the official Blog of the Vorpal Beats Podcast
In one way or another it would be difficult to say that the Year of 2016 is anything other than unpleasantly disappointing. To encapsulate it in as few words as possible; 2016's embodiment would be death, despair, and disappointment. We lost icons, and more of us have a sense that we have lost a bit of our future. On a more personal front, however, gaming changed in 2016. Competitive gaming saw a massive resurgence. It seemed like every Developer was trying to create their own take on the MOBA. Perusing game sites, it felt like there were more articles regarding competitive play and tournaments than ever before. Expensive DLC seemed to be the big cash-in, going so far as to “complete” games by the release of the last DLC component. It seems a fair assessment that the $60-$70 paid for a game nets less and less of an actual game as time goes on. Ultimately, gaming just seemed to be a big disappointment by the end of 2016.
As I have mentioned before in Vorpal Power; gaming is life for me. I have a Man Cave at the house filled with Legos, but the most important thing in there is my gaming rig. My early birthdays were spent taking all my friends to Putt-Putt or Showbiz Pizza (look it up kids, it’s a Florida local favorite more than you know). However, what we all really wanted to do was scarf down pizza and get lost in the Arcade for a few hours.
Gaming is at my core. Steam Sales are my holidays. The release of a new game is a reason to take a day of vacation from work. My daydreams are teaming with Link and Mario to adventure through the worlds of Final Fantasy and defeat the evil power using our Pokemon. Gaming is in my soul.
2016 altered my approach to gaming.
2016 nigh altered my love of gaming.
2016, for me at least, was a disappointment beyond disappointments.
This path of dark disappointment started back earlier in the year with Fallout 4 and it’s DLC. Fallout 4 came out in late 2015, but it’s add-ons came out throughout 2016 well into the summer. Fallout 4 overall was a disappointment as a game. This was mostly due to the fact of its inclusion of Minecraft-like elements of rebuilding the wasteland through settlements. We have discussed this at length in our podcast, and while those elements were mildly enjoyable, the DLC made it clear this was going to be the game’s focus moving forward. The first DLC release, Automatron, had a bit of story to it. However, one of the core elements was destroy robots and using those parts to build new robots. This touches me in deep warm spots, but this was a Fallout game. I wanted Fallout stuff; deep story, interesting character, sharp ironic wit. What I got was a construction kit, as in the next DLC called Wasteland Workshop. Literally just a pile of components used to expand your settlements in new ways.
This was disappointing enough, but the next DLC for Fallout 4 promised to be a story-driven wonder. This was mostly true -- till the game decided it wanted to be a Tron-like puzzle game. What started out as interesting tedium, became time consuming padding to an already short DLC. I stopped somewhere around the third puzzle. I uninstalled Fallout 4 and gave little care to the fourth DLC that was released months later in August.
To say that my belief in Bethesda as a Fallout game developer is shattered, would be an exaggeration. I had a long conversation with my buddy CJ about the Fallout series after this moment. If you compare an Obsidian-based Fallout game like New Vegas or the originals, vs. a Bethesda produced Fallout 3 or 4, there are two very different mindsets to what exactly makes Fallout a game. Bethesda always seems to develop Fallout as a gimmick. Obsidian develops a wondrous journey of awesomeness and has a real grasp of what Fallout truly is as a game and intellectual property. Sad to say, but I think the Fallout series is now nothing more than Steam Sale fodder.
Along those same lines, Bethesda decided that this year was the year that review copies for major game review sites were no longer a thing. Back in October, just before Bethesda's new sequel hit -- Dishonored 2 -- was to be released, Bethesda announced that it was no longer issuing review copies to reviewers. Review copies will go out 24 hours before release date (I think there was also some talk that review copies woudl go out to YouTube fanboy channels that have nothing but good things to say about Bethesda (for money) but I am not sure if that was complete true or not). If you have any concept of time, you will note that 24 hours release is simply not enough time to fully review a game to the point of making an informed consensus on a title.
That first week of sales is vital to the survivability of a game on the market. It has been the outcry for years that pre-orders are the spurn of gaming in general. Gaming sites have been denouncing the practice and trying to get avid gamers to not purchase before reading a review or before the initial wave of first-adopters has had time to digest the game. While Bethesda is a typically a solid studio, they have been known to release some stinkers in the past. Between this decision by Bethesda, and the burn received from falling into the trap of hype and pre-orders this year (we'll get to you in a second, No Man's Sky), I do not currently own Dishonored 2. I will not pick up Dishonored 2 until it is half price on a Steam Sale. I do not do this in any real protest, but as a wise man once said, “...never pay full price for late pizza.” Also, never pay full price for a game after 2016. Read reviews. Do not pre-order (unless you are Ghost Recon: Wildland).
It feels weird to say it, but years ago I Kickstarted Mighty No. 9. What was supposed to be a spiritual successor to the Mega Man series, turned into a delay terrible mess of a game that...well, was not very fun. I played the demo when was finally released. I never installed the final game. It was sort of one of those, been there, done that, got the t-shirt (literally) and moved on. A few years back when Kickstarting was all the crazy awesome, I dumped more money than I should have into a few projects. Mighty No. 9 might be the only project I saw from those investments.
That is not true. Massive Chalice came out on time and is a pretty neat, if completely understated strategy game. You should check it out. It’s on Steam.
I was promised Torment: Tides of Numenera in 2016, but that has now been moved 2017. 2017 is looking to be a better year already. Ultimately though, Kickstarting is dead to me. It pains me too because there was an awesome Battletech Kickstarter but I just could not back (but lets be honest, I'll probably back it...) it because Mighty No. 9 soured the process.
Other disappointments this year were Civilization 6 and Deus Ex: Mankind Divided.
I still cannot figure out how to play Civ 6. Production is lost on me. The new concepts, despite my every effort to understand them, are a complete mystery to me. Civilization 5 was a nigh perfect game. Civ 6 did something to the amazing formula of perfection. I have tried a few times since it’s release in October, but have bounced off it every time. I would be extremely hesitant to call Civ 6 a bad game. I believe there is a good game in there somewhere. Perhaps I lack the patience to find it.
My distaste for Deus Ex: Mankind Divided is more a reflection on personal commentary than a remark on the game itself. As a whole, Mankind Divided is a fine game. Oddly enough, it is it’s story that casts it in a negative light for me. The 90’s were a fun time for conspiracy. It was done in a cheeky manner which almost poked fun at pop culture and society as a whole. I was glued to my TV set every Friday night on Fox watching the X-Files. I got really into the fact that the original Deus Ex layer every possible government conspiracy theory on top each other to form this strangely sublime story of conspiracy and intrigue. In 2016, political conspiracy got a little too real around the time of Mankind Divided in late August. When you have stuff like the Alt-Right actually throwing out conspiracy theory as something legitimate, playing a game with that as a conceit feels really empty, almost neglectful in nature.
This brings us to the real reason for this article; the dreaded No Man’s Sky. Elated by the trailers, I pre-ordered this game the minute it hit Steam. I hitched my horse to that wagon hard in our podcast when we recorded it earlier in the year. I was excited the game was releasing on my birthday. I had the day off. I purchased special snacks and drinks so I could have quick meals and devote all my time to a game that was going to change the face of gaming.
At this point in time, I am pretty sure my entire family could be murdered in a nuclear explosion and I would feel less disappointment and sadness than I felt after eight hours into No Man’s Sky. I commented on the experience of the game and it's more recent Foundation Update before, thus I feel little need to cover it again here. That game crushed me though. It made me rethink how I think about gaming. I vowed never again to pre-order a game -- though truth be told, I pre-ordered Tyranny about a week before it's release and was pleasantly surprised.
I did not pre-order Dishonored 2, mostly because I was sticking to my guns for what No Man’s Sky did to me. I will pre-order Ghost Recon: Wildlands but hat is a different story. In the larger scoop of things, however, my approach to triple-A titles is now “wait and see”. I have a big enough backlog to keep myself occupied. The Trip-A scene is looking a little bleak anyways.
At least Nintendo gave me hope with Pokémon Sun and Moon and the future…
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In my totally unbiased and well informed opinion 2016 has played out like an episode of Game of Thrones. All of our heroes are dying, the bad guys seem to be winning, and it seems like everyone is getting f@#$ed! Now I'm not here to get all topical about what's going on in the world because, Vorpal Beats is nothing if not an oasis for the weary in a cruel unforgiving world. So I'll save the proselytizing and political chicanery for our political blog Vorpal Beltway (Well you will be able to, once we scrub the comments section of Pepe the Frogs and Obama Hitler's…).
It's safe to say that few if any will look back on 2016 with any sense of warm nostalgia. This sentiment can be applied to the world of video games as well. 2016 has, to say the least, not been a tremendously strong year for games. Read a list of releases and I doubt many would be inspired to declare 2016 “A Year For Gamers!”.
Starting in January, the list of big name releases is a veritable No Man’s Land (or probably more appropriately a No Man’s Sky) of outright failures and sort of rans. That's not to say there haven't been a few success. Overwatch is the other beast that Blizzard hath bore, and is crazy popular with the racist, misogynistic 15-18 year old parents basement set (if you couldn't tell I'm not really a fan, both of the game and the players). More recently Battlefield 1 made World War I cool again (here's to hoping for Tarantino’s Inglorious Basterds prequel, Glorious Legitimates: Target Kaiser). And of course a new Pokémon game cues up all the memes of Miyamoto swimming in a sea of money, ala Duck Tales. Running down the list of this years successes might leave some wanting more in terms of quality. I certainly assert that some of the real unsung heroes of this years gaming releases have been overlooked by the general consumer public, and by consequence haven't been as successful or well known. That's why I've taken it upon myself to educate you the reader on my top 5 choices for best games of 2016. My hope is that you, the reader, might embrace a few of these games and possibly boost their profile and notoriety.
Before we get started, a little housekeeping. All of the games on this list were released in 2016, so this is a list of the games released this year that I found to be the best. It is not a list of the games I played the most in 2016 (if that were the case, number 1 with a bullet for the second consecutive year would be GTAV. Try as I might, I just can't quit mindless violence and action). Also, this list is subjective, so don't leave any douchey comments about me not knowing anything or plugs for your Breitbartesque news site. If you have an opinion, write your own blogs (you invent something like inward singing! You're always naysayin’!). Finally, these opinions are my own and do not constitute the opinions of the rest of the Vorpal Beats crew. Shawn O’Mac and “The Kid” Stevie G have their own opinions on 2016, and might just grace you with them, if you're lucky. Now, without further ado, Young Rob’s Top 5 Games of 2016…
As I've stated before, I'm not really a Pokémon guy. I was in college when Pokémon first hit the scene, and I had never even played a Pokémon game, up until a few years ago. When I got my 3DS I also picked up a copy of Pokémon X with it. I found the game somewhat fun, if a bit on the unforgiving side for the uninitiated (What do you mean I have to catch them ALL?!?!?). Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire were very similar to X and Y in a lot of ways so I found them lacking a bit as well. So it was with some trepidation that I bought Pokémon Moon on release day. I would blame the purchase on peer pressure, if not for an innate desire to actually enjoy a Pokémon game. Quite pleasantly I was surprised at just how enjoyable Pokémon Moon is. The game is the first Pokémon game I've played that seems genuinely inviting to newcomers. I wonder if that is any coincidence, what with the popularity of Pokémon GO possibly enticing new players to dive into the console series. Whatever the reason, this new approach is definitely welcome. Rather than feeling like a continuation of the previous games, Moon plays like the start of something new. Alola is a very striking and beautiful setting that harkens back to that Brady Bunch In Hawaii vibe that encouraged so many to visit the aloha state. The conversion from gyms to champions gives the gameplay a more natural feel, as also the story for the first time doesn't seem contrived. Instead of feeling somewhat on the child neglecty side, the story provides a semi-legitimate reason why a kid is sent wandering into the world alone with nothing but the equivalent of a ferret. Battles have been streamlined and improved with the ability to see more information about your opponent and an easier time catching wild Pokémon. Overall the game is a definite pick up for anyone who enjoys good RPG games. Don't let the dearth of content and the hard core Pokémon community turn you off from what is a really great standalone experience.
Paradox had a pretty solid year in 2016. They released two really strong sims this year in Stellaris and Hearts of Iron IV. Stellaris is a great game and could have made this list, if not for the fact that I am a sucker for a great World War II title. Hearts of Iron IV takes the venerable HoI formula and updates it in some really great ways. First off the graphics got a huge upgrade and I have to say it's actually a really nice looking game (which isn't a claim leveled at a lot of strategy games). The scale of the game has also been upgraded as the game map is absolutely enormous. Playing as the Germans in a campaign against the Soviet Union and you suddenly get a sense of the sheer distances involved in Barbarossa (luckily for all of Hitler was unable to determine scale on a map and assumed Moscow was like 100 miles away). Game management is more intuitive as you are able to better jump from unit to unit, which is important especially when stacking a lot of units in one area. For me the two best improvements have been in production and diplomacy. In previous games these two portions worked in a somewhat abstract fashion. Building factories outright didn't necessarily improve your industrial capacity, it was also determined by where the factories were and what year it was. In historical context that's fine, but when you're like me and want to play out some alternate history, it could be frustrating and limiting. Things have been streamlined to allow for more historical freedom. Want to go all out and try to industrialize all of America, the opportunity is now there. Managing production has also been improved. Where once you had to continually create reinforcement units, with stockpiles you can save up for a rainy day as it were. This gives smaller countries a chance as they can stockpile plenty of equipment in peacetime, and roll it out in war time. Diplomacy too has been vastly improved. Previously if you wanted to play out any kind of alternate history scenario, you often had to hike up your boot straps and play around with the code or find a mod that would accommodate your needs. Now nothing is off limits. Want to start a war with a Canada? Given enough time and the right actions, you and your Sherman’s are rolling across the frozen Canadian tundra on a b-line for Vancouver! It makes the game that much more enjoyable for historophiles like me and I imagine more appealing to the less hard core fans.
Right off the bat this review is in regards to all three parts of Fire Emblem Fates, Birthright, Conquest, and Revelations. Taken as a whole these three games are an absolute joy to play. The story is compelling, with each branching part presenting its own challenges and surprises. The dynamic in the each story is also great as your character deals with his/her decisions differently in each game which gives each part it's own unique flavor. It's a lot of fun plotting which characters will end up together, and it gets even more interesting when the progeny start showing up. The tactical RPG gameplay is very accessible but also really challenging at times(in a good way). The specter of perma-death had me restarting battles multiple times to ensure that I had the largest party possible. It also helped me to develop as a player, with each new battle helping me to grow as a couch bound general. If you own a 3DS, Fire Emblem Fates should be an automatic pickup!
Hitman just missed out on being my game of the year if not for the fact that they actually did everything absolutely right from the get go. I know that seems counter intuitive, but when I get to my game of the year it will make a little more sense. For now just know that Hitman is one of the best games of the year for a number of reasons. First off it's a solid entry in the 3rd Person stealth combat genre, with great graphics and overall great design. Levels feel lived in and natural. At one point while playing in the second level, I broke into a guy's apartment to steal his clothes, and I could hear him showering in the other room. I wondered if I just let things play out of he would wrap up his shower, get dressed, and head out to his job. It's that kind of attention to detail that really makes you think every time you try to plot out your next hit. Also worth noting is that for the first time in a Hitman game, the developers gave the players an incredibly high degree of freedom in how they could approach and execute each hit. Want to go in guns blazing? Good luck and go for it. Want to go full stealth? I'm glad you have the patience for that, because I sure don't. Point is, you can approach each hit really any way you want to. While the game itself is quite good, where the developers really hit a homerun, and may have revolutionized AAA titles moving forward, is how they released the game and supported it. Rather than release the game all at once as is tradition, Hitman arrived in monthly installments. The argument for this from the developer was that it gave them more time to ensure the game was the highest quality possible. Episodic content in games isn't new, Telltale has been doing it for years. However an argument could be made that the sort of point and click adventure games that Telltale put out, lend themselves to episodic release. With Hitman, here was a game that in the past would always come out right away in its full form, and would then supplement with DLC. Instead the developers released the game one level at a time over the course of six or seven months. But it wasn't just the episodic nature of the release that was the absolute genius move for Hitman. It was how the developers supported the game and kept players attention in between each episode. The developers released a series of weekly challenges that players could try to beat to unlock new equipment, with different victory conditions forcing even the most cunning player to think about every step of their approach. These challenges kept the game continually fresh and exciting even as you were left waiting for the next episode. With the full game now available, I can't recommend Hitman enough. It is a deep and fulfilling experience that has a lot of content beyond just the regular game. A definite pick up!
And my choice for 2016’s Game of the Year…
As I said before Hitman was almost my game of the year but fell short because it did so many things right. As insane as it sounds Tom Clancy’s The Division is my pick for game of the year for all the things it did wrong, or more precisely how it responded to all of the things it got wrong. To begin with, my experience with The Division can be broken down into three parts.
Part One, The Betas, was my first opportunity to get my hands on a new Tom Clancy franchise and a type of game I hadn't ever really played before (full disclosure, I’m a huge Tom Clancy fan! Games, movies, books, I love it all). When the game was first announced I wasn't entirely sure about it, as it was initially advertised as more MMO than anything else. Me and MMOs do not get along. But as the game's release grew closer and the actual game aspects became clearer, we in the Vorpal Beats crew got excited. All we had to hear was 4 player co-op and we were onboard (really any mention of co-op and we immediately perk up like meerkats). The gameplay, according to the rest of the Vorpal Beats crew, is very Borderlandsesque. You fire a metric crap ton (a real unit of measurement) of bullets at a guy to bring him down. This is in opposition to most games I play, where that many bullets would leave nothing but a smeared wet mess on the screen (like Murphy before he becomes Robocop). New style of game aside, the Betas turned out to be a lot of fun for me and the rest of the VB crew, as we ran through the same MSG mission over and over again. The Betas also gave hints at some of the other aspects of the game that weren't available to play, like the crafting and base building. Overall I finished the Betas really excited for the full release of the game.
Part Two, The Full Release (I realize not the greatest name, but I'm running with it). When The Division was fully released (again, unfortunate wording) I remember jumping into it with reckless abandon. Despite some initial issues (no the other players did not queue up nicely in my lobby), the first month or so with The Division was a lot of fun. Leveling up to max and completing the story campaign were enjoyable and adequately challenging enough that I figured the game would continue to provide hours and hours of fun. The Dark Zone was...I’ll get to that a little later. As I was finishing up my last story mission, the incursion missions were released and I assumed they would provide the next challenge. Needless to say it did not. And here is where The Division fell short. The end game content released with the seeming assumption that you as the player had braved the Dark Zone and acquired the top of the line gear that is only available there. Otherwise it required you to have a Seal Team 6 level of precision betwixt you and 3 other friends. Neither of those things held true for me so suddenly I found myself with nothing to do in the game except to get mercd either in the DZ or in an incursion. I stopped playing The Division altogether shortly thereafter.
Before I get to the last part I want to talk about the Dark Zone. I imagine that the Dark Zone had its impetuous at a developer meeting where someone brought up the idea of allowing players to turn on one another as a fun sort of way to spice up the game. And what if the reward for braving the Dark Zone was really good gear? I always imagine he/she had the most altruistic of intentions, the mode would be fun and players would have fun with it. Everyone would have to work together to get the best gear. Surely no one would spend all their time hunting other players for sport. Where's the fun in that? It's a lot better to work together...right? Unfortunately some gamers (*cough* streamers *cough* professional streamers *cough, cough*) have the morals and scruples of your average genocidal war criminal and so have no misgivings about camping a respawn or laying waste to some people trying to get their gear out at a pickup. And here in lay the biggest issue with the DZ. Aside from common decency and not being a mega douche, there is no incentive to not being a huge dick. And as we know from...the internet...given a choice between being a dick and not being a dick, there's always enough jack wags who say “f$#k it”, and end up ruining it for the rest of us. I imagine these are the same people who go on an atheist rant when someone on the street says god bless you when they sneeze (definitely listen to Nickelback or consider the Insane Clown Posse deep). Basically the Dark Zone quickly became a lawless wasteland of the few. All of this wouldn't have been so bad but progression in the game was dependent on getting the top line gear in the Dark Zone. It suddenly all became a pointless endeavor. I imagine at that point that same developer who came up with the Dark Zone stood in a darkened conference room and lamented, “What have I wrought?” before the camera pans away and the ensuing silence is eventually punctuated by a single gun shot (ok that might be a little dramatic, but at the same time the Dark Zone is nearly as horrifying as a 4chan message board on female gamers…*shudder*)
Part Three, The Division Revision as I'm calling it (cause that shizz is catchy AF), began with an article about patch 1.4 that I read online. As I hadn't played the game in a while there were some things mentioned in the article that I wasn't clear on, but the overall tone of the article and the comments of the developers in it seemed to indicate that the game was changing for the good. Though it didn't initially change my opinion of the game or convince me to play it, I found it refreshing to hear developers admit their mistakes and own up to issues in a game. So often developers release games and sort shrug at problems and bugs and glitches that appear (how you gonna do Batman like that WB Games?!?). Here the development team seemed to be making a genuine effort to fix some of the very issues I had with the game, and to add new content that appealed to all sorts of gamers. As I said though, I didn't start playing the game again right away. It took a conversation with Vorpal Beats own Stevie G to convince me to give The Division another try. What a found was a significant change to the way the game challenged you as a player and the way that challenge was rewarded. Suddenly I was winning battles and picking up great gear pieces, all without having to enter the Dark Zone or try to complete and incursion. The new world tiers were a game changer. No longer were some assignments almost certain suicide missions, the world tiers allow anyone and everyone a chance to level up their character and gear in a much more forgiving way. Once again the Vorpal Beats crew was running around plague infected New York, icing Cleaners and taking down Rikers. Add to that excellent DLC in Underground, with its procedurally generated levels and challenges and once again The Division was a really great game. I felt the way I did when I was first running through the Betas. It was fun all over again.
After thinking about this roller coaster ride of a half a year or so, I realized that not only did I really like The Division, but I damn well respected it and those that made it. They put ego aside and addressed problems head on. They didn't make excuses in the end, and I think they're so much better for it. So that's why Tom Clancy’s The Division is my 2016 Game of the Year.
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Somewhere in Bolivia...
Three elite operators, code named Spacelord, Voodoo, and Youngblood; and one rando operator whose name doesn't matter, prepare to take down a jungle processing facility operated by the Santa Blanca drug cartel...
Youngblood: Alright, this shouldn't be too hard, looks like a couple of guards and some civis.
Spacelord: I’m deploying the drone.
Youngblood: Me too!
The soft whir of electric motors fills the air as both Spacelord and Youngblood’s drones hover in the air.
From the brush next to them Rando appears, rigid, business like...almost robotic as if his soul were that of a machine.
Rando: Awaiting orders.
Youngblood turns on Rando and hisses at him.
Youngblood: Shut up Rando!
Spacelord shakes his head.
Spacelord: Hold on…
Spacelord opens up his map. A few moments later Rando moves away from the group.
Rando: Moving out.
Spacelord: ...Alright, that ought to keep him busy for a while.
Spacelord gives Youngblood a reassuring nod.
Youngblood: Where’s he going?
Spacelord: I sent him to the other side of the map to retrieve a dirt bike.
Spacelord: Redeploying drone.
Youngblood: Me too!
Once again the soft whir of electric motors punctuates the jungle din. Both drones move off towards the processing facility.
Somewhere nearby Voodoo slinks quietly through the jungle, covered head to toe in a ghilli suit and face paint.
Voodoo: I'm all ghillied up and ready to-
Suddenly a cry goes up from the camp. Shots ring into the air.
Youngblood: Aw shit they saw my drone!
Voodoo smacks his forehead.
Voodoo: Son of a-
Youngblood: Well I guess that's that. Leave no witnesses!
Spacelord: Suck grenade you druggy duck holes!
All hell breaks loose…
The preceding bit of theater is a real event that will take place on or about the 7th of March, 2017. It didn't require a time machine to transcribe this moment because this particular happening has been preordained since E3 2015 when Ubisoft rocked the gaming world with the first trailer for Ghost Recon: Wildlands. For those of you unfamiliar with the game -- shame on you for not paying attention to what could easily be the best game of 2017 (I know Breath of the Wild comes out in 2017 and it looks exquisite, but unless Link transforms, grows a mountain man beard, and turns into a Tier 1 operator halfway through the game, Wildlands is much more in my wheelhouse). Anyways, Ghost Recon: Wildlands revolves around a four man team of “Ghosts”, elite US Army special forces, as they take down the murderous Santa Blanca drug cartel in Bolivia.
In and of itself the basic concept of Ghost Recon isn't something new. In fact the Ghost Recon franchise has been delivering 4 Man tactical combat action for well over a decade. What looks to set Ghost Recon: Wildlands apart from other Ghost Recon games, and more so other games in the tactical combat genre, is an open world setting combined with a very deep level of customization. Oh, and did I mention it also has 4 player co-op? Also, that you can play solo or with any number of friends, as the computer will take control of any non player characters? Or that the game and missions can be tackled in any order and in any way you choose? More so, that your actions in the game have consequences within the game? Furthermore, that NASA is considering adding a copy of the game to the Voyager III spacecraft to stand as an example of mankind's greatest achievements?
Alright so that last one might not be 100% accurate, but you get the picture. I am jazzed for this game. If executed as advertised, Ghost Recon: Wildlands will present one of the deepest and most engaging entries yet in both the military and open world genres. Hence all the slowly building hype over the last 1+ years (though if you follow the Vorpal Beats crew you know we’ve been on this train since day one).
The idea of story based co-op in any game is something we in the Vorpal Beats crew are always ready to try. As we’ve so boldly claimed several times, the Age of Co-Op is dawning, and this sort of game really fits the bill. If you've ever played Far Cry 4’s co-op you know how much fun it is taking down outposts with your boy Hurk. Now imagine that is the entire game...oh, and throw in helicopter gunships for good measure. I can think of worse ways to spend a Thursday night (unless NBC can get the formula for Must See TV back, then that's what I'll be doing on Thursdays. I'll have to push Ghost Recon to Wednesdays, though I know there is probably a Lucha Underground argument in there from Shawn…).
Like co-op, customization is also not a new concept. For most of us, we’ve been changing up our character since Tommy Vercetti ran Vice City. So I think it's significant that such a common concept in gaming seems fresh and exciting when it comes to Ghost Recon: Wildlands. Maybe it's the idea of creating your own badass Special Forces avatar, or the ultra realistic weaponry that can be modded with hundreds of different pieces. But don’t take my word for it (I suddenly feel like that phrase should always be followed by a “duh duh dum” and then Lavar Burton’s smiling face...too old? That reference too old for yah?) I highly recommend the excellent video series that Ubisoft has been putting out, highlighting various aspects of the game.
Now some of you may be wondering, “Rob, why all the love for a game that hasn't even been released?” Or “Rob, don't you think it's risky to put this much excitement into a Ubisoft game? I mean it did take them the better part of a year to get The Division right. Oh and don't get me started on Assassin’s Creed: Unity’s release.” And of course “Rob, isn't this the same level of hype and enthusiasm that preceded No Man’s Sky?” Well to that I say, the first rule of Vorpal Beats is to phrase everything as a dated late 90’s movie quote. The second rule of Vorpal Beats is to PHRASE EVERYTHING AS A DATED 90’S MOVIE QUOTE! But the third rule of Vorpal Beats is you do not talk about No Man’s Sky!!! (Also, the Country of Canada has apologized for No Man’s Sky on numerous occasions).
In all seriousness though, the concerns about hyping a new game are nothing new. Some games live up to the hype right out of the gate (though those games usually have a “Grand Theft…” or “Red Dead…” in the title). Truthfully, most games fall somewhere between eye meltingly amazing or monitor smashingly terrible, so it's important to know where the bar is set. In regards to the aforementioned games; I would argue that despite its growing pains, The Division has grown into a very engaging and enjoyable game. And let's not forget, the developers actually took the time to listen to the players and fix the game -- something that is pretty rare in this day and age. As for Unity, much of the criticism directed at that game can be chalked up to an abbreviated development and a rush to market before many bugs and glitches could be fixed. Ubisoft definitely took it on the chin for that, but patches and free DLC have helped soothe angry gamers. More to Unity’s credit, it is a good entry in the Assassin’s Creed franchise.
With regards to Wildlands, I give the team at Ubisoft Paris a lot of credit for the way they have revealed this game and all along have indicated their absolute commitment to quality. They also haven't necessarily made any bold claims or showcased aspects of the game that aren't going to end up in the final product (IF they're to be believed, because we have been burned before...looking at you No Man’s Sky). Further it seems like they are taking their time in crafting this game, avoiding launch day bugs and such. If reports are to be believed Wildlands has been in development for nearly five years, which should help to ensure a smooth launch day. Keeping hype to a below surface simmer, and taking the time to get it right the first time, gives me hope that this game will be all I want it to be. If that holds true, Wildlands will not suffer the same sorts of missteps that have plagued not only Ubisoft, but other game launches in recent years. And now the thrilling conclusion of Ghost Recon: Wildlands starring the Vorpal Beats crew...
The jungle processing facility sits in ruin. All of the buildings have been reduced to smoking rubble and an array of bodies lay scattered around the area.
Youngblood stands with Voodoo and Spacelord, scratching the back of his head and surveying the damage. He lets out a loud breath.
Youngblood: Wow...that got out of hand so fast.
Spacelord: So fast.
Voodoo shakes his head.
Voodoo: Just once...just once I would love to get into position, line up my shots and-
The air is punctuated by the sound of a dirt bike motor.
Youngblood: Oh god damn it, not Rando again!
Rando rides into the area, jumping off the dirt bike and walking up to the group. The dirt bike slides along the ground until it comes to stop next to a group of dead narco soldiers.
Rando: Awaiting orders.
Youngblood: Shut up Rando!
Rando: Awaiting orders.
Spacelord: Classic Rando.
The group begins to laugh uncontrollably as the GI Joe theme suddenly starts up in the background...
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Gaming is life. I have two pastimes; video games and Legos. Walk into my man-cave, and your eyeballs will be bombarded with gaming paraphernalia, and your feet will be assaulted by stray Lego pieces. I could mention very little about real-world events in my life. They are meaningless. I could probably tell you how to find secrets in old 8-bit games from 20 years ago. Gaming is so important to me that game releases are listed on my calendar right next to wedding anniversaries and the like.
Gaming is life.
With that said, I believe that it can be easily said that 2016 has been -- at the least -- a terrible downer. Even without brash generalities, gaming in 2016 has left me feeling less spry when it comes to jumping at big-named Triple-A titles.
Backtracking from today (the end of November); despite loving the first game, Dishonored 2 earned the status of “Steam Sale Fodder”. Why? Because from August to October, I got burned. Promising newcomers, and age-old franchises let me down.
From there it goes back to Skyrim: Remastered. Having already logged 400+ hours in the original, I was surprised with myself as I got lost in the wintery crags and valleys of Skyrim all over again. Two weeks earlier, I had already pre-ordered Tyranny on a bit of a whim. While not completely wowed by Pillars of Eternity’s gameplay and story, Obsidian has a soft spot in my heart and I took a gamble. It was a good gamble, because Tyranny might well be my pick for Vorpal Beats Game of the Year (that’s a new title I just made up).
A few weeks before that, Civilization 6 came out. I watched this game’s production and marveled at the wondrous changes it promised. Sadly, it fell flat and I bounced right off it’s glossy new polish. Why? I couldn’t rightfully tell you, to be candid. It’s difficulty even on the easiest of settings. It’s uneven progression. It’s strange ability to oversaturate the end user with choices. It’s hidden strangeness that prevents real production out of cities where everything seems to be statistically saying otherwise. I could not tell you. Civilization 5 was a perfect game. It’s successor left something to be desired.
Stepping back to late August, September left me longing for Civ 6’s promised paradise, and left me wanting with stunted gameplay of Deus Ex: Mankind Divided. Not a bad game really; however, it’s story is drenched in 90’s conspiracy theory cliches. That was fun at a time. I felt the tingle of weirdness having played it’s predecessor a few years back. However, I think the political climate at the time might have made the game’s weird allusions to world-wide conspiracy feel a bit too real. I love open world games, but Mankind Divided is more of what I would call a “closed-world” game. You can do a lot with the zones, but none of it is overly engaging.
This leads me to a few weeks before; August 12th. My birthday. Hail to the release of No Man’s Sky. This was a game that, when announced, hit all my happy spots. Open world. Sci-fi. Some Minecraft-like construction. Explore an entire galaxy. This was the holy grail of gaming. This was like believing that Atlantis exists, and then stumbling upon it on a weekend vacation to the beach. This was like ordering a cheeseburger and finding out you got an extra one by accident. This would be complete justification for the mantra of “life is gaming; gaming is life.”
Steve told me I was crazy. I told him he was crazy, and that his mom smelled, and how could he say such terrible things about what was about to be the apotheosis of video gaming. I had two words for anyone who thought No Man’s Sky was going to be the opposite of what it promised. Did you see the videos? Did you see the screenshots? This all amazed my eyeballs! How could this not be possible. We landed a man on the moon! How could what this game promised not be possible?!
Let me take a moment to pause here and mention that I take my birthday off every year. I just like having that day to myself. I also take the day off for major game releases. I am the type of person who like to immerse himself in the greatness that is gaming. All over these previous let-downs found me waking up, not being at work, eating breakfast, waiting for the Steam Pre-load to unlock, and then giving into the game.
Gaming is life. Life is gaming.
So when I woke up with my bacon and eggs, and steaming cup of coffee, and watched in amazement as the opening screen of a swirling galaxy of No Man’s Sky was beheld before me. Little giddy angels fluttered in my heart. I think I might have even teared up. I...I did not know what was I was about to get myself into.
The opening of No Man’s Sky is this sort of, “...hey, you crashed and need to fix your ship.” There was no real explanation as to why or how you crashed, just...this was a thing. It reminded me a lot of the early 8-bit games that were devoid of story, but had great enough game play where you did not care and your imagination filled in the gaps. I miss those sorts of games, and this was feeling that way. I was starting to see the promise and hope of my dreams of what this game was said to be coming to fruition. I was so excited for this game, I bought the soundtrack and listened to it for days. It’s solid sci-fi melodies only added further fuel to my dream-fire.
Long story short (too late), No Man’s Sky is a slow burn to disappointment. By about the fourth planet, you start to see the lining in the gameplay start to crack. Thoughts like, “I think I saw that same animal, just with an extra head on it’s butt, on the last planet.” Or, “That tree looks really familiar, but it’s a different name...it’s totally different right? Wait...all these bases look the same…WTF is going on here?” I had sworn I was getting technologies for my gun that I already had, but was not quite sure. It would tell me I already had a tech, right?
Then I started to remember there was supposed to be some sort of multiplayer thing where I can see other players...wait, what? I can’t?! WTF?! I am on my eighth planet now, this game is starting to look the same! WTF IS GOING ON HERE!? It was three days of slow, slow burn. It was a culmination of disbelief, disappointment, and utter crushed hopes. People have died in my life, and I felt less sad and disappointed than what I was feeling about No Man’s Sky. The rest of the Vorpal Beats Crew kept asking, “How is it?” I could not give them a straight answer. Maybe I was wrong; maybe I was not doing something correctly? I rushed to forums and articles to try to figure out the shame I was feeling. My friend CJ was playing it as well and I remember writing feverish emails to him discussing what was going on with this game. Was the Internet right about this game? Were we all duped?
By the end of a week’s time, I had uninstalled No Man’s Sky from my hard drive with hopes that Deus Ex in the next few weeks might fix everything. It...it was hard to bear. It was sort of coming to grips with the fact that gaming just was not what it used to be. CJ and I had been corresponding on the topic many times, but there was always that next brilliant game that proved us wrong. Even the wondrous joy that was Tyranny could not unbreak my heart. Between No Man’s Sky and everything else mentioned here, I stopped pre-ordering games. My entire view of the game industry changed in a matter of months. So much of what I held close to my heart about gaming was shattered. It hurt. It really hurt.
Which brings us to today. After months of silence, Hello Games -- the makers of No Man’s Sky -- finally spoke out. A new update was coming; the Foundation Update. All those things that were promised -- they were on the table. However, you know what would be really awesome in a game about exploration of a vast universe?! Settling down, staking some roots into a random planet and building a base! People like Minecraft, right!? That’s what No Man’s Sky was missing -- Minecraft-like base building (because that worked out so well for Fallout 4)! It took a lot of soul searching to reinstall No Man’s Sky. I had to question whether it was worth the time to put down the engrossing joy that is Skyrim, or the brilliant story that is Tyranny, or the complete and absolute awesomeness that is Pokemon Sun. What was the harm really? Maybe it was all different now?
The Foundation Update does indeed add some focus to what was a meandering game of nothing. Base building is fairly simple. The materials are easy to come by. However, the game gives you quests, but no real quest log. Or at least...I forgot the button that brings up the “to-do” list that No Man’s Sky has always had, and mashing every button on my gamepad lends no results (maybe it’s on the keyboard...I remember something about the “H” key…?). At it’s core, you find a planet, and claim that planet as yours by finding an abandoned base. Laying claim to a planet makes it “yours”, so to speak.
There was an interesting touch where now if I encounter aliens in the random sheds or facilities, the text changes to reactions of, “Dude, why are you on my planet?!”
“Oh! This is YOUR planet...had no idea. Totally sorry about that space-faring bro.”
Once you have a base, you build “desks”. Each desk is specialized. This requires you to seek out a construction former for the “Construction Desk”; a scientist for the “Science Desk”; etc., so forth and so on. Each alien race has specializations in what they do. Thus to staff the Science Desk, you have to find a star system populated with the correct aliens (there are only four alien races, so it’s not so hard) who are science people. Once you find a star system populated with the proper alien-type, then you go to the system’s space station and hire the person you need. There is a warp point in your base to take you to the space station you last warped from. This is useful as you can move onto another system, and always make it back to your base without having to fly back. Your ship magically warps with you as well.
This game was always beautiful. The Foundation Update added a few graphical updates that make the game look a bit cleaner. The bases you can build look exceptionally sci-fi-like; something this game has never had trouble accomplishing. The artistic design of this game deserves merit. While the planets may be dead, uninspired wastelands, giving you little reason to explore them except to collect the exact same collectible garbage you found on the last planet; they landscapes generated by this game often lend one to pause every few moments and just be wowed at the truly gorgeous alien worlds this algorithm has generated. No Man’s Sky is comparable to eating a dozen donuts in one setting; yeah it tasted good when you started out, by the time you got to the fourth one you knew it was gonna make you fat, the sixth one you are sorta bored of the whole experience, and by the end you are sick and really regret the whole experience, but it was fun while it lasted.
You can also purchase Freighters as well now. These are floating super-ships in space that can be summoned. Annoyingly, the price is pretty heft to purchase one. I have never really been able to really exploit the economy in No Man’s Sky. One of my key points of contention with the economy is that you really have to game the system to make any money. It is an unfortunate grind that that adds such an annoying barrier to what is really a game about meandering, getting lost, collecting random junk, and then selling said random junk. Your earliest ships require anywhere from 5-6 digits to purchase. This is fairly easy to accomplish without even thinking about it. Somewhere in the game though, you hit this insane wall of needing one-million-point-something, to five to seven million to purchase anything. It is as if no one sat down and realized the exponential difference between 1,000,000 versus 7,000,000, when the most expensive, yet hard-to-find, item only nets you around 8,000 units. It is a grind economy in a less than compelling game that gives you little reason, or encouragement to carry out that grind.
In conclusion, the Foundation Update is a mixed bag. It does not really change what the game was on release day. Aliens still hand out random quests and you fulfill them on randomly generated planets, because...reasons. The Update gives you some sort of loose goal and reward of more stuff to fill up your inventory with, and perhaps net you enough coin to purchase a nice shiny new ship or cargo frigate that just perpetuates the cycle. The problem with this notion is that this game does not compel you to engage in this cycle in any meaningful way. Again, the Internet has said this, and I have said it as well; No Man’s Sky is an “Early Access” game. It should have never been presented a full and complete game. This is a massive work in progress. Release version No Man’s Sky was a nice tech demo.
While being completely counter to it’s notion of space exploration, the Foundation Update’s base building is a large chunk in the right direction of giving the game focus and purpose. It gives players some semblance of an actual game, but it is nowhere near worth the 60-dollar price tag this thing comes with. It is probably best to wait till a fourth or fifth “planned” update to the system.
Maybe then it will be worth one’s time. Until such time, this game alone will continue to be the reason I will never pre-order a game again. Triple-A game titles are now Steam Sale fodder, and that is a terrible thing indeed.
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