Wolfenstein: The New Order Review

Wolfenstein: The New Order is a game I’ve had on my ‘to play‘ list for a long time. I first received it as a present near release but didn’t make much progress. Indeed it was a game I mentioned on one of my earliest backlog updates on this very website. However at long last I’ve finally managed to complete the story of the game. Although if I’m honest towards the end I had to really force myself to play the game through to completion.

Overall the game felt greater than the sum of its parts. It doesn’t excel in any areas in my opinion although it was fairly enjoyable. The biggest strength felt like the alternative universe set in a 1960’s where the German Nazis not only won World War 2 but went on to dominate the world. Certainly a far cry from the series earlier 3D games (the last I played was 2001’s return to Castle Wolfenstein). The setting feels original and unique. As if a lot of effort and thought went into this part. The story is fine, with lots of NPCs in the story, although I found them flat and didn’t really much care for them to much as the story played out.

The game has some very nice level design and environments. It really goes to town with its storyline and set pieces. The game uses health and armour packs to provide a ‘retro’ feel given most modern first person shooters have recharging health or shields. I kind of thought this worked well.

Technically the game on consoles runs nicely at 60fps and dynamic 1080p. The graphics have a nice amount of detail even for a game that came earlier in this generation of consoles. It also use has gritty visual style that suits perfectly. I can’t be certain of how long it took me to play through but I would guess somewhere between 20 to 25 hours. It certainly isn’t the shortest game. Oh and yes, the Easter egg is fantastic.

However there are things the game didn’t do well in my opinion. Most notably its use of stealth. It feels like the game was forcing it as a playstyle far too often with few tools to actually play it that way. If you can sneak through a set piece by remaining undetected it will make that part easier. However later on the levels and placements of enemies made this harder or more tiresome and I ended up just going in guns blazing as I couldn’t be bothered with the stealth anymore. The perk unlock system is also just a set of challenges to unlock something, rather than anything more in-depth.

The game includes five difficulty levels which is great, although the main difference seems to be the amount of damage you and enemies take rather than improved AI or anything. Until the final few levels I played the game on the default difficulty but for the last few levels turned the difficulty down and found myself preferring the game that way. Unlike other games such as Halo: Combat Evolved on Legendary, the game just becomes mostly irritating rather than changing the experience massively. At harder difficulty the ‘retro’ health packs and armour pickups obviously become more important.

Wolfenstein: The New Order is nothing I would regard as stunning but equally far from the worst single player, story-based first person shooter than I have played either. Never as downright sterile or flat as something like Halo 5, but equally doesn’t reaches the unique heights or set pieces of something like Titanfall 2’s campaign. If you enjoy the ride and accept the game for what it is, then it is a fun and strong modern update on an old game. A solid reboot.

Played (mostly) on PlayStation 4 Pro. Previously played the opening level on PlayStation 4.

The Elder Scrolls foretold of this newb

I’ve written about The Elder Scrolls Online before. However recently I’ve been playing the game again and have passed two milestones. Firstly I’ve hit Champion Points (CP) level 160 on my main character. And secondly it dawned on me that it was just a little over 2 years ago since I purchased the game in February 2017 (PC version).

I stumbled across The Elder Scrolls Online at a time when I wasn’t really looking for a new game. However a big discount in a sale felt like a good excuse to check it out. And part of me wished I had found it sooner because this has been of one of the most enjoyable MMO experiences to date.

Getting to CP160 is a big deal. Whilst the game has a maximum character level of 50, the reality is the whole of the game is scaled to this CP160 level. Champion Points are a bit like the paragon system in Diablo 3 and serve as an account wide horizontal levelling system where you can attribute points earned from experience levelling into new abilities that improve an aspect of your character. At certain points they can also unlock other passives. All your characters can contribute to earning more Champions Point experience once they are level 50. However all gear and weapons are locked to CP160 meaning at this point only rarity or set bonuses can improve your gear and weapon stats.

The Elder Scrolls Online PC Version. Screenshot of a dungeon in Tamriel. With lots of add-ons.

There is still a lot for me to do in the game. Indeed I’ve still yet to complete the final area and main storyline. And whilst I’ve completed everything from my faction’s questline I’ve still got the other two faction quests and zone to do. Or guilds, or the DLC. And 2 expansions I’ve barely touched. But the truth is that I can keep playing the game as a solo PVE player enjoying quests, and exploring the world, whilst still progressing my character. There are hundreds of hours worth of quests.

And that is the other thing that has struck me about The Elder Scrolls Online. Its progression system is simply marvellous. Even at endgame there is rarely ever a time when your aren’t progressing something. For example I may have levelled all my class skill lines and two staff weapon skill lines. However I have barely put any skill points into crafting. So I’ll need to earn more skill points in order to get to endgame crafting. But compared to other MMOs like Guild Wars 2 or World or Warcraft progression feels frequent and fast. In those games it can feel like ages between progressing something and even then there are no points to customise your character or obvious reward. Whilst these great games do their own thing well, even something as basic as gear can flow in The Elder Scrolls Online. Even if it isn’t useful the materials it’ll break down into or gold it will sell for are.

The Elder Scrolls Online isn’t without its issues. And chief amongst my criticisms are the lootboxes with insanely unfair and extremely poor odds. However Zenimax Online Studios seem to be in a good place with The Elder Scrolls Online right now. The yearly expansion format since 2017’s Morrowind seems to be working well. And whilst last year’s Summerset or 2019’s upcoming Elsweyr don’t have the nostalgic pull of the first expansion, sorry Chapter, the game seems to be healthy with active players. I even had to join a queue upon logon a few days ago.

Whilst many MMO’s prioritise group PVE content, I think The Elder Scrolls Online knows a significant chunk of its player base are solo players wanting to experience the lore and world. And whilst it offers lots of group PVE content (Dungeons, World Bosses & Events, Trials/Raids) and large scale faction vs faction PVP. It also tries to cater for solo PVE players at all stage of the game with solo dungeons, fully voice acted quests/storylines and dynamic zones that scale to solo players as well. And in this sense it’s great even for the more casual player.

As a reward for my recent achievements I’ve gone ahead and pre-ordered Elsweyr. I am looking forward to lots more questing and seeing more of what The Elder Scrolls Online has to offer.

Rage Review

The great thing about Xbox Game Pass is that it has a mix of new, recent and old games on its service. And for whatever reason I never got around to playing Rage (id Software & Bethesda) that released in 2011. Even though I always was tempted and it is often cheap on any format, I just never got around to buying it. And that is where Game Pass excels. You start playing games you might not have otherwise played. And whilst the Xbox 360 version is weaker graphically than the PC version it was a trade-off I was happy to make.

In Rage you are an non-descript survivor that has to very quickly learn to stay alive and get use to shooting lots of bad guys. There is a story which I thought was reasonably well setup and told although nothing particularly original or standout. The game is mostly an FPS but has driving sections which are used as a means of getting across the world although there is vehicle combat and racing. The game has what looks like an open world(ish) map although in reality the game is fairly linear with the expansive maps are really used for the vehicle sections. There are also some mini-games such as card games although these didn’t have huge depth to hold my attention for long.

Rage screenshot

Where Rage really stands out, is its 60fps gameplay, which is very smooth, fast and responsive. More of an arcadey FPS that resembles the other ‘arcadey’ Bethesda shooters in a way. 60fps was much rarer in the seventh generation of consoles so it is a pleasant surprise. Of course the trade-off is that the graphics can be fairly bland, lacking in texture detail and flat in comparison to some of its peers. Indeed Rage set in a futuristic wasteland is often a mostly brown, bland looking game with a few variations but nothing that stand-outs as much as the high frame rate. The game doesn’t have much colour and the locations can blend into each other as well. Although it is far from a bad looking game.

The gunplay is solid and there is a nice variety of weapons including variation of ammo types for each weapon which can change their behaviour. There is some variety in the enemies and a few boss fights in the game. The vehicle sections work well and compare to something like the Warthog in the Halo games. And the game does a good job of limited your ammo to begin with to make it feel like you have to scavenge for things. Although by the end of the game In was probably ‘over tooled’ with too much ammo.

One complaint that is often raised is how the game ends. I didn’t even realise I was in the very final moment of the game before the end sequence and achievements popped. So there is some truth to this.

Rage screenshot of a driving section from the game.

Although I can’t be precise it took somewhere around 25-30 hours to complete Rage on normal difficulty and it was a pretty fun experience. Although it is easily a game I could have abandoned with little regret. And I think that’s a fair way to summarise my time with Rage. It feels greater than the sum of its parts. Neither a bad game, but also not a classic. Merely a ‘good’ game. It is worth a playthrough it you like FPS games or would like to see the first game before its sequel arrives later this year. I just wouldn’t say it is essential.

One noteworthy fact is that this game was the first outing for the id Tech Engine 5 which would also go on to power Wolfenstein: The New Order and Dishonored 2 amongst other games. Newer versions of the engine have powered Doom (2016) and its upcoming sequel. You can definitely feel the similarities in some of the newer games, like Wolfenstein.

And finally the game is another great advert for Microsoft’s backward compatibility. Whilst unfortunately not Xbox One X enhanced, it is still great to be able to play Xbox 360 (and original Xbox) games on your Xbox One. The game only crashed once when I tried capturing a screenshot. Bravo Microsoft.

Played on Xbox One X via Xbox Game Pass.

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.

Cross-play coming Fortnite (at last)

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

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

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

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

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

via GIPHY

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 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)

Good & bad customer service

Thought I would write up a quick blog post after experiencing the good and bad of large companies over the past few days.

The bad

Amazon. Decided I wanted one of these new PlayStation 4 Pro 500 Million Limited Edition Consoles. And I knew they would be available for pre-order on Tuesday, 14th August in the UK. Amazon had them available from after 7am and I placed an order. Soon after 8.30am they were no longer available. Therefore I didn’t feel the need to order one from PC World/Currys, GAME, Smyths or Very. Unfortunately Amazon.co.uk had made a mistake and should have listed the item from 10am.

So they cancelled all orders and relisted the item for preorder at 10am the next day. Unfortunately it sold out in minutes (or seconds) – even when I knew of the ‘available from’ link.

They neither apologised directly or proactively contacted all those they let down. And whilst they reimbursed me a small amount after I complained it wasn’t reflective of the error. I still have had no apology or response to my complaint. Ultimately their mistake cost me a limited edition PS4 Pro. I might just shop elsewhere for pre-orders in future.

The good

Bethesda Game Studios. Accidently created a new Bethesda account on Xbox One Skyrim when I already have an account. Emailed their support, and was met with a response in under 30 minutes. They understood the problem, offered two solutions, explaining the consequences. And once I had selected the solution they left the ticket open to make sure I was happy. #textbookcustomerservice.

It bodes well for Fallout 76 players if the CS is that good. Thank you Bethesda.