Toss a Coin to your Witcher

If there was one thing I loved about The Witcher III: Wild Hunt, it was Gwent. I don’t think I’m alone – I think everyone who played the game either loved, or didn’t really have any attachment to – Gwent, though from the people I spoke to … many, if not most, fell into the former camp.

Now that The Witcher series has dropped on Netflix, to mixed reviews, it’s little surprise to see The Witcher III concurrent players spike. Hell, even I re-downloaded the game, if not to try and recreate the series, but just to revisit what is being considered the well-deserved ‘game of the decade’.

Now that I have a little better context to the origins of some of the characters, I also considered another playthrough of the core game – that is if it wasn’t 90-plus hours long just to get through the main story, and without any real achievements worth cleaning up along the way, I admit that my appetite just isn’t really there for another hard slog.

(The Witcher 2 is another story though – I started this in the last 24 hours, but that will be something I’ll save for another blog post.)

What it is there for though, is Gwent. And so in addition to putting W3 back on the Xbox, my iPhone slogged through a few gig of download today to put Gwent back on my device, and already I feel a little more in love with the game than I did back when it first launched. It’s unclear how many quality-of-life improvements have been made to the game since it launched, but it certainly seems like an accessible, fun alternative to Hearthstone or Magic: The Gathering or the myriad of other CCGs in the market.

For a rather saturated market, I quietly hope that Gwent manages to stay the course. Almost all of the major CCGs have big corporate backers: Activision, Bethesda, Wizards, etc., and Gwent has CD Projekt Red which gives me some comfort – but at the end of the day, an unprofitable game is an unprofitable game, and so I fear its longevity is directly related to The Witcher‘s success as a franchise.

In the meantime, I’m going to have a red hot go at having some success this ‘season’ on Gwent to see where I land. Even if I play terribly, there seems to be more incentive to progress than something like Hearthstone, which just seems to mock my inadequacy rather than encourage me to do better. Let’s see if that feeling is the same at the end of the season than it is now.

End of Year Wrap-Up 2019

Imagine a world where you love video games, you breath video games, and you get so excited about a time when you had the ability to play them, stream them, and write about them with gay abandon – and then you had three kids, a full time job, a promotion, and the whole other raft of vicissitudes that come with contemporary life that you never quite manage to get any one of those elements ‘quite’ right.

Hence why there’s month-long delays in my blog entries.

Nonetheless, while I haven’t been writing, I’ve certainly been playing. Over the past month, I would struggle to say that I’ve necessarily ‘finished’ anything, though I have certainly been enjoying a good broad spectrum of gaming, largely thanks to the diversity offered by Xbox Game Pass. I wanted to spend a few minutes today going through some of the games I’ve played, if not just simply to update the blog, but also to offer myself some catharsis for my creative outlet that hasn’t been appropriately scratched for a while.

Insane Robots

I’ve actually been quite surprised how much I’ve enjoyed this relatively benign turn-based game, but between my son and I, I think we’ve sunk quite a few hours into this little title over the past 48 hours alone. There’s nothing particularly innovative about the game, you have an attack column, a defence column, and you have to juggle an increasing array of cards and power-ups to defeat robots. For a long time I’ve considered the phrase ‘easy to play, difficult to master’ a bit of a marketing furphy, but for the first time in a long time, I actually wonder whether this is the game that people have in mind when they think of that phrase.

Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice

I’ve tried to play Hellblade before, but ended up getting stuck in the section just after Senua’s long boat ride with credits. It seems to be a ‘heavy’ game, and while the structure of it is fairly good and the combat is fundamentally OK, I kind of want it to be over just so I can say I’ve played it and I never have to play it again.

Truth be told, the main reason I was keen to give this a go was that the sequel has been announced, and I don’t want to end up in another situation like Borderlands or Gears of War, where I’m a few titles deep into the franchise and well-and-truly left behind.

Ticket to Ride

This was quite boring. There, I said it. I know that some games are not supposed to be all action and excitement, but even a board game should give me a serotonin hit every now and then.

This game, however, did not.

The premise is essentially ‘owning’ a series of railway track routes across America (I believe there are other countries the further you play), working towarrds an end-goal where you’ve blocked your opponent from mastering the routes they’re after while at the same time acquiring your own. It’s slow, it’s clunky, and there’s not really any sensible logic around scoring, so as soon as I got something in terms of achievement, I was out of there.

Fallout 76

F76 was $10 as part of the Black Friday sale, and so I figured ‘why not’. I’m glad I did actually, it’s quite good if you can ignore the plebs on the internet playing with you. The visuals are easily as good as Fallout 4, and the gameplay is solid. I actually enjoy the VATS real-time’ness, thing going on that is necessary as part of playing online, but there is a story there, and what seems to be a good variety of crafting and building that some small disturbed niche of the public enjoy when it comes to Fallout.

Pathologic 2

I finally worked out, kind of, maybe, perhaps, what the story here is about. I’m not entirely sure I know what I’m supposed to be doing. You play a Doctor trying to resolve a plague-ridden city that is about to be annihilated, but that’s about as far as I’ve gotten. I’d like to give this a little more time, I really would, but let’s be honest. I have a whole range of competing priorities which means this title – which hasn’t managed to grab my attention – will probably get shelved.

Untitled Goose Game

2019’s breakout hit. I’m about three or four levels into this, and it’s pretty good. I don’t quite understand the fuss, it’s a good game, not a great game, but it is from Melbourne, so that pleases me. There’s a good chance I’m going to keep playing it just to give the boys the statistics they deserve for bringing this together and having the success it has had.

So, that’s the state-of-play as at the end of December 2019. It’s been a fairly big year for me personally and professionally, and so it’s kind of natural that gaming would kind of slip a bit.

That being said, I feel like I have the whisper of good sleep and better time management coming to me in 2020, so fingers crossed this might mean more games, and better quality time gaming.

Or I’ll just get myself a Xbox Series X and play the same old inane stuff I usually do.

Ho Ho Ho.

Idle Hands

I feel like I haven’t been gaming for a while, at least I certainly haven’t been writing about gaming for a while. Truth be told, much of my evening is spent trying to score just those few extra minutes of sleep that you miss when being the Dad of a teething six-month old.

This then, of course, opens up a new gaming repertoire. The late-night, bleary eyed game, one that it’s OK to fall asleep in, and still not loose a lot of story or substance. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: I love idle clickers. My clicker-of-choice is, and remains, Idle Champions of the Forgotten Realms.

While it took me quite a while to work out how to play an idle clicker, something beyond the simple click-and-upgrade methodology, and learning about resets and the benefits that it entails has made the game far more strategic than I first envisioned. This means that I’m now paying more attention to things like individual hero DPS and things like race-relations, that is, which races have better buffs when aligned with others. Understanding these in a little more detail is more helpful than simply trying to leverage a guide that doesn’t take into account which quests you’ve completed and what your current buffs are, or what equipment you are using. It doesn’t take into account what point in the game you’re ‘stepping in’ on (there are a number of formation guides that have heroes in it that I either haven’t unlocked, or it assumes that I’m able to unlock them easily).

However, the thing that annoys me the most is the lack of cross-save. Right now, I have instances of Idle Champions across PC, Xbox and Mobile – all of which have varying DLC purchased and different levels of progress. Not being able to have a single source of truth is just outright annoying, and while I can appreciate the commercial benefit of allowing one to ‘double dip’ on players across platforms, it instead, to me, makes more sense to utilise the Destiny 2 and Bungie model, in which specific equipment or familiars, etc. couldn’t be used on a particular platform unless purchased on that platform. It’s not rocket science, it’s just good player-friendly practice, and it absolutely frustrates me when I can’t see it implemented any-and-everywhere.

That, plus the developers get to double-dip. I am certain that the CFOs of almost any major game publisher would salivate at the thought.

History tells me that this teething journey can go on for quite a while, and so while the rest of the world is twirling lightsabers with Jedi: Fallen Order, or flossing in Fortnite, I’ll be chipping away at my Torm’s Favour balance …

… or sleeping while my Xbox does it for me.

Call of Duty Mobile

Make no mistake about it: I love Call of Duty. I’ve never really loved either the historical or the futuristic war settings, though I did find the game-play fun, but my passion has always been in the Modern Warfare era. Part of this has to do with my own interest in the military and contemporary warfighting, but I also find the stripped-down mechanics of run-and-gun to be the most well-rounded, and perhaps well-grounded, in the real-world.

While today is the launch day for the reboot of the Modern Warfare series, I wanted to spend a few moments talking about the quiet sibling of the COD series, Call of Duty Mobile. I’ll be honest, it’s probably not something that I expected to enjoy quite as much as I had, but after my first few wins, well, I’m not ashamed to say that I’ve become a little enamored with the game – to the point where I’m now consistently winning Battle Royale’s and multiplayer games at a fairly regular rate. I mean … I don’t want to tout myself as the Ninja of Call of Duty Mobile … but I’m the Ninja of Call of Duty Mobile.

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It’s a measure that’s somewhat imperfect, but judging by the usernames playing in-game, it seems that COD Mobile has a fairly healthy playerbase in Japan and the East more generally – with a solid mix of Russian, Chinese and Japanese names and characters littered throughout the players in each game lobby. I can’t say I’m surprised, given that Chinese mammoth, Tencent, are the parent company for the COD Mobile developer, TiMi Games, but when they’re pumping out games of this quality for mobile devices – well, I’m happy to play with anyone from anywhere.

There are some delightful nods to the COD maps of yesteryear throughout the game, including Nuketown, and while I might not remember the names of each of them – I certainly remembered the layout. TiMi have done a good job of pulling two or three of the more popular maps and wrangling them for mobile.

The other thing I’ve done in-game was to lower the graphics settings to Low. I’m not sure that it’s entirely necessarily, but at the same time, I don’t want to add complexity to the data connection, which is already questionable at the best of times. Thanks, Australia(!) I can tell you from experience, it’s bad enough being trapped out in the open waiting to reconnect during a normal multiplayer game, but being killed while you’re waiting is just down-and-out embarrassing.

I haven’t spent a single cent in-game yet, and I’m happy with the experience so far. Oh, who am I kidding – I love it! This is a welcome addition to my mobile gaming repertoire, and far surpasses some of the other behemoths in-play at the moment such as PUBG and Fortnite.

Now, all we need is some sort of added cross-save benefit for the ‘main’ COD game.

Color Saw 3D

I’m not going to lie … I found Color Saw 3D far more cathartic than I thought I would.

Do you know I don’t find cathartic? Ads. And the few thousand that they’ve managed to slot in the short space I’ve time I started playing, and even though it’s a great game, this behaviour has more likely to have turned me off playing, if not purchasing, the game – and instead finding something … I don’t know … “else.”

The joy from this game comes from its simplicity. You saw blocks. The end. It’s fun. It’s simple to learn, and it’s as good for my kids to learn too. It’s a game where you chop stuff. Play it if you need a new time-wink in your life … just make sure that time-sink isn’t anything important like brushing your teeth twice of clogging the toilet. Far simpler to just do it right the first time.

An Apple a Day

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Photo by Tyler Lastovich on Pexels.com

Make no mistake about it – we have entered the age of distribution and subscription. When it comes to distribution – we have Epic, Microsoft, GOG, and the powerhouse, Steam. As for subscription, it used to be Netflix sitting all alone up on the throne of subscription power, with the others’ all at the bottom of the hill, pointing and laughing. Well, these days, everyone has built their own hill and their own throne, and so now we are spoiled for choice with Netflix, Stan, Disney Plus, Amazon Prime Video, Ten All Access and we’re not that far away from NBC and others launching their own offerings to the market.

In the gaming sphere, we’ve been relatively infantile in discovering subscription. Humble Bundle was perhaps the first ‘big player’ on the scene, offering up a selection of games to keep for a monthly fee (which is still a great model). Xbox joined in next with it’s Game Pass, and then expanded the service to offer up PC games as well in the ‘Game Pass Ultimate’. Google has flagged its new Stadia service as, by-and-large, being a subscription model – though it will still have purchases available, and there’s no doubt PlayStation and Nintendo will both join the fray soon, or certainly as part of their next-generation offerings.

But this week, we have a new kid on the block: enter Apple Arcade.

I’ve been thoroughly enjoying mobile gaming for a little while now, and while it has been pooh-poohed a lot in recent memory (I still remember the female gaming audience being considered less-than-real-gamers because they played were perceived as simply playing Candy Crush), the breadth of games, and the quality of them, has now reached a point where they are able to stand alone as a solid gaming choice along the likes of the contemporary platforms. Everyone raised an eyebrow when Fortnite was offered on mobile, though it managed to attract enough interest and, perhaps more importantly, numbers, to be able to offer up a very real and pragmatic alternative for playing a AAA title on-the-go.

It’s my own frugalness that sees me reluctant to spend money on a mobile game outright, given that I find it a risky purchase for something that I’m not sure I’ll have forever. Unlike my consoles, I can still pull out a PS3 and play any number of games I’ve bought digitally on that platform, likewise for the Xbox – which has been made infinitely easier since Phil Spencer pushed for backwards compatibility. As such, the idea of a subscription model for mobile gaming makes a lot of sense.

However – and this is the point of this post – I have two issues of note.

The first is the ability to have, and chronicle, a mobile gaming career. I know, I know, a lot of people ‘don’t care’ about achievements, but I am very much someone who likes to chronicle my gaming journey and keep track of what I’ve played. This is why I’ve made Xbox and Steam my preferred combination, because both platforms keep an excellent record of my gaming career. Game Centre on iOS has a long way to go before it can compete with Xbox Live or PlayStation Network – and that should be saying something. The latter took over a decade before it allowed for name changes (and even then it’s not really a long-term fix, instead relying on some sort of clunky workaround that, in practice, really just means they’ve masked your original PSN ID and started displaying some other new field), and about the same length of time before it had any meaningful phone app or web interface. It might be a personal preference, but this is what it boils down to: I don’t really like Game Centre. And for me, this is absolutely an underpinning element of my choice to use a gaming service. It’s why I’ve all but abandoned PlayStation for this generation with the exception of a few first-party titles, and a big reason why I’ve gone Team Xbox. On the sliding scale of platforms and gaming choice, iOS Game Centre certainly doesn’t come close.

The second issue I have with Arcade is the price. AU$8 per month (sorry, “$7.99”) is not cheap. There, I said it. For mobile gaming, I am most likely to spend $1-2 every few months as part of a microtransaction. What I won’t pay is nearly $100 a year on top of my $15pm Xbox Arcade, $10 Stan, $10 Ten All Access, and about $9 Netflix (depending on the exchange rate at any given day). I consume all of these services, regularly, and they are worth the expense, but considering I have this smorgasbord of content to consume, do you know what I don’t want? Another $8 on top of it for the ability to play 1-2 games for 2 minutes at a time.

Thus concludes today’s rant.

Gears POP! Level 6

I wanted to revisit my first take on Gears POP! given the rather harsh assessment offered by Kotaku, and my own worry that I may be a little too optimistic about what others saw as a mediocre game.

But, nope. I’m still enjoying it – and Kotaku is wrong.

At first glance, reaching Level 6 probably isn’t quite at the top of the enlightenment period to be able to safely dismiss Kotaku’s rather short-sighted take on the game, but there’s quite a bit of work that goes into getting to this level. I don’t doubt that the gloss of many casual gamers has started to wear off for Gears POP!, and so the competition I’m left with are either the true believers, or the late-to-the-party types, but having understood how many games and how many win-losses it takes to get to that stage means that there is a not-insignificant amount of respect for anyone competing at what I’d consider this ‘mid-tier’ level.

In fact, I think it’s fair to say that I am regularly loosing quite a few games – it’s about a 50-50 split, but the shine hasn’t quite worn off as quick like it has with Hearthstone. Perhaps it’s because I still get the drip-feed of delicious Xbox achievements, or perhaps I’m still just simply enjoying the game. In either case – from either a philosophical or a business perspective – I’m still playing it, and that means something.

I’ll be interested to see if other first party studios lean into some mobile development for Microsoft, or whether xCloud will pickup the mobile audience – but in any case, it’s definitely not a flop for me.