Category Archives: Commentary

Who Buys Games Anymore, part 72342

Carrion came out a few days ago, and I was intrigued after reading a review. Basically, it’s a “reverse horror” game where you control the writhing mass of teeth and tentacles as you eat your way out of a research facility. Probably not groundbreaking, but seems like a fun little game to pass the time. Was it worth $20 though? Maybe I’ll just add that to my Steam wishlist and call it a day.

Oh… or I can apparently play it right now on Xbox Game Pass.

I honestly can’t even. How does this business model work? I have the following games installed and ready to be played at a moment’s notice:

  • Halo: Master Chief Collection
  • Carrion
  • Gris
  • Ori and the Will of the Wisps
  • Astroneer
  • Frostpunk
  • Forager
  • Neon Abyss

Those are mostly indie-esque games, but they could be Dishonored 2, FF15, the Gears series, etc.

There apparently was an Xbox or Microsoft or whatever event a week ago, where they demoed a few of the upcoming games. I hadn’t been paying attention at all, until I started hearing people talk about STALKER 2. I enjoyed all three games of that series, jank and all, so hearing that there was a, erm, “sequel” coming out was great news. Bottom text, though? “Coming to Xbox Game Pass on Day 1.”

Also? State of Decay 3. Xbox Game Pass on Day 1.

Also? Destiny 2 and all (?) its expansions coming to Game Pass in September.

I’m paying like $5/month for this shit. How? The “catch” of course is that games rotate in and out all the time. I own none of these games. There really isn’t any modding supp… oh wait, there is. What? 

The last time I used this title was a year ago, when I waffled on whether I wanted to buy Forager. Guess what’s on the Game Pass now? That’s right.

It’s kind of an open question on how much I would be willing to pay Game Pass, if it were not actually only $5. People still pay $15/month to play Battle for Azeroth for some reason, so that’s probably the floor. $30/month? I’m halfway to completing a $20 game that just came out, so maybe. Especially if it was a scenario in which I could sample/beat a lot of high-profile games all in a row. 

Microsoft is not sponsoring this blog, I swear. But at these prices and with these games, they don’t need to.  

Generic Elements Got to Go

Is there anything more boring than Fire/Ice/Lightning/Earth damage?

I had been playing Fell Seal: Arbiter’s Mark, and it’s a pretty boilerplate Final Fantasy Tactics clone. Which is fine! But what I am getting immensely tired of is how all these RPGs just copy/paste generic Elemental damage into their games. It’s a tad egregious in Fell Seal because the Wizard class actually unlocks different elements as you move down the class tree, as if Thunder 1 did anything different than the Fire 1 you unlocked earlier. It’s literally the same damage. No frills, no multiplier, no nothing. Sure, you will be sad when you face lava zombies or whatever, but there is nothing else special about any of it.

Contrast that with Divinity: Original Sin 2. Fire spells can… light things on fire. Ignite oil slicks, explode poison clouds, inflict targets with a damage over time effect. Ice spells can slow/freeze enemies, create slippery ice on the ground, and so on. You will still have a bad day when your Pyro-centric character encounters lava zombies, but at least that’s a thematic choice that has consequences beyond the different colored numbers. It’s tough fighting indoors with a Pyro, for example.

The other frustrating aspect in copy/paste elements games is that there is a hidden “best choice.” In Fell Seal, all the different elemental weapons I have access to are the same price in the shop. But, on average, how many fire-themed enemies am I going to face versus something else? It’s not even as though I have a particular idea of what’s coming up. “Next stop is big desert theme area… let’s not pick Fire weapons.” That would be lame, but at least it’s something. Nope, just all blind choices.

It’s awful, it’s lazy, and it’s a “choice” that developers keep putting into games that actively reduces the meaningful options a player has. Go bold with your elements or go home.

Steam Link

What a rollercoaster ride of emotion.

Way back in the day, I purchased a physical Steam Link. This was a little black rectangle that allowed you to stream Steam from your PC to your TV. The purchase was made after I attended a few game nights with friends, and the hilarity that ensued from the Jackbox games. The setup over there was a laptop plugged into the TV; having no laptop myself, this seemed like a good workaround. I promptly never actually used it and Valve stopped making them.

Cue last week when I discovered that there’s a Steam Link App on the Google Play store. It pretty much does exactly what it sounds like: stream any Steam game from your PC to your phone. You may be wondering who in the world that sort of thing is for. Me. It’s for me. Or anyone stuck watching their progeny running around in quarantine while pretending to be working from home. Can’t use the physical Steam Link because that means the little guy can see a screen, and apparently kids are ruined forever if they witness more than 30 minutes of pixels a day.

If you have been following this blog for any length of time though, you know that I never do things the easy way.

The app is fine but you need a controller. Your options for native support are a Steam controller (discontinued), PS4/Xbone controllers (don’t have either console), or some nVidia garbage that is literally $200. When I looked at PS4/Xbone controllers, they started at $65 and went up from there. That’s… normal? Jesus. Actual prices during this pandemic are much higher, especially on Amazon.

So I decided to purchase just a generic bluetooth Android controller. The $35 kind that expands outward and turns your phone into a Switch-like device. While the controller “worked,” it was not recognized by Steam Link. So you have to download their China app – it’s always fun scrolling through items on Amazon and see “competitors” all say you need use the same app – which basically throws an overlay over your screen to make touch controls work with the controller. That got the job done… aside from the fact that you have to look at your touch controls all the time. Yuck.

So here I am now, returning the junk, and looking to see if spending $65 + $10 (for phone mount) is worth being able to play Fell Seal in the living room on my phone. Do I have other options?

I did look into Moonlight, which is another app that interfaces with your nVidia graphics card for streaming purposes. After spending an hour of the precious, “I could actually be playing videogames on my computer” time, I abandoned the effort when it didn’t work even after a driver update.

Currently, I am in a holding pattern. I do already have a PS3 controller (for the PS3 I never play) and an Xbox 360 controller I bought specifically for PC games that necessitate it. I have heard some people have success with simply pairing the Xbox controller to their PC (instead of the phone), and then basically bringing the controller and phone to the living room, assuming a decent bluetooth signal. Or maybe I will try getting one of those 8bitendo controllers that might be recognized by Steam Link. Or maybe I’ll just break down and spend an extra $30+ for a legit controller that will have no other use than however long this situation persists.

Or maybe I will just get by like I have up to this point, subsisting mainly on Reddit and playing with my child.

It’s a rough life, I know.

Endgame Loops

Fallout 76 recently received the biggest content update since launch: Wastelanders. The headlining feature? Actual NPCs. More quests, more weapons, more bugs, two new factions to grind reputation for, and so on and so forth.

If only I could get around to actually doing anything.

The problem is that I am psychologically trapped in an endgame loop. My character is loaded with a decent amount of legendary weapons and gear, but they aren’t that great. This means I have a high incentive to jump around the map and visit various other players’ camps, as they have the ability to sell their own unneeded legendaries. I’m also interested in switching to a Bloodied gear set.

Purchasing things requires Caps. Each day, vendors collectively have 1400 Caps to give you in exchange for selling things. While you can just kill mobs and sell the guns that drop, the most efficient way is to farm Plastic, Glass, and Rubber (x3) to craft helmets that sell for 28 Caps apiece (depending on Charisma). Fifty (50) helmets will net you the Caps cap, but the true number is closer to 25-30 given the Super Duper perk card, which can grant you bonus crafts.

As mentioned, Wastelanders also introduced two factions with reputation daily quests. Enough said.

So, that’s the loop. Load into world, scout the map for possibly well-stocked player vending machines. Farm material to craft helmets to sell for vendors to finance the purchase of player goods, and pay for the Fast Travel fees. Complete reputation dailies. Additionally, jump into lucrative world events when they pop nearby. Fight the Scorchbeast Queen (last boss) if she’s available, and end up using 1000+ rounds of ammo, which you either need to purchase (Caps) or craft (farm junk). 

If there’s some time left over in your play session (spoiler: there’s not), maybe tackle one or two of the actual, new main story quests.

More likely, you do some of your required chores and run out of time, repeat cycle for a few days, then actually have a solid amount of hours to play but you’re so bored with the game that you can’t bring yourself to do the non-boring stuff. Stop playing for a couple of days, get interested in doing stuff, and then get sucked right back into the loop because you’re level 100+ and the high-level mobs you encounter during regular story missions make you wish you had better weapons… etc, etc, etc. It’s a vicious psychological trap.

So I suppose I am playing an MMO these days, eh?

Rent to Never Own

It has been a long time coming, but I have fully surrendered into post-ownership mindset.

The transition is largely semantic. Nobody “owns” a Steam game in their library and never have – just a non-transferable, revocable license… unless you lucked out and live in a sane country that allows resellable digital goods. Nevertheless, a game library was a thing that had value and meaning, you know? It was exciting seeing Steam sales and bargain hunting so you could accumulate stuff.

At least that is what it felt like.

The final, frictionless step was seeing Final Fantasy XV appearing on the Xbox Game Pass. I was already a bit crestfallen seeing how Kingdom Come: Deliverance was on the Epic Store free-game docket, but FF15 just flipped the metaphysical lights off. It’s not that I felt like a chump for spending $12 on the Humble Bundle that included Kingdom Come or, well, however the hell I acquired FF15. It just became increasingly obvious that I don’t need to do anything anymore. Games just happen.

I beat The Outer Worlds on the Game Pass, and I will never play that game again. I also beat Children of Morta, and I will never play that game again either. I just started on Metro: Exodus, and it’s possible I don’t even bother getting through the tutorial. Why force myself to? The game cost nothing other than download time. Compare that to Outward, the first game I purchased in the Epic Store, and how getting my $5.99 refund request denied made me very salty (bought during the Winter sale and first played much later than 14 day limit).

It’s rote to say Netflix obliterated any desire of mine to own physical movie DVDs. And not even really all that accurate – it was Netflix and Hulu and HBO Go and Disney+ that obliterated all desire. Your favorite movie might have fallen off one service, but likely landed on another. Or perhaps the sheer number of choices, which would keep you busier than any free time you had available, simply made the concept of “favorite” meaningless. Who is rewatching movies anyway?

I will, of course, still be purchasing games on occasion. Probably. Final Fantasy 7 Remake isn’t going to just show up Day 1 on PS+ or wherever. Probably. But what I’m getting at is that if my Steam library just up and vanished – which is entirely possible, and unable to be appealed – I don’t know if I would be mad. Or even really notice. The last time I played something on Steam was December 8th. And damn near everything I would play is already on the Game Pass.

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.

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.