Random Thoughts – Randosity!

For whom does the bell toll? Microsoft’s Xbox.

Posted in botch, business, gaming, microsoft, xbox by commorancy on March 27, 2016

xbox-1-logoIn case you haven’t been reading recent news, here’s an article that might wake you up… especially if you happen to be an Xbox platform fanboy. What is this alleged article? Microsoft has stated it will merge the PC and Xbox platforms into a single unified platform, ending the sale of dedicated console hardware. Let’s explore.

Xbox and Xbox 360

When the original Xbox arrived in 2001, it received lots of fanfare. The console market now had a competitor against the PlayStation 2. The PS2 had released only one year earlier in 2000. Though, the Sega Dreamcast had promise, Sega pulled the plug in 2000 citing lots of reasons including bad sales, competition and poor platform reception. The Xbox’s controller, architecture and speed quickly ended up competing with the PlayStation 2.

A few years later, we went through the second iteration of this console war when both Sony and Microsoft released the PS3 and the Xbox 360, respectively and near simultaneously. Once again, we had our next generation console in our hands and we gamers were happily playing with better graphics and sound quality.

The Xbox 360 took the lead in the console market over Sony’s PS3, but only by slim margins. Though, the XBox 360 managed to stay one step ahead through out the lifespan of both consoles.

Xbox One and Ps4

Unfortunately, Microsoft would not be able to maintain its fleeting lead it had won with the Xbox 360 with its blundering Xbox One E3 announcement in 2013. Here’s what they had wanted to do:

This announcement in 2013 would set the tone for all things to come including the next iteration of the Xbox platform. Within a week of their E3 announcement, after facing Sony’s harsh rebuttal at E3, Microsoft reversed all of its DRM and privacy invasion strategies after the gamers clearly spoke with their wallet, PS4 orders surged and people cancelled their Xbox One orders in droves. It’s clear, this blunder was Xbox’s first death knell and set in motion many future problems to come for the Xbox. Unfortunately, neither Microsoft nor the Xbox has been able to recover from this blunder.

Elite Console and Controller

XboxOneEliteController-smImmediately prior to this Windows platform integration announcement, Microsoft had just released the Elite Console and Elite Controller. This controller being a much more costly update to its existing hardware ($15o vs $60). This console and especially the controller is Microsoft’s nod to a more professional gamer. That is, a nod to those gamers who want to play games using higher quality contollers, button remapping, changeable controller features, more inputs and faster consoles. I’ll tell you what, though. The Elite Controller is actually quite nice, but very very pricey. Yes, some of us do want these advanced features from our systems. However, it’s entirely disingenuous for Xbox to release the Elite controller and system only to see Microsoft announce the death of future hardware systems just a few months later. Really, what does this say to would-be gamers about Microsoft’s commitment to the gaming market?

To me, this says that the right hand doesn’t know what the left hand is doing in Redmond. On the one hand, you have the Xbox engineering team trying to drum up new gaming interest by releasing high quality experiences for the gamer. On the other, Microsoft itself is trying to reduce costs by getting rid of costly hardware projects it deems a loss. Unfortunately, this doesn’t mean good things for Microsoft as a whole. This ultimately means that the whole company is fractured internally and doesn’t have a proper focus on its products or its markets. Instead, it is making rash decisions without thinking through the long term ramifications of those decisions. A death knell.

Microsoft’s confusion

With this announcement of the integration of Xbox with Windows, Microsoft has likewise announced that it also intends (see article) to stop making future hardware and will instead focus on the Xbox platform as a subcomponent of Windows. Just like Windows Media Center, it will become an add-on to Windows. You might think that this is a great idea, but it isn’t. Let’s understand why.

Windows itself already offers developers a solid gaming development environment to produce native games on Windows. Most AAA game titles are made not only for consoles, but also for Windows and sometimes even Mac. The question is, would that spell the death of the Xbox platform? Yes. The reason the Xbox platform exists is as a gaming hardware platform independent of Windows. It does not exist for Netflix, Amazon or for any other non-gaming entertainment. Sure, you can play movies and music on the Xbox, but that’s not the platform’s intended purpose. Microsoft is seriously confused over the reason the Xbox platform exists and why it continues to exist. This confusion spells yet another death knell. Basically, if Microsoft thinks that the non-gaming aspects of the Xbox will survive once in Windows, it won’t. You can already use native Windows apps to get access to all of the services like Hulu, Netflix and Amazon… and the native apps are usually better.

The Death of the Xbox

Because Windows is already a solid gaming platform in its own right (in addition to being an entertainment platform), integrating a second gaming environment into Windows means that only one of these gaming platforms will survive the transition. Game developers will also only choose one platform to develop. Assuming status quo for the Xbox platform, the Xbox will be the clear loser. It’s simple to understand why: high priced licensing fees. It costs developers substantial amounts of cash to license and sell games branded with the Xbox moniker. It costs far far less to develop games under Windows directly. Unless Microsoft substantially changes their Xbox licensing model, this platform is entirely dead for gaming. Game developers won’t be willing to pay the excessive licensing fees on top of producing the game twice (Xbox and Windows) for the same hardware platform. Why would any game developer produce the same game twice that is destined for the same platform? They wouldn’t. A death knell.

So, what does this mean for gaming? PC gamers win a feather in their cap. Xbox gamers lose a platform entirely. Once games stop being produced for the Xbox platform, and they will stop, the only thing left to use the Xbox platform for is Netflix, other media activities and already purchased digital content. As I said above, you can already crack open Chrome or Firefox and do video streaming and music playing better. So, the answer, there will be nothing left to use the Xbox platform for except for legacy digital content that you may have purchased on an Xbox One/360… assuming that content even remains compatible after the Windows PC migration. Another death knell.

Digital Content

So, what does this mean for already purchased digital content? It means that you better hold onto your working Xbox One and Xbox 360 if you want to continue to use this content. Though, Microsoft may eventually force users to move to the Windows integrated platform and sunset the use of Xbox hardware entirely (and cut it off from the Xbox Live service).

This means that, at some point, you may no longer be able to download your digital content to your Xbox One and you may be forced to buy a PC. Depending on how Xbox One’s content activation system works, it may even prevent you from using the digital content you’ve already downloaded depending entirely upon how far and deep that Microsoft takes it.

Of course, this is still years off yet. But, once that time arrives, your Xbox One and 360 may become paperweights. A death knell.

Why this change?

From Microsoft’s perspective, I can understand the value and cost savings that integration (and lack of hardware) brings. No longer does Microsoft have to design, build and sell hardware platforms, no longer do they have to compete with Sony, no longer do they have to support this finicky hardware (a highly expensive ongoing investment). This means they can reduce their costs for all of the above. Instead, they can push the hardware costs back onto PC manufacturers to support their new Xbox platform.

Unfortunately, expecting PC manufacturers to support the Xbox is a pipe dream fantasy. There are far too many PC manufacturers who don’t follow the rules 100%. Instead, they get about 90% there and call the system done. This means that instead of having a fully 100% reliable Xbox platform, you’ll end up with a crashing behemoth of a system that, once again, barely works. The clear benefit to designing exclusive hardware is to achieve reliability by design. Leaving it to third parties to provide that hardware support means that some PC manufacturers will flat out not support the Xbox platform and those that do will charge a hefty premium. This ultimately means that buying a PC that properly supports the Xbox platform will likely mean a significantly higher cost than older far less expensive dedicated gaming console hardware. Not to mention, the clunky and ugly tower and desktop shapes of PC manufacturers which can no longer be used as a set top box.

This means that not only will the PC-based Xbox experience falter badly, you’re likely looking at 2x, 3x or more the price of today’s Xbox One to invest in a compatible PC-based Xbox platform. This puts this platform so far out of the price range of console gamers, this is yet another death knell for the Xbox. I won’t even get into the peripheral issues. Okay, I will a little. If Microsoft stops the hardware entirely, they’re likely to stop the controllers and leave that also up to third parties.

We all know how well PC controllers work with many games. Sometimes they work, sometimes they don’t. They are usually not wireless and when they are, they are chock full of wireless issues. The whole reason the Xbox One works well is because of the wireless controller and its close integration with the hardware.

Throwing the Baby out with the Bathwater

Ultimately, Microsoft is throwing away all of their hard earned gamer loyalty. They are effectively closing the Xbox and throwing away the key. What this ultimately says is that Microsoft has no long term commitment to the gaming market, the console market or the gamers. What was formerly the green glory will fade into Microsoft’s Windows obscurity.

Overall, this is the worst of all possible fates that could befall the Xbox. A console is not a console without hardware. We all know how well gaming platforms work when they offer dedicated hardware. We also know how well they don’t work when relying on third parties. Think Steam. Perhaps Microsoft is deluded enough to think that Steam is the model of the future? I can tell you that Steam isn’t it. Steam works, but for limited purposes. Effectively, Steam is the app store for gaming. Since most app stores don’t focus on gaming, it was inevitable that someone would put one together. Hence, Steam. But, the Xbox platform, regardless of its current strength in gaming will die a quick death once there is no more console hardware to be had. Gamers aren’t likely to spend their efforts chasing down third party hardware platforms that might or might not work. The whole point of a console is that it “just works”. The Steam model simply won’t work for the Xbox unless you’re talking about $2-5 pricepoint games which could run on Facebook. That’s not the class of gaming that Xbox One is today.

We all need hardware to make our lives better, yes even in gaming. You can’t game without hardware. Relying on PC manufacturers to get you what you need isn’t the answer. Worse, Windows native games and developers will kick the Xbox platform to the curb. No developer in their right mind would consider spending extra money to develop on the Xbox platform when they already have Windows development efforts underway. Why would game developers choose to redundantly build their game twice for the same platform? That’s just stupid.

Sony, Nintendo and, yes, Apple

All of the above is actually very good news for the remaining console developers. Once the Xbox platform dies quietly inside of Windows (and it will), Sony only need worry about Nintendo for the foreseeable future. However, with Apple’s recent foray into gaming with the latest Apple TV, this could mean Apple now has an opening into the console market. What I will say about the current Apple TV for 3D gaming is that it’s still very rudimentary. The textures are low res, the environments look like something out of the Nintendo 64 and there’s not a speck of realism to be found… yet. However, Apple can up the ante a lot in the next Apple TV console iteration. Assuming they wedge in a much higher end GPU and a lot more RAM into the Apple TV, they could easily match the specs of the Nintendo Wii U, but perhaps not yet approach the PS4… it will take quite a bit more effort by Apple to match Sony. For Apple, the door for the console market is quite clearly open. For Microsoft, the door is quickly closing.

Yes folks, the Xbox is officially a dead platform. With this integration announcement, this is the Xbox’s final death knell.

If you are considering the purchase of a new gaming console, you should steer clear of the Xbox One unless you really enjoy buying into dead gaming platforms.

 

Game Review: Watchdogs

Posted in gaming, reviews by commorancy on June 24, 2014

Watchdogs-artLately, I’ve decided that I don’t want to know anything about the AAA titles before they are released so I can be surprised. Going into Watchdogs, I knew nothing (other than it had some hacker theme). Well, I’m somewhat disappointed in this title. Let’s explore.

Grand Theft Auto

I don’t mind playing Grand Theft Auto clone games, but games that don’t expand that idea enough beyond jacking cars really don’t do it for me. That, and I’d only recently finished playing Grand Theft Auto 5. Yes, I know, I play games slowly and in steps. Just prior to that, I had finished Saint’s Row the Third, also another GTA derivative.

Rehashed Ideas

It’s not that I have a problem with game developers taking some ideas from games and using them in new creative ways. But, when you just abscond with the entire control system and gameplay mechanics nearly unchanged, that’s when it treads far too near plagiarism. Though, adding the ‘hacking’ gimmick to divert your attention away from Ubisoft’s blatantly ripping a page straight from Rockstar’s GTA book doesn’t mean I’m okay with that. In fact, I’m definitely not okay with this. We already had the original GTA and Saint’s Row, do we really need another GTA? It’s a cool game structure and all, as long as it’s under the Grand Theft Auto name. I forgave Saint’s Row only because of it’s satirical nature. Anyone who can add irony and satire to a derivative game franchise will always make me want to play it.

But, that’s no where to be found in Watchdogs. Watchdogs is as serious as serious games come. It makes no attempt at hiding the fact that it’s a GTA clone, but it doesn’t make fun of that fact either. It’s just a straightforward ripoff with no apologies.

Road Layout and Car Handling

If you’re going to spend time writing a GTA clone, then make the road maps accommodate driving a car. More specifically, driving a car fast. The one thing that really irks me about Watchdogs is the crappy road layout of the city. Seriously, if Rockstar got anything right with GTA5, it was the roads and how they work in relation to vehicles. With the exception of the Vinewood Hills area in GTA5, the rest of the roads had easy and realistic curves that work quite well with high speed driving.

Unfortunately, the maps are an extremely sore point in Watchdogs. You simply can’t do high speed driving in Watchdogs. Nearly every city road runs into literally an L turn. And I’m not talking about a curve like (. No, I’m talking about an L. If you’re doing high speed to avoid the cops, the road abrubtly L turns and you’re crashing into a barrier or coming to a crawl to make the turn. Bad bad design. It’s clear, Ubisoft’s level designers put no thought into the road design. You can drive maybe 2 blocks before encountering yet another L turn. The subdivisions are just not conducive to high speed driving. Sure, I expect some L turns on some roads. And even then, they were occasionally in GTA5. But, they were the exception, not the rule. In Watchdogs, the roads are nearly L turns at every dead end.

Another thing Rockstar finally got right was the driving feel of the vehicles. Not so much in Watchdogs. The cars careen all over the road in unrealistic ways. In fact, the handling is so bad, it feels like a game from the 90s or maybe GTA 1 or 2. It doesn’t matter what car you jack, they all drive like crap. Ubisoft just didn’t get the driving or the roads right at all.

Cops

Just like GTA, if you go vigilante on the public, the wanted level goes up and the cops come after you… right down the Helicopter chasing you with a search light. It’s just a complete and utter rip off of GTA. Though, instead of the wanted stars, you get this flashing line bar. Effectively the same, though. And, like GTA, as long as you can outrun the cops or are good at hiding, you can eventually evade the cops. I even evaded the cops by jumping in a waterway and swimming away even when a helicopter was after me. This is something that would never have happened in any GTA game. The helicopters would have simply sent you to the hospital. Of which there is…

Dying

When your player character dies in the game, the game reloads back to the same point where your character died. So, for example, if your character happened to die in the middle of the freeway, that’s where the game places you after loading. No money lost, no trips to the hospital. I’m mixed on this, though. On the one hand, I like that I don’t lose my place where I was. On the other, placing my character in the middle of a busy freeway on foot is not really ideal.

Though, losing your place is one of the bigger problems I had with GTA5. If you happened to be in a part of the city where you’re not sure the exact location or weren’t paying attention to the map when your player character dies, you’re transported to the nearest hospital which might be a very long way from where you formerly were. So, on the one hand, I like that your character spawns where it died. At the same time, it’s not always practical to spawn in some of these locations. Overall, I’d say this is a miss by Ubisoft.

Hacking

Yes, Ubisoft did add the ‘phone hacking’ feature to Watchdogs as its primary gimmick. Note that hacking was actually a big part of Saint’s Row the Third, but offered up in a different way. The mechanics involving the cell phone hacking here is actually done very well. But, it doesn’t add so much to the game that you feel it’s a primary reason to play this game. The hacking is really to be thought of as another weapon that can help or hurt you as you progress through the game. Because the game is way overshadowed by the GTA5 feel, the hacking piece feels like an add-on that could have just as easily been added to GTA.

I would have preferred them rip off Assassin’s Creed’s climbing and or the quest system over GTA5. Give me the ability to climb the buildings over jacking cars, popping caps and joyriding.

Though, I will give credit to the camera hacking system. In fact, the entire game could have revolved around camera hacking. As long as you can ‘see’ another camera in the camera you’re viewing, you can hack into it. With this idea, you could string along camera hacking and ‘travel’ throughout the entire city without leaving the street corner. In fact, with this idea, it could have had other abilities like exploding street lights or hacking other devices that you might even be able to thwart crime simply by using the phone. While this infinite camera hacking idea wasn’t explored, it has a great potential at making a big part of a game. This is the one idea in this game that was left way underutilized but had immense potential. In fact, the camera hacking could have been a game unto itself.

Overall

Having just completed GTA5 and SR3, I’m still in my ‘I don’t really want to play another one of these games’ modes. I’ll snap out of it in a year or so, but for now it’s not really something I long to play at this point. GTA5 also had a whole lot going for it with the ability to mod vehicles and store them in garages and also supported switching between multiple player characters. While I don’t know if modding cars or storing cars is yet possible in Watchdogs, I’m not really planning on playing this game for a while to find out. I’m just a little burnt out on this style of gaming, but I’ll pick it back up eventually.

Because the roads are also not conducive to street racing, the game really made a huge blunder here. If the roads had been designed with more subtle curves to allow for high speed racing, chasing and escaping from cops, Watchdogs would have been a whole lot more fun with the cars. As the city roads are designed, it’s a chore to drive around the city. If you’re planning to rip off GTA (which is effectively a car-centric game wrapped in story), then you need to design the in-game roads to accommodate racing the cars. Right now, Watchdogs just doesn’t work well enough for that.

Recommendation: Rent or Buy
Gameplay: 5/10
Mechanics: 7/10
Car Racing: 2/10
Graphics: 10/10
Audio: 9/10
Overall: 7/10 (needs improvement)
Comment: Derives far too much if its play from GTA5. Road design is crappy and doesn’t work properly for racing.

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Elder Scrolls Online: What were they thinking?

Posted in botch, gaming by commorancy on May 12, 2014

Elder Scrolls Online[Updated: 7/4/2014 to cover Cyrodiil and Craglorn]

Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve been playing the Elder Scrolls Online. What is it? It’s the newest installment to the Elder Scrolls video game series as a massive multiplayer online game (MMO). Though, my first question that comes to mind is, “What were they thinking?” This game is a huge step backwards for the Elder Scrolls Franchise in so many ways. I know a lot of players ‘like’ the game (which is all subjective), but in this article we’ll try to understand why this game is not the caliber of a game that it should have been for an Elder Scrolls installment.

Let’s explore.

Console Version — Delayed

The Elder Scrolls Online game will be available on the PC and eventually on the next gen consoles such as the PS4 and the Xbox One. For the PC, the game was released on April 4th, 2014. For the consoles, the game had planned to release on July 1st, 2014. Zenimax has recently announced a six month delay for the release of the console versions. In lieu of that release, they have made an offer to let you play sooner. If you buy the PC version before the end of June, you will be able to transfer your leveled character over to your console. This, of course, assumes everyone has a PC to play it on. Zenimax is apparently working on a unified ESO universe where all players from all platforms are using the same world. Assuming that’s true, that explains the six month extension as a unified MMO across all platforms has never been attempted by any game developer to date. So, that Zenimax plans for this is both ambitious and risky. It also means trying to get Sony and Microsoft to allow this. To Zenimax, I say, “Good luck with that”.

It’s also worth noting that if you’re planning on investing in the Xbox One version, you will be required to buy an Xbox Live subscription ($59 for 12 months) in addition to Zenimax monthly fee to play the game ($15 a month). The game includes 30 days of service, but you are required to supply a credit card to enroll in a subscription to unlock that included 30 days. Also note that many players whose time has expired have lost the ability to play when their credit card declined for unknown reasons.  Though on the consoles, it’s possible that Zenimax might allow you to pay for your game time directly with Microsoft Money or through Sony’s store. That remains to be seen.

As for Sony network fees, it is presently unknown if you will need to pay Sony anything to play ESO on the PS4. You may not need to join Playstation Plus to play ESO, but you will likely need to pay the $15 a month subscription fee to Zenimax. No matter which console you choose, be prepared to open your wallet to Zenimax to play ESO (whenever it arrives).

Console vs PC

After having played this game nearly to completion, I’m really having second thoughts about marrying the console release and the PC release players together. In fact, the more I think about it, the more I realize it’s a really bad idea and a recipe for disaster. Why is that?

Consider that it takes about 2 months to complete the game and get to veteran rank 1 (level 50). Yes, it’s a relatively short Elder Scrolls by comparison to previous installations. By the time the console versions are released in December with a unified network, there will be all of these veteran rank 12 (or higher) players running amok in among the level 1-10 console players just starting out.

So, by the time the console players are eligible to go to Cyrodiil, all of the VR12 players will be picking off these ‘newbie’ console players one by one in PvP mode. It’s going to be quite a bit unfair to all of these new console players. In fact, I believe that it would be better at this time to completely isolate the console players into their own servers separately from the Mac/PC edition. Let the Mac/PC players continue in their own world but without the console players.

Personally, it would be a whole lot more functional to weed out the PC players from the console players to let the console gamers start in a fresh universe from the beginning. Over time, these users will level up, but it will take time and everyone starting with a console version will be on level ground. Overall, using a separate world server is a much better way to introduce the game to the console players.

Released too early?

The PC version? Yes, unfortunately. In fact, I’m playing it on a quad core Mac mini (which has its own set of problems.. some related to the game, some not). That said, the game has lots of bugs, glitches and problems. Some quests have characters speaking german when the dialog printed to the screen is in english. There are times where parts of the environment don’t render correctly. The quests are haphazard and don’t appear to be in any way linked. Gaining skills and experience is random, though somewhat structured around these random quests. The game lag can get quite annoying at times. The script kiddies are already at it mining for gold, loot and experience. Let’s continue to understand why this game is far too much still beta.

Immersive Experience? Not quite.

In Skyrim, the environments had been working towards full interactivity and more realism. It wasn’t quite there yet, but you could pick up apples, heads of cabbage, weapons and armor. You could carry them around in your inventory, wear items or even move them around in the environment. It was a fully interactive and immersive experience. While some of this carried over to the Elder Scrolls Online (like crafting) far too many things didn’t (list below).

In Elder Scrolls Online, much of that interactivity is gone. Sure there are containers to open, but you can’t kick the containers around, knock them over, break them, pick up apples or cabbages or weapons and move them around or even place things into the containers. In fact, far too much of the interactivity that was beginning to show in Skyrim was completely abandoned in the Elder Scrolls Online. So, what’s up with that?

Defiance

What does Defiance have to do with the Elder Scrolls Online? ESO uses the same MMO engine. Granted, Zenimax tailored the engine to its own purposes (within limits), but the underlying basics (things that cannot be easily changed) are still there. So, while this MMO engine provides relatively pretty environments, they’re static. You can’t do anything to the environments. The plants are fixed, the boxes are fixed, everything is fixed. There is nothing that the player can do to move anything around. The only thing that’s movable in the game is the player and a horse (and enemies).

One of the things I always enjoyed about Oblivion and to a lesser degree, Skyrim is that there are wandering enemies and friends. In fact, you don’t know which is which until you come upon them. One of the things I had been hoping for is a less ‘enemy’ based game.  Meaning, no one should be an enemy until you make them so. Which means, nothing should attack you until you pick a side or provoke them. Alas, not here.

Based on Zenimax’s questionable choice of choosing the same engine that Defiance uses, that leaves the Elder Scrolls Online with less than satisfying in game play. In fact, for some of the same reasons I abandoned playing Defiance, I will likely abandon playing the Elder Scrolls Online long term.

Game Mechanics

While the combat mechanics are similar enough between ESO and Skyrim, they are also different because multiple network players can jump in and help. Though, as I said, in some dungeons multiplayer is not possible.

On the flip side of that, though, the multiplayer experience is weak and uninspired. The whole running around without collision is less than realistic. So, network players don’t collide and just walk through one another like ghosts. I’d prefer a much more realistic experience where people can participate in commerce, like owning shops and running them at a fixed location. I would also like to see network players be able to create quests, dungeons and bosses. Yes, player created content should be clearly labeled and excludable via preferences. But, it should be part of the universe.

Voice acting and the like

I’m not terribly impressed by this piece of the Elder Scrolls Online. In fact, the choice of Michael Gambon (or a very close soundalike) was not a good one. His lines are inconsistent even between the same dialog in the same paragraph of spoken dialog. It sounds amateur and rushed. This is something I would never have expected from Zenimax/Bethesda.

Graphics

It’s funny. This game looks great in some places, and really bad in others. The landscapes, for the most part look spectacular with the sun shining. In the dark, however, it’s just flat and dull. There’s almost no lighting in most places when there’s no sunshine. Interiors are just dull. The lighting model used in this engine is, at best, fair. Again, this is what you get when you buy into an off-the-shelf engine. Instead, I would have preferred them modify a Crytek engine which has about the most realistic lighting model I’ve ever seen in a game. Unfortunately, this game suffers from the lack of quality lighting in far too many places.

For example, armor on knights looks great when in direct light or in sunlight, but in the dark there’s nothing to make it look volumetric. It just looks flat and dull.

Multiplayer Gaming

Because this is an online game, there are plenty of network multiplayers. Unfortunately, much of the game is focused on single player questing. Sure, your comrades can join you in defeating some monsters, but there are also plenty of dungeons where this is not possible. This is the same as Defiance and this is the single reason I stopped playing Defiance. You can easily wander into an unbeatable boss dungeon and simply have to abandon that quest leaving it unfinished. If that quest is part of a chain of quests, that whole quest-line is also dead. This is entirely frustrating and I won’t deal with games that do this.

More than this, the single most frustrating thing is that people leave their characters logged in all of the time and clutter up the environment. You’ll find hordes of network players hanging around banks, clothing creation tables, armor creation tables and other similar workbenches. Sometimes there are so many people that you can’t even get to the table to use it. Sure, you can walk through the players, but if you can’t get visible view of the table with the camera, you can’t target the table to work on it.

One of the other frustrating network player problems is that you’ll tend to find network players hovering around key quest giving NPCs trying to do the same thing you’re doing. The problem that bears out of this is trying to determine what character is actually the quest giver. Also, it’s really stupid to hear a quest giver NPC saying something like “You’re the first person I’ve seen in ages.” Really? Like how many other network players are logged in right now playing this exact quest in this same dungeon? Stupid dialog such as this amazes me in a network multiplayer player game. Who at Zenimax didn’t get the memo that this is a network multiplayer game?

Which leads to one more problem… shared resources. Some items in the environment are basically ‘one player at a time’. That means if you find a Water Hyacinth and someone grabs it ahead of you, they get first dibs and it’s gone. This means you have to go find it somewhere else. This problem has happened during quests also. In fact, a similar issue is when I’ve just started a quest and a minute later, the quest ends saying the quest is completed. I’m like, what the h**? Then I realize, someone else just finished that quest and it gave me the completion notice also. This is bad. You should always be required to finish whatever quests you start on your own unless that quest is explicitly labeled a multiplayer quest.

Cyrodiil

At the original time of writing this article, I hadn’t yet ventured into Cyrodiil. However, I now have. Unfortunately, the gameplay doesn’t get any better in Cyrodiil. In fact, it really takes a turn for the worse. While all of the non-Cyrodiil zones are standard questing and dungeon crawler types, Cyrodiil is the antithesis of what Elder Scrolls has always been.

Yes, Cyrodiil offers a huge map that encompasses all of the cities we’ve come to know from Oblivion, but instead of being thriving quest giving communities, it’s a barren landscape of forts and castles few and far between. In between these military installations is a whole-lotta-nothin’. Really. There is nothing there. While there are quests that are placed onto your area quest map, the quests are all campaign related. Things like, taking over a fort, capture the Elder Scroll, etc etc.

ZeniMax degrades Cyrodiil into yet another version of Hasbro’s board game Risk in multiplayer video game format. I’d liken it to another game like Civilization, but it’s less like Civilization and more like Risk. There are 3 factions: Red, Yellow and Blue. Depending on which faction you join, you’re responsible for making sure your ‘team’ captures the most stuff during any campaign.. with the idea being to capture the entire game area, just like Risk.

No, I’m not avert to playing a game like Risk, it’s just that I’ve already played Risk many many many times over the years. Risk is not what the Elder Scrolls series should become. Yet, here we are. The Elder Scrolls games should always be about questing and dungeon crawling, first. There are so many better multiplayer ideas that could have been used on the Cyrodiil land, but unfortunately we get Risk instead. This Risk game is not bad for what it is, but it’s just not creative nor in keeping with what I would expect from an Elder Scrolls title. It’s also far less than impressive than what I would expect from Bethesda.

Yes, while it’s important that your ‘team’ wins Cyrodiil during the campaign, there are a lot of sub-game types also embedded in the area like capture-the-flag and death-match all wrapped into this single area, keeping in mind that Cyrodiil is almost entirely player-vs-player (PVP). The problem is, Cyrodiil is just far too sprawling with literally nothing else in it to really work. Seriously, this land is so big, trying to find enemy players in it can be as challenging as fighting the battles when you finally find them. The sore spot is that the spawn points are so few and far between, you’ll end up spending literally 10 minutes just trotting back to where you were on a horse simply to try that battle again. There are far too few spawn points making Cyrodiil a truly painful experience when battling. Definitely not a battle-friendly environment. This is a pretty huge fail on ZeniMax part. Worse, they’ve turned the Elder Scrolls (the actual Elder Scrolls) into a capture-the-flag game. So, it’s the job of other teams to grab your team’s ‘Elder Scroll’ and take it back to their own land. It’s then your responsibility to go get that scroll and put it back into its home area. Yes, it’s degraded the Elder Scrolls into Capture The Flag. I mean, I don’t know how much more degrading it is to see the actual Elder Scrolls, which are supposed to be some of the most coveted and sacred of magical artifacts in Tamriel, treated like play toys.

Seriously, if the Elder Scrolls themselves are such prized artifacts, why are they floating on an alter sitting out in the open under a dome? Shouldn’t they be in a library protected inside or underground? Who thought this would be a good idea?

On top of the derivative problems present in the Risk-like strategy aspect, it’s just far too sprawling to really make this area of any real value. The campaigns in Cyrodiil literally last 90 days. That’s 3 months. And it would take every bit that 3 months just to even try and take over the entirety of Cyrodiil. I guess if the only thing you’re trying to do is level your character up to Veteran Rank, then it’s worth it. Oh, and the only way to get Veteran Rank is to have been part of Cyrodiil actively.

Unfortunately, this area literally doesn’t thrill me. First, it trivializes the Elder Scrolls. Second, because the area is so sprawling with nothing else to do there but focus on taking buildings over, it’s really way outside of what I consider an Elder Scrolls game. I mean, the idea behind the battles is interesting. However, using a board game derivative to build your implementation is far less than impressive. It seems like the game developers just didn’t have any better ideas than ripping off Risk.

Instead, I would have preferred to see several types of campaigns. Instead of 3 factions all working against one another (PVP), that they all work together towards a common goal… like taking the area back from the Daedra. I don’t mind PVP and I’m glad there’s an area here, but ZeniMax should at least offer up other methods of conquering Cyrodiil than simple-minded and derivative PVP gaming. If you really want to do PVP, I’d rather just have an arena somewhere. I mean, a small location with limited map sizes where gamers can simply go in and battle in an arena. In fact, Arena was one of the early Elder Scrolls titles. So why not offer an area that is entirely focused on Arena battles? With multiplayer, it makes perfect sense. Yet, they give us the Risk-derived Cyrodiil. I continually find myself venturing back to the questing areas over being in Cyrodiil as I find myself bored to tears after spending even 15 minutes in Cyrodiil. Just give me the standard quests and don’t force me to rely on Cyrodiil to advance my player character.

Faction Lands

When you begin the Elder Scrolls Online, you will become part of a faction such as the Daggerfall Covenant, the Ebonheart Pact or the Aldmeri Dominion. Depending on which faction you end up in, certain parts of Tamriel will open and others remain locked. However, once you complete Cyrodiil as a veteran, you will be able to go through all of the rest of the closed lands. Personally, I think this is rather stupid. If, as a designer, you’re going to create a world with many lands, let all players go through all of the lands. Don’t selectively exclude gamers based on a faction. This is stupid. Of course, we can create and level up other player characters who end up on those other factions, but that’s means you have to manage 3 players all leveling up together. This is something of which I rarely do. I play a game more than once, never three times.

Craglorn

After having recently reached Veteran Rank 1 (VR) — AKA Level 50, I was ‘invited’ to be transported to Craglorn (the recently released Veteran Rank area). Don’t expect Craglorn to be like any other land you’ve visited. Oh, no no no. Zenimax has once again changed the rules of the game. When you reach VR1, you might think you’re now reasonably strong. Again, no no no. Reaching Craglorn is like starting ESO all over again at Level 1 with no armor or weapons. In Craglorn, ALL of the enemies and I mean ALL of them are VR 11 or higher. Oh, but there’s one more change to this area. ALL of the enemies in Craglorn swarm. There is no way to get a single enemy alone to grind and rank up. Nope. If you hit one enemy, at least 4, 5 or more VR11 enemies come charging at you. Think about this for about 30 seconds and you’ll realize the problem… I’ll wait….

So, having thought through the problem, you quickly realize there is absolutely no place to grind here. None. The only way to grind here is to group with others and grind together. Even then, grouping VR1s together probably won’t be that successful. Effectively, you cannot quest solo in Craglorn until you’ve reached at least VR 12. Worse, the first quest given in the area has you fighting VR11 bosses… which are, in fact, VR20-somethings. Even worse then that, it takes killing a sh*t ton of enemies just to move the VR experience bar even a nudge. So, yeah. It’s so likely a VR1 character is going to step into this area and win at anything let alone rank up fast. Expect to spend some gold on new VR ranked weapons before entering this area.

Craglorn is probably one of the worst ZeniMax fails around the entire ESO game. Though, I have to admit that ripping off the board game Risk is right up there with Craglorn’s design. But, setting your character up as VR1 in a primarily VR11 area is just simply insane. Again I must ask, “What were they thinking?” This is not challenging. It’s just an exercise in frustration. I’d have to say that Craglorn is probably game designing at its worst. Every other gaming area, they’ve had general enemies no more than 1-2 ranks higher than where you are. But, throwing a VR1 ranked character into a VR11 territory is just stupid.

About the only thing I have found to do is loot treasure in this area and join in on some world battles whenever I can find them. This way I can at least try to rank my character up very slowly. But, finding world battles around the area is fairly difficult because there aren’t that many people here questing and world battles are few. Even dolmens aren’t in Craglorn. Oh, there are dolmen’s marked, but they don’t work like the regular dolmens. Again, Zenimax changed the way this area works. Inconsistent to say the least.

Gameplay Differences

Let’s understand some of what I consider broken between the Elder Scrolls Online compared to Skyrim. Some of you might like some of the changes listed below, but I preferred where Skyrim was heading. That is, moving towards making everything interactive and more like our reality with real physics. Taking a step back in gaming is never a good idea. Here’s my list (note this is not comprehensive):

ESO: Horses appear out of thin air and disappear into thin air
SKY: Horses are stabled, must be found, can die

ESO: Horse animation is stilted and cartoony
SKY: Horse animation looks at least more realistic than ESO

ESO: Containers are fixed and contain gold 1 max or food (not necessary)
SKY: Containers can contain jewels, gold > 20 or potions.

ESO: Food is not necessary because magicka, health and stamina regenerate almost immediately after combat ends
SKY: Food is necessary until you get armor or enchantments that increase health regeneration which is typically very slow.

ESO: Objects are fixed and cannot be moved
SKY: Objects are movable in the environment: Apples, weapons, ingredients, etc

ESO: Defeating an enemy yields 1 gold and possibly a glyph or quest item (rarely armor and never armor the NPC was wearing)
SKY: Defeating an enemy yields gold sometimes and whatever armor and weapons they had. Their armor and weapons can be stripped.

ESO: Bows automatically come equipped with arrows. The bow holds the damage.
SKY: Bows and arrows are separate and have separate damage levels. Couldn’t craft arrows. They were always found.

ESO: Unknown if you can own a house
SKY: You could not only own houses, with Hearthfire you could build one from scratch.

ESO: 60 max slots for items and every item (including each ingredient) requires 1 slot (excluding some quest items). If you run out of slots, you have to use the bank which gives you only 60 more. Then you have to buy more with gold.
SKY: Expandable slots for items and unlimited items can be stored in containers in owned houses. Granted, houses cost at minimum 5000g, but once you buy a house the storage space is unlimited. You could get more slots by finding the Horse stone, scrolls, casting a spell or by wearing enchanted items (which can be found or created).

ESO: Soul Gems are very very scarce. Basically only available from sellers.
SKY: Soul Gems are easy to find. Specifically, they are usually found in dungeons with mages or necromancers.

ESO: Once in battle mode, there’s no way to sneak. The game simply won’t let you. If you do manage to hide in battle mode, the game takes you out of battle mode as though you had run away. The enemy’s health resets requiring you to start the battle over from the beginning. This includes bosses.
SKY: Once in battle mode, if you hide behind a rock or container you can usually hide. If you crouch and hide in battle mode, the game does not reset the enemy’s health unless they have regenerative capabilities or you leave the area.

ESO: An arrow’s range is a 5-6 feet. If you’re out of range, an arrow does nothing.
SKY: An arrow’s range is at least 50-100 feet. If you can see the enemy and you can aim, you can hit them.

ESO: If you’re in sneak and attack an enemy, you’re immediately taken out of sneak and the enemy knows exactly where you are and begins attacking you. The best you get is 1 sneak attack.
SKY: If you’re in sneak and attack an enemy, the enemy will come search for you, but you can move and avoid being found. You can continue to sneak attack as long as you remain undetected.

ESO: Equipping a new weapon is cumbersome.
SKY: Equipping a new weapon is through the weapon wheel (as long as it’s set up in advance).

ESO: Entering a menu to switch weapons or consume a potion doesn’t pause the action. Enemies continue to attack while trying to switch weapons or consume potions. You need to have them on hot keys.
SKY: Entering a menu during battle pauses the battle to allow switching or consumption of a potion.

ESO: Dying reduces durability of all equipped items.
SKY: Dying ends the game and you have to reload. Durability of items is determined by its use, not by player death.

ESO: Boss battles inside a dungeon trap you in the dungeon until the battle is done, you quit out of the game or you die. There is no way to flee an interior battle as exit doors aren’t usable.
SKY: You can always exit a dungeon even when in battle.. excluding certain bosses which lock you into an area (i.e., arena battles).

ESO: Swimming yields no skill improvement.
SKY: Swimming improves strength

ESO: Diving in water not possible.
SKY: Diving not only possible, but required to reach some quests.

ESO: Mouth movements with dialogue are simple open close like a puppet
SKY: Mouth movements with dialogue use mouth phoneme animation to seem like they’re actually talking

ESO: Sneaking costs stamina, does not level up
SKY: Sneaking levels up as you use it near enemies, costs no stamina

ESO: Repairing armor is at least 5x more costly in comparison with the gold you obtain. Repairing all items might be 200G-300G and you might have 500-800G or so.
SKY: Gold is plentiful and repairs are 10G or so per item. It might cost 200-300G for all items, but you probably have 2000-5000G

ESO: Bots and script kiddies => a side effect of multiple players
SKY: No bots => no online play

ESO: Some dungeons don’t allow network players in. You’re left alone to complete the boss which can be challenging because you cannot sneak or hide in battle. Basically, you need to be a mage or warrior for these dungeons. Rangers and Thieves won’t easily work.
SKY: N/A.. but you can use alternative tactics like sneaking and sneak attacks which are not available in ESO once battle starts.

ESO: Map is tiny (about a quarter of the screen) and looks like a cartoon.
SKY: Map is full screen, makes it much easier to find things.
Though neither have a search feature which would make finding places on the map a whole lot easier.

ESO: Custom waypoints not available on map
SKY: Custom way points possible

ESO: No stealing, no pickpocketing
SKY: An intrinsic part of every other ES game since at least Morrowind

ESO: Fast traveling costs gold (costs more as game progresses)
SKY: Fast traveling is free

ESO: Books cannot be taken or stored. Though, Lorebooks disappear after reading them and end up in a ‘library’ on your character.
SKY: Books can always be taken (unless it’s specifically stuck to an area).

ESO: Can’t sit in chairs
SKY: Could sit in any chair

ESO: Can’t kill any NPCs
SKY: Can’t kill some NPCs (critical characters, kids, etc), but can kill most.

ESO: Items cannot be dropped and picked up later. They can only be destroyed.
SKY: Items cannot be destroyed, but can be dropped or sold to free up slots.

ESO: Travel only to waypoints at any time. Traveling not from a waypoint costs gold. All territories are infested with large numbers of constantly spawning enemies. Dungeons are not always set to the player level and are frequently set higher to encourage network co-op, otherwise it can be impossible with a single player.
SKY: Travel to any city at any time. Occasional enemies can be easily avoided. Dungeons were set at or close to the level of the player making some levels too easy to play. Though, some dungeons aren’t.

Frequent Updates

While I do realize this is a multiplayer game, some of the updates can be especially big and have long download times. For example, some updates are as large as 8GB (nearly the same size as the full game). Download updates are frequent at intervals usually once a week. So, expect to wait to play while the updates are downloading and installing.

If they’re planning on this many updates this frequently, then the game should come with a background updater to automatically download updates during idle times.

Overall

The Elder Scrolls online is, at best, a mediocre game. The choice of the Defiance MMO engine to drive ESO leaves a lot to be desired. I was actually hoping Zenimax wouldn’t use that engine as there are many problems with it. While Zenimax was able to customize some pieces better than Defiance was able to, there are simply some pieces that still don’t fit with the concept of an Elder Scrolls game. In fact, using this engine is far and away a step backward for an Elder Scrolls technology advance. It’s unfortunate too because I was actually liking where Skyrim was heading. And, taking what Skyrim was to a Next Gen console would have made the next installment spectacular. Instead, with the Elder Scrolls Online, what we’re getting is not the next step, but a lateral move that’s about as compelling to play as Morrowind.

Though, at the time Morrowind released, it was very compelling. Today, Morrowind seems antiquated, as does the Elder Scrolls Online. For this reason, I can see why Zenimax recently announced the six month delay for the consoles. Not that giving the console versions six more months is likely to help, but it might make it somewhat more tolerable. Though, it probably won’t. In fact, this game needed a whole new MMO engine designed specifically for the Elder Scrolls. Unfortunately, Zenimax tried using something off-the-shelf and the result is less than stellar. It’s unfortunate too, because I was just getting into the Elder Scrolls series. If this is what we can look forward to in Elder Scrolls games, Zenimax can count me out.

As for Cyrodiil, it is basically boring empty space with mostly nothing to do. There is effectively no standard questing in Cyrodiil. All quests are military quests such as grabbing the Elder Scroll and moving it somewhere else or spying. Unfortunately, Cyrodiil is basically such an uninspired area, I find myself bored often and frequently leaving to find quests in other lands. Unfortunately, at level 46, I find myself actually running out of standard quests and no way to get to the other unopened territories. So, I’m actually kind of stuck for more stuff to do in the Elder Scrolls Online.

In fact, what I’ve been doing as of late is just finding resources and putting them up for sale in guild stores. At least there’s pretty much a never ending supply of resources, except on Cyrodiil where, again, there’s literally nothing but a huge landscape and a big game of Risk.

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Game Review: Titanfall (taking gaming a step back)

Posted in botch, gaming by commorancy on March 28, 2014

It seems that many gamers, for whatever reason, have gone gaga over Titanfall. But, Titanfall represents everything that’s wrong with gaming in one single game and why it’s more aptly named Titanfail. Let’s explore what’s wrong with this game.

Gaming Industry Rags

The thing that really ruins gaming for me is the game industry review rags. I’m tired of their constant high marks for bad games. I’m tired of these rags getting paid by developers to write reviews and give them high marks knowing the game isn’t worth it. In general, I’m just tired of how the whole game rating system works. Yes, it needs a drastic overhaul. Worse, no one is discussing this issue. Unfortunately, it is just one in a big long line of problems that Titanfall brings to the table. That the review mags have given such high marks to this otherwise poor quality game says volumes about the state of the industry. An industry that is now officially very broken.

Titanfail

All of the Call of Duty fans seem to be going gaga over this game, but why? Is it because Respawn created it (the same developers who write Call of Duty)? Clearly, this game is not worth $60. By comparison, let’s understand what ‘worth’ means in the context of Titanfall. For example, for that same $60 when new, you could buy Halo 3 or Halo 4 (or any number of other similar FPS titles), take your pick. Inside these titles, you get the following:

  • Single player campaign mode (at least 10 hours of play)
  • Co-op campaign mode (another 10 hours of play)
  • A level up system (customize your armor)
  • Multiplayer including
    • Death Match
    • Team Death Match
    • Capture The Flag
    • King of the Hill
  • Theater mode (watch clips, capture clips, sharing, etc)

Even Call of Duty offers many of the above modes.

For that same $60, Titanfail provides us with exactly one of the above gaming modes:

  • Team Death Match

That’s it, one single game play mode. No campaign mode. No coop mode. No missions. Just full on 100% death match 100% of the time. A game with one single multiplayer mode is not even considered 1/5 of your average FPS title. Even Valve’s Team Fortress offered us more than Titanfail and it was included in The Orange Box which also included 3 Half Life campaign games, Portal along with Team Fortress for that same $60 when new.

Next Gen Gaming?

If this is any indication of the next gen level of gaming, the gaming industry can count me out. I have no intention of shelling out $60 for a game that’s clearly a failure. Oh, it’s probably making Respawn and EA a mint.  For me, once bitten, twice shy. Won’t do this again. Respawn is clearly skating on thin ice. And, thin it is indeed.

Graphics

The one and only one saving grace of Titanfall is its graphics engine.  The graphics on the Xbox One are stunning. But, that’s not enough to save this game title. When it finally comes to the Xbox 360, the benefit of those graphics will be lost. The only thing left is this one-tracked game.

Audio

For the most part, the sound is serviceable within the context of the game. Yes, it helps the tutorial, but the actual gameplay it can be annoying and only serves to add to the repetitive nature of the game. The voice work is average, but not outstanding. There are definitely better voice artists that could have been used.

Controls

In fact, the screen movement is way too sensitive. Even on the lowest sensitivity setting, you can still move the aiming reticle in unrealistic ways. In fact, moving the camera around on the highest sensitivity could actually make some people sick. As I said, it’s just too sensitive. The sensitivity needs to be dialed back a whole lot more. It’s almost impossible to aim precisely as fast as the screen moves with each small stick press.

Gameplay

As I’ve stated, Titanfall a one-tracked game. As someone else so eloquently stated,

Respawn is a one-trick pony

In fact, this game is far less than a one-trick pony. Titanfall only offers team death match for your $60. It’s even less of a game than what Call of Duty offers. Every new level is effectively the same game play except with different maps. Sure, there is supposed to be some agenda that the teams are to accomplish, but in fact, the agenda makes no difference. What it comes down to is how many other player characters can you kill. The so-called objectives of the level are moot. That ‘campaign’ stuff is just added as subtext to make you think you’re getting some extended gaming experience. In reality, you’re not.

Instead, what you’re really getting is a subpar one-tracked multiplayer death match game wrapped in a pretty bow that at best deserves a $15-20 download price tag on Xbox Arcade. Yes, this game is no better than your average Xbox Arcade title. In fact, some Xbox Arcade titles are actually better than Titanfall (i.e., Contrast).

Oh, the game developers claimed to add in a ‘campaign’ mode, but there’s no campaign here. There are very loose objectives during the death match play. In reality, it’s all about how many other player characters you can kill.

Tutorial

Even more insulting than offering death match for $60 is the opening tutorial. For the first 15 minutes, you are asked to walk through a combat tutorial. The tutorial isn’t really the problem. In fact, the tutorial is actually kind of cool showing you how to use the Titan armor in cool and creative ways.

What’s insulting is that they make you walk through this tutorial with the understanding that you will be able to use each and every one of the cool creative features. No. It’s team death match. As soon as you’re thrown onto the play field, only about 3-4 of the tutorials actually apply. You can use some of the moves regularly. Like, catching and launching projectile ammo back at your opponent. In fact, you would never find yourself hopping out of your mech, then walk through a series of gates, opening the gate for your mech and then getting back into your armor. Nope, not even close. As I said, insulting. By the time you could even get halfway through that gate maneuver, someone would have picked you off or your armor would be destroyed and you’ll be waiting again for your armor to show up.

The tutorial definitely leads you into a false sense that this game might actually be something good. Instead, once you begin the game play, you realize that the tutorial was merely a joke.

Titan Armor

So, this is the biggest gimmick in this game and also its biggest failure. It’s clear that this gimmick just doesn’t hold up. Let’s consider just how long it takes to actually spawn the armor once you’re on the level (minutes). At best, your armor spawns twice per level. Once it spawns, you’ll have on average 5 minutes of game play before your shields are gone or someone assassinates your character. The armor is as weak in it as you are on foot. Seriously, we’re expected to believe that if we had a mech like that, it could only withstand a few hits before being destroyed?

Though, if this game had a single player campaign mode where you could actually use all of the cool things taught during the tutorial, you might actually be able to use the armor for a purpose. Instead, against 13 or so other opponents whose sole intent is death match and who also have similar armor as you, there’s no point in having the armor. Once you’re in the armor, the other armored opponents just find you and find ways of getting you out of the armor as fast as possible leaving you firmly running around on the ground so they can stomp on you.

Once you’re on the ground out of the armor, which you are the majority of game play time, then it’s just about seeing how many other team members you can kill as it all comes down to being team death match. Note that there are many other multiplayer games, like Halo,  that offer better ground combat experiences than Titanfall. Hanging out waiting for armor to spawn is just pointless.

Pairing System

When you’re sitting in the lobby waiting for a game to start, you’ll see the game pairing you up with other opponents. There are two teams, red and blue (sound familiar?). Anyway, the ‘red’ and ‘blue’ teams pair up on the playing field to begin team death match. Before that happens, though, you’ll notice that the game will pair level 2 players with level 40 players (and all levels in between). Clearly, there is also a huge disparity here. Again, another Respawn design failure.

And this is the single reason why many players are going gaga over this title. There is nothing better than leveling your player up for hours and hours and then having all of the weapons and armor to run around the playing field picking off level 2 and level 3 players. Not only is this no fun for the low level players, it’s completely unfair to those who just bought the game and are simply trying to figure out how to play it. There’s nothing fun about constantly having to respawn your character because some 13 year old sniper keeps picking you off from a hill.

Multiplayer gaming is clearly headed in the wrong direction. I’m not even sure what Respawn was thinking here. I can certainly see why some players love having this ‘advantage’. There are always people looking to game the game so they can play the game on their terms (and outside of what the developers had intended). Clearly, Respawn has given that type of exploitative gamer the perfect vehicle in Titanfall. For the rest of us, the game is a disaster.

Multiplayer gaming

MMO games have been around for quite some time. For example, World of Warcraft. Some MMO titles have even made it to the console like Defiance. I’m not here to say that MMO titles are in any way perfect. But, for a multiplayer experience, games like WOW and Defiance did a whole lot more right than wrong. For example and for that same $60, Defiance offers us a full campaign mode built into the multiplayer experience. So, if you want to run off and do your own solo thing, the single player campaigns are there. You can team up with multiple people and help others complete their campaign quests. There are even some side 4 player co-op games built-right in. Again, Defiance offered much much more than Titanfall. On top of all of that, Defiance offered regularly scheduled group events that everyone in the game could participate in.

Defiance was glitchy, the graphics were rudimentary and clearly didn’t offer up the perfect gaming experience. But, I believe that problem to be more naivety on the part of the developers than on being intentionally stupid. The developers seemed to cut some corners in producing Defiance and the in-game world suffered.  Above all of that, though, Defiance still shines as an example of how multiplayer campaign can be done right and still give us value at $60. Now that the price on Defiance has dropped, it’s well worth the money to give it a play before the servers are taken down.

Team Death Match Mode

This is one of the oldest multiplayer modes ever conceived. It dates as far back as Doom. And believe me, Doom’s multiplayer death match is a whole lot more fun than Titanfall. The problem is, death match gets boring fast. Unless you’re hosting a lan party at your house and you have a bunch of systems strung together, death match is as boring as the day is long after an hour. Sure, it’s fun for about the first 30 minutes, but after that I want to do something different. Titanfall doesn’t offer that. It’s the same repetitive task over and over. For those people who have a touch of OCD, this is probably the perfect game. For those of us who don’t have that, repetitive gaming gets boring really fast.

The Problem with Next Gen

I hope that Titanfall is an anomaly on the Next Gen landscape. If this is the level of gaming that we have to look forward to, the Xbox One may find itself completely out of the running in the console wars. Clearly, paying $60 dollars for a game that’s worth at most $10-15 and that also belongs as an Xbox Arcade title is completely insulting to seasoned gamers looking for gaming value.

If you’re a gamer reading this and you’re feeling incensed over this review (and for whatever reason you absolutely love Titanfail), your anger is clearly misdirected. You need vent your frustrations at the gaming companies who keep finding ever more clever ways of ripping us off. Clearly, this game stands as the gaming industry’s crowning achievement in ripping the gamer off. Titanfall is the shining example of how not to produce a $60 game.

Thankfully, I invested in the $249 collector’s version that includes a large sized statue and art book. While I don’t necessarily want to show my support for this game on my desk, I can easily recoup my investment in this game by selling the statue on eBay as a collectible. This statue will likely easily increase in value unlike most games which only ever decrease. With Titanfall, I fully expect this game to decrease in used pricing faster than most (probably $20 by mid summer .. the price it really should have been).

Recommendation

If you absolutely must try game, rent. The only gamer type to whom I recommend this game is anyone who dearly loves multiplayer death match. If you’re looking for any other gaming experience, you won’t find it in Titanfall.

Rating

  • Gameplay: 2/10 (Titans take too long to spawn, game controls are overly sensitive, death match only)
  • Graphics: 9/10 (eye candy, but not perfect)
  • Audio: 8/10 (voiceover work average, music reasonable)
  • Overall Rating: 2/10 (not enough gaming value for the money)
  • Overall Recommendation: Rental only. Save your $60 for real games.

Note: there is some discussion that Respawn is already contemplating DLC to add other modes like King of the Hill or Capture the Flag. But, it’s also likely you’ll have to buy a season pass to get these features that should have already been included in that initial $60. 

Xbox One is already dead before its launch?

Posted in entertainment, gaming, microsoft, redmond by commorancy on November 6, 2013

Xbox One family-580-90Wow… just wow. Infinity Ward, the developers of Call of Duty, has recently stated in this IGN article and this IGN article that Call of Duty Ghosts can only run in 720p resolution and 60hz refresh rate on the Xbox One. Let’s explore why this is yet another devastating blow to Microsoft.

Xbox One

Clearly, Microsoft is banking on Xbox One to last for another 8 years like the Xbox 360. Unfortunately, not gonna happen. The Xbox One is clearly under powered for full next gen console needs. And, you would think the Microsoft hardware engineers would have thought of this issue long before even breaking ground on new hardware. You know, like actual planning.

With all of the new TVs supporting 120 Hz refresh rates and higher and TVs running 1080p resolutions (and 4k TVs not far off), it would be natural to assume that a next gen console should be capable of producing output in a full 1080p 60hz frame rate (as its base resolution). In other words, Xbox One should start at 1080p 60hz but be able to go up to much faster speeds from here. According to Infinity Ward, this is not possible on the Xbox One. I’ll say that one more time. Infinity Ward has just said that 1080p 60hz is not even possible on the Xbox One.

Next Gen Consoles

Because of this significant and avoidable Xbox One hardware deficiency, Infinity Ward has taken the step to produce Call of Duty: Ghosts in 720p at 60hz refresh rate (upscaled to 1080p) on the Xbox One to keep the ‘experience’ similar on all platforms. Let’s compare. Every big game title produced on the Xbox 360 is already 720p 60hz upscaled to 1080p.  What this ultimately says is that the Xbox One hardware is no better than the Xbox 360.  This hardware is basically dead before it’s even hit the store shelves. A next gen console should not see limitations in hardware until at least 2 years following its release. A new console should never see any limitations being hit by any launch titles.

If one of the very first launch titles is already taxing this console’s hardware, this platform is dead on arrival. This means the Xbox One has no where to go but down. It also means that you might as well stick with the Xbox 360 because that’s what you’re buying in the Xbox One. It also means that the games will never provide a high quality next generation game experience no matter which game it is. Seriously, getting high resolution at full speed is why you buy a next generation console.

Granted, I can’t vouch for Infinity Ward’s programming capabilities as I don’t know any of their developers. But, I know they have been producing this franchise for years. I would also expect their software engineers to have both the knowledge and expertise to properly produce any game for any platform they set their sights on.

In other words, I cannot see that this is some agenda on the part of Infinity Ward to try to discredit the Xbox One hardware.

Xbox One vs Xbox 360

The Xbox 360 hardware is well capable of producing games in 720p at 60hz already. It’s been doing this resolution and frame rate for years. Why buy another console that also has this same exact limitation of the current hardware? You buy into a next generation console to get something new. Namely, higher resolution gaming experiences. If the Xbox One cannot provide this, there is no point to this platform and this platform is dead.  DEAD.

Xbox One: Dead on Arrival?

Based on the above, the Xbox One’s lifespan has been substantially reduced to, at best, 1-2 years on the market before Microsoft must redesign it with a new processor and graphics card. This also means that early adopters will get the shaft with ultimately dead hardware and have to buy new hardware again very quickly to get the newest Xbox One experience.

If you’re considering the purchase of an Xbox One, you should seriously reconsider. I’d suggest cancelling your pre-order and wait for the newest next gen console from Microsoft. Or, alternatively, buy a PS4 if you can’t wait that long. Why spend $499 for a console that gives you the same capabilities as the Xbox 360? It makes no sense, especially considering that there are no compelling launch titles on the Xbox One that aren’t also coming to the Xbox 360. It’s worth giving the extra time to make sure your $499 investment into this console is a sound choice.

Coding to the Weakest Hardware?

For the longest time, the Xbox 360 was the weakest hardware of all of the consoles. Clearly, it is still the weakest of hardware.  For the longest time, developers catered to developing their games to the weakest hardware choice. That means, lesser graphics quality, lesser texture quality, lesser everything quality. I’m hoping this is now a thing of the past.

It now appears that game developers are tired of developing to the weakest hardware. Call of Duty Ghosts hopefully proves that. And, rightly so they should. Instead of producing low-res low quality gaming experiences on all platforms, they should provide the highest quality gaming on the best platforms. Then, take that and scale it back to fit on the weaker hardware platforms.

So, this scenario has now flipped the development practices. I’m glad to see developers embracing the best hardware and delivering the highest quality gaming experience on the best hardware. Then, reducing the quality to fit the weaker hardware. It makes perfect sense. It also explains why Infinity Ward reduced the resolution on the Xbox One. But, being forced to reduce the quality of the game to a lower resolution doesn’t bode for longevity of the Xbox One hardware.

What about the PS4 and 4k gaming?

According to those same articles above, the PS4 apparently doesn’t have this 1080p limitation. Call of Duty: Ghosts will run on the PS4 in full 1080p with 60hz refresh. Whether the PS4 is capable of higher resolutions is as yet unknown. Consider this. One of the very first 4k TVs introduced was produced by Sony. I would expect the PS4 to have been built to possibly support 4k gaming experiences. That doesn’t mean it will right now, but it may in the future. The Xbox One? Not likely to provide 4k anytime soon. If Microsoft’s engineers weren’t even thinking of 1080p resolutions, then they most certainly weren’t thinking about 4k resolutions.

If you’re into future proofing your technology purchases, then the PS4 definitely seems the better choice.

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