Dénouement 2019 Part 2: The No-Show List

By Shamus Posted Thursday Dec 26, 2019

Filed under: Industry Events 131 comments

Whenever I make up my end-of-year best / worst lists, I inevitably get people asking why I didn’t review X, Y, or Z. I played less than half of the games that were nominated for industry awards this year, and it’s natural for people to wonder how I could have missed groundbreaking game X or indie darling Y or AAA juggernaut Z. Questions about why I missed these games are common enough that it’s become a tradition to preemptively answer them before I talk about what I did and didn’t like.

This isn’t a complete list of all the games I didn’t play this year. That would be silly. Instead, this is a list of all the games that either:

A) Fall in a genre where you’d expect me to play through them.


B) Were popular enough and intriguing enough that people have asked me what I thought of them.


C) I seriously considered playing – and perhaps even announced my intention to play – before changing my mind.

So stuff like FIFA doesn’t make this list because it’s not part of a genre I care about, I never considered playing it, and nobody cares what I think about it.

So here are the games that I didn’t play, but could / should have…

Disco Elysium

How did I miss this one? A story-focused cyberpunk RPG? Somehow this game arrived without popping up on my radar, and by the time I noticed the thing we were too close to the end of the year and I already had a lot to play. It looks fantastic. People praised it. It won some awards. This was one of the darlings of 2019, and I didn’t even know it existed until after release.

I guess this outlines just how powerful and important marketing is. I’m immersed in gaming culture, this game is in my wheelhouse, and yet I didn’t know about it because I didn’t see any advertisements for it.

Hopefully I can find time for Disco Elysium before the 2020 onslaught arrives.

Wolfenstein: Youngblood

As part of Bethesda’s ongoing effort to destroy everything they’ve built, they released this annoying, shallow, unpolished cash-grab and filled it with microtransaction nonsense.

It’s true that I didn’t play this mess so I can’t attest to any of these problems first-hand. I’m just repeating what I’ve heard. Still, I think we saw this coming. The series has been in a downward spiral since the 2014 quasi-reboot. Wolfenstein: The New Order (2014) was pretty good. Wolfenstein: The Old Blood (2015) was inoffensive but forgettable. Wolfenstein: The New Colossus (2017) was sloppy, buggy, and self-indulgent on the part of the writer.  And now we have Youngblood, which is reportedly broken, obnoxious, childish, tone-deaf, and more concerned with aggressive monetization than delivering a worthwhile gaming experience.

I considered picking up Youngblood to continue the retrospective I wrote on New Colossus, but after a few weeks of bad news it seemed like that would be a waste of time and money. Everyone knew this was trash, and it doesn’t require any special analysis or insight to see why. There’s no reason for me to spend time beating this dead horse.

Fallout 76

I guess this was actually a 2018 title, but Fallout 76 spent an awful lot of time in the news this year, and for all the wrong reasons. Once again we have Bethesda ruining a once-popular franchise with a tone-deaf sequel where the developer obviously only cares about delivering the minimum product necessary. It’s not so much a game as an established aesthetic that’s been smeared over a grasping microtransaction storefront to give it a vague sense of legitimacy.

Bethesda hasn’t really had a proper hit since 2012, and it feels like the company has been in a slow decline since then. Things really took a turn for the worse over the past couple of years. I don’t know what’s going on behind the curtain at Zenimax, but something has changed recently. It feels like the corporate culture or company priorities have shifted.

I have no faith in the upcoming Elder Scrolls game, and even less faith in Starfield. Bethesda styled itself as the company with trash writing, “hilarious” bugs, and engrossing gameplay. Over the last couple of years they lost the engrossing gameplay and gained “aggressive monetization”. Their games are all bad writing and crashes at this point. They have nothing going for them.

If I play any Bethesda titles from here on, it will be as a critic rather than as a fan. This company has been dead for a while now, and people are finally beginning to notice the smell.

Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice

I wouldn’t normally mess with a FromSoftware game. As I’ve belabored in the past, I can’t play Soulsborne titles. They make me too angry. Getting sent back to the bonfire on death is so frustrating that I just can’t enjoy the game.

But now we have Sekiro, which promises Dark Soulsian style gameplay of pattern recognition and timing mastery, but without the time penalties. You supposedly respawn “really close” to where you died.

That sounds pretty good. On the other hand, I know from experience that Dark Souls people have an entirely different calibration for “punishment”, like so:

Me: “That game was excruciating! I died five times on every level, and every death sets you back three minutes.”

Dark Souls Fan: “That game was pretty gentle. It only took about five tries to get through a level, and death never costs more than a few minutes.”

So I don’t know. Those people have a very different calibration on their frustration detectors. Maybe Sekiro is the Soulsborne I’ve been waiting for, or maybe FromSoftware just reduced the punishment level from “intolerable” to “really obnoxious”.

Ultimately, I thought it was a bit risky to throw $60 at a gamble like this. Maybe I’ll pick it up on sale during the slow part of 2020.

The Outer Worlds

Critics are human, and sometimes our personal lives interfere with our analysis. That’s what happened to me with The Outer Worlds.

I really enjoyed the first couple of hours with this game. It’s a thinky / talky science fiction space adventure. That’s my jam. The world wasn’t as complex or as interesting as the first Mass Effect game, but it was getting the job done for me.

But then I was playing it the night my stepfather died. I sat by his bedside that evening and said goodbye. Then I went home and played this video game while trying to not think about about his impending death. This was probably not a wise move. The game felt small and trivial compared to what I was going through. I wasn’t having fun and it wasn’t really doing a good job of distracting me.

Worse, the two things are now associated in my mind. I can’t go back to The Outer Worlds without thinking about Dave.

Twice now I’ve fired up the game, stared at the main menu for thirty seconds, and then closed it again. It’s stupid, it doesn’t make sense, and it means I’m missing out on a game I’d been anticipating for a long time. But that’s where I am.

Sea of Solitude

I went crazy for this game when it was announced at E3. Then I realized it was a game about overcoming loneliness and isolation. This isn’t really something I’ve struggled with.

I get edgy when I’m in a place with lots of people around. I need very little human interaction to keep me going. For a while before I was married, I lived alone and worked in my home. I would sometimes go for several days without speaking to another person. I’d be at the grocery store and try to bid the cashier a nice day, only to find my voice was rusty. I could go for weeks without having a real conversation. At one point in 1993 I forgot to pay the phone bill and the phone was disconnected. I didn’t notice until my girlfriend showed up at my door to tell me.

I was alone all the time, and someone else actually had to point out to me that this was not normal.

This is not to say that I don’t like people or dislike spending time with them. Introverted does not mean antisocial. I’m pretty easygoing and get along with nearly everyone. I’m happy to spend time with friends as they drop by. I’m always glad to see my family. I just have almost no drive to go out and seek interaction with others.

As much as I dug the art style of Sea of Solitude, I started thinking that a game about the horrors of loneliness would be lost on me. When I realized the big black monster in the water was supposed to represent the terrible fate of “not having people bother you and exhaust you with words,” I knew this wasn’t a game for me. It’s like having Aquaman watch a horror movie about drowning. There’s nothing wrong with the movie, but it’s probably not going to resonate with this particular audience.

Gears of War 5

I seriously considered getting this game in 2019. I realize this sounds a little silly, because the Gears of War series is pretty much the embodiment of the kinds of games I dislike:

1) Big dumb overblown story that takes itself too seriouslyThis is based on hearsay, but also on the most recent Unreal Tournament game I played, which was maximum cringe..

2) Giant shouty meathead tough guy characters.

3) Cover based shooting. As someone who was really into 90s run-n-gun shooters, I’m a fan of high speed games with powerful weapons and tons of mobility. Cover shooters slow everything down so you can play whack-a-mole with bullet sponge enemies from behind static cover. Gears of War isn’t just a cover shooter, it’s the cover shooter. While I can’t blame Gears for what happened to my favorite style of shooter, the rise of this game coincided with the fall of the kinds of games I loved, so it was hard to not hold a bit of a grudge.

But now? Fast-paced shooters are back, so I’m a little less salty. I’ve tried a few cover shooters – notably Tomb Raider 2013 and Spec Ops: The Line – and I’ve found them tolerable if they can offer something in addition to the shooting. The Gears series came to the PC for the first time this year, and I thought it might be fun to see what the fuss was about.

If Gears 5 had come out a little sooner in the year, I probably would have played it. Summer is always a bit of a dry spell for games, and that’s a good time to experiment with titles outside of my area of interest. However, Gears 5 didn’t hit until September, and by then I had plenty of other games to occupy my attention.

Oh well. I doubt Gears fans are eager for my analysis anyway.

So that’s what I think of the games I didn’t play / didn’t finish this year. Next time I’ll talk about the disappointments.



[1] This is based on hearsay, but also on the most recent Unreal Tournament game I played, which was maximum cringe.

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131 thoughts on “Dénouement 2019 Part 2: The No-Show List

  1. Asdasd says:

    There’s no reason for me to spend time beating this dead horse.

    Well, I’m sure some of us would have found it entertaining. But I get what you’re saying.

    From what I understand of Sekiro, all the time you save not being sent back so far will still be lost, as the difficulty of boss fights (and thus the frequency of deaths) has increased more or less commensurately. This isn’t the slow, tactical, methodical combat of Dark Souls – it’s for people who can twitch mid-twitch.

    1. Rack says:

      If you don’t like Dark Souls because of difficulty and slow progress it is utter madness to play Sekiro. It’s a brilliant game and if you have an interest in design you should play a few hours just to see what it does with combat. But you’ll see far FAR less of the game with far FAR more time spent compared to Dark Souls. If you’ve never considered playing Dark Souls on a bunch of bananas it’s not for you.

  2. Lee says:

    I just have almost no drive to go out and seek interaction with others.

    I am also like this. I’ve lost (misplaced?) friends just because I forget to reach out. I even only talk to my family generally on holidays and birthdays. On the other hand, I don’t even notice unless someone mentions it.

  3. Ancillary says:

    Bethesda hasn’t really had a proper hit since 2012…

    I assume you’re defining “hit” in the received-universal-praise-at-launch sense, not the financial sense? I believe Fallout 4 ended up with sales in the eight-figures range.

    I’d say my faith in Bethesda–at least the development side of things–isn’t quite as dead as yours. Sure, the role-playing and storytelling aspects of Fallout 4 could have been better, but I still received hundred of hours of enjoyment exploring and looting. Fallout 76 never came close to tempting me; I just have no interest in multiplayer games. When viewed from outside, it appears to be a perfect storm of turning strengths into weaknesses and straying from core competencies. I don’t expect many of the baffling decisions made around that game to be mirrored in their single player offerings. (A notable exception is their misguided attempts at monetization; here, I can only hope they’ve been spanked hard enough by the experience to reconsider any future endeavors.)

    That said, I’m not picking up Starfield sight unseen. It’s going to take a lot of positive buzz at launch to make me pay full price for any of their titles going forward.

    1. tmtvl says:

      Thing is, as much praise as Skyrim got, it was a pretty bad game. They got rid of statistics, made every skill count towards levelling (which mixes very badly with level-scaling enemies), made health auto-regen, way underpowered magic, removed spellcrafting,…

      That said, the removal of functionality and mechanics had been going on since Morrowind, so it wasn’t too unexpected.

      1. Thomas says:

        Skyrim’s dominance of r/gaming even now suggests it struck a chord with a whole lot of people all the same.

        If nothing else, they pinned the Norse aesthetic just right to get into everyone’s heads. Same with the retro Fallout theme. Outer World’s may be better written, but their mad science aesthetic doesn’t click on the same way

      2. Trystan de Lyonesse says:

        Oblivion wasn’t a very good game too. And removal of features and mechanics since Morrowind not bad per se, problem rather lies in fact, that ambition to make something interesting and good completely obscured by ambition to make money. That’s reasonable, because it’s still a business and it should make profits. Though, I think the only reason that Bethesda is still in business and makes profits is a lack of competition.
        No other company made anything like Elder Scrolls games. There’s no other big western fantasy RPG with detailed character’s visual customization, open world, 3d graphics, first and third person view, vast lore, detailed scenery with loads of intractable mundane items like forks, brooms, plates and so on. Oh and these games have insane modability. Also latest games (F4 and TES5) are easy accessible due to their simplicity.
        So as long as there’s no competition and as long as Bethesda sticks to its formula, their games will get a high praise.

      3. Decius says:

        None of those were bad choices.

        Statistics are a holdover that started from tabletop games that had to be human-legible everywhere. Morrowind gained nothing from having them except for adding complexity but not depth to leveling up.

        Removing the major/minor/lesser skill categories from the character creation streamlined the entire process at the cost of not allowing a character to be unplayable from character creation.

        Health auto-regeneration wouldn’t be a mistake if it was a feature, provided it was ‘out of combat’.

        And the choice to deemphasize magic means the weapons can have a more central role in things.

        1. Trystan de Lyonesse says:

          None of those were bad choices.

          It depends on goals. Main attributes exit in tabletop games and some cRPG not because dorks like their numbers and calculus. It’s what makes characters different mechanically. On the other hand in Skyrim everyone is “stealth-archer”, every character have roughly same abilities. Differences are only aesthetic.
          That provides accessibility, that I’ve said already, and accessibility provides extremely wide audience.

          1. Decius says:

            There is no combination of ability scores and race in Pathfinder 1e that I could not make VERY mechanically different based on class and feat choice, and have the build be a reasonable choice for those constraints.

            What makes them different is not the attributes- the attributes are a tool used to communicate to the player how they are different.

            Pillars of Eternity embraced that fully, by making all of the attributes do the same thing for everyone, rather than pretend that each class had a preferred attribute. Having a higher strength meant doing more damage, regardless of your attack mode.

            1. Sartharina says:

              And Pillars of Eternity’s stat system was one of the biggest, most facepalmingly stupid design choices to blight RPGs.

              1. Decius says:

                Why do you think so?

                1. Jeff says:

                  I’m not complaining about this personally, but I do understand one particular complaint about the system:

                  Strength represents both “damage done” and actual in-universe physical strength. Which means any wizard that primarily hurls damaging spells ends up more ripped and muscular than the Tank (damage focus vs defense/health focus). This is explicitly demonstrated in the storybook events where (for example) Strength is used to rip the bar off a barred window.

        2. tmtvl says:

          None of those were bad choices.

          Yes they were.

          Statistics are a holdover that started from tabletop games that had to be human-legible everywhere. Morrowind gained nothing from having them except for adding complexity but not depth to leveling up.

          Levelling up the correct stats is a question of trying to balance your various needs against each other. Strength lets you hit things harder, but also lets you carry more. Endurance for health is always useful to make sure you can survive whatever hits you take. Speed lets you outmanoeuvre your opponents. Willpower gives you more stamina for running around or attacking. Personality lets you make better deals at stores so you can get the resources (potions, soul gems, equipment,…) you need.

          Removing the major/minor/lesser skill categories from the character creation streamlined the entire process at the cost of not allowing a character to be unplayable from character creation.

          Nice dodge around my original criticism, but I’ll humour you. Picking your skill categories allowed you to choose what kind of character you wanted to be. The three sides of the coin (martial prowess, subterfuge, and magic) were valid choices so you didn’t have to worry as much about making the “wrong” choice. It also gave you an opportunity for role playing, instead of just slapping RPG mechanics onto an action adventure.

          Health auto-regeneration wouldn’t be a mistake if it was a feature, provided it was ‘out of combat’.

          It makes Restoration magic pretty much entirely worthless. As long as you survive a fight you don’t need to spend any resources to get back to full. This makes food and potions the ultimate healing as they can be used from the safety of the inventory and don’t interfere with your fighting. Restoration spells take time to cast and force you to desist your attacks, so they are better suited for keeping you going between engagements, but with regenerating health it’s pointless when you can just sit in a corner for a few seconds sucking your thumb and you’re good as new.

          And the choice to deemphasize magic means the weapons can have a more central role in things.

          Hah! Magic in Skyrim was de-emphasized in the same way as chopping someones fingers de-emphasizes the use of their hands. Focus on Destruction? You become a master of knocking someone over with a pillow until they die of laughter. Conjuration? Become a master of throwing up smokescreens while running away screaming like a baby. Illusion? Scare off little children. Alteration? You can see where I’m going with this.

          1. Syal says:

            Skyrim has the RPG complexity of Paper Mario. Like, the choices are literally the same as Paper Mario; More Health, More Magic, or More Stuff. But one thing about Paper Mario is damage output is tied to plot, where Skyrim still ties it to stats, so the loss of synergy in Skyrim bothers me. Leveling up One-Handed weapons does absolutely nothing for Two-Handed damage, while in Morrowind, they both raise Strength which raises damage on each of them. There’s no benefit to experimenting in Skyrim. And nothing increasing Speed just sucks.

            I’ve never made a Skyrim character that didn’t spam Healing spells. Health recovers, but mana recovers a whole lot faster. And my god the healing spells in Morrowind sucked. Three seconds of animation in order to whiff, continue to try until forced to rest to recover your mana, which will heal you anyway. Inventory-safe instant effect potions have always been the primary option.

            They removed the supposed cost of being broken at character creation, and replaced it with the option of being broken four hours in with no recourse but to start over. The Pickpocket trick just ruins you. At least in Morrowind if you run up against stuff you can’t fight, there’s bound to be a Miscellaneous-level fight skill you could grind up without further increasing enemy levels. They got rid of the recovery mechanic.

            1. Decius says:

              Why should practicing with a axe increase your damage with a sword, but not a spear or dagger?

              Why should being good at jumping improve your ability to swing a sword, but being good at running improve your ability with a dagger?

              Tying skills to attributes was strange in Morrowind and Oblivion, and cutting out the synergy requirement let players improve only the skills that they had fun using, instead of requiring that everyone learn most skills or have a subpar character.

              1. Syal says:

                If only they did something like, lump axes swords and daggers into one ability, and cut spears entirely, all those issues would be solved. Exactly like Morrowind is not the only alternative.

                1. Decius says:

                  Just lump them all together under ‘weapons’, and practicing with a one-handed weapon does improve the Weapons skill. “Problem” solved!

                  Having an attribute/skill system like in Elder Scrolls games before Skyrim requires spreading the attributes around a bit, so that everything is used.

          2. Decius says:

            So now “Trying to balance your needs against each other” means grinding 10 levels of a miscellaneous speed-skill every level, just so you can increase speed that level-up.

            When I optimized a Morrowind character’s stats, I gained several levels doing nothing but complimenting people and jumping, to get personality, strength, and luck. Once I had perfect personality, I was at least able to affordably train skills for gold, instead of having to run around to gain speed.

            The only part of optimized Morrowind leveling that can be reasonably compared to ordinary gameplay is training endurance with spear and armor skills- even using strength-based weapon skills in combat also costs gains in armor skill or unarmored skill.

            1. Syal says:

              Morrowind’s stat-levelling was a mistake, but I would have loved for them to say “5 levels in [these skills] immediately gets you a [Stat] Point” and leave in those cross-skill synergies.

              1. Sartharina says:

                There was a mod that did just that. GDC, I think.

              2. Decius says:

                With skill caps, that’s just “Make everyone train most of the skills” with fewer steps.

                You still basically require people who want to specialize in Illusion to do persuasion and barter to get a decent Personality; you only let them do it all at once.

                1. Syal says:

                  Much better to make everyone grind Enchantment, Alchemy and Smithing because those are the only things that synergize. The game’s not nearly hard enough to have to min/max, and if the player treats “can” like “have to” it’s on them.

                  1. Decius says:

                    Have to.

                    The naive path of answering the survey and getting a class, using the Skills that you like best, sleeping every time you can level up, and picking the biggest stat improvements does not create an easy build.

                    If you use only one weapon, you will level up in that skill fairly quickly, and become fairly good at it- good enough to beat the level scaling caused by leveling that skill with ordinary equipment upgrades, and extraordinary upgrades are easy to get.

                    When you max that weapon skill, you suddenly stop levelling, at around level 14, after getting about 30 points toward the attribute that your weapon skill grants, because you do more weapon-swinging in Morrowind than anything else. Not a huge deal if you can manage to complete the main quest from there, and on easier difficulty settings you can without collecting a set of artifact equipment or drinking potions of fortify intelligence or exploiting quirks in the spell and enchantment math or exploiting bugs in the spell mechanics.

                    But the main quest is not the end of the game, even without expansions. There’s enough content to stumble across that players will stumble across it without using a guide, and enough things to do even after the Heart has been destroyed.

                    And a character built with no optimization at normal difficulty will NOT be able to beat the bosses of the Imperial Cult faction line without using cheese of some sort. There is lots of cheese, and most of it is a feature,

        3. RFS-81 says:

          Statistics are a holdover that started from tabletop games that had to be human-legible everywhere. Morrowind gained nothing from having them except for adding complexity but not depth to leveling up.

          Preach it!

          It’s possible to do something interesting with crunchy RPG stats, but Morrowind doesn’t. I miss the weird lore and the freeform enchanting and spellcrafting. Not the attributes.

          1. Decius says:

            It does do one interesting thing with stats: It allows alchemy to be completely broken by potions of fortify intelligence or fortify luck or fortify stamina.

            Alchemy being completely broken is almost a feature- almost. Being slightly less broken (to the degree of “you can overcome any challenge easily” instead of “you can accidentally walk through walls because you move so fast” would be a major improvement, and there are a handful of mechanical changes that would do that without impacting the regular gameplay by much (generally: give sublinear benefits for skills or attributes over 100).

      4. Gargamel Le Noir says:

        It was a horrendous RPG but it’s an peak Bethesda game. The gameplay loop was very rewarding, the exploration compelling, the atmosphere very pleasant.

      5. Agammamon says:

        I think Skyrim was actually the peak of what sort of game Howard was trying to make.

        Its basically an open-world looter with a story attached – and it does that very well. And it was streamlined at, IMO, the exact right amount. Enough skill mechanics to make interesting builds (for combat – there’s not much *character* building in the game) but not too much to bog down ‘mainstream’ gamers who aren’t into stat-breaking.

        FO4 took it too far with every perk gated by level and making non-combat skills un-essential (you don’t really get any thing or anywhere by being able to hack a turret or pick a lock or sweet-talk/intimidate someone) meaning that everyone pretty much made similar characters until decently high levels. At which point they were differentiate mainly by which type of weapon they preferred to kill things with.

  4. Wangwang says:

    “It’s like having Aquaman watch a horror movie about drowning”
    Or a movie about Cthulhu.

  5. dogbeard says:

    I recently got Sekiro as a little Christmas gift to myself, and I’m having some good fun with it, but if Dark Souls isn’t your cup of tea because of how punishing and frustrating it is, then this will probably be even worse for you. To wit: it has a mechanic where you can instantly respawn once during a fight right where you are, with all the enemy’s damage still on them, and it’s barely helpful when it comes to actually getting through fights. The respawn points are really close, and it’s easier to run past enemies you don’t care about since your character is far more acrobatic, but the difficulty curve feels a lot more steep.

    1. Fizban says:

      I would also note that the Souls games have been building upon their difficulty (just like any other genre). Going into DS3 with no prior experience is a bad idea (I love recounting how the tutorial boss kicked my DS1+2 experienced butt for nearly an hour in my 1st run mage every time hubris), and Sekiro is another step past that. From what I hear Sekiro is way more about parrying, and what’s the worst way to start a new player in a souls game? No-shield small weapon parry build. Maybe it walks you through it more?

      1. Chris_ANG says:

        I’m a Soulbourne fan, and I can’t get through Sekiro. Unless I’m missing something big, there’s basically no level up mechanic, which means that you, the player, are either skilled enough to beat the game or your not, and I am not.

        1. Duoae says:

          The level up mechanic is increasing health, resurrection and gourd uses. Those give the player more leeway in surviving a fight.

          1. FluffySquirrel says:

            Think they mean more that you can’t level stats in various ways to grind your way up past a boss or blah, which is true

            I dislike Sekiro, I feel like it goes away from what made Dark Souls nice, which is that there are always many, many different ways of approaching fights. Sekiro is very much non inclusive, and more ‘You play it my way, or not at all’

            Which sucks if you have crappy reactions and are terrible at parrying

            1. RandomInternetCommenter says:

              Yep, this is me as well. I’m the guy (obnoxiously?) writing essays about the greatness of bonfires and encounter design in Dark Souls. Whereas I can’t go through Sekiro because it is actual dexterity-based Git Gud stuff.

        2. Geebs says:

          You can increase your HP, number of heals, and attack power, and gain some useful skills which will absolutely ruin enemies which were previously hard to beat.

          OTOH you have to actually beat the boss that you’re stuck on before it’ll let you do any of the first three.

          The parrying in Sekiro benefits from being a lot less janky than it is in Dark Souls but…. I’ve solo’d the Old Hunters dlc for Bloodborne and I’m nearly through a Soul Level One run of DS1, and Sekiro is kicking my ass.

        3. ZekeCool says:

          In addition, there is absolutely no build options for Sekiro. Don’t really like the party mechanic? Want to use a shield or try a long ranged weapon? Too bad. Git gud.

          Also, no replayability because once you’ve learned how to beat a boss with this build then you can beat it always, since there’s no build to vary. It’s really weird they even bothered to have multiple endings. Why would I play the same game in the same way again?

    2. Felix Jones says:

      Agreed. I’ve beaten all the other Soulsborne games plus knock offs like Nioh and The Surge and Sekiro completely kicked my butt. Got to the end boss and just gave up.

      When you retry a boss fight for three hours with no progress, time to throw in the towel.

  6. Freddo says:

    Next time I’ll talk about the disappointments.

    Popcorn vendors around the nation rejoice. (But seriously, much of the media is all-the-snark-all-the-time without much depth so I highly appreciate Shamus’ analysis based work. The more so as he always acknowledges that he is only posting his opinion and not the eternal truth.)

  7. Syal says:

    Not far into Disco Elysium, but I’m enjoying it a lot more than I thought I would. Game opens with a man who has apparently drunken himself into amnesia, arguing with the various layers of his brain as they all try to convince him he shouldn’t ever wake up, and then discovering he’s the lead in a murder investigation. Like Planescape Torment crossed with Bad Lieutenant.

    1. Mattias42 says:

      Think I’ve said so before here, but I found Disco Elysium one of the most overrated, frustrating and just downright dull games of the year myself.

      The story, characters, world & all other writing is indeed superb… but the barely there gameplay just killed the entire game for me. Debate existentialism with a stuffed monkey? Roll 2d6. Shoot yourself intentionally in the foot? Roll 2d6. I’m honestly shocked the game lets you quit, save or reload without rolling 2d6 to see if you manage to do it or not!

      Heck, I might have liked the game if it just dropped the critical fails & successes, but as-is I just don’t feel like I have any control over my character in that game. No matter what stats you get, you always keep rubbing up against that 1/35 chance of your choices not mattering in the slightest, and it just kept rubbing me the wrong way .

      And I was shocked myself because Planescape: Torment of all weird, wordy games is my all-time #1 RPG. So I genuinely thought I’d LOVE Disco Elysium… but I poured…

      [Checks Steam.]

      Fuck. 12 whole hours. So nobody can say I didn’t give it my all, but I just got so BORED with the whole thing, genuinely expecting it to pick up any moment, and I’m genuinely shocked nobody else even seems to mention how flat & uninspired the actual game-play of DE is.

      1. Kylroy says:

        Important difference with Torment – you met the stat requirements for dialogue options or not, no random checks affecting the narrative.

        1. JakeyKakey says:

          In fairness to Torment, it has a de facto single good build and that’s the max INT, max WIS, max CHA one, for maximum conversations regardless of whether you’re going to cast spells or just slap everone with a mace. It’s the one that gives you all the dialogue options, including the best ones.

          Disco Elysium has 24 different skills, all of which are pretty much just conversation/thought/flavour abilities. Obviously failing some 85% skill check can fuck right off and I’ve definitely save-scummed a couple of those, but it’s a very different roleplaying experience to something like Fallout New Vegas where you just put in 100 Speech and now have a designated ‘talky’ character whose personality revolves around passing every [Persuade] speech check you get from now on.

          You’re kinda supposed to define your character around a specific personality/character traits with the knowledge that you’re unlikely to get it all right on a single playthrough and then just roll with the punches, which goes directly against that initial playthrough desire to play a relatively middle-of-the-road inoffensive everyman so you can learn and explore as much as possible while experiencing the full story.

          DE really shines on repeated playthroughs as you stop caring about completionism and just lean into the extremes to see what kind of wacky shit the game lets you get away with, and my god does this game let you get away with a lot, but understandably most people don’t start off their game with the intention of being a homeless junkie delusional rockstar, or a racist meathead, or a psychic/insane feminist communist.

      2. Syal says:

        Guess I should mention I’m agnostic about player choices (why I didn’t think I’d care for Disco much). I’m very much on the J side of RPG games, and actually prefer the ones like FF4 where you never even get a say in picking your party roster. I’m not making choices for… Cop #1… I’m watching his unfold.

        1. John says:

          There’s this fantastic new entertainment medium I think you’d enjoy – it’s called a movie.

          1. Syal says:

            Intriguing. What kind of sidequests do they have?

            1. Dan Efran says:

              Buying popcorn; going to the bathroom without missing key plot points….

              1. John says:

                Nah, that’s meta-content. The equivalent to a side-quest would be reading a spin-off comic book, TV show, or regular book. If your only choice is to consume the narrative or not, rather than actually using any of the strengths of a video game, these are all easier choices than, in the words of the Almighty Benjamin Yahtzee Croshaw Esquire, an overly complicated play/pause button.

                1. Syal says:

                  Ugh, so the sidequests are DLC-only. I don’t see that competing with a good RPG. Something like Jimmy and the Pulsating Mass has dungeons with hidden corners that contain entire other dungeons. Gotta keep that thrill of discovery.

      3. Dreadjaws says:

        Heck, I might have liked the game if it just dropped the critical fails & successes, but as-is I just don’t feel like I have any control over my character in that game. No matter what stats you get, you always keep rubbing up against that 1/35 chance of your choices not mattering in the slightest, and it just kept rubbing me the wrong way .

        This sort of reason is why I can’t stomach games like FTL and Into The Breach. For all the insane praise they get I feel they depend almost entirely on luck, and all the time I spent honing skills is entirely wasted.

        1. GoStu says:

          Upfront: I’m a long-time FTL fan. What you’ve said (that the game depends on luck) is not really true, but it can sure as hell feel that way. Totally respect that if the game’s not for you, it’s not for you – but I want to disabuse the notion that it’s luck-based.

          There’s an infamous random event that serves as a microcosm of the game as a whole: the Giant Alien Spiders event. In case you never encountered it, or for the benefit of others: the player sees a Distress Signal at a beacon. Upon arriving, they’re told that Giant Alien Spiders are attacking the station, and is given a choice: send a boarding party to help save the station, or leave them alone.

          Trying to help has a 50/50 chance of either a large reward, or losing one of your crew. (Leaving always results in nothing happening). This event is notorious for crippling newbie runs early – you typically have 3 crew, going down to 2 is a sharp reduction and makes everything hard. As a player plays more and learns (or looks it up on the wiki I guess), they can get a feel for the odds and if they can afford to take that gamble. Find this event early –> skip it; find it late with spare crew –> risk it.

          More experience reveals other ways of handling it. There’s a couple drones that give you a third option: automatic successes, but reduced rewards (how much reduced depends on which you have). There’s a weapon that guarantees success with full reward. Even more experience will tell you that this even can only appear AT distress beacons in a couple certain kinds of sector.

          So a player can go from “Whhaaat, my guy’s gone? Shiiit.” to “Okay, this is a civilian sector so there’s a good chance that distress beacon is Giant Alien Spiders. I’ve got an anti-bio beam so I can auto-win that for a big reward. Even if it’s not spiders, there’s two other beacons on that route, so I’ll head that way instead of to the store – I need the money more than I need a store now.”

          1. Syal says:

            FTL also has some Level 1 ship-specific roadblocks, like when you take the Basilisk and get nothing but boarding-immune ships, or take a stealth ship and run into evasion-ignoring beam drones.

            Into the Breach doesn’t. Worst you get is a scenario you have to fail (Volatile Vek for non Frozens, Kill 7 for Frozens), which costs some bonuses that are nice but not game-changing.

          2. Trystan de Lyonesse says:

            Well, there are sometimes random sequences of events that can be very unfair to player.
            I think one time I lost my engi cruiser just in a few jumps, because of hostile encounters with boarding.
            And one time I had to go through two nebulae sectors before last sector without enough encounters. I was constantly out of fuel, but somehow managed it.
            Still loosing in FTL is a part of fun.

            1. John says:

              Engies are weak at combat, so losing to boarding parties is a weakness you’re supposed to be aware of and work around.

              1. Decius says:

                Boarding parties cause damage and deplete resources, after a few in a row you are out of resources and lose.

        2. Philadelphus says:

          It’s untrue that FTL has no skill component. I can confidently state that because I have over 350 hours in the game, and the skills I’ve built up in playing it absolutely do matter. Yes, luck is certainly a part of the game, but it’s how you handle it that’s important. The skill is about managing your luck (or the RNG if you will). GoStu elegantly sums up how that relates on the sector exploration level above, but the combat level also has a very strong skill component to it. It’s like playing XCOM: there’s luck involved at every step of the way, but a good player will absolutely do better, on average, than a less-skilled one in both games, because a good player knows how to manipulate the sequence of actions they take to maximize the expected payoff and minimize negative consequences.

      4. Trystan de Lyonesse says:

        Well, personally, I enjoyed it, but I never was engaged too much with it and I doubt I’ll play it ever again after first playthrough. And it’s more point’n’click adventure with roleplaying, than proper RPG, I think that explains why there are no game mechanics, except running, clicking on containers and talking.
        So, rolling these 2d6 adds some feel of tension (but not always) and illusion of deeper mechanical complexity.
        And by the way, I felt gratification succeeding improbable skill checks, on the other hand it was complete frustration to fail consecutively checks with 80-97% chance of success. However there are some mildly interesting outcomes to the failed checks, but not that many and they are only mildly interesting.
        About writing, it definitely good, but in my opinion there are some indulgent, obnoxious and verbose dialogues and heavy overcomplex exposition that are tiresome to read.
        Overall it’s a good game, maybe even best in the genre in the 2019. It’s weird in positive sense, has unique setting and compelling characters. But it has some flaws and might be a bit tedious.

        Speaking of skill checks, while writing this comment I’ve started to think about whole dice-rolling for success in RPGs. It’s usually either success or fail, without different grades of them (except there are damage rolls and rules for criticals sometimes). It’s kinda dull and make no sense for a lot of tasks, especially if luck isn’t major factor in them. Let’s take as example game we are discussing. Rolls contribute to success from 3 to 11, with two ones being critical failure and two sixes being a critical success. Your characters skills usually are somewhere in a range of 2-9, and challenges are in a range from 10 to 20 with a bulk of them in the middle. I’ve intentionally simplified it, but in the end all of outcomes rely on random heavily. When it comes to D20 or D100 RPGs, this case is even worse, very often random contributes to the result much more than character statistic.

    2. Michael Anderson says:

      Makes me wonder WHY Disco Elysium failed to register with so many people who would normally be all over it … I don’t play nearly as many games as I used to, but didn’t even think about buying it until the recent GoG/Steam sale … then I finally looked into it and found it on all kinds of game of the year and even ‘game of the decade’ lists. I don’t think the name helped at all – it evokes dancing vampires in my mind and therefore console-like party gameplay. Completely unlike reality …

      1. Mattias42 says:

        Again, not much of a fan myself… but I doubt Disco Elysium was helped by its release date. Smack in October—one packed with great titles this year even by October in gaming standards I should add—and with zero PR beyond word-of-mouth? That’s the sort of ‘but our game is special~!‘ style arrogance that causes entire studios to fold.

        Also, it’s one of those premises that sounds like artsy crazy at best, bonkers word-salad at worst if you try to elevator pitch it to somebody. ‘Amnesiac cop RPG, where you can collect bottles, do drugs and argue with your tie!’

        So… yeah. Even if Disco Elysium is your sort of thing, it hardly made things easy for itself being noticed.

        1. Chad Miller says:

          Smack in October—one packed with great titles this year even by October in gaming standards I should add—and with zero PR beyond word-of-mouth?

          And right before The Outer Worlds hit, too.

          I first heard of this game because GoG was giving away UnderRail with it and I had wishlisted that game. It was only after I saw something like five different people praising it in two days that I went and took them up on that offer.

      2. Duoae says:

        I was fully aware of DE because all the sites i frequent had fairly big coverage of it…. However, the game just didn’t even seem like something i would enjoy. I loved planescape torment but i bounced off tides of numenera – i just found it quite dull. DE seemed more of that – something that i just didn’t want to take the chance on…

        1. Mattias42 says:

          Bounced hard of Tides, but have been meaning to give it another go.

          Kinda for exactly the opposite reasons as Disco Elysium, come to think of it. Loved the crazy dialogue/combat system and just how wild my character could be, (Not many games that lets you read minds out of the tutorial.) but I had this visceral negative reaction to the world and setting.

          Like, I spent 2-3 hours exhausting a dump on trash & trinkets with no theme, point, world-building or even seeming use… and then first person I run into is a four armed cat-girl librarian that speaks in third person? Nope. Not in the mood for this ‘lol, random’ And The Kitchen Sink style writing crud. Come back when you’ve built one cool world instead of throwing thirty different half-baked ones into a blender.

          Again, though, been meaning to give that one a go again with lower expectations. Guess I’ll just have to do the same with Disco further down the line…

  8. Infinitron says:

    Disco Elysium is not cyberpunk.

    I might have mentioned it here had I not gotten the impression that you weren’t big into isometric RPGs…

  9. Joshua says:

    “I can’t believe that you/no one didn’t mention X”.

    One of the more irritating comments of all time, unless it’s something REALLY obvious.

  10. ccesarano says:

    I bounced off of the Dark Souls games myself, though I did give Sekiro a whirl. It looked like it was faster-paced, and I enjoyed the acrobatics in the trailers. As I have a fondness for faster action games – so much so that I assumed I had a blast with Darksiders 3 because it was a more spectacle action take on Dark Souls difficulty rather than anything else – I figured Sekiro would be up my alley.

    It turns out I love Sekiro as a stealth game right up until you run into enemies with multiple health bars. Once you encounter those opponents it is clear how punishing the damage is, and how precise the timing for parry is (despite running at 30fps on a base PS4, which is insufficient for just how finicky their timing is). Perhaps the parry timing in games like the original Darksiders or Jedi: Fallen Order on Master difficulty are more generous, but I have little trouble in those games while I could never get a sense of consistency in Sekiro. As such, I gave it up, though I still find it a shame since I really did enjoy the moments where I was sneaking around an environment assassinating or avoiding mooks.

    As for Gears of War, I mean, being a console gamer I, naturally, have a love for that franchise (and in fact received the Gears of War Collector’s Edition Xbox One X for Christmas), so though I know you’ll come at it from a very, very different perspective from me, well… that’s perhaps why I’d love to see your thoughts. Even if you come away disliking it, I feel your reasons would differ from a lot of the more common and shallow criticisms out there.

    1. Michael Anderson says:

      I enjoyed Jedi: Fallen Order and everyone kept calling it ‘Dark Souls clone’ in many ways, so even though I have the original in my Steam library, I grabbed it for Switch on a mega-sale, and … well, I died in the tutorial, turned it off and will likely never play again. That is NOT “fun”.

      1. Freddo says:

        That is how Greedfall went for me. Combat was a little finicky for me, but overall the game was hitting the right spots until at the end of the large tutorial area I got slapped in the face by a boss fight. Switching back to easy mode didn’t make much difference.

        I’m afraid there is a game designers manual with the following advice: “make your tutorial area large enough that steam gamers can no longer refund your game when you start crapping all over them”.

        1. Mattias42 says:

          Haven’t really noticed anything like that myself design wise, but get what you mean. That first boss in Greedfall was pretty rough if your character was even remotely on the squishy and/or un-optimized side.

          Like, I get the drama of facing an overwhelming foe alone… but tis’ a rather poor idea in a game where you’re still weak, under-geared and learning the systems.

          Would have been nice if you had the option of keeping your companions, but losing face slash reputation for picking the ‘cowardly’ option. Think that would have hit a happier medium of challenge vs accessibility, as well as fitting the world & story.

        2. Syal says:

          That was the extent of my Dragon Age Origins playthrough; turned a buddy into a bear, we both confronted a boss, and then we both just kind of… evaporated. Never went back.

          1. Mattias42 says:

            Oh, yes. Origins is cool game, but man, is it poorly balanced. Tons of skills that either break the game over your knee or kills you slowly from resource loss, with very little in-between.

            …Think I also played a shifter mage, come to think about it. Was also avoiding all the ‘standard’ spells since I thought that was viable, so I had a lot of stuff like that crush thing and frost, instead of fire balls & healing.

            Made it… half-way through the game, I think? Before I ran out of healing items and money, and every fight started curb-stomping me. Extremely frustrating, haven’t touched the game since.

            One of the major reasons Dragon Age 2 is my favorite in the series. The combat just felt more polished, fun, and you didn’t need a guide just to figure out what skills are worth a damn since they’re all viable.

      2. FluffySquirrel says:

        If you were interested in giving it another shot at some point, I’d maybe recommend you watch a few people play it and get a grasp of how it works

        I played Dark Souls first on whatever playstation it came out on. Tried it for a bit, bashed my head against the wall.. decided it was terrible and just gave up on it. It just didn’t mesh with me at all, for whatever reason

        Then years later, after having seen speedruns and other people playing it, thought ‘Eh, I can’t believe I played that and hated it, how does it look so fun for those people’ .. gave it a try, went and got a claymore and discovered that I DO find it incredibly fun.. when I have a ridiculously large two-handed weapon

        Might be similar with you, I feel one of the brilliant things about Dark Souls is that it has so many different ways of playing it.. different weapons can have completely different playstyles.. and while you may have hated the starting weapon you had when you first played it, you might find another that suddenly just *clicks*. Also, there’s archery, sorcery, miracles, pyromancy .. all valid combat options as well.. the freedom is just great

        At that point, it’s where Dark Souls shines really. The combat is just really nice and responsive, so once you find a method that you enjoy and like.. it’s just a blast the entire time through

        All the people who say its about hardness, and ‘gitting gud’, are what I’d consider the worst of the fanbase, who actively put people off. Dark Souls is just about having a really nice and responsive combat system and letting players have fun with it and explore lovingly crafted levels

        1. Sleeping Dragon says:

          Oh yeah, I first jumped into DS blind and bounced off it hard, I’m not sure I made it out of the Asylum, I 100% didn’t make it to Taurus Demon. It probably didn’t help that I didn’t have a controller at the time and the original port is… not great with mouse and keyboard but I think it was mostly that I didn’t know what I was getting into. Like I was totally unaware of Demon Souls and its legacy, I didn’t even know that DS was meant to be particularly challening, I just heard it was popular, saw some screenshots and assumed it was a 3rd person action title with some interestingly grim aesthetics and some cool big monster bosses.

          I got back into it some years later when I got DS2 in Humble Monthly, I figured I’d try the series from the start but by this point I was much more aware of the series’ reputation, and it helped immensely. Soulslikes are games where I actually almost never feel stuck, or rather, I feel stuck (and I can get momentarily frustrated) but I have this awareness that these are meant to be Very Hard Games, that this is part of the experience. In many other games when I’ve encountered a part I found difficult I’d call it a day and end up never launching the game again, here I was like “hmm, I have an hour, let’s fire up the game and give this boss a couple more tries”. Now to be clear, I’m not going to argue that soulslikes are great overall and “you just need to get into the right mindset” because that is just plainly not true, but for me it just worked, and it actually made me appreciate difficulty in other games more.

          Also I haven’t played the game myself yet but I’ve seen some streamers and so I’m going to echo some comments above and Shamus, if you didn’t like the Dark Souls core experience of bouncing against that brick wall of a boss over and over… I’d stay away from Sekiro, unless the faster paced combat that’s even more based on precise timing than DS seems really appealing. I think From did get somewhat better with respawn point placement since DS1 but the core experience remains the same.

      3. galacticplumber says:

        Entirely fair. The common flaw with communication is that everyone keeps calling everything inspired by Dark Souls a clone or rip-off, when what’s actually happening is more akin to Doom jumpstarting the shooter genre. The new genre has nigh-universal constants, and a few very common trends.

        You almost always have some manner of checkpoint system where you rest, regain healing resources, and make strategic choices relevant either in the long term of the character or until the next checkpoint.

        Finding shortcuts or simply faster modes of travel is used as a vital means of making progression feel real.

        GENERALLY combat is much harder than industry normal, and often much slower/more methodical.

        Healing, if it exists, is also generally either sharply limited, or a privilege fought for instead of a right. Noticeable, interruptable animations for example.

        The tone is generally quite bleak/horrorifying/depressing.

        Not all games that get called clones follow all these rules.

        1. Thomas says:

          I’m not entirely convinced that that is the fate of Dark Souls. To get your own genre name, I think you need enough space to truly innovate, that new games don’t feel like direct copies.

          There are a trillion ways to make an FPS for – very few ‘Doom clones’ are recognisably related to Doom.

          But Dark Souls clones already have genres (hack and slash normally) and instead make very specific stylistic callbacks to Dark Souls. How much space is there to innovate on those without just becoming another hack and slash?

          For example: if Fallen Order gets rid of the grossly misfitting corpse run mechanic, and makes its checkpoints more generous (which a lot of people have asked for) and it already has an easy mode, how does that make it different from God of War, which wasn’t a Souls clone?

          I don’t think there’s enough here to underpin a genre. If people aren’t being directly reminded of Dark Souls, there isn’t anything left to call it a Dark Souls clone.

          1. Syal says:

            I don’t think there’s enough here to underpin a genre.

            I don’t think you’d get so many imitators if there wasn’t. As for defining it, that’s kind of hard, which is why people keep calling them Souls-likes. I’d go with “high difficulty, high punishment, low randomization Metroidvania*, with manually activated checkpoints that restock items, and an atmosphere of going out to pick a fight you have no reason to think you can win.”

            *(Think about that wydoncha; both those games came out for NES and they’re still calling them Metroid/Castlevania clones.)

            1. tmtvl says:

              The earlier Castlevania titles were more standard action platformer fare, it was mainly SotN that codified the Igavania genre.

            2. Thomas says:

              I think Dark Souls is more of a social signifier than a genre.

              You could remove almost all of the Dark Souls mechanics from Fallen Order and you’d still have a good game (probably a better one).

              What being a ‘Dark Souls clone’ means to people, is that it has a high difficulty that respects your skill. And developers are using some stylistic choices about Dark Souls that reinforce this idea.

              But there is very little about the actual mechanics that demands this. There have been hard games before and there will be hard games afterwards. Corpse running is perhaps _the_ signature mechanic, but my theory is that a lot of ‘Souls clones’ can abandon it and not feel like much of a different game.

              God of War really reinforced this for me. Fallen Order without corpse running is just God of War, and honestly it might be better off for it.

          2. galacticplumber says:

            And yet, the behavior demonstrated by using the phrase clone demonstrably failed communication by causing a person to believe X and Y were similar enough that they should be interchangeable. People the world over felt like calling Fallen Order a Soul’s clone, but the language doesn’t convey what they want it to. This is because the term clone is much more indicative of sameness than calling two things members of genre.

            1. Thomas says:

              I think it proved the opposite! Fallen Order was just a standard hack and slash. Its a Souls Clone because it makes a couple of deliberate (mostly aesthetic) references to those games, but there isn’t actually enough meaning in the term to fundamentally imply how it plays.

        2. SidheKnight says:

          Off-topic: I’m still somewhat baffled that people used to call early FPS games “Doom clones”. How long did this last?

          I mean, platformers were never called “Mario clones”.

          1. Richard says:

            Mario wasn’t the first popular platformer by a long shot – if nothing else, he’s a spin-off character from Donkey Kong.

            Wolfenstein 3D (1992) and Doom (1993) were pretty much the first FPS that you’d recognise, with Doom arguably the first ever multiplayer FPS that actually worked.
            They quickly spawned a series of clones, and – more importantly – media outcry.

            I’m pretty sure it was the media attention that created the genre. Everybody, come get your murder simulators!

            1. galacticplumber says:

              There actually was a period of time where most platformers were called Mario clones. The thing is the imitators were coming on so hard, fast, and numerous that this period was hilariously brief. Makes sense really. That whole generation was basically ruled by the things.

          2. galacticplumber says:

            To expand on the point, EVERY new genre looks like that in hindsight. To the people at the time, it’s just a series of games lifting ideas off each other. People stop using X clone and start using genre when it’s readily apparent there’s enough samples pulling the base idea in different directions that clone isn’t accurate or useful, and that it’s not gonna stop expanding.

            Usually simple stylistic points will see enough experimentation that they fall away as unnecessary parts of the genre definition. This is why like 90% of roguelikes get scoffed at for being not enough like rogue to qualify despite having clear intention as a member of the genre that everyone recognizes.

            It’s also why people make mistakes assuming certain titles will have similar features. Not all soulslikes are hard as demonstrated by fallen order. You can still have a soulslike that isn’t hard.

            Clearly that’s a piece of series identity, not genre identity.

            1. Thomas says:

              So my argument is, if those pieces of series identity drop off, how do you tell a ‘Souls style’ game apart from the numerous hack and slashes before or since?

              1. Duoae says:

                I guess it all comes down to personal definition – which then gets fed into group consensus.

                For me, Fallen order is less like Good of war than people above think. The lock-on type and combat style are quite different in application, with god of war feeling more like an offshoot of the traditional Resident Evil style of gameplay. Further to this, the relative lack of free traversal through levels (due to the one- way nature of much of the linking paths) is quite different from my experience playing GoW.

                For FO to drop the souls-like bits, it’d have to change the way combat works to make it so that the resources were not used the way they currently are. It would have to stop using the bonfire mechanic (which, for me, is the signifying mechanic around souls- likes), switch from gaining resources from kills and drop the experience retrieval after death.

                That’s pretty much most of the core mechanics of the game. Moving back to a checkpoint system, having regenerating resources or item pick-ups to replenish them and changing the combat to be something different would most likely move the game back towards a generic third person style of game – like that seen in Jedi academy, fable 2 or golden axe (the 3d one).

          3. Higher_Peanut says:

            For a lot of the FPS’s released at the time they were running on the Wolf3D or Doom engine. More like cheap sprite replacements with poor design choices than actual games. You could tell you were just playing Doom but with enemies and guns swapped out.

  11. RFS-81 says:

    My predictions for Elder Scrolls 6:
    – Bethesda will try to monetize all player-made mods
    – There will be some drama about Bethesda selling porn
    – They’ll “fix” the problem with an overzealous machine learning algorithm

    1. BlueHorus says:

      Bethesda will try to monetize all player-made mods

      Ooh, this will kill the next Elder Scrolls game for me. The modding made Skyrim for me, and without them I won’t be bothered.
      I’m not saying paid mods can’t work, nor am I saying modders don’t deserve payment for what they do… yet from what I’ve seen a paid mods system will vastly change the way modding works. I guess we’ll see how it works out…

      (That aside, I bet there’ll be microtransactions in Elder Scrolls 6 outside of mods. And going by Fallout 76, they’ll be badly implemented).

      1. Felix Jones says:

        I’d be shocked if Elder Scrolls 6 *didn’t* have an always online requirement and paid mods only. Zenimax came to see every mod download as lost sales.

        1. Sleeping Dragon says:

          Oh gawd, I have like the tiniest sliver of hope that at some point Bethesda will release an “old school” “Bethesdastyle” single player game but nothing they say reinforces that hope. I don’t want to shoehorn studios into niches or deny anyone their right to evolve creatively but it really feels like Bethesda just went full “get all the moneys” trying the liveservice model particularly with FO76 (though I think TES Online is relatively successful?) and I don’t think they have the presence of mind to even try backpedalling on it.

          1. galacticplumber says:

            As a customer you’ve every right to say you have no interest whatsoever in the new direction, and if enough do that the studio goes back to previous pattern, tries a different experiment, or dies. Artistic freedom is nice, and you’re free to do whatever you want for the sake of expression. If you want to make a living at you HAVE to captivate some audience.

      2. RFS-81 says:

        If TES 6 has microtransactions, they pretty much have to control or monetize mods somehow. Pay to skip the grind? Doesn’t work if mods can give you XP. Cosmetics? They’d have to compete with free.

        I think the best we can hope for is that there’s some official, controlled mod interface built into the game/Steam/Bethesda launcher, but you can still install arbitrary mods by just dropping the files in the right directory. (Actually, isn’t it kind of like that in Skyrim already with the Steam Workshop integration? I never used it.)

        TES 6 used to be the only AAA game I was looking forward to. Well, I was looking forward to when it would have some bugfix mods and was on sale :P But after seeing what they did with Fallout 76 and Wolfenstein Youngblood, not anymore.

      3. Ninety-Three says:

        At the time of the original paid mods thing I was pretty committed to “no paid mods are fine actually (other than Bethesda’s predictably terrible store implementation)”, but I’ve realized an analagous case that makes them look pretty dire.

        Remember what it was like fifteen years ago to be stuck in a videogame? You’d Google “Shoot Guy 3 The Shootening Walkthrough”, the first hit would be a ten-thousand word guide on cheatcc, you’d click through, spend five seconds scrolling to the table of contents, five more seconds ctrl-f-ing to the level you wanted, thirty seconds skimming to the part of the level you were stuck on, and you’d have finished reading the solution to your problem in one minute flat.

        These days you Google “Shoot Guy (2017) Walkthrough” and you find nothing but Youtube videos that open with a channel logo and “Hey what’s up guys Game_Player_37 here and today we’re gonna be talking about Shoot Guy…” You spend fifteen seconds going through his channel to find the Chapter 7 walkthrough, two minutes clicking randomly through the unmarked hour-long video to try to find the particular part of the level you’re on, and another three minutes watching him tediously execute a solution to the sliding block puzzle that could have been described in three sentences and one ASCII-art graphic.

        Game guides are so much worse for having moved to Youtube. So why’d they do it? Because cheatcc was free, but Youtube will pay you 0.13 cents of ad money for every person that clicks on your guide. The convenience of text over video is worth way more than 0.13 cents to us, but we had no way of giving Game_Helper_37 those pennies, so Youtube monetization came in and forced a thousand people to each waste five minutes of their lives so that someone could make a single dollar of ad revenue. Game_Helper_37 is a dollar richer, but the shift in formats has wasted 80 hours of people’s lives, the human race is clearly worse off overall.

        Paid mods present a similar problem. The system, even competently implemented, will impose inconveniences that make people worse off, and the amount of money mod-creators make off it will not be nearly enough to compensate for it. We will end up in a situation where everyone, player and creator, wishes that the internet could throw a bunch of money into a pot and hand each of these creators fifty bucks in exchange for going back to releasing mods for free, but that kind of organization around petty amounts of money isn’t going to happen so instead we’re stuck with Bethesda paying them five to destroy a bunch of value.

        1. BlueHorus says:

          [So many things to say. (not necessarily things that disagree with Ninety-Three)]

          BUT! Discussion of paid mods in not what the article is about. Hopefully Shamus will make an article about it in the future when Bethesda inevitably announce their Paid Mods System for TES 6.

          1. RFS-81 says:

            What, you mean going off on random tangents isn’t the purpose of comment sections? :P

    2. Duoae says:

      I’m just shocked that everyone glossed over the implication that a machine learning algorithm coded by bethesda would fix porn ;).

      1. BlueHorus says:

        I’ve gotta say, I didn’t get it so didn’t mention it. But since you did…

        What porn was there in Skyrim? Did I miss some massive outcry about the ridiculously shallow marriage system?
        I mean, sure, I bet there were dozens of porn mods, but no-one blamed Bethesda for that, did they?

        And I bet any algorithm made by Bethesda will a) crash the game or b) accidentally ban a load of non-porn mods.

        1. Chad Miller says:

          The chain of implications is:

          * People will want to make porn mods because of course they will
          * If Bethesda wants to monetize all mods, they will automatically risk monetizing porn because there are porn mods
          * If they don’t want to monetize porn, then they’ll have to block it somehow. Bad automated filters stand to be a possible value of “somehow”

          1. BlueHorus says:

            Hah, I hadn’t considered that Bethesda’s greed would end up with them inadvertantly selling porn (that they didn’t make).
            Also applies to mods that use copyrighted material – I guess TES 6 won’t be be inundated with My Little Pony mods like Skyrim was.

      2. Higher_Peanut says:

        I’m quietly trying not to think about what a Bethesda algorithm would do to porn considering what Bethesda already does to their faces during conversations.

        If Bethesda made a cyberpunk AI it would escape and then be found 3 weeks later in some robot body trying to clip through the real world floor.

        1. RFS-81 says:

          Well, I wasn’t imagining the algorithm doing anything ingame…. though that might be more funny. I was imagining something along the lines of the tumblr porn ban. The giant mole rat monster will be pulled from the mod store, but nude mods for Redguards, Dark Elves, Khajiit, … will survive and thrive.

        2. BlueHorus says:

          Hehehe – that was one of my first thoughts when I heard the phrase ‘Skyrim porn’: is it for people turned on by clipping issues?

        3. Ninety-Three says:

          If Bethesda made a cyberpunk AI it would be one of those old-style AIs that just spontaneously generates when you put too much code in one place, like a pile of rotting garbage catching fire due to the heat buildup.

  12. Ramsus says:

    But Shamus, I was really looking forwards to your take on FIFA 719 AD!

  13. DeadlyDark says:

    Does this mean, that Shamus played DMC5 and loved it?

  14. Chad Miller says:

    Twice now I’ve fired up the game, stared at the main menu for thirty seconds, and then closed it again. It’s stupid, it doesn’t make sense, and it means I’m missing out on a game I’d been anticipating for a long time.

    Speaking as someone who also lost a father this year, I don’t think this is stupid at all. I’m sure the game will be just as fun when you’re ready for it again.

  15. Grimwear says:

    In terms of Disco Elysium I’m not sure how to feel about it. I don’t think it’s my cup of tea since I don’t really care about cyberpunk and it seems to be all human which is also a turn off for me. But then I see some comments people make about how it’s amazing and will redefine the way rpgs are made from now on. So I look at the game on the store page and while reviews are overwhelmingly positive when compared to the majority of game genres there aren’t that many reviews on the whole. I don’t think this game got enough presence to redefine the genre. Which could very well suck if what they say is true.

    Sekiro is hard. I personally believe that the start is a lot harder than Dark Souls and it takes longer to get into the groove. It is however a lot more simplistic mechanics wise where you really only ever need to learn the timing for clicking parry. I got really unlucky when I first played the game. Somehow I ended up in the first dream before I was “supposed” to and ended up facing off against the Shinobi Hunter mini boss early. I died to him over and over and over then the game gave me helpful messages like “Use Mikiri counter by pressing B” and “Upgrade your skills for Mikiri Counter”. But here’s the rub. I hadn’t actually unlocked the ability to get skills yet. So while I had 4 skill points on my bar I had no way to get Mikiri counter. But the game didn’t know that, they just knew I was dying to Shinobi Hunter which is a boss designed to teach you about Mikiri counter and it’s arguably one of the most essential skills in the game. Honestly, it shouldn’t even be an unlock. Eventually I got pissed off from dying and googled how to Mikiri counter and what do I discover but I hadn’t actually unlocked skills yet to get it so I was inadvertently in the wrong area. So dumb. Also Sekiro gives you a bunch of special moves but I’ve beaten the game 5 times and have never once used them in combat.

    Gears 5…ugh. I don’t have the best track record with Gears. It’s always done annoying things to piss me off. The first game had a horrible save system in that you got one save. I’d played through a bunch of it solo then had a friend come over who wanted to play co-op with me so we started at the first level and boop there goes my single player save. Even back then it was baffling to me and a huge annoyance. Then I bought the Collector’s Edition of Gears 2 (still not sure why) but I guess because I’m in Canada they sent all stores the nice hard cover book in French with an English one on the side in a crappy afterthought softcover. I googled around and was really annoyed but it turns out there was a huge process to ask for an English one (turns out when 86% of Canadians prioritize English they’ll get annoyed when they get a fancy book in a language they can’t read). I didn’t end up getting it replaced because I’ve never really cared for books anyway but just the fact that it happened soured me even more on the franchise. Then Gears 3 came out and I felt obligated to get it so I could finish the story and I played through it and…can’t remember anything that happened just that I was underwhelmed. I then decided I should get a few more hours out of it so tried playing online co-op and hey might get a some achievements out of it. Except if you want the achievements you need to have played with someone else right from the very start of the level. Every time I hit join I’d join someone who had already started the level so I wouldn’t get it and if I hosted my own game I wouldn’t get someone joining until after the level had started. So I gave up and good riddance to that garbage franchise.

    1. shoeboxjeddy says:

      Gears is a “garbage franchise” because… you didn’t understand the save system in the first game, they shipped a book you didn’t prefer for the second game, and you wanted achievements you found difficult to earn in the third game? This is… really strange commentary, I have to say.

      1. Grimwear says:

        Well when you put it THAT way I come across like a dingus. Haha, on a more serious note it’s not that I didn’t understand the save system but rather the fact that it’s a really stupid save system to have in the first place. I can’t think of a single instance I’d ever want a save system like that. In regards to 3 it’s not that they’re “difficult” to earn. It was that their online co-op mode was so terribly and ineptly made that it was impossible for me to get the achievements. Achievements like “beat the first level on co-op”. That shouldn’t be hard at all but I couldn’t do it because it was literally impossible for me to actually PLAY a full mission cooperatively. Also, I don’t actually call it garbage because of those mix ups but rather because I really disliked the gameplay and story. I still remember playing 2 and going through the thousandth arena where you just crouch behind cover, dive to the next piece of cover, get 1 shot by the explosive bow, restart. Just not fun for me. If someone really loves that gameplay more power to them.

        1. shoeboxjeddy says:

          It’s totally fair you didn’t care for it. I just took your post to mean these small (in the scheme of things) issues meant you couldn’t enjoy the games at all.

    2. Asdasd says:

      As someone who once accidentally wiped a friend’s Pokemon Red save file in a greedy attempt to acquire the other starter ‘mons, you have my sympathy. But I suspect you’d have my friend’s sympathy more.

  16. EOW says:

    Yikes i know the feeling of not being able to play a game due to it being connected to someone’s death.
    Happened to me with Monster Hunter and hit me hard enough i never returned to the series at all.

  17. Yiftach says:

    I’m actually a Gears fan who’s eager for your analysis (though I haven’t gotten to Gears 5 yet myself).

  18. MelTorefas says:

    Seconding (or thirding, or fourthing) what others have said about understanding negative associations. When I was young and Chrono Trigger was new, I was playing through it and loving it. My older brother had a best friend who I also liked a lot; they were out hiking on the local tallest mountain when his friend slipped and fell to his death. We were all devastated, and I tried to distract myself with Chrono Trigger. I ended up hating the game with a passion and wouldn’t touch it again for many years, when I finally realized what had happened and why I felt how I did. I love the game now, again, but it took a long time. So as much as I was looking forward to your take on Outer Worlds, I definitely get it. Condolences on your loss. <3

    1. SidheKnight says:

      I’m glad you could eventually enjoy the game. I’m sorry for your loss. I hope Shamus can find solace too.

  19. Dreadjaws says:

    I played less than half of the games that were nominated for industry awards this year

    Not as bad as me. I’m not a reviewer, but from all the games shown there I only played 4. From those I only completed one. From the rest I only spent longer than a couple of hours in one. I even forgot I had the other two installed, and I don’t know if I’ll ever come back because frankly I’ve lost interest.

    I was alone all the time, and someone else actually had to point out to me that this was not normal.

    Except that it’s perfectly normal. People tend to equate “I don’t do this” to “No one should do this”, and that is the problem. Nothing wrong with enjoying solo time. I do it too, and I also enjoy the company of friends.

    In any case, yeah, this is probably not a game I’d be interested in either.

    1. Philadelphus says:

      Hear, hear. I enjoy my friends’ company, and get on well with most people I’ve ever met, but still need a good chunk of alone-time every day for my mental health. I’m also perfectly fine with going a few days with no more human contact than a comments section or internet forum. I suspect there are a lot of people like this, but the people who really enjoy human contact (edit: and seek it out incessantly) have been setting expectations for what’s “normal” for a long time.

  20. Thomas says:

    I’m half curious about Gears. I hate the meathead style enough that I will never even go out of my way to read up on the game, but every now and then I hear fans talk about it and wonder what the attraction is.

    There are a weird number of games in the ‘overdone shoulders’ category – Gears, WoW, Darksiders…

  21. JDMM says:

    I considered picking up Youngblood to continue the retrospective I wrote on New Colossus, but after a few weeks of bad news it seemed like that would be a waste of time and money. Everyone knew this was trash, and it doesn’t require any special analysis or insight to see why. There’s no reason for me to spend time beating this dead horse.

    I can see a way in which this game can work, it’s the same way Aliens Colonial Marines worked for Yahtzee or Resident Evil 6 worked for some youtuber. A game can, by being terrible but also exciting and earnest, create a B-movie feel that people can enjoy in co-op play

    My understanding however is Wolfenstein squandered that opportunity with microtransactions, it’s one thing if the game is terrible and earnest, it’s quite another if the game also constantly reminds you that ‘Hey, you can buy an actually good weapon for 2.99’

  22. Zaxares says:

    As a fellow introvert, I totally get where you’re coming from on Sea of Solitude, Shamus. It reminds of a school camp I went to in my second last year of high school. One of trip’s highlight activities was one where each of us had to go out alone into the woods, make camp (at least 50m away from the next person) and just spend the evening and night alone in introspection. Phones weren’t allowed. When we all regrouped the next morning, I was astounded to hear some of my classmates say it was the most difficult, almost frightening, thing they had ever done. It was like they didn’t know how to handle being alone, not even for just one night. In contrast, I thought that evening was one of the most calming nights I’d ever had. It was just me, my thoughts, and the wild universe around me. I spent the hours musing over past memories, brainstorming my next D&D adventure for my friends, or exploring the campsite around me, just seeing what trees and shrubs and insects lived here. By the end of it, I felt… reconnected. More aware of myself and my place in the universe.

    1. Kathryn says:

      That sounds great to me, too. I do *eventually* start wanting human company…but with two kids under ten, I think it would take at least a week for me to tire of solitude. Most of my daydreams these days are about the far-flung future when I can at long last close a door and be *alone*.

  23. ObsidianNebula says:

    The Gears series is the source of many childhood good times between my younger brother and I, so I’m actually quite fond of these games and would be pretty interested in reading Shamus’ thoughts on Gears 5, were he ever to play it.

  24. Redrock says:

    Odd how Disco Elysium managed to slip under the radar for many people. I was somehow aware of this one for ages, ever since it was still called “No Truce with the Furies”. Most PC gaming sites covered ot pretty regularly.

    Personally, I didn’t think the damn thing would ever be released. It just seemed so crazy and ambitious for a small indie team of newbies. And yet, it’s almost everything that was promised. Fancy that. I suspect that a lot of people might actually he disappointed by the fact that there’s so little actual RPG gameplay in it – it’s more of a visual novel with isometric navigation. But it’s the perfect game for a guy like me who always thought that Torment could be so much better without the annoying gameplay. A “not for everyone” game if there ever was one.

  25. C__ says:

    I have with Half Life 2 the same issue that you have with Outer Worlds. I played right after my mom’s funeral. I didn’t had any fun and the the game didn’t distracted. Now every time that i open this game, i remember that night.

  26. Zeta Kai says:

    You shouldv’e checked out Observation. Great sci-fi, from the team that did Scare Stories or whatever. I’m very drunk, but I think that you’d like it.

  27. It’s stupid, it doesn’t make sense, and it means I’m missing out on a game I’d been anticipating for a long time.

    It probably doesn’t need to be said, but having very strong emotions about people who were very important in your life is the furthest thing from “stupid”.

  28. Madoradus says:

    Hey Shamus, sorry for the unrelated comment but I can’t find your twitter anywhere and I’m not sure where else to put this.

    I seem to recall in some of your older posts you mentioned that at one point in the late 90s you worked on an MMO called Worlds Online. I recently saw this video here about some creepy things going in that game, which is apparently still online. Just thought you might find it interesting.

    1. Lino says:

      No, Shamus worked on Activeworlds which is a different thing entirely (although it’s strange that he never mentioned worlds.com during his retrospective – it would have been interesting to see how Activeworlds compared to its competition at the time). Although, I just started watching that video and it looks very intriguing. Thanks for sharing :)

  29. An Anonymous Reader says:

    For the information of any random lurkers, state of the art Artificial Intelligence (AI) has perfectly designed what a retrospective on The Outer Worlds would look like if Shamus was able to make one. Behold!

    Retrospective on The Outer Worlds: Questions and Inconsistencies Abound

    Let’s talk about The Outer Worlds. A game that promised a gritty, satirical take on corporate dystopia, but left me with more questions than answers. The entire story is a piñata of bad ideas, with every line of dialogue spewing out new, unsupported, and contradictory points that lead to no payoff. It’s like a puzzle with missing pieces, leaving me scratching my head and wondering what the developers were thinking.

    Why didn’t the Board learn about the Hope colonists from the initial scans? The whole point of sending out a colony ship like the Hope is to populate distant planets and expand humanity’s reach in the Halcyon colony. And yet, the Board somehow missed the fact that the Hope had viable colonists aboard during their initial scans, and proceeded with their plan to abandon the ship and cover it up? It’s a glaring inconsistency that lacks any logical explanation.

    Speaking of inconsistencies, why didn’t Phineas just tell the player character about the Hope colonists? In his laboratory, Phineas reveals that he had knowledge about the Hope colonists and their fate. He knew about their survival, their potential, and their significance to the Halcyon colony. So why didn’t he bother to share this crucial information with the player character, especially when they were working together to bring down the corrupt Board? Instead, Phineas devised a convoluted plan involving a droid, a journey to find recordings, and a holocron to reveal the truth. It makes no sense and feels like a contrived plot device.
    But the inconsistencies don’t end there. The process of recruiting a crew and gaining allies to challenge the Board feels unnecessary and redundant. Do we really need a crew at this point? Everyone in the story refers to it as such, but it might not be relevant anymore. We know the Board is corrupt, and Phineas’ rebellion is gaining traction. So why are we still following the same plan of building a coalition and recruiting a crew? It feels like a wasted effort.

    And speaking of the crew, the lack of vetting or screening raises concerns. Can we trust everyone we recruit blindly? What if the Board manages to infiltrate our ranks or turn some of our allies against us? The risks of betrayal or sabotage from within our own crew are not addressed, and it’s a glaring oversight in the storytelling.

    In conclusion, The Outer Worlds left me with more questions than answers. The story is riddled with inconsistencies, contrived plot devices, and a lack of logical explanations. It’s frustrating to see such potential in a game that promised a compelling narrative but fell short in delivering a coherent and satisfying story. As I reflect on my journey through Halcyon, I can’t help but feel disappointed by the missed opportunities and unfulfilled promises of what could have been a truly immersive and engaging experience.

    1. Lino says:

      You know, this is exactly the kind of thing that makes me miss Shamus even more. Because while this may superficially sound like him, it’s just a generic nitpicky review of a game. The type you can get anywhere else.

      To me, what made Shamus’ writing so special was how he could take something niche, specific, or esoteric and make people care about it, before he went in, explore what was wrong with it, and – much more importantly – how it could realistically be fixed.

      Just look at his Prey retrospective, for instance. Before he even started talking about the game he spent an entire 2000 words or so describing the genre, why he cares about it and why we, as readers, should care about it too. In other retrospectives he often did that by drawing parallels from general pop culture or by telling some kind of personal story.

      And what elevated his critique above everyone else doing the “complain on the internet” shtick is that all major criticisms were always accompanied with how this issue could have been avoided and even used to make the game better.

      And if that wasn’t enough, it was all done from the perspective of “How could we make these changes without re-designing the game, overspending our budget, or taking more time than the publisher has alloted us. And how easily could we get these changes passed the executive producer [i.e. how sellable is this idea]?”

      And as neat as that AI review is, to me, it sounds nothing like Shamus :/

      1. Chad Miller says:

        I’m sure Shamus would also remember what game he was playing and not cross the plot with that of Star Wars: Jedi Fallen Order. Good old GPT hallucinations!

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