Warframe Review

One of the most unique videogame experiences there is.

Warframe is fantastic. From the minute you first play it and start with the first movement of your character, you realise you are playing something stunningly different. Something special. So much has been written already about this game, so to get straight to the point – Warframe is one of, if not the best ‘looter shooter’ out there at the moment. It’s very unique, comes from a strong, creative and innovative developer. And has the best Community teams in the business of all online games. It’s an outright classic. It is also the near-perfect example of how a Live Service should be done.

Warframe is a game I first saw years ago when TotalBiscuit covered it in his fairly famous ‘WTF’ video on YouTube in January 2013. After that is was a game I would often see mentioned but for some reason would never play. Probably in part influenced by my negative reactions to free-to-play (f2p) business models. But in 2016 I finally had a chance to catch up with some f2p games that I had been meaning to play. There is only one of these games that I stuck with and still play even after 2 years. And that game is Warframe.

Warframe is unique. Unique combat, unique character movement, unique levelling. It also has uniqueness all through its style, designs, world, stories and numerous component parts. It’s hard to compare it to anything but it’s one of the strongest third-person shooters there is. The combat and visual display in front of your eyes is like watching the finest fireworks display you’ve ever scene when everything is flying about on screen.

No end of customisation options

The mod system which is used to upgrade your warframes is also a work of genius. Collecting and equipping different buffs and bonuses to your warframe can give you huge levels of customisation although levelling each individual mod can take long amounts of time (or money). Also fashion frame is a true end-game experience if you want it to be. A bit like the fashion wars in Guild Wars 2, there is an almost never ending mixture of parts, armour, weapons and colours than can be played with to come up with some absolutely personal and distinct creations.

As an f2p game one of the first questions should be; ‘is the business model fair’. And for the most part it does things well including being extremely generous with content. There’s in-game trading for the virtual currency (although no auction house just a chat channel) and every item can be earnt in the game. Although many of these are either time-limited (vaulted), require reputation grinds or only be obtained from a suitable high level clan.

However ‘Prime’ cosmetics cannot be earnt in game and can only be purchased for money. Prime items are the best items in the game and overall the prices for the quarterly Prime Packs feel ridiculously expensive (£92 on PC, for example). Although you can obtain Prime Warframes just playing the game (essentially the characters and therefore different play styles). However if you are low on time or a more casual player obtaining things can be very expensive. It certainly isn’t the most egregious business model which is often why people refer to Warframe as ‘f2p done right’. However it has it’s positives points but also has some negative points that are more difficult to defend.

And of course there is a never-ending release of new frames, new items etc. Which can make the game just feel like an impossible rat race to keep up with at times. Digital Extremes are doing their upmost to pump out new content but as a game now over 5 years old I would personally like them to relook at the basics. I suspect they will always prioritise new revenue generation over maintenance and improving old content. And at this point the game is layer, upon layer, upon layer, upon layer of systems designed to lengthen the grind. In places it feels like a mess. Particularly the new player experience which isn’t very good. As a new player you have countless questions which the game does very little to help with. Fortunately there is a wonderful community to help out, but alas that isn’t the point.

It’s also a game that should ideally have cross-play or at least have the intention of working towards this even if it’s years away. I would love to play on other formats although I’m not encouraged in any way to do so. However to be fair that isn’t a criticism that is unique to this game.

I have genuinely enjoyed and loved every minute with this game and would wholeheartedly recommend Warframe. It’s a one-off experience available on all current formats and is one of the better games out there at the moment. It really deserves the success it has had to date.

The Division Review

Start spreading the news, I want to be a part of it. A flawed but great game.

When I think of a game that captures a location almost perfectly, it’s hard not to think of Ubisoft’s 2016 third-person shooter Tom Clancy’s The Division. It’s recreation of a New York city torn apart after a release of a deadly virus is stunning in almost every way.

Given the sequel is coming out early next year and how I am all but done with this game, I thought it might be worth compiling how I felt about this first entry in the series. It’s made more interesting by the fact that it does some things really well, but then in other areas almost falls flat on itself. That said I really enjoyed The Division and my hundreds of hours with the game are something I’ll look back fondly on.

In short Ubisoft created one of the best third-person shooters of this generation. Whilst it’s more of an RPG in places there is no doubt that the core gameplay loop is on point. Weapons and movement feel right, audio is great, graphically it is one of the most stunning games I have ever played. And the loot game, the ‘just one more go’ compelling gameplay loop, is largely there and done well.

It is also is a game that respects the solo player in ways that its competitors such as Destiny don’t. You can play the whole of this game solo, never needing to matchmake or group up. And whilst there will be group or multiplayer activities you will miss out on, there is no exclusion from the end-game. Almost every activity will improve your character in the end-game. And in effect grouping up just gives you a faster route to find the same end-game gear.

However it’s no secret that the game has problems. And I think none more so than how Ubisoft and Massive Entertainment handled the support of the game. You will often here how The Division was supported more than Destiny or how Ubisoft has done a good job with support. However that’s not entirely accurate. In reality The Division morphed into getting events and piecemeal recursive modes, but really missed out on substantial story, locations and new PVE content. And ironically The Division may have some of the same challenges as the Destiny series has been through when the sequel comes out.

The second year ‘no-show’ of content isn’t often talked about but in a Ubisoft shareholders call in February 2017, it was announced it had ‘another triple-A game lined up for the coming financial year but that this will now be replaced by continued support for an existing, well-performing live game’. And it does appear this was definitely referring to The Division, as shortly afterwards it was confirmed that there was no paid for content for year 2 of the game. What this meant was that The Division got Lootboxes, events and a new game mode. But what it never got was new missions, areas, story, factions or anything major. For many, including myself this simply reaffirmed that the game was in maintenance mode whilst Massive worked on the sequel and basically cemented my burnout with the game. Every time I’ve gone back to the game for events I’ve very quickly burnt out as I’m got sick and tired of playing the same content over, and over, and over, and over.

And even the Year one content felt like it was outsourced although it did add greatly to the game. Three big content drops that were managed over the first twelve months whilst the majority of the studio were likely working on the sequel. Indeed it feels like the much talked about 1.4 patch that dramatically improved the game was as much about increasing the playerbase than anything. And of course as players didn’t substantively return in droves, then it may have been why Ubisoft abandoned major content for the first game to focus on the sequel.

And that is one of my chief concerns with the sequel. That it received true support rather than being a Games as a Product with support in disguise as a live service. It’s getting old very quickly how publishers talk about GaaS but then continue to do major £80-£90 releases very regularly.

The game had lots of other problems. A less than stellar launch, lots of cheaters on PC, a small map with a lack of variety and a very short story campaign with a small number of missions, along with lots of issues with PVP. But all of that aside, this is a game that still shone through it’s problems. And particularly now if you were to have come to the game late. What you’ll find now is a very well balanced, interesting and with loads of modes to enjoy and explore. Indeed the ‘player power’ fantasy is almost perfect with the way you are able to breeze through more challenging content now.

This is a game I could probably write much, much more about, but in short, I do think this was a great first entry that has hopefully setup what will be a more interesting and polished sequel. Hopefully without too aggressive monetisation. But for now, good bye New York. I am leaving today.

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.

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.