Weekly News Recap: Week of August 25th, 2014

Madden NFL 15After last week’s rather slow news period, this week was definitely more active, albeit with some pretty terrible stories. As I do every Friday, here’s the big headlines from the past week.

HORRIBLE PEOPLE MAKE THE LOUDEST NOISES, RESIST CHANGE, EMBARRASS COMMUNITY
Last week I made the conscious choice to not talk about the Zoe Quinn story mainly because at the time I thought it was a private issue that some jaded ex-boyfriend decided to put out on the Internet. Over the last week though, it’s become very clear that there is a very vocal portion of certain areas of the web that have trouble dealing with the fact that games have become a major entertainment media – they are made for everyone, and are marketed for everyone. Those people have taken it upon themselves to spew hatred and vile directed at anyone that they don’t consider true “gamers,” which unfortunately over the last couple weeks has been almost exclusively women. It’s embarrassing to the wider gaming community, not to mention an embarrassment to general humanity – these people disgust me and the comments that I’ve seen infuriate me to no end. The second part that has bothered me is the vitriol I’ve seen directed at the people that have been calling attention to this issue. The people that are saying it’s just “how the Internet is” don’t get it, that it shouldn’t be that way and that it has to change. This is a story that will definitely continue to be in the news, and hopefully it will start to turn around.

SAME HORRIBLE PEOPLE ATTACK SONY
The other lovely bit of news that happened this past weekend was a group decided it would be prudent to attack the PSN with a DDoS attack. For the uninformed, a DDoS attack essentially is a huge number of false attempts to access a network, which ultimately overwhelms the servers and basically results in shutting the service down for a period of time. The apparent reason for the attack was that this group was unhappy with how Sony was using the money they make, as it pertains to the Network. So the best course of action in their mind was to take down the whole network for everyone. It also seems to be that the same group had sent a bomb threat to the airplane that the Sony Online Entertainment President was on. Now that same group has the FBI investigating them, and thanks to their idea of threatening a plane will be investigated as terrorists.

IN BETTER NEWS – NEW GAMES ARE FINALLY COMING OUT
Switching gears away from terrible news about horrible people, we’ve finally reached that magical week of the summer. Madden NFL ’15 came out this past Tuesday. While I’m not the biggest sports game fan, the release of Madden every year is a great indicator that the summer down time is over and we’ve reached that magic time of year when new games come out just about every week. We have a down week this coming Tuesday, but after that, it’s Destiny time.

PAX PRIME IS THIS WEEKEND
The other really awesome bit of news is that this weekend is PAX Prime, and I fully expect to see a few new bits of news come out of the conference. I saw a rumor floating around that we might see a new Saints Row announced at the show, but we’ll have to wait till after the weekend to know for sure.

RPG Week: Day Three – BioWare Games

BioWare LogoSwitching gears away from the two Bethesda franchises, today I want to talk about the two main series from BioWare – Mass Effect and Dragon Age. My experience with BioWare actually goes back to their work with the Star Wars franchise in Knights of the Old Republic. As we moved on to the Xbox 360/PS3 era, BioWare had moved away from that license to start making new IPs, starting in 2007 with the first Mass Effect game, and two years later releasing the high fantasy series Dragon Age: Origins. Five years later, we’ve entered the last stretch of the waiting game for the third installment in the Dragon Age series, with Dragon Age: Inquisition set to come out in November.

Mass Effect

With the Mass Effect series, BioWare took their experience with KOTOR and moved it into a original universe, and switched the combat into real time, instead of a d20 system that operated behind the scenes. Much like KOTOR, the Mass Effect games feature a customizable playable character, in this case one that is fully voiced and named, but physically able to be customized in any way; and you take that main character through his/her journey with a party of fully formed characters – romances are possible, your party consists of different races, with different prejudices and beliefs and abilities. It’s become a BioWare trademark to have a good size of possible companions – usually right around 10 – and then only have a small party for actual adventuring. In the Mass Effect games, you have an active party of three, while you can speak with all of your team on board the Normandy, which allows you to develop the relationships with every member of your team without bringing them on missions. The ones that you leave on the Normandy actually gain experience as well, so your whole team will always be right around the same level without having to grind. The franchise performed well, driven by great action, superb writing and characters, and a strong story that was character driven. The ending of Mass Effect 3 became a story in and of itself, mainly due to a lot of fans’ unreasonable expectations, at least in my opinion. I think going into the end of the trilogy, a lot of fans expected every possible choice and decision to play a part into the finale, without thinking about just how much that would entail. While I think there might have been a bit more difference between the final choices, I really didn’t have any huge issues with the ending. Instead I’m looking forward to seeing where BioWare takes the series in the future – will Shepard play a role in the new games at all? Or will we start a totally new story all together?

Dragon Age: Inquisition

While the Mass Effect games served as sort of a spiritual successor to BioWare’s work on the Star Wars license, the Dragon Age franchise was a spiritual successor to their work with the Baldur’s Gate games. Using a more traditional RPG combat system – abilities and skills are tied to stats, with what might as well be as a d20 system behind the scenes with those abilities and skills, the Dragon Age series tells a high fantasy epic story involving the presence of the Darkspawn, and the aftermath of Blight in the first game. The player has the ability to directly control every member of their party, giving them extra control over exactly how battles take place, which adds to the tactical nature of the combat. Like any BioWare game, there’s a strong emphasis on character interaction – romances can happen, approval ratings impact characters stats and may even impact who makes up your party. If Skyrim and Oblivion are the high point for modern, open world high fantasy RPG, then I would say that the Dragon Age games are the high point for the traditional western high fantasy RPG. Story is paramount – freedom is a little restricted and the games are a bit more directed, but the tactical level in the combat is kicked up, and the traditional aspects of western RPGs are as important as ever. It’s a great time to catch up on the series since we have Dragon Age: Inquisition coming out November 18.

One area that BioWare has started putting more emphasis on in their latest games has been multiplayer. Mass Effect 3 added in a co-op multiplayer mode that put players into the war against the Reapers, in a Horde style experience. I think lots of players went in a little apprehensive about how the multiplayer would actually work and tie into the main game, but the execution was exactly what it needed to be – it wasn’t the focal point, but it helped in the end, and the actual experience was fun as hell. It was a great way for players to try the different classes out without having to level Shepard to 60. Just this week, BioWare announced a co-op multiplayer mode for Dragon Age: Inquisition. Similar to the Mass Effect multiplayer, it takes place during the main story, but whether it will directly impact the main story remains to be seen. It does look very similar in nature to the Mass Effect co-op, but I don’t know exactly how similar it will be in the end – we’ll have to wait until November to know for sure.

RPG Week: Day Two – Fallout

Fallout 3 CoverYesterday I talked a lot about Bethesda’s high fantasy RPG series of games, The Elder Scrolls. Today I want to talk about their other major series, which they picked up the license for from Interplay back in 2004 – Fallout. Bethesda owns the rights to the series, but they actually haven’t developed the two games that they’ve published since buying the rights; they developed Fallout 3, but Fallout: New Vegas was developed by Obsidian Entertainment, a studio made up from developers from Black Isle Studios, the studio that created the franchise.

My big point from talking about Elder Scrolls was that I think the time is right for Bethesda to make a move toward some kind of a multiplayer setting in a traditional entry in the franchise. I really think it would work with the Elder Scrolls, but when it comes to Fallout games, I think that the traditional, solitary character wandering around the Wasteland works best with the world that Fallout is set in. The Elder Scrolls games take place in a world that is vibrant and alive, full of people living their lives. On the contrary, Fallout games are set in a world that has all but given up on civilization – friendly settlements are few and far between, most survivors will shoot on sight, and the world is a burned out shell of what it used to be. To that effect, I think playing through the game as a solitary wanderer works best within that frame.

Instead, I think that the most important aspect that Bethesda needs to look at for Fallout 4 is the actual setting. There was a Kotaku report at the end of last year that said that Fallout 4 would be set in the greater Boston area, but there hasn’t been any official word confirming that yet. The further we get from that report, the more likely it is that the setting might have changed. Since we didn’t get any mention of the game at E3 this year, I really wouldn’t expect to hear a ton of concrete info until next year’s show. Which means we have a long time to speculate and postulate about where we could be exploring next. If the Kotaku report is accurate and we are going to be in the Boston area, then I think that’s not actually a bad decision. It’s a different look from either of the previous games – Fallout 3 had the Capital Wasteland, which featured a mixture of urban and rural environments, and Fallout: New Vegas had the Mojave Wasteland, a massive expanse of desert, littered with small settlements of survivors and raiders trying to make their way into the big city of New Vegas. A game set in Massachusetts, you would get a good mix of both city environments with Boston, and at the same time you have the potential for coastal environments, as well as the great forests of the Northeast, or what remains of them. Not only is there a variety of areas to explore, but it’s also an area that hasn’t been explored in the franchise; not only an area that’s filled with history that is ripe for the Fallout treatment.

Fallout: New Vegas

Another area that I’m looking forward to seeing get the next-gen upgrade is the visuals. After going back to play Oblivion the last week or so, it really struck me just how much better the new Skyrim engine looks, and of course both Fallout games use the same engine as Oblivion. Anyone that played those games is well aware of the graphical issues, physical glitches, and of course the dated appearance. New Vegas in particular was plagued with extraordinarily long load times. Now I know no game is truly perfect, but moving up even to the Skyrim engine would do so much for the series. Since we’re talking at this point about an Xbox One/PS4 game, I would expect a bigger jump, both graphically, and in-game mechanics. One thing that I don’t expect to change in-game is the V.A.T.S. system. The V.A.T.S. mechanic gives the game a little bit more of an old-school RPG feel, taking the combat back into a semi-turnbased system.

Bethesda has the potential to really dominate the RPG world in the next couple years, after Destiny and Dragon Age Inquisition run their course; if they wanted to, they could potentially release a new Fallout and Elder Scrolls game within a couple years of each other. With both series’ high degree of respect, it’s not a huge reach to think they would both be sure fire hits.

RPG Week: Day One – Elder Scrolls

OblivionWe’re still a couple weeks away from the busy season, so as I usually do around this point in the waiting cycle, I picked up an older game on my shelf. This time around it was diving back into The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion. I mentioned last week that I hadn’t completed the main quest line across two 100+ hour characters. Over the weekend though I finally went in and completed that series of quests, as well as tackling the main Expansion – The Shivering Isles. Oblivion has always had a real special place in my gaming heart – it was one of the very first games I played on the 360, and I still find a lot of fun in playing it even eight years later. Beyond that, the next game in the franchise, Skyrim, was the game that allowed me to really break into freelancing for G4 after its release. I still love the games as they stand today, but over the last few months, really since the Destiny beta, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about just how much that game could shake up the RPG world. So with that mindset I decided I would dedicate this week to the genre – four days, four series – leading up to Destiny‘s release in two weeks. Today I’ll hit the Elder Scrolls games, mainly looking forward to the way I really hope that Bethesda approaches the next game.

Skyrim

At their core, both Oblivion and Skyrim by design are solitary games. There are plenty of shared experiences that any player has, but how they actually go about navigating those sections differs greatly based around how those players have created their characters. A very integral part of any RPG to me is the character creation process – allowing the player to craft exactly the character they want to play as tremendously helps further immerse the player into the world and story. There’s a fine line between being too in-depth and losing players though, and I think of the two Elder Scrolls games from this generation, Oblivion actually did it better. One of the things that Bethesda did with Skyrim was really streamline a lot of the more high-level RPG aspects of the game, the first that players would probably experience being Racial Traits. One of the reasons I like the character building in Oblivion is that each Race has different inherent characteristics that make playing specific archetypes easier or harder. Orcs are by default sturdier, making playing a warrior much easier, while playing them as a mage provides the player with more challenge. That aspect alone adds to the gameplay by adding in a level of difficulty on top of just the typical videogame “easy, medium, hard” difficulty; but beyond that it also adds in an extra layer of role-playing. A player might decide to play a specific race and strive to set themselves apart by playing as a character-type that wouldn’t be normally found with that race in game. I did that with my latest character, playing a High Elf character, but forgoing playing as a mage, which their inherent traits would suggest and played instead as a heavy armor knight. I was able to use my built in magic skills as a High Elf to help me deal damage, but as an Elf, I had to deal with an inherent fragile nature. That level of thinking is all but gone in Skryim – the different races still have different boosts to skills, but because the Attribute system from Oblivion is gone, there really isn’t a functional difference beyond whatever power or ability they have. In general, I think Oblivion allows for deeper role-playing, but Skyrim’s updated mechanics make playing the actual game a bit easier.

Skyrim Skills

The other area where these two games’ differences really impact how a player approaches the game is in the skill/leveling system. In Oblivion there were 21 different skills, in Skyrim there’s now 18. In general, the skills that were removed really weren’t the ones that players set as their characters defining skills. I still think that there really is a middle ground between the games that allows players to choose from a wide variety of skills, while still being easily accessible. The other major change that Skyrim made to the leveling is that there is no longer a major/minor skill distinction; instead, any skill you level will affect your overall player level. This is actually a change that I think is good, it doesn’t restrict you with major skills being the only ones that impact your player level, which lets you have a bit more flexibility, which is important, especially in the middle levels. With that change, they also added in a “perk” system – instead of just getting a new bonus at skill levels 25, 50, 75 and 100, each skill now has a perk-tree associated with it that’s tied to a constellation in the game world. Every time you level your player, you get one perk point to allocate in any skill, assuming you have the appropriate skill level. This let’s you specialize within the skills that you use the most, with the items/spells you like using. For example, within the one-handed weapon skill tree, there are perks that allow you specialize in either swords, axes or maces.

The final area that I think defines a modern, Bethesda developed Elder Scrolls game is in fact the most identifiable aspect – Freedom. It’s a calling card of the games – as soon as you finish off the starter dungeon/quest – the Imperial Sewers in Oblivion or Helgen in Skyrim – you have ultimate freedom. You have a vague direction to start tackling the main story, but at the same time, you have the freedom to do whatever you want. That main quest can sit in your journal as long as you want – go tackle the faction quests, or just explore the world, diving into dungeons as you want to find some loot.

Bethesda Softworks Logo

Beyond all of that, which I expect to stay in the forefront of any new Elder Scrolls game, I think the time is ripe for Bethesda to maybe make a huge change to the franchise. Any new game would obviously be on the Xbox One/PS4, which I think should not only result in a much better looking game, but also impact where this game is set. Ideally, I would love to see a game that is set covering all of Tamriel – I think that the power is there to accomplish that, and it’s a decision that fans would love. It opens up even more role playing options – you can pick and choose not only your race, but also your homeland, which could allow for different starting areas, most likely based around the same basic structure. The other major change that I think Bethesda should look into is all a reaction to Destiny. Bungie has on their hands a system that allows for a great single-player game, but at the same time is populating the world with other players. Applying a similar mechanic to a game like Elder Scrolls would make the world, which already feels alive with NPC’s, feel even more so. Players could become recognized as traders, carrying large amounts of gear and gold, and by doing so take on not only the role of supplying others, but the inherent danger that would come with. I’m not a developer so I don’t know exactly how it would work, and the actual Destiny formula probably wouldn’t work, since a big part of the Elder Scrolls games is player freedom to play any kind of character – including one that partakes in some unscrupulous activities. Oblivion¬†and Skyrim were both two of my favorite games on the entire console, and I fully expect that trend to continue as the series moves to the next gen, all I have to do now is wait – there are tons of questions that still need answers, and I don’t see them being answered any time soon.

Weekly News Recap: August 22, 2014

Diablo III Ultimate Evil EditionAfter last week’s Gamescom, this week was notably a bit more subdued on the news front. That said here were the biggest stories of the week.

DIABLO III: ULTIMATE EVIL EDITION
This week really marked the end of the summer lulls with what I would consider the first major release of the season with the repackaging of Diablo III. The Ultimate Evil edition comes with the base game as well as the Reaper of Souls expansion, and also marks the game’s debut on current-gen consoles. To that effect, reports surfaced this week that Microsoft had told Blizzard/Activision that 900p as a resolution was unacceptable, and as a result they figured a way to bump it up to 1080p on the Xbox One.

SUCKER PUNCH STUDIOS LAYOFFS
It has been a pretty rough summer for developers. This week, Infamous developer Sucker Punch Studios announced layoffs. Sucker Punch just released a pretty expansive DLC for Infamous 2: Second Son at the beginning of the month. We’ll have to see what is in store for the studio in the future.

THE BEHEMOTH ANNOUNCES NEW GAME
The Behemoth, the team behind awesome games like Castle Crashers and Battleblock Theater announced Game 4 this week. The debut trailer definitely uses the trademark Behemoth style of humor and art style. It’s difficult to say exactly what the game will be like, but it will be playable at PAX Prime next week.

XBOX ONE PRE-LOADING IS HERE, SORT OF
At Gamescom, Microsoft announced that the Xbox One would begin supporting digital pre-ordering and pre-downloading. While pre-ordering is still a bit away, pre-downloading is here, sort of. Starting with Madden ’15 next week, players can download the game early to start playing right at midnight, but this is still limited to specific titles – for example there’s no word about it for FIFA ’15 or NHL ’15 which also come out next week.

Wrapping Up the Xbox 360: The Best Games on the Console

Xbox 360 LogoOver the last couple weeks, I saw Game Informer put out a series of columns talking about the editors picks for the best ____ game of the last generation. They hit topics like best racing game, action game, PS3 game, overall game and 360 game. As the transition to the Xbox One and PS4 continues and the 360 and PS3 begin to truly become “last-gen,” I thought I would also look back at the console that I probably spent more time playing than any other before it. While I could narrow it down to just ten, I feel like that discounts a lot of very good games that I am a big fan of, so instead of just doing the same thing everyone else does, I’m just going to toss a whole bunch of games out there in no real order (save for the last two.)

ASSASSIN’S CREED II, BROTHERHOOD, and REVELATION
While there are three more Assassin’s Creed games that appeared on the 360, the Ezio trilogy is really where I think the series shines. The gameplay is much more refined and streamlined, the story is a very compelling one, told over the course of three different games, and this was really the point where the Desmond sections also started to actually mean something, and not just feel like they were arbitrarily breaking up the action. Plus Assassin’s Creed II was the first full game I every got every achievement in once I decided to start actively hunting them.

BioShock Cover

BIOSHOCK (SERIES)
A series that is both highly critically successful as well as commercially, and for good reason, the BioShock games were really important games that showed that shooters could still tell incredible stories, while still having solid action. The original BioShock still stands as one of my all time favorite games – the Plasmids adding in strategy and RPG elements to a shooter that already worked well, the enemies were unique, Big Daddies were terrifying and it still has one of the coolest settings in games in Rapture. The second game gets a bum rap as being a step backward, but I think that’s unfair – it’s more that it wasn’t as big a step forward as people expected. The single player is still really solid, but the multiplayer I think detracts from it a little. BioShock: Infinite on the other hand was a true return to form – incredibly heady story, engaging characters, action that played out perfectly and a new setting that still captured the same feeling as Rapture in Columbia.

BATMAN: ARKHAM ASYLUM and ARKHAM CITY
Despite being an incredibly successful franchise in film and tv, Batman hadn’t ever translated well to games for whatever reason. Older gamers will remember an NES sidescroller that for whatever reason had the Batman wearing a bright purple suit. Rocksteady Games changed all that with Arkham Asylum though, hitting all of the important parts of the Batman mythos. The cast of characters all had the same feel that they did in the Emmy award winning cartoon series, there was a real sense of darkness about the Asylum, and Batman felt truly like a superhero. The corridors of the Asylum are tight, creating a really tense experience, requiring Batman to use his most important weapon – stealth. Arkham City took that same idea and bumped everything up to ten and beyond in some cases. Rocksteady has some guts to kill off the most important comic villain around – we’ll have to see how the Arkham arc will end next year in Arkham Knight.

Borderlands

BORDERLANDS SERIES
Mixing humor, action, RPG, co-op and random loot grabbing, the Borderlands games are a hard bunch to pin down. At their core they’re shooters – but then they really are also RPGs, doing both well. The series is built around four-player co-op, with random loot drops ensuring that players are always finding new weapons, grenades, shields and other goodies to use as they tackle all sorts of enemies. All of that would be well and good, but on top of all that, Gearbox and 2K have always made sure that the games are also really funny, never taking themselves too seriously at all. Both games in the series so far have been supported with awesome DLC and remain standouts on the console – with a third game on the way, during a time when most developers are pushing forward to the Xbox One, Borderlands; The Pre-Sequel should do really well on the 360.

CASTLE CRASHERS
The Xbox Live Arcade had been around really since the Original Xbox as a way for developers to put smaller games out to fans as direct downloads, at a lower price point. Until 2008, there really weren’t any major standouts, aside from Uno and Geometry Wars; but in the summer of 2008 (the first Summer of Arcade) the XBLA got a real shot in the arm. Spearheaded by Braid (a game that I actually never played for whatever reason) and Castle Crashers, the XBLA became a place for not only smaller developers to push games, but for really good games to live. Castle Crashers is still one of the better co-op games on the system – a terrific old-school beat em up with a unique art style, good music, and solid leveling process – but most importantly, it’s just a plain fun game.

Modern Warfare 2

CALL OF DUTY MODERN WARFARE, BLACK OPS SERIES
Activision really hit the lotto with the Call of Duty franchise this generation. I’ve talked a lot in the past about this franchise, both because it’s so popular and because I’m a big fan of the games, generally; so I won’t belabor the point too much here. Modern Warfare changed the shooter landscape, end of story. That group of three game blew sales records away, and changed the way that people played a multiplayer shooter. Black Ops took that new formula and applied a little different spin on it thanks to a different developer. Across the five games in the two series, I had more fun playing Modern Warfare 2 and Black Ops 2, than any of the other entries.

DEAD SPACE
Survival Horror games were in a tricky spot going into this generation. At the end of the previous generation, Resident Evil 4 changed the game by giving the player way more control than ever before with the over-the-shoulder camera, but still had the horror present. After that, with the added control to increase the action, how could games truly be scary? Or at least that was the question before Dead Space came out. Even with a solid action system that made it easy to aim and attack the enemies, there was still plenty of terror to be found on the USG Ishimura. Instead of relying on tired and true zombies in space, Visceral came up with something much more horrifying – the necromorphs, and more to the point – the humans bent on turning everyone into them. It was a tense, dark, claustrophobic game that really helped invigorate the genre, and stands out as the best in the series.

Dishonored

DISHONORED
Every once in a while a game should shock you. Dishonored did that for me. I went in with muted expectations, but was totally blown away by the experience. A stealth game that did both stealth and action well? And didn’t punish you for choosing to play loud? Crazy talk, I thought. Of course, playing the game loudly may not have punished you explicitly, but through the “chaos” system in the game, you would make later levels harder or easier depending on how you played through. It’s a game that showed that stealth totally still works in games, and adding in the supernatural just made the game that much more engaging, helping you get to even more different routes to sneak around. Criminally we haven’t gotten a sequel yet, but I’m excited to see what one would entail on the Xbox One.

GRAND THEFT AUTO IV and V
Rockstar has always brought the very best with the series, and that was no different with the latest two offerings. It took me a while to really get into GTAIV, just because of how different it felt from GTAIII and Vice City, my favorites from the previous generation. Once I “got it’ though, IV became much more engaging than before, relying on using Niko as the main storytelling device – his backstory and conflicted morals really set the stage for a wonderfully designed final set of missions. Emotional, but still possessing the GTA trademark humor and freedom, it was a great step forward. With GTAV though, the real strengths come from a more refined control scheme, and the addition of a truly online world with GTA Online. You can play it online or off, either way there’s more to see than ever, but it doesn’t feel that overwhelming. That said, I think it’ll really shine when it launches on the Xbox One and PS4 this fall.

Halo 3

HALO SERIES
Not counting Halo 3: ODST or the Halo: CE Anniversary, Microsoft’s go-to franchise had three winners this generation. Going in, Halo 3 was set up to be a huge game, telling what we thought was the end of Master Chief’s story – we found out it was really just the end of the war with the Covenant. Giving players the ability to play four-player co-op, adding in the scoring meta-game, Forge maps – Halo 3 really was the game that players had been waiting for. Bungie had one hell of a farewell in store for us too with Halo: Reach which might be my pick for the best of the series on the 360. Forgoing relying on Master Chief to tell the story, Reach put the player into a Spartan that was their own – then we were forced to play through his last days thanks to a story that was intense, and really had some weight behind it.

Mass Effect

MASS EFFECT SERIES
BioWare was already a well-respected developer thanks to the Knights of the Old Republic and the Baldur’s Gate games going into the 360’s lifespan. In 2007 they took their already solid RPG elements and mixed them with a solid real-time third person shooter combat system, and together with a really solid story created Mass Effect. Over the course of the three games, we faced down the threat of the Reapers, and depending on who you talk to, tied up the story completely. While Mass Effect 3‘s ending got a lot of ire from the internet, I don’t think that is on BioWare at all – I actually thought the ending was totally fine. The idea that there would be hundreds of endings depending on your choices is just silly. The series still remains a favorite, each game feels different enough to distinguish themselves, and to me the best parts of the games remain the awesome characters that make up Shepards team.

Rock Band Blitz

ROCK BAND SERIES
The rhythm game genre came to a head pretty quickly during the 360’s lifespan, thanks mainly to Activision pushing their Guitar Hero games out far too fast and flooding the market. On the other side was Rock Band a series that Harmonix took a different approach with. Featuring full band gameplay and strong on-disc setlists for each game, Rock Band really brought the genre back to the beginning – party games. Getting people together and playing songs that everyone knows and loves. Instead of releasing new games every year (or in some cases, quicker) Harmonix went with a smarter route – release a few new songs every week. There was weekly DLC for the series from November 20, 2007 straight through to April 2, 2013. That’s over 5 years of uninterrupted DLC – and a whole mess of songs, 1,689 to be exact. The variety in the songs ensure that everyone can find some that they love, and that’s why I still play the games to this day. Plus there’s nothing quite like nailing a tough solo in a great song and getting that 100% completion.

SAINTS ROW SERIES
When the Xbox 360 launched, there really wasn’t anything along the lines of a Grand Theft Auto style sandbox game. Rockstar’s series was seen as almost untouchable at that point, thanks to the success of the PS2 era games. But in 2006 along came Volition with a little game called Saints Row. It wasn’t trying to be GTA – instead it took the basic formula, added in a pretty robust customization system, a story based around rebuilding the Saints respect, and it took off. The first game wasn’t quite as insanely over the top as the later games got, but still featured a strong sense of humor that didn’t take itself too serious. As the series progressed, the gameplay was refined, expanded and the story pushed over-the-top. As much fun as the series is, I worry about the future, just based around my thoughts with Saints Row IV – which I felt wasn’t nearly the game it could have been. I hope that was just because of the mess that the THQ bankruptcy was.

Now for the games that I think are the absolute best on the console:

Oblivion

ELDER SCROLLS and FALLOUT SERIES
Bethesda has really gotten it right this past generation. They were there way back at the start with Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, which might just be my favorite game on the 360, and they were there for what a lot of people say is the best with Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. In between they put out two more absolutely amazing games with Fallout 3 and Fallout New Vegas. At their core, the four games are very similar – First Person RPGs with a strong emphasis on freedom, it’s in the details that differentiate them (obvious setting differences aside). All the games feature huge game worlds to explore that truly feel lived in – NPC’s follow set routines depending on the day of the week, different factions behave differently when they interact with each other, the world itself is alive (or as alive as the Fallout world allows for). And once you get past the initial starter dungeons, you have 100% free reign on what to do.

Fallout 3 Cover

Want to tackle the main storyline right away? Go for it. Feel like wandering aimlessly around the world, fighting and looting? No problem. One area that that freedom is more standout in the Elder Scrolls games is the amount of sidequest options. In Fallout the sidequests are more limited to single quests scattered about the Wasteland. In Oblivion though for example, you can work your way up through the ranks of the Imperial Arena, or become the Arch Mage of the Mages’ Guild. The sheer volume of different things you can tackle in the Elder Scrolls games really makes them almost unending. I’ve been playing Oblivion – through two characters – since I got in 2006 and am just now going through and finishing the main storylines, after sinking well over 200 hours across them, and that’s on the low end for players. I cannot wait to see what Bethsda has in store for us – Fallout 4 is supposedly in development right now, and I would expect to hear more about it in the next year. As for Elder Scrolls VI – well we just have to keep waiting, it will most likely be after Fallout 4 has it’s run, but knowing Bethsda it will be a huge undertaking.

What Makes a Limited Edition Worth Getting?

Every year when we get to the fall release window, and the developers flood the market with awesome games, I always go through the same song and dance. Of the games I plan on grabbing, which ones do I want to upgrade to the special editions/limited editions/collectors editions. Publishers keep coming with different names for them, but the basic premise is always the same – charge more money for a version of the game with a couple extra stuff to go along with it. What always strikes me is the variety of items that publishers put in the collections. Some editions are no-brainers, others make me scratch my head a little bit. So today I want to take a quick look at what I think really makes a limited edition worth picking over the regular edition.

Destiny Ghost Edition

First thing – I still think that even in this day and age, a special edition should be a physical copy. As an industry we’ve really started the push toward digital distribution across the board. I might be a little old-school about this, but to me, the actual physical media and packaging is just as important to the overall experience. To that effect, I think that the limited editions should spruce up the actual casing too. I have always been a sucker for a nice looking steelbook case for my games. Beyond that, the more physical extras that publishers include with the packaging, the more likely I am to think of getting it. My favorite physical stuff I’ve gotten came from the Fallout: New Vegas and BioShock: Infinite limited editions – Fallout came with a really cool deck of cards and poker chips from each of the in game casinos; BioShock came with a nice print of the Devil’s Touch Vigor, and a awesome key chain of the Murder of Crows Vigor. But ultimately, little physical things like this don’t really sell me on the limited edition.

Advanced Warfare Pro Edition

The most important part of any limited edition is what digital content comes with the game. This is where the actual kind of game can dictate what they pair with the game. In general, I think the most important addition, regardless of style of game, is the Season Pass. Most games’ life spans these days tends to be at least a year with DLC, so adding in a Season Pass to ensure that the players get access to the DLC as soon as it comes out, and it’s included in the initial purchase price. Usually I find that the price increase is pretty much in line with adding in the Season Pass price to the game. I think that’s fine, since when that’s the case, the extra physical stuff is just that – extra. Often times, developers also include extra digital stuff as well, most often it’s cosmetic items, but as a player that enjoys customization, I’m totally fine with it.

Assassin's Creed Unity Limited Edition

So with that in mind, I was looking at the special editions for this fall – Destiny has two tiers, Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare does as well and Assassin’s Creed: Unity only has the one collectors edition. Both Destiny editions have the same content – a smattering of nice cosmetic physical bonuses, plus a steelbook case and the Season Pass – but the higher level comes with a physical model of the in game Ghost. The problem with the difference to me is that the Ghost is apparently worth $50 extra. I don’t mind big physical models like that, but it always depends on the prices they assign them – Skyrim and Halo: Reach both had that problem for me. Awesome looking statues, but really expensive on top the normal price. Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare comes with the typical CoD fare – in game digital cosmetic content, along with a bonus multiplayer map. That’s the basic $80 version – what annoys me this year is that to get the Season Pass, which is a big selling point for Call of Duty, you would need to go for the $120 version. Normally I’m fine with a $40 boost for a Season Pass – that’s probably pretty much what it would cost separate; but in this case, that’s a $40 boost from a special edition that already comes with bonus stuff that I don’t know is worth the initial $20 upgrade from the regular edition. Assassin’s Creed: Unity only is releasing one version – a $130 limited edition with a real strong physical collection of gear, plus two extra missions. Since it’s a primarily campaign driven game, there really isn’t quite as much need for a Season Pass, so I think I probably would go for it, were I caught up on the series.