Summer Slow Season – What to Play

Sunset Overdrive Xbox BundleWe’re halfway through the month of July, which is traditionally the slowest time of the year when it comes to new game launches. Typically we see indie titles, arcade games, or re-releases and remasters. We use the summer for E3 and conventions and playing catch-up before the deluge of games returns during the fall. So with that in mind, I thought I would offer up a couple games that I have been finding myself playing during this slow time, along with a couple remasters that we know are on the horizon that I think, depending on price, are worth picking up.

First up, the obvious picks: Destiny and Call of Duty: Black Ops III. As a long time shooter fan, there are always a couple or more FPS games in my rotation. I keep a few on hand that way no matter which shooter mood I find myself in, I have something ready to go. It used to be Halo/Call of Duty/Battlefield, while these days I’m finding myself moving away a bit from Halo and Battlefield as I wait for their next entries. Destiny instead scratches that slower, Haloesque style combat. The Crucible, while certainly not perfect, has been a lot of fun to play again. What I think really helps is that it’s very different from Call of Duty, which I load up when I really want to scratch that twitch style FPS. There’s a reason that I keep going back and talking about them here, and that’s because they’re easily my most played games currently. If you like FPS games, and aren’t playing Overwatch, I really think both Destiny and Call of Duty are worth your time.

The other style game that I always have one or two on hand of is RPG, and that’s where I’m a little behind right now. I finally went back and have been finishing up Dragon Age Inquisition, which I have been playing for a bit over a full year. It was just on sale, so if you picked it up, there’s a lot to dive into, just don’t get burned out like I did and you’ll find yourself really enjoying Thedas. I’m powering through it though because I have Witcher III on deck, which I’m really excited to finally dig into. I also recently picked my first MMO up with Elder Scrolls Online and I’m slowly starting to get a handle on it. I talked last year about the beta, and I do want to revisit it here as I keep progressing through the game. It may be an MMO, and there are definitely some portions where spending some extra money feels like it’s beneficial. That especially extends to the DLC which all look like the amount of content they add in is definitely worth investing in. I don’t like that you have to use an intermediate currency instead of just directly using dollars. There are loads of good RPGs available right now, including Fallout 4, which I still need to dive back into. Summer is a good time for RPGs in general since you need to spend a bit more time playing them than other games.

My hard drive is currently rounded out with a couple less intense games – Mega Man Legacy Collection and Minecraft. While there’s nothing new coming out, this is the perfect time to go back and play some classic games. Combine that with the backwards compatible titles that are available now and there are plenty of options if you’re feeling a little burnt out on what you’re currently playing. Don’t feel like you have to keep going down that rabbit hole, branch out, find a sale or a used disc and try something new. That’s really what the summer is about for gaming.

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E3 2015 – Bethesda Press Event Wrap Up

Bethesda Softworks Logo

Well here we go folks, E3 2015 kicked off last night with Bethesda’s first ever press event. Going in, there was plenty of talk around whether Bethesda would be able to set the tone for the week. After watching the whole show last night, I think it is very safe to say that they were more than up to the task. Let’s hit the highlights, and wrap up their first ever E3 press conference.

Doom 2016

DOOM – RETURN TO FORM
Kicking off their show, Bethesda decided to bring us back in time a bit. The franchise has been around for well over 20 years at this point, but hasn’t seen a new game in around 12. Going in, I was most curious about the feel of DOOM – would Bethesda let id keep the classic DOOM spirit, or would it be forced to play like a modern shooter. After seeing the first of three(!) trailers last night, I felt immediately that it was safe. It certainly looks like it plays super fast – circle strafing is going to be relevant again, and has that classic DOOM level of brutality. That said, they aren’t just taking the gameplay from a two decade old game and plopping it into a current-gen game. There have definitely been updates – we saw a double jump and mantle feature that adds in extra verticality to the game. We also got a look at the new melee finishers – get an enemy low on health and staggered, and you can push up and deliver unbelievably brutal finishes. We saw a glimpse of classic DOOM puzzle solving, along with a weapon lineup that look straight out of DOOM II. I was really impressed with the single player reveal – and then we got to hear a little about multiplayer.

Multiplayer has always been super important to id games – whether we’re talking DOOM or Quake, they’re kind of responsible for bringing deathmatch to the world. Based around the very short tease we got last night, it definitely looks like multiplayer is in good hands. It definitely got my mind running right back to the old days of playing Quake II and III online – the first FPS games I ever played, period. It looks fast – twitch shooting and strafing are probably going to be more important than they have been in years. Add in a couple wrinkles like the new Demon power up – a modern take on the Quad-Damage – and it should be a blast to play. But of course, id has always been really good at supporting the community too. That tradition will continue with DOOM SnapMap – a new editor that will come with all versions of the game. When they started showing off SnapMap, I couldn’t help but think that it looked a hell of a lot like the map maker in TimeSplitters. That editor did a lot of the same features – you could make custom maps for multiplayer, or co-op/solo maps using some basic scripting tools. Assuming that id is taking that idea, and bringing it up to modern standards, there are going to be a ton of possibilities for all sorts of crazy games going forward. We do have a bit of a wait ahead of us though – DOOM won’t be coming our way until spring of 2016.

BATTLECRY – MELEE MOBA GOODNESS
Bethesda then had a quick section to talk about two things – the new Bethesda.net, and also to show off Battlecry. Bethesda.net looks like it will function as a centralized hub on the web for all Bethesda games moving forward. I think really that it helps with the increased emphasis on player created content – with DOOM and a new Fallout feature we’ll talk about in a bit especially.

Battlecry was shown off briefly, talking about a new playable faction, as well as opening up global beta signups this week. I’m not super familiar with the game, to me it looked an awful lot like a melee focused MOBA style game. They call it an action arena game, which to me just is a different way of saying battle arena game. It looked cool – I dug the art style for sure. Assuming it’s on consoles, I’ll probably give the beta a try.

DISHONORED SURPRISES – SORT OF
The next section of the show should have been a major surprise – but live mics on a test kind of killed that. We found out Saturday night that the boys from Arkane would be there to talk Dishonored. Had it stayed a surprise, it probably would have been one of, if not the, biggest of the show. That said, Dishonored 2, which was properly announced, looks incredible. I have long said that a sequel was not a matter of if, but when, just because that first game was so amazing. It flew in under the radar and just was so much better than anything I expected. The sequel picks up from the first game, and adds in much more. The big reveal is that there is now a second playable character – Emily Kaldwin. If you played the first game, you are more than familiar with her – she’s a key figure in the game. Corvo will return as well, and will have a totally different set of powers. The story still is a bit of a mystery, but based around how good the first game was, I think we have nothing to worry about. It is still a ways off though, not coming out till next spring – but we are getting Dishonored this year. They did manage one surprise announcement – the Dishonored: Definitive Edition coming to Xbox One and PS4 this fall, containing the first game and all DLC. These sort of up-rezed and updated packages are great ways for players to refresh themselves with classic games from the last generation, and also help welcome new players in as well.

ELDER SCROLLS ONLINE AND LEGENDS
We got a quick look at whats going on with the Elder Scrolls franchise, at least that they’re willing to talk about. Elder Scrolls Online: Tamriel Unlimited just launched on the consoles last week, so instead of an in-person update, we got a video package. That makes total sense – they’re still dealing with keeping the launch stable. We did see that two new modules are being prepped for the game – the Imperial City and Orsinium.

That wasn’t the end of Elder Scrolls talk though. We then were treated to the news that Bethesda is stepping into the mobile market. This year they’ll be launching Elder Scrolls Legends, a strategy card game for iOS and Android. The best part – it’ll be free to play, just like all the other card games out there. The big question will be if it can really compete with Hearthstone.

Fallout 4 Box Art

FALLOUT 4, FALLOUT SHELTER AND JUST SO MUCH FALLOUT
We then got to the big name for this year – Fallout. The game was already announced, so we knew that we were looking at more concrete details. And boy did we get some. Let’s start with the fact that development started, in some way or form, all the way back in 2009, after Fallout 3. They took lessons from the success of Skyrim after that game launched as well to bring Fallout 4 to where it is today. Then we were treated to a wall of concept art – a TON of concept art, which I know fans are still pouring over for details that we might see in-game.

That’s all great, but we were definitely ready to talk actual game details. So we did – we started with a huge bit of news for the game. The game will actually start before the bombs fell – that house you see in the announcement trailer is your own house. That’s where the game will begin, where you make your character – using the new creator, that looks unbelievably easy to use – and where the story starts. This was the first glimpse we got of the new game engine – an updated version of Bethesda’s Creation engine, and man does it look good. Todd Howard talked about the new power of the current-gen consoles, and pointed out the memory increase. That tells me that one of my wishlist points is probably checked off – less loading with buildings.

In these first few minutes of the trailer we got a good look at the new dialogue system. Perhaps the biggest little detail in the dialogue we got was that there’s a really good chance your player name will actually be voiced. They’ve recorded about 1,000 names for players. That’s pretty damn cool.

Now, they didn’t talk too much about story. They did say that it starts pre-war, and that you emerge from the vault as the sole-survivor of Vault 111, 200 years later. That might not seem like a huge deal, but it really does answer a big question. 200 years after the bombs fell puts this game in the same time frame as Fallout 3. That’s pretty cool, since that puts this game in the same world as Fallout 3 and New Vegas, which helps players that have been around for a while find more little things to make the world even better.

The next big chunk of the video showed off the Dog from the trailer. The new companion mechanics look very similar to followers in Skyrim – contextual commands issued via the HUD/crosshairs. This section is also our first look at some combat – including the new take on V.A.T.S. Instead of freezing time like it used to, it just slows it down, and looks a little more fluid than before. The V.A.T.S. also ties in with the new PIP Boy – it’s gotten a lot of love since the last set of games. The menus are all animated now – from the Vault Boy icons, to the weapons themselves. We also learned that the armor is all layered now, adding in even more customization options for armor, as well as just adding in tons more options. We also learned that there are new meta-games that can be played in the PIP Boy. They look like they’re Fallout takes on classic games like Donkey Kong or Missile Command. It also ties in with the special edition – the PIP boy edition will come with an actual PIP boy to wear.

We then got a little break from Fallout 4 to announce the second screen app that will be coming out with the game for smart phones; as well as announcing Fallout Shelter, a free game for iOS. I grabbed it last night, since it launched after the show, but haven’t had a ton of time to really dig into it. It does look really cool – it’s basically a free game, with no micro transactions really necessary.

Back to the main game after that little break, this is when we got some huge details. Crafting has always been a part of Bethesda games – but usually consists of taking the materials, and just selecting a recipe on a menu. Not anymore. Just about every piece of junk in the game can be broken down into materials – much more in depth than before. You still will select from a menu, but it looks way, way deeper than it was; especially because the options are way wider. Armor, weapons, mods all are craftable, along with new things tied into the new settlements feature. It all looks really cool – and looks like players will be able to get out of it what they put in; since it’s all totally up to the player if they take part in it. I think depending on how much the settlements feature – where you create and build safe settlements, across the Boston wastes – is actually used in the game will determine just how much I dig into the crafting.

We ended the show with a pretty long trailer that was solely focused around combat. It’s kinda hard to really say for sure without playing, but it does look like it’s much more fluid than it ever was. And definitely looks faster paced, but still very much Fallout. After a good taste of the combat, the biggest detail of the night was given to us – the release date. Fallout 4 will be in our hands on Novemeber 10, 2015. These next few months are going to be long.

Elder Scrolls Online Console Beta Thoughts

Elder Scrolls OnlineOver last weekend I was able to take part in the console beta for Elder Scrolls Online. Now, I’ve never played MMOs before – the idea of a subscription fee, on top of the cost of the game turned me off. But now that MMOs are turning more and more to free-to-play models, I’m finding myself thinking about them a bit more. Elder Scrolls Online was always there in my mind, just because I am a big fan of the series in general. Of course, free-to-play doesn’t exactly mean free, and I’m sure in the full game the pay options make the grind easier. But I went in this weekend relatively open minded, more interested in getting a feel for the mechanics and maybe make my mind up about picking up the game when it launches this summer.

What ESO has going for it best is the universe. The world of Tamriel benefits from over twenty years of games, with an incredibly in depth lore that’s been crafted. The action/gameplay has also evolved over the last 10 years or so to be a really nice, refined RPG system – especially following Skyrim. Ultimately though, those same strengths really kept me from being super engaged in ESO. I found myself playing faster than I normally do with Elder Scrolls games, just so I could get to the public zones to see what the MMO aspects were like. In the end I didn’t really want to worry about other people in my game, I was more interested in going slow, reading everything, exploring every corner of every room, and in the end, I wanted this to be a single player experience.

There is plenty to like here – the action is pretty solid, the game looks good, and there’s still the same level of detail that we expect from Elder Scrolls Games. The story seems like it’s one of the stronger Elder Scrolls entries in recent memory. The main quest in Skyrim was never really the main draw for me, while Oblivion did grab me, once I actually started playing it. I think by telling the story of the three warring factions has potential – but, again, I think telling it in the context of the classic Elder Scrolls style game would be a stronger experience. It puts more freedom in the player’s hands – from a role playing perspective, you can play multiple roles within the scope of the story. For example, the Aldmeri Dominion only features the High Elves, Wood Elves and Khajiit as playable races. But I think playing as one of the other races, within the context of the Dominion opens up other interesting options for story-telling.

Ultimately, I don’t think that Elder Scrolls Online has made it’s way into my list for this summer. It’s solid, but I’m already overstocked with RPGs – Dragon Age, Diablo III, Borderlands and Destiny – as it is, adding an MMO is a major timesink. It’s something that I would probably recommend for new comers to RPGs, since it does a pretty solid job of explaining everything, but in the end, I’m more interested in other games this year.

Weekly News Recap – Week of April 20, 2015

After a week off, for a weekend with college buddies, I’m back to look at the big news stories from this past week.

Elder Scrolls Online

ELDER SCROLLS ONLINE CONSOLE BETA CURRENTLY ACTIVE
It’s had a pretty rocky lifespan on the PC, just recently going free-to-play. Now Bethesda sets their sights on the console market. MMO’s haven’t ever really caught fire on consoles – Final Fantasy has tried a couple times, and Neverwinter is currently making its attempt. This weekend is also the console beta for Elder Scrolls Online, in advance of the summer launch. This beta could determine just how well an MMO that never really caught on on the PC, on the consoles.

BLACK OPS III TEASED IN ADVANCE OF REVEAL
After the confirmation a couple weeks back of Black Ops III being this year’s Call of Duty, we went into waiting mode for the worldwide reveal this Sunday. This week though, Activision released a second teaser in advance of the reveal. This one is a little longer, and does a good job of setting the story up. There’s no real concrete info in this trailer to point to, but it does a good job of showing what kind of a story we’re looking at for the campaign. This weekend I expect to see even more details on the campaign, I wouldn’t hold my breath for multiplayer specifics. Activision likes to have a full reveal that’s just dedicated to the multiplayer – last year it was at Gamescom – so we’ll probably have to wait for that.

Star Wars Battlefront

BATTLEFRONT CONTINUES TO BE A BIG DISCUSSION POINT
After the reveal of Star Wars: Battlefront last weekend, people are still buzzing about some of the details we learned. One big one that I saw online this week was in relation to the AT-AT being on-rails. I, for one, think that’s the right gameplay decision. It’s an important objective in the Walker Assault game mode, so it is paramount that it plays within the rules. The last thing you would want is to see it wandering off out of the map borders because some troll thought it would be funny. There’s still a ton of stuff to learn about the game – I think we’ll see a lot more this year at E3.

Looking Ahead to 2014

It’s officially 2014, and with the first official post of the year, I thought it would be appropriate to look ahead to the rest of the year and what games I think will be the big ones coming up. I think 2013 was a little bit of a step back from the previous two, and that helps set up this year for a big surprise year.

Thief

First up is a game that I am really pumped for, and it comes out next month – Thief. I can remember playing Thief II back in the day on the computer, but the series has been dormant for a while now, which I think actually helps this game. Stealth games are making a little bit of comeback, thanks in no small part to games like the Assassins’ Creed series and Dishonored. The latest gameplay videos show a game that look a lot like Dishonored actually, which isn’t a bad thing, but still retains the series focus on stealth over combat. Plus the videos just look gorgeous, showing off the power of next-gen consoles. Can’t wait to see it in action on February 25, 2014.

Titanfall

Right after Thief drops in February, March brings us Titanfall, the first game from Vince Zampella’s Respawn Entertainment studio. Based around the Gamescom trailer from last year, the game looks like a really entertaining mix of Call of Duty, some Mechwarrior action and the chaos of the full scale battles of Battlefield. It’s going to be refreshing to play something that’s not CoD or Halo or Battlefield, and the actual gameplay looks pretty damn entertaining. It takes the standard shooter formula, adds in the awesome mobility of Tribes, and then tops it off with giant Mechs – it’s a no brainer. March 11 can’t get here fast enough.

Also in the first half of the year, Watch Dogs is supposed to be dropping, and it looks like it could be one of the first real examples of true “next-gen” gameplay and design. The design and story look fresh and intriguing, but we haven’t seen a ton of actual gameplay in a little while. I’m still excited for it, but I would like to see a bit more here this month.

The summer, usually a dead-zone for big games see a few nice little presents – the Destiny beta, and in June, Elder Scrolls Online drops for the consoles. ESO could be the MMO that finally gets me into them – I’ve avoided them for years, but I love the Elder Scrolls universe, so I might take the plunge. I just hope that Bethesda can launch a smooth game – not usually their M.O. as well as still working on Fallout 4.

Destiny

The last of the big releases I want to talk about is Destiny – Bungie’s first full game since leaving Microsoft. Based around everything that Bungie has been showing so far, the game is shaping up to be a bigger, better version of Mass Effect. I always trust Bungie to have a really well crafted universe and story, and a polished product, so I think as long as the persistent universe game world works as well as they want it to, Destiny could be the second half of the year winner.

There are a few other big names I expect to see this year – Halo, Call of Duty, Uncharted all come to mind right away, but I think the new IP’s will have a banner year, and really will set the pace for the first year of the next-gen consoles.