Dénouement 2020: The Best Stuff

By Shamus Posted Tuesday Feb 2, 2021

Filed under: Industry Events 145 comments

Ugh. I’m already tired of thinking about 2020. I’m trying to enjoy my 2021, so the last thing I want to do is revisit the tribulations of yesteryear. Let’s just get this over with.

2. Half-Life: Alyx

If they just waited two more years, they could have tied Duke Nukem Forever for the distinction of Most Delayed Game Ever.
If they just waited two more years, they could have tied Duke Nukem Forever for the distinction of Most Delayed Game Ever.

I waited thirteen years for a new Half-Life game. I got to the end of Half-Life 2, Episode 2 in 2007 and then began eagerly waiting for the follow-up. The Half-Life 2 installments came out in 2004, 2006, and 2007, so there was no reason to suspect that the next game wasn’t just around the corner. It seemed like we were leading up to a big finale in Episode 3. 

Then as the years dragged on, Valve seemed to lose interest in game development. The anticipation of Episode 3 transitioned into a tenuous hope for Half-Life 3. Then after a few more years it was clear that the game had died on the vine. Gradually the various creative people left the company and it became clear that the series was done. Even if Valve suddenly became interested in Half-Life again, they no longer had the personnel to make it happen. 

Or so I thought.

Half-Life: Alyx feels like a proper Half-Life game. So many of the original creative people are gone, yet the new entry fits perfectly into the established tone and style of the original games. It’s been over a decade since the last entry in this franchise, yet it feels like the series picks up right where we left it in terms of tone and mechanics. There’s the unique feel of the faux-euro scenery that manages to evoke Eastern Europe without being any one place in  particular. The gameplay is still built around teaching a new mechanic and then having you engage with it in increasingly complex situations. The gallows humor is as fun as ever. 

Like its predecessors, the designer allows you to explore on your own for large blocks of time and doesn’t feel the need to chat you up with hand-hold-y dialog every three minutesAs an introvert, I find a lot of modern games to be EXHAUSTING, with various characters chattering at you constantly with little reminders. I like the tension of feeling isolated and solving problems on my own, so having some dipshit coach me through puzzles is a complete killjoy.

Maybe this faithfulness to formula is frustrating to the people who wanted Half-Life to modernize its design, but personally I’m grateful for the lack of “innovation”. Thief 2014 demonstrated what happens if a new team tries to update a game without understanding what made the original work, and I’m glad Half-Life: Alyx didn’t throw away what made this series unique in pursuit of a more mainstream design.

So if Half-Life is one of my favorite franchises, and this is a faithful Half-Life game, then why isn’t this game #1 on my 2020 list? Is the #1 game THAT GOOD?

Not really. The truth is that despite the great storytelling and design work, I didn’t have a great time with Half-Life: Alyx. This game is VR-only, and I spent most of my time wishing I could somehow play this thing outside of VR. 

Don’t get me wrong. I like VR. I enjoy short, atmospheric experiences. I like casual, low-stress VR games. I love experimenting with the medium and I love the weird sensation that comes from existing within the gameworld rather than viewing it through the window of your typical monitor. On the other hand, I don’t enjoy hours-long room-scale VR sessions.

Half-Life Alyx is not a game you jump in and out of. It has a long startup time and an excruciating load time for levels. This isn’t a game you play in fifteen minute chunks, even though that’s about how long I could play before it became uncomfortable.

I played this game via the Oculus Quest 2. The weight of the headset would dig into the bridge of my nose and my cheekbones. My skin would start to sweat and I’d get itchy. So then I’d lift up the headset to scratch, and the bullshit poorly-designed overpriced flimsy link cable would slip loose, breaking the VR experience. So then I’d have to take it off, shut down the game, re-connect the headset, restart Steam VR, restart the game, and endure the agonizing load to get back into it. This would happen even if I lightly grazed the cable and the connection was disrupted for less than a second. The software was unable to recover from small hiccups like this.

I spent a lot of time sneaking around in the dark. Literally! I was walking with my head down, knees bent, cradling my gun in my outstretched hands. That’s amazing. Immersion is good! But that posture is really hard to maintain for hours at a time, so I’d end up with a backache the next day.

The reload mechanics require you to pantomime pulling a mag out of your backpack and inserting it into the gun. It feels really fun, and cures the reflexive reload syndrome you get in most shooters.
The reload mechanics require you to pantomime pulling a mag out of your backpack and inserting it into the gun. It feels really fun, and cures the reflexive reload syndrome you get in most shooters.

My hand would cramp from gripping the controller for so long. My legs would hurt from standing in a slightly crouched position for extended periods of time. My eyes would get tired because I couldn’t look away from the screen and rub them occasionally like I can in non-VR situations. My ears would hurt from all the gunfire being pumped through the headphonesSure, you can turn it down. But then it’s hard to hear those faint shuffling noises in the distance. Having a huge dynamic range is realistic, but it’s also hard on my ears in extended play sessions.. My glasses prescription is such that I almost don’t need them. I can wear my glasses and have a very uncomfortable face-smashy experience, or I can leave them off and have everything slightly out-of-focus, all the time.

Now, you could argue that none of these problems are the fault of Half-Life: Alyx: I’m old. I’m out-of-shape. It’s not the game designer’s fault my eyesight is deteriorating. The Quest 2 isn’t the most comfortable headset out there and maybe with more time and experience I could find a way to mitigate some of these issues.

I don’t dispute any of these facts. I agree that Alyx is one of the best VR games to date, but the truth is that this is a fantastic game that physically hurts to play, and that prolonged discomfort interfered with my ability to enjoy it. It’s not anyone’s fault and I’m not saying the designer did a bad job. I’m just describing my experience. 

This feels just like the disused apartment blocks that Gordon Freeman explored back in 2004. So nice how the team got the little details right.
This feels just like the disused apartment blocks that Gordon Freeman explored back in 2004. So nice how the team got the little details right.

I can’t even argue that the game should be converted to non-VR. Valve went to a lot of trouble to make a game that was specifically designed for VR. This isn’t a game that just uses VR as a gimmick. VR is fully integrated with the game and it would require a lot of compromise and redesign to make the game work on a traditional screen. 

These are all laudable things. This is what VR needs to move forward and reach a larger audience. VR is unlike 2D gaming, and to get the most out of it – and the expensive hardware – you need experiences that are created specifically to leverage its strengths. 

But damn it. My nose hurt, my neck hurt, my knees hurt, and by the last chapter I just wanted to sit in a chair and play this game without several pounds of technology hanging from my face. 

It’s awesome, but it hurts. I’m really glad I don’t assign review scores to games, because I don’t think I could come up with a single number that could adequately reflect how I feel about Half-Life: Alyx.

(TODO: Insert obligatory Half-Life 3 joke here.)

1. Watch Dogs: Legion

Yeah. Whatever. Nobody cares. Fuck off.
Yeah. Whatever. Nobody cares. Fuck off.

Well, this is unexpected. When was the last time an Ubisoft game landed in my end-of-year list, much less snagged the top spot? 

So let’s talk about the various complaints with the game…

“The thing where you can recruit anyone in London to join your group of insurgents was cool, but it didn’t have a huge impact on the gameplay.”

“The various abilities of individual team members aren’t that powerful or interesting.”

“The emergent side-missions are neat but they don’t tie into the main story.”

“Your crew members look and sound different from each other, but they don’t really force you to vary your playstyle very much.”

“The characters seem really varied and vibrant, and it’s interesting that we don’t have a single main character. But in the end you’ll probably just pick a single favorite and stick with them most of the time.”

“London is large, but it feels kind of empty since it’s just a sea of map markers where you do the same three missions over and over.”

Now, technically all of these gripes are true, but I find them incredibly frustrating. 

The game wants be about about a fascist technocracy, but then the city itself looks very clean, inviting, and filled with Old-World charm.
The game wants be about about a fascist technocracy, but then the city itself looks very clean, inviting, and filled with Old-World charm.

See, Ubisoft is in a rut so deep it’s become a canyon. Their games are an exhausting grind of repetition where the creator seems to have a violent allergy to anything that might resemble a creative risk. But somehow the designer of this game managed to wiggle free of the Ubisoft orthodoxy and take a small half-step towards innovation. 

There are genuinely good ideas in this game, and my major complaint is that they didn’t go nearly far enough. I’m worried the Ubisoft leadership is going to see that long list of gripes and say, “Oh wow! People do not like it when we do something new. I’m going to make sure nobody deviates from our uniform design in future projects!” So many of the criticisms are focused on the New Things, which might send the message that we don’t like New Things. The actual complaint here should be, “New things are good, but you didn’t go nearly far enough!”

It almost feels like the team is trying to sneak innovation in under the nose of an overbearing ultra-conservative leader. There’s a really cool side-story where someone uploads the consciousness of another human being without their consent, and the story plays around with some fairly dark ideas for a little bit. It’s gripping stuff, and it even leads to a rare moment of player choice at the end. But this happens in the middle of a side-plot that the game wants to rush you through, and the rest of the game immediately negates / ignores the incredibly interesting choice you just made.

Meanwhile, the main plot is a ridiculous and childish story about an outrageously implausible fight against a boring cartoon villain with nothing to say, and then it ends with a out-of-nowhere betrayal that is somehow both obvious and nonsensical. And then you’re dropped into an extended late-game combat slog that negates all of the cool mechanics of the rest of the game by forcing you to use a single character to become your “central” protagonist while the rest of your team vanishes from the story, thus undercutting the most interesting thing the game had going for it.

Like the previous games in this series – and a lot of other stuff Ubisoft puts out – this game acts like it has something Very Important to say about society. It swings around some heavy hot-button topics, but then it never really says anything about them.

Just throw everything at the wall and see what sticks!
Just throw everything at the wall and see what sticks!

What is this game about? Job loss due to automation? Rising surveillance state and the loss of individual privacy? Violent and unaccountable police? Immigration? Corporatism? Racism? Turning over too much of our infrastructure to AI?

Imagine the extended family has gathered for Thanksgiving dinner. In the middle of the meal Uncle Vern suddenly says in an angry voice, “Do you know what most people don’t understand about Donald Trump?”

Suddenly everyone freezes, and you get the feeling Vern is about to say something that’s either obvious and banal, or completely infuriating. Everyone holds their breath while Vern chews a piece of turkey and gathers his thoughts.

Eventually everyone gets restless. Vern is nodding his head like he’s going to speak any second now, and everyone feels like the meal can’t continue until this (whatever it is) is over. The family waits and waits, staring at Vern impatiently.

Finally the group gives up. Vern seems to have forgotten he was about to say something. Everyone resumes eating.

A minute later Vern suddenly growls, “Anyway, like I was saying about Donald Trump…” And then he pauses and the whole process starts over.

Yes, it's cheap gratification to present a cartoon fascist police state and then allow the player to assault that power with near impunity, but there's nothing wrong with cheap gratification. Just make sure that's not the ONLY gratification you have to offer.
Yes, it's cheap gratification to present a cartoon fascist police state and then allow the player to assault that power with near impunity, but there's nothing wrong with cheap gratification. Just make sure that's not the ONLY gratification you have to offer.

That’s what these kind of Ubisoft games feel like. I seriously doubt this writer has the skill to say anything insightful about the hot-button topics they keep mentioning. I don’t need the writer to weigh in on the controversy of the day. In fact, I’d prefer they didn’t try, since it would probably be overly reductive, heavy-handed, and childish. But the story keeps bringing this stuff up and then refusing to do anything with it. Worse, the game is otherwise devoid of a message or theme. The writer doesn’t seem to have anything to say, but they keep acting like they do. It’s distracting and off-putting.

I realize it feels really weird to give this game my #1 spot for the year and then blow a thousand words explaining how irritating it was. My point is that the overall structure of this game is a typical Ubisoft-style gameplay grind with a dull and predictable story. But then in the margins are all of these wonderful ideas, interesting mechanics, emergent stories, and surprise moments.

This is a single-player game you fucking dunces!
This is a single-player game you fucking dunces!

What I’m getting at is that the good parts of this game are unique to this game, and the bad parts of this game are the things it has in common with other Ubisoft titles. It feels like there are a bunch of really smart, creative people working on this, and the Ubisoft leadership just needs to get out of their way. I had a lot of fun running around cyber-London, punching strawman fascist cops, hijacking vehicles, and hacking computers. But as amusing as that was, I could tell there was an even better, smarter, more interesting game the team could have made from this same framework.

Don’t go back into the rut, Ubisoft. Run with this idea of emergent operatives. It works. You just need to commit.

Looking Forward…

So let’s talk about some upcoming games. This isn’t terribly important now, but in a year it’ll be fun to look back and roll our eyes at all of this foolish optimism.

Mass Effect Remaster – I just want an excuse to play through Mass Effect 1 again. That’s all I’m looking for. I’m very worried some dipshit will use the remaster as an excuse to shove a bunch of obnoxious Cerberus retcons into the first game. It’s very obvious that Cerberus is the pet villain of someone at BioWare, and that person isn’t above flagrantly self-gratifying and tone-deaf bullshitThey put Cerberus into ANDROMEDA, for crying out loud.. I don’t plan on playing through ME2 or ME3. I really have seen enough of that nonsense, and I know it all ends in frustration anyway. Like The Matrix, Mass Effect is so much more enjoyable if I can pretend it’s the only one. All I want is the original with a fresh coat of paint.

Manifold Garden – This is technically out now. It appeared on the Epic Store first, and I gave it a pass because I was tired of the Epic Store. It came out on Steam in October, but by that time the end-of-year deluge had begun. My plan is to play this one during the slow summer months of 2021.

Hyperbolica – This is a game that takes place in hyperbolic space. It looks very trippy and I can’t wait to explore it for myself. 

Hitman 3 – The rebooted Hitman series is 2 for 2. Can they make three great games in a row? Probably. This one is out on the Epic Store, but I own the previous two Hitman games on Steam. They share a common pool of levels, so I don’t want to break up the set. So while this is a 2021 release, I probably won’t get to play it until 2022. 

Cyberpunk 2077 – This is, of course, out already. I mean, it’s buggy and full of holes, and it’s obviously far short of the game the developers planned to make. But we’ve been promised updates and bug fixes. We’ll see how that turns out.

Deathloop – I’m not sure if I’m going to dig this. I loved Prey, the previous game from this developer. On the other hand, Deathloop sounds sort of like a AAA roguelike. I’m worried I’ll find that more frustrating than fun. It’s hard to tell. I liked the Mooncrash expansion and that was a rogue-ish sort of game, but this sort of thing is incredibly hit-or-miss for me.

Bloodlines 2 – I already talked about the troubled development of this game earlier in this series. It’ll supposedly come out this year. We’ll see how that turns out.

Gotham Knights – Ugh. I’m pretty confident I’m not going to like this one. I hate everything the designers are doing. But I’m still waiting for someone to recreate the magic of Arkham City. I need to play this, because otherwise the internet will never let me hear the end of it. Also, you never know! It might be goodThis is not a prediction. I’m just allowing for the fact that this is technically possible right now, no matter how unlikely it seems.!

New World – I doubt I’ll enjoy this. MMOs are pretty hit-or-miss for me, and I’m pretty burned out on the idea of a  “pre-industrial setting with magic”. I’ve spent decades doing that, and I’d much rather go to space, or a post-apocalypse, or maybe a cyberpunk sort of deal. On the other hand, this game is coming from Amazon Game Studios. It’s been ages since a new publisher entered the ring, and I’m really curious what happens when a new player joins the game and tries to race up the tech tree like this. Personally I’d advise making a few small, focused titles to get your teams to gel before you scale up and blow a hundred million bucks entering the MMO space, which has devoured many large companies over the decades. But whatever. It’s not my money, so I’m happy to see them take stupid, irresponsible risks with it. 

So that’s it. Now I just need to survive 2021, and then we can meet back here and see how it all turned out. Wish me luck!



[1] As an introvert, I find a lot of modern games to be EXHAUSTING, with various characters chattering at you constantly with little reminders. I like the tension of feeling isolated and solving problems on my own, so having some dipshit coach me through puzzles is a complete killjoy.

[2] Sure, you can turn it down. But then it’s hard to hear those faint shuffling noises in the distance. Having a huge dynamic range is realistic, but it’s also hard on my ears in extended play sessions.

[3] They put Cerberus into ANDROMEDA, for crying out loud.

[4] This is not a prediction. I’m just allowing for the fact that this is technically possible right now, no matter how unlikely it seems.

From The Archives:

145 thoughts on “Dénouement 2020: The Best Stuff

  1. Rick says:

    You’ve brought up a bunch of Oxford with extended VR sessions that I hadn’t even thought of.

    Still looking forward to it, though.

  2. Grimwear says:

    I applaud your Ubisoft username. Uplay was the only account I’ve ever come across where “Grimwear” was already taken. So I then tried Effuplay, Actual F word uplay, a whole slough of things, none of which were allowed. So I threw that into my password instead and hey it worked. So if anyone wants to break into my uplay account and mess around in Rainbow Six Siege with only half the operators unlocked…there’s your hint.

    1. Dennis says:

      I noticed the uPlay username too. Mine’s IEnjoyDRM.

  3. MerryWeathers says:

    I felt Alyx was decent for what it was, my biggest complaint was that the game didn’t really take advantage of being in VR that much, it was mostly just a straightforward FPS game that you played through in VR. The exception to this was the JEFF level and that was the most memorable part of the game, it’s a bit of shame that it was only one chapter but maybe that was the point. Baby steps in VR first, if Valve immediately landed the player in some Dr. Strange-esque level then they probably would have never finished the game for being too intense. Hopefully a sequel (assuming there will even be one) will have levels or sequences that will fully take advantage of virtual reality.

    Also Shamus, didn’t you know that you could play the entire game just sitting down? I remember there was an uproar about the gameplay previews being played through by teleporting because it didn’t seem immersive enough but it endes up becoming the more pleasant and preferred option for me.

    1. Echo Tango says:

      How do you play sitting down; Is there a crouch button, or can you just duck slightly while in your seat? As Shamus points out, doing a bunch of crouching, leaning, etc for a VR game gets uncomfortable (or even un-doable) as you age…but that’s going to limit a lot of the potential player-base. The Wii gained a lot of players, because the motion-control stick was fairly light, and didn’t require drastic movements[1], so grandparents could join their grandchildren in some gaming. Hopefully the VR-systems allow people to make calibration profiles, so that people with more limited movement can make smaller…movements while playing. :)

      [1] In retrospect, this is one of the things that kept me off of some of the Wii games. I’m a bigger guy, and back then I was exercising a lot, so when my friends got me to play a boxing game for example, I was constantly over-shooting my movements, because the game was calibrated for couch-potatoes. ^^;

      1. RichardW says:

        I’m sure Alyx would be ridiculously immersive if I had a huge play area to walk around in, duck manhacks in, etc. etc. but I have like three feet to work with here and a bad back. So i played the whole thing from the comfort of my bed. And loved every second of it, five times over.

        The seated experience might lack some of the more “being there” vibe, since you’re back to tapping a button to crouch / stand up, but it feels every bit like I’d always hoped a proper VR game would. The kind that everyone seemed to poo poo because it’d give you motion sickness from the smooth movement. It was great! The only concession for comfort I needed to make was enabling a very fine grain snap turn, you can set it to really small degree increments which feels great. The fact that you can go from smoothly walking around to “jumping” to a different spot whenever you like easily helps a lot as well if you do start to feel a bit disoriented.

        Long story short, Valve did an incredible job in terms of accessibility but most players feel the only way they can interact with a VR title is to clear the room and flail around when you don’t *really* need to. Plus, the Index is pretty comfortable too. Just saying!

  4. Gautsu says:

    So you didn’t play Hades then?

    1. Shamus says:

      I did not. I didn’t even realize it was A Big Deal until people started making end-of-year lists.

      Also, it doesn’t look like my kinda thing. This creates an interesting risk for me.

      If I play a beloved title outside of my usual genre preferences, then things can go very badly for me. If I like it, then I’m just another voice in the crowd. But if I don’t like it? Hoo boy.

      You’re just looking for things to bitch about. Everyone else loved it!

      Why did you play this game if you don’t like our awesome genre? Go back you your loser genre if you don’t know what’s good.

      See, you were playing it wrong. There’s some totally different mindset and value system you’re supposed to use. If you judged the game according to tastes you don’t have and rate it according to things you don’t value, then you’d love it as much as the rest of us!

      Everyone else loves this game, so your dislike of it is proof that your opinion is worthless.

      And so on. I’ve gone through this in the past. (FTL, Undertale, and the first Witcher game are all notable examples.) If I was short on games I might give it a try to see what the fuss was about, but I’ve got my hands full at the moment.

      1. Gautsu says:

        I loved the game, but hell man, taste is subjective. I respect your opinion enough to tease you, but not shit on your choices. And besides you had a busy backend around the time it was coming out of early access

      2. Asdasd says:

        As seemingly the only person alive who didn’t care for Dead Cells, I have some sympathy. In fact this is a thorny one for critics generally, and probably explains the enduring popularity of the safe 8/10 score (and the ‘damning’ 7/10 score, come to it…)

        1. Geebs says:

          Hades is about as different from Dead Cells at it is possible to be while still being a heck of a lot like Dead Cells.

          I will say though: I hated the combat in Bastion and didn’t get along with Transistor, but Hades is a really dramatic improvement.

        2. Rho says:

          I enjoyed Dead Cells, but after a week or so of advancing realized that it was going to take a lot of time, effort, and luck to “git gud” and put it down. The concept was more interesting than the game for me personally. Although it was still expertly made.

          1. Lino says:

            Same. I got to the point where I had completely mastered the early levels. But once I got later on (that gold palace thing), I was very quickly killed by the boss. Which meant I had to play for about an hour just to get the privilege of having another go. And although I like the look and mechanics of the game, as time passes on, I have less and less patience for games that have no respect for my time.

            1. Fizban says:

              I stalled out on boss cell 2 and every attempt to optimize my builds or gameplay blew up in my face and I haven’t touched it since. I’m just not gud enough. Might pick up the expansions anyway though- they’ve added more free areas, which combined with the expansions should result in a lot of potential paths through the “castle,” which is something I quite like.

              1. Baron Tanks says:

                Same point where I stopped. Reading Lino’s comment all I could think was, good call, I made it past that one and then found a similar difficulty wall waiting ahead. While anecdotally I believe two best cells is a major limiting point, it wouldn’t surprise me to only find the next hurdle if I were to ever overcome two Boss Cells.

                I had a similar thing with Slay the Spire where I played so much of it, I felt I had to also keep on plugging at the ascensions levels. Took me a while to accept for myself I enjoy doing runs with ascension mode off even if it is nominally not ‘challenging me’. In fact I’ve played Slay the Spire for years, before there was even a fourth boss. To this day I have not bothered getting a run together (I have seen it in a let’s play at least) where I did the requirements to get this boss. And I still play Slay the Spire multiple days a week :)

        3. Echo Tango says:

          I’ve played a lot of randomized games, but Dead Cells is one I’m going to have to miss out on. The second to second combat is fun enough, but it’s not really that deep, and the rest of the game looks to be filled with grind, both while in a run[1] and between runs.[2] I had enough of that already with Enter The Gungeon, and that game had a far nicer visual aesthetic to keep me playing. Arguably, the common cartoony visuals, and lack of power-grind for within runs, is why I’ve had so much fun with Spelunky 1 and now 2. :)

          [1] Endless loot-drop sorting, like the Diablos, Torchlights, Borderlandses, etc.
          [2] Last time I was watching Northern Lion, I’m pretty sure there were permanent upgrades to aquire, shop types to unlock, and items to unlock for use inside of a run.

          1. Fizban says:

            The biggest problem with the grind is not knowing how it works. There are clearly a ton of things to unlock, but some drop from enemies, some from bosses, and some must be captured pokemon style. And the boss drops have a set list per boss, so once you’ve got everything from that boss, there’s nothing more to be gained. And the cells gained from boss kills aren’t very much.

            Grinding cells for upgrades wasn’t too bad for my taste, but it does expect you to be able to beat the final boss on the easiest difficulty. Once you can use boss cells to up the difficulty, you can hit the bonus doors for going fast and/or not getting hit, and doors in the levels will open up, and there are bonus cells behind these doors: if you can run through the easy route to the first boss on difficulty +1 or +2, win, and cache it, that’s a solid chunk right there.

            But if you can’t beat the final boss at all, yeah you’re basically just screwed ’cause the gains are so small. On base difficulty a tanky+healy build should work (it’s what I did first run), but the game doesn’t want you to actually hp tank so that quickly stops working.

      3. kikito says:

        I understand you have a lot on your plate but as a writer of stuff peripheral to videogames I think you would find it very interesting. I believe you would enjoy it on the writing alone.

        And before you tell me that you would not enjoy the gameplay:

        * If you don’t enjoy a particular set of weapons/boons, there’s always another set that you can try. You can play it as an agile brawler, as a tanky shooter, or as a magic user (using mostly casts).
        * There’s a “God Mode” right there in the options menu if you are just interested in the story
        * (Most of) the stories advance gradually *every time you die*. Instead of “Damn, I died” you get a “Cool I get to advance my stories now”. You don’t need to GIT GUD (or God) to advance (most of) the story.

        …And there’s lots of lines, all of them beautifully voiced! Here’re some interesting stats:


        1. GoStu says:

          Something I love about Hades is that unlike most Roguelikes, you have a LOT of control over what kind of items/etc. you’re going to get, and that everything you CAN get is useful. If you want a run with the bow and to do a lot of critical-hit based things, you grab your bow from the armory and Artemis’s keepsake and it’ll probably happen for you.

          What frequently eventually burns me out in other similar games is the absolute trainwreck runs where you get utter dogshit for upgrades. Looking at you Binding of Isaac, you creaky old bloated mess, handing me utterly useless or detrimental items before slapping a truly vile boss in front of me. Such runs are an utter slog and while I’ll play them for a bit trying to turn my fortunes around, eventually I’ll just abandon the run.

          Also, the characterization and story and outstanding voice work REALLY carry it to the next level. Running around the House of Hades is a nice time.

          I will advise that the God Mode does not do the same thing it does in other games. In many other games, God Mode or “Narrative” difficulty mode makes you basically completely invulnerable so you can sail through with impunity. In Hades, difficulty in escaping the underworld is part of the story, so you aren’t handed the same amount of power: what God Mode does is hands out additional durability for your character after every death (in addition to the extra power you’re normally unlocking in other games). The pace at which you grow stronger speeds up.

          All in all though, I think Hades is a serious contender for best-in-genre. It’s set a very high standard going forward and I love the way that it managed to tell a coherent and interesting story in a Roguelike where death is frequent.

      4. RamblePak64 says:

        Contrast with everyone singing its praises, I don’t play rogue-likes either. I do think Hades has a really good core loop that makes it more enjoyable than most in the genre. At the same time, I’ve kind of stalled at 10 hours because it can take anywhere from 30-45 minutes to reach the boss of the third zone and I get sick of dying to them. I may be a fan of Bloodborne and some other Souls-likes, but holy cow, having to replay 30-45 minutes of game just to get back to the one boss I cannot beat is absolutely frustrating to me. It was the moment that I thought “Dang, yeah, I really know how Shamus feels now, because this is irritating”.

        Do they mix those runs up in new ways? Sure. You can open up portals to the Chaos realm or whatever it’s called to get different challenges or boons. They’ll swap out the original variant of a section boss for a new one with different attack patterns. But ultimately it still takes you 30-45 minutes to get back to the boss that killed you, and you might not even have as good a boon set this time, and even if you get closer, you still have another 30-45 minute run back to the boss for another try, and who knows when this will be the last one, and oh yeah, you’ll just end up fighting them again because you’ll probably die on the next boss, and even if you do “beat” the game it’s not the “true” ending or some garbage, so you have to keep playing, and ten hours of gameplay later I’m still waiting for these characters to stop spitting out the same dialogue just worded differently, and for this story to get as good as people claim, and…

        …and basically, it’s a 4-5 hour game stretched out way, way, way too long. The decision to make it a rogue-like probably allowed them to instead focus time and budget on mechanics in a way they couldn’t for their prior games, but holy cow I’d probably be more likely to replay it several times if it was just a 4-5 hour linear experience with different difficulty levels than the 10+ hour experience that feels like a slog. A very well-polished slog whose combat is good, but a slog nonetheless.

        So, way I see it, there’s a 50/50 whether you’d like Hades or not. If you can get it for <$10 on a cheap sale and be willing to give it up once it frustrates you, then I’d say give it a whirl. But if you’d be too stubborn to drop it, then I’d just look for something that’s a more guaranteed joy catalyst.

        1. Gautsu says:

          System mastery. My very first run I dies to the first mini-boss. Now I am racing my best times on 8-10 heat. That 45 minute run to die is down to 18-20 to clear.

          Also the music is really good

          1. Erik says:

            And how long did it take for you to reach system mastery? I’m older and my reflexes have slowed a lot; it takes me a whole lot longer to “get gud” if I even can, and my schedule is a lot more packed than it was when I was 16.

            Games that don’t respect my time don’t get played. I don’t have that kind of time available to invest for an uncertain return.

            1. GoStu says:

              The game’s mechanics carried me through before I really achieved system mastery. Eventually the upgrades you’re (probably?) unlocking make you strong enough to get through them. You increase your starting HP, likelihood of good items, and gain up to 3 “come back from 0 HP” abilities, plus even more bonuses.

              Absolute worst-case, turn on the game’s “God Mode”. You get 20% damage resistance immediately, and an extra 2% for every death, capping at 80% damage resistance. Being able to absorb five times more damage on top of all your other bonuses will make victory all-but-certain. Some defeats are nearly inevitable, but that stacking damage resistance means that even if you’re not improving much in terms of skill, you should expect to eventually clear the game anyway.

              1. RamblePak64 says:

                I’ve actually considered turning on God Mode, and may very well do that. That way I can find out if this game’s story is as amazing as everyone claims it to be, because as far as I can tell, I’m already not horny enough to be in love with its characters or something.

            2. Syal says:

              I’ve got 80 hours in Hades with full non-weapon upgrades and still can’t clear 25 minutes for a run. Granted, I’m not particularly playing for speed, but still.

            3. Gautsu says:

              I can’t give you an exact hour breakdown; I played a lot on my Surface Pro at work offline so it wasn’t tracking. Maybe 3 weeks 30 hours or so. Obviously I enjoyed it enough to continue playing. It takes about 8-10 clears to see the nominal story, a lot more with grinding to “finish it”. Some builds are definitely easier than others: I have had 2 go just over the 18 minute mark (18:01 and 18:09) and those were lucky. Also both on my desktop, my runs on the surface are usually between 25-30 minutes. I don’t say this to brag because I am not that good, but like others have said starting with double health, extra dashes, extra casts, the unlockable run boons from what you can build, maxed trinkets and what not, can go a long way to help. I am also getting comfortably ensconced in middle age by this point so I feel your pain. My job on a very bad day can place my life in service to my reflexes, so I do the best I can to keep them sharp. Also, although god mode is only extra damage reduction, that increases with every death, turning it on in no way locks you out of achievements, story beats, or upgrades

        2. kikito says:

          My advice for the bosses would be: get a distance weapon (bow/railgun, or Zeus Shield if you feel adventurous) and try to get the Arthemis Zeus duo boon, “Lightning Rod”. This is the safest build I know.

          Prioritize getting at least one Arthemis attack/special/dash and as many Zeus lighting bolts enhancements as you can. Priority two is getting extra casts from Chaos/Arthemis/Charon wheel.

          You want to leave your casts in the middle of the boss zone, without picking them – as “jewels”. Lightning Rod makes them continuously cast lightning bolts to all enemies and boses next to them, on a big radius. The bolts scale with all the lightning-related boons that Zeus gives you, and every extra cast throws additional lighting.

          I have won battles against the Champions of Olimpus and the final boss with Lighning Rod doing most of the damage. I just mostly left the gems near the center of the screen and then circle-dashed like crazy (Athena or Poseidon dash help). I had 5 casts close together, enemies would basically get continuous lighthing damage. They were like monster traps.

          Things to avoid: Don’t pick any cast which “sticks to the target” (Aphrodite is probably the best one for this build, it leaves the casts next to you immediately, so you can “plant them” easily). And definitively don’t pick Hermes’ boon which makes the casts “return to you automatically”.

          Good luck!

        3. GoStu says:

          Those two are rough; I think overcoming them was one of the biggest “aha!” moments I had with the game.

          Now when I go against them, nine times out of ten I keep my distance from Theseus while pummeling Asterius as hard as I can. The bull is the real complicating factor for me, Theseus doesn’t actually do that much damage or have many attacks up his sleeve, he just throws a lot of shade and the occasional spear. Watch yourself to see that little reticle pattern – it shows up when he’s going to throw his spear. Beat the minotaur to death and then tackle Theseus alone – he’s MUCH easier to deal with when there isn’t a big angry bull with an axe chasing you around.

          My first victories against them came down to me having enough uses of Death Defiance to tank all that damage, but once I figured out the above I can usually clear them without using any.

          I think the advantage I had is that I enjoyed the minutes leading up to the bosses as well. Dying to the third bosses wasn’t a big problem for me; I’d be back in the House, have some conversations, catch up with people, and then dive back into the next escape attempt and have fun smashing my way through the early levels again. That’s my real litmus test: do you have fun with the combat? If so, you won’t mind the run back to the next attempt. IF you see it as a slog through trash mobs, then it’s probably more of that Dark Souls problem that Shamus has.

          1. RamblePak64 says:

            That’s the thing, I do like the combat. I won’t lie and claim I think the combat is meh. The moment-to-moment is enjoyable, though I also realized that the only boss I truly like is the Bone Hydra. He’s the only one that I get psyched for. Perhaps it’s because his soundtrack is just the perfect “pump you up” tune to jam to while lodging a spear in his skull. There’s so much going on, but dodging the different heads, jabbing at ’em a bit before dodging away to the other side of the screen, it’s the boss that “clicked” with me best.

            I think that it has a story or sense of proper “progress” is what makes it frustrating. BPM: Bullets Per Minute was my first real rogue-like I enjoyed, and yet I never felt the same sense of frustration from the game. Of course, I played it as a rhythm game first. Each run was an excuse to listen to a solid soundtrack and shoot to the rhythm. Progress was nice, but unnecessary. I actually was completely surprised when I managed to actually beat the game (on Easy). Heck, talking about it, I feel like I’d much rather boot that up for a bit rather than Hades.

            Would I feel this way if Hades had no real story? I dunno. Again, perhaps it’s the fact that BPM is more a rhythm game to me, and thus repetition is even more built into it than it would be for a hack-and-slash. But I think it says something that Salt & Sanctuary has frustrated the crap out of me for a 2D Souls-like, and yet I’ve put in about 14-15 hours and am still going… because even if I die, I at least don’t go back to the very start, and even if I lose three or so levels of Salt on a death, I at least didn’t lose the shortcuts I’ve unlocked or other elements of progress.

      5. Mr. Wolf says:

        FTL, Undertale and The Witcher aren’t the games I expected you to say, but I should’ve seen it coming since you didn’t link you-know-what.

        Nevertheless I think you could use a template: “Stop asking me to play X!”. Saves a bit of time.

        1. galacticplumber says:

          At that point he’s probably running a risk reward on getting clued in to things he actually likes, versus also getting messaged about things he hasn’t. Surely some non-zero number of enjoyable games/media/whatever have come from outside contact which is the gain here. Statistically speaking, I can’t imagine a record poor enough to have none over such a long period of time.

      6. Galad_t says:

        It’s fiine. Maybe you won’t like the roguelite mechanics, and gameplay in general, but I would still be curious what you think about the story/world-building of the game.

    2. Gautsu says:

      All joking aside, I probably won’t play Legion, but one thing that I enjoyed in Watchdogs 1+2 was the vehicle handling. It felt right to me in a way GTA, Saints Row, even Cyberpunk now all haven’t.

  5. MerryWeathers says:

    It feels like there are a bunch of really smart, creative people working on this, and the Ubisoft leadership just needs to get out of their way.

    The game was directed by Clint Hocking, the same guy who led the development of Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory and Far Cry 2, both of which are considered to be some of the best games Ubisoft has made.

    1. Naota says:

      Not that I’m expecting this to be deeply insightful, but working with Clint was really fun. He’s quite a character and backed up a few of the crazier ideas I had for missions that might not otherwise have made the cut.

      1. Shamus says:

        My heart is warmed.

        But now I want to ask you a dozen questions that I know you’re not allowed to answer.

        Is John Ubisoft happy with the game? Will he let Hawking make another one like this? Will he let you go all-in this time? Can we get more stuff like the Skye Larsen storyline and less stuff like Nigel Cass the Saturday-morning cartoon bad guy?

        But I know you can’t answer those questions so… uh?

        Did you have fun working on it?

        1. Naota says:

          I did! Especially on systemic content that tried to break patterns and mess with players’ pre-established expectations. The stuff I enjoyed most of all has yet to be released, but I hope it shows when it does.

          A more interesting answer might be: I had the most fun when my work felt closest to third-party modding.

          This is a weird thing to say. I feel like most designers would sooner have a big budget and the support of other teams to create whatever they can dream up, costs and limits be damned – but I get satisfaction from learning and experimenting with the tools and limits of the engine myself. If I get to do that, I can use the knobs and dials I discover to inform my pitches, solve my own bugs, and make cool things for cheap. There are things I’d never consider if I didn’t get my hands dirty first.

          In other words, it’s much more fun to poke and prod and see what I can make than it is to write down an idea in ignorance and have someone else work out the details and build it for me. I’d probably make a terrible evil megacorp CEO.

  6. Crokus Younghand says:

    Shamus, regarding New World, have you taken a look at the recent Jason Schreier article on the subject? Might make for an interesting topic for This Dumb Industry.

    Also, while looking for the above article. I just found out that Stadia shut down its first-party studios. Apparently, they are going enterprise now?

    1. Lino says:

      Oh, I was very happy to read the news about Stadia! And no, that doesn’t make me a bad person – no one got fired, people were just reallocated to other projects (at least according to what I read). This could hopefully discourage some of the other big players from trying to enter the space, and kill that idea for good.

      1. Adam says:

        There’s “fired” and there’s “you may take this other job if you relocate across the continent and change tasks to work on something unrelated to your skill set or interests”. I’m not sure the second one is much better than the first (and I’m not sure what applies to Stadia either).

        1. Crokus Younghand says:

          Exactly. I doubt many C++ devs want to spend their time wrangling with Javascript and NPM, not to speak of the designers, artists, play-testers, etc.

      2. Chad Miller says:

        Eh, given we’re talking about the first party studios this is “Google isn’t developing games” not “Google is giving up on their streaming platform.” Funnily enough, I saw this in a discord with some game developers, ex-Googlers, and people who fit both of those descriptions and the near-universal reaction was “Huh. I didn’t know Google was even trying to make their own games.”

        1. Geebs says:

          IIRC Google’s Stadia Games division was headed up by Jade Raymond, who seems to have somehow managed to spend the best part of a decade getting paid a whole bunch of money to not ship any games.

          Couple that with Phil “kiss of death” Harrison and I’m getting a real The Producers vibe off the whole thing.

    2. Dreadjaws says:

      I’ve always maintained that first party exclusives are a good way to bring people to your platform. But now there are two companies that refuse to follow this very simple idea. Epic is forcing third party exclusives into its platform, and has done nothing in its favor. And now Google killed its first party studio barely a year after the platform’s launch.

      It’s a proven strategy, and helps your platform, but these two bozos can’t get it.

      1. Freddo says:

        First party exclusives are also a good way to scare off third party developers/publishers. “Please help us grow our platform while we prepare our own game studio to compete with your output” isn’t the greatest sales pitch. Microsoft and Sony can get away with it because they also have an enormous somewhat captive userbase in Xbox and Playstation.

        1. Grimwear says:

          I’ll be honest I’ve never actually heard this argument before. Not in that it’s bad just literally never come across it. I always personally considered games as mostly competing based on release dates rather than whether it’s a first or third party developer. I mean first party are generally considered only to support initial release while third party games ramp up production. That was the issue with ps3, it was hard to develop for, rather than first parties being scary. My information may be vague but wasn’t the issue with Nintendo (aside from the generally weaker hardware), that they didn’t have any interest in most 3rd party and rejected them rather than scaring them away? I think that’s mostly disappeared now since I’ve been hearing a lot of games are being released on Switch.

          It just seems to me that it’s hard to consider first party exclusives a threat when a studio can only put out a game once every couple years.

        2. Dreadjaws says:

          This argument makes absolutely no sense whatsoever.

        3. Pink says:

          Isn’t that what Epic did with Pubg and Fortnight, though?

  7. Daimbert says:

    I was waiting for this week’s post to talk about the games I liked from this year, although most of them aren’t new.

    The two big ones were Saint’s Row the Third and Saint’s Row IV, especially the latter. The Third was kinda fun, but it’s more of a direct first person shooter game and I’m not that fond of those sorts of game. IV, however, was more of a superhero game and I AM quite fond of those sorts of games, so it worked a lot better. I picked them up for the customization, but then never really took advantage of it, and instead enjoyed it for the powers, combat, driving and some of the humour.

    I also picked up a small little golf game called Everybody’s Golf. This was pretty much what I wanted from a golfing simulator, as it was light and whimsical and not all that hard and yet you actually did have to learn how to adjust for win and terrain to make your shots. So I never really sucked at the game but also did have to have some skill to advance. But I got distracted by other things and never completed the storyline.

    I also played Steins;Gate. Despite it being less fun because I had seen the anime first which was better, once I got to the endings some of them worked really, really well.

    I also should mention Ring Fit Adventure, the game I bought a Switch for. The story started out a little childish, but in general the story is interesting enough to keep me going and the exercise light and interesting enough that I can pretty much put a half hour or so into it a day when not overwhelmed, which is pretty much what I wanted it for.

  8. Lino says:


    Turning over too much of out infrastructure

    Should be “our”.

    Also, a bit unrelated, but did you get my Diecast email about Ubisoft making a new Star Wars game? If you haven’t, then maybe the email I wrote you yesterday also hasn’t come through.

  9. Lars says:

    I played quite a few 2020 games, or remastered/remakes/re-releases airing 2020.
    In the beginning oft he year it was the Yakuza Remastered Collection, where I played Yakuza 5 for the first time. The gameplay is still fine, but the story has goldun riiter award potential.
    In May Scrap Mechanic Survival got released. A major update of the early access, I’ve been waiting for 2 years at least. It feels like a different game, even though Scrap Mechanic itself is much older than 2020.
    A month later Main Assembly released in Early Access. A game I was hyped about since I’ve seen the first trailer. And it got its full release last week. Constantly improving.
    At summers end Summer in Mara was released. The successor of Deiland. And a perfect example why bigger is not better. Bigger world, more quests, but all the quests are get X of Y from A to B. Without any combat or other routine breaking stuff.
    Later Satisfactory and Rebel Galaxy: Outlaw escaped the clutches of Epic Games Store and are now released on Steam. I’m now at hour 150 of Satisfactory and rage-uninstalled RG:O at the 8 hour mark. The difficulty is all over the place, but most times just unfair. Satisfactory is easily my game of the year. I would be interested in the numbers – how much did it sell compaired to EGS. Did the Epic deal made them more money or would an instand Steam release be better?
    The remake of Tony Hawks Pro Skater 1+2 is still EGS exclusive on PC. I’m glad I own a PS4. Was this game always that frustrating? I can only play it in hourly chunks too not endanger me or my controllers.
    In November Teardown was released. That game, that destruction, … it is phenominal. And the Heist mechanic is fun too.
    At the End of the year Yakuza Like a Dragon was my go to title. Best story Ive seen in a Yakuza game to date. The only thing is Aoki leaving the wheelchair behind in so much eas is meh.
    For Cyberpunk, I wait until it gets good. Maybe 2077.

  10. Joshua says:

    As a person who’s played LOTRO on and off for the last 14 years, my wife and I had some mild curiosity about the new Lord of the Rings MMO Amazon Game Studios is developing, but given their inexperience and a few things I’ve heard, it doesn’t sound promising to be the new LOTRO 2.

    1. Melfina the Blue says:

      Wait, they are? As a tie-in to their upcoming TV series, or on its’ own? Totally missed this (not that hard, I don’t follow MMO news much anymore).

      Personally, I still think Simarillion, but I get the rights are complicated….

      1. Lino says:

        Personally, I still think Simarillion, but I get the rights are complicated….

        Are they? Because Amazon’s also making a TV series set in the Second Age, which is basically entirely from the Simarillion. As I gather, the current LoTR rights holders are much more lenient than the previous one (who was Tolkien’s son).

  11. jurgenaut says:

    I sympathize with your take on Alyx. I haven’t finished it. I get an urge from time to time to play it some, and then I think – oh.. update oculus drivers, get new batteries for the controllers, try to remember how to launch it all, actually lay out the cable (since it has twisted since you last used it), clear the playing area from chairs and stuff, actually installing everything on your face and hands (goggles, headphones, controller) – it takes like 30 minutes to start playing a VR game.

    Then you are enjoying yourself for an hour or so until you figure out that
    1) you are sweating like crazy and the headset is soggy
    2) your eyes are completely dry because your natural reflex to blink is supressed when you are wearing a VR headset
    Then you have to backtrack most of the stuff you did before starting to play.

    It’s just not worth all the hassle. Alyx could be the greatest game in the world – I’d still only play it from time to time when I get a real urge to, and right now those are few and far between.

    This whole you-got-to-stand-up-and-run-around-your-room type of VR can eff right off. I maintain that Elite dangerous is the best type of VR, you are sitting at your desk and VR is just for angling your view and getting a real sense of depth.

    Elite has its own problems with VR, in that it’s a game where you are often not playing the game (youtube, netflix, jump plotting tools), as well as needing hotas/hosas setup with at least 30 buttons that you have to memorize because you can’t see them in VR.

  12. Dreadjaws says:

    That’s what these kind of Ubisoft games feel like. I seriously doubt this writer has the skill to say anything insightful about the hot-button topics they keep mentioning. I don’t need the writer to weigh in on the controversy of the day. In fact, I’d prefer they didn’t try, since it would probably be overly reductive, heavy-handed, and childish. But the story keeps bringing this stuff up and then refusing to do anything with it. Worse, the game is otherwise devoid of a message or theme. The writer doesn’t seem to have anything to say, but they keep acting like they do. It’s distracting and off-putting.

    You know, the PCGamer review of Far Cry 5 got a lot of flak from readers for saying that the game refused to talk about certain hot topics and such. Now that’s fine, they deserve the flak for constantly asking all games to be overtly political just for the sake of it, with disregard for how fun they actually are, but I have to begrudgingly admit that in this case they had a point. The problem is not that the game just refuses to talk about a political subject, but that it refuses to talk about a political subject it submerges you in. It’s the proverbial elephant in the room, only Ubisoft deliberately brought the elephant, set it right in the middle between the sofa and the TV and then pretended it wasn’t there while constantly stretching its neck to catch a glimpse of the screen.

    I hear the other non-AC game by Ubisoft (Immortal: Fenys Rising) is actually trying to break a bit from the mold too even though it still retains the same basic gameplay loop. Also, it has a colorful art style, which is a plus these days when everyone goes for photorealism.

    I don’t plan on playing through ME2 or ME3. I really have seen enough of that nonsense, and I know it all ends in frustration anyway.

    There goes my hope of you updating your retrospective to include the DLC. :sadface:
    Well, there’s always the hope of a new entry in the series. Not for the game, of course, but for your 30+ weeks rant about it.

    For this year, looking forward to the new Resident Evil. I know you don’t care about the franchise (though you still refuse to play the more serious titles, but well, I can’t force you. You live too far away), but… what else is coming this year? There’s the new Mario game for the Switch coming this month (well, half of it is old, but there’s new content as well), and there’s a new Monster Hunter game too, but frankly, I’m not sure I get this franchise. I’ve only played a couple of demos, but I’ve been more confused than anything else. Little Nightmares 2 is coming, and I liked the first one, but who knows if it won’t be delayed. A bunch of games have been delayed to next year (likely due to all the backlash and lawsuits towards Cyberpunk, which has scared the crap out of publishers) and frankly I don’t even know what to expect anymore.

    1. MerryWeathers says:

      For this year, looking forward to the new Resident Evil.

      The most amusing thing to have come out of the game’s marketing is that all the attention surrounding Alcina Dimitrescu, the femdom porn and memes has attracted the attention of the game’s art director, who then revealed her official height and comparing it to the game’s protagonists’ height.

      Now considering The Frontier mod and Village, 2021 has the potential to become the year of fetishes for video games.

    2. jurgenaut says:

      I suspect Bioware will do – something – to the ending of the remastered Mass Effect. They are, after all, building another Mass Effect featuring some of the cast from 1-3 and they didn’t look particularly synthesized in that teaser.

      It would make sense if they changed the ending just enough to make a sequel (or sequel series) possible.

      1. Ruined says:

        I like the first Mass Effect and hate all three sequels. I’m fully expecting EA to find a way to ruin the the new version of the first game.

        But I didn’t fully enjoy the first one either because I hated Shepard’s voice. His voice is disgusting. Am I the only person who hated it? The main character in KOTOR didn’t have a voice actor, and that’s what I prefer, but I understand the fact that most customers want a voiced character. The developers should have compromised by either allowing an option to disable it, or ENSURING the voice is not disgusting.

        Think about this:
        In movies, TV shows, and games, the evil enemies usually have better voices, while the main characters have disgusting, friendly, cheerful voices. The character “Saren” has a good voice. It sounds like it would belong to a person with decades of experience in the military, but instead they made Shepard be around 27 or 28 years old, so his voice sounds young. They should have said Shepard is 40 or 50, so he’d be old enough to have a menacing voice, and old enough to be viewed as a serious candidate to be a Spectre instead of a young idiot. I may be misremembering, but I believe the game contains a log that says he’s 27 or 28.

        I don’t know how old the voice actor of Shepard is, but if I reach 50 and my voice is STILL not evil, I’ll be so disappointed. That’s the ONLY advantage of being old. Haha.

        Motto of entertainment products:
        “We will give better voices to the evil people, and make you hate our main character because he sounds only slightly tougher than a teenager.”

        The girl version of Shepard uses the same voice actress who voices a character in KOTOR. Although her voice is fine, her voice sounded much better with an English accent in KOTOR, so it was still a downgrade to me.

        1. John says:

          Strictly speaking, the player character in Knights of the Old Republic does have voice acting. It’s very limited, however. The only two instances I can think of off the top of my head are the “sure” that gets played when the player switches from another party member to the player character and the “didn’t work” that gets played when the player character fails to disarm a mine. There may be others but if so then they are similarly short and similarly incidental.

          Also, you are a man of very particular voice-tastes.

        2. Moridin says:

          Given the kind of jobs we see Shepard (and other spectres) doing, I suspect you’d want a relatively young candidate(then again, we don’t know about any life extension technology that might be available) who nevertheless has some serious experience (as evidenced by the fact that he made it to commander* at such a young age).

          *I am, of course, assuming that Commander in the Alliance space for is roughly equivalent rank of a Commander in the navy.

      2. Trystan de Lyonesse says:

        They won’t. Changing the endings means admitting that big company with a lot of high-ranking high-paid people made a mistake and some “random losers” on internet were right.
        It’s more likely that they’ll make “changes” to ME1, to make it more “modern” and tie it more with later products somehow.

        1. BlueHorus says:

          I think that’s what jurgenaut was implying*? That Bioware will change the ending for the worse, in order to link it better to the sequels, i.e infect the first game with story elements from the second & third.

          Maybe a side mission featuring the Collectors, some mention of the Crucible in the codex, or a dramatic post-credits reveal of TIM, backed by Kai Leng after the story’s over.
          So more-or-less exactly what Shamus mentioned being worried about.

          *I’m not them, don’t quote me on that, etc.

      3. Sabrdance (MatthewH) says:

        Maybe they can fix the ending, but I doubt it. If they do, I’ll be suitably impressed.

        My only question is how long until one of the ending mods is able to be grafted into Remastered.

        I’d love to play the whole series through again, without the terrible ending (I reiterate that I’m perfectly happy just fading to white after “you did good, Kid” and playing the ending cut scene).

        But failing that, I’ve no interest.

      4. Ninety-Three says:

        I assume they’ll just handle the ending the way most RPG sequels do: the writer picks an ending from the last game and declares that one to be canon. It’ll almost certainly be Destroy, since that ties up the most loose ends and lets them jump right into their new plot rather than dwelling on the implications of ME3.

        1. John says:

          I have little knowledge of and no opinions on the relative merits of the various ME3 endings, but picking one of them and calling it canon seems fairly sensible to me. The way that the singular story of Knights of the Old Republic 2 tries to position itself as the sequel to both of the very different endings of Knights of the Old Republic is one of the many frustrating aspects of that game. It’s hard to take the second game’s admonition that “Apathy is death!” seriously when, at the same time, it implicitly claims that nothing that happened in the first game actually mattered.

      5. INH5 says:

        All of the cutscene moments that I recognize in the trailer (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-acBAH6Yups) look exactly the same as the originals, except with updated graphics. My guess is that they’ll leave the story exactly the same, including the ending, and respond to any criticism by shrugging and saying that fixing the story wasn’t part of the project, this is just a remaster.

        Doing anything else would risk reigniting the ending controversy 9 years later, and that’s the last thing that EA would want.

        EDIT: I just realized that there actually is a bit from the ending at 1:32 in the trailer and, yes, it looks exactly the same.

    3. Thomas says:

      It’s such an irritating and odd way to write stories. They’re constantly poking the bear and then hiding their hands behind their backs.

      It remind me of when EA paid people to protest their game, Dante’s Inferno, to make it seem edgy.

  13. Echo Tango says:

    [the hand-gesture reloading is ] fun, and cures the reflexive reload syndrome you get in most shooters

    I’d like to point out that there’s other ways to make reloading more enjoyable, and also disincentivize players constantly mashing the reload button. You can have different buttons for different parts of the reload, like Receiver did (although that is a bit overkill), mini-QTEs (like Gears of War, Enter the Gungeon), or just have the player hold down a button or repeat a couple different buttons (Metro’s pneumatic guns). Additionally, remove the incentive by dropping the rest of the magazine, which has been done in a few games (I think Call of Duty: Warzone did this, amoungst other older titles).

    The VR-way of reloading is probably good for a lot of people, especially people who don’t play many games, since there’s basically a 1:1 mapping between their hands and the virtual world that’s presented. However, it’s also one of the things that dropped me right into the uncanney valley for VR, because of the lack of force feedback and proprioception. I could totally get behind VR if it was all built around using fancy joysticks like we had for flight- and mech-sims back in the day. :)

    1. Rariow says:

      What I don’t really understand is why compulsive reloading needs to be disencouraged. What does the game gain by removing hitting R after every fight? I’m not trying to be snarky, I’m legitimately curious. As I see it it’s not exactly a massive deal, and all it does is very slightly reduce the number of situations where you’re reloading mid fight. The only games that really benefit from it are games where ammo managment is central to the gameplay, like a survival horror or something, and those games tend to either throw away the whole clip or balance themselves so you always need to reload mid fight anyway.

      1. Syal says:

        Of course the best disincentive to compulsive reloading is just eliminating the reload mechanic entirely. Realism schmealism let me shoot my shoot tubes.

        1. Echo Tango says:

          Yeah, if it’s a high-octane or cartoony action game (or whatever), I’d rather just be able to shoot all the time. If the only consequences for reloading is an overall decrease in fire rate, or an occasional scary situation when a monster’s charging right at your face, you don’t need to force the player to mash buttons constantly. Weapon-jams function just as well enough for the scary monster times, and just adjusting the damn fire rate works the rest of the time.

      2. jurgenaut says:

        Even though you may not think it, It lessens immersion. Or rather, the decisions you won’t have to care about would highten immersion.

        There’s a sense of realism in that when you reload when you have 7 bullets left, those 7 bullets are tossed to the floor. In HL Alyx, before I got the extra magazine capacity, I really didn’t want to reload until it was empty, because you’d lose ammo. That made it more exciting in combat – do you toss away precious resources to be ready for a fight or do you conserve ammo at the risk of being overwhelmed by headcrabs when you are in the middle of reloading?
        More reasons to care about moment to moment decisions => more immersion => better experience.

        Sidenote: Once you’ve tried dual wielding pistols in Boneworks, you understand why it’s a bad idea. You have to toss one of the pistols mid combat to be able to reload the other, and then you have to find the other pistol once the action is over.

        1. Vernal_ancient says:

          Except completely dropping the magazine only makes sense if you’re mid fight and speed is the priority. If you’ve got breathing room, there’s no reason not to just put the partially used magazine back on your belt to use for later.

      3. Echo Tango says:

        Beside immersion, which jurgenaut covers above, constant reloading is just a hassle for the player. It’s not that this behavior needs to be discouraged per se, but the game is a worse experience when players have to mash buttons constantly. I’ve got enough hassles without wearing out my fingers when playing a game. :)

    2. Geebs says:

      I love VR reloading. Fumbling magazines and forgetting to chamber a round in the middle of a firefight is new and interesting by (exceedingly well-worn) shooter standards.

      1. Echo Tango says:

        Fumbling rounds is cool, but you can’t learn much in the way of reloading skill when you’re forced to keep the gun and bullets in your sight. I’d totally be down with toy gun controllers for VR games, where you have magazines on a belt, that you have to insert into your gun. (And eject the old ones first.) Even if the mag was attached to the gun, but took some effort to eject and re-insert, that would be a big improvement over waving my hands around.

      2. Utzel says:

        Somehow manually operating a bolt action in VR is really satisfying.

  14. Asdasd says:

    “the city looks clean, inviting, and full of old world charm.”

    … are you sure this is a game set in London?

    Because that’s a city most who’ve been there would describe as grubby, uncaring, and full of people sleeping rough.

    1. Cubic says:

      I was thinking something like that too. It even looks like the Day-Star is visible in the picture. When did that last happen in London?

    2. BlueHorus says:

      It’s Londontown, the fantasy version of London for tourists and foreigners who never go there.
      You know the place, full of cheeful chimneysweeps, red buses, black taxis, men in bowler hats and people who actually use cockney rhyming slang.

      If you’re lucky, you might catch sight of a lesser spotted Dickens Pigeon while you’re there.

    3. Kincajou says:

      Oh yeah, London’s terrible… it has some nice things but i don’t think most of it can be described as “clean, inviting, and full of old world charm”

      Personally i’d go with “filthy, dissonant, and falling apart from old age”

  15. ShivanHunter says:

    I’m torn on VR much like you are. I think that VR games need to really embrace VR and use the tech to its fullest potential – but then they end up as very creative, laudable games that are too inconvenient for me to play, and I wish they weren’t VR games.

    Love your recommendations for weird reality-bending indie games! I’ve seen videos of Manifold Garden around, but hadn’t looked into it yet. Had not heard of Hyperbolica, and I’ll definitely keep an eye on it.

  16. Syal says:

    So I managed to play Final Fantasy 7 Remake since last week. I’ve played up to the second reactor and watched up to the coliseum fights in Wall Market*, and am greatly enjoying it so far. There’s a whole lot of love put into that game.

    Combat is lightweight and fun; feels like a blend of 13, 15, and Nier: Automata. Press square for light attack and hold it for heavy, switch stances with Triangle, dodge with Circle, and wait for the ATB gauge to charge up before hitting X and pulling up a nearly-paused menu with all your special abilities and magic. Other characters don’t use abilities or magic on their own so there’s incentive to switch around and fire stuff off. Enemies have stagger gauges so there’s a rhythm of hitting enemies with high stagger abilities before blasting them with all the high-damage stuff while their defense is down. Easier than N:A so far, but Final Fantasy 7 was never a hard game.

    Changes and expansions to the original Midgar storyline are ever-present and more positive than negative so far, but not completely. There’s a whole new Jessie-centric storyline in the game that was cool, but with a super-flamboyant anime motorcycle boss I could have done without. And all the girls are absurdly forward. Tifa in particular stares directly into the camera for most of that so they’re pretty nakedly pandering to the waifu audience. But the main cast is great, the expanded Avalanche members are fun, new story beats are weird and interesting, new bosses are fun to fight

    I have no idea how a new player would feel playing it, it’s a wonderful nostalgia trip for me. I also have no idea what the next game would look like or how far it would get.

    *(Wall Market Coliseum is a new addition. Mostly filler, but the main questline finale was super fun and I clapped when i saw it.)

    Otherwise I played Dead Cells for the first time in a long while. It’s settled out from back when people were running it, seems pretty well balanced. I’m very bad at it but it’s fun.

    1. Syal says:

      Aaand I’ve since died to nearly every quest fight since Airbuster. Nevermind about the game being easy.

  17. Ninety-Three says:

    I’m surprised Cyberpunk didn’t make either the disappointments or Best Of lists, given how much you played it. I guess it makes sense: it’s obviously an Early Access title, and if we ignore the fact that 80% of its audience already bought and played, we ought to delay review until the 1.0 release in 2023.

    Anyway, I think Hades might have been the biggest budget game I bought this year. My Best Ofs were a bunch of indie roguelites: Atomicrops, One Step From Eden and Monster Train. Honorable mention to Terraforming Mars, the faithful digital port of an excellent boardgame.

    Disappointments include Hades, which has way more focus than I like on grinding for powerful persistent-between-runs upgrades, Spelunky 2 which I am just inexplicably bad at compared to my general level of not totally sucking at platformers, and Magic: The Gathering, which has been printing then banning broken cards at an unprecedented rate while also having their best sales year ever so they’ll probably learn the lesson “routinely breaking formats is fine, actually”.

    Extra special disappointment shoutout to the AWE DLC for Control: I almost didn’t buy it after finding the main game kind of meh, but they pulled me in with the promise of my beloved Alan Wake, only for him to be a vestigial element of a totally generic “go to this part of the building and kill more monsters exactly like you’ve been doing for the rest of the game” plot. I could feel the soulless corporate profit-maximization of this empty crossover. And then it ends on a fourth wall-bending tease of Alan Wake 2. No! Screw you Remedy, you’ve disappointed me for the last time and much like Bioware, I don’t want whatever the current version of you is going to put out.

    Didn’t get around to Molek Syntez, the new Zachtronics “Spacechem/Codex but it’s slightly different this time” game. Definitely intend to, Zachtronics games are always up my alley.

    Looking forward to the Oxygen Not Included DLC, whatever Rimworld does next (they’re finally pushing the game in the more player-directed less raider-centric direction I’ve wanted for years!) and the 1.0 release of a few more “Looks great, will check back when finished” Early Access indie roguelites (Griftlands, Vault of the Void).

    1. Echo Tango says:

      If you haven’t played it already, I’d recommend Spelunky 1; It’s a lot easier than the sequel, although doesn’t have as much content in it. It’ll probably still keep you busy for a while though! (And if you have already played SP1, then you might want to try multiplayer SP2; It’s way easier when you’ve got ghosts to freeze things, and extra sets of hands to carry things. :)

    2. RFS-81 says:

      Magic: The Gathering, which has been printing then banning broken cards at an unprecedented rate while also having their best sales year ever so they’ll probably learn the lesson “routinely breaking formats is fine, actually”.

      It’s Commander’s world, we’re only living in it. Competitive Magic was never driving sales of packs, as far as I have heard. They should care about game balance if they’re still dreaming about making Arena an e-sport, but maybe they’ve forgotten about that because Secret Lairs are the new shiny.

      The funny thing is, Draft and Sealed have been really good. My pet theory is that they’re playtesting those as a proxy for casual constructed. I’ve heard that the original playtest for the first edition of Magic was essentially Sealed.

      1. Ninety-Three says:

        There was an interview a while ago with some high-ranking WOTC suit where he said (paraphrased from memory, because I’m too lazy to dig it up) “If we have to ban a couple cards per set, that means 99% of the cards were fine, that’s a great success!” That attitude should horrify competitive players but appears to be empirically correct: Magic can be crazy successful despite being more broken than ever. Ever since hearing that interview my theory has been “The suits told R&D that banning cards is more acceptable than it was in the Urza block days, R&D stopped working so hard to avoid banning cards”.

  18. Chad Miller says:

    Ugh, Hitman. Not since Magic: The Gathering Arena has my love for a game so clashed with its business model.

    Last year, when Epic was giving away a bunch of games in their Christmas event, I was actually naive enough to think Hitman 2 was going to be one of them. It’s been deep discounted many times already, and for obvious reasons fans who’d been following the whole trilogy on PC would have the Steam version. The 2016 game had already been given away in a weekly event too.

    Not only did they not do that, they waited until like a week before release that they would be offering a coupon if you wanted to have Hitman 2 on Epic. So it did ultimately turn into “lol just buy the game again.”

    Of course the salt in the wound is that they advertised that Hitman 2 unlocks could be carried over to Hitman 3, something partially enabled by the fact that the games are always online and so it would be trivial to use this same online account to determine if someone already bought the earlier games.

    Regardless of general opinion on Epic exclusives, this is pretty shady, and for me reason enough to not buy the game yet even though I outright want it.

    1. Moridin says:

      Personally I just don’t like the idea of time-gated content(or rather, I think it’s an interesting idea, I just don’t want to touch it with a ten-foot pole). Even though I got Blood Money for free(it was a giveaway on GOG), the fact that large portion of its content is gone(in this case because it was hosted on servers that are gone rather than because the content was meant to be “limited time only” -type of deal) left a bad taste in my mouth for the entire franchise. Granted, I still would most likely have played it anyway if not for the fact that it looks awful on 16:9 screen. Although now that I think of it, Wine does allow you to emulate various screen resolutions… Eh. I might have to try it again some time.

    2. Utzel says:

      I feel pretty much the same. That was sadly so ehow expected, and the way they broke the news 5 days prior was shameful.
      Good news is, that after a period of high winds and excrements, they promised they’ll make it right and find a way to get all levels to those who already own the steam versions. I’ll try to remember and inform Shamus when they do. Until then I can’t play H2 levels in H3 (and buying it again is out of question!), but my unlocks are available at least. So far I like all new levels I played.
      Those stupid always on servers can go die in a fire though. See last picture…
      And now IO is independent, there’s no excuse of publisher meddling. I’m somewhat curious for the 007 game they’ll do next, but that’s a franchise I can just skip. It would be sad to see another good game ruined by all the shitty surroundings

  19. Gargamel Le Noir says:

    Mass Effect 2 is my favorite of the series but I don’t really look forward for a remaster, simply because it holds up well enough as it is, unlike ME1.

  20. Pax says:

    So, this is probably going to sound strange to other people, but Watch Dogs Legion solved a problem I’ve had with open world games since time began: empty set piece locations. This may be because I have a tendency to try and get more immersed in open world games than some, but it always bothers me when a locale exists on the map, but is only occupied during the brief time you’re supposed to be there.

    For example, you’re playing GTA, and you’re sent on a mission to a specific warehouse. You go there, it’s obviously a custom interior made specifically for this mission, and you have a shootout with Gang Purple. All fine. But if you go to this location before or after the mission, no one is there, even if it’s supposedly an important location to Gang Purple; or worse, the door is locked and this cool interior might as well not exist.

    Legion fixes this. If a gang or group owns a location, it’s always equally as occupied and guarded. If there’s an office building or a security base or a prison, it’s protected, and it’s cleanly laid out where you’re not supposed to be. Now, one reason for this might be the typical Ubisoft collect-a-thon, and they wanted you to be able to get back into places to finish your sets, but also because of the randomly generated missions, they needed a wide and full assortment of enemy bases for you to get randomly sent to. Whatever the reason, I don’t care; this is something I’ve wanted in open world games since forever.

  21. Darker says:

    Well IO made a promise that at some point it will be possible to import levels from Hitman 1/2 bought on Steam to Hitman 3 bought on Epic. At the moment it’s at least possible to import unlocked items from Hitman 2.

    So if you feel impatient and/or trusting you could give it a try.

    1. Chad Miller says:

      Worth noting that this promise was made less than a week before release in response to deafening fan outcry after they had initially offered a coupon so it would be less expensive for PC players to buy the game they already bought.

      Which doesn’t mean they won’t do it, but they really tried to get away with not having to do it.

  22. Retsam says:

    Looks like I had a comment get caught in the spam filter again.

  23. Dennis says:

    Not sure when you wrote this post, but Amazon Game Studios has been in the news this week. Most of the original reporting comes from Jason Schreier, you can dodge the Bloomberg paywall via Yahoo Finance:

    The funniest part of the story is that the Exec in charge of the studio doesn’t play any games and can’t tell the difference between prerendered CG and actual gameplay.

    Amazon Game Studios actually did make a few smaller games; all of them have shut down. They released some sort of rollerskating-shooter that integrated with Twitch a few years back, and shut down in less than a year. 2020 had Crucible, a hero shooter / Overwatch clone which was so half-baked they put it back into beta before cancelling the project. They also made a Grand Tour racing game, which I didn’t realize actually released, but apparently was abysmal and they pulled it from stores. According to the article there are several other projects announced and unannounced that started development and were cancelled.

    FWIW, two of my friends played the New World beta, and they both enjoyed it. They aren’t MMO junkies, they just said gameplay was fun and it feels like a more polished / modern Runescape.

  24. Attercap says:

    Thankfully, it doesn’t sound like they’re editing any content in the Mass Effect remaster… for good or bad.

    1. Ninety-Three says:

      Any of the narrative content at least. It mentions Mako changes, weapon rebalances (including “every class gets every weapon now” which is a big deal) and bossfight redesigns. Not that ME1’s gameplay was fantastic, but I’m still annoyed to see it changed so much.

    2. Dennis says:

      EA just put out new information about Mass Effect remastered. It gets a big “ehhhhhh” from me. Looks like they added a ton of postprocessing and lens flare to everything for some reason. Also no multiplayer for Mass Effect 3. At least it includes the DLC for all the games.


      1. Naota says:

        To be fair, the original Mass Effect (at least on Xbox) already had intense lens flare and post-proc going on. I remember quite a few levels that simultaneously had harsh colour grading, film grain, vignette, giant lens flares, and aggressive depth of field all fighting one another for the spotlight.

  25. aitrus says:

    Deathloop – I’m not sure if I’m going to dig this. I loved Prey, the previous game from this developer.

    The pedant in me feels the need to point out that this isn’t really accurate. Since the end of Dishonored 1’s development, Arkane’s two teams, Arkane Austin and Arkane Lyon, have worked on separate projects whose development doesn’t cross over. Deathloop is being made by Lyon, who previously made Dishonored 2 and its expansion Death of the Outsider. Austin, who previously did Prey, is working on an unannounced title.

    Deathloop is definitely one of the few games I’m looking forward to this year but I also am slightly wary of the randomization/repeating elements. It’s clear from the trailers though that it shares a lot of DNA with Dishonored which is nothing but a plus to me. And then of course there’s the ever-present hope that *this* year will be the year that Bethesda’s next walking-sim-with-combat game will come out, in the form of Starfield, because even though the plots get dumber every time, I still enjoy the hell out of exploring their worlds.

  26. N/A says:

    “It almost feels like the team is trying to sneak innovation in under the nose of an overbearing ultra-conservative leader.”

    That’d be because they were. There were articles a while back about how it came out that Serge Hascoet ran a centralised editorial team that enforced the same formula across all their games. Then later it turned out he was also an abusive shitheel perv, because apparently he decided that ‘corporate buzzkill’ wasn’t one-note enough, and went full cartoon villain. He was pushed to resign back in… July, I think? Of 2020.

    Basically you know all those jokes about John Ubisoft? Right, he’s a real person, and also he’s a sex criminal.

  27. RamblePak64 says:

    Physical exertion during Half-Life: Alyx

    This is one of my big gripes with VR. If I was a more physically inclined individual, then my hobbies would be physical and not… well, video games. I know this is also a broad sort of generalization based on personal preference, and it’s not like I’m fully against physical activities. It’s just that I’d rather anything physical be short-term or temporary. This is why Ring Fit Adventure works, and why I imagine games like Beat Saber work so well. VR really is the New Wii, with the vast majority of consumer buying it for that one or two games that are a spectacle novelty while ignoring the “core games” that are supposed to show how it’s “the future”.

    Then again, I’m also not as big on “immersion” as others, so you could argue that VR is and never was “for me” to begin with.

    That’s what these kind of Ubisoft games feel like. I seriously doubt this writer has the skill to say anything insightful about the hot-button topics they keep mentioning. I don’t need the writer to weigh in on the controversy of the day. In fact, I’d prefer they didn’t try, since it would probably be overly reductive, heavy-handed, and childish. But the story keeps bringing this stuff up and then refusing to do anything with it. Worse, the game is otherwise devoid of a message or theme. The writer doesn’t seem to have anything to say, but they keep acting like they do. It’s distracting and off-putting.

    This made me realize something I’ve been grappling with lately regarding whether games/games writing should/shouldn’t be political. While a lot of my favorite works are more philosophical, plenty of my favorite works are also political. Godzilla, in particular, is a favorite of mine because the best films in the franchise are a specifically Japanese perspective on certain topics. Return of Godzilla, released in 1984, is in many ways a Japanese perspective on the Cold War: the nation that has suffered the destructive power of a nuclear weapon now caught between two nuclear giants. It is a political work with something to say that is political.

    However, the work also feels as if it is carefully considering the situation and chewing on it, and in the end neither the US nor Russia are “the bad guys” in a typical, cartoon way. They certainly aren’t good in a typical Hollywood sense, either, but they aren’t made out to be the devil. It’s a work that refuses to treat real people as devils or demons, and instead makes them come off as selfish or inconsiderate at most (and boy is there a difference between the two).

    When I look at screenshots of Watch Dogs: Legion, though, that’s not the sort of consideration I see. It’s not philosophical, it doesn’t want to chew on anything, nor does it want to consider anything. It wants to just shove its own opinion in your face and have you agree. There’s nothing thought provoking. It’s just taking statements or iconography and expecting you to identify one as “bad” and the other as “good”. That’s not even a soap-box. There is no argument being made. Just a statement, and that statement can fit inside a tweet.

    When it comes to complex issues of differing opinion, there’s not much you can fit inside a tweet that is smart and thought provoking. It’s likely just going to be a hot take, and I have no interest in being exposed to someone’s hot takes in a video game. What’s worse is that Ubisoft seems to continually put these hot takes out there, but then not even commit to them. Like they want people to agree with them but are also afraid of losing sales from everyone that will disagree.

    Why bother saying anything at all?

    1. RamblePak64 says:

      In regards to what I’m looking forward to in 2021, a bunch of games don’t even have release dates yet. Then there are all the smaller games I’m just finding out about. Blue Fire? Looks like a 3D version of Hollow Knight, what with the combination of character-action combat and platforming (also some similar DNA in art style). Shattered: Tale of the Forgotten King is leaving early access? I hadn’t even heard of this game, but dang it looks cool! Ys IX: Monstrum Nox is this month? Well, I can wait until that hits PC. But oh, Persona 5 Strikers is also this month, and is on PC…

      And that’s just February.

      On the whole I’d say the biggest game I’m looking forward to that also has a date is Nier: Replicant, a remake of the original Nier that should hopefully clear up some of the jank. Back 4 Blood looks like the Left 4 Dead sequel I’ve been craving, but it’s also Warner Bros. Interactive. I’m still waiting for the microtransaction shoe to drop. These guys have some incredibly talented studios, but dang are the executives the worst imitators of Ubisoft and EA’s worst business practices. I’m also interested in Monster Hunter Rise, but I want to wait and see if rumors of a PC version are true… as well as to see if they’re going to have improved co-op than what World offered. Then, of course, is Resident Evil VIII.

      However, there’s a bunch of games without dates yet. Shin Megami Tensei V is slated for 2021, and I’m curious to see how it’ll play following on the prior entry being 3DS exclusive. But what of Project Re: Fantasy? Is it going to at least get a gameplay reveal this year? Will Square Enix and PlatinumGames finally release Babylon’s Fall, which was supposed to have new info last summer but then Covid happened? Speaking of Platinum, will Bayonetta 3 ever be more than a teaser? At least No More Heroes 3 is slated for 2021.

      Other titles without concrete dates are Kena: Bridge of Spirits, Ghostwire: Tokyo, and Praey for the Gods. Then there are the games exclusive to Epic Games Store last year that I’ll be awaiting Steam versions of, The Pathless and The Last Campfire. Ah, yes, and at some point Record of Lodoss War: Deedlit in Wonder Labyrinth will exit early access.

      …yeah, there’s an awful lot I’m looking forward to, because there’s still more I haven’t even posted (and may get marked as spam for). So, my 2021 is looking awfully packed. Will everything live up to expectations? No clue. My 2020 ended pretty well, with Sakuna: Of Rice and Ruin, Yakuza: Like a Dragon, and Chronos: Before the Ashes being my favorite towards the year’s conclusion and Final Fantasy VII Remake being a good start. Sadly, The Medium was… both a good and bad start to 2021. I feel awful viewing a game as “perfect Game Pass material”, but that’s how it left me feeling as the credits rolled.

      1. Gautsu says:

        Deedlit in Wonder Labyrinth! How did I not know a metroidvania with one of my favorite waifu’s was being made?

        1. RamblePak64 says:

          I’ve already played the first couple chapters via the Early Access, and I must say I’m enjoying it quite a bit. It’s a pretty solid Metroidvania so far with very Ikaruga-inspired element swapping. Haven’t played the latest update, though. Might give it a spin after I finish Salt & Sanctuary up.

          1. Gautsu says:

            I don’t remember when it actually came out, but Salt and Sanctuary was in the running for game of the year 2019 for me

    2. Echo Tango says:

      Why bother saying anything at all?

      Their allusions to Big Issues in the marketing videos, gives them some measure of increased sales. Or at least, some exec(s) probably think they’ll get increased sales.

  28. beleester says:

    Watch Dogs has *always* had this problem of not knowing what it wanted to say. It keeps trying to say stuff about the Internet of Things, the unprecedented power of the modern surveillance state, filter bubbles, algorithmic bias, etc. etc. (Watch Dogs 2 in particular wasn’t subtle about its inspirations), but they can’t find a way to make the main plot engage with those ideas. So we got Watch Dogs 1 being a grimdark slog through the criminal underworld where Aiden made bad decisions while working for terrible people, and Watch Dogs 2 seesawed back and forth between serious techno-thriller conspiracy and wacky hacker pranks (that occasionally kill people).

    I’m not sure how to fix this, really. But maybe Legion taking things in a more sci-fi direction might finally encourage them to sit down and build out a setting that explores the implications of this technology in a deeper way instead of trying to thinly touch on everything that made the front page of Wired magazine that year.

  29. Jabrwock says:

    “the designer allows you to explore on your own for large blocks of time and doesn’t feel the need to chat you up with hand-hold-y dialog every three minutes”

    I’m of two minds on things like this. When I pick up a game I haven’t played in a bit I’d like to be reminded of objectives, controls, etc. But on the other hand I don’t want to be nagged about it if I’m ignoring it because I’m busy exploring…

    Most “stay on the rails” games tend towards the “nag them until they do the next thing”, but I find a lot of exploration games swing way to far the other way, and I have to go to my bookshelf or the wiki to dig up all the notes I need to pick up where I left off, and that feels like it’s punishing me for setting the game down for a bit.

    1. Daimbert says:

      That’s the main reason why I generally don’t enjoy open world games, as they have a strong tendency to not give any real objectives — or, at least, not strong ones — and so I end up with nothing to focus on and so don’t really do or want to do anything. The more open games that I’ve liked are games that leave you a solid to-do list that you can do in any order, and so I tend to clean up all the side quests before moving on to the main quest missions.

    2. Naota says:

      I think a lot of this nagging actually comes out of the extended testing process games go through today. The more people play the game, the more likely someone is to miss an objective or get lost. Trouble is, getting lost is extremely un-photogenic for a game review. The last thing any director wants to see is a player stumbling around making no progress, which gives this single data point more influence than it would otherwise have. Even if 9/10 players had no issue, the one instance of a player getting lost is often viewed and noted down (as in, literally recorded in the bug tracking system) as a failing of the game that needs to be addressed.

      This doesn’t guarantee that every game must hold your hand and constantly be providing radio feedback, but slapping in a voice line or UI reminder is the simplest and cheapest method for a team to solve that pesky “player(s) were confused” ticket.

      HL2 is of course famous for engineering creative solutions to this kind of problem, but their approach is fairly uncommon – the standard solution is to never leave players alone with their thoughts, or to let them experience any doubt about what they need to do, lest it be the bad kind of doubt or hesitation.

      1. Echo Tango says:

        Giving the player a journal or other ways to review their objectives, and a menu and practice-area to review controls, are also relatively cheap. It’s just re-using existing game assets in a smart way.

      2. Syal says:

        And I got badly stuck in Half-Life 2. Spent an hour on the “raise the water” puzzle because it didn’t occur to me there would be more than one switch, and then got shot to death trying to open the gate without ever figuring out how to do it safely. Creative solutions only work for creative people.

        1. Daimbert says:

          Much to the amusement of the guy who loaned it to me, I got stuck right at the beginning of the original Half-Life (I think) where I couldn’t find the armour suit or whatever and so couldn’t advance the game, got bored, and gave up on it.

  30. BlueHorus says:

    the designer allows you to explore on your own for large blocks of time and doesn’t feel the need to chat you up with hand-hold-y dialog every three minutes

    Oh, god. I recently re-installed XCOM 2, reasoning that the mod system is pretty good and we’re in lockdown so I need a timesink game…
    …I lasted an hour.

    I think this game needs an award – it doesn’t just nag you, it wrenches the camera out of your control in order to tell you things it’s already told you, almost once every turn. And there is no way to turn it off.
    Those aliens may indeed be bad guys who need stopping, by my dislike of them is nothing compared to my utter and complete hatred of Central Officer Bradford.

    Amusingly, I also installed an old Warhammer 40,000 game (Chaos Gate) that had the oposite problem. It didn’t bother to explain anything at all, or even reliably show me where my soldiers’ shots landed.
    On the occasions it DID bothered to take control of the camera, it would only show me a half-second glimpse of a unidentifiable part of the map before flickering back to a different soldier doing something else. It was irritating, surreal and amusing in equal measure.

    1. Echo Tango says:

      a half-second glimpse of a unidentifiable part of the map before flickering back to a different soldier

      Coincidentally, the same problem the original X-COM had. :)

      1. BlueHorus says:

        Did XCOM have hilarious dialogue as well?

        One of the best things about Chaos Gate is the way it was made in the 90s, back when 40k was deliberatley tongue-in-cheek and over-the-top. Also, audio recording wasn’t always great – so added to the confusing visuals is gloriously overwrought dialogue that all sounds like it’s being shouted into a tin can.

        “The EMPEROR! Orders you to DIEE!”
        “ARRGH! I die…!”

        “FEEL the Emperor’s Wrath!!”
        *A bush somewhere on the map explodes in a shower of leaves. Near miss? Completely unrelated? No time to tell, the action’s already moved on!*

        1. Echo Tango says:

          Nah, original X-COM was back in the days of 1.44MB floppies, so they didn’t have space for random dialog from soldiers. XCOM remake / re-new didn’t have much in-mission dialog, except for your commander or other help-on-the-radio, who would chatter at you. :)

        2. Lino says:

          back when 40k was deliberatley tongue-in-cheek and over-the-top.

          By the way, when DID WH 40K start taking itself this seriously? Because nowadays it’s so overly serious that I really can’t bring myself to care about any of the storylines people rave about.

          Was there ever any fan backlash against the more serious approach?

          1. BlueHorus says:

            Couldn’t tell you for certain, though I think it was around 3rd edition. I bet it’s a similar story to Star Wars – its very popularity changed it, leaving Grognards like me behind.

            (Also fun: Anyone speak Russian? Apparently, this song from Chaos Gate’s soundtrack has special meaning for people who speak it as well as lovers of soup…)

    2. Zekiel says:

      Wow Chaos Gate brings back memories! I remember that thing of “something has happened somewhere on the battlefield but we’re not going to tell you what it is or where it happened”.

    3. Philadelphus says:

      I know there’s at least one mod (called “Shut Up Bradford” or something like that) which decreases the voluminous verbal output from various characters on your side.

      1. BlueHorus says:

        I have four!
        Stop Wasting My Time*, Quiet Bradford, Stop Enemy Reveal Matinees and Hush Little Chosen. As well as all the in-game options limiting dialogue and tutorial messages turned on. It’s amazing how much time the game still manages to waste considering all that. And none of that address the way it keeps grabbing the camera.

        *Incidentally, the ‘Stop Wasting My Time’ mod has been one of the most downloaded on the Steam Workshop since the day it was made.

  31. INH5 says:

    The Mass Effect remaster trailer is out: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-acBAH6Yups

    All of the cutscenes that I recognize look to be exactly the same in terms of content as in the originals, so my guess is that they haven’t touched the story at all.

  32. DaveMc says:

    Is the Ubisoft error code *really* Boring-Sundae, or did you change it? I mean, I’m sure it’s incredibly frustrating to be kicked out of a single player game by server issues, but that’s a pretty fun error code …

    1. Shamus says:

      I did not doctor the image. That’s what it said.

      1. Ninety-Three says:

        It’s because people are bad at remembering long strings of numbers, more user-friendly to convert your error codes into random words than ask people to look up “Watch_Dogs Error Code #493112”.

  33. Alberek says:

    The thing that interest me the most about Watchdog Legion is that the developers tried to make something similar to the Nemesis system from Mordor (which, I played but also hated… because the couldn’t choose a worse IP for a game like that)…

  34. Misamoto says:

    Legion was kinda disappointment of the year.

    On the other hand AC:Valhalla, another Ubisoft game came out just a couple of weeks later, but is was really good. It was so weird that the same company produced both.

  35. evilmrhenry says:

    I hear you on Half Life: Alyx. I’ve been playing Super Mario Galaxy on the Wii, and, while I generally like the game, it’s physically uncomfortable for me to play for more than 15 minutes, specifically because they designed it around the Wii controller. The star collecting requires you to hold the remote pointed at the TV, and spinning requires flicking the controller, which isn’t great for my wrist; the game needs you to spin a lot. There are no alternate control schemes, or ability to use anything other than the Wii controller.

    In general, after Cyperpunk 2077’s issue with flashing lights, and The Last of Us 2’s ability to be played by someone completely blind, I’ve been thinking about accessibility in games recently. Quite frankly, the game industry is terrible at this, and it’s completely unnecessary. Even disabilities like colorblindness and deafness are ignored most of the time, and the changes needed there are easy. Games are for everyone, and it’s time we started acting like it.

    1. Paul Spooner says:

      But, hang on, if you don’t want to use a Wii controller… that’s the whole gimmick of the platform right? Same thing with VR.
      I do think that it would be a helpful gesture for platform designers to create open-source parallel IO channels so makers and hackers could bypass the proprietary hardware, but I understand why they don’t, and I make my purchasing choices accordingly.

      I’m not going to get into ADA (the Americans with Disabilities Act) but videogames are not a public space that everyone needs to be guaranteed safe access to. Sure, I’ll grant you that a lack of accessibility options are “completely unnecessary” but, so is the entire entertainment industry. Sure, I think it’s neat that DDR is playable on a gamepad by a deaf paraplegic, but that’s not really the core attraction of that particular game. Sure I’m borderline severe red-green colorblind, but I’ve never let that be an excuse for why I suck at videogames. Ahh, er, I mean, YES I’M AWESOME!

      1. evilmrhenry says:

        The Wii controller is the gimmick, yes. It does not bring any value to this particular game, all it does is prevent me from playing it. They could have mapped spin to a button, then let me use a Wii pro controller without harming the experience. (Outside of collection star bits, but I could just keep the remote nearby if I need that.) I’m here to play a Mario game, not to waggle a controller, and am only using the Wii controller because that’s the only option available.

        And, yes, forcing ADA-style compliance on games is overkill, and not something I want. There are also genres of games that are specifically designed around, say, sound or unusual controllers or the like that simply are not capable of accessibility. But those are a minority of games. Most games are played with a keyboard/mouse or controller, and can be accessible to anyone who’s not blind.

        And, seriously, if you’re colorblind, you should have run into at least one game that was, like, “hit all the red enemies, but not the green or you’ll die” on the second-to-last level or something. Wouldn’t it be nice to live in a world where you could at least know that before purchase?

        Or for a real example, how about Path of Exile (which I have been playing recently). An important technique there is coloring sockets in items, so the item can accept the proper gems. It is completely inaccessible to red-green colorblind people, because the sockets are red, green, and blue, and are otherwise indistinguishable. This has an actual company behind it, it’s a live service that has been receiving updates for years now, and at no point did they add a colorblind mode, or change the socket designs or anything. (Fixing this is basically changing three icons.)

        I think this is a bigger problem than just games that cannot be made accessible without major revisions; games that a disabled person can play, except for a single inaccessible part. Whether this be a single puzzle in an adventure game that uses sound, or icons that just differ in color, or a sequence of flashing lights in a cutscene 40 hours into a game. These are all small issues that could easily be patched out or workarounds added, but nobody bothered to do so, because this was not considered to be a priority.

    2. Ninety-Three says:

      Games are for everyone

      Are they? I’m pretty sure that most games are not for the blind, in exactly the same way that most movies are not for the blind. Processing a visual information is kind of a major part of the medium. Things like red-green colour blindness modes are often left out for simple lack of consideration, but when you get into the more serious disabilities games usually don’t include compatibility modes for the same good reason they don’t have Linux ports: it’s an awful lot of work to bring the game to a very small audience, and programmer hours are a scarce resource.

      1. evilmrhenry says:

        “most movies are not for the blind”, but try finding a movie that doesn’t have closed captions. This is an almost universal accessibility feature required by the FCC.

        Also, many movies have audio description tracks specifically so that blind people can understand what’s happening on screen. (Not to mention that many movies rely much more on the dialog than the visuals for the plot. Just listening to a movie probably means you miss something, but it works a lot better than the other way around.)

        And yes, this costs money. Accessibility doesn’t exist to make a profit. It exists to ensure disabled people can fully participate in society, including entertainment. Less money than you might think, though, especially if you start with accessibility guidelines on day 1.

      2. Philadelphus says:

        Though also like a Linux version, I imagine accessibility is a whole lot easier to include if you plan for it from the beginning rather than trying to tack it on at the very end.

    3. pseudonym says:

      Age of empires 2 definitive edition has options for various forms of colour blindness and some other accessibility features. I know someone who is colourblind and likes age of empires 2 so I was happy to see this.

  36. Andrzej Sugier says:

    I’m 99,99% sure that Mooncrash:

    A) Was a prototype of Deathloop using preexisting Prey assets, meant to test if the whole gameplay loop is commercially vailable, or

    B) Sold and reviewed so well that Arcane decided to expand on the concept with a new IP.

    I feel it’s pretty safe to assume that if someone enjoyed Mooncrash, they will enjoy Deathloop as well.

  37. WarlockOfOz says:

    Unusually for me, I’d bought into the hype surrounding Cyberpunk and I was ready to buy on release day. Trusted dev, not medieval fantasy, expectation of strong story and characters… It would have been the first release day game I’d bought since Portal 2.

    Fortunately I was busy with something else, so I heard of it’s issues and saved my £50.

    The something else was an incomplete RPGmaker porn game.

    Despite skipping past the sex scenes.

    No, I’m not embarrassed.

    It was The Last Sovereign, perhaps best described as the Spec Ops : The Line of harem collection games. I’ll be playing it again in a couple of updates, this time with a guide. I’m *sure* I could have got better results from my investments and negotiations!

  38. Xander77 says:

    “Man, everyone, and I do mean EVERYONE but me have got Watch Dogs Legion wrong. You fools, it’s not that the new gimmicks aren’t going far enough and the core Ubisoft-WD experience is tired and boring – it’s that the core Ubisoft-WD experience is tired and boring and the new gimmicks aren’t going far enough!”

  39. Paul Spooner says:

    You’re in for a treat with Manifold Garden. Hopefully he’s completed the secret areas by now. IIRC there were a few secret dead ends on release.

  40. Nimrandir says:

    The start of my spring classes has me way late to the conversation, my favorite games I played last year are Fantasy Strike (big thanks to John in these comment threads for bringing it to my attention!) and Hollow Knight (big thanks to whomever decided to make it a free PS+ title). If we restrict to actual 2020 releases, though, Fall Guys wins by default.

    I’m really only looking forward to two games this year, essentially because I don’t keep up with many releases:
    Monster Hunter Rise: it’s like World, but my son and I can actually play together? Yes, please.
    King of Fighters XV: I’ve never given an SNK fighting game a chance, and I may be able to get in at launch for the first time since the 1990’s.

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