On The Outside, Looking In

far side dog

I’m in a weird head space today, where I’m wanting to write about games and such but I haven’t turned on any of my consoles since the middle of last week.  It’s not just that I’ve been busy, or out of town (both of which are true); it’s also simply that I’ve been exhausted.  I’d thought about popping in Destiny for a little while last night, but the day had already run pretty long by the time I had access to the TV, and I ended up passing out before 9:00 pm.  (Here’s an oft-repeated but still you-don’t-understand-until-it-happens-to-you truth about parenting:  there is no such thing as sleeping in.  At this point, I’d honestly consider waking up at 7:00 am a goddamned tropical vacation.)

And truth be told, I’m still in a weird head space about Destiny, too.  I’m stuck at level 21 and by this point I’d imagine that most of the people on my PSN friends list are way beyond me; I was already 2-3 levels behind when I was playing on a regular basis, and by now I’m sure they’re at 27-29, which means that I can’t run strikes with them with any hope of being effective, and I’m afraid that they won’t bother running strikes with me unless they’re feeling extra generous with their time; I mean, why bother doing level 20 strikes when you can get better gear playing at your own level?  This is why Destiny’s post-20 leveling system bums me out, at least when compared to Diablo 3 – I can take my level 70 Monk into a friend’s low-level game and still pick up decent gear at a steady clip (even if it’s all ultimately salvage), whereas in Destiny, even shooting at a Loot Cave for an hour doesn’t necessarily give you a strong return on your time investment.

And yet, given the absence of something else to play right now*, I still kinda want to jump in and play.  Before I left this past weekend I’d manage to finish 2 of those limited-time Queen bounties, and I’d like to be able to do a few more (and maybe even cash in a Queen Mission) before the event closes.  Even if I can’t get that far, though, there’s still a part of me that would like to be able to do a few strikes, hopefully get lucky with some drops, and gain a level or two before finally giving up in favor of the rest of the fall release schedule.  There’s just enough in Destiny’s post-cap endgame that makes me want to stay engaged.

That said, a larger part of this pull I’m feeling is that Destiny is still what most of my gaming friends and the community at large are talking about.  For better and/or worse, it’s dominated the Twitterverse ever since its release, and with each passing hour that I’m offline, I’m feeling further and further removed from the conversation.

As Patrick Klepek wrote in this weekend’s GB column, “Social Gaming and the Fear of Missing Out“:

With an hour to spare last week, I hopped online and started completing some bounties, one of the easiest ways to stack experience while playing. Two friends joined up, and helped me grind through what amounted to little more than fetch quests and shooting galleries for an hour. Even though our actions were hardly engaging, the act of doing them together was tremendous fun, if only a glorified chat room.

Once the bounties were cashed in, though, my friends were debating the next move. All of them were well past level 20, though, which meant the content I was playing through couldn’t help them meaningfully advance their equipment. Even though I was the party leader, I was the one who had to leave, forced to venture out on my own again. I hopped into a nearby strike, got myself assigned to a few random players, and went to it. We won. Some stuff dropped. But it wasn’t the same. There was only silence.

Granted, none of this is Destiny’s fault. To the contrary, it’s what Bungie wants, what these games thrive on. You could argue the existence of a loot vault, a void in which players shot mindlessly for hours, says more about what Destiny gets wrong than what it gets right. But that would be missing the point. These collective experiences, even when driven by exploitations of code, are entirely the point. These marks in time wouldn’t be possible in single-player. Individualized watercooler moments from the night discussed at the office the next day become shared experiences given more power from the group ownership.

I’ve been struggling with managing this Fear of Missing Out for a long time, I think.  It’s probably the primary force behind this blog; if I can’t get paid to write about the games I play, well, I still want to play as much as I can and write about it and talk about it with other people who are in on the conversation.  I love games, I love thinking about games, and when a game this huge is out and occupying so much of our collective brains, I want to be able to dive in to the conversation and contribute in a meaningful way.  It’s no fun being on the outside looking in.

Ironically, it’s this same Fear of Missing Out that will make it a bit easier for me to pull myself away from Destiny once I get my hands on Shadow of Mordor, even if, due to Gamefly’s mailing schedule, I won’t get my hands on it until Thursday (and, because of family stuff, won’t get any meaningful playtime with it until next Monday night, post-Gotham).  Hell, I’m even tempted to just say fuck it and order the digital version of SoM so I can at least get some quality time with it before I leave town this weekend.

It is what it is, I suppose.  In the meantime I’ve got Clicker Heroes running in the background and I suppose the less said about that the better.

*  Even given my aforementioned lack of free time and a relative shortage of expendable income, I nearly pulled the trigger on The Vanishing of Ethan Carter yesterday.  But then I learned that there’s a PS4 version due next year.  Now, my PC is a few years old and can make certain games look quite nice – and it passes the minimum specs according to Can You Run It? – but everything I’ve heard about VoEC is that it’s one of the most gorgeous games ever made.  So as much as it hurts to wait, I’m tempted to hold out for the PS4 version, which I know will look better than what my PC can currently do.  There’s no current date on the PS4 version beyond a vague “some point in 2015“, though, so you can probably guess that this will come down to a rigged coin flip.

Random Ramblings of a Sad Bastard

1.  For various reasons, but mostly due to utter exhaustion, I’ve not played much of anything this week, and thus I’ve not written anything here.  But it should be noted that my day job has sort-of put me on notice that I spend too much time on the internet, and so you should know that this blog be somewhat dark for the foreseeable future.  The timing is terrible, of course, given that this gaming year is finally about to get interesting, and I’ll do what I can to keep writing; but a man’s gotta pay his bills, and The Man takes precedence in this case.

2.  Everything I said above is true (about why I’ve not played anything), but I’ll also say that ever since I hit the level cap in Destiny – and then saw what I had to do to level beyond – I must admit to feeling a bit repelled.  I’ll cop to putting in some time at the Loot Cave; and I’ll also cop to feeling a slight twinge of something when I heard that Bungie patched it out; and I’ll even admit that there’s a part of me that kinda wants to check out the new one.  But it’s a hollow sort of feeling, at the end of the day; I’m not being rewarded for any acts of heroism or prowess, but because I had the stamina to fire bullets into a cave for an hour without having to pause.  I’d much rather play strike playlists and get rewarded that way, but the results speak for themselves; I got more quality loot from 45 minutes at the Cave than I did in 2 hours worth of strikes.  And if the goal of the endgame is loot, then why not shoot at a cave?  Eh, the whole thing just makes me tired and angry.

3.  I almost bought an Xbox One earlier this week; Microsoft had sent me a special email that offered me 50,000 Reward Points if I bought one within a certain time period.  Beyond not knowing what Reward Points are (as I thought Microsoft had moved beyond their proprietary currency in favor of real US money), I didn’t, and I’m still not sure if I will or not – the jury’s still out on Sunset Overdrive, and that’s probably the bundle I’d buy.  But there’s a part of me that’s really itching to play Forza Horizon 2.  Furthermore,  I’m a little peeved that nobody seems to be reviewing the 360 version.  I’m getting the 360 version via Gamefly next week, but I’m almost positive that I’ll be playing it alone; I’m pretty sure that almost all of my 360 friends have upgraded to the One.  Oh well.

4.  Speaking of next week, I’ll also be receiving a rental copy of Shadow of Mordor, which is getting surprisingly great reviews.  Unfortunately, the way Gamefly works, I probably won’t be receiving it until Thursday, and I’ll be out of town until the following Monday, so basically I won’t be playing anything interesting until the week of October 7.

5.  I also really really really want to check out The Vanishing of Ethan Carter, but due to money/time issues, I probably can’t get to it as soon as I’d like.

This has been your weekly sad bastard update.

Also:  I’m on Ello as jervonyc.  But, as mentioned in #1 above, I don’t know how much I’ll actually be there.  Still, if you happen to get an invite, look me up.

The Last Few Hours: Destiny

Current Status:  Story complete; level 21.


I finished Destiny‘s story and hit level 20 on Thursday night, and then sloooooooowly grinded my way up to level 21 by Sunday night.  Did a lot of strikes, co-op missions/patrols, a few rounds in the Crucible.   (I am terrible at the Crucible.)  I’ll even cop to spending 20-30 minutes shooting at the Cave of Loot (though I didn’t get all that much for my efforts).

I am more or less done with it, though, I think.  While it’s true that the next big game doesn’t come out until 9/30 (Shadow of Mordor), I’m not really feeling the pull to keep coming back.  Destiny’s endgame is similar to Diablo III in many respects – you’re basically just doing the exact same stuff over and over and over again, grinding away for better gear, BUT Diablo III has several big advantages over Destiny, even if it’s similarly tedious after a while:  there’s far more to do in Diablo right now, the loot is far more generous, and you can also hit the pause button if you need to take a bathroom break or if your kid is crying or if your aging TV decides to suddenly switch itself off.

Now, to be fair, the launch version of Diablo III on PC had a similarly lackluster endgame and barely resembles its current form.  And as Bungie has repeatedly said that they’re playing the long game with Destiny, I fully expect new content to roll out over the next few months, and I might even come back to check it out every once in a while (though I expect I’ll be woefully outclassed when I do).

But even as Destiny’s gameplay remains mechanically solid – and it is, there’s no question about it – there’s almost nothing else that’s compelling me to stick with it.  Leveling past 20 is arduous and arbitrary (as @LegendaryEngram is so cruelly brilliant in pointing out).  The Strike playlist consists of maybe 4 missions – maybe there’s more, but it certainly feels like there’s only 4 – and I’ve done them all to death.  I’m done with final bosses that sponge up 15 minutes’ worth of shooting, and I’m even more done with final bosses that are bullet sponges AND teleport, because teleporting is bullshit.  Few things feel as cheap as when you only get one grenade that takes minutes to recharge, and then the boss vanishes mid-throw.

I’ve said before that it can be a bit of a critical cop-out to compare one game to another, and so it would be hypocritical of me to compare Destiny to its most obvious influences and contemporary titles – Mass EffectBorderlandsDiablo III, Halo.  But if I’m being honest with myself – and therefore with you – I have to admit that the game that Destiny most reminded me of is this year’s Watch Dogs.  Both games were hyped beyond all rational measure, and they both appeared to look like phenomenal games during their preview stretch.  And then they came out… and left so much to be desired.  Both games featured solidly designed mechanics and impressive-looking graphics, both games eventually grew somewhat tedious and tiresome and repetitive, and both were saddled with dreadfully poor writing and voice performances (though it should be noted that each game’s writing is bad for much different reasons).  I think there’s obviously still plenty of time for Destiny to right the ship, and as said above Bungie’s playing the long game here, but as of right now, these two games are battling for my Biggest Disappointment of 2014 award.

The Next Few Hours: Destiny

Current Status:  Hit level 17 last night after finishing the first mission on Mars and having a successful Crucible run with some new friends.

A week after its release, my feelings about Destiny have become rather complex.  On the one hand, the things that are bad about it continue to be bad – laughably, horribly, stupifyingly bad.

On the other hand, well; I’ve spent the last 11 hours of my all-too-brief free time feeling more and more drawn to it, discovering the harmony within its gameplay rhythms, enjoying the slow but steady pull of new weapons and armor, exploring what there is to explore of Venus and Mars, and even dipping my toes into the PvP.

There’s no kind way to say this, and if you’re playing it you undoubtedly know this to be true:  the missions are dumb.  Go to point X, run the gauntlet, deploy the Ghost, fight off wave after wave after wave until the Ghost is finished.  (Indeed, the only way the missions could be worse is if your Ghost took damage.)  The reasons for doing any of this stuff are never explained – and if your answer is “But it’s in the app!” or “But it’s on Bungie.net!”, then you’re missing the entire point.  You can’t expect me to remain immersed in your game’s world if I have to have my iPhone next to me while I’m playing it – and when the only time I can read it is when I’m not actually playing.  I’d rather the use of audiologs, frankly, than having to read about what I’m doing and why I’m doing it on my iPhone when I’m in the bathroom.

And the game is also weirdly slavish to classic fantasy RPG conventions, even right down to the names of your enemies.  Why are the Vex – a robotic race of enemies – named Goblins, Harpies and Minotaurs?  Why are the Hive – insectoid-looking things – named Knights, Acolytes, Ogres and Wizards?   This is supposedly a sci-fi space opera – why am I fighting dragons?

Speaking of the Vex, and speaking of the shitty writing, here’s a case in point:  the very first mission on Venus leads you to a library; as your Ghost is analyzing this weird white digital tree thing, it suddenly cries out “Oh no!  The Vex are here!  Take cover!”  Who are the Vex?  It is not explained.  The fight isn’t particularly difficult as compared to previous firefights, but it is unnecessarily long and frustrating, being that the Vex keep teleporting in from elsewhere.  Why do they present more of a threat than any of the other murderous alien beings I’ve been fighting for the last 10 hours or so?  That is not explained either, until after the fight is over; and even then, it’s not explained in a clear, unambiguous way.

Later, you are told to go to the Rift to seek out how to enter the Black Garden.  (I could be mistaken in those names, but honestly – they’re so generic.)  After some weird bluster by some dude doing his best Tom-Hiddleston-as-Loki routine, he says that he’ll grant you access if you bring back the head of a Vex captain.  Your response (and keep in mind this is one of the only lines of dialogue your character says in the entire game thus far) is:  “Why do you need a Vex head?”  And faux-Loki replies – and I’m paraphrasing, but this is more or less the gist – “Oh, we don’t.  But you’re going to do it anyway.”

As I continue to unlock planets, I feel myself wanting to explore and poke around in various nooks and crannies, but more often than not (and by that I mean 90% of the time) those nooks and crannies are literally empty, and usually cut-and-pasted from other, similarly empty locations.  Every once in a while I’ll find a chest or a dead Ghost, but the rewards for doing so are minimal.

I could go on, but after a while it feels both like nit-picking and kicking a fallen horse.  The writing is simply terrible; this has been evident since the alpha.  It’s unfortunate.  One could argue that at least it’s not racially tone-deaf or sexually insensitive the way dozens of other AAA games are, and I suppose that’s true, but that’s very faint praise.

I continue to come back, though, because despite the lack of any compelling context, the shooting is enormously fun.  I’ve become rather adept at the scout rifle, and pulling off a string of precision kills is incredibly satisfying.  (It’s a useless weapon in PvP, given that everything in the Crucible happens 100x faster than in the story, which is probably why I’m so terrible.)

And it goes without saying that doing this all with friends makes the overall experience infinitely more enjoyable.  Joking with buddies instead of slogging through P-Dink’s endless mono-drone is definitely my preferred soundtrack, and having a full fireteam makes the story’s missions far less tedious.

There is potential here, to be sure.  I certainly aim to finish the story, and I presume I’ll hit level 20 before I see the credits.  I’m not sure how much longer I’ll stick with it after that, given that Shadow of Mordor drops in less than 2 weeks, and the flood of fall releases ensues shortly thereafter, but for the time being I’m having a rather pleasant go of it, and maybe I am starting to feel like I’ve gotten my money’s worth after all.

(Shooter Of The Year still belongs to Wolfenstein, though.)

The Perils of Critical Thinking

This is an excerpt from a comment left on the G+ reposting of last week’s first impressions of Destiny.  (Speaking of which, updated impressions are forthcoming, but I wanted to get this out of the way first.)

Maybe I’m a shitty gamer but it seems like a lot of gamers these days have unrealistic expectations. I game under the following premise does the game make me want to game more if yes then win if no then fail. I realize people think that critical reviews have a place in pop culture. For me they take away from the simple joy that music, movies, and gaming give me.

I’ve read any number of variations on this theme over the last dozen years or so, almost always written as comments to an overhyped AAA game that got a lower-than-expected review.  The commenter wants to justify their enjoyment of a poorly-received game, and so anyone attempting to explain why that game is bad is taking away from the fun.

In the wake of GamerGate, it takes on a slightly different meaning, however – if you dare to explain why you don’t like something, you are not only wrong but you’re corrupt, you are biased, you have an agenda and you’re shoving it down people’s throats, you are part of the problem.  A game is either good or bad, and understanding why is not relevant.  You see this a lot on Twitter these days, that game journalists aren’t objective enough and therefore can’t ever be trusted.

There is a twisted anti-logic to people who get up-in-arms over negative remarks in game reviews.  Let’s remember that the general consumer public – i.e., the people who aren’t pirating ahead of a game’s release date but are instead buying new, unsealed copies – are forming opinions based on preview coverage.  This preview coverage – and any hands-on experience at events like PAX or E3 – is why any of us ever hear about the games we play.

Point being – this general consumer public hasn’t even played the game yet when the reviews finally come out, but they’re freaking out because it’s not getting the scores they expected it to receive.  (I refer, yet again, to the 20,000 comments that followed Gamespot’s 9/10 review of GTA V, because it dared to say that the game – which, again, received a 9/10 (which, in hindsight, is probably pretty generous) –  is “politically muddled and profoundly misogynistic”.  Please note that the review was posted on September 16, 2013, and the game wasn’t released until September 17, 2013.)

One can only presume that the reasoning behind this hysteria is as follows:  critics for big sites examine and point out the ways in which a game is problematic -> less people buy the game as a result -> the franchise dies and there are no more games made ever again.  Alternately, if a game like Gone Home also gets a 9/10, and critics sing its praises about having, for example, strongly written female protagonists, then those are the only games that are ever going to get made.

(Let’s conveniently ignore that GTA V famously made one capital-b Billion dollars in 3 days, and that Gone Home… didn’t.)

Destiny was the most pre-ordered game of all time and that was solely because of manufactured hype.  And I freely admit that I succumbed to the hype, too!  I bought the Digital Guardian edition of Destiny months ago, long before the reviews came out!  And I’m not even that big a Bungie/Halo fan, either!  But what I’d seen and heard of Destiny made it sound like a sure-fire, can’t-miss, awesome game – the best parts of Mass Effect, Borderlands and Halo all rolled into one.

And so when the game finally came out, I went into it with the best of intentions.  I’d spent $70, after all, and all I was expecting was that the reality would live up to the hype.  I was told of the game’s incredible ambition, and I was ready to surrender to its glory.

But the game has problems that are impossible for me to ignore.  Nor am I the only person saying so.  Now, I haven’t finished it, of course; I’m still only at level 14, only two missions into Venus, and so when my other post goes up I’ll explain that I’m starting to understand and appreciate its rhythm a bit more, and that there is a fun game buried beneath the game’s horrendously inept narrative.  But even if the shooting mechanics are solid, I still maintain that what I wanted – or, rather, what I was told I would be getting – is not at all what I have received.

My pointing this out should not affect your opinion, whether you agree with me or not.  I’m not trying to convert you; I’m trying to explain where the game is falling short for me.  Doing so helps me better understand what it is I do like; it helps me better appreciate the thing I’m experiencing.  As I grow older, and as my perspective of the world changes, I find that my tastes change and evolve.  I don’t necessarily like the same music that I did when I was 12, and some of the films I adored when I was younger don’t necessarily hold up now.  That doesn’t negate my earlier feelings; it just means I’m not that same person any more.

But you’d better believe that when I was 12 and obsessed over the stuff I was obsessed with, I’d listen and analyze and tear that stuff apart to understand why I liked it so much.  Yes, there is a simple joy to be had in not constantly thinking about a game or an album or a film; but there is also a different, complex (and arguably more rewarding) joy in deconstructing the stuff you like and discovering what it is that pleases you.  You not only better understand the thing itself, but you learn things about yourself as well.

Look – you can start your own blog if you want and explain why Destiny is the greatest game ever made.  Indeed, I’d much prefer you explain why you think so, rather than just saying I’m wrong.

The First Few Hours: Destiny

Current Status: approximately 6-8 hours in, rolling a level 8 female Titan.  I’ve ventured beyond the content from the beta, and am currently stuck in the 2nd story mission on the Moon.

I know, I know – just a few days ago I said I probably wouldn’t end up writing one of these posts for Destiny.  But I was out sick yesterday, and ended up spending a bit more time with it than I’d anticipated.

Before I get started, I suppose it’s only fair to get my biases out of the way:  I have played and finished Halo 1-3 and Reach, but did not finish ODST.  (I didn’t finish Halo 4, either, but that’s a 343 Studios title.)  I have always found the Halo games – specifically the single-player campaigns – to be competent console shooters; fun in parts, frustrating in others, saddled with narratives that take themselves far too seriously.  Yes, Halo is important for making shooters viable and playable on consoles; but while the action is certainly capable, I’ve always found the stuff that surrounds it to be lacking.

I’ve dabbled in the multiplayer here and there, but I’m simply not good enough to compete in any meaningful way (at least with strangers), and so I don’t pay that much attention to it.

I didn’t play the Destiny alpha, but I did play the beta, and I thought the beta was pretty remarkable; it was gorgeous, the moment-to-moment action felt quite good, even if the missions weren’t terribly innovative; the narrative was a bit opaque, but I wasn’t necessarily paying attention to it, as that wasn’t what the beta was about.  Ultimately, while I’d already pre-ordered the game, the beta made me feel like I’d spent my money wisely.

“You can hear every penny that went into making this thing so oppressively shiny, but you can’t hear any of the force of passion that supposedly caused those songs to come into being in the first place.”

The above quote is taken from Stereogum’s Premature Evaluation of U2’s “Songs of Innocence”, the album that Apple gave away for free to every iTunes member just a few days ago.   It also happens to sum up my feelings about Destiny pretty accurately; Destiny is jaw-droppingly beautiful, and it’s clear that a tremendous amount of hard work went into making this thing a true AAA blockbuster, but it’s also utterly devoid of soul.

You will traverse through meticulously detailed environments which, for all their minute graphical touches, feel uncannily empty.  You will engage in missions that ultimately boil down to “kill this many enemies” or “kill enough enemies to pick up this many collectibles” or “kill enemies until a certain amount of time has passed” or “kill all the enemies, and then the boss.”

It’s a good thing that the shooting feels as good as it does, because it goes a very long way towards making this stuff feel less tedious than it ordinarily would.

Part of the tedium is due to the writing, which is bad and/or bland and/or lazy.  I reiterate my earlier comments about Peter Dinklage – yes, his performance is startlingly bad, but his dialogue is dreadful, and there’s only so much you can do with what ultimately boils down to badly written exposition.  Why would you hire an actor of Dinklage’s considerable talents to speak such boring drivel?  Why would you constrain him to such a limited range?   I noted this bad writing during the beta, but it also didn’t necessarily bother me all that much because I wasn’t really paying attention to it.  Here, though, in its final retail form, I have to pay attention to it because it gives me the context to do whatever it is I’m doing, and I simply don’t care.

The Darkness is the enemy.  But there’s also the Hive, and the Fallen, which may or may not be the same thing?  It’s not really explained.  I don’t know why I’m shooting these things other than that they generally shoot at me first.

Then again, who am I?  In Halo, I was Master Chief, a not-nearly-as-enigmatic-as-they-intended soldier with an iconic uniform and a purpose.  In Destiny, I am… a long-dead (but fully customizable) person who is resurrected at the beginning of the game (without any context) and who is tasked with being a Guardian to attempt to ward off the Darkness’ inevitable victory.  Yes – in the beginning of the game, you are told that the Darkness will win.  I will bet you one shiny nickel that at the end of the campaign, the Darkness will not have achieved victory.

Narrative incoherence aside, the game is just kinda weird.  It’s ostensibly a sci-fi shooter with RPG elements.  You’re not doing any role-playing, though – indeed, you hardly speak, even in cutscenes; and as far as loot goes, well, take it from a dude who just finished Diablo III for the second time – the loot is barely there.  You’ll pick up slightly better weapons and armor as you play, but you won’t necessarily notice any real difference.  (And yet there are all sorts of cosmetic changes you can make to your armor, even though this is a first-person shooter and you can’t actually see any of it.)

Perhaps my biggest pet peeve – and this is something that was highly relevant yesterday, when I was home, feeling dreadfully ill and frequently needing to get off the couch – is that you can’t pause gameplay.  If you need to stop playing for any reason, your only options are to either hide in a corner and hope that no enemies respawn near you, or to summon a menu that removes you from the playing field and puts you “in orbit”, which is essentially a pre-mission lobby.  If you’re in a story mission, you have to restart it from the beginning.  This is all because the game really wants you to play online, but unless you’re doing multiplayer stuff, why can’t you pause and enter some sort of safe, invisible place?  In single-player/coop, you can’t grief anybody (as far as I can tell), nor is there any friendly fire.   It doesn’t make any sense, and it can be incredibly inconvenient.

Ultimately, what we have here is a highly polished shooter without a heart or soul.  There is nothing controversial about it; it takes no risks.  You’re on a desperate mission to save Earth; but we’ve done this before, and the game’s fiction is barely explained.  Sure, you can create your own character, but “you” have no personality, you make no choices, you have no literal voice except for the grunting you do when you jump.  Your enemies are bland and generic in appearance, calling to mind enemy design in both Halo and Mass Effect (in the latter, I refer specifically to the Thrall, who are basically fast-moving Husks).  Your own weaponry is largely familiar (even in the future, you’re still firing bullets) – and the enemy arsenal is also familiar (especially as some of the enemies are essentially using Halo’s Needler).

What’s worrisome about Destiny is what it represents; this is the sort of mindless AAA blockbuster that #GamerGate purports to want, a game ostensibly free from gender and race politics, a game that you play instead of talk about.  As it happens, there’s very little about Destiny that warrants any discussion.

Happy 15th Birthday, Dreamcast


Oh, Sega Dreamcast.  You were so great, and you could’ve been so much more.

You gave us Soul Calibur, one of the greatest 3D fighters ever made; you gave us Skies of Arcadia, my first JRPG and still one of the best games I’ve ever played; you gave us Shenmue, one of the most wildly over-ambitious messes of all time.  And you also gave us Seaman, which… yeah.

You introduced us to the NFL2K franchise, and coincidentally you gave me my first real reason to hate EA (because they refused to publish Madden in lieu of the PS2, which might as well have been the first domino to fall in your eventual demise).

You gave us the best version of Rayman 2, which remains my favorite 3D platformer and one of my top 10 favorite games.

You also started the unfortunate trend of shitty Sonic games, and you’re also why I can’t play Crazy Taxi anymore, such is my utter distaste for the Offspring.

You were my first console that I owned as an adult (even if it was technically a gift), and your DNA was more or less absorbed into the original Xbox, which was my second.  You were way ahead of your time, and we just weren’t ready for you.

Shine on, you crazy diamond.

Hypothetical: The Inevitable HD Remake List

My digital copy of Destiny finished pre-loading over the weekend.  I have a thing tomorrow night, though, and I’m not sure if I’ll be awake enough when I get home to do much more than create a character and go through the first 1-2 levels before hitting the hay; therefore, being that anyone reading this will likely have already played through what I wouldn’t get to until Wednesday at the earliest, there probably won’t be a “First Few Hours” post.  And, ultimately, I expect the opening hours to be more or less what we played in the beta, albeit with some additional graphical spit-shining (and (hopefully) some new Dinklage VO).

In the meantime, I think I’ve burned myself out on Diablo III.  (Speaking of which:  if you haven’t yet read Carolyn Petit’s take on Diablo 3 and Dark Souls 2, you should fix that ASAP.)  I find that, these days, I can really only play it for about 30-45 minutes these days before feeling restless and bored; coincidentally, 30-45 minutes is actually just enough time to run some bounties and/or run a Nephalem Rift, get some new gear, and log out.   The bounties don’t seem to change, though; every time I log in it’s the same stuff.  Do I have to finish all 5 bounties in all 5 Acts before they refresh?  That seems… kinda dumb.

So, in order to keep the ol’ wheels turning here at SFTC, and because I’m in a somewhat cynical mood, I’ve spent the last few days guessing what the next inevitable HD remakes are going to be.

We already know about these AAA re-releases, which have either already come out or have been announced as forthcoming.

  • Tomb Raider
  • The Last of Us
  • Metro Redux
  • GTA V
  • Sleeping Dogs
  • Saints Row 4
  • Halo 1-4 box set

By the way, the AAA designation is specific and necessary to this discussion.  I’m well aware of stuff like Fez,  Minecraft, Abe’s Oddysee, Hotline Miami, Journey/Flow/Flower and other such indies getting ported to the new consoles; I’m also going to be the first person to buy the Grim Fandango restoration as soon as it’s released.  But I’m specifically talking about AAA titles from the 360/PS3 generation, as those games seem to generate the most press from the big sites – and porting those games also serves as valuable experience for the developers in terms of learning how their existing tech works on the new systems.  (I believe Naughty Dog talked about this specific idea when they ported The Last of Us to PS4 – it helped them learn how to best tweak their engine before getting Uncharted 4 off the ground.)

So, then, what other AAA franchises from the last console era might we expect to see in the future?

  • Beyond: Two Souls is almost certainly getting a PS4 port, according to a number of sources (1, 2, 3).
  • Mass Effect trilogy.  I’ve heard this rumored more than a few times, and it’s not necessarily a bad idea (though it’s asking quite a lot for people who sunk hundreds of hours already to do it again in a higher resolution).  That being said, the boring bits in ME1 would still be boring in 1080p, and the ending in ME3 would still be the ending.  I don’t think Bioware would spend the energy tweaking that stuff when they’d rather work on the new ME game.
  • Bioshock 1, 2, Infinite.  The more I think about it, this seems like a no-brainer.  Consider: the recent iOS port of Bioshock 1; Irrational Studios is all but shut down; TakeTwo surely considers Bioshock a formidable IP that they don’t want to lose.  Just imagine what Bioshock 1 would look like on new hardware.
  • Uncharted 1-3.  Probably a long shot, given that Naughty Dog is already working on Uncharted 4 (and that, as said above, that they learned what they needed to learn about their engine through porting The Last of Us), but it wouldn’t surprise me if Sony outsourced this to another dev house.  Sony’s stated reason for re-releasing last year’s TLOU was because a lot of people who bought a PS4 never owned a PS3; it stands to reason that those same people have never played what is arguably Sony’s biggest exclusive franchise.
  • Gears of War 1-3.  Probably less of a long shot, given that Microsoft needs anything they can get their hands on to get the Xbox One into more living rooms, and given that the Halo box set is a thing that’s already happening.  But this might depend more on Epic and Unreal Engine 4.
  • This most certainly won’t happen, but I personally wouldn’t mind seeing Rockstar come out with their own Orange Box, with Max Payne 3, L.A. Noire, and Red Dead Redemption in one HD package.  For me, personally, that would be my birthday and Christmas every day for the rest of my life.  Hell, I’d just be happy with Red Dead.  It will be a sad day when my 360 dies; RDR is the only reason why I haven’t yet pulled the plug myself.
  • Similarly, I would be very, very surprised to see Bethesda do ports of OblivionSkyrim or Fallout 3/New Vegas.  I’d be inclined to check those out, certainly, but the amount of work necessary to properly port those games seems far too excessive, and it’s all but certain that work on Elder Scrolls VI and Fallout 4 are well underway already.  (And, of course, the PC modding community is also doing a bang-up job as far as those games are concerned.)

What would you like to see?  Or are you done with HD remasters?

How The Mighty Have Fallen

so: the new Microsoft promotion for next week is that if you buy an Xbox One, you get one free game – ANY game – to go along with it.
i’m hard-pressed to know what game I’d even want, given that i still don’t give a shit about Titanfall, and that every other game that’s out I’ve already played on PS4.
*maybe* Forza5, or Dead Rising 3.

they are aggressively trying to play catchup, which makes sense even if it costs them a ton of money. if they can’t get a good install base early, it’ll be awfully tempting for some devs to forego publishing on XBO altogether, i would think.
Jervo: well, they did buy exclusivity for Tomb Raider 2
Jervo: and i’m sure they’ll continue to be aggressive with that
can you get a pre-order with this promotion?
ie could you reserve TR2?
no preorders

existing games only

I’d reserve Horizon 2, if that were the case
even Peggle 2 is coming to PS4 pretty soon

wikipedia says crackdown 3 is going to be
XBO exclusive? i don’t think i knew that?

i would consider that a “wait for the reviews” game,
but if it’s a return to form you can’t sit that out.
it was always an Xbox franchise; makes sense it would stay that way. problem is, Crackdown 1 was brilliant but Crackdown 2 was a fucking disaster

Sunset Overdrive and Forza Horizon 2 are the only 2 real big games that look appealing to me on the XBO, and neither one of them are available in this promotion.

you’ve got an XBO, are you using it at all?
i haven’t played a game on my xbone in a long time.

 i’m sure i’ll play a ton of horizon and probably
sunset overdrive, but ps4 remains my primary
game console by a large margin

(shakes head)
man, how the mighty have fallen.

The First Few Hours (Again): Diablo 3 on PS4

Author’s Note:  What I really want to do is talk about #GamerGate and the attendant bullshit that surrounds it, but for reasons you’ll see below I hadn’t written anything in a week (until yesterday, when I decided to dip my toes into Twitter).  Basically, I’m super-rusty with words right now, and I’d rather talk about that stuff when I’ve regained some balance in my writing legs.  I mean, I’ve started and restarted this post about a dozen times since yesterday, and if you’re reading this at all it’s probably because of a coin flip.

I should also say that it’s also super-weird to be back in full-on internet mode.  It was kinda nice to be away from the constant distraction of social media, even if I was feeling like total shit.

Regarding #GamerGate, though:  I think it’s kind of amazing that I used the hashtag literally once and immediately got flooded with Twitter mentions and one person even telling me that I “was part of the problem.”  To be fair, I was curious to see if they’d come after me, and they did not disappoint.  Interestingly, I then went on a bit of a mini-rant and ended up writing what has turned out to be my most popular tweet:

So, then, what follows are some ramblings that I’ve pieced together over the last week (before getting sick, and after) on the PS4 version of Diablo 3.

OK, so:  I was going to put up a First Few Hours post about Diablo 3 last Monday.  For a number of reasons, that didn’t end up happening.  I was also feeling a bit under the weather, and took off Tuesday from work.  I went to the doctor on Wednesday, where I was diagnosed with pneumonia, and so I’ve been stuck at home ever since.  [Author’s note:  until today, that is.]

As it turns out, being home alone and feeling miserable is a perfect way to play Diablo 3; and so this will not be a First Few Hours post, because I ended up beating the game AND hitting the level cap and getting up to (at least) Paragon level 25 by the time this post goes up.

Considering that it took me at least a month or two to hit level 60 on the PC version – and that it took me less than a week to hit level 70 on the PS4 version (while starting from scratch), the short version of what I’m about to write boils down to this:  the PS4 version is so vastly superior that I might as well uninstall the PC version, as the PS4 version is the only version of Diablo 3 that I’ll play from this point forward, and I may very well end up continuing to play it a lot.  It will certainly be holding my attention until Destiny arrives, that’s for sure.

Let me back up, though.

I did not ever expect to be writing about Diablo 3 again.  Actually, let me rephrase that:  I did not expect that I’d want to write about Diablo 3 again.  I’d already played it to death on the PC, and only considered renting the PS4 version if the summer release calendar was slow enough; and even then, considering that I couldn’t transfer my PC characters over to the console, I wasn’t exactly excited to start over from scratch.  But my buddy Greg was about to start playing it for the first time, and the reviews started coming out saying that the PS4 version was, in fact, the best version of the game, and my curiosity got the better of me, and before I knew it I’d bought the digital version.

And now here I am, a week later, having blasted through the campaign, smashing through the level cap and still feeling compelled to come back.


I’m hard-pressed to determine why my console experience has been so much better than my time with the PC version, though my time spent with the Reaper of Souls DLC earlier this year (on PC) was indicative that the game had changed significantly for the better since the last time I’d touched it, and the PS4 version incorporates those changes.  I debated changing classes for my PS4 campaign, but at the end of the day I really liked playing as a Monk; this time, though, I knew how to properly build and develop her, and I ended up finishing the game on Hard without really dying much at all.  Hell, I’m doing all the bounties now on Master difficulty, and I’m running into very little resistance.  Which is kind of awesome, I think; it means I built my PS4 Monk the right way, whereas during my PC campaign I had no idea what I was doing.

Maybe it’s just that playing with a controller feels better than mouse clicking, though.  Sure, I’m still pressing the attack button an awful lot, but it feels more visceral.  Pulling the R2 trigger and unleashing an electric column of pain on swarms of enemies feels infinitely more satisfying than hitting the 6 key.

Maybe it’s also that the endgame is better designed (or, really, designed at all).  When I beat the game on PC, my only real option was to play it again on a higher difficulty, and so on and so forth.  My keep/sell ratio of loot saw only marginal improvements during each playthrough, and most of my best gear was acquired through the Auction House.  On PS4, though, I’ve acquired great loot pretty much from the get-go, and it keeps getting better and better.

Maybe it’s simply that I was able to keep playing during that DDoS attack on Sony’s servers last weekend.  Considering that I could barely maintain a stable connection when the PC game launched (and for a few weeks afterward), this felt like a minor miracle.

The larger point of this post, though, is that the Diablo 3 “action RPG hack-and-slash” experience makes a tremendous amount of sense in a console context, and I’m at somewhat of a loss to figure out why there haven’t been more Diablo-esque console games.  Off the top of my head, I can think of only three that I’ve played and enjoyed:  Baldur’s Gate: Dark AllianceMarvel Ultimate Alliance (only the first one, b/c the second one was garbage), and Torchlight on XBLA.  In any event, the game feels a lot less monotonous when played on a controller as opposed to mouse/keyboard; Diablo 3’s controller layout is intelligent, thoughtfully designed, and (most importantly) feels more viscerally connected to the action on screen than the artless and endless left- and right-clicking.

Anyway, as noted above, I’m going to keep playing until Destiny is released, and I’ve yet to try any co-op.  If you’re online and on a PS4, hit me up:  JervoNYC.


%d bloggers like this: