Weekly News Recap – Week of February 9, 2015

There were a couple pretty big news pieces to talk about this week. So let’s not waste too much time and get right into this.

Bethesda Softworks Logo

BETHESDA PREPS FOR E3 CONFERENCE
With what could be some of the biggest news of the week, Bethesda announced that they will have their first ever E3 press event this year. Of course that immediately started the rumors flying even faster than they were. The initial thought is of course that this is where Bethesda will finally confirm Fallout 4. However, Bethesda is one of those developers that has always done things their own way, so there’s nothing to say that anything is set in stone quite yet. Indeed, I wouldn’t put it outside the realm of possibility of seeing a surprise or two in there. Elder Scrolls Online is launching on consoles this summer, right around E3, so I would fully expect to see that; and there’s always the chance that Dishonored could finally get the sequel it deserves. And there’s always the outside chance they completely buck with the trends and go with Elder Scrolls VI. Only time will tell.

Evolve Cover

EVOLVE LAUNCHES, DYING LIGHT IS NUMBER 1, AND DRAGON AGE SELLS LOTS
This week we saw the launch of Evolve, the highly anticipated 4V1 co-op/competitive shooter. After playing both the Alpha and Beta, I do think that Evolve can really make a big splash this early in the year. It does have some competition for early leader of the year in Dying Light – which today hit the number 1 sales position. And continuing on with sales talk, EA said during their sales data call recently that Dragon Age: Inquisition is BioWares most successful launch, based on units sold. That’s a pretty big bit of news, since BioWare has had some incredible titles over the years.

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The Problem With Pre-Order Incentives

I’ve written in the past about pre-ordering games – what I look for when I actually go about doing it, specifically about limited editions. While my thoughts haven’t really changed a whole lot – I still like having that guarantee that the game is already paid for and taken care of and will be mine on day one; I have seen a few pre-order incentives that really made me scratch my head. These days those pre-order incentives are really what drive them now more than the convenience factor thanks to downloadable titles. So publishers have to come up with incentives that players will actually want to have in order to drive the pre-orders up, and help ensure a solid early portion of the lifespan.

Halo Master Chief Collection

I should mention now that I’m really approaching this more from looking at the multiplayer side of things. For single player games, or the campaigns in games with both aspects, pre-order bonuses really don’t make a huge difference. Even things like the Bandana Skull in Halo: The Master Chief Collection – which was a pre-order bonus from GameStop – and grants unlimited ammo and grenades, since it’s a singleplayer experience, it’s only impacting your experience. If you would like to play with that bonus, go for it. It’s totally different from if that same Skull applied to multiplayer – especially in a competitive game like Halo. Generally, the bonuses for games with strong multiplayer – Call of Duty comes to mind – are only cosmetic changes. Weapon skins or player skins that show off your dedication to the series are cool, and don’t actually impact the gameplay.

Evolve Cover

Which brings me to what was the genesis of this post. I mentioned yesterday about Evolve‘s pre-order bonuses being early access to the third and final set of characters. In theory that’s not the worst thing possible – until you realize that each individual character within a class has slightly different gear. For example, the Medic class – Val, the initial Medic has a healing beam that requires you to keep line of sight; while Caira, the third Medic, has a grenade launcher that fires healing grenades. There’s a huge difference in tactics between the two weapons’ usages. With Val, you need to be near your teammates at all times, in order to heal them. Caira can move around a bit more freely, thanks to the grenades – as long as the explosion hits your teammates, they’re healed. It gives you more tactical choices, which impacts gameplay.

Mortal Kombat X

The other pretty grievous offender is April’s Mortal Kombat X. They announced the pre-order bonus back in the fall, and I put down my thoughts right away on Twitter. Pre-ordering MKX will give players access to Goro – whether that’s exclusive access or early access I’m not totally sure about though. Either way that’s a pretty major issue. Goro is a boss character – always has been in the series. Within fighting games, boss characters are almost always pretty over powered, whether it’s their attack power, or their move set. M. Bison is pretty infamous in the Street Fighter world for his A.I. back in Street Fighter II, where his skill would increase dramatically in the second round, especially if he had lost the first round. Goro was more of a power difference – he hit super hard, and didn’t really flinch, which made combos difficult against him. Assuming that they are rebalancing him for Mortal Kombat X doesn’t really make me feel a whole lot better though. He’s still bound to have some of his iconic moves – his throw in particular is a pretty iconic move, and used to hit super hard.

Now in and of itself, these bonuses aren’t the worst ones ever. What makes them an issue to me is that they both have easily apparent impact on the multiplayer side of their respective games. Within Evolve, those final tier characters could totally make early games play very different – especially against players without those same characters. With Mortal Kombat X, it could just be that Goro still has too much boss character power in him, even as a playable character – which in a competitive arena like fighting games, is definitely not good. Whether this ends up being a major deal really remains to be seen – Evolve still is about a month away, and Mortal Kombat X is set for an April release. But I don’t really like seeing games put in actual gameplay elements for pre-order bonuses in the multiplayer side.

A Tale of Two Betas

Halo 5 GuardiansJanuary is always an interesting part of the year with gaming, Online usage is up, with people playing all their new games from the Holidays. But contrasting that, there usually aren’t too many big releases during the month. Instead we’ll usually see a few DLC packages, or downloadable games. In this year’s case, Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare is getting the Havoc pack this month, and we’re seeing the release of a current-gen Resident Evil remaster, as well as the current-gen Saints Row IV edition. Neither game is what I would call a major entry for this year.

On the other hand though, this month saw two high profile betas. While the Halo 5: Guardians beta technically started at the end of December, the majority of the beta ran through this month. The other beta, a larger scale pre-release beta than the Big Alpha, was for Evolve. It featured more content than the Big Alpha, but only ran for essentially a weekend, plus a couple days. These two betas show two very different approaches to pre-release events.

With the Halo 5: Guardians beta, it ran for a longer period of time, but had a much narrower focus. I wouldn’t ever really expect to see a beta feature a single player campaign, so this being solely multiplayer makes perfect sense to me. That said, the multiplayer in Halo is so varied and robust, that seeing only three game modes felt like they were holding something back. Halo is a series that’s been known now for years for having a multiplayer that’s full of not only built in game modes, but the flexibility to create all kinds of crazy modes. I think that 343 could have provided a scaled down version of their tools for custom modes. As it turned out though, I think they picked the modes for the beta for a couple reasons. Slayer was there because it’s probably the most played variant online; but the other two modes, Breakout and Strongholds, are both technically new game modes to Halo. It makes sense that 343 wants to feature them, not only to test them in an online environment, but also to promote them a bit. In general, Halo tends to fall into pretty typical patterns – objective games like CTF or Oddball always do well, while games like Assault or King of the Hill tend to fall more on the competitive side, appearing less frequently online. I think 343 wants to make sure that Strongholds or Breakout (or both) work well online and could in fact also work in the competitive world too.

Halo 5 Breakout Crossfire

All things considered though, the modes weren’t really what bothered me more about the Halo 5: Guardians beta. It was the map selection. Normally, in a beta I don’t expect much in the way of map variety. But then, most betas don’t last three weeks. Nor do they cycle the maps in and out. That’s really where I was most confused. The beta started with Truth and Empire, both on Slayer. The next week, those maps were pulled – and replaced with Regret and Eden, again on Slayer. What I couldn’t understand was why the first two maps had to be pulled down totally – why not keep them in, and have a four-map rotation. It made sense to me too, since those four maps were all inter-related. Truth and Regret are maps based around the same base – Midship. Truth is a pretty direct update, and Regret is what they’re calling a Remix – it’s Truth, just with a few twists to make it feel unique. It’s a clever way to build the map list, without creating an insane amount of extra work. Empire and Eden are also remix pairs – just not based around an old map this time. To me, I think it would have made sense to put all four in one hopper. Adding in the final map that appeared – Pegasus – wouldn’t have really been a bad thing, it could have broken up the monotony of playing the same two basesets. In the end, that limiting of the maps selection for the beta, is what made me limit my playing. I really enjoyed the gameplay, but it got old fast on two maps only.

Evolve Cover

With the Evolve beta, this was a bit different focus. The game has already gone gold. It’s too late to make major, sweeping changes. Instead, this was more of a, give the players a bunch of content, let them play essentially the full game for a weekend, and try to catch and squash as many bugs before release. Providing players with the first two sets of characters, both hunters and monsters, let Turtle Rock look at how they interact well before launch. Beyond that, pre-orders of the game before and during the beta unlocked the third and final set, and will have them all open in the full game. I’m not a huge fan of the early unlocks just for pre-ordering, but that’s a topic for another day. Honestly, the Evolve beta felt more like an almost complete game, probably because it was close to the final build, if it wasn’t the actual final build. There were strong built in tutorials, and every map that’s present in the game was in the beta. I think it was just a last chance tune-up prior to launch, which certainly has merits that can hopefully help keep Evolve from having yet another broken launch.

Image from Game Informer

One area where both betas did overlap was that both allowed the player to keep whatever unlocks they managed to get in the beta for the full game. In Halo‘s case, that mainly amounts to just cosmetic gear; with Evolve, that’s characters and upgrades. That’s a very different mentality from say last year’s Titanfall or Destiny betas, both of which had player wipes after the betas closed. I think both styles have their merits – I’m more inclined to be okay with Halo‘s approach, since cosmetic gear doesn’t impact gameplay (generally) while characters and upgrades can very much alter gameplay. Early on in a games life, I would rather have as many players as possible on a level playing field, as opposed to having players that were in the beta having upgraded characters, or players that pre-ordered having final tier characters. It’s up to the developers in the end, and we just have to hope they know what their doing.

Weekly News Recap – January 12, 2015

Now that we’re starting to get farther away from the holidays, the news is starting to flow again. As I do every week, I got a couple stories here that I think are worth your time.

Evolve Cover

EVOLVE OPEN BETA IS UP AND RUNNING
The first major new game for 2015 would probably be considered Evolve, which launches next month. Even though the game has already gone gold, Turtle Rock Studios is hosting a second pre-release session. There was the Big Alpha back in the fall, and now we have a bit larger scale Open Beta. The cool thing is that any progress will carry over through to the full game, including character unlocks – although the pre-order incentive on the Xbox One unlocks all the later characters/monsters. To me the more important part of the beta is that we have access to all 12 maps, including the “campaign” mode starting tomorrow. It’s a bit more fleshed out than it was during the Big Alpha, which is to be expected. Evolve is still set to be a pretty solid first release of the year, which I think bodes well for 2015.

Destiny The Dark Below

CROTA’S END HARD MODE RAID LAUNCHES NEXT WEEK
As for Destiny‘s current state, Bungie just released a patch that fixes a bunch of cheese exploits in the Crota’s End raid on the Moon. This week they also announced that next week, they’ll flip the switch and turn on Hard Mode for the Crota’s End raid. While the specifics for just what the Hard Mode will entail are still veiled in secrecy, I think it’s pretty safe to assume that since it’s starting at level 33, it’ll be a challenge for all players, regardless of their level. The good part is that we know a bit more about the primary weapons we’ll unlock for beating it.

New Nintendo 3DS Majoras Mask

NINTENDO HAS NEW 3DS DETAILS
With the latest Nintendo Direct, they’ve nailed down some of the details on the upcoming release of the New Nintendo 3DS. First, the smaller model won’t be out in the States. Second, the special edition – featuring Majora’s Mask artwork – sold out almost instantly. Having had my 3DS for about three or so years now, I’ve never really felt the need to upgrade – although now that new ones have Amiibo support, it might be worth it for games that take advantage of them.

Weekly News Recap – Week of October 27, 2014

I want to do this week’s news post a little differently, mainly when we get to talking about Call of Duty. But first, there are a couple other stories worth hitting.

Destiny The Dark Below

DESTINY’S FIRST EXPANSION DETAILED
Bungie this week formally announced the first DLC for Destiny, The Dark Below. It’ll be coming out on December 9, for all the platforms. The expansion will contain a few new Story missions, given to players by a new character at the Tower; a new Raid on the Moon called Crota’s End; new weapons, gear and armor; two strikes (sort of); and the Light level cap is raised to level 32. I qualify the strikes because one of the strikes will only be available on the Sony platforms – Xbox players will only have access to one new strike.

Evolve Cover

EVOLVE BIG ALPHA RUNS THROUGH THIS WEEKEND
I talked a bit about my initial impressions of the Evolve Big Alpha that started for Xbox One yesterday, but the full load opens up today, with PC and PlayStation players able to join in the hunt today. The Big Alpha shows off a good chunk of what we can expect in the full game, with a big exception being an upcoming, yet to be announced third Monster. If you’ve gotten a code, you really should get the Alpha downloaded and get playing, it’s a really fun experience.

CALL OF DUTY: ADVANCED WARFARE GETS LAUNCH LIVE ACTION TRAILER
As they do every year, Activision released the Live Action trailer for Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare in advance of the Monday/Tuesday launch. While that alone isn’t really anything out of the ordinary, I do want to touch on an article I saw from Joystiq this week talking about the franchise’s sales numbers. The article predicts that the decline in sales numbers will continue in the future. To me, this seems like crying wolf a bit. Sure sales numbers have gone down a bit, but when you have multiple games that broke all time sales records, you’ve got to put any decline in that context. Sales for Ghosts were down from Black Ops II, but that’s really not a huge surprise – not only was Black Ops II, at the time, the largest entertainment opening ever (until GTAV), but Ghosts also had to deal with the launch of the new consoles, splitting the market up. I’m not going to predict that Advanced Warfare will get back on to Black Ops II numbers, mainly because the shooter market is stacked this year, but I think it will do better than Ghosts did. And as for the future of the series, I think that next year, whatever Treyarch brings us, whether it’s Black Ops III, or some new sub-franchise; that sales will be strong, as the current-gen install base grows, and the market isn’t quite as crowded.

Evolve Big Alpha First Take: My First Journey Into the Hunt

Evolve CoverThe Big Alpha for Evolve came out today and runs through this weekend for those players lucky enough to have gotten a code. What that really amounts to is that people that signed up got the codes, no real criteria other than that. I played around a little with it today, after the Alpha went live at noon eastern, and since it’s my first experience with the game, I thought I’d put down my thoughts on the game.

Evolve is the new game from the team behind Left 4 Dead, and as such, there are a lot of similarities. Even though it’s a competitive game, in reality, Evolve is really a co-op game. The four hunters need to work together in order to bring down the Monster, and that really amounts to each hunter playing their role over trying to attack. Support and Medic players need to focus more on helping their team, while the Trapper should absolutely focus on keeping the Monster contained. That will free up the Assault to really pound the Monster with attacks. I’ve gotten some time with the Support class, and I’ve got to say, it’s actually a lot of fun. I’m not usually a huge Support class player – I’m more often the Tank/Nuker – but playing as the Support is a ton of fun. It’s also a really great way to explain how the game works. Each class has four items – assigned to the X, Y, RB, and B buttons on the Xbox One – and each has some degree of cooldown. It’s important to use the right item at the right time – as a Support, you should have the shield generator out most of the time. Once that Monster shows up, that shield will be super important – and using the Cloak is a great way to pull back and heal up after a battle, as well for revives. The other nice thing about Support is that they still have good offense options – there’s their laser cutter, which is their primary, plus they have an Orbital Bombardment, which is awesome to use against the Monster after the Trapper throws down the Mobile Arena.

Image from Game Informer

The flow of a game is a really refreshing take on a multiplayer game. The match starts with the Monster roaming free – building up his level by attacking and eating the AI wildlife; and the four Hunters are searching around the arena trying to find him. This is where the Trapper is really important, since they can track down the Monster easier. The AI wildlife is potentially dangerous, but if you move about as a group, you shouldn’t have much trouble. It’s when the Monster is found that the action really kicks off. The Trapper should throw down the Mobile Arena, and then the real combat begins. Medics should be healing whichever character is getting hit, while Support shields whoever the Monster is focusing. The Trapper can cause some debuffs, and Assault should just pound the Monster.

From what I’ve been able to tell, it seems like it has to be pretty difficult to play as the Monster. You may have an incredible amount of health, plus multiple abilities to use (that vary depending on which Monster you are) but you are playing against four people. It’s important to pick and choose your targets carefully – in addition to getting a good first hit on them. I would say target the Medic/Support classes first, especially while you’re still trapped in the Arena. Killing them will help mitigate how well the Hunters can survive. Beyond that, I would go after the Assault to help lower the damage you’re taking, then finish off the Trapper. I will say, that’s just my impressions of it after playing as Hunters – I haven’t gotten a chance to play as a Monster yet.

All in all, even though this is just an Alpha, so there’s still a lot of content we don’t have; but the game is a really fun experience. I can really see why it picked up pretty much every award ever at E3 this year. It’s a really unique, fresh experience in the Shooter world, which is needed with how strong the market is this year. With another Beta coming to Xbox One in January before the February launch, Turtle Rock has plenty of time to flesh out the final experience.

The Modern FPS Genre – The Trendiest of Genres

Call of Duty: Modern WarfareI’ve been a fan of First Person Shooters for a long time, going way back Quake II on the PC. As I’ve gotten more cognizant of how the industry works over the years though, I’ve come to notice something about the genre that goes back almost to those early days. It’s easy to look at the games in the genre and say that they all look alike. The basic form and function of the genre really hasn’t changed much since Wolfenstein 3D all those years ago. What really defines the whole genre is the trends the games follow, which tend to come in waves. With the new console generation, this is actually a great time to look at the genre, since we’re getting a whole bunch of new shooters; they may be all different games and tones, but they all have the same basic new trend behind them.

Looking back first though, I think that the major trend of the last wave of shooters really can be difficult to pinpoint. There was a big influx of 3rd Person Shooters that were really popular with the Gears of War series and the Mass Effect games. With those games, it was incredibly important to have a good cover system in place. That idea sneaked into FPS games as well, especially in the Call of Duty and Battlefield games. As those games added in the ability for weapons to penetrate certain materials, picking and choosing cover became a part of the game; as was recognizing what cover you could be behind and be protected, but also shoot over (head-glitching). That said though, I think the major trend really can be traced to Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, both in multiplayer and single player capacities. That was the game that really started the trend of huge set pieces during the campaign – something that has become sort of a calling card for the franchise now. In the multiplayer though, it was the first game to have the custom class system. It gave players the ability to tweak how they would play the game – they weren’t reliant on weapon spawns on the map, or forced into playing a specific class. It was super popular, and it wasn’t long before we saw that system creep into other major shooters too. Halo adopted it with Halo: Reach, letting players set up their grenades, weapons and armor abilities, which would continue in Halo 4. And while Battlefield 3 still had the traditional class system that was present in the series since day one, it did allow for a bit more customization within those classes, which is definitely more prevalent in Battlefield 4. Because of the degree of flexibility that the custom classes offer shooters, I really don’t see this leaving the genre, even though there has been a bit of a demand for a return to a more classic arcade/arena style shooter.

Titanfall

As the next batch of shooters gets closer and closer this fall, I think it’s become pretty apparent what the trend will be for these “next-gen” experience shooters. It started with Titanfall and now that we know more about Advanced Warfare, Destiny, Evolve and even Sunset Overdrive, I think it’s pretty easy to see that this trend is pretty solidly set in. It looks like the name of the game with shooters this gen will be movement. Titanfall added it to increase the vertical nature of the combat, mainly to ensure pilots had a chance against the Titans. Wallrunning and double jumping all over the map really adds a dynamic to the action that was missing in previous shooters. As the game did well early in the year, I was waiting to see if the other shooters were going to follow suit, and sure enough, in their own different ways, they have. Advanced Warfare uses the Exo-Skeleton suit to add in a quick dash to jumps, in any direction, as well as a double jump, bring verticality into the Call of Duty formula. I’m sure that there will still be some amount of traditional cover combat in the game, but I really hope that the general flow of combat is much more fluid and involves more dynamic combat. Destiny has movement tied directly into the leveling of your Guardian. Each class has a different manner of adding in a double jump, with different mechanics as to how they actually work. That ability to get up above the enemy is important not only in the PvE story, but will definitely impact how matches flow in the Crucible. Even with Evolve being delayed till next year, we’ve seen plenty of gameplay footage showing off all sorts of different aspects of the action. Both the Monster and the hunters look to have plenty of aerial options to not only move around the huge maps, but also for combating the other side. Finally, even though Sunset Overdrive is a 3rd person game, and not exactly a traditional style shooter, they’ve taken the idea of movement and motion to heart. Wallrunning, jumping, sliding and grinding all play into not only how you move around the world, but also the action as well.

Shooters tend to be generally the most popular games every year, and while this year isn’t as much about Call of Duty VS. Halo VS. Battlefield, it’s still a stacked lineup of shooters this fall. It’s still really early in this generation of games, way too early to tell if this emphasis on movement will stick around the whole generation, but it definitely has infused a sense of energy into the genre, which I think kicks the fun level up a couple notches.