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.

On the Road Again

I remember when I undertook the Achievement a Day challenge, with some fondness, needing to locate a selection of a games that I could play on the road without needing to take my entire Xbox console with me. Bear in mind, this is a couple of years – an eternity in tech – before xCloud or Game Pass for PC, where my options would have been a little better. Other than a few first party games and one or two iOS games, it was, largely, a case of strategically finding well-paced console games (such as the Telltale series’) and saving the others for emergencies (such as Christmas).

These days, I’m less attached to the Xbox ecosystem, though it still remains my platform of choice, but hitting the road across the last two weeks has forced me to re-examine my mobile game library, and find a few solid titles that I could enjoy while on a plane and in flight mode (which ruled out online titles like Hearthstone and Call of Duty Mobile), as well as something a bit ‘meaty’ to satisfy my gamer lust.

I’m not entirely convinced I managed to meet that brief.

For the most part, my gaming life over the past few weeks has consisted of Gears POP! and Tetris Blitz, bath staples on my mobile, but other than the occasional path towards an achievement on Gears, the pair don’t really offer much substance. Recently, I’ve been considering a play through of Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic on iPad considering I haven’t really managed to ever finish it, but that takes away from the excellent backwards compatibility option available to me on Xbox, or the comfort offered by playing on PC. But, still, as history tells me, it might also be the only way I’ll ever get the game finished. I haven’t made a decision about the best approach to take – but it’s food for thought.

What these past few weeks have highlighted to me though is the need for me to shift back to PC over Mac. It’s a hard thing for someone like me to say, considering I’ve had the same Mac since 2012 and it runs better than any PC I’ve ever had. It is exceptionally hard for me to point to a PC, or more specifically a laptop, manufacturer, and say that they build machines ‘as good as’ a Mac – but it’s also been a while since I’ve really tested the market. Dell, including Alienware, look awfully tempting these days.

The reason for the shift back to PC is simple. Well, it’s two reasons really. (1) my existing game library is huge and in desperate need for some love; and, (2) Game Pass for PC is increasingly awesome. Imagine being able to smash through some AAA new games like The Outer Worlds while on the road for a week.

It sure beats Tetris Blitz.

I hope to be a little more active on this blog. I had a brief hiatus while I attempted NaNoWriMo for this month, but to be honest, taking so much time away from my family and on the road just made it too hard to land, so I think – unless I can write 30,000 words in a week – I’ve probably failed for 2019.

And that’s OK. There’s plenty of other writing and gaming to keep me busy!

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.

Quantum Break Initial Thoughts

The thing with being a gaming parent is that you know you want to milk every last opportunity out of your gaming session that you can. Whether it’s a full hour, ten minutes, or if you’re lucky enough to have an afternoon-on-the-couch-wearing-little-more-than-your-boxer-shorts-and-a-smile, you need bang for your buck.

Which is a long-winded way of giving an excuse as to why I have never gotten around to Quantum Break.

To be fair – I’ve never had anything against the game. I remember back in E3 when Shawn Ashmore came on stage to announce the title, and Aidan Gillen was touted as the next big thing, coming off his success in Game of Thrones, and even then I liked what I saw. But in the same breath, it also came at a time when Microsoft was pushing entertainment over gaming. When ‘always on’ was destined to ruin gaming for almost anyone that doesn’t live in the internet Utopia of West-Coast America. And so, for much of this generation – I’m happy to admit, I was pretty much all-in on PlayStation.

Fast forward a few years, and Game Pass has given me the opportunity to finally wander back in and have a go at Quantum Break. Full disclosure: I haven’t watched any of the episodes yet, and that’s largely for the same reasons that I described at the outset: (ironically) time. Already, I enjoy the combat. I’m playing on the easiest difficulty because I really just want a solid story experience, but there’s still something quite satisfying about the gun-play with a few spatters of time-controlling special powers thrown in for good measure.

The story is still unfolding – I’ve just completed Act 1 – so I suspect more will become apparent as I go forward, but already I’ve chosen the Hardline approach for Monarch to take – which is a nicer way of saying ‘kill anyone and everything’. I’m having some ethical issues with that choice, but at the same time, given everything I saw in the story so far, it seemed the most appropriate.

One thing I did want to highlight at this early stage was the sound design. It’s not often that I comment on the sound design, because it’s usually so vanilla from one game to the next – but whoever is doing the mastering of the gun shots and weaponry at Remedy needs to be given a pay-rise. It is easily the most satisfying gun audio I’ve heard in a game for the last decade.

For now, I’ll continue the story. There seems to be an issue streaming the episodes so I’ve had to download them for the time being, which is fine because I’d be lucky to be able to watch them until later this week anyway, but I am looking forward to seeing how it all plays out.

And then, I suspect, I’ll also be ready to give Control – Remedy’s latest title – a look.

Gears POP!

I am a sucker for a mobile game with Xbox achievements. It’s one of the main reasons why I play Microsoft Solitaire so much, and I have no qualms in touting the virtues of Wordament to any-and-all who will listen. Sadly, people don’t really take to my warped sense of digital justice like I do, and so they just end up heading back to their match-three game or scrolling through their Instagram.

Not me though. I think it took me all of fifteen seconds from when I got the notification that the pre-order for Gears POP! was ready to having the game downloaded and starting it up.

Then the connectivity issues happened.

I’m not going to labour the point because I don’t mind a few teething errors, and thankfully they corrected themselves fairly soon thereafter, which meant that after an hour of gameplay, I had already earned myself two or three achievements, and by the end of the day yesterday, I was at 9% completion.

Not bad for a very brief afternoon’s work.

The game itself is essentially just a Clash of Clans clone, though with POP! characters based on the Gears of War franchise. It just seems like a whole bunch of licensing agreements were prepared by some junior lawyers that got too convoluted and something had to be done with them, but, strangely, it works. Considering I’m really only on level two and working with characters that are, essentially, just upgraded versions of the starting set, I’m not sure how much the game will open up as I get new characters, or, more likely, I go up against stronger opponents.

Progress from here-on out will be slow, because some of the achievements require you to play into the hundreds of games, which is not insurmountable, but it will take time. Each game I played against a human tended to run down the timer, rather than being the one-sided battle that I had anticipated, with some of the games only conquering one base, or going to sudden death. If you can get some time away from the world so that you can play this unencumbered, then you are absolutely in the best position to win, though I’ll see whether that holds true as I continue playing, or whether my own inability is just waiting to shine through.

In the meantime, I’ll just keep working towards those delicious, delicious achievements.

Cross Save for Destiny 2

It’s here. It’s finally here.

It might sound silly, but I’ve been waiting for the industry to catch-up to this point for so long. I have looked at the Mike Ybarra Tweet many times over the past few years in which he prophesied a world where you would be able to play your same Destiny characters across any platform and take your progress with you, and now – that day has arrived.

While much of the narrative in the industry has been around cross-play for the past few years, I’ve always had my heart set more on the ability to cross-save. I knew that Microsoft had made incredible in-roads in this capability, part of the sales pitch that they use for using Azure, but regardless of any anticipated marketing kick – it was the functionality that most appealed to me.

The reason is simple: I don’t want to play with other people, I just want a choice about where I play.

Sure, Destiny is a game which thrives on social interaction – but other than one time when I managed to get a friend online, and through the good grace of an Xbox LFG – not to mention a few drop ins and drop outs – I managed to finish a raid – OTHER than that … I like to play it solo. If I play in a fireteam, it’s because it’s been randomly assigned to me, not because I have two or three good mates that I like to regularly catch up with each week and play. No, it’s the simple fact that I’m a busy man, and sometimes I only have twenty minutes to play, other times I can settle in for a long afternoon and smash out six missions in a row. There are a lot of variables at work there – whether the kids are in bed, whether my wife wants to watch something on the TV, whether there’s housework to do, whether my in-laws are staying, etc. And when that’s the case, I want to be able to pivot to a different platform, and try and play there – in my case, the PC.

Do you know what I don’t want to have to do? Start things all over again.

So, yes, I am red-hot-keen for cross-save, and I can’t wait to get into Destiny 2 Shadowkeep a little more on PC. It is, undoubtedly, a superior way to play the game, but I have built a healthy little legacy with my Guardians on my Xbox, and so I want to be able to maintain that going forward.

If they can sustain the cross-save capability for Destiny 3, I’ll be a happy man.

Thanks, Bungie.

Robocraft Infinity

This title from the Xbox Game Pass library is an interesting blend between a mech combat game and some sort of Minecraft-lite crafting mashup. The premise surrounds simply building, or modifying, a mech made up of small blocks and weapons and then taking them into battle.

For the few games that I played, I elected to go with a T-Rex variant of the mech, which seemed to be a fairly solid all-rounder, though I was able to see how handy, for instance, a wheeled mech would be able to capture points quicker, or an aerial mech was able to navigate to enemies easier.

The load times on this title are terrible for something with low fidelity visuals and otherwise basic concept, but it’s not a bad title, and otherwise ‘safe’ for younger gamers to play – with some supervision (it does, after all, have lasers and other weaponry in it).