Insomnia65: Over(watch) the Fallout obsession?

Earlier this year, I wrote about my stepson’s obsession with Fallout. He first found out about the series when he caught my other-half playing Fallout 4 on his laptop in 2015 and has been infatuated by Bethesda’s post-apocalyptic world ever since.

In that article I talked about some frustrations that have occurred over the past year as a result of his obsession. He doesn’t understand why nobody else at his school is interested in the franchise and is beginning to believe he doesn’t fit in. On one hand I’m kind of proud that Ethan doesn’t like Fortnite and would prefer to devote his time to a video game that’s detailed, atmospheric and story-rich; but on the other, I get that the preference makes it more difficult for him at this stage in his life.

I said that maybe one day he’ll find something to replace his Fallout infatuation, the same way The Legend of Zelda eventually did with Minecraft, or a friend who shares his interests would come along. Perhaps that time has finally arrived. A game that was free for a weekend on the Xbox One last month and an attraction at Insomnia65 recently could hold the answer. As mentioned on Friday, this gaming event is never going to be the favourite in my calendar but I might now have to show it some appreciation.

On a Saturday when his best friend Spencer came over, Ethan came downstairs to ask if he could download something on his console. We were apprehensive for several reasons when we were told it was Overwatch, the first being whether it was going to be suitable for him in terms of age-rating and multiplayer. We had nothing to worry about however: a quick internet search revealed a PEGI 12 rating and his headset had been having issues so he couldn’t communicate with anyone online.

We told him it was ok to go ahead but still felt wary. You see, my stepson has shown an aversion to any kind of competitive team-play and has been known to get incredibly frustrated when he feels as though he’s not mastering something quickly enough. Star Wars Battlefront went down a treat because he likes Star Wars but he quickly resorted to running around the training maps on his own and making up stories in his head. And Splatoon was fun at first – until he felt the other players were far better and would always win.

We hoped that having Spencer around would mean he wouldn’t show the extent of his frustration but listened out for any raised voices just in case. The boys seemed to have a good time though and when his friend had to go home, Ethan quickly retreated to his bedroom in the way most 12-year olds do. Pete went to visit him a little later to see what he was up to and when he came back down to the kitchen, the look on his face made me think something was horribly wrong.

“You’ll never guess what’s going on up there,” he said. “Ethan is actually good at Overwatch.” I honestly thought he was trying to prank me initially but no: my stepson’s team were winning rounds, he was getting kills and was even awarded Play of the Game a couple of times. Needless to say, my other-half and I were surprised. The kid had never shown much interest in, enjoyment from or – dare I say it – talent for competitive multiplayers before so this was all new to us.

A few weeks after the free trial had ended, that episode had almost been forgotten. We were only reminded of it during the car-journey to Insomnia65 when Ethan told us he’d heard that an Overwatch tournament would begin shortly after we were due to arrive at the NEC and it was the first area he wanted to visit. Pete and I threw a couple of confused sideways glances at each other in the front-seats but told him it sounded like a good plan – this day out was all about him, after all.

He surprised us once again by absolutely loving it. By the end of the tournament he was cheering on the teams and even commentating on their actions, telling us what he thought their strategies were. We on the other-hand could barely keep up with what was happening onscreen; the gameplay was too fast and bright, and the fact it kept switching between each characters’ perspective made it difficult to follow what was going on. Maybe that’s a sign I’m getting on a bit.

Ethan, Spencer, ice-cream, boys

The following day, Ethan asked if he could spend his pocket-money on the full version of Overwatch and he happily spent the morning playing until it was time to take him back to his mum and stepdad. On the way there we asked him how he’d found out about the game and why he’d wanted to try it originally, and we received probably the best answer possible: Spencer. It was something his friend had introduced him to and he’d only given it a go because he’d been asked to. But then he realised it was something he actually enjoyed.

So maybe now Ethan has found a friend who shares the same interests, and is ready to leave his Fallout obsession behind. I’m pleased for him. I’m also a little relieved too; moving on from the franchise is going to be good for all of us.

gamescom 2019: Borderlands 3

Oh Borderlands, what fun we’ve had over the years. I don’t remember much of the first game but played Borderlands 2 for many hours on multiple platforms. Its claim of containing a billion different guns was no lie, with each core weapon having many combinations.

 
Poor Claptrap has had some bad press over the years and some have compared the robot to Jar Jar Binks in Star Wars as an attempt to entertain children. Funny when you consider the game has a PEGI 18 age-rating in the UK. I quite like Claptrap and his social awkwardness and penchant for puns, probably because he most reminds me of myself. He’s always been helpful to his Minion, the protagonist the Vault Hunter, and has saved their lives on more than one occasion. Claptrap didn’t make an appearance in the gamescom demo sadly but that may have been on purpose.

I mentioned in my round-up post earlier this week that the queue for Borderlands 3 was nowhere near as long as it appeared. The wait was around an hour and didn’t lack for entertainment, with at least one guy in the queue stripping down to his undies while the 2K Games staff cheered him on. That was the most enjoyable queuing experience at the whole event as there was the typical Borderlands level of comedy mixed in with cartoon violence. However, I was praying that they didn’t try and convince me to dance as well, and luckily for everyone else that didn’t happen.

Once inside the play area, each station was set up with an Xbox One controller and the loudest set of headphones I’ve come across. The gunshots were deafening but it added quite a punch to the gameplay. I immediately noticed the player had a better feeling of movement than in previous releases with added motion when changing direction or stopping without it feeling heavy. It’s hard to describe the addition, but hopefully you’ll know what I mean when you get to play it. I’ve included a video of the demo further down so be sure to check that out and you should see what I mean.

Borderlands, Borderlands 3, gamescom

Even though the game is out in a couple of weeks, the gameplay is so smooth and enjoyable enough that I was more than happy to queue for a go. The gun play is fast, deliberate and full of variety with lots of exciting weapon mechanics. I selected the Siren class in the demo, which was equipped with a shotgun and rifle that had no reload and would fire faster the longer you held the trigger. It’s like an automatic rifle with a long-range scope but little recoil and fast rate of fire. This isn’t obvious at first as the weapons are visually unique compared to their real-life equivalents.

As for the Tediore shotgun, if you’ve played Borderlands before you’ll know that the gun is thrown like a grenade and explodes when reloaded. I’d forgotten this at first and wondered why I blew myself up as I reloaded it while facing a wall. This is one of the weapon mechanics that is unique to the franchise and adds variety to the gun-play. The third title claims to have gazillions of weapons this time but I don’t know how we’ll tell the difference considering a billion is already an absurd amount! There were weapon drops in the demo but I didn’t take the time to investigate them, so I had no hands-on the various damage types unfortunately. The one grenade type was of the bouncy kind and because it was such frantic section of the game I didn’t get to check out what it actually did!

The playable segment was the mission shown back at E3 in June and ended with a boss called Mouthpiece, who is a big dude with a shield and loudspeakers to cause an area of effect attack. Sadly I failed a couple of times while trying to figure out how the attacks were signposted, but there were plenty of smaller enemies to kill and achieve second wind instead of dying. After finally completing the demo, I was getting ready to walk out but saw everyone was still playing. The whole room was empty of players when we were brought in so luckily I realised it was a time-limited demo and started a second run. I selected the gunner class and was able to try out the mech-style ability before running out of time and, while it was short-lived, it was thrilling to stomp around in a big robot firing lasers everywhere.
 
Overall I was delighted with the experience and while I wasn’t too excited by a similar-looking sequel, the gameplay feels so refined I’m now looking forward to getting back into Borderlands again. There are only a few weeks until the game is released on 13 September 2019 and I probably wouldn’t have considered buying it straight away. Having now got a taste of the title, I’m looking forward to it. Is anyone joining me with Borderlands 3 once it arrives? What did you think of the demo if you’ve also had the opportunity to play it?

Battle royale: what am I missing?

Online multiplayer shooters have been my thing since my parents first got a 14.4k internet connection in the 1990s. It allowed me to play Half-Life Deathmatch and Team Fortress Classic, the latter of which remained my most-loved game for years.

Counter-Strike then arrived and, while it was an impressive step forward in team-play, there was something about waiting for the round to finish before playing again which just didn’t sit well with me (I’ll talk a bit more about this later). The early 2000s were a rich time for multiplayer shooters and my personal list of favourites goes on for a while: you’ve got Unreal Tournament, Quake III Arena, Natural Selection, Wolfenstein and PlanetSide, and that’s to name only a few.

The last one was massive for me and is probably my most played game of all time, as every day was a different experience in a persistent world. You could be stuck in stalemate for hours, take a break to eat, and then come back an hour later to find the same battle still raging. It’s the only massively-multiplayer-online (MMO) title I’ve actually played enough to become known as a regular among the community on my particular server, including the politics. Yes, I could spend the rest of this post about PlanetSide and how much I enjoyed it.

But let’s move on. Next came the battle between Call of Duty and Battlefield for the number-one spot in the genre. They’re equally matched in popularity but vastly different in gameplay with the latter, my personal favourite, featuring larger environments, vehicles and aircraft with a greater focus on team-play. Battlefield 2 in particular introduced persistent player statistics and strengthened the class system.

Since then, I’ve played almost every release in the series. I’m keen on Battlefield 2142 because of the epic titan assault mode which combines the traditional capture-the-point objectives with an assault on a floating battleship. As a soldier, you could take the fight to the enemy’s titan and destroy it from the inside, or continue to capture missile silos on the ground that slowly chip away at the hull.

Considering my history with the first-person shooter, you’d be forgiven for thinking I’d like everything that battle royale games have to offer. The popularity of the genre today is staggering but there’s something all entries share in their design that I struggle to enjoy. I’ve tried each of the most popular including Fortnite, Apex Legends and Fallout 76 (but not PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds). It’s not one single title that’s the problem: it’s more about the core gameplay loop, and I just don’t feel the same attraction a significant of other gamers do.

In case you didn’t already know, battle royales consist of between 50 to 100 players who are dropped onto an island with the aim to kill everyone else to become the last one standing. Some games include team-play aspects, with small groups pitted against each other in the same way. Weapons, ammunition, armour and sometimes vehicles are scattered throughout the map and must be obtained to compete after you arrive empty-handed. I can understand how this aspect appeals as it adds chance to what gear you’ll find, but it takes still to use the equipment effectively and win the match.

If you lose in battle royale you’re out until the next round. Whether you’re outgunned by a better player, struck by a moment of bad luck or make a silly mistake, there’s no second chance. With each in Counter-Strike being quite short it wasn’t much of a problem. But I found myself getting frustrated after only one round of something like Fortnite, having spent quite some time finding some quality gear and planning my next move – before being destroyed by another player. I’m left in no mood to jump back in and repeat the whole process once again.

Don’t get me wrong: the quality of these games is high, and I appreciate that the feeling of winning after being up against 99 other people must be thrilling. I don’t think winning a match would encourage me to have another go; and even the battle royale mode in my favourite games, Battlefield V and Fallout 76, haven’t made the difference. Is it possible I’m becoming an older gamer that doesn’t quite get it?

And except for Hideo Kojima, who made it clear he doesn’t want to make this kind of game, does anyone else share my experience? Or do you completely disagree and want to shed some light on what fuels the battle royale addiction?

It’s not what you play, it’s who you play it with

I’m writing this the day before Tom Clancy’s The Division 2 releases. At least for me and all the other season pass pre-orders. If you bought the Ultimate Edition, you could be playing now but if you only have the standard you have to wait another few days. Sad, but true.

That’s a comment for another day. What I wanted to write about was a question Kim asked me recently: “Why don’t you write about how exited you are for The Division 2?” Relatively straightforward at first but the truth is, I’m not. I’ve dropped a load of money on a game I’m not hyped about at all.

So why spend the money? Well, because Pete is beyond excited about the game.

Every Tuesday night, Pete and I play games online, or at least try to as sometimes life gets in the way. I look forward to it each and every week and I’m always gutted if we can’t play. Over the years we’ve played all sorts including Destiny (both the original and 2), Rocket League, Strange Brigade and currently Fallout 76. We’ve also played The Division.

Pete loves The Division. I’ve never known him be so passionate about any other game. He loves the setting, the look and most importantly the grind. Long after I was bored (and frustrated) with the bullet-sponge baddies, Pete was playing it on multiple systems and ranking up his characters to super powerful levels. He’s an absolute Division nut and his enthusiasm is infectious.

I love seeing passion in people, I love being a part of their happiness and it’s games like The Division which give that. Am I looking forward to the actual game? Not really. Am I looking forward to playing it? As long as it’s with Pete, you bet your backside I am.

Anthem: video game Marmite

Ok, cards on the table… Here it comes… Confession time: I like Anthem. I get the criticism, I really do. The lore is opaque, the loot is dull, the systems for tracking quests and equipping gear are clunky at best and the loading screens… oh god, the loading screens are awful.

I also agree that underneath all the rubbish is, potentially, a real gem. A diamond in the rough. Why? Because the actual gameplay is superb. Flying your Javelin (think Iron Man armour) through the world is a thrill, the combat is excellent and the game looks gorgeous. Hovering about the battlefield in my Storm Javelin (Mage), I get a glorious view of the Colossus (Tank) and Interceptor (Rogue) working their way around at ground level, as the Ranger adds support at close quarters or range. Once you get your head around the combat it’s a treat. Each mission lasts around ten or twenty minutes and it’s done. Alternatively you can explore the world at your leisure.

Then it’s back to Fort Tarsis where you switch to first person mode to speak to characters and accept quests. Here it’s a completely different pace. Hectic combat replaced by slow exploration and in depth reading of the lore. It’s the complete opposite of what’s gone before.

And that, for me, is why it works.

I have limited time to game and so I need something that will work with both my time and what I want to play. Some days I’m in the mood for a few short missions, other days I might want to zone out and fly around to explore. There are also days when I want to immerse myself in the world and its characters. Anthem allows me to do it all and as a result we really suit each other.

Despite all that, I’m not going to recommend people jump in and buy it. I just can’t. Yes, it works for me but taking a step back I know it’s not a good game overall. There are so many things that need work, and if you want a mission-upgrade-mission-repeat scenario you’re going to lose your mind over the loading screens and inaccessibility of it all. It’s a game that the majority will lose patience with very quickly unless BioWare and EA address it.

It’s something I take no pleasure in saying either. It feels so much like it wants to be The Division or Destiny and yet hasn’t learned from any of their mistakes.

So, Anthem. Do you love it or hate it?

Welcome Back, Pilot

I have a strange relationship with battle-royale games. I love the concept of them and enjoy playing but once I’ve won a round I lose interest really quickly. In some part of my brain I see it as the point at which I ‘complete’ the game and lose the desire to go back for more.

It might be because I was brought up on releases in the 80s and 90s where once you finished the game’s objective that was it. No online component, no DLC, no expansion packs, no nothing. What you bought is what you got.

So what’s the endgame now? You win a round and then win some more I suppose. Grind for some cosmetic stuff (or pay for it if the mood takes you) and that’s it. I don’t entirely get it but millions of people do and that’s actually a very good thing. It means they play the games, pay the money and support developers and other staff across the industry. Cool.

Needless to say I jumped into Apex Legends when it launched the other week and soon added a victory there to my PUBG, Fortnite and Blackout wins. As before, the desire to play it slowly left me but this time something was different. This time I had been inspired to play Titanfall 2 again.

Why? Because when Respawn Entertainment developed Apex Legends they not only set it inside the Titanfall universe but used a very similar game engine. Movement is slow fluid, the shooting is spot on and the design impeccable, as the rave reviews for the Ping system will attest.

Jumping back into Titanfall 2 has been a brilliant decision. I’d forgotten just how good it was. Apex Legends doesn’t have the double-jump, wall-running or giant mechs and I can see why. They wouldn’t work in that environment. In Titanfall 2 however, they’re amazing. Grappling up to a wall, dashing along it, jumping to another, shooting, sliding off and into your Titan is a fantastic feeling.

The single-player campaign is a masterclass in design too. The way each level is structured is reminiscent of the best design Nintendo have used with Mario: start with a game mechanic, show player how to use it, make it progressively more complicated, end simply. In Titanfall those mechanics are everything from grappling, to wall running, to messing with time to just blowing stuff up with a huge Titan. It’s inspired.

The multiplayer is superb too with multiple game types. My favourites are Attrition and Frontier Defence. The first is effectively a standard deathmatch and you start off just trying to take down other pilots. Simply bunny-hopping around won’t help you here, you’ve got to be alert to walls, grapples, zip lines and all sorts. There are also AI ground troops running around the battlefield too. Then as the round progresses, Titans start dropping in and you’ve got massive mechs to deal with also. That these machines can operate independently of the player means that you could have both Titan and pilot trying to kill you at the same time. By the end of each round it’s absolute chaos.

Frontier Defence is horde mode by any other name and you team up with three others to face five waves of soldiers, robots and titans. It’s harder than it sounds but the five rounds are a perfect length, the two guys commentating are spot on and the level progression (player, titan and difficulty) is perfectly balanced.

Multiplayer servers are pretty slim in terms of player numbers and I’ve seen them as low as 1,500 recently but also as high as 20,000 on Xbox in the last week or so. It’s the nature of a game that never got the mainstream traction it deserved in an already crowded market.

I hope the success of Apex Legends continues for Respawn and allows them to build more in the Titanfall universe. Whether it’s a third game in the series, expanding the Apex Legends world to include mechs or something else I know it’ll be superb and worth a lot of play time.