Category Archives: Commentary
Hades is coming to Xbox Game Pass on August 13th.
Of course, I bought it for $10 last week. About 5 hours in too, so that’s well past any refund window.
The double-whammy here is that thus far, unlike practically everyone everywhere, I am not actually having all that much fun. I’m in the third zone and all the enemies there are annoying to fight – every room is just me spamming dodge and left-clicking. It’s cool that there’s a lot of unique dialog and all, but that’s not particularly motivating in the face of dodge spamming my way back to the third zone and dying to some nonsense from annoying enemies. And it’s entirely possible that things just get worse!
So, yeah. If you haven’t played Hades yet, continue not playing it until mid-August and take it for a spin.
Are we still mad at Epic? Probably not, right? Back in the day, my ire was from Epic throwing Fortnite cash around to buy exclusivity contracts, which bypasses normally consumer-friendly competition. For the most part, that all seems to have died down. Instead, we have the equivalent of Steam sales with a bonus $10 off coupon for games $14.99 and up. Which makes for some rather exceptional deals.
Oh, and apparently they added the Wishlist feature at some point.
Here is what I am currently looking at (post-coupon):
- Hades – $9.99
- Death Stranding – $13.99
- Griftlands – $5.99
- Cardpocalypse – $4.99
- Disco Elysium: Final Cut – $19.99
- Borderlands 3 – $9.79
This is the second time some of those games have appeared on my list, but I know for sure that Hades is getting bought, at a minimum. Griftlands keeps being described as Slay the Spire 2.0/knock-off, which is a bonus in my book, and what sets it over the edge is that it’s made by Klei (Don’t Starve, Oxygen Not Included). I keep thinking that some of these will wind up on the Game Pass eventually, especially in the more-likely-than-not scenario in which I purchase the game but don’t play it right away. It’s hard to tell though, what big names will make it and which ones will not.
[Fake Edit:] I ended up buying Hades, Griftlands, and Death Stranding. Borderlands 3 is just as likely to be given away for free by Epic at some point, and I put in 18 hours into the Pre-Sequel before dropping it from boredom. Heard great things about Disco Elysium, but everything I’ve read puts it so out there gameplay-wise that I doubt it’s a game that would develop enough of an itch to play it right now. For example, if I’m in the mood for a new roguelike, Hades is basically it, as I’ve played most of the others.
Anyway, back to playing.
New month, new post shilling for Game Pass.
This time, I wanted to direct your attention towards the fact that EA Play is now an included part of the Game Pass subscription. It was supposed to have been added in December, but better late than never, I guess. While there is still a premium tier (EA Play Pro) that holds some newer games out of reach, a very large and very old selection of EA titles are available.
Seeing this one brought be waaaaaaay back, for example:
I cropped the name out, but it’s Populous, released 1989. It was one of the few SNES games in my library growing up – especially when cartridges could cost $80 in mid-90s money – so I ended up spending a lot of time with the game and its many scenarios. I also ended up playing SimCity and Civilization 2 on the SNES, and have many a fond memory of that.
I’m glad I took the screenshot because it appears EA has already taken down Populous and replaced it with its sequels.
Incidentally, there is a big ole “BETA” written across the top of the EA Desktop app they make you download, so perhaps they are testing things as they go. I already ran into one issue downloading a game, wherein the download crashed midway and now the game will neither open nor download nor delete. When I tried booting up Dungeon Keeper 2 for giggles – and to see what the fuss was all about when I played the supposedly bastardized mobile app back in 2014 – it was an unplayable slide-show. I’m assuming that last bit has more to do with the game expecting drivers that haven’t existed for 20 years, but it’s still a poor show to have games available to download (or purchase!) in a unplayable state. At least GOG (supposedly) updates their versions to be playable on Win10 PCs.
In any case, my actual download list looks like this:
Looks like random pishposh because it is. As it turns out, I already played through a lot of EA’s catalog over the years or otherwise own the games elsewhere. For example, many of the Battlefield games, Mass Effect series, Dead Space series, and so on. Not pictured but to be downloaded later includes: Mirror’s Edge Catalyst, Vampyr, Star Wars Battlefront 2 (maybe), and Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order.
There is even Anthem available, which I almost want to check out of morbid curiosity. Then again, I don’t want to develop a taste for toad right as the game gets canned. Well, Anthem will still exist for some indeterminate amount of time, but ending future updates on a Live Service game kills the game.
Anyway, if you don’t already have Game Pass then the addition of the EA library probably won’t move the needle much for you. But if you do have it and didn’t pay attention to the pop-ups… well, you’re welcome. I’ll post some impressions of these new (to me) games as I play them.
Or I won’t, because I’m too busy playing them. The eternal blogging dilemma.
January kicked my ass.
The GameStop saga will be one for the ages. Suffice it to say, I disregarded my own advice, especially perhaps the #1 Rule: if it’s good enough for a screenshot, it’s good enough to sell. Alas, I am still in the game (Stop), scalping premium on option trades instead of cashing out where I had originally planned to exit. Canceling that limit order – and taking the subsequent screenshot – is going to haunt me for a while. Which is good, because I need to be reminded from time to time what happens when you abandon your own exit strategy.
Stock aside, I still stand by my earlier post about GameStop the company. News out yesterday indicates that they’re creating* a Chief Technology Officer position and slotting in the former Amazon engineer lead for Amazon Web Services. They’re also bringing over the the Director of Customer Service at Chewy to be the Senior Vice President of Customer Care. Finally, they got a guy who was doing fulfillment at Amazon and Walmart to be Vice President of Fulfillment. None of which means anything to anyone here other than the fact that there’s now a chance that GameStop can pivot away from being Pawn Stars and towards being some combination of Micro Center and… something else. Maybe like a comic book store hosting Magic: the Gathering tournaments?
Or maybe they’ll fall on their face, Chuck E Cheese style.
In any case, don’t worry, this will be the last GameStop post I do this year. Next time we reconvene on the subject, perhaps we’ll be talking about how the company has gotten into the digital license reselling market, how it rents out VR/AR rooms by the hour (and the predictable downsides to that), or the partnership with Geek Squad in custom building PCs onsite.
Or perhaps I won’t mention it at all, seeing as how we’re 1 month into 2021 and I’m already exhausted.
*It’s telling that GameStop didn’t have a Chief Technology Officer position until just now. We all knew it was mismanaged, but that mismanaged?
The minute you hear that name, chances are you had some kind of visceral reaction. Was it happiness or elation? Probably not. I don’t actually know if there is a positive “visceral” reaction to anything.
For me in particular, GameStop is like OG Pawn Stars. It’s a place where you took your old games and got $7 in-store credit and watched them slap a $45 price tag when they placed it back up on the shelf. And the staff would shadow your footsteps trying to upsell you on subscriptions or preorders when you were really just killing time near the movie theater (remember those?) or before getting a haircut (remember those?). That pushy behavior makes a bit more sense when you realized the insane quota requirements management levied on the near-minimum wage workers. And who can forget the time when that same management asserted that its stores were “essential retail” and thus should remain open in the middle of a pandemic. Suffice it to say, this is not a chain with a particularly great reputation. Even amongst its target audience.
Why bring this up now? Well, there are two things going on. Technically three, but I’ll get to that.
The first is that the stock price has rocketed up in the last week. Back in March, GameStop stock was trading at $2.80. Nearly everyone, myself included, felt like it was really going to be the next Blockbuster: a former retail giant in its niche who chose hubris over innovation, and let the world pass it by. If you have been in a GameStop lately, you can see that they’re trying – nearly 50% of the store is now gaming merchandise, like Minecraft T-shirts and various tchotchkes that wouldn’t be out of place in a Hot Topic. Which, okay, good for them and whomever is out there buying those sort of things. But as both Microsoft and Sony release flagship consoles with digital-only editions at a lower price-point, surely the days of physical media and those who focus on selling it are numbered?
Remember when I said GameStop was at $2.80/share in March? Friday it closed down 11% to… $35.50. It was really at about $20 on Tuesday (1/12) before it rocketed up to a high of $41 mid-Thursday, and now here we are.
What happened? Last Monday, Ryan Cohen from Chewy.com fame and two of his executive buddies landed seats on the GameStop board of directors, after owning 13% of all the shares. What’s Chewy.com? It’s a place to order online pet food. Which… yeah. If you’re older than 35, that may remind you of Pets.com back in the heady 2000 internet-bubble days. The difference here is Ryan founded Chewy in 2011 and sold it to PetSmart in 2017 for $3.35 billion. It’s now worth $44+ billion. And all this was done despite Amazon being a thing. Apparently their relentless focus on customer service is what puts them over the top with most people.
In that regard, the speculation here is that Ryan can pull the same magic with GameStop. And I can see it. The current retail experience cannot possibly be worse, so any meaningful improvements would do wonders. Plus the online shopping experience… well, it’s not that bad, when there are things actually in stock. Can’t really blame GameStop for that specifically though; just try finding a non-scalped Switch anywhere for MSRP. Point being, there is room for improvement.
One the biggest advantages and reasons I care about this at all though, is the simple reality of resale. If not GameStop, then where? Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace, eBay? People do it, I guess, but I prefer to not have to rehearse hostage negotiations strategies before heading to a parking lot to acquire luxury goods. “OK, I’ll hold the envelope in my left hand and take the Vita in my right.” Places like eBay might be good for buying things – there are some customer-focused policies to cover situations where you open the box to find a literal brick inside – but from a seller-standpoint, it’s nerve-wracking. Those same customer-focused policies make it easy for buyers to scam you by claiming it broke in transit or claim you sent a brick. That gets us back to hostage negotiation wherein the correct move is to film yourself putting the console in a box, which probably wouldn’t hold up in court anyway. Maybe you can get UPS to vouch for you, or pack it themselves?
So, yeah. I like the possibility of rolling in somewhere with this unused PS3 and get $5 for it or whatever. The local Pawn Shop sure as shit won’t take it (I asked), and my only other option would be to throw it away via Good Will. Just kidding, I still hold out hope that one day I will turn it on.
Anyway, there’s all that. Back in 2019 I had some schadenfreude over GameStop’s then-collapsing stock price ($3-$5) but pointed out how I wish them to stick around for resale purposes. And at that time, I also mentioned resale of digital goods. Even if they somehow pulled digital resale off, it probably won’t be the bounty that it may have been back then: Steam and the Epic Store would directly compete (if forced), and the Game Pass reality we live in means less people are buying licenses to games to begin with. There is some speculation that GameStop could instead start leveraging themselves into being a physical meeting space for gamers, or start selling PC parts like a mini-Microcenter (one of the best retail stores for that, but only 25 in the whole US). That’s probably the better avenue to take, IMO, as they already have stores everywhere and I’d love to have a place to go to see if a mechanical keyboard is any good or to see the difference between a VA, TN, and IPS computer monitor in-person. Price-match Amazon in-store with something I can take home that minute? Now we’re talking.
We shall see where things go.
[Edit] In the interest of full disclosure, I’ve been selling puts on GameStop stock since November. Selling puts is not the same thing as buying puts – selling means I’ve been betting that its stock will go up and not back down. I am not recommending any financial advice here.
If you’re reading this, you made it another year. That’s something, at least.
On the personal front, things have been going well. My wife and I have stable jobs that smoothly transitioned into work-from-home versions. We’re both introverts, so the whole lockdown thing has not hit us particularly hard. My son is meeting milestones ahead of schedule, which is nice considering he was a preemie. And after 15 years, I finally made my last student loan payment in November… for a degree that has effectively been useless. Kids, when they say “it doesn’t matter what degree you get, just get something so you can sail into middle management,” that is a lie. I mean, it is true that any degree will probably get you past the first HR filter, but for god’s sake pick something like Business Admin if you don’t already know what you want to do with your life.
Also, maybe don’t spend $50,000 trying to figure out what you want to do with your life. Unless what you want is to pay student loans for a few decades.
The gaming goals from last year:
- Play PS3 games so I feel less guilty about buying a PS4 for two games [Nope]
- Otherwise play the games you want to play when you want to play them [Generally yes]
- Stop playing the games you don’t want to play anymore [Actually yes]
- Continue being a (passably) responsible gaming dad [Won’t know for another 15 years]
I never got around to the PS3 games. Again. At this point, it’s just silly to keep bringing it up and runs afoul of the next two bullet points anyway. That said, I haven’t bothered even thinking about a PS4, so there’s that. Same with a PS5, if one were even available. I seem to have waited long enough that almost every console exclusive is coming to PC anyway. Had a Switch been available though… things may have been different.
Looking at my Steam list, I see the following titles played in the last year:
- No Man’s Sky
- My Time at Portia
- Fell Seal: Arbiter’s Mark
No, seriously, that’s it. So much for that backlog, am I right? Between No Man’s Sky, My Time at Portia, and Fell Seal, I did sink about 250 hours of gaming in there. Looking at the Game Pass list though:
- Katana Zero
- Nowhere Prophet
- Neon Abyss
- Sea Salt
- Metro: Exodus
- Children of Morta
- The Outer Worlds
- Outer Wilds
- Death’s Gambit
- Into the Breach
Twice as many titles as Steam… but probably only half as many hours, if not less.
The rest of my gaming time this year has been pumped into Fallout 76, Hearthstone, WoW (more recently), and mobile games. I finally kicked the Clash Royale habit, and my blood pressure is better for it. There have been a few other mobile games I’ve sunk some serious time into while trying to find a Slay the Spire equivalent. I should probably take some time to write about them, actually.
In any case… 2021, huh? To be honest, I do not even know what is coming on the horizon. Mass Effect Trilogy Remaster? FF7 Remake PC release? I am more excited for rumors about the Game Pass, such as Ubitsoft’s subscription service being folded in, or that Microsoft might buy Sega. One thing that has been a total whiff this year is Humble (Bundle) Choice. I have paused my subscription 10 of the last 12 months, two of which required refund requests because I forgot to pause. Seriously, I think I may just drop the subscription altogether, even though that would remove my grandfathered-in ability to pick up all of the random crappy games they try to give away.
On the MMO (and equivalent) front, I continue to enjoy playing WoW and foresee that extending through January, at a minimum. Fallout 76 is still fun, but my motivation to boot it up took a nosedive when I finally unlocked the last pieces of the Secret Service armor, and also noticed that the Season 3 rewards were underwhelming. Genshin Impact probably deserves its own post, but since I haven’t played it in two months, that becomes more and more unlikely. FF14 is still installed on my PC, but that flight of fancy has flown.
As for goals in 2021:
- Continue working on the Steam backlog
- …but don’t get bogged down with mediocre games
- Maybe buy a Switch. For the wife.
- (Re)Play through the Halo games via Master Chief Collection
- Give FF14 another shot
- Resist the urge to buy a new gaming PC
And that’s that.
As in, the Epic Store, not epic store sales.
Back in the day, which was either last year or fifteen years ago, I had this to say about the Epic Store:
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. Maybe that’s Plan B for when they run out of exclusivity money?
At the time, Epic was in the midst of buying out gaming devs and forcing unnecessary exclusivity deals. Which was, and still is, extremely anti-consumer. In the intervening months, it has been interesting seeing them right the ship. Epic has brought back the “endless $10 coupon” for this winter’s sale, which means you get $10 off any game that costs $14.99 or more. Some devs are getting cheeky and having $14.98 sales, but otherwise it seems above-board. And in comparing my Steam wishlist, there are some great deals:
- Disco Elysium – $13.99 vs $23.99
- Hellpoint – $17.99 vs $20.99
- Death Stranding – $19.99 vs $29.99
- Horizon: Zero Dawn Complete – $29.99 vs $39.99
- Borderlands 3 – $9.79 vs $19.79
Thing is, I’m just not buying games anymore. Part of that is WoW sucking the oxygen out of the gaming room – although that may or may not be coming to an end – but the larger issue is the Game Pass. Will all of those arrive in the near future? Probably not. Possibly none of them, ever. But both Metro: Exodus and Outer Worlds did a tour and they were “Epic exclusives” I played for $1.
But here’s the other thing: would I drop everything and play those games right now? If the answer is not an enthusiastic Yes… what are we even doing? Donating to game developers? It used to be that I would get hung up on the nightmare scenario of getting an insane itch to play a game that I passed on during a sale. But it has been months since I had any such itch, and these days I am just as likely as not to go to bed early. Maybe I’m getting old, or maybe it’s due to the 1.5 year-old that does not have a Snooze button. Everyone’s getting up at 7am even on the weekends, whether we like it or not.
In any case, the deals are there if you want them. I’m pleased that Epic is heading down this direction for competing with Steam rather than exclusives. Oh, and all the free games every week (and every day recently). By my last count, I have 109 games on the platform and only bought one of them.
As Reddit is largely my source of gaming news these days, periodically I find that several items relevant to my interests have been buried by random nonsense. In no particular order:
Oxygen Not Included’s DLC has entered Early Access
Called Spaced Out!, the DLC seems focused on creating and managing multiple mini-colonies rather than one. Considering how complex and fragile just one colony can be, Klei is either targeting hardcore vets of the original game or will be introducing methods to trivialize some of the fundamental problems players encounter (heat, water usage, leaning on and then running out of algae or coal, etc). Although I have logged 143 hours into the game – making it my 5th most-played game on Steam – I have never actually made it to the rocket launching endgame, so I would be fine with the latter.
ARK 2 has been announced, starring Vin Diesel
No, really, look at the (pointless) trailer. Cue up the Adam Jensen “I didn’t ask for this.” Supposedly there will be more details coming out over the next few days, but the underlying kick in the teeth is that Studio Wildcard is rather pointedly ending the development of its original game in favor of a star-studded sequel. This shouldn’t come as that much of a surprise, considering Wildcard is rather infamous for releasing a paid DLC while the original game was still in Early Access.
Having said that, if the end result is ARK on more stable game-code… maybe it’s worth the re-admission price. Clocking in at 147.5 hours, ARK is my 4th most-played game on Steam. And all that time was spent in single-player, almost entirely on the original map. The bones were good; it’s the flesh that needs work.
Slay the Spire is (still) coming to Android… Eventually!
Mentioned in passing at the top of the latest patch notes: “While we’re awaiting news from our publishing and porting teams for the Android mobile release, we’re bringing some more of the under-the-hood improvements to PC!” While an Android release of Slay the Spire is not news per se, I’m always happy to be reminded that it might eventually happen someday. After all, it’s been six months since it was released on iOS and I have resorted to a number of questionable phone games (like Hearthstone) to scratch that particular itch.
And just to continue the theme, Slay the Spire is #2 on my Steam list with 166.8 hours played.
Bioware just announced there is going to be a Mass Effect: Legendary edition:
Mass Effect Legendary Edition will include single-player base content and DLC from Mass Effect, Mass Effect 2, and Mass Effect 3, plus promo weapons, armors, and packs – all remastered and optimized for 4k Ultra HD. It will be available in Spring 2021 for Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and PC, with forward compatibility and targeted enhancements on Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5. More information to come in the new year!
This is extremely relevant to my interests. I consider Mass Effect to be one of the best RPG series ever made, and yet despite that, I never got around to purchasing any of the critically- (and fan-) acclaimed DLCs. At the time, it was more of a principle thing, but then later morphed into a “why do all of these still cost $70?” and “why are BioWare Points still a thing?” Having a complete package with everything included makes things much simpler, with all the other enhancements being a bonus.
There was also this bit of news:
Meanwhile here at BioWare, a veteran team has been hard at work envisioning the next chapter of the Mass Effect universe. We are in early stages on the project and can’t say any more just yet, but we’re looking forward to sharing our vision for where we’ll be going next.
That the franchise will continue is good to hear. I haven’t really kept up on the news/rumors before this, so I had still been under the 3-year old impression that everything was over. Hard to be optimistic when EA, of all companies, cancels all plans for DLC for a game. Still, it will be extremely interesting to see if they continue the Andromeda thread or do some kind of prequel or what.
So, yeah, pretty exciting. I had to look up who owns BioWare at the moment just to gauge the likelihood that this Legendary Edition hits the Xbox Game Pass. Looks like EA still owns BioWare. Considering that the EA Play membership rolls into the Game Pass starting on November 10th though, it’s highly likely that my /r/patientgamers-ing has paid dividends.
Oh, and it looks like Biden won the election too, so there might still be a world left to game in.
Right as my interest in My Time at Portia was ending – sadly, before the end of the game proper – I started hearing about a major update to No Man’s Sky. Called Origins, this particular update seemed mainly focused on reseeding the universe with new planets with more extreme terrain/plant/animal possibilities. Having missed the past couple of other major updates, I decided to go ahead and jump back in with a fresh character.
Some 40-odd hours later, I have hit that same existential wall the last time around.
Almost all of the particulars of the game have been improved. Base-building restrictions have been lifted across the board. The once-ubiquitous Sentinels are now just policing fun on certain planets. The UI has been improved… to an extent. The various avenues to raise cash have been widened. The Nexus has been made into a multiplayer hub of sorts, and its vendors allow you to bypass quest-restricted tech if you wish.
And yet… it’s still missing something. And it might be something dumb like “challenge.”
Some games are not meant to be challenging. No one is going to play My Time at Portia while looking for a Dark Souls experience. In this regard, No Man’s Sky is very obviously tilted towards a chill, Explorer player-type. Sentinels are robots that used to patrol every planet and turn aggressive when you started mining resources in front of them. As mentioned, they no longer exist in every world. For the vast majority of your gameplay, the weather is going to be your biggest foe – one defeated by pressing two buttons every few minutes, consuming resources you can buy in bulk at nearly every space station.
Which, again, fine. Whatever. It’s a chill, exploring game.
But things get a little crazy once you start flying around in space. At some point, your ship will be scanned by hostile pirates, who will disable your ability to escape and start trying to blow you up. While you can again survive just about anything by recharging your shields with elements purchased by the thousands, you can also equip your ship with missiles, laser beams, a space shotgun, and all manners of similar things. Regardless, this is decidedly a less chill, exploring experience.
After a while, the dissonance in the game between space combat and terrestrial combat became too great for me. See, your Multi-Tool can also receive a number of upgrades to add a shotgun, laser cannon, a grenade launcher, and so on. But when would you ever use it? Attacking Sentinels is periodically required to progress the storyline, and bigger and meaner ones do end up showing up. But under all other normal circumstances, there is no challenge whatsoever once you are on a planet.
Where are the pirates or mercenaries on the ground? Where are all the hostile wildlife? You will see the same half-dozen varieties of hostile plants on every planet across the entire universe. But nothing in the way of meaningful challenge. About the closest you get is “the Swarm,” which puts up a decent fight when you try stealing their eggs. Facing them on every planet would be silly, but that kind of thing might justify having anything more than the same unupgraded rifle you build from a quest 50 hours prior.
Again, No Man’s Sky doesn’t have to head that direction.
The problem for me though is the existential crisis that hits mid-game, in which you question what it’s all for. In my fresh save, my character has 45 million Units and a B-class ship with about 28 slots. The normal drive would be to search for an A-class or S-class ship to buy, and then upgrading those further while simultaneously upgrading my own suit and Multi-Tool. There are several mechanics in the game now that allow you to pursue those goals in measured (read: grind) fashion.
But… why? I mean, sure, “why do anything in a videogame?” In No Man’s Sky though, progression is basically bag space. Can you equip weapon mods that increase damage or clip size? Yes. Do they have 5 rarities and slightly randomized number ranges? Also yes. Does any of it matter at all? Absolutely not. You can go 50+ hours without shooting a damn thing, even accidentally. Oh, unless you’re flying through space, in which case we’re actually playing X-Wing sometimes.
I think the devs might eventually get there. Last time I played, all the alien NPCs stood or sat in the same spot, never moving. Now they move around and make the space stations feel, well, actually populated. Slap some helmets on them and give them guns and maybe shoot me planetside on occasion and we’re in business. Or ramp up the aggressiveness of hostile fauna on some of the planets. Think ARK. At least on some planets, anyway.
I’m not looking for challenge challenge, at least not in No Man’s Sky. Actually, I would love a 3D Terraria/Starbound experience if I’m being real. That might not have been what everyone signed up for in this game though. Perhaps add another game mode? But it should be Game Design 101 that if you add a Chekhov Shotgun, you should craft encounters in which a shotgun is necessary.