Season Passes – The Good and the Bad

Rainbow Six SiegeI always love when I see a headline that gets my writing juices flowing. That happened today when I read about the announcement of the Season Pass for Rainbow Six: Siege. Generally, I’m in favor of Season Passes – I think that developers get that they’re a good way to get players invested in the DLC season early and throughout the duration. With Rainbow Six though, I think they missed the mark by a pretty substantial margin.

The new content for R6 includes one-week early access to new operators, exclusive weapon skins, and a permanent reputation gain boost. There are a couple other little bits, like random skin packs and challenges, but ultimately, that’s the extent of the Season Pass. That’s really weak. There’s no word on whether R6 will have actual DLC in the form of map packs moving forward, but if there is, you can bet there will be even more backlash against this Season Pass. Ubisoft has said that they want Rainbow Six: Siege to be a prominent esport game. If that’s the case, I really think this was a tremendously bad move. No content that’s included in the $30 price tag is relevant to the extended lifespan of the game. That’s what Season Passes are supposed to be about. The content that’s in the Season Pass is much more in line with post-launch microtransaction content. I talked earlier this week about microtransactions in games, but I’ll repeat it quickly here. I think when they’re done well, they work fine. If they had made these items available that way, I think that would be no problem at all – except maybe the reputation boost.

Fallout 4 Box Art

Contrast that with the Fallout 4 Season Pass. Also costing $30, that Season Pass will give players access to all the future DLC for the game. That’s a hell of a value. Fallout: New Vegas, which I’m replaying while my Xbox One is out at service, had four full sized DLCs, along with one that added in a whole slew of weapons and mods. Those full size, story content DLC each cost $10. Assuming that Bethesda goes the same route with Fallout 4, that means that the Season Pass is a no-brainer – it saves you $10, not counting any of the other possible add-ons. Same price as the Rainbow Six one, but the content included is so much more valuable. Call of Duty goes through the same question every year too – is the Season Pass going to save me enough money VS. buying the maps separately. What Activision and the developers do with the Call of Duty Season Passes is add in a little extra, usually a weapon skin or player calling card, that adds in a little more value to help it out. Not only do you, nowadays, save $5 versus buying the maps, but you get a couple unique items.

Whether we like it or not, I think Season Passes are here to stay. They, much like a lot of elements in modern gaming, are very much a fluid entity. There are great options out there to get a bunch of awesome extra content for a more value-driven price; and there are ones that just don’t make sense from a value standpoint. Every player is going to have their own thoughts on these sort of things – hardcore fans will pretty much always go for them, as a way to support the game and keep the game fresh. Less invested players might be more inclined to skip them.


Rainbow Six: Siege Beta Thoughts and Impressions

Rainbow Six SiegeOver the weekend I got the chance to download and play the new beta for Rainbow Six: Siege. The game may have been delayed until December, but Ubisoft didn’t delay the beta at all. I actually think that this whole situation may end up being the best thing for the game. Pushing it back to December puts it right in the middle of Holiday shopping, plus gets it out of the super crowded late October/early November time period. Keeping the beta now also keeps the demand for the game up through the delay period. Of course we have to wait until December to really know if this is a return to form for the longtime classic series, but I have to think that we might be on that track after this beta.

We’ll start with what I didn’t like with the beta, because there isn’t a ton to talk about here – and the issues I have aren’t really deal breakers. In truth, my biggest issue is a personal one. In the PvP multiplayer, you only have one life. I have never liked game modes like that – Gears of War, Search and Destroy, and so on – just because my style of play is way too aggressive for it. In games like this where realism is a huge part of the play, it may make sense, but it also makes it super easy to die because of a tiny mistake. The margin for error is so small that it all but requires you to play slower and more defensive. But that’s not an actual problem with the game – it’s just a personal conflict with the mechanics.

In truth, I think the PvP actually works really well. It definitely better to go into the matchmaking with as close to a full squad as possible. This is a game where teamwork is paramount – lone wolf players will have a serious struggle, at least with what we have to play right now. Either side, attackers or defenders, need to coordinate their tactics in order to succeed. Attackers need to keep communication lines up to figure out not only where the enemies are, but also where traps are, and where they’re breaching and moving. Defenders need to coordinate how they’re setting up the defenses – which walls are being reinforced, where the barricades and traps are being set and making sure that if there’s a weak spot, everyone knows it. If there’s an actual gameplay critique here, it’s that the two different game modes really aren’t that different. TDM Bomb has the attackers diffusing a bomb – one player has to have the diffuser, while the other mode has attackers trying to find a biological weapon and then control the point for a set time. Not strictly bad, but I hope the final game has a few more modes in it.

Where I really think that Rainbow Six: Siege will shine is in the classic Terrorist Hunt mode. It’s a co-op mode for up to five players, tasked with taking out a set number of terrorists on a map. In the beta, we have two different maps – both feature in the PvP and co-op. Whether or not that’s going to be the case in the final game – in that the multiplayer maps will all feature as Terrorist Hunt maps – remains to be seen. Regardless, Terrorist Hunt is exactly what a game like Rainbow Six needs. There’s a reason that it was so popular in the two Rainbow Six: Vegas games. With the new feature of special operators in Siege I think that Terrorist Hunt could end up being the real meat of the multiplayer.

Those operators are all pretty cool – they essentially act as special playable characters. Each CTU (Counter Terrorist Unit) has a selection of operators, and each operator has a special set of weapons and gadgets. They fit into heavy, medium or light archetypes too – heavy armored characters move really slowly, but can take a few more bullets. The opposite is true too – light characters move a lot faster, but are much more fragile. Getting to know how their actual gadgets does take a few games though – but could be cleared up in the final release when the operator videos are live. I assume that there will be at least a few more operators in the final build, per CTU – which means more options, which means more variety, and that’s always a good thing.

Ultimately, it’s really hard to say with certainty that Rainbow Six: Siege is going to be a winner. But I do think that it has a couple things going for it that set it up to succeed. There’s no other shooter this season that falls into that same “super realistic” style which means less direct competition. Pushing it out of the really crowded time frame adds to that – by the time the game launches, shooter players will have already beaten Halo 5, Star Wars: Battlefront and/or Call of Duty and they’ll have picked which multiplayer to stick with. Come December that should mean an audience that is ready for a new game, and Rainbow Six is dropping at that same point. We know nothing yet about the story – but Tom Clancy games are generally strong in that aspect. It’s a game that I think is set up for success and we just have to wait to see if it delivers.

My Concerns About a Stacked Fall Release Window

Halo 5 GuardiansThere’s a reason that most gamers really look forward to the fall – that’s when the biggest games of the year launch. This year though – not only is it no exception to that rule, it could end up being one of the biggest fall seasons we’ve seen in a long while. Normally that’s a good thing, but I have a few lingering thoughts as we get closer to the launches this year.

One of, if not the biggest, things to keep an eye on in the fall season is the shooter market. It’s been largely defined in the last number of years by the competition between Halo and Call of Duty. That same competition will be present again this year, but also has a pretty interesting wrinkle thrown in – Star Wars: Battlefront, a game that’s been a desire for a long time. That, combined with the utter failure that Master Chief Collection ended up being, is why I am very much concerned for Halo 5. Microsoft and 343 won’t say it, but I think they both need Halo 5 to do well – maybe not light the world on fire, but it has to sell well. Xbox lost the Call of Duty exclusivity for DLC this year, Destiny has been a PlayStation focused game since launch, and all the pre-launch footage for Battlefront has been on PS4s. That’s a serious concern – the shooter market is generally the largest in gaming these days. Halo being an exclusive franchise is a plus – Microsoft knows that their fans more or less are almost always Halo fans too. I think 343 might be on a short leash here though – another debacle like Master Chief Collection could be a nightmare.

Fallout 4 Box Art

The other thing that I’m really keeping my eye on is the amount of games that are making returns. This year will see the return of Rock Band, Guitar Hero, Rainbow Six and Fallout, not to mention the previously talked about Battlefront. That’s a lot of franchises with long running fanbases. That tends to mean two things – strong sales, and super high expectations. I expect them all to do well – the music games probably being the lowest sellers, but still doing well. The real winners look to be Fallout, Rainbow Six and Battlefront – each is highly anticipated (which means strong sales) and all have looked strong prior to launch. Watch for one of these to carry the day in terms of sales.

Destiny Taken King Collectors Edition

The final thing that I’ve been thinking about is Destiny. It’s been a favorite topic of mine to write about here – and for good reason. It’s a fun game, with well noted flaws, and has been probably my most played game over the last year. But with all that, this fall could be the biggest test that Destiny has had since launch. More so than either previous DLC. The Taken King is easily the most ambitious addition to Destiny so far, and depending on how it’s received by the community, could go a long way toward spelling out Destiny‘s future. The pressure is crazy on Bungie here – the community is notably frustrated with the current state of the Crucible meta. Normally that wouldn’t be a huge deal – after all there’s supposed to be this massive persistent shared world to play. The problem is that the PvE content has more or less run its course – Prison of Elders is fun, but limited; the Raids have basically hit their peak as well. And so players dive into the PvP – an area that in theory has limitless for playing. The problem is that the Crucible hasn’t seen any attention in a long time – spawns are alright, but the weapons need some serious tweaking. The run-up to The Taken King is a big deal – Bungie has to at least show to the community that they’re listening and approaching this with some of the concerns we’ve had in mind.

All of these issues could end up being completely moot points in just a few months. Halo 5 could prove to be the best game in the series in years. Those returning franchises could all sell like hotcakes. Destiny could prove that it’s actually going to be able to support that ten year lifespan they said. All I know for sure right now is that the fall is always my favorite time of the gaming year, and September can’t get here quick enough.

E3 2015 – Third Party Press Events Wrap-Up

Today may be the last day of E3, but we still have a few more press conferences to look back over. Instead of going through each of the three shows (EA, Ubisoft, and Square-Enix), game by game – like I did with the Microsoft and Sony shows – I’m just going to hit the heavy hitters today. Much like the rest of the show, there are plenty of big games to talk about.

EA Logo

We’ll start with EA – the first of the third party pressers. The early focus was all about the new Need for Speed – due out this November. We got our first look at gameplay – it does look gorgeous, I’ll give it that. But the focus of the game looks a little dated to me – the idea of a Fast and Furious style car club/underground racing club seems like it was made for about 10 years ago. Add to that the fact that there’s serious competition – Forza 6, and I think there’s trouble for Need for Speed. Luckily EA had a couple other early moments. In particular the combo of the reveal of Unravel – a new physics puzzle platformer with a really cool main character; and the follow up with more Plants Vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare 2. The combination really helped lighten up the mood, both games have a fantastic character about them. However, EA still struggles with how to handle their EA Sports games at E3. They need to talk about them – they are consistently the biggest selling games around the world, but really aren’t exciting to talk about. They try different things, but this year was pretty rough – I love Pele, but man, seeing him do an interview on stage really killed the flow of the show.

EA I think knew that a little because they kept the heavy hitters for after – starting with the reveal of Mirror’s Edge Catalyst, and closing with Battlefront. Both games stand to be massive games, for different reasons. Mirror’s Edge for it’s unique gameplay and storytelling, along with a strong player character. Star Wars: Battlefront for being Star Wars, and also an amazing shooter. Overall, I think EA had a show with pretty strong moments, but man, they continue to have real issues with the setup of their show. And also that Mass Effect: Andromeda was announced, but not shown during the show. Weird.

Ubisoft Logo

Next up was Ubisoft – always a fun show to watch, with a pretty unique format and Aisha Tyler hosting. Ubisoft knew enough that the tone of E3 was surprises this year – so they started with a couple. A brand new South Park game – The Fractured, But Whole; along with For Honor started the show strong. We got a look at more Division footage that looked really cool, except for the part where you can dick over your own friends in the Dark Zone. To me though, the first real highlight was seeing Rainbow Six: Siege again in action. This time was the return of Terror Hunt, the co-op mode that looks super great. This was also when we got the beta details – this September on all platforms, featuring PvP and Terror Hunt. Ubisoft had to show off Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate – since this was before the Sony show, this was actually our first look at E3. The trailer from the Ubisoft show did a good job of setting the game up, introducing Jacob Frye and the setting of the game. And again, the show closed with a surprise, just as it opened with – the triumphant return of Ghost Recon. It’s been a few years since we’ve seen the team, and it definitely looks like there have been a good number of changes. Assuming that we’ll get hands-on next year with it, that would mean that Ubisoft is really pushing Tom Clancy games again, which is a smart move.

Square Enix Logo

Finally, we had the Square-Enix show on Tuesday. Square had an…interesting show. The format maybe hurt it, but damn, the games were really strong. Just Cause 3 looks like the kind of mindless, over-the-top crazy fun that the series is known for, just kicked up more. I was surprised to see a new Nier game announced, but at the same time, Square does things their way. We got more Tomb Raider, but just a little. To me though, the real meat of the show was coming up. We got the Final Fantasy VII trailer again, along with the news we’ll see more this winter. They then of course played with us a little bit, showing off Kingdom Hearts Unchained, a new Mobile game coming that will tie in with Kingdom Hearts III. Square didn’t tease us for long though, and we finally got our first look at gameplay for Kingdom Hearts III – and man, that game looks great. It immediately got me back into that state of mind – it looks just like Kingdom Hearts should, bright, colorful, and full of character. Unfortunately, we have a long wait ahead – I would be surprised if it came out next winter, but it could. Most likely it’s looking like early 2017. Square also showed off more of Hitman, which does look pretty cool. This was also the first glimpse of Deus Ex: Mankind Divided, showing some looks at gameplay, but still in the form of a cinematic trailer. The close of the show though was a little weird to me. After Deus Ex, I expected them to close with Final Fantasy XV. Instead we got a super super early announcement that a new studio – Tokyo RPG Factory – is making a new series. Final Fantasy XV, probably their biggest in-house name, only showed up for a few seconds in a trailer montage. That seemed really odd to me.

Ultimately, when the Square-Enix show wrapped up, we were done with the press events and could really start looking for smaller, more focused reports. The press events this year were top-to-bottom strong. There were slow moments, in every conference, for sure. But there really was less of them, and hardware talk was way lower this year than it has been recently. Now that we’ve gotten some hands-on reports too, it really does look like this year has had one of the better E3’s in a while. It’s why I just plain love this week.

E3 Looking Ahead to Next Year

As is always the case, E3 brought with it this year a few cases of games that are well away from their release dates, lots that might not even be ready until late next year. So with that in mind, I thought it might be fun to spin all this E3 talk ahead and start thinking a little bit about next year’s show. What games will we definitely see, what games will surprise us, what other news might we expect to see – questions like that I think are not totally out of line to think about already.

In terms of games we saw this year that I think we know we will see next year, I think one of the biggest games of next year’s show will be DICE’s Star Wars: Battlefront. The very little we saw at the EA press show looked unbelievable, but was easily picked out as being super early in development. I think by next year though we’ll see a real fleshed out build, probably even playable on the show floor. It really wouldn’t surprise me to maybe see something along the lines of Battlefield: Hardline with a beta announced at the show.

I also really think that Rainbow Six: Siege will have a great showing, probably the last tune up before it’s release. It already emerged this year as a show stealer, so by next year’s show I really expect it to be one of the bigger games of the show.

Also I would bet that Rise of the Tomb Raider will have a real strong show next year, probably a great trailer and playable demo on the show floor. It’s another game that I think had a great announcement trailer, but is so far away from release it’s hard to really get a feel on the game.

The Division

Tom Clancy’s The Division is another game that depending on it’s release date, could end up being another show stealer next year – probably with a demo on the floor, plus something for non-attendees.

Finally, there are two more that we saw this year that I think will be the big two next year – Mass Effect and Uncharted 4. Both are still super early in development, so we really didn’t see anything to really judge them on, but both will definitely have great builds to show next year.

In terms of surprise games, or games that we didn’t see this year, I really expect that we’ll see Kingdom Hearts 3 next year in a real meaningful capacity. Same deal with Final Fantasy XV, seeing as Square-Enix really didn’t have a strong show this year. I expect Nintendo to bring the thunder too next year – definitely Zelda, but probably a new Mario and Metroid as well. I also wouldn’t be surprised at all to see Fallout 4 finally get shown, with an aggressive release date.

This is always a fun time of the year for gaming, even though there aren’t a ton of new games coming out, but the news just keeps flowing, keeping the hype high for us players.