Party like it’s 1999

I remember playing the original Unreal Tournament in 1999 as if it was (almost) yesterday. Released at a similar time to Quake 3 Arena which was another seminal multiplayer twitch shooter. Neither game had a campaign and helped to usher in a new era of more multiplayer focused games. I have fond memories of the original Unreal Tournament. Maybe not as technically proficient as Quake 3 but was arguably the more fun of the two games with more weapon variety. Both games had many options for solo offline players with extensive AI-bot support and different modes.

Unreal Tournament screenshot

So having seen a streamer on Twitch recently play the new Unreal Tournament, which was first announced in 2014, I thought it would be worth a look. Particularly as it is a completely free game and available to anyone on the Epic Game Store.

I’m not sure where it ranks in the series of UT games. Also it is clearly unfinished in its pre-alpha state with menus looking rough and having placeholders within the UI. However even with all of that, it is incredibly fun and even better has a few of the old maps available to play.

It also has extensive solo modes against bots including challenges and the ability to set-up Capture The Flag, Team Deathmatch and Deathmatch modes. All with a XP progression system where you can unlock cosmetic items for your character on the way. Although don’t expect anything too extensive from this.

Whatever the current development state of the game it has still been immense fun playing an old-school, twitch, multiplayer shooter again. Particularly with some very customisable bot modes. It feels very familiar. There are things I could nit-pick at, such as the movement set where you struggle even to make simple jumps but I think that would miss the point given the game’s current state. It is a shame we live in a world where the success of Fortnite has apparently helped stop the development of this UT reboot since 2017. The Unreal Tournament subreddit has much more detail on this.

Anyway if you’re a fan of the UT series this is worth a look. Completely free on the Epic Game Store.

As a slight aside it also is one of only two games I’ve seen support my Corsair K65 Mechanical Keyboard out of the box. UT changes the key colours to highlight movement keys (WASD) and weapon numbers. A neat touch is that the colours match the weapon in the game.

Two more games trackers

When I originally launched this site I checked out a few of the different Games Trackers and noted my thoughts about them. I would then add to this when I came across the AllMyGames which I wrote about in November last year.

Since then I stumbled into this discussion thread on ResetEra: ‘We are getting closer to a Letterboxd for games’. This peaked my interest because also since setting up this site I have discovered Letterboxd and love logging movies I have watched in the Diary view. As well as tracking what’s coming up. Although as I’m not a serious movie fan my use case is limited.

However this led to trying out two new Game Trackers.

GG

Interestingly this advertises itself as Letterboxd for games. Like both of the game tackers mentioned here I love the visual presentation style, lots of screenshots, clean and simple design which seems to extend through to the feature set. The are some basic categories for Beaten, Completed etc. and the ability to add lists and make these public. And you can also follow your friends on the site to see what they are up to.

I do feel the site is a bit basic in what you can do at the moment. You can’t track how long you’ve played the game for, or record what format you own a game on. Also lacking an import from a platform feature so everything has to be logged manually. However a strength here is that it has its own mobile app on Android and iOS.

IGDB

Again a really nice presentation style. Kind of a cross between Twitter meets Letterboxd. Like GG mentioned above this seems quite basic at the moment in terms of the feature set but the developer seems very active and has mentioned big changes are coming for 2019. There is nowhere to log time played or other metadata. And it could do with more categories (called Activity Lists here). Although like GG has it’s own mobile apps on Android and iOS. I think the strength of this site could be discoverability of games through it’s community provided it gains an active and large enough audience.

I definitely want to keep an eye on both websites to see how they develop as they both look very promising.

I’ve also adding a short summary list of all the Game Trackers I’ve tried to my new updated Backlog page (was called Rules before).

A changing of the guard

Over the festive period the retailer HMV in the UK announced it was going into administration. Whilst in no way personally affected it did trigger some slightly irrational thoughts on what format I wanted to still buy films on. In the run up to Christmas I had purchased a few movies on Blu-Ray discs. However seeing the only national physical entertainment retailer in trouble (again) made me question whether it is time to finally adopt buying movies on digital. In part because there will inevitably be less choice where to buy a movie on disc as time goes by.

I’ve been a Steam user since the very early days (17 Sept 2003 – only 6 days missed!). Over the years I’ve watched Steam grow from a multiplayer network replacing the old WON system to the feature rich digital platform we know today. It continues to be the only PC Storefront or Gaming Client that automatically starts with my PC and has since the Windows XP days. It is where I gravitate towards when looking to buy any new PC game. But slowly it feels like that relationship might be under strain.

The news that Ubisoft won’t be releasing it games on Steam anymore isn’t necessarily a surprise. However the manner Ubisoft reached an agreement with Epic and will release games on the Epic Games Store alongside its own gaming client; UPlay certainly was a shock. It now means that some of the biggest western Publishers; Activision Blizzard, Electronic Arts, Ubisoft and Bethesda Games Studios no longer release games on Steam.

It’s probably only a matter of time for 2K and Take 2 Interactive (Rockstar) to follow. Indeed what are the odds now for Borderlands 3, an Unreal Engine game to follow suite. Probably a very likely outcome.

So why does this matter? One of the strengths of Steam was arguably having all your PC games in one place. Along with automatic updates, friends, voice chat etc. However if the games you want aren’t on the platform, then it doesn’t matter how good or feature rich the store is.

Certainly I’ve not been completely bought in to everything Valve has implemented on Steam. I hate the microtransactions they have implemented within the store itself (cards for badges). And crucially I also feel they missed a trick with in-game comms and streaming that has seen the rise of the new standards; Discord and Twitch.

Therefore for the first time ever I suddenly feel like I’m faced with the question of where should I be buying my next PC game from and hence my opening paragraph. Like my decision with movies for the first time ever I question if Steam is the best place to buy games. For example would Humble or GOG be better. With large western publishers and even some of the (bigger) indies rushing to a new PC Storefront there is now uncertainty around the Steam ecosystem. And certainly the fact developers receive 88% of revenue from the Epic Game Store is something that I am happy to support. But it is so disappointing that the dream of all games in one place is now most definitely over (arguably it was anyway) and it’s a case of installing multiply different PC gaming clients just to play a PC game.

I won’t be rushing overnight to rebuy all my games on any new PC Storefront but all of this does make me slightly lose faith in PC gaming. Along with the increase in certain hardware prices this is making me not inclined to buy new PC games. And indeed thankful that on my consoles all my games are in one place. With only one store to buy from.

My most anticipated games for 2019 (Updated)

With a new year upon us, I thought it might be wise to look forward to the video games I am most looking forward to that are coming out in the next 12-months. I have realised buying games at release isn’t always the best idea so I may pick up later on but will still be watching closely to see the reception to these. There aren’t a huge number of games this year that I’m that hyped for but the following nine games are the most interesting to me.

The Division 2 | Ubisoft – I have written about this one before. I loved the original game and this should probably be an automatic day-one purchase but I still have a few concerns; will monetisation be more aggressive, will the PvE end-game be focused on group activities, and will it have enough content for a more casual solo PvE player such as myself. Again these are probably questions that won’t be answered until after the game is out.

Updated 9th February: Private Beta impressions here.

Anthem | Electronic Arts – I may forgo this game given its proximity to the above. But still a game I’m intrigued by as it ticks a lot of the right boxes although I am nervous about how monetisation will work, as with most ‘triple AAA’ games these days.

Updated 3rd February: Demo impressions here. Not as interested in Anthem although still a little intrigued.

Days Gone | Sony Interactive Entertainment – Sony’s first party games have generally been massive critical successes this generation so this is definitely of interest.

Doom Eternal | Bethesda Games Studios – I still need to play Doom properly and complete it, but more of the excellent 2016 first person shooter should only be a good thing.

Outer Worlds | Obsidian Entertainment – I only stumbled upon this game (and the game below) following the recent uproar over the Epic games store launch. This has been compared to the Fallout games and looks really intriguing.

Rebel Galaxy Outlaw | Double Damage Games – Space adventure game inspired by the likes of Wing Commander: Privateer. I used to love games like Wing Commander and Freelancer and this looks like a more modern version of the above.

Warcraft III: Reforged | Blizzard Activision – A game I missed at release and have never been able to get that far into despite the multiple times I’ve tried to play it. Therefore I was chuffed to bits when Blizzard announced this PC remaster at Blizzcon 2018.

Rage 2 | Bethesda Games Studios – I’m not entirely sold on this one so probably the lowest priority game on my list. Partly because it looks very ‘Doom-ey’ in the FPS gunplay and more of the same as the original. That said it looks to be more sandbox/open-world by design. I have enjoyed the original although it’s far from a classic so it might be an ideal game to wait on.

Possibly not 2019 releases (as currently no confirmed release dates)

Last of Us 2 | Sony Interactive Entertainment – For one reason, and one reason alone I’m generally hyped for this game. And that’s the stunning E3 2018 reveal. One of the few games that did leave me reasonably speechless. It looks stunning.

Cyberpunk 2077 | CD Projekt Red – I’ve stayed away from seeking much details of this game so genuinely don’t know much at all about it. But CD Projekt Red’s recent pedigree alone makes this of note. Also probably one of the most hyped games there is coming out.

Updated 16th January: A few extra games that I hadn’t initially known or thought about

The Elder Scrolls Online: Elsweyr | Zenimax Online Studio – Just announced to be releasing on 4th June 2019 (however early access for PC/Mac players). ESO is one of the MMO’s I’ve been playing over the past few years and this might be a good point to try and catch up on some of the content. I’ve written about this game before and regard it as one of the strongest PVE MMO’s there is.

Resident Evil 2 (remake) | Capcom – I’m not a horror game fan and haven’t played a Resident Evil game since 4 on the Nintendo Gamecube. However I do have fond memories of the first and second games on the PlayStation 1 all those years ago. Indeed the second game was arguably the high-point for the series or at the very least is right up there for consideration. The recent demo has got me intrigued to see this game and unlike the recent 7 or 1/Zero remakes might actually pull me back into the series at some point.

Don’t Pass on Game Pass

A while ago I wrote a piece stating that I was thinking about not renewing Xbox Game Pass. Apart from being annoyed at not having received a free month as part of an offer (something that Microsoft’s Customer Services never resolved), I was also not fully convinced of the benefits of the £7.99 a month service given I had played only a few games in my time with the service.

Since I got my second Xbox One earlier this year I had managed to use the free months included with the console along with offers and renewal offers to stack six months of Game Pass for less than £15. It had made the decision a no-brainer to try out the service and I enjoyed playing and complete a few games. However I was never 100% convinced the service was for me.

That said I often change my thoughts on things and this Christmas I think Microsoft have hit it out of the park with their subscription service. Ashen, Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden and Below are brand new releases that have debuted on Game Pass at the same time as being release on Xbox One and other formats. Indeed Ashen is exclusive to the new Epic PC Store. This is on top of other games like Life is Strange 1 & 2 and Ori and the Blind Forest all recently being added to the service. Whilst Game Pass has had day one first party titles on there, seeing independent games like Ashen and Mutant Year Zero launching day one is a very encouraging precedent.

Either way as noted in my December update the above along with some cheap prices on 12 and 6-month subscriptions was enough to convince me to stock up on my Game Pass subscription. As mentioned before there are still issues with the service, such as games leaving too soon (i.e. Fallout 4) and the lack of DLC. And whilst Game Pass is still likely to be the bane of my backlog having the opportunity to play a game like Ashen far earlier than I might have otherwise is enough to convince me that Game Pass might just become as mandatory as other services like Netflix or Spotify in the future.

Indeed Game Pass reminds me of the good vibe PlayStation Plus first launched to on the PlayStation 3 with it’s ‘Instant Game Collection’ in 2010. PlayStation Plus arguably changed the game when it came to adding value to mandatory online subscriptions which meant Microsoft had to adapt and offer free games as well. And whilst I don’t necessarily want individual publisher subscriptions (i.e. EA Access) Game Pass is a massive advantage for Microsoft right now.

Dear Esther: Landmark Edition Review

I purchased Dear Esther in 2012 for the princely sum of £1.74. It’s the perfect example of the sort of game that fills up my library on Steam. Anyway with a bit of time over the holidays I’ve managed to complete it. It is a very short experience and it doesn’t take much time at all to playthrough.

Dear Esther screenshot

I don’t really want to say too much about it because it’s one of those experiences that best enjoyed with as little knowledge as possible. Essentially it’s the original videogame that created the walking simulator genre that has since become quite popular. So a noteworthy videogame in that regard.

It’s difficult to summarise how I feel about it, as at times it feels too vague for want of a better word. That said it is technically well done, quite atmospheric and pretty in places. It’s also well voiced and the soundtrack in general is good. I didn’t enjoy it as much as other similar games and in that sense it’s hard to disagree with either those that don’t like it or those who enjoyed it and really appreciate it for what it is.

It’s worth mentioning that I played the Landmark Edition that was given away for free to owners of the original game to celebrate its release on consoles and includes a director’s commentary and was remade in the Unity engine unlike the original PC Source-engine release.

And finally just a note to say that the Steam Controller is pretty much perfect for this sort of game. I’m not a huge fan of that controller and prefer the main console controllers for multiple reasons. But here the Steam Controller works really well. Particularly the haptic pads which require less resistance to move.

Played the PC / Steam version.

2018 Review: In numbers (not that many!)

As we are coming up for the end of year I wanted to have a look at my progress against my backlog since I set this website up around five months ago. Originally my intention was to setup up a WordPress site from scratch, learn new skills, as well as being able to track how many games I own, or have access to. Sites like Grouvee are very good at logging games but generally very bad at a timeline view.

2018 in numbers

  • Backlog: Increased by 12 (264 to 278)
  • Played: Increased by 3 (192 to 195)
  • Completed = 2
  • Abandoned = 1
  • Played = 6

So overall not that many games played, or completed although as a whole I think I managed to play a total of 17 games this year. However I only set-up tracking along with this site in July, so there may be a chance that I’ve missed a game or two. However this number excludes retro games like Tetris on the Nintendo Game Boy.

There is a discrepancy in my figures on Grouvee because I’ve realised I have played 6 new games for the first time since setting up the website: Rage, Fortnite: Save the World, World of Warcraft: Battle for Azeroth, Forza Motorsport 7, Dying Light and Starlink. Everything else was either played earlier in the year or I had started playing before. I believe the discrepancy is simply that I am not regarding a game as played on Grouvee until I am done with it (i.e. Rage).

However what is clear is that I have been playing GaaS/Live Services games and when I’m not playing these sort of games I do speed-up considerably at progressing in other games. I’ve written about this before. In addition other projects such as buying a new PC, upgrading my Unraid server, house DIY and work etc. have also played their part in limiting my time playing games.

With regards to purchasing new games it doesn’t appear too bad. However some of this is rebuying games on Xbox Live or Playstation Network which I already owned on PC and therefore hasn’t increased the numbers. Also free games from Games With Gold, PlayStation Plus or Game Pass reduced my new purchasing a little bit. Although I don’t add these onto my backlog figures, overall I nearly acquired 100 new games in the time of setting up the website. Most of these will be free games.

2019: the year ahead

I suspect it going to be hard to ignore The Division 2 in late February although I would like to avoid the launch and see what the game is like first. Partly because of how other similar games like Destiny 2 went, but also to allow time for microtransactions and the overall business model to settle. There are a few games like Anthem and Days Gone that are also intriguing to me.

Beyond that I missed out on a number of big hitters from the second half of this year that are on my Wishlist. Namely Forza Horizon 4, Marvel’s Spiderman and Red Dead Redemption 2. Depending on sales these might be games I pick up sooner than later. I do have access to Forza Horizon 4 via Game Pass but am put off by not having the VIP pack (earn in-game credits 2 times faster).

I would also like to buy a Nintendo Switch but with a hardware revision rumoured in the second half of 2019 this will be put on-hold for now.

And other than that probably continuing to move away from PC gaming. I am still playing many PC games but the fact is with the sharp increase in the cost of PC components (particularly in the UK) I have therefore stopped buying as many games on PC. And this is something I intend to continue with as we see new Sony and Microsoft consoles in the near future. Dying Light, Rage and Inside are all good examples of games I purchased or played on console that previously I would have picked up on PC.

Realistic targets

It would be nice to complete or shelve somewhere in the region of 15 to 25 videogames in 2019. I think that might be hard but achievable. Certainly I would like to have played at least double the number from this year. As the first full calendar year of monitoring this will be interesting to see if I can meet this target.

Anyway an early ‘Happy New Year!’ for everyone who read this far. Thank you.

December 2018 Update

A quick update as I intend to do a more in-depth review of 2018, or at least the first 5 to 6 months I have been running the site, and look at the few games I managed to play this year.

New game pickups

No new games, but a whole bunch of Starlink: Battle for Atlas ships, pilots and weapons. Managed to basically obtain the entire remaining set, as the packs have been reduced by 50% by most retailers in the UK.

In addition I picked up 18-months of Xbox Game Pass (despite saying I wouldn’t!). 12-months was £47.99 from Amazon, and the 6-months was £18 direct from Microsoft (used a £5 voucher).

I also extended Xbox Live Gold by 6-months through the Amazon offer on the 3-month pass (included £10 of Microsoft credit). So most subscriptions until the end of 2020 now.

Been playing (Grouvee)

  • Rage
  • Path of Exile (New Betrayal League)

Not much time to play games this month, so a small amount of progress on Rage (up to the Eastern Wastelands). In addition I’ve been playing the new season on Path of Exile. Again playing with an axe wielding Marauder build.

So no games completed or thrown back onto the shelf (again!).

Up next

Christmas has been fairly busy but hopefully I get a chance to complete Rage. However as the last update before the big day; Merry Christmas everyone!

The storm at Blizzard

There’s a wonderful moment in the 2011 movie Margin Call, when Jeremy Iron’s character states:

I’m here for one reason and one reason alone. I’m here to guess what the music might do a week, a month, a year from now. That’s it. Nothing more. And standing here tonight, I’m afraid that I don’t hear – a – thing. Just… silence.

The line is in reference to the global downturn. It’s a moment that springs to mind off some of the recent Blizzard news simply because it feels like not only are times a changing for them, but there is probably more pain on the horizon for this studio.

This post is of course a reaction to the news that Heroes of the Storm (HotS) is effectively being put into maintenance mode and developers being moved onto other projects. Whilst the official announcement confirms new content was still coming but that the pace would change, in reality this probably means they are simply releasing what they have developed already before making the game stable over its last few years.

Obviously for many fans of the game this news has been met with disappointment. It makes sense to halt development of something if it’s not financially viable. Although without transparency of visibility of the financials one has to trust this wasn’t a case of ‘unrealistic targets’ being set.

This news comes off the back of the recent report from Jason Schreier at Kotaku which had already referenced cost cutting and pressure from the parent company; Activision, to produce new games and increase revenue off the back of the falling engagement numbers. And that after the PR disaster that was Blizzcon 2018.

Whilst Blizzard triumphed mobile phone games after the public outcry to Diablo Immortal, the reality is I suspect it is choosing an easier platform to develop for in the hope of generating revenue sooner. The partnership or outsourcing of the Diablo mobile game to NetEase seems to fit in with this as well. As well as porting existing games to the Nintendo Switch. As much as it is common sense porting Diablo 3 to Nintendo Switch, it will have been a relatively easy and quick venture for Blizzard. Ultimately all of these projects are much easier than bringing a new game, like Diablo 4, to market.

HotS was only 3 years old. Once upon a time you could probably regard it as risk free committing time and money to any Blizzard game. However now there will be people that have spent hundreds on HotS with no real recourse for refunds. Even if it was recent spending in-game. I can’t help but feel that with no new games since Overwatch in 2016, World of Warcraft: Battle for Azeroth coming under criticism, that in many ways Blizzard games are all trending downwards. Certainly there will be other nervous Blizzard communities off the back of this news.

With their co-founder leaving two months ago and the challenges Blizzard faces it feels like a new studio might emerge and its games be ones that I don’t care for as much.

Whilst the big western publishers have enjoyed record revenues in recent years, therein lies the problem. And that is the unrealistic year-on-year growth that is expected. I can’t help but feel the pressure Blizzard are coming under is going to similarly affect other studios if the publishers revenues streams start to stall in the next few years.

The epic death of Steam

Rubbish attempt at a pun, I know. A very eventful day after The Games Awards where a number of announcements were made. Specifically the news that Epic Games have launched their new PC Storefront with a number of new exclusive games. Many which still had store pages on Steam right up until launch.

On top of this, the news also broke that Rage 2 on PC will be exclusively on the Bethesda.net Store. Not in itself surprising given Bethesda Game Studio’s previous game Fallout 76 did the same. But nevertheless compounding a bad news day for Valve.

Anyway lots of factually incorrect statements and opinions that made me want to note the following:

People aren’t entitled for complaining

Steam is the oldest, and most feature rich of any PC storefront or launchers out there. It offers features such as home streaming, controller support and refunds which a lot of other services don’t offer. People are invested in the service and love having their games library in one place. I’ve long ago realised any dream of having my games in one place is misplaced as publishers launch their own storefronts, but completely understand the complaints from the community that don’t want to sign-up to another storefront or service. People seem to be using ‘entitled gamer’ as a shield or blocker to valid criticism. But here there are arguably legitimate questions being raised, i.e. what is the refund policy? or how will the technical support work? Hopefully not like this…

This IS competition

Whether we like it or not unfortunately competition is not just releasing games across all storefronts. Buying exclusivity is one of the oldest and easiest tactics Epic have to help their new service become a success. It’s akin to BT acquiring rights to UEFA Champion League Football all those years ago. It might not have really offered any benefit to those invested in Sky TV but it offered a basis for BT to take aim at their competitors. Obviously the benefits aren’t really for consumers, particularly those invested in Steam, but it’s probably the only viable tactic Epic has to prise consumers from Valve’s long entrenched platform.

30% probably is disproportionate to what digital storefronts offer

Something Tim Sweeney has talked about before and I can’t help but agree. Realistically the costs and such are probably only a few percent of any transaction. The ‘but it’s industry standard’ feels like a muted response. As annoying as this news was for some, as Epic have gone from struggling developer to financial powerhouse due to Fortnite’s success they can choose what they do next. And offering a PC storefront that maximises the revenue spilt to 88/12% (12% to Epic) is definitely fighting a battle that they believe in.

Some inexcusable practices on the announcement

Ashen was meant to be on Xbox Game Pass for PC (via Xbox Play Anywhere) and has a ‘TBD’ on its Steam page. On top of this another game; Outer Wilds had a previous fig (crowdfunding) campaign stating they were giving out Steam versions for backers. I think the right thing to do would be to offer refunds to any backers for changing a previously advertised reward. The lateness of the announcement and the lack of honesty is wrong. I think the developers and publishers involved should have at least communicated something far earlier and be clear if this is timed exclusivity or not. The obfuscation here doesn’t help.

Games can do well away from Steam

Often stated as fact that games won’t do as well when not on Steam, but I wonder how true this is anymore. Given how much of their revenue certain games earn at release I sense that these games might do fine, particularly if they have already received payment for exclusivity from Epic. Indie games having success away from Steam isn’t new.

Communication is something developers still really struggle with

Specifically this response from Coffee Stain games (Satisfactory) on YouTube. Whilst the intention was probably there, the lack of stating why  they weren’t on Steam just makes me think it would have probably better to have not released this video. A tweet letting people know a Q&A was coming would have probably been better. Perhaps the couldn’t say it because of a legal agreement. But either way if you have nothing of worth to say, then don’t say it.

PC gaming gets even more messy

Yep, even more win32.exe files sitting in my systray taking up resources or launcher launching through other launchers (UPlay on top of Steam – yay!). Although a wonderful open-source project like Playnite can help try and organise the disparate services, PC gaming just got messier than it already is.