Author Archives: Azuriel

The Outer Hype, part 2

When I started playing The Outer Worlds back in December, I was not impressed. Having just completed the game yesterday, I can report that the game did not particularly redeem itself.

Dystopian dark humor only works when the rest of the game is dystopian, guys.

To be clear, the game may have been rigged from the start, so to speak. This was Obsidian, makers of Fallout: New Vegas! With a brand new IP! Like some kind of Mass Effect x Fallout space western! Except it wasn’t. At all. Like not even remotely close.

Was that Obsidian’s fault? Probably not, but they suffer the consequences of the hype just the same.

Parvati made most things bearable.

Regardless, the game did not improve. I was playing on Hard difficulty and the combat was just a mess from start to finish. Companion AI is tough to get right in any game, but here they are glorified abilities that you press once per combat, as they typically die immediately after they use them. Exploration was pointless, rewarding trash consumables or weapon mods you never have need of using. The whole Tinker/Upgrade system for level-based gear starts out as a promising way of keeping unique weapons (etc) relevant, but the escalating cost of doing so spirals out of control. When it’s easier and cheaper to just buy guns from a vending machine rather than try to upgrade the super-special gear you spent time exploring/questing for, you know things have fallen off the rails.

Quest-wise, things did not improve either. If you treat the game overall as a comedy, things might play out better from a tone perspective. And indeed there is some witty dialog to be had. Aside from that though, there was precisely one moment towards the end of the game in which I was surprised at the visual impact of a particular decision. Arguably though, it was surprising precisely because nothing else was ever taken seriously.

Kind of like this game, amirite?

Overall… well, I was going to suggest to give this game a pass, but I myself played it for a whole dollar via the Game Pass, so… do what you want. If you get past the first planet and aren’t feeling it though, don’t feel bad about moving on. It’s not going to scratch a Fallout itch, a Mass Effect itch, a BioShock itch, or any itch beyond a bizarre one for BBB Unreal engine comedy games.

And if you have one of those, you might want to see a dermatologist instead.

Made for PC

Word on the streets is that PS4-exclusive Horizon: Zero Dawn is coming to PC this year.

Will it release for $9.99 or less, as it was priced this recent holiday season? Probably not. Will it be just a slap-dash port locked at 30 fps or some nonsense? Possibly. But the big deal here is that Sony is taking its first steps towards releasing first-party games on another system. As someone who was prepared to buy a PS4 just to play 3-4 games, this is good news to me.

It does make you think about the future though. Nintendo is pretty much the last reasonable hold-out when it comes to the console wars, always coming up with some proprietary zaniness for their hardware and making everyone pay full MSRP because they can. The Apple of the console world, if you will.

Indeed, everyone originally thought that this console-to-PC shift was a natural result of consoles basically more and more becoming little PCs with custom cases. But in the final analysis, it is probably more due to the mobile market drinking everyone’s milkshake than anything else. Mobile gaming was 45% of the entire gaming market in 2019. While that doesn’t necessarily mean that less money was spent in the console world, it does mean that the opportunity cost for keeping your bestselling titles silo’d away is higher. I mean, it was always there, with the hope being that it pushed some hardware sales along the way.

Honestly though? These days I am thinking mighty long and hard on whether a $300+ console is going to be a better purchase than a $300 phone. The latter is something I use for hours every single day, even when I don’t find the time to boot up the PC, much less a third gaming device.

Plate Spinning

You’d be forgiven for wondering whether my resolution to “continue to be a passably responsible gaming dad” meant not posting anything in 2020. Luckily, that is only partially the case.

I don’t actually know how other people do it. My wife and I both work, which means that gaming time is typically limited to when she and the baby go to sleep. But said gaming time is really “do everything else time,” so in practice, it’s like 30 minutes. What can you meaningfully play in that amount of time?

The kicker is work changes. I used to have some downtime in which I could write posts. Now that I’m in an interim position, that’s out the window. It’s been out the window for a while, but not all the plates had stopped spinning. Now that they are slowing down, well… I should probably learn how to spin them, yeah?

I’m kidding – I’m amazing at everything I do. It’s the choosing to do things that needs some work. So I’m going to do that.

And maybe shorter posts? We’ll see.

End of Year: 2019 Edition

Another end of year, another end of year post.

This has been a rather busy year on the personal front, what with the birth of my son and all. Our little family unit has settled into a reasonable routine that affords me exactly two hours to play videogames each day. And do chores. And any other house projects. So, basically, about 40 minutes of gaming at most. Have I mentioned that I can’t wait for this little guy to grow up into a proper Player 2?

We did this on purpose, for the record. Anyway.

The gaming goals from last year:

  • Seriously, dude, play some of those PS3 games [Nope]
  • Clear at least one story path from SWTOR [Never got off the first planet]
  • Finish up the PoF story content in GW2 [Got distracted doing Season 3 stuff]
  • Clean up Steam library by removing titles not likely to play [Yes!]
  • Be a (passably) responsible gaming dad [Absolutely]

I talked about Guild Wars 2 last year for a while, and I find it interesting that it remains a topic at the end of this year. Here lately, I have even taken to logging in for two minutes just to click on the calendar rewards and then log off to play something else. Story progress has stopped for me, but I did spend a few weeks (loosely) transitioning my Necromancer into a Reaper, e.g. greatsword elite spec. We’ll see if it remains a topic into 2020 though, or if I abandon it like ArenaNet.

Zero progress on ye olde PS3. It has successfully prevented me from purchasing a PS4 though, so that’s nice. What’s also interesting is that some of best games I played on it back in the day are coming to PC again. For example, Journey. It’s an Epic Store exclusive, but it’s there. I’m sorely tempted to buy it again, actually.

The SWTOR thing was a rather passing fancy. I think I logged in twice. It’s still installed.

Cleaning up my Steam library is actually something I have committed to and have continued to this day. Things are a bit weird with subscription services like the Game Pass, but in 2019 I have played:

  • TERA
  • Quantum Break
  • Terraria
  • Empyrion
  • 7 Days to Die
  • RUINER
  • Path of Exile
  • Surviving Mars
  • Tooth and Tail
  • Kingdom Come: Deliverance
  • Hyper Light Drifter
  • Heat Signature
  • Slay the Spire
  • Final Fantasy XV
  • Oxygen Not Included
  • Streets of Rogue
  • Graveyard Keeper
  • Moonlighter
  • Fallout 76
  • Outer Worlds
  • Divinity: Original Sin 2
  • No Man’s Sky
  • ARK
  • Warhammer: Vermintide 2
  • Cultist Simulator
  • Tangledeep
  • Prey
  • Sundered: Eldritch Edition
  • Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice
  • Ryse: Son of Rome
  • Skulls of the Shogun
  • Mini Metro
  • Starbound
  • Dishonored
  • Diaries of a Spaceport Janitor
  • Staxel
  • Far Cry Primal
  • Hearthstone
  • Hotline Miami 2
  • Guild Wars 2

That’s about 40 games I spent at least an hour or two playing through the year. Of those, it’s been 7 Days to Die, Oxygen Not Included, and Slay the Spire that I have played the longest. Which is amusing to me because I typically balk at playing games like Civilization wherein there’s no “point.” Perhaps I just don’t like the Civ series as much as I did way back in the day.

Looking towards 2020… wow… 2020, eh? Who’d have thought we’d make it?

Anyway, I definitely see 2020 as the year of the subscription gaming service. We have gone from having an embarrassing Steam backlog to an embarrassment of riches between the Game Pass, Origin Premier, and Uplay+. Nevermind Humble Choice, which similarly delivers just short of a dozen games each month.

Beyond that, there are a number of high-profile releases I’m looking forward to playing. Final Fantasy 7 Remake (March). Cyberpunk 2077 (April). Last of Us 2 (May). Then you have the PC release of Death Stranding and Borderlands 3 (cough), general release of Dying Light 2, and the mythical Wastelanders expansion to Fallout 76. I used to worry about getting caught paying full MSRP for games I really want on Day 1, but how many will be covered under some subscription or another? Well, other than the PS4 exclusives. Which probably means I need a PS4…

On the MMO front, the Shadowlands expansion will be coming out for WoW in 2020 sometime. As before, I do have a passing interest in playing WoW with each new expansion, if only to see how many different variants of the wheel they can re-invent. I just wish they would not start with the square one every time.

Speaking of terrible MMO design, there is supposedly a major patch for Final Fantasy XIV coming out that will finally address the chore that constitutes the first 50 hours of “story” in that game. I am not sure whether they will pull a Cataclysm or just give the story-skip potion to everyone for free, but I’m looking forward to it. If for no other reason than to quell all the people exclaiming that it has “the best MMO story” as if the steaming pile of shit you had to slog through to get there doesn’t bring down the average. Could you tell me why I had to sit in a DPS dungeon queue for 50 minutes to get some cheese for a Main Story Quest again? … that’s what I thought.

I suppose I should make some goals here, huh? Let’s go with…

  • Play PS3 games so I feel less guilty about buying a PS4 for two games
  • Otherwise play the games you want to play when you want to play them
  • Stop playing the games you don’t want to play anymore
  • Continue being a (passably) responsible gaming dad

Alright, 2020. Let’s roll.

1st World Problems

We desperately need a consolidated list of the games available via subscription services.

As mentioned on Monday, the Epic Store has a $10 coupon available on games that cost more than $14.99. Having already bought Outward, I browsed the entire Epic catalog (219 games) for games that would qualify that I was also interested in. Next game up was Vampyr. I had been enjoying Rohan’s posts on the game and thought I should get in on the action. But I had a vague sense of unease. Where had I seen that before…?

GamePass_Vampyr

Well then

Yep, Vampyr is included in the Xbox PC Game Pass. Which means I was about to purchase the game for $7 when I could technically play it for “free.” Oh, and it’s also on Origin Premier… which would give you access to Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order, that new game that just game out. It was thus with a bit of trepidation that I ended up confirming that Outward was not in any game subscription list. But how could I be so sure for other games?

I thought I already purged my Steam wishlist, for example, but Astroneer is still on there (Game Pass). So was Pyre (Origin Premier). They Are Billions (Origin Premier). I even paused my Humble Monthly Choice bundle for December, because one of the headlining games – Shadow of the Tomb Raider – was technically a part of Game Pass already. Granted, it is console-only and not PC, but it’s really all about the principle at this point.

This is my future now. Checking IsThereAnyDeal used to put me at ease, but these days if I don’t already own the game from an Epic Store/Twitch Prime/Humble Bundle, then I could still play for next to nothing via subscription. It used to be that vague senses of “ownership” would drive me to care about purchasing over “renting,” but those sentiments have long since withered away.

What Competition Looks Like

After nearly a year, we’re starting* to see what actual competition looks like.

Outward_Sale

A bargain at… the same price?

Outward has been on my (Steam) wishlist for a while, despite the lukewarm reviews. During this Winter sale period, it is the same price both in Steam and the Epic Store. In a tie, victory goes to Steam. However, the Epic Store is currently running a promotion where you get a $10 coupon applied to the first game you buy that costs $14.99 or more.

Ergo, Outward on the Epic Store costs $5.99 and thus was bought there.

Outward_Sale2

First blood. I hope it’s worth it.

This is indeed the first time I have spent money in the Epic Store, despite technically owning 28 games there. I suppose this means I will have to turn in my Steam fanboy card, eh?

…if only I had one. The only brand I’m loyal to is Consumer Surplus. After a year of dicking around with pernicious exclusivity deals, Epic finally came around. As I said in that post:

As a reminder, none of this exclusivity bullshit is necessary. Epic could simply undercut the Steam price by 5% forever AND grant developers a larger percentage of the cut, and I would buy all my games in the Epic store. I do some ridiculous shit to save $1-$2 after all.

In this case I saved $10, which is absurd, comparatively. And it appears that each time you redeem this coupon, you get another one. There does not appear to be a limit either.

The real difficulty at this point is determining what other games are out there that I would possibly want to buy. It’s a bit hard remembering because the Epic Store still doesn’t have a wishlist feature in a gaming storefront in 2019. No, seriously:

Wishlist

We’re working to bring Wishlist to the store. You’ll be able to wishlist any offer on the store and you’ll be notified of sales or promotions for that offer. This has been previously listed as work-in-progress development, but is requiring more work than originally planned. We’ll keep you up to date as we move the Wishlist feature along.

That “minor” detail aside, most everything else comes down to bigger titles that don’t have deep (enough) discounts in my mind. For example, Borderlands 3. After the coupon, I could pick that up for $28.99. But… is that really a deal at this point? Having already waited this long, I may as well wait some more. Same issue with Control, which has gotten some good word-of-mouth. By the time I get time to play these games, the Spring Sale will have sprung and the price will likely be less. Plus, you know, this Epic coupon is valid until May for some reason. Time to hurry up and wait.

* I’m vaguely aware that the Epic store might have already had a similar $10 coupon deal back in the Summer.

The Outer Hype

I have been playing The Outer Worlds via the Xbox Game Pass lately. And… I am not impressed.

People have been gushing about how this is Obsidian’s return to form, how it is a non-Fallout Fallout game, and so on. From what I have seen thus far though, having completed the first major area? It’s a slap-stick snooze-fest generic Unreal Engine title. That might be a controversial impression, so let me unpack it a bit.

First, it’s slap-stick due to the comically evil corporations in charge. One of the very first side-quests you get is to collect the grave fees from the families of those workers who have died. No payment, no continued burial. Another NPC mentioned how one of their workers committed suicide, and if anyone found out, the family would be fined for destruction of company property. All the words were there to evoke a sense of capitalist dystopian hellscape… but the tone wasn’t.

Every single quest or conversation is accompanied by a wink and/or eyebrow waggle. This isn’t Deus Ex or Syndicate or Blade Runner, this is Rick and Morty-level irreverence. And while there are certainly outlandish elements to the Fallout lore and in-jokes aplenty, the actual post-apocalypse piece is taken seriously. That isn’t the case with the Outer Worlds. I don’t know if that was done intentionally or not, or if perhaps things get more serious later on. I just know that when I completed a recent quest in which a NPC was sold as an indentured servant to pay off her debts instead of being assassinated, it did not even remotely register as a moral quandary.

Second, the snooze-fest piece refers both to combat and the non-combat pieces of the game. Having heard that Normal difficulty was actually quite easy, I went ahead and chose the next level up on the slider. And while I have indeed died several times in routine combat, there was never a sense that it was due to skill or anything. “Oops, there was a melee guy there, and he deals increased damage because the difficulty level is higher.” Indeed, combat feels disjointed most of the time, especially when you have companions who essentially teleport around when you trigger their special abilities.

Outside of combat, things are so formulaic that I don’t even know why Obsidian bothered with exploration elements at all. There are three ammo types for all guns (light, heavy, energy); there are multiple damage types (physical, corrosive, etc) but they map 1:1 in a cookie-cutter resistance way; 99% of everything you find is either currency, unnecessary food, and more copies of generic guns/armor to break down for generic parts to repair the guns you chosen to use; mods for guns/armor sound important but are again generic nonsense (your melee weapon deals plasma damage now!) that just ticks the customization 101 box. Even the Perks are boring.

Finally, when I said “generic Unreal Engine title,” you probably know what I mean. NPCs look basically the same, enemies look the same, you can look at a room and immediately understand where you might be able to go and how you might interact with the space. For all the bugs and shortcomings with the Gamebryo/Creation engine that Bethesda uses, going from that to this game is like going from an Erector Set to Mega Bloks.

Like I said, I’m only past the first planet so maybe things turn around. I have heard from basically everyone on the internet already that the game doesn’t though, and it’s only a 20-hour trip besides.

Suffice it to say, I’m not impressed. And I’m starting to think Fallout had more to do with Obsidian’s success than the other way around.

Xbox Game Pass

As you may have heard from other bloggers, the Xbox Ultimate Game Pass is an extremely good deal. Even if you do not partake in all the Xbox Gold shenanigans – purchasing cheaper game months and then upgrading them to Ultimate via this $1 deal – it is kind of a no-brainer. I looked at the list of available games that I might be interested in and… well, see for yourself:

  • The Outer Worlds
  • Darksiders 3
  • RAGE 2
  • Halo: Master Chief Collection
  • Astroneer
  • Everspace
  • Gears 5, 4, etc
  • Into the Breach
  • Metro: Exodus
  • Middle-Earth: Shadow of War

Will I be able to complete all of those games before my three months are up? Probably not. I can barely complete a goddamn dungeon in whatever game I happen to be playing at the moment. However. Just the fact that I’m playing The Outer Worlds for $1 is enough to justify everything else.

As an aside, I was initially thrown off by the advertised “$44.99/quarter” price once this $1 thing runs out. Then a calculator showed me that that’s $15/month. The PC-only “beta” version of the Game Pass is advertised at $5/month, “marked down” from $10/month. Everyone knows I am downright cruel when it comes to pinching pennies, but goddamn. People were talking about how Stadia was going to change gaming forever, but the Netflix future for gaming is already here.

It Also Gets Harder

You know, I used to look down on “mobile gamers.” Or rather, they just never figured into my headcanon for what a real gamer was. Your mom playing Candy Crush is not the same as you playing a MMO for a decade on a $1200 PC. Nevermind how both developers are technically under the same corporate umbrella these days.

This past week, I went three days in a row without playing games.

Some of that was due to literally not having the time. My window these days is precisely between 8:30pm and 10:30pm, which is after the baby goes to sleep the first time, and when he wakes up for another bottle right before I should be going to sleep. Two hours seems like a decent chunk of time, but that is also the time I have to burn to get chores done around the house. By the time my ass hits the computer chair, it’s 9:50pm and… what then? What am I meaningfully playing for 40 minutes?

Of course, I am not counting the time spent playing Clash Royale. Or sometimes Hearthstone (Adventures). Those ~12 minute increments add up throughout the day in ways they could not via any other games. But these are not real, substantial narrative experiences.

After a while though, I have to start asking myself if that is what I even want. Maybe not in 40-minute increments, but surely I could make time elsewhere, if it were that important to me? I certainly seem to default back to Reddit browsing and low-effort time-killing readily enough. Almost as though I’m enjoying myself.

Luckily enough, I got through the ennui by the end of that week. But it did get me to thinking about what kind of gaming experience I was looking for.

It Gets Easier

In years past, I always experienced surprise when coming out of a holiday season sans holiday loot. Maybe it is because I’m older, maybe it’s because I have exactly two hours of “free” time each day now (in which I also have to fit chores), or maybe things like Humble Bundle and sales in general have spoiled me, but… it’s easier than ever to let things slide right on by.

My decision point this past Black Cyber Fronday was two-fold: PS4 or Switch. The PS4 had a lot going for it… sorta. There are basically five games I want to play that are PS4 exclusive, and two of them haven’t released yet. Given how the console deals have actually gotten worse over the years, it stood to reason that I could just continue to wait. All the way into March, if necessary.

The Switch is not something I talk much about here, which makes some kind of sense considering I do not own the machine. Nor any Nintendo console since the GameCube and the DS, really. I don’t have anything in particular against Nintendo, I just don’t have friends coming over to play games anymore. I guess Mario Kart and Smash Brothers can still be fun solo, but having the possibility of 2P, 3P, and 4P joining the field is what sets the value over the top. Without that bonus, you have a console that costs the same as it did three years ago and ports of Wii U games that grab headlines when they hit 50% off.

Despite all that, I was very sorely tempted by the Switch Lite when it was going for $163. I don’t have commutes in which I could reliably play it, or really even any opportunity to play at all that would not also allow me to play PC games instead. Still… how else will I ever experience Zelda: Breath of the Wild?

Then a thought occurred to me. “I know some Rent-A-Centers nearby. I wonder what they charge?”

RentACenter1

Holy shit

Technically there is a non-bundle version with just the console for the low, low price of $19.99/week. Which might even be a “deal” compared with old-school Blockbuster prices back in the day. But holy shit, you guys, the fine print says that actually renting to own this bundle is $1,949.35 (65 total payments of $29.99). Meanwhile at GameStop, that bastion of charity, you can resell a PS4 1TB console for $150 store credit as of today. So, conceivably, buy a used one for $190 and even if you turn around and trade it in two weeks later, you’re getting at least as good of a deal.

Or, you know, continue doing nothing but playing the same games you were already playing for $0-$15/month. Sometimes analysis paralysis pays off.