Why I Love My Xbox One (Without Even Owning a Game Yet)

In case you haven’t been paying attention this month, the next-gen is here now. PS4 launched two weeks ago and the Xbox One dropped on this past Friday. I was fortunate enough to get an Xbox One Day One Edition on Friday, but I made the decision to save some money for now and not pick up a game at the same time. I mean, I do still have a perfectly good Xbox 360 with a ton of great games to play. I did feel that, as someone who wants to make a living writing and reporting and discussing video games, it was important to get one of the next-gen consoles early, and I’ve become a bit more loyal to the Xbox brand over the last 7 years or so.

Xbox One

And that’s where we get to Friday – opening up that black box and pulling out all the different components. Now, I don’t have a cable box in my room with the consoles, at least not at this time, so I don’t get the 100% experience with the Live TV functionality, but I think that’s a little part. After I got the Xbone all set up, I set out to exploring the new dashboard and features. This is the first Kinect I’ve personally owned, so I was hesitant that it would even be able to work in my small space, but it picked me up right away. Thank God for that, because the voice commands that the Xbox One has are one of my favorite features of the new console. I was skeptical at first that the recognition would be a little spotty, but all through the weekend I haven’t had any issues. It works well, and it works quickly – the apps I tell it to launch are open much quicker than on my 360, which could honestly be due to the 360 hard drive being much more filled. In general, the Xbox One is much faster than the 360, which not only makes sense, but fits with what people had been saying pre-launch.

Snapping apps is a really cool feature too – letting me play a game and have my Monday Night Football on screen at the same time is really awesome. Going forward, as they add more snappable apps, the feature will grow and become, at least I think, a really integral part of the console. Same thing with the quick minimize to home – being able to quickly go home is really neat, better still without closing the app in use. Little things like face recognition too so my Gamertag is linked to my actual face is really nice.

Killer Instinct (2013)

In terms of games – I like that the option to buy any of the launch titles digitally is there, but I wonder how steady that will go (Day one digital as well as physical). The one game I’ve been able to actually play is Killer Instinct, since you can get the game with one character for free. I’m enjoying it actually – I’m not a huge fighting games fan, since I tend to not be great at them, but I do like the look of the game, and the speed of it – it needs a bit more content, but even buying it, it isn’t a full $60 title, so they knew that. Hopefully soon I’ll be able to play a true next-gen game, I’m leaning towards Battlefield 4 for now – the game clips people have posted on the Xbox One itself look so much better than the 360 Beta I played. I will probably also pick up LEGO Marvel and Forza 5 as well, and check out the next-genness of them.

One other thing that I think bears mentioning is the redesigned controller. While the general feel and layout are the same as the 360 controller, the actual feel is a lot different. The larger triggers pull much smoother than the old controller, and the bigger shoulder buttons should be much easier to press in the heat of a game, with less sticking as time goes on as well. The analog sticks feel much more responsive, with no sticking at all and the nubbing on the sticks is a nice little touch. Clicking in the sticks is now a much more direct action, I don’t see it happening by accident, unless you have the stiffest movements ever. Same thing with the new D-Pad – making each direction an actual switch makes the d-pad that much more responsive. Overall, the controller is a huge improvement over the 360’s.

Overall, the Xbox One does exactly what they said it would – brings all of my entertainment into one box. I love the sports apps, I like being able to watch Twitch streams or YouTube videos with a quick command, and it’s clear going forward that they will be adding snapable apps for Twitter and Facebook. It’s the little things that make a console succeed, and so far at least, I’ve been impressed with all the little things the Xbox One does. It’s quiet, sleek, cool, powerful and I am very happy with it so far. Hopefully it has a lifespan similar to the 360.

One Last Look at the Xbox 360

This is the Xbox 360’s last week of being the main focus for Microsoft, so I thought it would be appropriate to take one last look at some of my favorite DLC and Arcade titles on it before I get my Xbox One this Friday. If you’re curious about full titles, I did a quick retrospective last post on Friday that I highly recommend checking out.

When I say DLC, I think we can really take DLC and divide it into a few different categories. Firstly, we have story content, second multiplayer content (usually map packs) and finally extra content. The extra content I would consider Avatar items, Dashboard themes, stuff like that. It’s DLC for sure, but I don’t really consider it necessary at all, and I wouldn’t really bother spending money on it at this point in the console’s lifespan. The other two categories though, absolutely are worth it. Let’s start with story-based content.

Mass Effect

As far as story content goes, some games are just tailor-made for extending the experience. For my money, the Mass Effect games have all had incredible extra content for each title, with The Lair of the Shadow Broker and The Citadel really being the two standouts. Both involved bringing back party characters that weren’t available in their main games respectively, but did feature in the games as secondary characters. The fanservice is always nice, but the story content added in is well worth the extra time and money. It’s similar to another great story-based DLC option that just came out – BioShock: Infinite’s Burial at Sea.

BioShock: Burial at Sea
The fanservice of setting the first major expansion (I wouldn’t really consider Clash in the Clouds a major add-on) in Rapture, a setting that I think ranks up there among the best ever, would be enough for my purchase; but the actual story content, at least through the first part, has been phenomenal. Definitely would recommend playing the main game first – otherwise the story might not exactly make sense; but Rapture really does still look awesome, and it’s great to see it before the fall that led to the first game. Shifting a bit from pure story driven games, I would also recommend the content that Bethesda has put out for Oblivion, Skyrim, Fallout 3 and Fallout: New Vegas – with the notable exception of the Horse Armor for Oblivion. Most of the content for Oblivion is ancillary, all but the Shivering Isles are just new player housing, with some extra items and lore. Shivering Isles however, is a whole different ball game – adding in an entire separate plane of Oblivion to explore with a new story line to play through. Back when Oblivion was still the cutting edge, Shivering Isles set an example of what DLC could be on consoles. Bethesda got away from the small, player housing content for the next three games though, adding in bigger plug-ins with lots of items, lore and cool settings to explore. Seriously, if you haven’t expanded the already huge games, you’re really missing out. Since launch titles tend to be hit-and-miss, you wouldn’t go amiss with running through the Bethesda titles now. I would definitely include Dishonored in that list too, but I actually haven’t gone through the DLC for it yet, but I do have plans to.

Now let’s take a quick look at some multiplayer content, which really these days means map packs. At this point, any major multiplayer game will release a few map packs to extend the lifespan, so really you should pick them up for your preferred game. I’ve probably enjoyed the Halo: Reach, Halo 4, Modern Warfare 2, 3 and Battlefield 3 content the most. In some cases, I think pricing affected my purchase – especially with the Black Ops packs. I’m not the biggest fan of the Zombies mode, so $15 for four multiplayer maps and Zombie map I won’t ever play wasn’t really worth it for me. Really with these, it boils down to how much you play online, and how long you think you’ll be playing the game; as well as the quality of the maps.

Xbox Live Arcade

Now let’s shift gears entirely to talk Arcade games – while they aren’t DLC, they are digital titles, so I think it’s totally fitting to talk them today too. I’ve long said that if there’s one thing Microsoft can look back at the 360’s life and know they did real well, it was their handling of the Xbox Live Arcade. Offering lower priced, shorter titles for immediate download was a really smart idea. And it’s really expanded too, I don’t think a game like Minecraft was in their minds when the Arcade debuted. Speaking of that, let’s start right there – Minecraft, if you’re one of the five people that don’t own it yet, should absolutely be on your hard drive. It’s LEGO’s for adults as I like to describe it. I would also definitely recommend Castle Crashers from a few years ago as a good four player hack and slash game, as well as Hell Yeah! Wrath of the Dead Rabbit for a great “Metroidvania” style game with a great sense of humor.

Hell Yeah! Wrath of the Dead Rabbit

The other strength of the arcade is revisiting classic titles – I have a number of older games that I loved back in the day, like Gunstar Heroes, Sonic the Hedgehog 2, 3, and Knuckles, as well as the remade HD games Castle of Illusion Starring Mickey Mouse, and Ducktales. Both were classic games now being re-released to a new generation of fans, and absolutely worth picking up.

Castle of Illusion Starring Mickey Mouse

With the Xbox One coming out Friday, I’m excited to see how Microsoft is planning on expanding the Arcade and DLC front, but for the next few days at least, I think the 360’s Arcade deserves one last look.

The Only Non-PS4 Blog You’ll See Today

Well, November is finally hitting stride – today is the official launch of the PlayStation 4. Of course we all have decisions to make in life, and I decided to stick with the Xbox brand for now, so next Friday when the Xbox One launches, I’ll probably have my initial impressions out; but for now, since I’m still playing the current gen, I want to take a quick last look back at the games that really, if you haven’t played, you’re missing out. Not necessarily a Top 10 list, but just a list of games that you really need to play. I should point out, I’m mainly talking Xbox 360 here today, only because that’s what I’m most familiar with.

Xbox 360 LogoFirst off, lets look at some shooters that seriously, you need to play. Going back a few years, if you missed Halo 3, which was just free On Demand, you really owe it to yourself to play it. I think it’s the best Halo title since the first game myself. Don’t get me wrong, Reach and Halo 4 were both fun, but the third game just has something else about it I always loved. Next, obviously the Call of Duty titles – all the Modern Warfare games are fun, the story is actually pretty damn strong, as is the case with Black Ops. I know Ghosts just came out, but I’ve been enjoying it so far – we’ll have to see how it holds up over time though. Both Battlefield: Bad Company games were also pretty damn good, adding in a real story to the Battlefield formula that they tried to replicate with Battlefield 3, but really, that’s a multiplayer game. Still fun though.Getting a little away from the big three, I enjoyed Far Cry 3 a bunch, at least until the ending kinda turned me off of the game.

Halo 3

Looking more at games where story and narrative are the focus, if for whatever reason you missed Borderlands, Fallout, BioShock, Elder Scrolls, Mass Effect or Dishonored, you really need to go back and play each game in those series. Both Borderlands games are great four-player RPG/shooters with a good story, and humor to keep you engaged. Fallout 3 might just be my favorite game of the generation, and New Vegas was a great follow up. The first BioShock honestly gives Fallout 3 a run for that title though, and Infinite was a fantastic experience this year. All three Mass Effect games tell a really unique story, with strong characters and action, and honestly, the ending has always been 100% fine to me. I also always kind of felt that Dishonored slipped through the cracks a little bit last year, but it really is a really amazing experience. And honestly if you missed either Oblivion or Skyrim, I have no idea what you were playing, because they’re two incredibly games, both gameplay-wise and also in terms of the setting and immersion that they present.

Dishonored

For a few more games that you really need to play before you upgrade, try out the Darksiders games – really awesome story and setting for a hack-and-slash adventure game. Or Dead Island – four player FPS/RPG combo with zombies and melee combat that is actually a lot of fun. Or the Dead Space games – the first two are probably the best horror games of this generation. The no brainers – GTA IV and V – are probably already in your collection, but if not, go play them for sure; Rockstar did a wonderful job crafting living cities for you to play around in. Also play the Rock Band or Guitar Hero games – there really isn’t a much better feeling than strapping on that plastic guitar and shredding a solo with friends. For a no effort, huge reward experience, pick up some of the LEGO games – I played LEGO Batman and LEGO Lord of the Rings, and I will pick up LEGO Marvel on the Xbone. If you like the GTA style games, but want the game to just not give a shit about being serious at all, play the Saints Row games, the fourth entry is the weakest for sure, but they really are a lot of fun still. And if you want to play one of the better reboots out there, Tomb Raider from this year was a really great game – solid story telling and emotional impact with Lara feeling human now. Or if you like your detectives more hero-like, the Arkham games were some of the best of the generation for sure.

Transformers: Fall of Cybertron

But if you pick up only one game I recommend to play before you upgrade to the next-gen, make it the Transformers: War for Cybertron or Fall of Cybertron games. I don’t think they ever really got the attention they deserved, because in general Transformers games haven’t been good, but these two games definitely bucked that trend. Great campaign, and a really fun multiplayer mode made for a really fun trip down memory lane, and the gameplay actually backs it up.

Now, enough dilly-dallying, get to playing so we can all upgrade and get the next-gen really kicked off.

Why Call of Duty Dominates Multiplayer

I swear this isn’t a fanboy blog for Call of Duty – but I do have a few more thoughts on the franchise after last week. This time, I’m focusing solely on Multiplayer, and why the franchise has dominated it over the last five-to-six years. With Ghosts releasing tomorrow, expect everyone on your friends list to be playing, including yours truly. Let’s get started here shall we.

Call of Duty: Modern WarfareHalo 3

While I know there will be people loyal to other series arguing that Call of Duty isn’t the most popular online game out there, the numbers don’t support that. Which is a great place to start our talk. When we say Call of Duty these days, we really are talking about the franchise starting from 2007 when Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare was released. Up until that game, the series had been much more successful on the PC, and consoles had largely been dominated by exclusives like Halo, or series that died out like Star Wars Battlefront (A third-person shooter, but still popular) or Timesplitters. Modern Warfare really gave Halo a run for its money on consoles, and the sales numbers show it. Looking just at the Xbox 360, Modern Warfare sold 8.92 Million copies, compared to Halo 3 selling 11.78 million, the high point for the series. Granted, Modern Warfare also sold 6.34 million on the PS3, but that would be comparing Apples to Oranges. Looking just at the Xbox numbers, it’s evident that in 2007, Halo was still the champ, but Call of Duty was just starting to really nail down the new Infinity Ward formula, which we would see in 2010 with Modern Warfare 2 vs. Halo: Reach. The numbers by this point were solidly in Call of Duty’s corner – MW2 sold 13.06 million on the X360 compared to 9.44 million for Halo: Reach – still incredible numbers, but the balance had shifted. Again, that’s just on the X360, if we want to find a true comparison for cross-platform, we have to look at EA’s titles, either Medal of Honor or Battlefield 3. Of course, looking at those numbers, it’s not even remotely a contest. The three direct competitors – Modern Warfare 3, Battlefield 3, and Medal of Honor: Warfighter aren’t even in the same ballpark. Battlefield 3 sold 13.51 million across both PS3 and Xbox 360, while Medal of Honor: Warfighter only sold 1.92 million, which even combining the two series doesn’t add up to Modern Warfare 3‘s 26.46 million on both platforms. What all this really means is that although the Internet might like to bitch and moan about Call of Duty being the same game every time and all that, it’s not going anywhere, and there really isn’t any incentive to really shake up the series. It’s winning, and honestly, it’s a lot of fun to play.

Fat Stacks

But that’s the end result – the sales numbers; what I’m more interested in is how the series continues to shine and innovate within the parameters it set up for itself. And for my money, the first place to look at for a multiplayer, competitive shooter is the map design. One thing I would like to do in the next couple weeks, once I get some time with Ghosts and Battlefield 4 is to make a list of the best maps in shooters, but I do have a preliminary list that I think fits with this topic. Going back a few more years, we have classics like Facing Worlds in Unreal Tournament or Q3DM17: The Longest Yard in Quake 3; moving on to consoles it’s standouts like Complex on GoldenEye 64, Training Ground from Timesplitter 2; then we start looking at the Halo vs. CoD maps. Map design is so important to keeping a game’s balance from ruining the experience, and the first Halo game had some really well put together maps – Blood Gulch, Sidewinder, Hang ’em High, Damnation and Chill Out, but also some really odd maps that just didn’t work like Chiron TL-34, Rat Race, and Boarding Action spring to mind. But again, comparing Apples to Apples, we need to look at Halo 3 and Modern Warfare. Again, solid maps in Halo 3 – Valhalla, Blackout, The Pit, Guardian, and Narrows would be the standouts, in my opinion; but there really are some iffy ones as well – Isolation, Rat’s Nest, Orbital and Foundry’s default variant each have a few parts that I think hurt the maps. Looking at Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, there are a lot of strong maps, including some big fan favorites – Crash, Crossfire, Bog, Wet Work, and not many bad maps – Pipeline, Shipment and Bloc all really push you into a particular style of play. I think looking back on it, the strength of Modern Warfare’s maps, along with the nature of the gameplay is really what has made it the Shooter of the Day.

Modern Warfare Crash

The next thing to take a look at is the actual way the game plays, and it’s here that looking at Halo vs. Call of Duty kind of breaks down. While they might be the two most popular shooters out there, they’re really two different styles of shooters. Halo is much closer to the classic “Arcade” style like Quake or Unreal, while Call of Duty is much closer to the “Tactical” style that really started with the original Call of Duty, Battlefield and Medal of Honor. Jumping, strafing and constant map control for weapon spawns are all integral parts of the Halo style; while accuracy, map knowledge for sightlines and team make-up all are more important to the Call of Duty style. So while we all like to compare the two series, really the actual gameplay styles are too different to directly compare.

With all that said, where does that leave us? Why does Call of Duty continue to dominate sales and play numbers? I think bottom line is that it just came around at the right time, with the right style of game to shake up the scene. Gamers were starting to get a little tired of the World War Two shooters, and Quake-style shooters were already long in the tooth. Gamers wanted a modern setting with a more “realistic” approach to the combat. That said, it’s time might be up with the next-gen – Titanfall and Destiny both look like fresh approaches to the FPS genre, and could be the shake up that naysayers are looking for. We’ll just have to wait and see.