Xbox One Games with Gold – Thief

ThiefA new month brings new free games to Xbox Live. This month, I’ve actually played through one of the available games – it was actually one of the first Xbox One games I bought: Thief. I wrote about it way back when it came out, but now that it will be free for a month, I thought it might be nice to revisit my thoughts on it.

Ultimately it’s an alright game – since it’s free, there really isn’t a major reason now to not pick it up.  I do think it’s worth playing, if for no reason other than there really is only one other game like it out – Dishonored. Both games are very similar, probably because Dishonored drew pretty heavily on Thief‘s classic games as inspiration. When the series returned, it had to be a no brainer to look at Dishonored and pull from that game’s successes. There’s enough differences between the two where they definitely feel different – Thief takes place in a more open world setting than Dishonored, but there are pretty clear parallels than can be drawn.

Of course, just because it looks and plays similarly to a great game like Dishonored, that doesn’t mean that the return of Garet went flawlessly. Being truthful, Thief has some pretty noticeable shortcomings. The story is pretty flat – I don’t really remember the point looking back at it now. The gameplay itself tries to push you towards the non-violent options, which is good because combat was pretty poor. I remember having some sizable gripes with the controls too – the felt rather clunky. I also think it had a wonky difficulty curve to it – some parts I remember being very challenging, and others were breezes.

At the end of the day what I think Thief is is a good example of where “next-gen” games were back early last year. It was still trying to balance both being on Xbox One and on Xbox 360, and it shows. But it’s free. It’s worth at least running through once, getting some easy gamerscore and then clearing it off your hard drive. If it were merely on sale, I’d say pass, but $0.00 is zero pressure to be good.


The Root of the Question – Immersion

Dragon Age OriginsThe last two days I’ve posed a hypothetical question – if you had the power, which game worlds would be the best/worst ones to hop into and live in; as in actually be a part of. I came up with what I think is a pretty solid start to each list, although a question like this is always going to have lots of wiggle room. I’ll admit I was trying to keep most of my picks somewhat relevant to the current slate of games out there. There’s plenty of classic games that could fit into either category.

That said though, at the core of this whole discussion is one simple factor. How immersive is that game’s world? I think, regardless of which list you put the game on, if it’s in contention for either, that’s ultimately a good thing for the game. That means that the developers have crafted a world that draws you in in some way. That could be through dialogue and writing, it could be with the action of the game, or it could just be the aesthetics of the world. Regardless of whether actually living in that world would be nice and easy, or incredibly dangerous; the fact that the thought has even entered your brain is a win.


I say that like it’s a given with games these days. We seem to expect a rich, living environment for our games. As the industry has grown and matured, that’s a perfectly reasonable thing to expect. Not every game needs to be a super serious, gritty, mature title to achieve that though. And even beyond that, creating a world that feels alive and immersive is incredibly difficult. A good example is last year’s reboot of Thief. The game tried to do too much, and as a result, the world felt stiff. It was really noticeable compared with Dishonored, which managed to pull of a much more alive feeling world, while still trying to do very similar things. Both are set in very dystopian worlds, neither would exactly be fun to live in – although our rules stated we would be the main character, which would alleviate a lot of that; both are also structured around stealth mechanics, with some super natural added in. And yet, Thief fell a little short, thanks to a convoluted story, and really no impact to the world around you. Dishonored made every decision impact the whole of the world, which made the different play styles matter more, and in turn helped breathe life into the game world.

BioWare Logo

Which is why studios like BioWare and Bethesda always deserve a ton of credit for their hard work. BioWare’s two major current IPs – Mass Effect and Dragon Age – couldn’t be more different in setting. And yet both have the very same focus – story and character – to make the worlds feel alive, and thus draw the player in much more. Add in some character customization, superb writing and acting and solid action, regardless of control style; and you have not only an incredible world to play in, but a game that’s super fun to play. Bethesda does it a little differently. Story is still important, but it’s more through the little details that their worlds come to life. Giving every NPC a schedule that the keep makes going to the towns feel just like that. Having a reputation/crime system provides consequence for your actions – good or bad. It makes it very easy to get lost in the Role Playing nature of their games, regardless of whether it’s Fallout or Elder Scrolls.

Bethesda Softworks Logo

I think it’s very easy to look at the current state of gaming and say that the big determining factor for progress has been graphics. In just about 30 years we’ve come incredibly far, really quite fast. I don’t see it being a huge stretch to say that in the same period of time in the future we might get to see games that are as close to life like as any CGi movie is. But that’s not really where the growth has been, in my eyes. It helps it, sure, but really the growth is best shown in the increase in games with impact. We’ve gone from an industry where the best selling and most loved games are literally two-dimensional; to now one that craves stories with weight, characters with life and action with impact. All mass forms of entertainment have gone through this growth – movies, comics, books, TV, even music. It’s part of truly becoming mainstream, and earning our spot as part of the mass pop culture. We still have a very long way to go, just look at the last 6 months of gaming culture to see why; but I truly believe that we’ll get there eventually. And when we do, it’s going to be thanks to these games, where immersion is the key.

Thief – Not Nearly As Bad As They Say

So last week Thief came out for all platforms, and the reviews were less than stellar to put it kindly. Now, I’ve been pretty excited for Thief pretty much since the first gameplay trailer was released, and had the game pre-ordered, so when I saw the reviews I was a little worried, but I knew I was still going to be playing the game. Now at this point, I’ve put in about 15 hours into the game – taking it slowly this first time around exploring as much as possible. While I haven’t quite beaten the game yet, I definitely feel like I’ve played enough to give my impressions on the overall feel of the game.


First off – the reviews all mentioned that the story is weak at best. Now, I won’t argue that the story is the best in the world, but it’s nowhere near the worst story I’ve ever played. I think what hurts Thief the most on this front is that the game is very similar to Dishonored, which borrowed heavily from the older Thief games, but had a really strong story and tied in the supernatural elements from the very beginning. But this new Thief game I think struggles to find the core of the story – I believe that there’s an enjoyable story somewhere in there, but it’s strung out a little too much. There’s a lot going on in the story, from Garret trying to recover his memories, to finding out the truth about his former partner Erin, to the conflict between the Baron and the people of the City – and there’s still a few little threads that I could mention. The real issue with the story, in my eyes, is the way that the story is presented – major advances only happen after “main-story” chapters, and only through short cutscenes. I think that having a slower development, that was presented during the actual gameplay would have helped the over-arching story.

Story aside, the most important part of any game is the actual gameplay. And Thief actually does a pretty good job of making the stealth feel really strong, most of the time. Every once in a while the A.I. gets a little dumb, but generally, it feels really satisfying to keep to the shadows and rooftops and get in and out silently. I saw in a couple reviews, people were upset with the map – I have to disagree right there. The map is fine – really all it’s missing that I would like is the ability to set a custom waypoint, but honestly, that’s a minor thing – makes you learn the city better. Plus putting the mini-map on the HUD makes navigation a breeze. And the HUD totally works well, without being super intrusive. Focus mode works pretty well too – especially at keeping you on track.

Ultimately, I would say that Thief is a game that definitely has a few flaws, but it’s nowhere near as bad as the reviews might have you believe. All in all, it’s an enjoyable game, and will definitely be a good second option to Titanfall for the spring for now.

Looking Ahead to 2014

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


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


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

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

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


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

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