Autumn has arrived. It has been fairly busy with DIY, a new PC setup, looking after the children, new NFL season (go Bears!) and work. These are all keeping me away from playing videogames. However the big news is that I jumped back into World of Warcraft after buying some game time. As I mentioned in my earlier blog post the temptation proved to be too strong.
New game pickups
World of Warcraft: Battle for Azeroth (game time)
Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition (PlayStation 4)
Forza Horizon 2: Storm Island DLC
Animal Crossing amiibo Festival
I purchased Tomb Raider Definitive Edition for PlayStation 4 in a recent PSN sale. I also picked up Storm Island DLC for Forza Horizon 2 following the recent news that the game is being removed from Xbox Live at the end of this month.
Animal Crossing amiibo Festival was really cheap from Argos. Although I won’t play the game, it feels like a nice addition to my small Wii U collection.
Continuing with Rage but I have not made much progress. In World of Warcraft:Battle for Azeroth I’ve been enjoying levelling my main (Blood Dead Knight).
Also tried the Forza Horizon 4 Demo. The new 1080@60fps Performance mode for Xbox One X is great and the updated handling model makes the game seem closer to the Forza Motorsport series in the way the cars drive. The addition of seasons might just be a masterstroke too.
No games completed or shelved this month. Eek!
I have purchased an ASUS Strix GL703GS Scar Edition laptop. The main specifications are: Intel Core i7 8750H, 16 GB DDR4 RAM, Nvidia 1070 and 17.3″ 1080p 144hz IPS G-Sync Display.
I purchased this as an attempt to downsize my gaming PC setup. I’ve sold the old PC parts and moved some of the storage drives over to my Unraid server. Only a small downgrade on my previous PC although I’ve wanted to try out a gaming laptop setup for a while now.
Initial impressions are the build is solid, G-Sync is stunning but the laptop can be noisy. Playing any games and it sounds like the original Xbox 360 design. #hairdryer
Also I have updated the About page of the site to include a bit more detail about the current gaming hardware I own.
Largely the same as last month. A few older games I would like to progress and complete (Rage, Wolfenstein: The New Order and Mass Effect 3). With regards to WoW:BfA hoping to get my Death Knight to max level.
So recently I wrote a blog post lamenting the lack of options in most multiplayer games when players don’t want to play or group up with other players. It’s fine that there are multiplayer only games and it’s great that so many good ones exist. However I think the following suggestions are some realistic ideas which can help to open up a multiplayer game-like experience for a solo PVE player, but crucially without taking the focus away from the main audience.
Bots, bots, bots…
Given that most games use AI, adding bots to any multiplayer mode seems pretty logical. Particularly when most players, even those who only play multiplayer, often request practice modes. Games like Call of Duty, Unreal Tournament and Quake series have long since included bots. And given that even community mods like Battle Royale Singleplayer Experience (BRSE) Mod for Arma 3 have built a whole 64-player BR mode, it seems not too much of a stretch to suggest it is possible for developers to implement.
It’s interesting new games such as Rainbow Six Siege and Star Wars: BattleFront 2 (2017) have included bot/solo modes in their progression systems, i.e. you earn renown for playing Terrorist Hunt on Rainbow Six Siege. However it often seems to come at a cost of a much reduced reward versus playing online. Last year Ubisoft significantly reduced the amount of renown you could earn in Rainbow Six Siege solo PVE modes to apparently stop people farming renown too fast. As renown is a virtual XP currency you can use to purchase some in-game purchases they were clearly worried about impact on their financial revenue. Battlefront 2 does a similar thing with a daily arcade cap.
I have yet to hear a good reason for why levelling in offline modes isn’t acceptable but at the very least let players earn XP in an offline profile. Doom (2016) or Counter Strike: Global Offensive have bots, but no ability to earn XP or unlock anything, thereby negating any point of playing these modes beyond practising. Call of Duty Black Ops implemented an offline multiplayer mode which shows offline progression can work really well.
Developers and publishers seem to forget that solo players have spent money on your game too and are another source of revenue for in-game purchases when respected. Rainbow Six Siege’s Terrorist Hunt modes showed promise at launch but seem to have been a ‘tick box exercise’ for when the game launched with no real support since.
Group content is great fun, but why can’t content vary depending on the number of players? ARPG’s have been doing this for years. Including solo modes or scaling content isn’t necessarily a bad thing and potentially an easy way to open up content to all players.
Games as a Platform
This is a thing already. Games like the The Sims, Sid Meier’s Civilisation series. Like GaaS but potentially opening up a new way to sell single player content and make content not centred on multiplayer content commercially viable. You could argue season passes and DLC (free or paid) fit into this category as well. Certainly one other way to open up a multiplayer focused game to a new audience is sell the content that allows a solo player to experience the game. For example, want to play this game offline against bots, then here’s the single player component – only £29.99 or so on.
Solo modes are a very good way to ensure some longevity when the servers are switched off. As games like Lawbreakers have already recently demonstrated, some games can have a short shelf life.
And that’s all the suggestions for now
But on a final observation developers and publishers seem to view offline modes as increasingly not worthy of the their time. Potentially a threat to their online player base. For example, if everyone plays solo modes then the online population will decrease etc. But what I think they fail to realise is that they aren’t currently appealing to this type of player. In other words it’s an audience they are completely missing and not selling games to.
For a while I’ve wanted some wireless headphones, with a microphone to use on all formats; so PC, Microsoft Xbox One and Sony PlayStation 4. And possibly Nintendo Switch in future. Nothing too fancy, just some budget headphones with reasonable sound quality and microphone for times when I need a wired headphones.
So if you want a wireless set of headphones just for the PC. Easy. Lots of choice, either through proprietary wireless, or Bluetooth. And as my Creative SoundBlaster X7 supports the AptX codec there are even more options. However I want something that works on the Xbox and PlayStation lots of these products won’t work with both consoles. There are some interesting budget options for each console such as the PlayStation Gold Wireless headset or the Turtle Beach Stealth 600 (both under £100).
However once again neither option works on both formats. The PlayStation Gold Wireless will support Xbox through a wired connection to the controller but won’t work with the SoundBlaster X7 through Bluetooth and require the use of the included USB dongle. The Turtle Beach Stealth 600 use the same proprietary connection as an Xbox One controller but again won’t work on PC without a dongle. There are more expensive offerings such as the Astro A50 or the Plantronics RIG 800 series but again have the exact same problems. So in summary I can get a reasonable set of Wireless headphones that works well with one format, but not all.
So given the complexity and restrictions of the products I’m just going to accept defeat and give up looking for now. For the few times I need voice comms on console I will just use an old Astro A40 headset with the controller port.
However I do hope that the next generation Xbox supports external DACs and AMPs like the PS4 does. If it does, it would make setting up a half decent set of headphones and microphone much easier. Currently the PlayStation 4 supports external devices like the SoundBlaster X7 with wireless voice comms (via the BT-W2 Bluetooth adapter) which makes life much easier, whilst the Xbox One doesn’t. This means at the moment the Xbox One feels a bit of a mess, and unnecessarily restrictive by comparison.
More and more the Videogame industry has moved to Games as a Service (GaaS) and multiplayer only games. And we have countless examples from developers that tell us that is what their consumers want. However one thing that is often asked is whether a new game has a single player campaign. I feel this is the wrong question. What we really should be asking is whether ‘this game has compelling single player content?’. As someone who prefers playing Player Versus Environment (PVE) content solo, this is the question I tend to ask of many games before I try them.
And just to be clear matchmaking isn’t always a solution either. Whilst this should be standard for any game offering up group content there are those that get anxiety or simply don’t want to group up with other players.
Best of times, worst of times
I loved playing multiplayer games such as Team Fortress Classic, Day of Defeat, Halo, Battlefield Bad Company 2, Call of Duty etc. over the years. However online multiplayer games have some major downfalls. Other players can be toxic, they require much more time commitment and can be more challenging. Sometimes it is nice to play a more relaxing game.
Therefore it seems a shame when games have components for single players but fall short or ignore the solo player altogether. While many might retort ‘just play a single player game’. This response simply misses the point. Multiplayer style games can offer new unique gameplay. Indeed new emergent genres like Battle Royale cannot be experienced in other game styles. And with the industry moving increasing towards Player Versus Player (PVP) Live Services the choice for those not wanting to play those games is becoming less and less. Not only that but these GaaS platforms tend to be better supported.
And whilst this blog post is musing about games from lots of different genres where it can wildly vary; it isn’t impossible to open most if not all games to single AND multiplayer audiences. I can’t help but feel moving forward that the way developers think about content needs to evolve rather than just split games into single or multiplayer only experiences.
So below are a few online multiplayer games which I’ve played over the years that surprisingly can be really fun for a strictly Solo player:
Call of Duty: Black Ops (multiplayer mode) Treyarch came close to delivering the ultimate pseudo-multiplayer experience for solo players. Black Ops Combat Theatre mode allowed a solo player to level up, unlock weapons and perks in exactly the same way as the online experience but against AI bots. It was only let down by the inability to complete challenges or prestige (earn a badge and keep levelling up). It’s inclusion never made the experience any less for the hardcore multiplayer audience. Call of Duty : Ghosts would later go on to offer a similar Squads mode allowing for some offline progression, but once again falling short of the full depth of the online experience.
Whilst is has been moving toward more and more group content recently the core of the game still doesn’t omit solo players. Whether it’s levelling different warframes, grinding materials or parts, levelling mastery rank, there is loads to do. In structure this game is very much like an ARPG. And therefore like Diablo 3 or Path of Exile, is very accommodating for solo and group players.
The Elder Scrolls Online
MMO’s often cater for the solo player when levelling, such as World of Warcraft. But then at the end-game offer just group content for progression, i.e. increasing gear score etc. However The Elder Scrolls Online, is actually much more forthcoming in catering for solo players at end-game. Indeed the developers are aware many of its playerbase are solo players. Sure there is group content, but you can craft, level or loot even as a solo player taking part in the end-game. Actually ESO has some of the most robust methods for organically grouping players in the open world or one of its numerous dungeons. It is also a very casual, friendly MMO. I’ve written in more depth about this game before.
I played this game for over 200 hours as a solo player. Never once grouping up with any other players. My end game build was pretty high end (literally a High End build). Whilst there is group content and the game is arguably more fun as a group you can play the end-game as a solo player. Unlike the first Destiny game which offered little content to do after the max level is reached, The Division does a much better job of offering lots more dynamic content. I hope the sequel is just as solo friendly and doesn’t move towards more group content.
Unreal Tournament & Quake 3 Arena
Very old games but both include full support for mixing up human and AI bots. I spent hours on these games playing solo against bots in various modes. In the days before RPG-like progression systems became the norm.
There are probably more examples but these games above stand out for me. In a future blog post I’ll list some of my thoughts on features I would love to see in games to make them more solo friendly.
For several years I have been running a home server to store data, home movies and other media. Whilst I fully embrace the cloud the simple fact is that sometimes you need to store data locally. For around the last 7 years, I’ve migrated from a Synology DiskStation to a self-built server and onto a HP ProLiant Gen 8 Microserver. Although I researched Unraid before I preferred running Ubuntu Server primarily to get to grips and learn Linux.
Anyway earlier this year I wanted to add some unused hard disk drives to my setup, which were different sizes, and I stumbled across a recommendation for Unraid. As I was going to have to rebuild the server anyway, I thought I would try it out. Then in the last week I’ve upgraded another 2 of the 5 hard disk drives. And Unraid didn’t skip a beat. Without loss of any data my storage array was simply rebuilt and the existing docker containers (Plex, Airsonic) were restored from a community app backup.
So just over four months on, how do I feel about Unraid? To put it simply, I think it’s probably the ‘go-to’ software for pre-built, NAS-Linux distros. Or at least right up there with any of its peers. As close as you can get to working out of the box without going for something like a Synology or QNAP pre-built NAS. The web interface is quick to learn and functional, dockers are amazing and avoid all kinds of grief if you have to start again, and the ability to easily setup Virtual Machines is really cool. My basic license of Unraid cost me about £43 after USD to GBP conversion and it’s been a bargain overall.
Of course this isn’t really ‘gaming’ related. Although having a home server with lots of storage makes it far easier to simply backup your PC game installs by dragging them to your server when you want to free up space (69GB The Elder Scrolls Online, Doom (2016) nearly 80GB etc.).
Unraid can be used in a gaming PC setup in a variety of scenarios as made famous by Youtube channel Linus Tech Tips, but if you want to know more, check their website: https://unraid.net/.
I’ve just been really impressed with Unraid and wanted to sing it’s praises.
I wrote a short while ago about some of the games I was most looking forward to in the next 12-months. And following a couple of hundred hours on The Division, its sequel is one such game.
I finally got around to looking at the different versions available and it’s a mess. Far too many versions across physical, digital releases and different regions. In the UK it’s £87.99 for the Ultimate Edition on Xbox Live, which is the only way to get all of the content including the additional stash space. Although the descriptions are very unclear and include no explanation of what you are actually getting for your money (i.e. how much stash space for starters). I would imagine it’s bare bones content and probably a waste of money that will be minuscule in comparison to what Ubisoft sell in their in-game cash shop. It’s no wonder the reception to this news on Youtube and Reddit has been so very negative.
However all of this nickel-and-diming such as the pre-order items, very expensive complete versions, inevitable microtransactions (and lootboxes), Year 2 passes are seriously dampening my enthusiasm for this game. I’m put off Red Dead Redemption 2 for similar reasons but certainly because it is so expensive for the full version. I know The Division 2 isn’t doing anything different from other major releases, but it still doesn’t make it hard not to stomach. It’s also a shame that Ubisoft can’t come up with a fairer business model.
Given that I regretted buying Destiny 2 (now a freebie on PlayStation Plus) on release and I didn’t really start playing the first game in earnest until patch 1.4 landed, the sensible thing to do is going to be to wait for the inevitable price drops. Or when I’m ready to play the game.
However as ever this means not crumbling and giving in when the ‘new’ game allure hits and Ubisoft ‘advertises’ the hell out of the game through Twitch and Youtube. Going to try and be strong.
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.
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 progression for pretty much everything, both vertical (character level, item level etc.) and horizontal (skill shards). 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.
Played on PC / Elder Scrolls Online Launcher (non-Steam version)
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 up The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim – Special Edition on Xbox One. 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 The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim – Special Edition. 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.
Played on Xbox One X. Previously played the original release on PC and Xbox 360.
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. The campaign is worth playing if you enjoy single-player First Person Shooter games and the multiplayer is one of the best out there.
Not that long ago I wrote a blog piece about how I felt a bit burnt out on Games as a Service (GaaS) and I was falling out of love with them. That said in videogaming it’s hard to stay away from these sort of games. And this August saw the release of World of Warcraft: Battle for Azeroth. Despite not wanting to play it, I find myself being pulled towards the game as it feels like every Twitch streamer and YouTuber on the planet has been racing through the game to level their character to the new max 120-level. Hell back in Legion I even pre-ordered the new expansion!
WoW is a game I’ve always been behind the curve on. I first tried it in 2007 but never particularly clicked with it first time. I can’t explain why but something wasn’t quite right about that first time with a warrior in Elwynn Forrest. MaybeI just had other games at the time I wanted to play. Either way it wasn’t until Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning came out (remember that?) that I had a strange desire to play an MMO. And Blizzard had recently introduced a new Refer-a-Friend scheme that meant I could level-up with a friend as well as earn them some rewards.
Unfortunately I burnt out somewhere around level 38. This is when Wrath of the Lich King had just come out. Over the years I revisited WoW a few times during each expansion, but sometimes not staying around for long. Either way it would take until Warlords of Draenor before I would even make it to max level with a character. Since then I’ve played around levelling other classes but just have my one original toon (Draenai Shaman) at 110. Although I still have a free 110 boost on the account from already buying Battle for Azeroth.
Realistically I always don’t get that far in WoW, burning out levelling new toons or soon after reaching max level. I always have dreams of mount hunting or levelling my professions but it never seems to happen. With Legion though even if I scratched the surface I felt I got to a good place at least levelling one of my toons.
WoW for me is still a unique experience. Even though it’s not a solo-friendly game at endgame, it’s still arguably my favourite MMO even after all these years. I have lots of fun playing the game and enjoy the levelling process, world and lore. I suspect that I will still be playing it for many more future expansions yet. I do love the fact that it’s full-price content drops just continue to build on the same world. That progress you made all those years ago is still somewhere on your account and characters.
So even if I try and avoid the urge to go back to Azeroth, it is probably very likely the urge will get me one day. The question is when…