lure of The Elder Scrolls Online freebies for those watching. Which is great although with short notice and a US friendly schedule perhaps there can a better way of accommodating non-US players in future (1.30am BST in the UK!). Last year Bethesda’s show was probably one of the more memorable. However this year most content shown was for existing games. In more ways than one Ghostwire: Tokyo stole this show. A great concept in the CGI trailer. Beyond this a lot of time spent on mobile games which I didn’t personally find interesting.

PC Games Show

Loads of interesting games shown, but I did like the look of Valfaris (2d retro style platform shooter like Contra), Griftlands, Cris Tales (just looks uniquely beautiful) and Songs of Conquest. Although there has been criticism of the Epic sponsorship this year, the format of this show does work really well. Particularly the presenters. I really enjoyed Larian Studios talking about how they’ve tried for a few years to get the Baldur’s Gate 3 licence.

Ubisoft

Ubisoft opened strongly with Watch Dogs: Legion gameplay. And then unless you are particularly invested in one of their existing games not much afterwards. Mirroring a larger trend with E3 this year. Personally disappointed if Rainbow Six Quarantine is just Co-Op PVE. As a solo player I would love a Rainbow Six game to play. Gods and Monsters might be interesting though we didn’t see anything of it.

Square Enix

Square Enix got off to a good start and had one of the better shows. Seeing Final Fantasy VII Remake in action and hearing the developers passionately talk about the game was excellent. Also loads of other games; Dragon Quest Builders 2, Dragon Quest XI (Switch), Kingdom Hearts 3 DLC, Final Fantasy XIV Shadowbringers, Dying Light 2, Outriders and Final Fantasy VIII Remastered. I liked the look of their overhead racing game: Circuit Superstars.

The only let down was ironically the Marvel Avengers unveiling. A poor trailer which probably lacked impact in part as it isn’t related in anyway to the iconic Marvel Cinematic Universe. It also didn’t help that Square Enix talked about lootboxes, business model, exclusive PlayStation 4 content and roadmaps before we’ve even seen the game.

Nintendo

A short and snappy Nintendo Direct where Luigi’s Mansion 3 opened the show and looked great. The anticipated The Witcher 3 and Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3 also impressed. More was seen of Pokémon and Animal Crossing, although the latter is delayed until 2020. However perhaps the real measure of the success of the Switch is the flood of multiplatform games from third-party; Dragon Quest Builders 2, Alien Isolation, Minecraft Dungeons, Dauntless and Wolfenstein Youngblood etc. An impressive mix of old and new games sometimes releasing alongside other formats. And finally Nintendo confirmed a direct sequel to The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. A very good showing.

Overall

A quiet E3 which reminded me of the show in 2012 as games like Watch Dogs were shown before the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One became reality. From a trends point of view this years E3 Live Streams included; lots of CGI trailers, a lack of games probably due to the impending new consoles and number of existing Live Services games. Although there were a few games which I am interested in but perhaps the fact there isn’t much more provides a little relief for those of us that need to spend the next 12-18 months catching up with our backlogs.

My changing buying habits

As this year’s E3 is underway with loads of new videogames being announced I’ve recently thought that during the current generation I rarely buy videogames at release. I’ve written about this before but I wanted to do some further investigation to see if I could actually prove some of this.

Indeed since creating this website I had identified 14 upcoming games that I was most interested about in the 2018 and 2019 release schedules. And of those 9 have since been released. However I have only purchased two of those games; Marvel’s Spiderman and The Elder Scrolls Online: Elsweyr. Crucially only the latter was actually purchased at release.

So I then looked into how many games were purchased by myself before or on the release date over the last four years. I found the following list of games.

  • Far Cry 5 Gold, Mar 2018
  • Monster Hunter World, Jan 2018
  • Destiny 2 Digital Deluxe, Sept 2017
  • Zelda Breath of Wild, Mar 2017
  • Forza Horizon 3 Ultimate Edition, Sept 2016 (2 days after release)
  • Destiny: Rise of Iron, Sept 2016
  • Doom, May 2016
  • Trackmania Turbo, Mar 2016 (6 days after release)
  • The Division Gold, Mar 2016
  • Fallout 4, Nov 2015
  • 6 MMO Expansions – all pre-ordered:
    • The Elder Scrolls Online: Morrowind (2017)
    • The Elder Scrolls Online: Summerset (2018)
    • The Elder Scrolls Online: Elsweyr (2019)
    • WoW: Legion (2016)
    • WoW: Battle for Azeroth (2018)
    • Guild Wars 2: Path of Fire (2017)

Findings

It means I have purchased a total of 10 videogames and 6 MMO expansions over the last 4 years at release.

  • An average of 4 videogames per year.
  • Only one purchased in 2019 (The Elder Scrolls Online: Elsweyr).
  • 4 PC releases were all purchased from a reseller with fairly hefty discounts (GreenManGaming & Humble).
  • Only one purchase was physical (Wii U).

Even new consoles didn’t result in buying new games. With the purchase of an Xbox One X (Feb 2018) and PlayStation 4 Pro (May 2017) I didn’t buy any new games. Either playing my existing library or picking up games in sales. This seem different to previous hardware like my Wii U (2014 – 2017), launch PlayStation 4 (3 games) and original Xbox One (1 game) amongst others.

The last generation for comparison

Now unfortunately I don’t have numbers for the last generation of consoles, or before 2015 as it would take an immense number of hours to compile. However I know that I purchased large numbers of games at release – every Halo, Little Big Planet, All Forza’s, Super Mario Galaxy 1/2, Battlefield Bad Company 2, Battlefield 1943/3 etc. And this list would be massive. Particularly as the number of games I owned on Wii, PS3, and Xbox 360 was over 200 at one point. On disc alone. And that is not including formats like Nintendo 3DS or Wii U where I also purchased numerous games as they released.

Indeed during the last generation many more games were cheaper and with much less monetisation. Buying games was the only way to get new games to play. Free-to-play or subscriptions hadn’t really landed yet. Also live services hadn’t happened meaning you tended to play a game and then move on to the next. Therefore I suspect games purchased at launch would probably average 15 to 30 a year. Maybe more.

So therefore it is probably undeniable that over the last few years I am buying less games at release and therefore less at full RRP. A downward trend over previous years before.

Conclusion

Of course some of this slowdown in buying games at release could be more about myself, i.e. getting older or being a parent. Or indeed having a huge backlog of games to play. However there are some clear patterns which definitely fall in line with the wider trends within video gaming.

  • I don’t shop at Retail anymore. Even when I buy physical games they are from online retailers.
  • I’ve fully embraced Digital on all formats.
  • There is a limit to what I will spent on single games. As the price gets lower then I am more inclined to take a punt on a new game. And therefore if I see something approaching or over £100 I’ll likely not bother as I worry about missing out on something with the ‘standard’ version.
  • Although I will spend more on a Live Service. Particularly those that are around for years, such as World of Warcraft or The Elder Scrolls Online.
  • Easier access to more games. With Game Pass, Games with Gold or PlayStation Plus I’ve got loads of games to play.
  • I’m not trading in games and therefore buying less. Something I would do a lot during the last generation. I think this is a major reason for declining retail UK sales figures tracked through GfK Chart Track.
  • I don’t ever pay full price for PC games outside of MMO expansions.
  • Live Services videogames are making me think twice before buying.
  • I have spent money on Free-2-play games. F2p and other business models are clearly disrupting the market.

So there we go. The short of it, is that I can be reasonably certain I am buying less games at release or at full price. However with Games as a Service and Live Services probably spending more but on fewer games.

Although I am certainly still buying more games though. But these are mostly digitally, often with big discounts after they have been out a while. And I don’t think that is a bad purchasing habit. Picking up the games cheaper, after bugs have been ironed out and business models become clearer (i.e. microtransactions introduce a month after release). It also feels a bit less bad if it takes longer to start playing a game. But it means that I may lose interest and desire to buy a game in the long-run. Something I have experienced recently with The Division 2.

Perhaps what is more interesting is whether this is the same for many other people and whether there are significant numbers who are all buying less games, but spending more on those we do play. Unfortunately that is not a question I can answer beyond my own spending habits.

Games as a Service: the reality and opportunity

The below was first published in three separate blogs in December 2018. I have merely merged the posts and made some small amendments to try and make the article flow better as one piece. I also have made some small changes to try and refresh the content a little bit although some of the comments and thoughts at the time have aged a small bit. For example Destiny 2 & Bungie were still working with Activision Blizzard and Red Dead Online has received some changes. However the sentiment and my thoughts are all still very relevant today. Thank you.

The Reality

Sometime towards the end of the last generation of videogame consoles and the transition to the current generation we saw major western publishers start to embrace the Live Service or Games as a Services (GaaS) as a preferred business model of their games moving forward. Games such as Destiny or Warframe moved away from Games as a Product (GaaP) to services. Although Wikipedia notes the idea originates in the early noughties with MMO’s.

The major western publishers and platform holders have been enjoying record revenues from financial results strengthened by recursive microtransactions and revenue from services. However as their profits have gotten larger so too has the pressure to increase year on year growth. Which could create problems over the next few years. Certainly there seems to be a far more vocal reactions to some of the negatives of GaaS games (i.e. Star Wars BattleFront 2 lootboxes) and a divisive element to them. Whilst lots of gamers embrace them there is a growing number who don’t like some of the implementation of GaaS that we are seeing.

The definition of GaaS from Wikipedia is:

In video gaming, games as a service (GaaS) represents providing video games or game content on a continuing revenue model, similar to software as a service. Games as a service are ways to monetize video games either after their initial sale, or to support a free-to-play model. Games released under the GaaS model typically receive a long or indefinite stream of monetized new content over time to encourage players to continue paying to support the game. This often leads to games that work under a GaaS model to be called “living games” or “live games”, since they continually change with these updates.

The advantages of GaaS are clear for the publishers and developers; more revenue from ‘uncapped’ spending, more regular and consistent revenue, less games which have a longer shelf-life as well as legal advantages to selling services over products. For the consumers the advantages are less clear-cut but include potentially much better supported games with a strong online element.

As I’ve spend some of this week reading about Red Dead Online there has been some clear negative reaction to some of the balance of the new online mode (Polygon, Wccftech and Reddit). This made me want to write about some of the new trends and how they are not always for the better.

The ‘hard reset’
FIFA or Madden Ultimate Team are the clearest examples. Every year a new £50-£80 game arrives. And this means that all your previous progress is gone.

Games with a shelf-life
Contentious point here, but there are arguably a lot of games which are really products with some support. One of the major criticisms of Destiny 2 was the lost of all your progress from the first game. There was no connection at all between the two games. This isn’t a problem unique to Destiny, The Division 2 is likely to go through similar challenges. How ‘long or indefinite stream of monetised content’ has there to be for a game to truly be considered a GaaS by definition?

Developers prioritising a sequel, or next paid-for product
I remember when Destiny 2 was having its problems last year, reading someone ask ‘why aren’t Bungie sorting this out, what are they doing?’. Of course the easy answer was ‘working on Destiny 2:Forsaken and the next Destiny‘. A lot of content is actually made with the main game and/or released by separate in-house development studios whilst the main team works on the new, next game.

This might not be that different from the old days when developers moved onto the next project, however there’s a balance when asking people to commit to a service which are usually more expensive in terms of cost and time required.

Time-limited content
This tactic is both to try to re-engage players but also to pressurise them into spending money. However from a player perspective they can be both rewarding, but if you’ve not got time to engage in an event then the ‘fear of missing out’ can be tiring and stressful. In many ways seeing time gates on content tends to have the opposite effect on me and makes me want to play something else instead.

Yearly season passes
A tactic we have seen in a number of games. You’ve purchased the ‘gold’ edition of a game. Then after the first 12-months a Year 2 content pack is released. In some cases a Year 3 etc. Particularly irritating if the game is actually cheaper to rebuy everything rather than the year season passes you’ve missed.

Introducing microtransactions after a game’s release
Years ago Forza Motorsport 5 was rightly criticised for launching with a myriad of aggressive microtransactions. Since then most if not all games from major western publishers release the microtransactions after the games reviews. Indeed sometimes the microtransactions might be implemented later on – long after the release, i.e. The Division.

Perfectly working in-game cash shop
It just works. And have you noticed how some premium, expensive triple-AAA, western published games have in-game cash shops that look like that of a free to play game? Cough Rainbow Six Siege.

Bugs & maintenance ignored
Prioritisation of paid-for content rather than actually fixing the game itself. The is true of many GaaS out there now.

Poor new player experience
This is a difficult one but a lot games just straight up get this wrong. Or there are loads of games that are prepared to drop you into a multiplayer mode without so much as a shooting range or ability to play bots first. The difficulty is whilst this may help retain players it doesn’t pay anything for developers looking to fix after a games launch. And therefore never really gets fixed. Of course it can also be the systems upon systems that the games doesn’t necessarily want to explain.

Drip feed of new content
New microtransactions, new cosmetics, or Lootboxes don’t really qualify as new content. i.e. Ghost Recon Wildlands Year 2 Season Pass was really a bunch of lootboxes along with a weapon and some gear. New maps, new story missions, new racing tracks can often feel like they are on the back burner compared to recursive game modes, new enemies, new in-game shop items or other more smaller content.

Focus on PVP/Multiplayer
The main gripe of fans of single player experiences. That publishers have prioritised cheaper to make multiplayer content over single player or PVE content. GTA V is a great example of a game which has not ever received any single player content post-launch.

The never ending grind
Only 8 hours to unlock a gold bar

Incomplete games at launch & minimum viable product
Games should be solid and relatively feature complete at launch. To have missing modes or features only a few weeks away feels shoddy. Roadmaps with future content should be adding to rather than making up for missing content.


Ideally a good GaaS should have a solid game that is brimming with content, and the money made be used to further add content to the already rich game. However for many GaaS games the opposite seems to be true; launch with a minimum viable product and then patch in ‘held back’ content to give the perception of ongoing ‘support’ until the next paid for content is released.

Of course I don’t want this to be all negatives however we also live in a time when there is a greater influence of a game’s business model on the end product, something I’ve blogged about before. And crucially getting a GaaS wrong can ultimately impact a company’s financials. Something we’ve arguably seen recently with Destiny 2: Forsaken. Some of the above negatives that I see in GaaS are actually grinding me down rather than making me look forward to new videogames. Major Publishers seem keen to embrace the revenue aspect of GaaS but I’m not sure all their games are really ‘services’ or get the balance right when it comes to the support or indeed the business model.

An ideal business model

Ideally the fairest business model is pay once or a subscription, but the industry has tried to move away from these. So this should probably be a called a wishlist of how I would envisage the ultimate GaaS business model. I think there’s a balance of how companies charge and price a service.

The following are things publishers and developers should be steering away from when it comes to a videogame business models in my opinion:

  • No lootboxes
  • No pay2win, i.e. purchasable items with ANY stat increases.
  • No XP or in-game currency boosts
  • No separate currencies
  • No currency that can be purchased
  • No level gating of items only to be removed for players spending real money

Lootboxes have been debated in great depth but with a growing number of independent bodies or governments now starting to investigate or legislate against them, publishers should do the right thing and stop their use immediately. The impact on children and the lack of protection for consumers is one of the biggest problems the videogame industry has ever faced. But a problem of its own making.

So the question becomes what would I consider more acceptable business models in a GaaS videogame?

Purchasable cosmetics (sometimes)
Personally I would prefer cosmetics were earnable. Remember when you saw someone in endgame gear in early World of Warcraft. You knew it was a badge of honour. Something to respect. Now cosmetics usually just mean the player who has spent the most money on the game. Ideally cosmetics should be earnable, or at least there is a balance; still allowing players lots of customisation without having to spend money.

Time limited content should be reserved for a few seasonal events
It’s cool to earn stuff from an event but using this as a continual mechanism to get people to login is less cool.

All items should be earnable in-game
With ‘reasonable’ play-time as well. And not hundreds of hours

Fair pricing
So not charging £30+ for a skin. Characters or skins really should be ‘micro’ in price. I know if games charged less I would actually be encouraged to spent more.

No made up currencies (i.e platinum, gold or x-bux etc.)
Just price the purchasable item in a local currency where one transaction can be made. No ‘best value’ packs etc.

Online/multiplayer games only
Single player games rarely have need for any of the above, as they aren’t GaaS games or have services costs or ongoing content.

Limited mixing and matching of business models
If the game has multiple tier versions at launch with season passes then there should be a need for microtransactions? Games need to be fair in their overall value offering.

Of course this is likely wishful thinking, but I do think that the better examples of GaaS games embrace some of the above (although not enough) pricing strategies. We have to consider games on a case-by-case basis. However generally it’s reasonably obvious to spot the videogames which get the balance wrong when it comes to the cost and the impacted design of a GaaS business model.

The good, the bad and the ugly

Below are some of the Live Services/GaaS which I think currently do the whole service model very well. Or indeed very badly.

The good

Path of Exile | Grinding Gear Games

Often the term ‘free to play done right’ is banded around for many games. But I think here it is actually the perfect descriptor. Since 2013, Grinding Gear Games have been working on their ARPG with growing praise from those that have played it. The game does some major things right. All content is free, the game can be played as a free player with no penalty and makes you want to support the developer rather than feel you need to. It is far from perfect in that selling cosmetics limits the visual customisation options and the prices of some of its packs or in-game items feels slightly too expensive. But again it gets the balance right. And ultimately is as close to the best f2p game business model as you will find. The content on offer is fantastic and it is an outstanding ARPG as well.

World of Warcraft | Activision Blizzard

You could probably insert a few MMO’s here, but Blizzard’s 14-year old veteran game’s subscription model still mostly works. There are very few in-game items to buy for real money. Whilst players moan about subscriptions, they still can provide one of the fairest business models a videogame can use. It’s also worth mentioning that WoW expansions have a Collector’s Edition but with only a few cosmetics included. There’s no Normal, Gold, Ultimate version rubbish here. There are negatives such as the best looking mounts which are saved for cash shop purchases and the ability to purchase in-game gold. This won’t be true of WoW Classic though which is also included in the subscription.

Guild Wars 2 | ArenaNet

No subscription and reasonably priced microtransactions. Far from perfect but does a lot of things very well when it comes to its business model. Unlike WoW it doesn’t have a subscription which is its strength.

Warframe | Digital Extremes

Great game, wonderful developer. F2p largely done right although the Prime Access packs are very expensive. However probably the best community manager in any videogame. And a phenomenally unique game. The fact this is the best looter shooter out there speaks volumes.

The bad

Call of Duty | Activision Blizzard

Year on year release. Season Pass, pre-order items, over £100 for the most expensive version and p2w in the form of weapons with better stats being in lootboxes. On top of that, this year’s entry has a slow grind version of the Fortnite battle pass which has been designed to be very sllloooooowwwww at rewarding the player for obvious reasons. Eugh. About the most offensive cocktail of business models in modern triple AAA videogames.

Destiny 2 | Bungie

Again yearly releases, season passes and an endgame designed around lootboxes. For many including myself the realisation hit with the second game that there just wasn’t enough to justify the high purchase price. Great shooter and for the hardcore group PVE players they will be able to see pass these faults (although since this was written Bungie has gone independent from Activision Blizzard so is there hope here for the removal or dramatic shift away from Eververse?

Grand Theft Auto Online | Rockstar & Take Two Interactive

A freemium, mobile game in structure. Everything is built around earning money which is very, very slow to acquire. It isn’t pretty. But unfortunately it has generated billions for Take 2 and Rockstar and clearly a blueprint for the recently released Red Dead Online.

FIFA/Madden Ultimate Team | Electronic Arts

EA has come under increasing criticism for its annual sports titles that appear to have only improvements in features relating to the Ultimate Team modes that are generating EA near or over a $billion every year. Like GTA V it’s effectively a freemium mobile game, with declining reasons for those not wanting to play the online mode to consider buying the game.

And the ugly

Marvel Heroes | Gazillion Entertainment (now defunct)

Marvel Heroes was a f2p ARPG which was quite good fun and had a small but loyal following of fans. However it is no longer around since it’s closure in November 2017. The studio and game were shut down only 12 days after Disney announced it was ending it’s working relationship with the developer. It’s a great example of where it’s possible to invest money and time in a service but unfortunately there is no guarantee about how long it will be live. I could list others like Evolve, or Lawbreakers. Indeed maybe even Fallout 76 which has turned into a big mess of a game. But ultimately I just needed one example to make the pun work!


I probably could list more examples in each category. However when writing this piece it started to become clear that a trend has emerged over the last few years which is arguably good for consumers. And that is the rise of smaller, more dynamic, independent studios whose games are reinventing and innovating within the industry without the pressure from publishers.

Right now it’s hard to argue that the big publishers don’t have a monetisation problem where their greed is killing something special in a lot of their games.

Far Cry 5 Review

Far Cry 5 is a game I have mixed feelings about. I’ve had it since release in March 2018, but decided to only recently go back and play the campaign some more. Very much a Far Cry game, which largely re-treads the same established formula. However I personally felt this is a game which is held back from greatness by bad design decisions. Most notable is just how busy the world is which feels completely at odds with it’s fictional setting in the US state of Montana. Indeed step out anywhere near a road in this game and it is like a warzone. But no matter where in the world you are enemies attack constantly and it can break any immersion with the game.

I have played many of the Far Cry games and always had some issue that stops me really enjoying or playing them. With the second game I couldn’t get over the checkpoints that would be repopulated with enemies even after you had just cleared them out. Although I don’t think Far Cry 5 makes any mistake as bad as that although it feels largely a retread of the gameplay of the third game to me.

The game itself is technically gorgeous. On the Xbox One X it runs at native 4K and a really solid 30fps. Apart from the early map screen tearing bug (long since fixed by an update) I simply didn’t run into any performance issues with the framerate or the game. Textures and draw distances are stunning. The vegetation and ground clutter is heavily populated and the flame effects as fire spreads on the ground are very realistic. It is certainly one of the best looking games I’ve played this generation. Background music changed to suit on screen action and the game has a neat use of different styles or musical genres. Sound effects too, but audio as a whole is very well done.

Far Cry 5 screenshot

I think the setting of the game is wonderful. The choice of having a game set in a US state was a good one. Indeed the story and the opening of the game feels very solid. It’s not the first Far Cry game to open strongly and this was as memorable as some of the others for me (particularly Far Cry 3). The game doesn’t offer up much diversity in the environment although the verticality in this game world is astounding. There were a couple of times when it almost felt like a vertigo inducing moment.

After the opening tutorial area you are free to go where you want and the game world is split into three distinct regions where you need to complete the story within. I will say the way story missions worked in this game were an annoyance. At certain points when a trigger point is reached the game will interrupt whatever you are doing to either playout a cut scene or force a linear mission on you. After the first time this happens you soon realise it is by design. All of that being said there is loads to do in the world and it is very easy to get lost collecting things, or doing a side activities like fishing or simply exploring. The game requires you to explore to help unlock skills point (called perks) or find new quests. It felt like there was a large amount of side quests to do which isn’t required to complete the main story.

So the game looks stunning, runs really well, has a great opening and fairly interesting story and lots to do. What isn’t there to like? Well there are a few things in my opinion. Firstly as mentioned the sheer number of enemies feels flawed. If it’s not the aforementioned warzones of the roads, it’s the over populated enemies all over the game world. Very often enemies spawn right in front of your eyes or just after a mission area has been cleared. And wildlife in this game is deadly. A few times I died to deadly, super high jumping wolverines that felt more like the killer rabbit from Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

And there is the slowness of earning currency in-game. You earn money from quest rewards, finding it or looting from downed enemies. The money is used for buying weapons, vehicles or parts and unlocking weapons as well as ammo refills. You can also customise your character, weapons or vehicles. It never felt like I was drowning in money and until the late game there is an ongoing slightly nagging feeling of not having enough money if you want to unlock new weapons and vehicles. Despite doing a fair amount of side activities there are still many items I haven’t unlocked after 30 hours. Of course you can simply purchase silver bars (premium currency) with real world money to unlock items quicker. You can also find silver bars in the open world however I barely found any on my play through.

I’ve read a number of times that the microtransactions can be ignored or don’t impact Far Cry 5 in anyway. Your own view will probably depend on how you feel about them but it is hard not to say the design of the game hasn’t been influenced. These microtransactions are really meant to capture the more casual player that is only playing the game for a few hours. Certainly they aren’t egregious or manipulative like lootboxes however the presence of them still feels scummy. Most big triple AAA releases include microtransactions so Far Cry 5 isn’t doing anything that different but that doesn’t make them right. I can’t see any valid reason for them to be in this game which for most people will be an offline single player game. And a full price premium game with a gold version and season pass already.

Looting enemies was really fiddly. You have to hover the cursor over the enemy body and press X (or square on PS4) but it is very easy to accidentally pick up enemies weapons instead. I lost track of the number of times I would accidently swap out my favourite weapon instead of looting and then have to reset my loadout when back at a base. The game would have been so much better with an auto looting feature, in the same way it does for ammo.

There is a challenge system that can help unlock perks to help improve your character, and indeed as you do so it definitely helps increase your enjoyment as things like carrying more ammo, or additional options like parachutes and wingsuits add more variety to the gameplay. There are also friendly NPCs who can unlock in the game and add to your team to help with gun fights.

Away from the main campaign the game also includes an online arcade mode which is user creation tool and includes a mix of single player and multiplayer levels that have been created and uploaded. I barely scratched the surface of this (or the DLC) but thought this was a neat addition to the game. Some of these are available in Co-Op as well, like the main story mode.

Overall I had some fun with Far Cry 5, however the slowness of earning in-game currency, the fiddly control system, extremely high numbers of enemies respawning really held back the game for me. I’ve got to the 30-hour mark and completed two thirds of the game but I’m struggling to find a reason to play it through to the campaign’s end. When the game got into a flow of missions there was a very enjoyable experience. And it was very easy to lose myself and go exploring. And that’s why it so frustrating to have the quiet moments continually interrupted with gunfire or killer wildlife. I can see why some people really enjoy this series but for me some of the low moments with Far Cry 5 were as exaggerated as some of the high moments. A shame as it meant the game was just OK rather than being anything truly special. In other words a reasonably flawed game, albeit a visually pretty one.

Played on the Xbox One X.

Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden (Early Impressions)

Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden is a mid-budget videogame from developer The Bearded Ladies Consulting which was released December 2018. Set in a post apocalypse world after a global outbreak of a deadly plague, Mutant Year Zero is a turn based tactical RPG, which is very reminiscent of the modern XCOM games.

These are my early thoughts based on a few hours playtime and reaching level 20 in-game. I played the game on Xbox One via Game Pass.

What it does well:

  • Love the real time movement. Game allows you to move your party around in real-time before switches to a turn-based mode for any combat encounters.
  • This balance works really well and gives the game a very accessible feel, as you have to scavenge around the world exploring for loot and resources to upgrade or buy weapons. So although loot and gear appears to be in fixed locations it provides an incentive to explore.
  • The characters are fairly unique.
  • The turn-based combat is fun.
  • The way the story is told well early on.
  • Characters provide some humorous dialog in missions.
  • Controls work brilliantly on the controller.
Screenshot of Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden on Xbox One

Things I didn’t like:

  • There are 3 difficulty levels, and even playing Normal, the lowest of these and the game still feels quite difficult.
  • It essentially rewards you for stealth and picking off enemies stragglers first. Even going onto other areas on the map to level-up before coming back to tackle the earlier encounters. It feels like the game is meant to be played one way and if you deviate from stealth you are quickly overwhelmed.
  • Medbots feel cheap as they revive fallen enemies from a long way away, potentially from earlier fights and after only one turn.
  • Enemies very quickly ramp up in Health Points.
  • A very minor point but the game isn’t Xbox One X enhanced.

Overall I do like the game although in a similar vein to Ashen and We Happy Few which I also played on Xbox Game Pass this might be one I put down for now to venture on to some of my backlog games. A fun and pretty interesting game though.

May 2019 Backlog Update

Warmer weather approaching as another month passes by. I’ve made a lot of progress at the start of the month clearing games but that has slowed down over the last few weeks. However a real sense of clearing some long standing games from my current playing list. Also a few high profile games added to my collection.

New game pickups

  • Divinity Original Sin 2 (Xbox One)
  • Marvel’s Spider-Man
  • Uncharted: The Nathan Drake Collection

I made a couple of pickups in the last of the Easter Sales. Namely Divinity Original Sin 2 but this time on Xbox One. In addition I added one of 2018 PlayStation exclusives to my collection, Marvel’s Spider-Man. And I decided to take a punt on Uncharted: The Nathan Drake Collection as it was only £12.99 for the original trilogy. I played the first Uncharted years ago on PlayStation 3 but never got around to the second or third games. These seems a good price to have a go at the PS4 remasters. I might add Uncharted 4 or Uncharted: The Lost Legacy if I enjoy these enough.

At the time of writing there is a Xbox Live Backwards Compatibility sale with a few Xbox 360 games that I would like to pick up and therefore will probably be on next months new pickups.

Been playing (Grouvee)

  • The Elder Scrolls Online (PC)
  • Wolfenstein: The New Order (PS4)
  • Ashen (Xbox One)
  • We Happy Few (Xbox One)
  • Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition (PS4)
  • Far Cry 5 (Xbox)

It has been a busy month. I finally beat Wolfenstein: The New Order and Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition (I really enjoyed this). In addition I played a couple of Xbox Game Pass games; Ashen and We Happy Few. This was the first time I played the latter. Also made played quite a bit of Far Cry 5. The 5th year anniversary event was something that I spent time in The Elder Scrolls Online during the early part of the month.

Completed/Abandoned/Shelved

  • Completed: Wolfenstein: The New Order and Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition.
  • Abandoned: Ashen and We Happy Few.
  • Shelved: Far Cry 5 and Borderlands: The Handsome Collection

I written about We Happy Few already, however not Ashen. It can probably can be described as a ‘Souls-lite‘. You can have an AI companion but this was broken for me as summoning didn’t seem to work even with multiplayer switched off. I’m not a huge Dark Souls fan, but with this fairly unique feature not working and other games to play I decided to move on.

Borderlands 2 is a game I’ve played a load on PC so really the The Handsome Collection was a cheap chance to try The Pre-Sequel! for the first time. I may return to this later but don’t feel too much pressure to play. I will review Far Cry 5 although I’ve just got to a point where I am really bored with the game so going to park for now.

So 2 games completed, 2 abandoned and 2 shelved. I did also move a few games around on Grouvee (such as Rocket League etc.). But overall some nice progress made with the backlog.

Website updates

I removed the Main page which didn’t really serve a purpose but added to the About page. I plan to add a new page to the website shortly.

Up next

I currently only have 2 games on my playing list and therefore there’s a real opportunity to start playing some new games. That said I suspect I might go back to Mass Effect 3 which has long been on my backlog and needs to be cleared.

The Epic PC debate

The ongoing debate about Epic Games Store (EGS) is getting boring and tends to go around in circles. There I said it.

The latest game to announce being a timed exclusive to EGS is The Outer Wilds, from developer Mobius Digital. A small indie game that used crowdfunding but has really angered backers who regard it as having gone back on previous promises to deliver the game on Steam at release. As more and more games have been confirmed as exclusive to EGS we continue to see a similar uproar from many PC gamers.

If you go to any internet forum or reddit there are those who see Epic doing good, creating competition and perhaps making Valve up their game when it comes to their dominance over PC gaming. Often stating ‘it’s just another launcher‘ or it is like Amazon Prime or Netflix streaming services. On the other side of the debate Steam fans see rising prices due to reduced key resellers, loss of features and forced exclusives.

Stitched screenshot of the Steam and Epic Games Store main store pages.

I understand both sides of the debate but do get bored at the often poorly made points of those defending Epic’s new storefront. You see EGS is far from another launcher. It’s a service, a platform, which is in effect a walled garden. No one knows whether it’ll even exist in five or ten years (*cough* Desura). And when one of these services no longer exists then your whole library of games is gone. Forever.

Comparisons with the streaming services like Netflix are nonsensical. With subscription services you are never emotionally invested in them. You watch your content and then stop paying if you wish. You don’t lose anything. On platforms like Steam or EGS you are actually buying games. You build up a virtual library of games on virtual shelves. As your spend more and the library gets bigger the perceived sunk cost becomes even more. It makes it difficult to detach from the service. Media streaming services like Netflix are actually closer to game subscription services like Xbox Game Pass or EA Access.

More often that not even when people explain the huge number of features that are available on Steam those on the Epic side don’t always acknowledge those points. Epic may well improve their offering but the list of features on Valve’s platform is immense. Even in the last year we’ve seen native DualShock 4 support, Proton (so Windows-only games on Linux) and a completely rebuilt Friends client (think Discord). The claim that Valve don’t work on Steam anymore seems to be based on personal opinions rather than actual fact.

For years Valve have been seen as the guardians of PC gaming, arguably even more than Microsoft. At a time when Microsoft was pushing the wholly underdeveloped Games for Windows-Live initiative, complete with plans to charge for PC multiplayer gaming. Valve were building a complete PC-based gaming ecosystem. Full lifecycle from store purchase to playing games. With new features like Big Picture Mode, Achievements, Community Market, In-Home Streaming, Proton Linux support, SteamOS, Cloud Saves, Broadcasting, Steam Works, Wishlist etc. If you use these features then the removal of them matters. Even though it’s a tiny audience some players may have been looking forward to The Outer Wilds on Linux. However as a game on a Windows-only client that leaves them in the dark for now.

Of course the 12% fees for developers on Epic versus the higher charges on Steam may help developers bring new games to market but consumers don’t necessarily understand or directly see the benefit. Something Epic CEO Tim Sweeney has noted. And it isn’t the first time PC games have been exclusive or paid to be kept away from competitors stores. Actually the Oculus Rift storefront for VR did this first. Furthermore it is arguably the only valid strategy Epic Games have to displace a mature and very established competitor. Consumers won’t buy games not on Steam unless you remove that choice. Exclusive content has been used for decades to entice gamers onto competitors products and services. And it is ironically competition, even if not as PC gamers might want.

Although I am a multiplatform gamer, unexpectedly I’ve found myself sucked into this debate on EGS. Trying to explain why PC gamers are angry at Epic or the publishers and it gets really difficult not to have sympathy with those criticising Epic. Often the conversations descend into hostility and toxicity. I can’t fathom those defending anti-consumer practices when it comes to exclusive platform games. Certainly I understand the use of exclusivity deals however I’ll never defend the tactic.

Interestingly Epic yesterday announced a huge month-long sale on their storefront, which has generated some goodwill. The sale essentially sees Epic offering £10 off for games over £13.99 to bring some quite significant percentage discounts on lower priced games. But this sale is arguably a good tactic for consumers and a way to drive them towards EGS. Or at least might have been, but since the sale started many publishers have removed their games from the sale. This was arguably the first good thing we had seen from this new storefront. At least for consumers. Although for now I’m just going to stay away from the Epic vs. Steam debates.

The Division & Destiny sequels

Over the weekend I saw streamer MarcoStyle mention he intends to move away from The Division 2 and play other games. Whilst this isn’t really news. Streamers constantly change games or move on from things. It seems to be a case of another of the more well known original The Division streamers moving away from the series. I remember before launch comparing The Division 2’s launch with that of Destiny 2 and that it would face the same challenges. And after watching the launch of Ubisoft’s latest Division game it feels like there are similarities.

In September 2017 Destiny 2 launched to good reviews (84 on OpenCritic) but within weeks faced a backlash from the community over a number of issues; a reduced feature set, lack of endgame content, changing XP rates and egregious microtransactions. We never saw sales figures but it’s likely that the game was successful although by the time of Destiny 2’s first expansion, Activision Blizzard stated publicly it wasn’t happy with sales of Forsaken. How much that led to the breakup with Bungie is speculation, although it’s hard to imagine that overall revenue and microtransactions sales didn’t play a part in the decision making process.

The Division 2 also launched to good reviews (83 on OpenCritic) and there appears to be criticism of lack of content and broken builds although praise for some of the new content in the game. Interestingly MarcoStyle specifically called The Division 2 endgame more casual in his aforementioned video, stating that it felt like it was more for people who only play a few hours a week. Similar criticisms were levelled at Destiny 2 at launch.

We have heard nothing on the sales figures from Ubisoft about The Division 2. Odd given they were very vocal about the first game’s launch setting company and industry records. The March 2019 NPD figures (physical and digital USA sales figures) included some news :

Tom Clancy’s The Division 2 was the best-selling game of March 2019 and is now the second best-selling game of 2019. Launch month sales of Tom Clancy’s The Division 2 are the sixth highest in history for an Ubisoft-published game.

NPD March 2019 (ResetEra post)

This probably explains why there have been no press releases about sales because unlike the first game it has set no milestones by the looks of it.

Of course this isn’t meant as criticism of either game and there is much detail around how the games are different. The Division 2 is about to get its first Raid and that will probably boost player engagement. And Destiny 2 players seem to love the Forsaken expansion. This is no ‘hot take’ and maybe stating the obvious given both games are similar Live Service games from large western publishers. It simply has been interesting to observe how the games have launched very similarly; good reviews, limited or lower sales after a very successful first game, tailing off player engagement and criticism of endgame content. And indeed what is also probably true of both is that the developers moved onto the next games straight after launch.

I am still torn on whether to pick up The Division 2 at some point. I really enjoyed the first game and it was streamers like SkillUp and MarcoStyle who helped me master some of the metagame. The beta for The Division 2 left me cold and I got the distinct impression it was more of the same albeit improved. Recently I have been enjoying shorter, narrative experiences and looking forward to being able to try new games all the time. With one game already my Live Services game of choice, I’m not that keen to start more. I just don’t need more games as a service at the moment. And that continues to be a reason why I’ve not purchased The Division 2.

Update 17th May 2019: Since publishing this post, Ubisoft confirmed The Division 2 didn’t meet expectations. There are probably many reasons for why; fatigue with GaaS games, lots of competition, Fortnite and people bouncing off the first game hard. Although probably more interesting is the why are all these AAA, big budget, western developed GaaS games failing to meet expectations? Maybe a thought for another day.