First progress update of the year and loads of updates and games played as I had some playing time over the holidays.
New game pickups
Gran Turismo Sport Digital Deluxe Edition (PS4)
Unravel Yarny Bundle (Xbox)
Wolfenstein II: The Freedom Chronicles (Xbox)
The Legend of Zelda: Tri Force Heroes (3DS)
A number of new games picked up in the Christmas/New Year sales. That said I only spent about £30 on the above, as I had £20 in Microsoft vouchers. My one physical purchase was a Legend of Zelda game on 3DS but at only just over £10 seemed bit of a bargain.
A lot of games started or played this month. I tried Forza Motorsport 7 again to compare to Gran Turismo Sport which I have just started. Fair to say both are great games that I need to play much more. I also started Ashen as this has recently hit Xbox Game Pass. Although early I feel like Dark Souls-lite or an easier Dark Souls is fairly apt.
Completed Dear Esther: Landmark Edition, Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP and Rage. I probably won’t be that far behind in finishing with Hammerwatch or FTL but still want to play these games a bit more. Anyway off to a good start to 2019. Also I have shelved Hearthstone as I am just not playing at the moment.
So 3 games completed and 1 game shelved this month!
Loads of the stuff on the site. SSL encryption now fully enabled and upgraded PHP behind the scenes. Also did a number of minor edits and tidying up the site including: tiding up tags on some of the reviews and added a summary of games trackers to new Backlog page (was called rules before). I also tidied up my Grouvee shelves and games.
A few games on Xbox Game Pass I’d like to try. Also a number of games I stopped playing that I would like to return to.
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.
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.
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.
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.