October Update

Definitely getting colder and lots of new games coming out. Progress on my backlog slowed down mostly in part due to WoW.

New game pickups
No new games! Videogame related purchases included:

  • 180 Days and Dreadwake Mount gametime offer for WoW.
  • Pre-order for the Sony PlayStation Classic in December.
  • 2 for 1 month offer to extend Xbox Game Pass to February 2019.
  • Welcome card pack for Hearthstone (had £2 Google Play voucher)
  • Blizzcon Virtual Ticket
  • Raspberry Pi 3B+ and other assorted goodies.

Been playing (Grouvee Link)

  • World of Warcraft: Battle for Azeroth
  • The Elder Scrolls Online – Summerfall Event
  • Rage
  • Call of Duty Black Ops III
  • Hearthstone

Mostly World of Warcraft: Battle for Azeroth (again). I’m very, very slowing levelling my main character to max level although I have been playing with alts. I finally managed to experience the Worgen starter zone having created an alt who fit the race (Feral Druid). Loved the starter zone but it is a laggy and buggy mess. Apart from very bad performance and noticeable lag for the whole zone, there are loads of bugs. On a number of quests I would have to log out and back in to complete them (disappearing vehicle UI, and quest items bugged). And unfortunately it appears to have been this way for a very long time.

I also played some The Elder Scrolls Online, for the Summerfall Event where I took a few hours to get the Pathfinder Achievement. Although it wasn’t required in the end! This was for some virtual tat of a pet, mount and player housing.

Also been playing Rage a bit more, maybe coming up on the half-way point of the campaign at a guess.

With all the launch excitement around the new Call of Duty, I decided to try out Call of Duty Black Ops III given away to PlayStation Plus Subscribers last year. I’m not sure how long I’ll stay with it but I’ve tried out Zombies (not sure so far what to think of this) and playing some custom games of Multiplayer. I’d like to try the campaign. Also been playing a bit of Hearthstone.

Updates

On Grouvee I have added an On-hold shelf to temporarily park games that I have played and mean to return to, but haven’t played for a few months. That way I can clear up my ‘Playing’ shelf just to be those few games I am actively playing. All will be kept on the backlog.

With regards to the website I’ve changed the following:
• Created a simple Reviews page for listing out my videogame reviews and impressions
• Renamed ‘The Plan’ page to Rules and improved the content
• Made some improvements to the design
• Minor edits on the About and Main pages

Away from the site I’ve been playing around with RetroPie on my Raspberry Pi 2. It’s been a little while since I last tried in on the Raspberry Pi and have been impressed with how well it’s developed. Will be playing around with some more SoC (System on a Chip) boards soon.

Up next

Same as last month although I’m tempted to try out a couple of games on Xbox Game Pass to maximise it whilst I have it. A few older games I would like to progress and complete still (Rage, Wolfenstein: The New Order and Mass Effect 3). With regards to WoW hoping to get my Death Knight (Blood) to max level 120.

Single player campaigns aren’t always the answer

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.

No Bros. required

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.

Warframe
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.

The Division
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.

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.

What cross-play should mean

Update 27 September 2018:
Sony announced that cross-play is coming to Fortnite on PlayStation 4. I’ve written a new blog to reflect this news. So whilst some of the criticism below is outdated the thrust of the blog remains.

Original Blog Post:

During the recent criticism of Sony and Epic for locking-out Fortnite accounts on other systems, there seemed to be a lot of feedback that cross-play should be allowed. But that this wasn’t a new thing. However since Epic opened up their game with an update in March of this year I simply don’t recall an incident like this before. In other words a major release such as this that lets you play your game on any system.

Just to be clear cross-play matchmaking is the ability to play multiplayer with users of the same game on other platforms. This isn’t new. However Fortnite also allows for cross-play progression and purchasing. This is new. And also brilliant.

You see publishers and developers have loved transitioning from Games as a Product (GaaP) towards Games as a Services (GaaS) because of the greater earnings potential and the record revenue and profits being made. Online only games with potentially multi-layered business models (i.e. buy to play with season passes, DLC and microtransactions etc). But arguably part of offering a service rather than a product is being available to as many people as possible and on as wide a range of platforms as possible. All other entertainment industries have embraced allowing consumers to take their media with them. Even with restrictive Digital Rights Management (DRM) systems if you buy a movie from Google Play Store, or an eBook from Amazon Kindle, you can watch or read on your mobile phone, videogame console, computer, browser or numerous other devices. Same with all the streaming services, like Netflix or Spotify.

So why is it that games like Warframe, GTA V, The Elder Scrolls Online are separate entities on different formats. Why can’t I play my PC Elder Scrolls Online character on PS4 or Xbox versions even if I have to buy the game again? Given how some of the most expensive games to play are actually GaaS games, it arguably isn’t an unreasonable request for a consumer to have access to their purchased on more than one format. Certainly when games have a lifespan of over a 5 or 10 years then it’s also very conceivable formats will change over that time.

Of course it isn’t relevant for all games to offer cross-play. Many games are largely single-player, or small budget indie affairs and rely on buy-to-play business models. And here it would never make sense for cross-play to be offered.

In SkillUp’s recent Youtube video interview with Digital Extremes (the makers of Warframe) he asked if he can continue to use his existing Warframe account with the new Nintendo Switch version. The muted and slow response was both slightly predictable and disappointing. They talked about a possible one-time account transfer as they did offer for PC players who wanted to move to the new PS4 or Xbox One versions. But realistically a one-time transfer brings about its own risks and pitfalls that the customer is fully expected to accept and live with (i.e. what if the Switch version stops being supported).

For me the positive reasons for publishers and developers to embrace cross-play progression, play and purchases simply outweigh the negatives. I applaud Epic for making Cross-Matchmaking, Progression and Purchases a thing for consumers even if for now those who play on Sony’s systems can’t utilise this. And Sony and Epic do deserve massive criticism for their handling of Fortnite cross-play debacle. Denying access to consumers own accounts and purchases they have made is completely unacceptable and needs resolution, like yesterday.

Personally I think Fortnite has probably changed my view of what I should expect from GaaS or Live Services. If companies can’t or won’t bother offering cross-play. Then I’m not sure I can be bothered with their games.

I’m outta GaaS with Live Services

Excuse the pun. Somewhere on my Grouvee profile there is an entry for Path of Exile. Playtime around 15 hours. It should be much more. But after trying to get into the game twice I had to really pull myself away from it and uninstall it. Even though I was really enjoying it and wanted to play on.

So why did I uninstall it? I had to. I just couldn’t commit to another GaaS (Games as a Service)/Live Services game. There is only so much time in the day or money you can spend. And given the grindy, all time consuming nature of GaaS games this is even more true.

I remember Jim Sterling saying in one of his recent Youtube videos that he tries to have one service game and that’s it. And that’s probably a sensible recommendation. Although that’s very hard given just how many games have or are switching to this model.

Recently Digital Extremes (DE) hosted their annual convention for their online game; Warframe (another online game I really enjoy). And whilst the internet raved over the new major updates I couldn’t help but be a little bit disappointed. A version on Switch. Couldn’t care if I have to replay everything (and a one-time account switch isn’t going to make one iota of difference). Fortuna – a new location on Venus, like 2017’s Plains of Eidolon. Which were essentially their own economy and grind that I have barely touched. And Railjack. Group content that doesn’t appeal. And even more Warframes. More things to collect. More grind. As much as I love the game there’s still loads I haven’t done after years of owning it. And unless I commit to it much more, at the expense of other games, probably never will.

Who doesn't love Rhino?

Probably unpopular opinion but I can’t help but think that Warframe needs to sort out some basics. Start committing more development time to improving old graphics, old loading screens, UI improvements, stability, removing bugs and crucially making the new player experience much, much better. Also making sure that the new player isn’t faced with a gigantic wall of content before they can catch up.

Of course DE admitted in the recent Noclip ‘making of’ documentaries on Youtube that ultimately there’s a balance between maintenance and new content. I suspect the allure of revenue and profit will always pull them more to the latter.

But this is an aside. With Warframe even though I’ve currently spent nearly 350 hours playing it, I feel like I’ve only scratched the surface. That there are simply too many frames, too many weapons or too many collectables for me to keep up with. Of course you don’t have to collect them all, but who doesn’t want to have a large library of frames, be well equipped for the endgame or have loads of cosmetic options. To look good whilst being a ‘space ninja’.

And with some of my other favourite GaaS games it’s no better. In Guild Wars 2 I have three level 80 characters. I’ve spent ages exploring the world. But I’ve never completed my personal story. Barely scraped the expansions; Heart of Thorns or Path of Fire. Last year I finally got around to trying The Elder Scrolls Online. And my ‘to do’ list has grown even bigger there too. Despite days of playtime I only have a Champion Points 121 Altmer Sorcerer. I’ve not even got to proper end-game (160). And whilst I’ve completed some of the regions and faction quest lines, I’ve still not been to Morrowind. And the home of the Elves (Summerset) is but a pipedream.

I suspect that I am going to have to make some tough choices with these games. And to be happy with more focused, realistic goals. I don’t want to give up on any of them yet as I adore these games. And all of these examples above will probably be around for years yet. Either way I need to be careful about signing up for more GaaS moving forward. Games like The Division or Destiny scare me less because in reality I don’t believe they are true GaaS games. As bi-annual or three-yearly releases there’s a finality about them. But games like Path of Exile or Warframe will continue their unrelenting content grind. At least until people stop buying.

Hopefully this is a case of less is more. And recognising that actually playing less service-type games might be good thing. For me.