E3 Guesses and Leak Thoughts

It’s my favorite time of the year, E3 season, and that means that there are all kinds of news and rumors floating around out there. We’ve already seen a couple pretty big leaks sneak out – Destiny’s Rise of Iron, Injustice 2, and a Final Fantasy XII Remake all were leaked in the last couple weeks. There are still a couple rumors flying around now as well – a Skyrim Remake? Wolfenstein 2? EA’s new Star Wars game? Each announcement could very well pop up next week at the show. On one hand I’m always a fan of finding out the newest games and DLC announcements as soon as possible, even more so for games that I really love; but I think overall I would rather the announcements be made on the developers own terms. I think leaks can be good in some cases, but these leaks happening literally the week before E3 bum me out a little. A huge part of what makes E3 so awesome is the initial announcements of these surprise games. This year’s show could have had the big moments – showing Destiny‘s next phase, the reveal of a super hero fighting game sequel done right both now have no impact behind them.

Now, that having been said, there are still a couple potential surprises that could pop up next week at the show. One thing that I think everyone does leading up to E3 is to try and figure out what those surprises could be. I’m no different, so I have a couple things in mind that could be sneaking into the show this year. First – my long shot predictions are the announcement of Borderlands 3 and Elder Scrolls VI. The timing works for each – both series are due for the next main series entry in their catalogs, but there are a couple factors that make it still seem like an unlikely move this year. Gearbox and 2K just put out Battleborn and are focused on that game – in truth, I think what we may actually get is some kind of DLC for that game that is Borderlands themed. Bethesda still has Fallout 4 to support, along with DOOM and the Skyrim remaster coming – that’s a lot on their plate without adding a full new Elder Scrolls game to the mix. I think that both games are coming, but probably are a few months away from announcement. I do have a couple more likely predictions though – I think we get actual release dates for Mass Effect: Andromeda and possibly Kingdom Hearts III or Final Fantasy VII Remake. I think we see the next Black Ops III DLC as well, along with the full Titanfall 2 announcement. There’s been a lot of leaks and announcements already this year, but I still think that this year’s E3 has a lot of good games to show us. Next week is going to be quite fun.

Xbox 360 Games That Need to be Backwards Compatible

Xbox 360 LogoMicrosoft announced this week that in the next update coming to the Xbox One, Xbox 360 titles that are part of the backwards compatibility feature will be able to be purchased from the Xbox Live Store right on the Xbox One. They’ve been good about making the Games with Gold games be backwards compatible, but there’s always been that one little barrier that might be keeping people from picking them up – you needed to either still log on the 360 to “buy” them, or go on to the Marketplace on Xbox.com to do the same. Hopefully bringing the 360’s marketplace to the Xbox One will open up a whole bunch of classics from the last generation to make the backwards compatible leap. So with that in mind, I thought I’d pick out a couple 360 games that really need to be brought into the backwards compatible program – if for no reason other than new gamers really should play them.

BioShock CoverWe’ll start with the BioShock series. I’ve seen a couple rumors floating around that there are plans to bring them forward in an HD/Definitive Edition Collection, similar to what 2K did with Borderlands. Assuming that doesn’t come to fruition, the three games should at least come forward as backwards compatibility titles. The first game is arguably one of the best story driven shooters of all time, and is in my personal top five for the entire 360’s library. There’s a lot of depth in the combat with the Plasmid system, bringing in a little RPG flavor to a shooter with a ton of character, and one of the most intriguing settings in modern gaming with Rapture. The sequel was a little bit of a stumble – I wouldn’t call it a step back, but it wasn’t the step forward that maybe it should have been. There are some really cool innovations – playing as a prototype Big Daddy was awesome, and being able to wield a Plasmid and weapon at the same time made combat a little more fluid. Where I think the biggest misstep was with BioShock 2 was the addition of multiplayer, which felt a little forced to me. Luckily, BioShock Infinite brought the series back to really solid ground, even when the game wasn’t set on particularly solid ground. It took the ideas that the first game presented, married it with the updated action from the second, and then ran with them. I’d love to see that HD collection happen, but if not, these games really need to be available through backwards compatibility.

Another game on my personal top 1o list is Dead Space – the first game is still one of the best examples of survival horror, using a pretty standard sci-fi setting and cranking the terror up through immersive storytelling and unique enemy interaction. When we think survival horror, we think zombies – that’s just the nature of the beast thanks mainly to Resident Evil. With Dead Space, the tried and true zombie killing approach was turned on its head – the game punishes you for shooting the Necromorphs in the head. The most base instinct of any gun-based combat actually is the wrong answer – beheading them makes them much more dangerous; instead the game, using in-world assets (messages sprawled on the walls in blood) to tell you to shoot their limbs. The sequels got a little away from the real sensation of claustrophobia that the Ishimora had in the first game, opting for an increasing focus on combat. As much as I prefer to see full series available on backwards compatibility, the first Dead Space really needs to come forward.

Dragon Age OriginsI have three more groups of games that I want to talk about today. Each is relevant to the current gaming market in different ways, and each is cemented in that conversation of “best of the generation.” We’ll start with the Dragon Age games. I actually just reinstalled Dragon Age: Inquisition to my Xbox One, since it was cleared when my box died back in October. BioWare is one of my favorite developers – their characters and stories are consistently some of the best in gaming across the board. They’ve proven that they can craft engaging stories, with characters that feel real, in worlds that feel lived in; and still have the gameplay to keep players invested in RPGs that can easily creep up into that 60 hour range. Dragon Age takes that idea and brings in the classic Dungeons and Dragons mechanics to the combat. BioWare used that same d20 system in their first third-person RPG, Knights of the Old Republic. Dragon Age just brought that d20 system back to high fantasy, and makes sure to have a story in place that makes sense and is engaging. Since the third game did so well on the current-gen consoles, it really just makes sense to bring the first two games to backward compatibility. There’s not a huge amount of connection, outside of certain characters and story/world elements linking the third game to the first two, so new players might not have the same background with the Lore.

Sticking with BioWare, their other main franchise is another that’s in my top five: Mass Effect. I’ve talked in the past about how much I want an HD collection of the Shepard trilogy on the current-gen consoles, if for no reason other than to tide me over until Mass Effect Andromeda. Baring that, those three games really should be available to play through the backwards compatibility on Xbox One. They’re a more balanced blend of RPG and shooter mechanics, mainly because of the realtime combat, and use of a third-person cover system. With these kind of genre blended games becoming much more common, I think bringing an example of not only one of the earliest blended shooter/RPGs, but still one of the best of those games. Shepard’s story is both grand and intimate, the themes that lie underneath this huge space sci-fi epic are decidedly human. It is one of the first modern games I can remember to put a big emphasis on player choices and decisions. The idea of Paragon and Renegade playthroughs, character interactions that put actual value on your responses, and an ending that, in theory, is driven by player choice all were super innovative nine years ago. I’m sure that there are plenty of people who either missed the series because they were too young, or because they weren’t into RPGs or whatever other reasons you can think of – bringing them to backwards compatibility means that a new generation of players could sit down and play through one of the best trilogies of games ever. Since the first game is on the list, I don’t know why the other two haven’t been added yet.

SkyrimFinally, one last set of games – Bethesda’s RPGs. Fallout 3 is already available – it came with Fallout 4 – but their other three RPGs: Fallout New VegasElder Scrolls IV: Oblivion and Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim all haven’t made the leap yet. With Fallout 4 starting its DLC season shortly, the time might be a little crunched, but I definitely think that they really belong on the list. New Vegas added in a lot more RPG depth to the characters, and Hardcore mode is a totally unique way of playing Bethesda RPGs. The Elder Scrolls games were the RPGs, especially Oblivion that started me getting into more traditional and deeper RPGs as opposed to Pokemon and Final Fantasy. With Elder Scrolls Online on the current-gen consoles, I think it makes sense to try and put at least Skyrim on that backwards list, if it isn’t already. I know that studios are starting to really pull away from the last generation – and that’s been something I’ve wanted to see from developers for about a year now – but there are still games from last-gen that I think can exist with the backwards compatibility. I don’t know how much effort it takes to put them on that list of games that is backwards compatible, but if I were Microsoft, I know that I would really be trying to get Skyrim on there.

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.


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.

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.)

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

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.

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.


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.

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

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.

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.


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.

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

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

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

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.

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:


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.

World Building and How to Best Go About It

One thing that has been on my mind a lot lately as I go back and play though the Fable series as well as Borderlands 1 and Borderlands 2 is just how important it is to craft a thoroughly believable world that you play in. There are different ways that developers go about creating these worlds, I think that the base elements are pretty much the same regardless of the game.

One thing I want to touch quickly on – I think I would be remiss to mention the role that game manuals play in world building. Of course, with manuals all but extinct at this point, developers have to adjust a little bit. In the old days, a developer would put the backstory for the setting, characters, enemies and lore all in the manual – at this point, all that information has to be added in the actual game, at least it does to ensure a rich world to explore.


Which brings me to a couple examples I have, from a few different genres too. First, I want to look at the Borderlands series. I think it’s a good place to look at how a developer can take a slow burn approach to building the world. Looking at the first game, most of the extra information that helps create a fully fleshed out world lives in the quest cards that you get for all of the quests, there is very little in the way of cutscenes or dialogue. That changes a little bit in the second game – the bulk of the extra info still comes in the quest cards, but they definitely added more cutscenes and dialogue to help flesh out the main storyline. As it extends to world building, the lack of dialogue in the first game can be somewhat written off as Pandora being an incredibly hostile planet, while most of the dialogue in the sequel takes place in Sanctuary, which is a (relatively) safe location. If you dig a little deeper into the quest cards, you can find a much more detailed world than first glance might show. I don’t know if it’s the most effective manner to build a world, but it does work – I think the Pandora is one of the more unique settings in gaming, with a really unique universe to tell a bunch of stories in.


Next, I want to look at the Elder Scrolls series, specifically Oblivion and Skyrim. Since the franchise has been going on for a number of years, the backstory for these two games is incredibly in depth, going back years through a number of games. Looking at them as stand alone games, the strength of the writing and dialogue helps make the towns feel much more alive, and each character has a life that is easily observed. That in and of itself helps make the world of Cyrodil or Skyrim an incredibly in depth place to explore. But going beyond that, Bethesda has always put tons of extra information in the games – each book is fully written, with a bunch of variation in tone, length and topic; each unique item has a backstory, the alchemy ingredients that exist in the world have multiple properties, and a lifespan out in the world where they regrow after being picked. That detail is something that I’m glad that Bethesda has extended to the Fallout world too.

Halo 3

Finally, I want to look at the Halo series. I want to look here because shooters in general tend to have the “weakest” worlds to explore – just based around the confines of the game mechanics. But with that said, Halo has always had a very in-depth universe to explore, with tons of little details, from each shell casing from the shotgun having a brand name printed on it; to the details on the Warthog’s dashboard. Going beyond that – the early games came with really well thought out manuals – each going into surprising depth on each weapon, enemy, vehicle and piece of technology in the universe. The later games build on that with extra incentives through special editions, or the terminals in-game.

I think ultimately, there really isn’t a perfect way to go about creating the worlds that players get to explore. The most important thing is that the players can immerse themselves into the universe.

One Last Look at the Xbox 360

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

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

Mass Effect

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

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

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

Xbox Live Arcade

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

Hell Yeah! Wrath of the Dead Rabbit

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

Castle of Illusion Starring Mickey Mouse

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

The Only Non-PS4 Blog You’ll See Today

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

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

Halo 3

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


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

Transformers: Fall of Cybertron

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

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