Random Thoughts – Randocity!

Amazon’s “Not Helpful” Button Missing?

Posted in Amazon, business, politics, reviews, shopping by commorancy on April 13, 2019

A Reddit user posts that the “Not Helpful” button is missing from Amazon’s reviews. Several other commenters had stated that the button was still there for them. Let’s explore.

Not Helpful is actually not helpful

Amazon has been undergoing changes to their older review system. The first was to remove their discussion boards. Because Reddit really does discussion boards better, there was really no need for Amazon to keep their own. As a result, Amazon Discussions disappeared.

In addition to the removal of Amazon Discussions, Amazon decided to revamp their review system to be more useful. I’d personally complained several times about the “Not Helpful” button.

Why is the “Not Helpful” button not helpful? Because the only thing that button ever did is “downvote” a review in Amazon’s relevance sort. This means that those reviews that received the most helpful votes with the least not helpful bubbled to the top of their relevance sort. Effectively, the “Not Helpful” button was only used as a way for users to move reviews down in the relevance sort.

What ultimately came out of that was…

Abuse

With every system built, someone (or many someones) will find a way to abuse and game the system. The “Not Helpful” button became a target for abuse on Amazon. Instead of being used for the intended purpose of marking a review as not helpful, it became a target to screw with Amazon’s relevance sort and its “recommended” reviews for the product. For example, Amazon has two reviews it places into the top of its review area:

  1. Most Helpful
  2. Most Critical

These two reviews are at the very top above all other reviews. These are coveted positions. People want their review in that spot. To get another reviewer’s review out of either spot, a person (or many persons) would need to mark the review as “Not Helpful” (thus asking their friends to do this too). Over time, salty reviewers learned they could knock these reviews not only out of these two coveted spots, they could also lower their relevance scores and raise their own reviews up, potentially into these coveted positions.

As I said above, if there’s a way to game a system, people will find it and abuse it… and abuse the “Not Helpful” button they did. It took Amazon years to realize this problem, but it seems that Amazon finally understands this problem and has now removed “Not Helpful” from its interface.

Complaints

I’ve complained to Amazon several times over the years regarding the “Not Helpful” button. Not only did it not provide any actual helpful information to those reading reviews, the only thing it did is send high quality reviews to the bottom of the relevance list because of salty Amazon reviewers… people who just couldn’t stand to see a high quality review shown above their lower quality review. People figured out they could game the review system by getting their friends and coworkers to mark certain reviews “Not Helpful” and knock them down in the relevance list.

There was only one situation where “Not Helpful” didn’t have much of an effect. That was on Amazon Vine reviews. For whatever reason, if you’re part of Amazon Vine, pressing “Not Helpful” on Amazon Vine reviews didn’t do very much. I believe that Amazon intentionally weights Amazon Vine reviews much, much higher than a standard review. These reviews don’t get as much of a “ding” against them if someone presses “Not Helpful”. The Vine reviews always seem to get top placement in the relevance sort no matter what other people mark or say against them.

With regular reviews, the “Not Helpful” button just didn’t achieve what it was intended to achieve. It also didn’t give a review reader any useful information about that review. This button was only intended to help sort reviews with, supposedly, the most helpful at the top of the relevance sort. In fact, because users ended up gaming the “Not Helpful” button, the relevance sort actually ended up pointless as many of the best reviews actually ended up way down the relevance list.

I also complained about this problem to Amazon, but that complaint was also summarily ignored.

Amazon has Awoken

It’s taken years, but Amazon has finally realized the error of the “Not Helpful” button. Not only does Amazon no longer show “301 people out of 455 found this helpful”. Now Amazon simply shows “301 people found this helpful”. There was no reason to show the “Not Helpful” clickers… especially now that the “Not Helpful” button is gone.

If Amazon had forced the “Not Helpful” clickers to justify their click by requiring a comment on the review, that that would have actually been much more helpful. As review readers, we need to understand valid reasons why someone clicked “Not Helpful”. The only way to do that is by writing a comment. If a “Not Helpful” clicker chooses not to write a comment, then they don’t get their “Not Helpful” click counted. It’s only fair.

Unfortunately, that opens a whole new can of worms. Even if Amazon forced the “Not Helpful” clickers to write a comment, they could have written a garbage response and then deleted it just to get past that requirement. That’s also “Not Helpful”. It’s also a can of worms that Amazon couldn’t easily solve. They’re a retailer, not a technology company. Some efforts like this simply go over Amazon dev’s heads.

Instead, Amazon awoke and realized that it was simpler to remove the “Not Helpful” button and avoid the entire relevance engine gaming problem. It’s a very late fix in coming, but it’s still a much welcomed change. Gaming a review system is not the reason for that button’s existence. Reviews exist to inform potential buyers of problems they might encounter by purchasing that “thing” (whatever it is).

Review Snobs & Trolls

In any system that you create, there will be those “snobs” (and trolls) who believe that they know better about that system than anyone else. In reality, Amazon’s reviews are fair game in any way that they’re written. This includes pricing problems, listing problems, seller problems, shipping problems, customer service problems, packaging problems, purchasing problems and, yes, it also includes actual product problems.

A review should be about ANYTHING product related including Amazon’s handling of that product to you. Amazon doesn’t like reviewers (and it is now against Amazon’s terms and conditions) to write disparaging remarks against how Amazon handled the shipping, packaging and so forth of the items you purchase. Instead, if there’s a problem in the Amazon area, they don’t want that information in the review. Amazon wants you to contact their customer support team and lodge that complaint there, not write it in the review.

If you do place such a remark in the product review, your review is not likely to be published. Even Amazon is getting its own snobbery into its own review system. However, so long as you follow Amazon’s own snobbery rules regarding its review system, you’ll be fine.

That doesn’t mean you’ll be fine against the Amazon review trolls…er, snobs. These are the folks who feel the need to either report the review or leave a nasty comment regarding the content of the review. I’ve read many reviews that are not only articulate, but also have quite valid comments regarding the product. The reviews are quite apropos and definitely relevant. Yet, there’s inevitably some review snob who believes the review didn’t live up to their own snobby ideas about what a review should contain. To those folks I ask, “Didn’t your mother ever teach you that if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all?”

Too many of these review snobs still exist on Amazon. As a blog writer, I typically write long, but concise reviews of products I purchase from Amazon. Many people don’t seem to like my longish reviews. Instead of refuting any of what I’m saying, they pick out one tiny little thing (a thing that makes no sense when taken out of context) and then write a complaint comment (and when the “Not Helpful” button existed, they would also press it). I could even swear that there were the same people trolling my reviews and intentionally marking them as “Not Helpful” so they can keep their reviews high in the relevance area.

Considering the length of my reviews, the depth and detail at which I discuss the product(s), how it works and my dissatisfaction with whatever parts didn’t work, they ignored all of that and focused on their own out-of-context remark. These are the very definition of “Review Snobs”. These are the folks who do not belong on Amazon and definitely need to have their review comment ability revoked. If Amazon offered a user blocking system, I’d have blocked these folks ages ago. If I could delete their comments from my review, I’d have done so. In fact, I have intentionally deleted my review and reposted it to get rid of some awkward and stupid comments.

It’s entirely a waste of my time to justify what I wrote in my review to some random “review snob” just because they feel the need to intentionally take something out of context. The review is there. Read it, understand it, learn from it. Don’t argue with me about some perceived injustice in my review that simply isn’t there.

Fan Boys & Girls

Unfortunately, far too many people are fans.. well, “fanatic” is more the correct word. And with fanatics comes fanatical behavior. That’s exactly what you get on Amazon. If I review the latest Britney Spears album and give it two stars and a rather scathing review, I guarantee some of these fanatical fans will come out of the woodwork to justify how “great” that album is… and how could I give it two stars?

Don’t question someone else’s opinion. With music and movie reviews, it’s all subjective opinion. You either like it or you don’t. Don’t come to someone else’s review and try to sway them to your belief system. That’s not how Amazon’s reviews work. Amazon’s reviews are always intended to be a mix of both high rated and low rated reviews. The intent is to allow people to state the things they liked and didn’t like about that “thing”. Trying to sway everyone to raise their rating isn’t the point of the review system. In fact, I’d like it if Amazon would let reviewers disable comments on reviews.

I should also mention that, in the case of Britney, instead of just talking about the beats or her singing abilities, I also discuss the production quality, the recording quality and even how the music was mastered. These fall under what I consider objective criteria. An album is professionally produced or it isn’t. An album is professionally mixed and mastered or it isn’t. An album is cohesive track to track or it isn’t. There’s lots of objective criteria about an album that can be heard in the tracks. Sure, the songs themselves are subjective, but the production of the album is most definitely chock full of objective criteria which is easily described.

With other products, like foods or kitchen gadgets or even toys, you can judge these by objective standards, also. For a gadget like a can opener, you have to ask, “Does it open a can?” Then you ask, “Was it easy to open the can?” Some can openers just work, others are a hassle. If the can opener breaks after the second use, then objectively the product was poorly constructed. These are all bits of information that should make its way into a product review. With a kitchen gadget, you have fewer fanboys and fangirls waiting out there for your review. For the latest Britney Spears album or the latest EA video game, you have lots of fanboys and fangirls waiting with baited-breath for those reviews to appear so they can be torn down.

It doesn’t matter if it’s a one star or five star review, these fanboys and fangirls will tear down anything. If it’s a one star review, it’ll be torn down because “nothing they like is ever one star”. If it’s a five star review, it’ll be torn down as “Fake”. Even something as simple as not having the “Verified Purchase” next to it is enough to mark a review as fake.

Verified Purchase

Amazon marks purchases made directly with Amazon as “Verified Purchase”. This signifies that the purchase was made through Amazon. Yet, Amazon allows you to review any product without having purchased it from Amazon.

For example, you can purchase the Amazon Dot, Amazon Kindle and other Amazon electronics from Best Buy, Target and other retailers. Yet, if you leave a review on Amazon having purchased these from a brick-and-mortar store (other than Amazon), you won’t get the “Verified Purchase” label. However, the review snobs come out of the woodwork without this label making it one of the first comments on a review. They claim you didn’t actually purchase the item at all. So then you’re reviewing without having purchased? I call BS on that. Are these people so stupid to think that Amazon is the only place where you can buy an Echo Dot or Kindle?

I’ve purchased many items from retail stores, including Echo Dots without purchasing it through Amazon. That doesn’t make my purchase or review any less valid. Sure, I should leave a comment on Best Buy’s site if I buy it there, but I also have an obligation to leave a comment on Amazon’s site for any Amazon-made product I purchase. Even if it’s not an Amazon product, Amazon purchasers need to know what they might be in for if they purchase the product through Amazon and it’s particularly bad.

Amazon Reviews

To come full circle, I’m happy to see that Amazon has finally done away with the useless, unnecessary and abuse-worthy “Not Helpful” button. It had no place in Amazon’s review system and served no purpose other than to allow review snobs to game the review system. That’s not a user’s call. Amazon should be the call of which reviews get moved to the top of the pile and which don’t. The “Helpful” button should only be one in many metrics used to move a review to the top of the relevance list.

If you don’t like a review, leave a comment and leave it at that. Not marking a review as “Helpful” is the same as formerly marking a review as “Not Helpful”. Simply avoid the review entirely if you don’t like what was written or leave a constructive comment on why you think the review is misguided.

Review systems, including the one at Amazon, are there to let you read a user’s experience and make a determination whether that product fits with your needs. It’s not there for you to argue with the review author over some perceived injustice. If you don’t like what was said, write your own review… or write a blog article.. or report the review to Amazon. Amazon doesn’t need review snobs running around trying to sway review authors into someone else’s way of thinking. Simply give that idea up. You can’t sway a review author’s mind with a few sentences in a comment.

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Rant Time: Fallout 76

Posted in botch, business, fail by commorancy on January 30, 2019

12-9-2018_10-41-26_PM-qybv0b53I’ve been playing Fallout 76 on and off since its release. However, Bethesda has not only miscalculated the quality of the game itself, Bethesda’s devs have repeatedly introduced more bugs than they have fixed. So far, the patches have been a strategy of one step forward and three steps back. This game has all of the signs of code outsourcing and illustrates all of the dangers of this practice. Let’s explore.

Game Development

Having worked at many different high tech companies that write code for their business to succeed, I have seen many different code writing practices… some good, many more that are bad.

Typically, when code is written “in-house” (meaning, by developers on site at the headquarters), the quality control remains at a “standard bar” set by the development manager. This doesn’t mean that every piece of code written is great, but it does mean that the bad code likely won’t make it into production after “code review”. The “code review” process is a process by which all code is peer reviewed by other developers to make sure the code is up to formatting standards, that it doesn’t make any egregious mistakes and that such things as math calculations make sense. Comments in the code are usually optional and up to the development team to set how code gets documented.

I’ve worked at many companies where code is not documented at all. Instead, the documentation is written in a Wiki or similar internal web site describing the design goals of the code. I don’t particularly like this practice when working on the production side of the house, but it’s generally not a practice we can win a fight against. Reading documentation in the code is sometimes the only defense when code acts up in production. If they choose not to write inline documentation, that’s on the development team. Though, I will say that this practice leads to technical debt and is not recommended.

Without diving too deeply into code development practices, let’s apply all of what I’ve said to Bethesda’s Fallout 76.

Bad Coding Practices

I don’t even know where to begin with how Bethesda is managing this product. Let’s just say that having worked in several large Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) organizations, how Bethesda is handling Fallout 76 is so behind the times, it’s not even funny.

Today, the current practice is to use the following code development cycle otherwise known as Systems Development Life Cycle (SDLC). This cycle has the following phases:

  1. Planning
  2. Analysis and Requirements
  3. Design
  4. Development
  5. Integration and Testing
  6. Implementation / Release
  7. Operational Maintenance

These 7 phases are a never ending cycle in a continuing software product. In fact, there could be several releases all running in concert each at different phases. Meaning, the current release is at phase 7, the next release is at phase 4 and two or three future releases are at at any of the phases prior to release.

The SDLC process has grown out of bad coding practices used during the 90s and has been adopted to counter those bad coding and release practices. This life cycle is a way to ensure quality of code when it is finally released. It’s also a way to ensure that the end user has the highest quality experience possible with the end product. Quality assurance is the name of the game. As a development company, the key to success is to minimize disruptions via bad code and maximize user experience with high quality features. No code is ever perfect, but you can reduce problems by following best coding practices and implementing solid SDLC processes.

Bethesda’s Coding Practices

Unfortunately, Bethesda has chosen a poor coding cycle for Fallout 76. Instead of treating Fallout 76 like a professionally produced product using SLDC practices, they are simply slinging code as fast as possible without actually performing any sanity checks or, indeed, performing any quality assurance on the end product.

In fact, with each new Fallout 76 release, the product has become increasingly worse, less reliable, less performant and increasingly more unstable. By “worse”, I mean that they’re introducing not only regression bugs that break previously and correctly working features, they’re introducing new bugs and not even fixing the bugs they claimed to have fixed. Indeed, the product is actually getting worse.

While I realize that coding a game like Fallout 76 is probably reasonably complex, the difficulty I have with this game is why a developer is touching code in portions of the game where bugs did not exist. What were they doing touching that part of the code? And yet, here we are, this newly broken code is being rolled out to their production servers?

Clearly, Bethesda performs absolutely zero testing. These bugs are so basic, anyone spending 5 minutes using the game would spot them instantly. It’s crystal clear that Bethesda is NOT following an SDLC process. They’re just releasing code by the seat of their pants and hoping it does “something positive”.

Outsourcing

Because Fallout 76 gets worse with each successive release, this has all of the telltale signs of Bethesda outsourcing their software development efforts to an off-shore team (possibly in India). Having worked with outsourced developers in India in the past, you MUST micromanage these outsourced companies at every tiny step. You also need to be extremely explicit with how you want the implementation and you need to 100% test every piece of delivered code.

Failing to micromanage an outsourced software development company leads to the exact problems seen in Fallout 76. While I can’t be 100% certain that Bethesda is outsourcing, their release practices certainly have all of the earmarks of using this practice for Fallout 76. There’s absolutely no reason why previously working features in the game should inexplicably become broken in the next release.

And believe me, I’ve become exceedingly tired and irritated of fighting these compounding stupid bugs in this game. Not only does it show Bethesda as a low quality developer, it says they have no quality standards of any kind. You don’t intentionally roll out broken features in a formerly working product… you just don’t do this.

Chasing Abusers

Bethesda has clearly bitten off more than they can chew. They certainly have no one on their team who understands SaaS product scaling. If one gamer on the server crafting boiled water can bring the server to its knees, there’s a major problem with this product. In a properly designed multi-user product, no single user should be able to overload the server with any “standard” user interface activity. By “standard”, I mean features that the product is supposed to properly support.

There are many instances where a single user can craft foods at a crafting table which causes “Server Not Responding” or incurs major lag for other users on the server. These are sanctioned activities intended to be used by the users, yet they can break the server?

Abusers, on the other hand, find loopholes to allow them to perform activities that the software was not designed to do. For example, duplicating items by logging on and off in very unusual ways… ways in which the developer didn’t test or consider during the design phase.

Right now, Bethesda is chasing down these unintentional holes at all costs… and by that I mean, by introducing game breaking bugs that affect standard users who are not abusing. And, they’re attempting to fix these holes at the cost of ignoring the design failings of the game that also need to be addressed. Many of these design failings were introduced at release and are still waiting in the queue to be addressed by Bethesda. Yet, instead of taking care of these long standing bugs, the devs are flying by the seat of their pants fixing the holes… which honestly don’t need to be fixed as a fire drill.

Penalizing Players

Bethesda doesn’t understand the dangers of reduction. Removing or degrading product features is always a negative for the end user, never a positive. For example, the Two Shot Explosive weapons are what players long to find. These rarely dropped highly powerful weapons are, in fact, one of the sole reasons players come back to the Fallout franchise.

Sure, the questing is fun, but it’s the Legendary dropped loot from these difficult bosses that is the actual Win. It’s the trophy that says, “Hey look what I got after spending all that time defeating the Scorchbeast Queen”. By degrading, limiting and/or removing these highly sought after items from the game, this removes a substantial reason to even play Fallout 76.

If you spend an hour defeating a boss only to see it drop a 12 damage Pipe Pistol (the same as a Level 1 enemy kill), what have you really accomplished? How does that make the gamer feel? Does it make the gamer feel good about what they’ve just done? No. Does it make the gamer want to come back and do it again? No.

On the Wrong Track

Bethesda is entirely on the wrong track. If you have abusers in the game, chase them down and ban them… no holds barred. If you find a player who is carrying 300,000 weight in duplicated items, ban them. Remove them from the game. Find them all and remove them. Logic dictates that anyone carrying 25,000 Stimpaks along with 25,000 guns stacked didn’t create them through legitimate means.

You ban the abusers. You don’t code around them. You don’t hobble your universe to make the duplicated guns worthless. Instead of spending precious time alienating your intended gaming audience, you focus on making the game better for legitimate users willing to stay within the game’s design framework. For those who stray and choose to test the coding boundaries of the game, you ban them… permanently. You also make a warning statement that any persons intending to cause harm to or disrupt the services will be banned without warning. In-game abuse can only be dealt with one way, the ban hammer.

Yes, you can fix the bugs along the way that enabled that abuse, but you don’t make that your sole and entire means of existing. You focus on fixing the bugs that are getting in the way of your legitimate paying gamers who are willing to stay on the game’s “golden path”. By “golden path”, this is a software development phrase that means the track designed by the developers for end users of the software product to follow. Anyone who strays from the “golden path” may encounter bugs, unexpected consequences or crash the software system. Though, your developers should have coded proper error handling so that crashing is nearly impossible.

Yes, some users can unintentionally stray from the “golden path” occasionally. These users are not the target. It’s the users who intentionally stray from the “golden path” to exploit holes in the software to gain access, privilege or items which are unintended. Speaking of gaining access….

Dev Room

There’s been much controversy over this room. Personally, I don’t care if it exists or not. However, that this room made it into Bethesda’s Fallout 76 production servers is entirely a design miss. Such dev environments should never make it onto production servers. That this room rolled out onto the production network is a problem Bethesda needs to address internally. Users who stray from the golden path into this room isn’t the fault of the gamer. Bethesda, you left the room in the game. It was your responsibility to ensure such rooms don’t exist on the production servers. That users ended up in there, that’s your mistake, Bethesda.

Sure, you can drop the ban hammer on these users, but that’s not good public relations. In fact, dropping the ban hammer on users for entry into this room is severe. If they didn’t cause damage to the game or take anything from the room, there’s no damage done. Those users who took items from the dev room and duplicated them should be banned… not necessarily for entering the room, but for exploiting the duplication bug which disrupts a server for other players.

Again, it comes back to disruption. Any gamer intentionally causing disruption to the game outside of the “golden path” should be perma-banned. This act of disruption should be spelled out as abuse in the terms and conditions for the game.

Fallout 76 is SaaS

Even though Fallout 76 is a game, it’s also a Software-as-a-Service product and it should be treated in the same way as any SaaS product. Yet, Bethesda hasn’t the first clue of how to build or operate a SaaS product. That’s crystal clear.

Bethesda’s SDLC seems non-existent. Without any kind of software quality assurance team, there’s no way to ensure the product lives up to any kind of quality standard. Right now, this game is a piss poor attempt by a game studio at a SaaS product. A product that is on the verge of being a spectacular failure. I might even argue, it’s already reached the failure point.

Bethesda, you have a hard choice to make. If you continue to chase the abusers at the cost of fixing the REAL problems with this game, your game WILL DIE. The choice you need to make is whether to stay on this insane path of chasing abuse bugs or stop this insanity and begin fixing the real reliability and stability problems with this game. Such real problems include severe frame rate drops, enemies can spawn in unkillable states, invisibility problems (enemies and players alike), the problem with quests that can’t be completed, the problem where Legendary enemies drop without any loot at all.

Game Economy and Systems Design

Bethesda continually argues that the abusers caused disruption to the economy in the game. What economy? There is none. If you call vendors with 200 caps an economy, that’s not an economy. An economy is players buying, selling and trading with one another. You know, the whole reason you designed the game with 24 players in each “World”. Yet, when players actually tried to create an economy, you shut them down with patches and then released many of the rare items to the vendors to make them “less rare”.

Part of the reason items were rare was entirely due to incidence of spawn rates. Spawn rates, I might add, that you designed into the game intentionally. Spawn rates intended to force players to hunt for stuff. Yet now you’re all butthurt over the fact that players actually created an economy around this.

What exactly are you wanting the players to do in this game then? Aren’t the players supposed to “rebuild” the wasteland? Setting up trading shops and whatnot is exactly what players would do in a world like this. In fact, in the ruthless wild-west of the wasteland, players would likewise be ruthless in obtaining anything and everything they could. That players used duplication exploits comes with the ruthlessness of wasteland territory. The problem with the duplication exploit isn’t the duplication. It’s the disruption it causes to other player’s games. That’s the abuse vector. That’s the reason to ban-hammer the player. The server disruption is the abuse, not the duplication.

Still, you should have been warning players all along the way when their weight got too high. That you didn’t have anything in place to monitor this part of the game is a design miss. A miss that wouldn’t have been missed if you had had a proper Systems Engineer reviewing the design all along the way. Yet, you chose to rush the game to market unfinished and now you have to redesign it along the way… a redesign that is causing player unrest and player abandonment.

Patch Upsides vs Downsides

The last several patches have been attempts at thwarting the abusers by fixing the exploit vectors at the cost of not fixing long standing disrupting bugs… bugs that have existed since the game’s release (i.e., getting stuck in power armor, unkillable enemies, invisible enemies, loading screen problems, etc). This strategy has been to the entire detriment of the Fallout 76 gaming community. Not only have you alienated so many users from the game, you continue to alienate more and more with each new patch.

If you’re planning on releasing a patch, you need to focus on the upsides of patching. You know, like fixing bugs that players NEED to have fixed… like frame rate issues, like audio glitching, like server lags, like a bigger stash, like improved features. Sure, you can throw in fixes like nerfing the Two Shot and Explosive weapons, but you also need to offset these heavily negative gaming experiences by adding positive new things to the game to entice gamers back… like adding new weapons to the game to take the place of those heavily nerfed Two Shot Explosive weapons.

There’s no reason for gamers to play Fallout 76 if the Legendary dropped loot is now no better than standard dropped loot. Focusing entirely on downside patches isn’t going to win you new players. It’s simply a quick way to the death of Fallout 76… as if the game needed any more help in this department.

Overall

Bethesda, you need to rethink your strategy for Fallout 76 and future MMO endeavors. The current strategy you are taking to address the issues in this game will not bring more players to this game. In fact, you’re likely to turn this game into a wasteland with only a handful of players ever playing.

If you stay on this path, I predict that you will end up shutting down your servers for this game by the end of 2019. Gamers won’t continue to play in an environment where the loot is not worth their time.

And what the hell? Serum recipes cost 19,000+ caps? Considering you can only hold 24,000 caps in the game, this is insane. Even 6,000 caps would be excessive.

Bethesda, figure it out quick or the game ends.

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Game Review: Fallout 76

Posted in reviews, video game, video game design by commorancy on November 26, 2018

11-24-2018_6-24-33_AM-r2dy5mq3Fallout 76 has arrived and its entirely a disaster. There is not much to like within Fallout 76, but there’s tons to dislike. I was personally hoping for a bit more than what I got in the game. However, because it’s still an early release, it could get better. Unfortunately, some of it is an outright fail. This one is quite long, so grab a beverage of your choice and let’s explore.

Updated as of 12/25/2018

DO NOT BUY THIS GAME! It will cause you more headaches than fun. It’s a pointless exercise that doesn’t in any way lead to fun or enjoyment. Worse, you’ll run into so many bugs that you’ll end up dealing with these more often than actually playing the game. You can read the rest of the review below, but be warned that this game is actually the absolute worst Fallout game that has ever existed. Todd should be ashamed.

Fallout 76 Map

Let’s get this review started with the Fallout 76 Map:

Fallout76-Map
I’ve not yet explored all of the places on this map, but above is what I’ve explored so far. You can click the image to see a larger map. So, yes, there’s plenty to explore in West Virginia. With that said, let’s get into the nitty gritty of what’s good and what’s bad, what’s beautiful and what’s ugly about Fallout 76. And believe me, there’s plenty to talk about.

Contents

This review has the following sections:

The Good
🔥 The Fail
💋 The Beautiful
🛑 The Butt Ugly
🚌 Missed Opportunities
👎 Overall (or TL;DR)
💯 Score


The Good

11-24-2018_1-30-30_AM-ye254zpmFallout 76 looks and feels like an extension of Fallout 4 with the exception of the multiplayer aspect. When wandering around the wasteland, it looks and feels very much like Boston in Fallout 4. Obviously, the landscape and terrain are different, but the structures and decay and rusting vehicles seems the same. A little too much the same, in fact. Even the enemies are the same including Supermutants and their mutant hounds, rad roaches, ticks, feral ghouls, Eyebots, Protectrons and many more. So, kudos to Bethesda for getting this part the same.

Photomode

There is a photomode in this game. The photomode does perform well, but unlike Ubisoft’s Assassin’s Creed Origins photomode which, even though the game didn’t run at 4K on the Xbox One S, it did take 4K images… where Fallout 76 firmly takes only 1080p images. I was hoping for the higher res snapshots like Ubisoft’s Origins supported on the Xbox One S. Nope.11-24-2018_6-24-33_AM-gqvzwvoq

The exterior lighting and shadows looks reasonably good, but it all depends on the model. Some models, like the tractor above, look fairly good. However, some texture maps used on the sides of buildings are very low res like this Nuka Cola sign.

Particle physics in this game, particularly smoke, looks fake and flat and cartoony… nothing like smoke. For example, these smoke stacks look bad, particularly when animated:

11-24-2018_1-30-35_AM-3pb3yi3d

Photomode’s depth of field only offers far depth of field, not near. Basically, you can’t focus it to offer both near and far depth of field like an actual camera lens works. Instead, everything in the foreground is always perfectly clear, but the background is blurry. I’d also say that the Bokeh doesn’t work that well in photomode.

Photomode also supports additional filters and frames to create unique images. As you play and discover locations, you’ll get additional photomode frames and other photomode add-ons. With these frames and filters, you can produce images that look like these:

 

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Personally, the frames and logos are fun enough, but after having used them once, I don’t really want to overuse the frames and effects as it’s like having too much of a good thing.

Loading Times

Here’s another area where the game works quite well. I’ve found no problems with loading times, even after being killed by a gang of ghouls. I have no complaints at all about loading times. Even loading a game after a crash is decently speedy. Though, it would be nice if it didn’t crash in the first place.

Crafting

This process works much the same as any other Fallout. You simply need to find the correct ingredients and have a recipe (or plans) to make the item and you’re set. Sometimes you need to luck into finding the recipe or plan before you can make it. Some basic recipes and plans are given to you from the beginning, but the more advanced ones will need to be found through exploration.

The crafting that you’ll become intimately familiar in this game is cooking. You’ll end up making a lot of boiled water and a lot of meat steaks (to avoid all of the random diseases).


🔥 The Fail

While the look and feel are very much the same as previous Fallout games, the gameplay is a bit off. Some of this is due to the multiplayer aspects, but some of it is due to the way the game has been designed.

Missing NPCs

In all of the time I’ve been playing, I have yet to see a single NPC in this game. Where Elder Scrolls Online and Fallout 4 both had cities teaming with NPCs, Fallout 76 is quite devoid of them. With the exception of Graham and his Brahmin, Chally the Moo-Moo (the wandering Supermutant merchant) and a handful of Mr. Gutsy and Protectron robots, there are no human NPCs to be found in any of the the towns (big or small). Only enemies including mostly ghouls or scorched, but sometimes Supermutants are found. It’s a huge miscalculation for a Bethesda RPG. Perhaps they were trying to save money by not having to hire voice talent? Who knows the real motive here?

Personally, if I had been the manager over this project and this project idea was thrown my way, I would have tossed it back. I would have asked for alternative ideas involving NPCs in the game. It doesn’t need to be a large number of NPCs, but there should have been at least a few here and there, if only wanderers. Without meaningful interactions with NPCs, a game like this is a very difficult sell. The game would need to have chosen some other means of NPC interaction, if not using “ghosts” in the environment or some found technology that lets the player interact with live holograms of dead characters. There’s just nothing like that here.

While there’s no shortage of enemies to fight in Fallout 76, the only conversation you do get to have is with other live players using chat headsets. Even then, it’s simply discussion about problematic game mechanics. Instead, it seems that all quests come to your character by proximity to towns, picking up holo tapes, listening to audio logs, scouring computers, picking up objects or searching recently dead bodies (of which there are plenty to find). There are no one human NPCs here to talk to.

With Elder Scrolls Online, I found that there was random camaraderie between actual players, particularly when you’re trying to complete a dungeon… so you implicitly team up to get the job done. So far in Fallout 76, this behavior hasn’t been true. Partly because there’s so few people playing on any one “World” and partly because everyone seems to want to do their own thing. Yes, I do find the lack of NPCs a bit disturbing in this game’s design and it is probably the single biggest overall failing of Fallout 76 because the main quest falls extremely flat as a result.

Fast Travel and Traveling

With all Fallout games, you pretty much have to hoof it everywhere on foot. I kind of get used to this in Fallout. I was hoping that Fallout 76 would introduce a horse or motorcycle or even a bicycle (these could easily be repaired). This would let you move a little faster over the terrain and get from place to place a bit faster. Nope, nothing here.

Instead, this game relies on location discovery and fast travel, like all previous games. I think it’s about time that the Fallout series added some kind of vehicle besides Power Armor. The difficulty with Fast Travel (like moving your CAMP) is that it costs caps to fast travel. The cost is dependent on how far away from you the location is. If you’re on one side of the map and you want to go to the other, you’ll likely pay 20-30 caps. If it’s the next town over, it might be 1 or 2 caps.

If caps were more plentiful in this game, this wouldn’t even be a fail. However, because caps are so hard to find in this game, using even 1 or 2 caps to fast travel one town over adds up when you do it a lot. It really shouldn’t cost anything to fast travel anywhere because that’s the perk of discovery. Yet, here we are.

There are two places on the map that are free to fast travel and the first is Vault 76 and the other is your CAMP. You’ll want to place your camp somewhere a little south of the middle of the map so you can fast travel to the lower portions of the map easily. Vault 76 fast travel lets you travel to the upper parts of the map easily. Placing your camp a little south lets you easily cover pretty much the whole map without spending a lot of caps. Once you finish with an area, you may not need to visit it, so you can move your CAMP to be more beneficial to the upper level areas. It also means you don’t have to move your CAMP often.

Eating and Diseases

Unfortunately, here’s where Fallout 76 takes a turn for the worse. Even though Fallout 4 did require drinking and eating to recover HP, you only needed to do it when your health became low.

11-26-2018_12-16-12_AM-eomehsb0In Fallout 76, the game designers took this aspect to a whole new Sims-ish level. Now, you have a separate food and water meter from the HP meter. When these begin to drop below an arbitrary threshold, your character is socked with penalties. Sometimes the penalties limit your action points, sometimes it causes you to lose HP. It all depends on how low it is and whether it’s low food or low water or both.

As for diseases, these were in Fallout 4, but they usually appeared as a result of being exposed to certain things. Basically, in Fallout 4 it was rare to contract a disease. In Fallout 76, it’s super easy and it’s compounded by the fact that you have to eat so frequently, which means more chances.

Because of the excessive amount of unnecessary eating and drinking, you’ll spend inordinate amounts of gaming time running around looking for water, food and ingredients… then cooking it so you don’t get ‘diseased’. That is, instead of actually playing, you know, the actual game for its story or combat (i.e., the parts that actually matter), you’re spending at least 30-50% of your time in search of food and water (parts that are trivial and don’t matter). This is way too much time spent on such trivial tasks. And it gets worse. Because food and water weighs so much, you’re forced to carry it around all of the time which limits how much other stuff you can carry. It’s just a pisser at just how much this whole eating, drinking and disease aspect negatively degrades the game experience. Instead of playing the quests, you’re out running around looking for ingredients to create a Disease Cure potion or you’re out looking for Brahmin or Rad roaches or Bloatflies or water to make meals.

And wait, it gets even worse. When you get to a water source, it takes ages (real world time) to dip and collect a single dirty water due to the animation and overall slowness of this process. To collect 20 or 30 of these, you’ll be standing there 3 maybe 4 minutes (maybe more) doing this activity. It also takes 2 Dirty Water containers to create 1 Boiled water along with wood. That means if you pick up 30 dirty water containers, you’ll only get 15 boiled water containers. Unrealistic. You don’t lose 50% of your water to boiling that I recall. Anyway, you’ll also need wood, so you better also pick up a bunch of wood on the way to get to the water source and pick more up on the way back.

Bethesda needs to rethink this part of the game. Everything around eating and drinking is so trivial, banal and unnecessary, yet takes an inordinate amount of time away from the gamer when they could be interacting with story elements or taking part in more important events in the game.

In fact, I’d be much happier playing this game without the constant food, water and disease interruptions. This isn’t a Sims game. It’s an RPG. It doesn’t need to mimic real world survival aspects to that trivial level. At some point you have to ask, “Does this really enhance or degrade the game experience?” If the answer is that it degrades the game experience, then it needs to be taken out… regardless of how much developer time might have been spent on it. Eating, drinking and diseases heavily degrade the gaming experience and, IMO, should be removed. Or, at least calmed the hell down. For example, require that you eat or drink once a day instead of 5-10 times per day. I’d prefer removal of the disease aspect, or at very least calm it down so that we don’t catch diseases nearly as often… and put way more Disease Cure potions in loot stashes or make these crafting materials much easier to find.

There was one stretch of gaming where I spent most of a real world day with “parasites”. Parasites make your food health line drop rapidly. So, the only thing you can do is run around gathering foods and eating or try to locate or create a Disease Cure potion. I finally decided to stop eating food and see if it would go away on its own. It did, but the first thing I accidentally ate after gave me parasites again only to start the whole thing over. I was seriously pissed by that point.

Disease Meter

Like the HP, AP, Water and Food meters, if Bethesda really plans on keeping the disease aspect at this level in Fallout 76, then the devs needs to add a disease meter. The addition of a meter would allow the gamer to see how far they are from catching a disease (whatever it is), but also how long it will be before the disease wears off. Basically, you can use the Disease Cure potion or you can wait it out. With a disease meter, you know exactly how much longer it will be before the disease is gone… and whether it’s worth spending a Cure Disease potion. Some diseases should wear off faster than others. The meter should also display the name of the disease right on the HUD.

Disease Cure Crafting

11-24-2018_6-24-31_AM-3lssgfavI’ll point out that the Disease Cure potion requires four ingredients and access to a cooking fire… so, you should build your CAMP somewhere close to the necessary ingredients and have also built a cooking area.

The ingredients you’ll need for a Disease Cure potion consist of Snaptail Reed, Bloodleaf, Firecap and Water. The difficulty is that all of the ingredients aren’t close together. However, three of them are somewhat close: Bloodleaf, Snaptail Reed and Water can be found along the banks of the river that runs through Flatwoods. The fourth ingredient, Firecap, can be found not far away in the Vault-Tec Agriculture facility just outside Flatwood. It’s in the basement of the building in some soil tables. Unfortunately, it only grows four at a time and it seems rare to find it in there. You’ll need two Firecaps to create one Disease Cure potion. This means that, if all four are present, you can create two potions and then you’ll have to wait for the Firecaps to regenerate (might be hours) or try to find them growing somewhere else. There are other locations for Firecap, but these ingredients are also subject to spoilage. Once you find the ingredients, you better be prepared to drop whatever it is you are doing and go search for Bloodleaf, Snaptail Reed and Water to make some potions before the ingredients spoil. Note that all recipes involving water require Boiled Water. This means you’ll need to boil all your water before trying to create a potion.

Food Spoilage

Here’s another design blunder. When you go pick flowers or kill some rad roaches for their meat, you’ll find that within a few in-game hours, the meat will have spoiled. In your inventory, the item will go from showing its original food name to “spoiled meat” or “spoiled vegetables” or “spoiled biofluid”.

This is a design blunder because food doesn’t spoil that rapidly even in real life. Worse, some items that spoil don’t even spoil in real life, like flowers. You can pick, dry and use flowers for long periods of time. Flowers don’t spoil. Yet, in Fallout 76, they do.

What this means is, if you go pick a bunch of flowers or plants or come across some meat, you’ll need to cook it up quickly into whatever prepared dish you have a recipe for. And, you will have to go find these recipes. Prepared foods tend to hold their longevity longer than raw foods, apparently. However, eventually even these prepared foods will spoil. So, if you find meat, expect cook it and eat it quickly.

If you eat spoiled food, you’re going to get a disease… which means you’re going to be running around looking for ingredients to make the Disease Cure potion rather than playing the quests. Yet another Bethesda FAIL.

Spoilage Meter

If Bethesda wants to keep this food spoilage idea in the game, then they need to add a small spoilage meter next to or below the food item in the inventory. I realize there’s a CND meter in this area that may act as the spoilage meter, but I’d prefer this be relabled to SPL instead of CND if it means spoilage. This meter will show just how long it will be before each food item spoils. This means you can better plan which foods or ingredients to eat or use first. If it’s a ganged up item and there are multiples each with different spoilage times, then either normalize all of the ganged up items to the same spoilage time or represent the item that is the quickest to spoil in the meter and use that item first from the multiples.

Sleeping

11-24-2018_6-24-31_AM-bdti42iwEven sleeping in this game isn’t without peril. So, you think you’re going to grab a few quick ZZZs at some random bed in a house. But, then you hop in and almost immediately you’re diseased. I shake my head at this. The only bed you can trust (maybe) is the bed you build in your C.A.M.P. This may be limited to bedrolls on the ground, but don’t count on that throughout the game.

C.A.M.P.

11-24-2018_1-30-50_AM-wfg3dg31I will say that CAMP isn’t a 100% fail, but it’s close primarily because it’s mostly pointless. The fact that you can carry it around with you and drop it wherever you want is an improvement over stationary settlements in Fallout 4. This portability is not enough to call this idea a full win.

As you exit Vault 76, you’re given a number of supplies to help rebuild the wasteland. One of these is the CAMP device. It is a small camping gadget that you can deploy that lets you build a settlement within a radius of wherever you place it. You can’t place it everywhere, but there are plenty of ground locations that allow placement.

Once you place it somewhere, it becomes very much like the building of a settlement in Fallout 4. Instead of being a fixed location like the settlements, CAMP is portable. While the idea of CAMP is okay, it’s more or less a pointless exercise… other than giving you convenient crafting tables and it adds a free fast travel point to wherever you place it, these are its two primary reasons to exist… and that’s not nearly enough. Because the map is fairly sprawling, this portability only helps a tiny bit in terms of travel.

Here’s where the CAMP idea breaks down (which is why it’s under this FAIL heading). Wherever you first drop your CAMP is free. If you want to move your CAMP to a new location, you’ll have to pay caps to do this. If you want to move it a second time, it’s going to cost you progressively more caps each time. To move your CAMP, you’re going to pay caps. Why, Bethesda, why? You encouraged us to move our CAMP frequently, yet you’re going to take more and more hard-to-find caps each time? FAIL!

Even though the portability aspect of CAMP is a fail, setting up a camp lets you build crafting tables and this is much needed because of the food and water problem. In this game there are 6 crafting table types: Cooking, Armor, Weapons, Tinkerer, Power Armor and Chemistry tables. When you build a camp, you need to build at least one of these tables so you can easily and quickly scrap the junk you find into components. You’ll need the component parts to craft new items and mods and to reduce your junk weight. However, I’d recommend building the full complement of crafting tables so you can easily do everything in one place. You will need to look for plans for some of them.

I’d even recommend putting the crafting tables all inside of the structure you build so that the structure is easily portable. The only thing you can’t build inside is a water well. But, you will want a water well so you can easily get to a water source and create boiled water… which critical in this game.

Caps, Stimpaks, Disease Cure, etc

Here’s another place where Fallout 76 has lost it. Caps (and certain crafting resources) are extremely hard to come by. While there are some sellers where you can sell whatever you happen to find, they’ll only give you 1 or 2 caps no matter what the item is. I’d recommend doing this with random junk you happen to find around the seller. Unfortunately, many other players have caught on to this idea. Because these robots only carry like 200-300 caps, you can quickly drain them of caps. I’ll talk about the multiplayer aspect of this problem below. The good thing is that they’ll buy practically anything. The bad thing is that you’ll only get 1-2 caps for nearly everything including Stimpaks, which are equally as hard to find as caps. It means you need to run around locating tons of junk to sell to these dealers before you can drain their caps.

Bugs, Glitches, Bugs and even more Bugs

11-24-2018_6-44-06_AM-r1nxyocxThis game is chock full of bugs. From the bugs that crash the entire game client to bugs that kick you out of the server to quest bugs that prevent you from finishing the quest to floating rocks to flashing textures on robots to event bugs that prevent the event from working to bugs that prevent you from even playing the game at all. They’re all here.

Here’s a sample of texture glitching:


I can’t imagine that this is a fully ready game. For me, it’s still feels very much like a beta version. In fact, it feels very much like Elder Scrolls Online when it was first released. ESO was bug city. Well, Fallout 76 feels very much this same way. Certainly, there are odd cosmetic problems like floating rocks and invisible structures.

11-24-2018_1-30-32_AM-hsg2w0qeHowever, some people have experienced showstopper bugs related to the Power Armor that prevent them from doing anything in the game. Basically, they can’t exit the power armor, they can’t use the power armor and they can’t do anything else including play the game. Bethesda has what they think is a workaround, but apparently it doesn’t always work. Why is it that every game seems to have floating rocks?

Bethesda has a lot of work ahead of them to get this game to a better usability. The first thing I would do is fix the major bugs followed by majorly reducing the eating and disease problems. The latter problems only serve to heavily detract from the game and prevent the gamer from making story progress. That’s a fail any way you slice it.

Inventory, Carry Weight and Photo Gallery

Carry Weight is a problem in every Bethesda game. You’re always given a pittance allotment of weight that you can carry starting at around 120-150. This problem is actually compounded by bad design in Fallout 76. By level 15, I’m able to carry 190… which is not more than what the game gives you from the start. Granted, I haven’t used all of my perks to level up Strength, so I can’t tell you how high it would be if I had done this. I wanted a good mix of perks on my character… particularly the Lead Belly perk, which avoids much of the radiation problems in the game. However, even though I have worked to get Lead Belly to level 3 (maxed out), I found that this perk is limited by the disease factor. Meaning, even though you take no radiation damage by eating food, you can’t willy nilly eat random food because you can still get a disease. You must cook it all first. If there was a perk that made you 100% disease resistant, I’d most certainly level that one up too.

The photo gallery is limited to 50 pictures, way too few. When you fill it up, you have to stop whatever it is you’re doing and spend time jumping into the Photo Gallery area to delete some. It’s such a pain in the butt and so unnecessary. In reality, don’t even save them into an in-game gallery. Use the Xbox captures area, tag them there and use them in-game from there. Problem solved as the Xbox Gallery is limited only by system storage.

Multiplayer

Personally, I’d call multiplayer in this game mostly a fail which is ironic considering Fallout 76’s claim to fame is its multiplayer aspects. Some of this is because of the game design and some of it’s because of the players. Together, the multiplayer part of this game doesn’t work well and it’s actually worse than the multiplayer in Elder Scrolls Online.

Resource Collecting

The first problem is with collecting resources. Because resources are finite (and some are exceedingly scarce), any player who comes along before you and takes the resources means it won’t be there when you get there. If you need Firecaps and there are only two in the building and another player swept through the location 5 minutes before you, nothing will be there for you to find. This makes playing this game unnecessarily challenging.

 

Resources should remain independent in each player’s game. This means if I enter a building looking for Firecaps, they should always be there in my game and they should be there in everyone else’s game. These resources should be unique and independent of the multiplayer part. I don’t want to have to wait in-game hours for something to respawn simply because another player swept through and took it. That’s entirely a waste of my time. For this reason, I deem this problem a multiplayer fail.

Pacifist Mode

The second problem is with Pacifist mode. While I cannot accidentally hurt another player with this mode set to on, another player can come and kill my player. No! Yet another fail. Like Grand Theft Auto, pacifist mode should disable not only my ability to hurt other players, it should disable their ability to hurt me. If I want to quest the wasteland without fear of being killed by another player, that should be my choice. There are already enough enemies in this landscape without having to watch my butt around other players… particularly when a Level 63 player comes after my Level 15 player. No. Just. No.

Microphone Chat

Here’s a third problem. Because Microsoft makes it so difficult to locate a cheap compatible microphone + headset to use on the Xbox One, I find very few people using them when playing Fallout 76 on the Xbox One. Instead, people rely on emotes to convey limited information. While the emotes are fun and all, I don’t know why people can’t go get a cheap $9.99 set of Heydey compatible earbuds at Target so they can chat with other players. Even these $4.99 Heydey earbuds with mic might work. If not, Target’s return policy works well, so you can always return them.

Also, when you’re in first person view, you cannot see if your microphone is working. When in third person, there’s a small speaker icon that appears over the head of the player speaking, even yourself. If you’re in first person, this icon does not appear on the HUD.

Settlements and Workshops

11-24-2018_1-30-29_AM-2fnvsquwHere’s the fourth problem. This is a two problems in one, actually. In Fallout 4, settlements were designed to offer refuge and safety for NPCs whom you recruit to the settlement. Unfortunately, because this game seems entirely devoid of NPCs, there’s no one to recruit into your CAMP. Thus, the point in the having a camp in Fallout 76 is lost on Bethesda. Other than having a fast travelable location on the map and a convenient location to craft, there’s really no other reason to have a CAMP. You can invite other players into the camp, but other than interacting with the crafting tables and the ‘My Stash’ boxes, there’s little reason to visit someone else’s camp. It’s not like you could create a Ghoul infested building with full quests attached.

The second half of this problem is when taking over found workshops. In Fallout 4, when you find a workshop, you can establish a settlement there. In Fallout 76, again this is lost on Bethesda and there’s no reason or incentive to claim them. Because there are no NPC’s in the game, the only reason to claim a workshop is to start a multiplayer PvP war. What’s the point in that? Deathmatch went out with Halo 3. Trying to revive this play style in Fallout is, well, antiquated. Can’t we think up better ways to get players to team up in multiplayer mode?

If you do decide to take over a workshop, you’re expected to “fix it up” with your own caps and your own resources. When you do find an unowned workshop, they’re so run down, you’ll have to deplete nearly all of your resources not only fixing the place, but adding defenses. The game also only gives you about 15 minutes to fix it up fully and place defenses. There’s just no way to not only fix up the entire place, but build that amount of defenses in 15 minutes, Bethesda. Bah… FAIL!

Worse, even if you do manage to set up defenses and fix up the workshop, you’ll lose it all after you sign out of the game. Yep, your resources and caps… gone forever. So then, what’s the incentive here? If I’m going to spend nearly my entire inventory I’ve collected over many days in one location and then lose it in a few hours later, why? Why would I ever do that? No, if I’m going to claim a workshop, I better be able to own it for as long as I want or until some other faction of players takes it away from me. Let ownership rule so long as the player signs in at least once every 30 days. If the player fails to sign in for 30 days, then the workshop reverts to unowned.

Considering how unstable the Xbox One client is and how often it randomly crashes, there’s no way I’d ever consider investing in building and defending a workshop. Until Bethesda can get the bugs ironed out of the game clients, there’s no incentive for me to even consider attempting to own a workshop. Why bother with it anyway? It’s not like you can invite settlers into it to help man and defend it.

Also, why not let groups own a workshop together? If a group of folks get together and spends their resources to fix up the place, then it should be jointly owned. This means that even if the first person to establish ownership disappears, the property should revert to the next owner in the group list until there are no more people listed who can own it. A single day’s ownership is worthless. Perpetual ownership until the player or team forfeits the property or it is taken over by a new faction is the way to handle these workshops.

Not only does perpetual ownership encourage owning and fixing up a workshop, it encourages group ownership to prevent the workshop from being lost if a player suddenly disappears. Yet, that’s where we are today. If the first owner disappears and logs out, the property becomes unowned. Bethesda has a lot of redevelopment ahead. Yet another fail.

Worst case, do it like Cyrodiil’s campaigns. Let people own workshops for 30 or 45 days. At the end of the campaign, all ownerships are revoked and people will have to reclaim their workshop if they want it for the next campaign round. Owning a workshop for 24 hours only? This is stupid.

Power Armor

NukaColaPA-fThe fifth problem is the power armor. Not only are there bugs around using this armor, some of these bugs are show stoppers. Besides the bugs, the armor is just not that useful in this game. It does add a small amount of extra carrying power, but at the price of carrying around a 10 weight power armor suit + the weight of each armor suit piece in your inventory until you need it. It’s not like we’re given a ton of extra carrying capacity to begin with, but this? Really?

If we’re trying to be realistic with the survival eating and drinking, how is it then possible to carry an entire suit of power armor on your person? This is why it’s a fail. You shouldn’t be able to carry around power armor at all. You’re either in it or you’re out of it. If you want to use it, like Fallout 4, you have to go get it having parked it at a Power Armor crafting station. Carrying it around with you is as stupid as the horse that appears and disappears in Elder Scrolls Online. It’s a stupidly unrealistic addition that makes as much sense in Fallout 76 as eating and drinking every few minutes.

Additionally, the Power Armor has no light without a helmet. If you’re in it and press the light button, nothing happens. No light. At first I thought it was that there was no armor on the suit, but no. It’s a bug with the armor when there is no helmet. Even if you do have a helmet, the light is so basic and dim, the room is still dark even with the light. You do better by using the Pip Boy as a light. The best power armor light is actually the Raider power armor. Basically, the usefulness of wearing power armor comes down to carrying a bit more so you can stop being over-encumbered which allows you to fast travel. That’s the only reason to carry around an extra 10 weight of junk in the inventory. The power armor suit is only moderately better in combat, but is not that effective. In fact, many creatures can seemingly overcome the power armor’s armor and reduce your HP just as fast as wearing no armor.

The secondary trouble I’ve found with wearing power armor is that this seems to be an implicit deathmatch challenge signal to other players. If you’re in power armor, they seem to come after you and kill you… moreso than if you’re not wearing it. I’m not sure what’s going on here, but there seems to be some kind of unwritten rule that wearing power armor = “come kill me”. I don’t like this and so I rarely wear power armor because 1) I don’t want to trip the get stuck bug and 2) I don’t want to constantly fight other players. So, I rarely wear Power Armor so I can mostly quest in peace (such that questing is in this game).

Missing Elements

The final problem is what’s not here. In ESO, there was a Risk based board game scenario where factions could challenge each other by taking over each other’s territory. While I didn’t agree with the ESO implementation of PvP in Cyrodiil, it at least encouraged people to work towards maintaining their castles. Unfortunately, it had the side effect of spending each person’s money and resources to fix up the castles during and after battle. I’d have preferred if the castles could have made their own money and their own resources that could be used against rebuilding rather than forcing the player to dip into their own inventory.

Unfortunately, Fallout 76 has no such PvP element at all… at least that I’ve found. Granted, I haven’t explored the entire map yet. So, there might be other “different” PvP areas I’ve yet to uncover. I doubt it, though.


💋 The Beautiful

This section is devoted to what parts I liked most about Fallout 76. First and foremost, the landscape and the daytime lighting quality is amazing, particularly dawn and dusk. The sun ray aspect is probably the best part of this game and it’s done amazingly well… I’d say that it’s much better than the sun’s rays in Ubisoft’s Assassin’s Creed Odyssey. Let’s take a look at some of these images. They’re just stunning against the apocalyptic ruins. Here’s a quick slideshow of some of these:

 

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Unfortunately, the night lighting isn’t quite so spectacular, but it still provides some stunning visuals nonetheless:

 

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With that said, I’m also equally disappointed with the far too many of the low res 3D models and the low res image textures within the game. I know this is supposed to be the Beautiful section, but I have to cover both sides, like I did under the Fails area. Let’s look at a few of the problems with this game’s models and textures:

 

The above images illustrate how badly the texture mapping can go wrong in this game. In fact, even the tree leaves and ground plants are pretty much flat planes. When you get close to an object, the reality and illusion of it breaks down rapidly. For example, the white flowers above show the edges of the texture map when illuminated by the Pip Boy. You can’t see the lines in the thumbnail, but if you look at this image full size and zoom in a little, you can see these thin edge lines. It’s very prominent when playing the game.

This lack of resolution even includes the character models themselves. Up close and personal on the characters, you’ll see the squared off edges of arms and legs of the character model rather than being smoothed out. I understand why they don’t include 3D model smoothing in games as it takes more CPU power. I’m hoping that this will be available on the PS5 and Xbox Next. 3D model edge smoothing would help the character models look far more realistic.

Pip Boy

11-25-2018_11-32-23_PM-n5eaph0cThe Pip Boy, while not much different than Fallout 4, performs its function quite well here. I will say that the 3D model could do with a bit of work, particularly the orange lit button that seems too low res. I’d also prefer to have the map in the Pip Boy rather than having to pop into a separate screen. It made it so much more handy to get to and fast travel via the map when using the Pip Boy. It was also much more immersive than having a separate and pretty colored map. It’s fine if they want to keep the nice pretty colored map, but having a map in the Pip Boy prevents the need of getting out of the Pip Boy to move move to a different screen. It’s all about time savings and this change would help a lot.

Here’s a little trick you can do with the Pip Boy that maybe you didn’t know. You can use the right stick and move the Pip Boy around, like so to get a better look at it:

If you really dislike using the Pip-Boy, there are two alternatives: 1) Hop into Power Armor. It has its own separate heads-up display. 2) If you don’t have Power Armor handy, you can press and hold the two squares (left button below the Xbox button) until it changes. It will give you a HUD that looks like so:

11-26-2018_12-16-12_AM-eomehsb0

This HUD performs all of the same functionality as the Pip Boy using a different color and without the distraction of it. To switch back, press and hold the two-square button again and the Pip Boy will return. Personally, I prefer the Pip Boy, but I’d like to change the screen color from green to something else. I remember you could do that in earlier Fallout games.


🛑 The Butt Ugly

Daytime and Nighttime

Day and night in this game is weird. It seems that daytime blows by quickly, yet night seems to drone on forever. It could be that there are more nighttime hours than there are daytime hours in the game. This is, frankly, unwanted. I’d prefer to choose day or night and let it stay that way until I change it. Since the clock is mostly unnecessary, each player should be able to choose the time of day setting they would prefer (day, night, dawn or dusk). Let the clock roll by, but let me keep my visuals on daytime. Rainstorms and Radiation storms can still roll through, but let my game remain on my visual choice.

Enemies and Levels

Simultaneously, enemies are both weak and strong at the same time. For example, I’ve run into level 1 Molerats that take at least two shots to kill and my character is level 15. How is that possible? One shot should kill a level 1 molerat. I’ve also run into level 33 enemies who I’ve been able to kill in 5-6 shots. The level system is broken. I shouldn’t even be able to come close to killing a level 33 enemy at level 15… or at least, it should take so many shots that I’d run out of bullets before I finished.

Aiming, Misfires and Collision Detection

This game has some of the worst collision detection I’ve seen in a game of this caliber. When the enemy is up close making hits on me, I can’t even seem to make a point blank shot with a gun… and believe me, I’ve tried. I know that the bullets should be connecting, but the game doesn’t register it. Not only have you lost the ammo, but you’ve wasted health points because the enemy is hitting you. Even worse is that some enemies constantly move around you. If you’re trying to shoot them, they’ll intentionally run behind you… even animals. This AI behavior is stupid and it means you’ll be constantly fumbling to locate them somewhere in your camera view. Combat is already difficult enough without having to constantly swivel to find them

On the flip side, I’ve used my .44 Somerset Special sniper pistol and hit enemies at a distance in the head when I know my aim was way off. I don’t understand this discrepancy in how weapons work here. This problem is even true of even shotguns which are known to have a wide dispersal pattern. Meaning, if there is a ghoul inches from you in Fallout 76, the chance of actually making a hit is very low unless you have exactly perfect aim… when, in fact, the dispersal pattern of an actual shotgun at that range would decimate an enemy as long as it’s aimed in the general direction. Still, in this game when enemies are up close, there’s an unnecessarily high chance of missing. When they’re far away, somehow you can connect shots even when you’re aiming in the ‘general direction’. This is very, very ugly for a shooter.

Instead, up close shooting should be much more accurate than distance shooting. Bethesda’s devs somehow got this one backwards in Fallout 76.

Inventory Storage Maximums

The inventory system on this game is what you’d expect, only worse. Unfortunately, Bethesda keeps adding stupid after stupid into these games. The weights you can carry are way too low for what’s needed to actually play this game. This poorly conceived idea compounds to make a bad situation worse. Once you fill your character’s personal inventory and your stash inventory, you have no other place to store anything. You are forced to drop stuff. You have no choice.

In previous single player games like Skyrim and Fallout 4, you could always store excess stuff in chests or drawers or practically anywhere and go get it whenever you need it. You can’t do that here. Once you’ve filled up your inventory, you’re screwed and there’s nothing you can do about it. As you can see from this video, the way the Stash Box is implemented simply doesn’t work…

Sweep System

Why can’t you drop stuff? This game is constantly sweeping dropped items. The sweep system is so bad and so aggressive that it will sweep away even recently killed enemies before walking over to them to get their loot. It’s particularly bad if you’re a sniper. If you snipe your prey from a distance, don’t expect anything to be there when you arrive. I’ve had so much kill loot stolen from me by the sweep system, I should have stopped playing then. But, I kept toughing it out hoping it would get better. It doesn’t.

This is the fundamental blocker that has made me stop playing. Being over-encumbered is a problem, but nothing’s worse than not being able to drop your stuff off easily and remove that problem or potentially lose it after a character death because of the dropped loot.

Note that the My Stash location holds a maximum weight of 400 … well, actually 399. Once you reach that level, it won’t let you store more. I tire of playing these systems which provide arbitrarily low limits when you really need at least 3 times as much storage space. This is the reason this one falls under The Butt Ugly.

Dropped Loot and Respawning

Upon your character’s eventual death in the wasteland, you will be allowed to respawn. When you do, the map gets a death marker and your character is respawned to the nearest chosen spawn point.

The fail here, and boy is it EVER a fail, is the fact that the game drops loot when you die. What’s the point in this dropping loot? It doesn’t make the game more challenging, it simply makes it a hassle. I absolutely and totally hate this design that’s now being implemented in so many games. Whomever thought that the death marker and dropping your loot upon death was a great idea should be walked to the door after being summarily fired. This is not a design that anyone wants.

Worse, it hangs your loot out to dry whenever you’re out questing. If you’re playing a game that doesn’t allow you to store your items, then maybe it might have a point to exist. Since ALL Bethesda RPGs allow you to store stuff in containers, there’s no point in dropping loot upon death. This just encourages you not to carry loot with you and continually go and drop it off.

The danger with dropped loot is compounded by Bethesda’s absolute crap storage maximums. When you’ve reached the storage maximums of the stash box and of your character, you have to being carrying more stuff with you as you can at least carry over-encumbered. The stash box can’t accept anything else once full.

This means that if actually want to go out questing, you have to carry a shit ton of stuff with you that could potentially be lost under bug conditions (as I’ve described above). It means your loot is being hung out to dry every time you go out questing.

I really don’t want to have to fight with a game’s systems over playing the quests. This game is already cumbersome enough to when attempting to apply stimpaks or change weapons while in battle. Having to fight with stupid bugs that lose stash items is just insane… which is why I’m done with playing this disaster of a game.

Changing Weapons and VATs

Because this is an online game, there is no such thing as pause. This means that while you’re changing your weapon, the enemy is hammering on you. Same for trying to apply Stimpaks or eat food to increase HP. Basically, it’s almost impossible to change weapons, eat food or apply medicine when you’re in combat. In the standalone games, the game pauses while you go into the Pip Boy. It doesn’t work that way here.

Yes, there is a weapon wheel, but it’s just as cumbersome to use as going into the Pip Boy. Because there’s like 15 slots, trying to target just one of the slots perfectly is a challenge, particularly when you’re trying to battle fast moving Ghouls. This part is really trying and needs a drastic redesign by Bethesda. It needs not only a simpler system to get to the most used weapons, it needs a faster way to get to them without blocking the screen. While this is a fail, it’s incredibly butt ugly.

CAMPs randomly disappear

While I believe this to be a current bug which may get resolved in a later version, I have found my CAMP has disappeared twice in the time I’ve been playing. The first time I’d built hillside camp with stilts. It was designed specifically for that hillside. After my camp disappeared, I quickly realized that I wouldn’t be able to build custom designed hillside hideouts as it’s almost impossible to locate that exact terrain to place the hideout in the same position.

Instead, I’ve opted to create a small cabin that can sit on practically any terrain. It means that it’s easily portable and can be dropped almost anywhere that’s reasonably flat. This helped because my CAMP disappeared a second time and I had to relocate it. Having this small self-contained shack made it easy to rebuild. I’m sure it will disappear again. When your CAMP disappears, the game doesn’t charge you to place it down again. It’s not considered ‘moving’ the CAMP, so there’s no fee involved.

However, the hassle of having to move CAMP around and the fact that it disappears is a highly ugly experience overall. Bethesda is aware that CAMPs are disappearing, but they’ve done nothing yet to solve the problem. Perhaps they can solve this in a later update.

The benefit is that if you want to move your CAMP and you don’t want to pay, this bug would let you move your CAMP somewhere else for free. You just have to wait for the bug to be triggered and have your CAMP disappear from the map.

Game Worlds

Finally, I should mention a miscalculated design decision that Bethesda engineers made for Fallout 76 that has contributed to the failure of this game. When you log into the Fallout 76 world, you are placed onto a individual server. It seems Bethesda’s engineering team made a fateful decision to limit each “World” to a maximum of 24 player slots. It also seems that a “World” is technically a server located in some datacenter. While I understand the need to help scale a game may involve using many servers, it seems the engineers decided to limit the number of players on each server to improve the gaming experience, but at the same time, this design choice limits multiplayer interactions.

This design decision has only served to make the game seem smaller than it is. There are times when I’ve been in some “Worlds” where there might be 4 or 5 other people online. Basically, the server is empty and thus, the game seems empty.

This is butt ugly because it causes two problems. The first problem is that in a game that should be teaming with multiplayer folks, you might only see and interact with only a handful of other players ever. You also don’t know how many people are on other “World” servers in total or whether a friend is on another server. Secondarily, this server boundary problem serves to make it impossible at times to put teams together. There was a time when one person on my team couldn’t get back onto the “World” server because it was full with 24 people. We all had to interrupt our gameplay, drop off of that world server, team up at the main menu, then reload the game by following one of the team into a new “World” server. A tedious hassle, at best. Any situations like these that serve to interrupt playing the game are not only a fail, but an extremely bad design decision. The game should seamlessly handle these issues without any interactions on the part of the player.

The engineers should have also designed the “World” system to allow cross play between “World” servers so that seeing people on the other servers is a seamless experience. This would drastically improve the game showing a teaming world of multiplayers rather than seeing no more than 24 people online. In a game where it is entirely devoid of NPCs, limiting the “World” servers to 24 people only serves to make the game seem even more barren and lifeless. Vault 76 then becomes less about hope of repopulation and more about the deaths of the Vault 76’s dwellers.

Vault 76 and Reclamation Day

I don’t even get the logic of Reclamation day. Unless the vault was running out of provisions to support its inhabitants (possible, but not explained), opening the door to let everyone out was a bad Overseer decision. It would have been better to send out a small scouting party to determine the situation “outside”, then report back. That’s the only logical thing to do before opening the door for everyone. If the scouting party didn’t report in at all or reported in unfavorably, then why open the door? I’m not sure what the Overseer was thinking by opening Vault 76 at that moment in time. Clearly, it was a bad decision as pointed out via the multitudes of holo tapes and the clear world devastation that the Vault 76 inhabitants were ill prepared to handle. Why would you intentionally sacrifice the safety of the vault’s inhabitants to such a hostile world? The story starts off badly and doesn’t get any better, unfortunately.


🚌 Missed Opportunities

With the introduction of Fallout 76, I was expecting a whole lot more to this game, particularly the multiplayer portions and settlement building. For example, with the idea of settlements and settlers, comes the idea of letting players settle and run businesses in the wasteland. Instead of roaming around the wasteland, they could man businesses and buy and sell merchandise they create or find. If the player wants to explore, a robot could step in and man the store with whatever merchandise is there. When the player wants to man the booth personally, they can step in and do so. This would allow for actual haggling in prices between players.

There’s also the idea of building a community. Letting players group together to create structures for settling and for extended quests. The settlements could even grow into thriving cities. That’s the point of what Vault 76’s opening meant… to rebuild. This means that players can not only build residential and business structures, but also build structures that might contain enemies including containers with loot and various other things. It would also let players create water treatment plants to filter out the radiation, set up farms for cultivating crops, building power systems and rebuilding manufacturing to allow for building of Power Armor, cars, and trucks to bring the modern world back.

Letting the players build extensions to the world to make the world more dynamic should be the plan of any multiplayer world. Of course, when just starting out in a new game, you don’t want low level players taking advantage of the modern conveniences and improvements… yet. So, they should be restricted from seeing and participating in these activities until they have either leveled up sufficiently or completed the main quest.

Yet, here we are. Fallout 76 is just a mere shell of what it could have been.


👎 Overall

As it is now, this game gets a thumbs down from me with a rating of 2 stars out of 10. I classify it as a disaster worse than the nukes that decimated West Virginia in this game. While the daytime wasteland is very pretty to look at, there’s so little to see and do that Fallout 76 really feels mostly incomplete. The lack of NPCs makes the whole game seem barren and lifeless. The quests are average, but it doesn’t really make me think that this game is heading in any direction like Fallout 4. Like Elder Scrolls Online, the whole experience feels hollow and without a point. Instead, it seems like you are asked to chase information about already dead Vault 76 characters via holo tapes and computer logs. You never seem to run into any other actual NPC characters from Vault 76 other than multiplayer characters whom are “just there”, but don’t play a part in the narrative.

Fallout 4 did at least have a cohesive story to tell. Fallout 76 feels like a pale imitation of Fallout 4, but doesn’t have the meat or the core.

What’s left then is the main quest line and so far that’s simply chasing holo tape after holo tape or logging into a computer to read notes on a computer screen… and you don’t even need to read them to get quest credit. These audio logs and computer screen entries are, well, uninteresting. Other than the enemies you have to kill to find or get to these quest items, the rest are mostly boring exercises with nothing to engage the gamer into wanting to progress.

This is all made worse by the fact that the game is chock full of bugs and glitches. The overly unnecessary eating, drinking and getting diseases simply interrupts and detracts from questing. The lack of a well designed PvP system, including the poorly designed unowned workshop system, simply makes everything seem pointless. The game’s entire reason to exist is for poignant multiplayer PvP, but then fails to even deliver on that. The biggest event to tackle is killing a Scorchbeast, but even the fun of that deflates once you’ve done it and all you receive at the end is basically nothing or some Scorchbeast meat, you really begin to sense just how hollow and tedious this game really is.

The primary thing I’ve found to hold my interest is scavenging. Even then, that’s actually limited because you find the same things over and over in each container. So then it becomes about dismantling these into component parts for crafting mods and such. Basically, scavenging becomes repetitive fairly quickly. This situation is then made worse by the extremely limited inventory storage amount that you’re given, into which you can store these component items. Once your storage space fills up, the game is pretty much over. There’s really no point in playing once you’re constantly over-encumbered.

What I recommend is the following. Wait 6 months to purchase this game. After 6 months or more of patching, this game might become more playable and usable. This same problem occurred with Elder Scrolls Online. Only time will tell. As it is now, unless you like playing these simplistic and poorly designed thin multiplayer games, you should steer clear and try playing this one 6 months from now, at the earliest. It’s definitely worth giving Fallout 76’s developers plenty of time to attempt to right this listing ship and improve the play value of this game in the process.

I’ve lowered my score from 3.5 to 2 stars because this game is far too much trouble than it’s worth. The problem is with the bugs and glitches. For example, here’s several bugs and glitches in a row that compounded into losing all of my “junk” inventory on my character… none of it was my fault in playing the game poorly and was entirely responsible by poor game design and bugs.

I’m currently at level 27. During combat, game lagged for about 5-10 seconds. It was logn enough for a low level scorched to kill my character. The controls didn’t respond at all during that 5-10 seconds. I couldn’t move or shoot or do anything. My health line before the glitching was at least 75%. The glitching allowed more than that scorched’s fair share of hits on my character (which, of course, I couldn’t see or respond to). After the game unlagged and showed my character dead, I respawned to the same location and within 15 seconds of respawning, the entire game hung and crashed on the Xbox with the signature sound looping. It was not enough time for me to go collect my dropped loot (which I don’t believe in dropped loot in games anyway). I believe this is a stupid tactic that doesn’t belong in any games.

After the game restarted, my dropped loot was gone as was my last death marker. All of my “junk” was lost and I had a lot of stuff on me important to repairing items. Items I couldn’t stash because my stash box is entirely full. At this point, I’ve had it with Fallout 76 and I killed the game. I won’t be playing Fallout 76 anymore and with that, I dropped this score to 2 stars out of 10. It’s a pointless and worthless piece of drek from Bethesda that you’d do best to avoid.

Parental Advice

This game is designed as a multiplayer (MMORPG) game. Because of the continuous multiplayer aspect, there is no way to fully rate what your child might be exposed to or with whom they might come into contact. Basically, use your best judgement if considering this game purchase as a gift for a child. As for the themes in this game, they are mostly adult themes. Children too young may not understand the themes contained in Fallout 76.

Requirements

This game requires an always-on and relatively fast (i.e., broadband) Internet connection to function. If you don’t have always-on Internet, you will not be able to play this game.

Updates to this game usually end up in the range of 30GB to 50GB per update. These updates appear at least every few weeks and may come more frequently as Bethesda attempts to squash bugs during the first few months after release. If your Internet connection is metered and/or you only have a small allotment of data, you might want to steer clear of buying this game. Also, once an update has been released, you cannot play the game until you have fully downloaded and installed the latest update.

Update as of 12/25/2018

One month after the release of this review and nothing has actually improved. In fact, with each new successive release, this game is actually worse. In fact, it’s MUCH, MUCH worse with stupid bugs that shouldn’t even exist. At this point, I’ve dropped this game down to 0 stars out of 10. This is unheard of for me, but there is no other way to deal with such a piss poor game.

Releasing patches is supposed to improve the game. But every patch that they’ve dropped has literally made the game worse. In fact, the devs seem to be imposing restrictions on the use of things and fighting abusers rather than fixing bugs. It seems the devs are chasing the players exploiting bugs.

Instead of chasing abuse problems, the developers should spend their time fixing legitimate show-stopper bugs. Bugs that crash or hang the client. Bugs that prevent playing the game. Bugs that are so severe, it would turn anyone off of actually buying the game. If you’re having problems with abusers, ban them from the game and report them to Xbox Live to have them banned from their Xbox account. Make it known that abuse in the world won’t be tolerated and will be reported to Xbox Live.

The devs need to focus in improving the stability and reliability of the world servers, of the quests and of the game client itself. They don’t seem to be doing this. It seems they are focusing on abusers. Fix the bugs now, worry about the abusers later…

Basically, DON’T BUY THIS GAME. If you’ve bought it for a gift, grab it from under the tree and buy the person something else. This game is so bad, it doesn’t deserve any players. This game needs to fail and go away. Let’s make that happen. Vote with your wallet and skip this one.

💯 Score

Graphics: 7 out of 10
Audio: 8 out of 10
Gameplay: 0 out of 10 (way, way too buggy)
Questing: 2 out of 10
Settling: 3 out of 10 (bugs here)
Workshops: 1 out of 10 (pointless)

Overall: 0 out of 10 (Nothing new to see here, way too many bugs)
Recommendation: DO NOT BUY, EVER!

↩︎

Should I beta test Fallout 76?

Posted in best practices, botch, business, video gaming by commorancy on November 1, 2018

ps4-pro-500-million-dualshock-4-crWhile I know that beta testing for Fallout 76 is already underway, let’s explore what it means to beta test a game and whether or not you should participate.

Fallout 76

Before I get into the nitty gritty details of beta testing, let’s talk about Fallout 76. Fallout 76, like The Elder Scrolls Online before it, is a massively multiplayer online role playing game (MMORPG). Like The Elder Scrolls Online which offered an Elder Scrolls themed universe, Fallout 76 will offer a Fallout themed universe in an online landscape.

How the game ultimately releases is yet to be determine, but a beta test gives you a solid taste of how it will all work. Personally, I didn’t like The Elder Scrolls Online much. While it had the flavor and flair of an Elder Scrolls game entry, the whole thing felt hollow and unconnected to the franchise. It also meant that Bethesda spent some very valuable time building this online game when they could have been building the next installment of the Elder Scrolls.

It is as yet undetermined how these online games play into the canon of The Elder Scrolls or, in Fallout 76’s case, in the Fallout universe. Personally, I see them as offshoots with only a distant connection. For example, The Elder Scrolls Online felt Elder Scrollsy, but without the deep solid connections and stories that go with building that universe. Instead, it was merely a multiplayer playground that felt like The Elder Scrolls in theme, but everything else was just fluff. I’m deeply concerned that we’ll get this same treatment from Fallout 76.

The Problem with Online Games

Online games have, in recent years, gotten a bad rap… and for good reason. The reason that this is so is because the game developers focus on the inclusion of silly things like character emoting and taking selfies. While these are fun little inclusions, they are by no means intrinsic to the fundamental game play of an actual game.

Games should be about the story that unfolds… about why your character is there and how your character is important in that universe. When the game expands to include an online component, now it’s perhaps tens of thousands of people all on the server at the same time. So, how can each of these characters be important to that universe? The answer is, they can’t.

Having many characters all running around doing the “same” things in the universe all being told by the game that they are “the most important thing” to the survival of that universe is just ludicrous.

This leads to the “importance syndrome” which is present in any MMORPG. As a developer, you either acknowledge the importance syndrome and avoid it by producing a shallow multiplayer experience that entirely avoids player importance (i.e., Fortnite, Overwatch, Destiny, etc) or you make everyone important each in their own game (i.e., The Elder Scrolls Online). Basically, the game is either a bunch of people running around doing nothing important at all and simply trying to survive whatever match battles have been set up (boring and repetitive) or the game treats each user as if they are individually important in their own single player game, except there are a bunch of other users online, all doing the same exact thing.

The Elder Scrolls Online fell into the latter camp which made the game weird and disconnected, to say the least. It also made the game feel less like an Elder Scrolls game and more like any cheap and cheesy iPad knockoff game you can download for free… except you’ve paid $60 + DLC + online fees for it.

I’ve played other MMORPG games similar to The Elder Scrolls Online including Defiance. In fact, Defiance played so much like The Elder Scrolls Online, I could swear that Bethesda simply took Defiance’s MMORPG engine and adapted it to The Elder Scrolls Online.

Environments and Users

The secondary problem is how to deal with online users. Both in the Elder Scrolls Online and Defiance, there were areas that included player versus environment (PvE). PvE environments mean that players cannot attack other players. Only NPCs can attack your player or your character can die by the environment (i.e., falling onto spikes). There were also some areas of the online map that were player versus player (PvP). PvP means any online player can attack any other online player in any way they wish.

In The Elder Scrolls Online, the PvP area was Cyrodiil, which was unfortunate for ESO. The PvP made this territory mostly a dead zone for the game. Even though there were a few caves in the area and some exploring you could do, you simply couldn’t go dungeon diving there because as soon as you tried, some player would show up and kill your player. Yes, the NPCs and AI enemies could also show up and kill your player, but so could online players.

The difficulty with Cyrodiil was that if another player killed your player in the PvP area, that player death was treated entirely differently than if they died by the environment. If another player killed your character, you had to respawn at a fort, which would force your character to respawn perhaps half a map away from where you presently were. If your character died by the environment or another NPC, you could respawn in the same location where your character died. This different treatment in handling the character death was frustrating, to say the least.

With Fallout 76, I’m unsure how all of this will work, but it’s likely that Bethesda will adopt a similar strategy from what they learned in building The Elder Scrolls Online. This likely means both PvE areas and PvP area(s). Note that ESO only had one PvP zone, but had many PvE zones. This made questing easier in the PvE zones, but also caused the “importance syndrome”. This syndrome doesn’t exist in single player offline games, but is omnipresent in MMORPGs.

MMORPGs and Characters

The difficulty with MMORPGs is that they’re primarily just clients of a server based environment. The client might be a heavier client that includes handling rendering character and environment graphics, but it is still nonetheless a client. This means that to use an MMORPG, you must log into the server to play. When you login, your character information, bank account, level ups, weapons, armor and so on are kept on the server.

This means that you can’t save off your character information. It also means you can’t mod your game or mod your character through game mods. Online games are strict about how you can change or manage your game and your character. In fact, these systems are so strict that if a new version of the game comes out, you must first download and install the game before they’ll let you back onto the server… unlike standalone games that let you play the game even if networking components are disabled. This means that you cannot play an MMORPG until your client is most current, which could mean 50GB and hours later.

This means that you’ll need an always on Internet connection to play Fallout 76 and you’ll need to be able to handle very large client downloads (even if you own the game disc).

Beta Testing

Many game producers like to offer, particularly if it’s a server based MMORPG, the chance for players to beta test their new game. Most online games allow for this.

However, I refuse to do this for game developers. They have a team they’ve hired to beta test their environments, quests and landscapes. I just don’t see any benefit for my player to get early access to their game environment. Sometimes, characters you build and grow in a beta won’t even carry over into the released game. This means that whatever loot you have found and leveling you may have done may be lost when release day comes. For that early access, the developer will also expect you to submit bug reports. I won’t do that for them. I also don’t want to feel obligated to do so.

Bethesda stands to make millions of dollars off of this game. Yet, they’re asking me to log into their game early, potentially endure huge bugs preventing quest progress, potentially lose my character and all of its progress and also spend time submitting bug reports? Then, spend $60 to buy the game when it arrives? Then, rebuild my character again from scratch?

No, I don’t think so. I’m not about to spend $60 for the privilege of spending my time running into bugs and submitting bug reports for that game. You, the game developer, stand to make millions from this game. So, hire people to beta test it for you. Or, give beta testers free copies of the game in compensation for the work they’re doing for you.

If you’re a gamer thinking of participating in beta testing, you should think twice. Not only are you helping Bethesda to make millions of dollars, you’re not going to see a dime of that money and you’re doing that work for free. In addition, you’re still going to be expected to spend $60 + DLC costs to participate in the final released game. No, I won’t do that. If I’m doing work for you, you should pay me as a contractor. How you pay me for that work is entirely up to you, but the minimum payment should consist of a free copy of the game. You can tie that payment to work efforts if you like.

For example, for each report submitted and verified as a new bug, the beta tester will get $5 in credit towards the cost of the game up to the full price of the game. This encourages beta testers to actually submit useful bug reports (i.e., duplicates or useless reports won’t count). This also means you earn your game as you report valid and useful bugs. It also means that you won’t have to pay for the game if you create enough useful, genuine reports.

Unfortunately, none of these game developers offer such incentive programs and they simply expect gamers to do it “generously” and “out of the kindness of their hearts”. No, I’m not doing that for you for free. Pay me or I’ll wait until the game is released.

Should I Participate in Beta Tests?

As a gamer, this is why you should not participate in beta tests. Just say no to them. If enough gamers say no and fail to participate in beta releases, this will force game developers to encourage gamers to participate with incentive programs such as what I suggest above.

Unfortunately, there are far too many unwitting gamers who are more than willing to see the environment early without thinking through the ramifications of what they are doing. For all of the above reasons, this is why you should NEVER participate (and this is why I do not participate) in any high dollar game beta tests.

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Game Review: Assassin’s Creed Odyssey

Posted in reviews, video game, video game design by commorancy on October 6, 2018

a2b4debe8beb1ac5dee92d4a3774b014Truly, there’s nothing wrong with this game. Nothing, except for the fact that it’s an almost identical functional clone of Assassin’s Creed Origins, chock full of all the same bugs in Origins. I’ll make this one somewhat short and sweet. Let’s Explore.

Assassin’s Creed Origins

Earlier in the year, I wrote a rather lengthy game review of Assassin’s Creed Origins. I had a lot of gripes about Origins. Well, I’m sorry to say that few of my suggestions in that review made it into Odyssey. Most of those design flaws were pulled straight into Odyssey, something I should have expected.

I’m not going to write much on this game because I already had my long-winded say with Origins. Writing it here again would simply be redundant. I’ll suggest heading on over to read Randocity’s Assassin’s Creed Origins game review if you’re curious to find out what things I truly disliked.

Clone

If we thought Origins was a simple money grab, Odyssey most definitely is. Ubisoft basically copied the entire Origins game, created a new character or two, added a few new quests and called it a day. Odyssey is literally just a rethemed Origins with a slightly different locale and storyline. There’s also a bit more sailing involved, but the ship battles still offer a mostly horrible game mechanic. Senu is replaced by Ikaros. It also adds recruiting lieutenants for the ship which is akin to Brotherhood and already been done. You can recruit them all day, but you can’t do anything with them. Though, it’s a good mechanism to use to prevent bodies from being littered all over a fort when you’re trying clear it out in a stealthy way.

Overall, Odyssey feels like a clone designed to make Ubisoft yet more money without doing a lot of work. I was actually afraid of this possibility when I heard that Odyssey was announced so quickly after Origins.

Combat

I take some of what I said back. Odyssey is actually worse than Origins in combat. Now not only do enemies STILL use the stupid backing up tactic, now they climb away from you. I don’t know who thought THAT was a good idea? Enemies who are engaged in combat should STAY engaged in combat WHERE THEY ARE. Finish the battle right there. I don’t want to have to keep chasing them down to fight them somewhere else. Stay put!

Worse, the enemies are even MORE sensitive than in Origins. As soon as even one sees you, the whole camp knows you’re there. That’s just ass. There is no way one single enemy can alert the whole camp without a warning. And since he’s been engaged in combat the whole time, there is no way for him to alert. Sure, you might argue the clanking of swords might alert someone, but in reality, these guys fight test fights anyway. So, that’s not enough alone to alert the whole camp.

Desynchronization Game Loading

This part is just a total clusterf***. When I save a manual game save, if it is the most current save, I expect that game to be loaded after a desync. No, it doesn’t. It loads some random previous autosave instead. This forces me to wait through that autosave to load, then I have to go and load my manual save again. Stupid and time wasting. Ubisoft, get with the program here.

After a battlefield battle, it’s even worse. This is just some shit. If you run off the battlefield, the battle restarts immediately. If you desync, the game forces you to endure the entire restart of the battle including talking to Stentar and going through all of the game choices. OMG. NO effing NO. If you can restart the battle simply by abandoning it, you can let us rejoin without having to go through that long ass restart process.

Battlefield Simulators

Okay, no. This piece is just suck, all the way through. This is Assassin’s Creed. Got it, Ubisoft? It’s about Assassins. It’s not Warrior’s Creed, it’s Assassin’s Creed. Right? Say it with me Ubisoft, “Assassin’s Creed.” If I wanted to play WAR battles, I’d play Battlefield or Call of Duty or any other war simulator. Ubisoft has plainly gone off the deep end. No more battlefield simulators in Assassin’s Creed games, particularly when they are entirely useless (more about that later).

If you want to add this crap in, then at least let the hero act as an assassin and use the assassin moves. At least let my character get away from the battle and work on stealth or long range tactics. No, you can’t. As soon as the battle starts, at least two guards earmark you and there’s no way to get rid of them short of killing them. Even then, that triggers even more guards to come after you. You can’t shake them to hide and perform stealth maneuvers. Again, this is Assassin’s Creed!

Worse, there’s absolutely no warning of this play mechanic until it’s on top of you. Then, it’s too late to go back and bone up on the warrior skills. You have to fail out and then “come back later”. I hate that shit in a game. If you’re going to lead me into a battle simulator, at least give me a warning that shit is coming long before I get there so I can plan my skill-ups and armor accordingly.

Worse, these battlefield simulators are entirely pointless. You can win the war and claim victory for Sparta, then about a day later in the game be required to go do it again. What’s the point in claiming victory over a territory if you have to keep doing it over and over and over? At least warn me the territory is about to fall to the hands of the Athenians and let me go take care of it before it does.

Such absolute crap!

Bosses

I can’t speak for all bosses, but this particular boss is annoying as all hell. This is the Kalydonian Boar. This thing has two attack phases and the second phase is as frustrating as it is unnecessary. Thanks Ubisoft for making such crap bosses. The boar claims to be a level 13, the same as me. Yet, it takes massive numbers of hits to even whittle its health down. It’s not a 13, it’s like a 26. I hate this fake numbering of bosses when they are many, many levels of above you. Truth in labeling, Ubisoft. Tell us what the actual boss’s level is. Don’t sugarcoat it making us think it’s a 13 when it’s actually 26.

As soon as you enter the ring, it runs at you full speed. If you’re lucky, you can miss this attack and start hammering on it. That’s not the issue. As soon as you whittle its health down by about 1/8th, 4 baby boars show up and start goring you, in addition to big boar boss. Swarming is not something I go in for in any game of any type. When swarming is the tactic, I’m out. I also call bullshit on that tactic. It’s just a way to whittle your health down for big daddy boss. To me, this is a bullshit tactic. I’m here to fight the boss boar, not a bunch of annoying baby boar. And, where the hell did they come from anyway? They’re not in the cave and don’t emerge from the cave. They just miraculously spawn onto to the field. Again, I call bullshit. If you’re going to have enemies show up on the field, make the idea at least appear real. Put cages and open them up so we can at least know what’s coming. Just magically making them appear out of thin air is total BS.

The problem I have with the baby boar is that they gored at me so much, they pushed me off the playing field which… stupidly… resets big boss boar’s health, but not mine. I’m still being gored with red health, yet big boss boar has miraculously healed and the whole thing has reset. Yet, baby boar hang around to be a nuisance? Get with the program Ubisoft.

Even though big boss boar won’t leave the playing field, baby boar will and they’ll chase you down even if you leave the ring. Again, I call bullshit on this design.

In fact, there are so many design problems with this boss level I don’t even know where to begin:

  • If you’re going to have a border that resets the whole thing, then mark it clearly with some kind of translucent effect. I need to know when I’m about to leave it and can move back into the field.
  • I also need to be warned with a “return to the battle” timer to avoid resetting the boss.
  • I should be able to kill this thing from the top of a cliff with an arrow. Nope, you are forced to enter the playing field and battle the boss boar strictly with melee weapons. Total bullshit.
  • No baby boar necessary. The level is well hard enough without that extra crap.
  • If you’re going to spawn baby boar, when I leave the area, they need to despawn immediately.
  • Set up the baby boar in the cave and have them come out of there so at least it makes sense where they came from.
  • Truth in labeling. If the boss is level 26, then put that number above its head.

More crap design from Ubisoft. This is kinda becoming a trend, Ubisoft. Might want to work on that.

Wood, Wood Everywhere, But None To Cut

As you wander around this forested landscape in Greece, you’ll notice a lot of wooded areas with so much wood, you might be wondering why you’re limited to “Olive Wood”? This part about games like this one makes me terribly frustrated. Just give me an axe and let me chop trees down. Don’t make me hunt all over the land for tiny “special” spriglets that are difficult to find and even more difficult to see.

Wood can only be obtained through the small mentioned spriglets like so:

Assassin's Creed® Odyssey_20181019111022

Instead of being able to use the ready amount of wood you find everywhere as far as the eye can see, you’re limited to locating these tiny little shrublets and harvesting them. It’s stupid.

The resources needed to upgrade your weapons and armor are wood, leather, metal and various crystals. You find these only in specially marked items on the ground and in war chests. In fact, it takes a ton of wood to make arrows, so you’re almost constantly running out just to keep your arrows stocked. On top of this, upgrading your weapons and armor requires tons of all of the listed resources… particularly Legendary Armor that requires a literal shit ton of it.

Assassin's Creed® Odyssey_20181019105956

I can understand the leather problem to an extent. The wood problem has no explanation at all. With piles of wood sitting around like this, what the hell?

The problem I have with leather in this game is that a steer that should yield the maximum amount of leather for any animal, but instead yields about 3 pieces. A bear which is probably smaller than most steer yields 10-15 pieces. An elk yields about 3 pieces. An elk is easily the size of the steer. These numbers are so artificially low, it’s just frustrating to go out and search for this. Oddly enough, wolves tend to yield the most amount of leather even though they’re dog sized. Go figure.

Ultimately, the resources are so scarce it’s not really even much fun to go chase after them. I easily spend hours running around collecting this stuff when I should be concentrating on making progress in the game’s story. Yet, to progress I need to upgrade my armor which requires these resources. So here I am, spending hours running around the game trying to find stupid little trees.

Then there’s Orichalcum. How many currencies do we need in a game and why? I’m getting a little frustrated with having 10 or more different currencies to buy from various vendors. Can we standardize on a single in-game currency, please?

Chickens

This story is as humorous as it is frustrating. It also sums up all of the things wrong with Odyssey in a nutshell. I had just gotten my behind kicked by some animal or NPC. I was running away to recoup my health. Anyway, my health was on the verge of being out (like one tiny little tick). I made my way into a city and a chicken attacked me. I’d never been attacked by a chicken EVER in Assassin’s Creed of any version. That chicken’s attack desynced my character. I know this was an intentional addition. The game made the chicken attack me because my health was that low.

This game is wrongly opportunistic in this way. I’m sure some developer thought this is extremely funny to add this in, but it isn’t. I wasn’t attacking this chicken nor had I made any motions to attack it. However, I do now. Every time I cross paths with a chicken, it dies. This is something that should be removed from the game as it is entirely unnecessary.

Perfect Vision

NPC characters in the game have perfect vision. I’m not even visible around a corner and NPCs see me and come after me. Again, this is so wrong. NPC vision shouldn’t be that acute. Yet another game design flaw. This is one of those pet peeves about games that truly drives me crazy. Game AI characters should have the ability to “see” about as far as 10 feet in the dark, maximum.

Overall

If you like Origins, you’ll probably like Odyssey. Unfortunately, it doesn’t offer anything substantially different over Origins in combat, exploration or play value. In fact, I haven’t found much that’s majorly different from Origins. The one substantial change I’ve found is that you can play as either Alexios (male) or Kassandra (female). Everything else is pretty much Origins all over again. You can easily fall right into Odyssey as an extension of Origins without batting an eye. The controls are the same, the play value is the same, heck even the lands seem the same.

The graphics are still very pretty and the landscape is amazing to behold, but I got jaded by that with Origins. What I see in Odyssey seems just the same as Origins. In fact, I thought that in some ways, the Bayek character and his armor looked better than Alexios and his armor. It’s almost like the Alexios character was rushed or something.

It’s also nice not to hear the same NPC banter constantly being spoken over and over and over. So, that’s a nice change in Odyssey. It makes the play experience quite a bit less annoying, but you can avoid that in Origins simply by turning the voices off.

Because all of the same things about Origins that I disliked went directly into Odyssey (sans the NPC sayings), I’m giving this game the same review I gave to Origins. You’ll want to read Randocity’s Origins review to find out all of those nitty-gritty details. So, head on over to the Origins review right after this one.

Photo Mode Broken

I’m not sure what Ubisoft is doing over there, but they love breaking photo mode. It was broken in Origins and it is again broken in Odyssey. Half of the time the filter selection doesn’t work (up and down d-pad is locked out). The other half of the time, the HUD doesn’t disappear after 10 seconds preventing using the console’s snapshot feature. Seriously Ubisoft, if you can’t get photo mode working 100%, then why include it at all?

Slideshow

Here’s a slideshow of various images I’ve captured in Odyssey. Oh yes, it’s pretty… very, very pretty. Too bad it doesn’t play as nicely as it is pretty.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Score for Odyssey

Graphics: 9 out of 10
Sound: 7 out of 10
Game Saves: 4 out of 10
Gameplay: 4 out of 10
Controls: 4 out of 10
Combat: 3 out of 10
Stories: 5 out of 10
Multiplayer: 0 out of 10 (there is no multiplayer or co-op).
Stability: 2 out of 10 (unstable, laggy, infused with same bugs as Origins, at times unplayable)

Final Rating: 4 stars out of 10
Recommendation: Buy this game at $20 or less from the bargain bin or rent it.

Game Review: Spider-Man

Posted in botch, video game, video game design by commorancy on September 8, 2018

SpiderMan2Here’s Randocity’s review of Sony’s 2018 Spider-Man (Insomniac Games) exclusively for the PS4. Unlike so many other game magazines, this review will be brutally honest. Unfortunately, other than photo mode, there’s not a lot to like here. This review will also be short and sweet and somewhat brutal. Let’s explore.

No Holds Barred

SpiderMan1To be perfectly fair, I wanted to like this game. I really did. Unfortunately, this game is one of the worst Spider-Man games I’ve ever played. The absolute worst Spider-Man game being Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions. Dimensions looked great, played like crap. Same problem here, well mostly. Not only is Spider-Man incredibly weak, he dies at the drop of the hat even on casual play. Dying wouldn’t be quite so bad if it didn’t take ages to reload the game. Absolutely worse, the whole game simply devolves into a button masher. This is not why I buy Spider-Man games. I buy Spider-Man games to swing around the city and occasionally get in brawls. I don’t want to spend 90% of my time brawling as a button masher. Basically, this game effing sucks rocks.

Controls

The controls are, in fact, most of the reason this game sucks. I’m all for web slinging fun, but this goes way beyond into craptacular territory. The first mission is practically impossible to complete, even on easy mode. The game simply doesn’t give you enough moves (or health) to take these guys out quickly. The AI on the enemies is frustrating and nonsensical. Worse, the controls make so many mistakes. When I try to get away from enemy, instead, the game chooses to perform a slide under which puts me right next to the enemy… the exact opposite of what I’m trying to do.

Focus

The “focus” game mechanic is entirely unnecessary, distracting and so lamely implemented that it actually prevents you from using it as intended. What is focus for? Healing. In fact, you gain focus so slowly, you can’t even use it to heal. There is no other way to heal other than spending focus. Let’s let that sink in for a moment.

SpiderMan5

What the hell is with healing through focus, anyway? Whose brilliantly crappy game mechanic idea was this? Just let Spider-Man heal naturally on his own. Don’t make me have to take action to heal him. If Spider-Man needs healing by external means, then put first aid kits around the levels and let me just automatically pick them up and apply them. This whole gaining Focus mechanic is so sloppily implemented, I don’t even know how the game designers thought it would be useful. Why not just use health pickups, you know, like practically every other game? Why throw in something so convoluted that it’s useless?

Distracting Game Mechanics

Here’s my biggest pet peeve with these distracting and unnecessary game mechanics. While I understand that Insomniac wanted something new to add to their repertoire of features, game designers should never implement a new game mechanic solely because it’s new. Instead, game mechanics must enhance the game, not detract from it. Why does the focus mechanism fail so badly? It fails because now you’re requiring gamers to watch the focus and health bars constantly. This means moving your eyes away from an ever changing play field of AI enemies.

In this game, even taking your eyes off of the, admittedly, poorly designed and unrealistic AI enemy combat moves, will see your health drop from 100 to 20 (or less) in one blow (even on easy mode). Ignoring the fact that Spider-Man is a superhero in the Marvel universe, has super strength and is super resistant to injury, there should never ever be a mechanic designed that forces the gamer to take his/her eyes off of the combat field and then manually apply health.

Instead, if you’re planning on forcing a health recovery system, then the health system should either auto-regenerate or self-apply at critically low levels. I shouldn’t have to monitor my character’s weak health and manually apply anything. Spider-Man is a superhero… a Marvel SUPERHERO! Treat him as such and at least give him some level of auto-health generation. Seriously, what is the point in manual application of health in this game? It is absolutely not a challenge, it’s just stupid design.

Web Slinging Cooldown

What was the point in this game mechanic? You have six bars of web action that when depleted means you can’t use your web to subdue any more enemies. No NO NO! Why is there an arbitrary count of how many times you can use your web? Again, this doesn’t make the game challenging, it makes the game stupid. If he has the ability to create web, then it should work 100% of the time or until he runs out of web solution. If you plan to add a game mechanic here, then make it a mechanic that sees him run out of web entirely and need to change his web canisters. At least, that’s realistic. Though, why even do that? This isn’t intended to be a simulation, it’s intended to be a superhero game. Just let Spider-Man sling webs infinitely. There’s no point in this web cooldown system at all.

Spider-Man is Weak

The other big problem I have with this game is that Spider-Man isn’t treated like a Marvel superhero at all. He’s like a random schmoe who picked up a costume and decided to be a vigilante. Not only does it take many blows on an enemy to finally knock them out, Spider-Man loses health at an incredibly rapid rate, even from just one bullet or one enemy punch. This is entirely ridiculous. He’s a Marvel superhero, not a random normal guy in a costume.

Insomniac treated this version of the Spider-Man character with all of the grace of a bull in a china shop, bumbling their developmental way through to a game that, in my opinion, barely resembles Spider-Man.

Photo Mode

The one and only one redeeming feature of this game is photo mode. If you’ve used photo mode on Assassin’s Creed Origins, then you’ll feel right at home in this one as photo mode looks and behaves nearly identical. This feature doesn’t make the game worth playing by a long shot. But, the composition tool does have some cool overlays (see the first image in this article), assuming you can actually play enough into the game to use these overlays in some real way.

Overall

My rating for this game is 3 out of 10. It needs a whole lot more developmental time and it needed better usability play testing. It’s not worth playing. If you must play it, then rent it from Redbox or rent it someplace else. Or, wait for it to get to $15 at Gamestop. Don’t waste your money buying this trite piece of Sony garbage unless you truly enjoy torturing yourself with really bad games. If Insomniac can push out patches that can address all of these identified problems (doubtful), then maybe this game might improve. I wouldn’t hold my breath.

For me, this game goes back to Gamestop as a trade-in. I’ll wait until the game drops in price which will have given Insomniac plenty of time to release more patches… not that that will improve this game. Though, I’m willing to give it a second shot much later in the future.

Graphics: 8 out of 10
Audio: 8 out of 10
Voice Acting: 8 out of 10
Gameplay: 2 out of 10 (repetitive, nothing new)
Combat: 1 out of 10 (enemies swarm in unrealistic ways, manual health application)
Overall: 2 out of 10 (rent only)

If this article helped you, please leave a comment below.

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Hottest Video Games for 2018

Posted in video gaming by commorancy on August 31, 2018

The fall of the year is always the time when the majority of video games release. After all, kids are back in school and the holidays are right around the corner. The game industry waits until August to begin trickling out their biggest games, building momentum until the end of the year. As always, there are a number of games this year to consider. Let’s explore.

Video Game Inclusion Criteria

The games selected for Randocity’s top games list for 2018 only include games that I feel will be of high quality, will be fun and will offer the best play value for your money. Nothing is implied about any game that didn’t make this list. The lack of inclusion simply means that the game isn’t likely to offer the best play value for your money. Those other games are also usually for gamers who specifically look for those kinds of games. This is especially true if you’re considering using this as a gift guide. With pretty much any of these games you cannot go wrong giving them as a gift, with the exception of Fallout 76 due to its MMORPG nature. Without further adieu…

Randocity’s Top Video Game Picks for Fall 2018

PS4, Xbox One and Multiplatform Games

Game Platform(s) Release Date Rating Publisher
Destiny 2 PS4, Xbox One September 4th Bungie
Spider-Man PS4 Exclusive September 7th Sony Interactive Entertainment
Life Is Strange 2 PS4, Xbox One September 27th Rating Square Enix
Assassin’s Creed Odyssey PS4, Xbox One October 2nd Rating Ubisoft
Mega Man 11 PS4, Xbox One, Switch October 2nd Rating Ubisoft
Call of Duty: Black Ops IV PS4, Xbox One October 12th Rating Activision / Treyarch
Red Dead Redemption 2 PS4, Xbox One October 26th Rating Rockstar Games
Hitman 2 PS4, Xbox One November 9th Rating Warner Bros. Interactive Ent.
Fallout 76 (requires Internet)
PS4, Xbox One November 14th Rating Bethesda / Zenimax
Battlefield V PS4, Xbox One November 20th Rating Electronic Arts
Darksiders III PS4, Xbox One November 27th Rating THQ
Just Cause 4 PS4, Xbox One December 4th Rating Square Enix

Nintendo Switch Games

Game Platform Release Date Rating Publisher
Lifeless Planet: Premiere Edition Nintendo Switch September 5h Stage 2 Studios
Wasteland 2: Director’s Cut Nintendo Switch September 13th Rating InXile Entertainment
Super Mario Party Nintendo Switch Exclusive October 5th Rating Nintendo
Child of Light Nintendo Switch October 11th Rating Ubisoft
Dark Souls Remastered Nintendo Switch October 19th Rating Namco Bandai Games
Project Highrise: Architect’s Edition Nintendo Switch October 23rd Rating Kalypso
Pokémon: Let’s Go, Eevee! Nintendo Switch Exclusive November 16th Rating Nintendo
Pokémon: Let’s Go, Pikachu! Nintendo Switch Exclusive November 16th Rating Nintendo
Super Smash Bros. Ultimate Nintendo Switch Exclusive December 7th Rating Nintendo

The games listed above are not all of the games that will release this year, but they are on this list because they will work well as gifts for just about any gamer. Note, some of the games on the Switch may have previously released on other console platforms. This particular year there’s not a whole lot of games that really stand out as must play games. But, there are a few… specifically Pokémon, Super Smash Brothers, Fallout 76 and Red Dead Redemption 2. These are the only true must play games on this list.

The rest of the games will likely be fun, but they’re not games that I feel must be owned day one. Though, they do make great gift ideas. Note that Fallout 76 is an MMORPG in similar form to The Elder Scrolls Online. It requires an internet connection and Xbox Live if playing on an Xbox One. Be careful when considering this game as a gift item if you don’t know whether the recipient has always-on Internet or Xbox Live. If you’re not sure whether your recipient meets these game requirements, you might should consider other games on this list. All of the other games should be safe without Internet, but always read the back of the box to be absolutely sure.

Enjoy!

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Game Review: Assassin’s Creed Origins

Posted in reviews, video game by commorancy on May 14, 2018

Assassin’s Creed Origins is an attempt by Ubisoft to milk this tired franchise for more money. With each new iteration, they are making more and more mistakes and the games make less and less sense. This game’s sole purpose to exist seems to be a money grab. Let’s explore.

Bayek and Aya

In Assassin’s Creed Origins, you play as the Medjay (pronounced madge-eye) hero Bayek. He’s a nobody really, but the game makes you think he’s somebody. Unlike Altair and Ezio, who were at least well respected for who they were in their respective communities, Bayek is a small-town-kid… kind of like Connor in Assassin’s Creed 3. Unfortunately, this plot device has already worn thin by this franchise. At least come up with something different.

Bayek’s wife is Aya. She only appears in the game in tiny sections and you do get to play as her (sort of) during a boat mission and a handful of other smaller end missions. In fact, Aya takes on a crucial role in one of the final assassinations taking away that pleasure from Bayek unnecessarily. However, you don’t get to do something truly unique and switch between (or choose to play as) either of the characters. Come on Ubisoft, get with the program.
Bayek-ACO

Bayek is conflicted all throughout the game because his kid was killed by who really knows for whatever unnecessary reason. This is intended to give Bayek motivation to become an assassin and kill for revenge (among other reasons).

Storylines

This is as good a time as any to talk about the stories presented. Bayek must find and kill 8 (or so) different individuals along the main quest. Most of them are temple priests who’ve done wrong… or at least, so the game tells us. Aya kills one of the primary baddies as well.

The side quests consist of fetch quests as well as a few side assassination quests, occasionally taking the time out to do racing or fighting. Unlike the original Assassin’s Creed, there is no run-climb racing. The stories are average and uninspired for an Assassin’s Creed title. The ending is forced and really explains nothing. The stories can be fun the first few times doing a task, but ultimately it’s the same things over and over… especially if you’ve already played the Desmond versions. It would be great if Ubisoft could figure out a way to make the stories more dynamic, fresh, less fetch-questy or fighty and do something different. Yes, it does have assassin in the name of the game, but that doesn’t mean everything in the game needs to be a fight. The majority of the stories have nothing to do with assassinations or being stealthy. The ones that do are so weakly written, they might as well just tell you who to kill and put a map pointer. Why bother with the crap setup? Let’s just get to the activity and be done with it.

Taking it to the Next Level

To revitalize this Assassin’s Creed, Ubisoft needs to take this franchise to the next level by extending Assassin’s Creed into a full blown RPG. It’s nearly there, but it needs so much more. First, it needs to abandon the idea of a specific character’s look. Instead, let us choose our character’s look through various presets (head, body, body shape, height, facial features, etc). Second, let the player choose a class and focus on it (fighter, seer, magic user, etc).

While the main quest can be primarily about assassinations and then seeing the bad guys one last time in the Duat (the place between life and death) to give them their final send off, the second part of the primary quest should be about present day and the importance of the animus experience to the present day (something lost in this version). The rest of the time the stories should focus on assassinations. It can be side quests or it can be quests that are required to give you an item that let you finish the main quest. There are so many ways to improve the game into a full blown RPG.

After this, they will need to add auto-generating / regenerating dungeons to dive into with random loot. This gives the possibility of finding some really great weapons and armor during the game.

The game would need functional armor, not just costumes that look pretty when worn. In Origins, you can effectively wear nothing or steel armor and it doesn’t reduce your ability to take damage. Armor needs to protect the player character from damage in increasing amounts when worn.

Armor needs to be broken into pieces (chest, legs, arms, head, feet, etc). You should also be able to find or forge armor for your steed. This not only lets you increase your armor in levels, you can mix and match armor to create your own unique costumes. Right now, it’s a look-pretty situation. The costumes look great, but they’re not functional in the game. Also, whatever happened to dying the costumes? Where did that feature go? There is a dye shop in the game, but it can’t be used.

Weapons do have individual strength, but are leveled. That’s fine for the first pass. This method can be carried over. But, I’d like to see a way to craft and improve weapons from in-game materials (brass, copper, etc). The raw materials are in the game, but you can’t really do anything with them. Crafting is only in ACO in a tiny little way. It needs to be fully expanded. Also, having weapons break and wear out allows you to overpower an enemy and wear their weapons, shields and armor out, thus disarming them and gaining the advantage.

The side quests are fine, but lose the fetch quest idea as much as possible. I really tire of having to “go get” something for an NPC. They have legs and can get access to a horse, let them go get it. If it’s a fetch quest type that ends as the item in payment for my service, then I’m okay with that.. particularly if the item is a worthy weapon or piece of armor. But, I don’t want to have to carry it all the way back only to get a piece of food or some silly trinket. Let me keep the stuff I find or let me get it back in some way.

Co-op and group dungeons should be added. Let’s get back to the idea of multiplayer in an RPG. This means I can find and assemble a team to go into a group dungeon to take on a swarm of enemies that can’t be taken alone. This encourages team play.

Item and building interactions must be more complete. Instead of these facades that sit on the ground and do nothing (other than as obstacles to climb), the buildings need to allow for entry into new dungeons to master. Items on the ground should offer much more interactivity. There are so many containers that can’t be opened or checked. Instead, let the game choose which container types to fill with random loot.

This is by no means to be taken as an exhaustive list of ideas for turning Assassin’s Creed into an RPG. It’s nearly there already, it just needs to take the next step. This is exactly what the AC series needs take it to the next level and let it rival that of Bethesda RPG games. However, it’s going to need an entirely new exact game save system by abandoning the current checkpoint save system in Origins.

Random NPC Banter

This just needs to go away. The NPCs have, at most, 3-5 phrases they can say when you pass by them and using the same voices over and over. Don’t do this. Unless you plan to spend the time to create hundreds of different audio clips that can be randomly said by NPCs, just leave them silent. Hearing the same phrases over and over is just plain annoying and unnecessary.

Fighting

Unfortunately, this is probably the worst part of the game. While Assassin’s Creed 2 practically got the fighting aspect 100% right, Assassin’s Creed Origin gets it almost 100% wrong. The fights are not in any way fun. Let me just make this clear. Fighting should be extremely fun in a game like this, but no. There are two tactics the enemies use that just drive me absolutely crazy. It doesn’t matter if it’s an animal or an NPC, they both use this tactic.

Backing Up as an AI combat strategy

While I realize walking backward could be used occasionally by an enemy, it is entirely overused in this game. This tactic always has the enemy moving just out of reach of even your longest weapon. There’s absolutely no point in this AI tactic. It wasn’t in any other AC game, why is it here? It just wastes time and serves to frustrate. This crap tactic is at the top of my least favorite AI fighting tactics in a video game. I’ve never played any other game where this tactic is used by enemy AI. I don’t even know how to rant enough on this particular tactic, but it drives me bat shit crazy.

Note, I’ve seen this tactic employed with human NPCs, lions, tigers, hyenas and practically any other ground combat. Ubisoft, get rid of this tactic. It doesn’t make the game fun, it only makes the combat incredible shite.

Shields

While I realize some NPC’s have shields, the only tactic to get around the bigger shields is try and flank the enemy (almost impossible because they turn around instantaneously) or try to press and hold with a large sword (power attack). The problem I have with these two suggested combat tactics is that they rarely ever work. Yes, the game gives them to you, but by the time you attempt a power attack, the enemy has either stabbed you repeatedly several times or knocked you on the ground and stabbed you. Press and hold attacks are worthless.

Worse, it’s almost impossible to break through a shield on an enemy. The strategy I end up using is climbing and performing a top down assassination over trying to do a break on a shield. Again, Ubisoft got this part totally wrong. Let me at least pull that stupid shield out of their hands and disarm them. Nope, no such feature in the game. Disarming an NPC is just a basic maneuver in any fighting simulator, why is it not here Ubisoft? How about letting me me break their shield in half? Nope, not here either. Shields don’t take damage.

Worse, when I try to use a shield, it’s not nearly as strong as when an NPC uses it. This is the dreaded one-sided fighting behavior that I absolutely abhor in games. If you’re going to make a fighting game, at least have the decency to make it a fair fight. When you tilt the fighting towards the NPC and away from the player, that’s just a shit tactic, Ubisoft.

Finally, shields should eventually break. If I keep hammering on it with my sword, the NPC shield should eventually disintegrate. Nope, these NPC shields are entirely invincible. I shake my head at this crap design.

Combat Mode

In this game, it’s way too easy to trigger combat mode and almost impossible to shut it down short of running far, far away… and even then that doesn’t work if the enemy is on a horse or in a chariot. For whatever reason, an enemy’s horse is always about 25% faster than yours. This is yet another unfair cheat tactic on the part of the game. Horses should either be of equal speed or … what the hell Ubisoft? … let us upgrade our horses to be faster than theirs. Yet another craptacular design failure.

Can’t break out of animations

This should be self-explanatory, but I’ll go ahead and explain it anyway. When you’re in the middle of combat, if you attempt to do certain moves, you can’t do anything else until the animation plays out in full. I’ve had enemies desync the game because I inadvertently triggered a long combat animation sequence that you cannot stop. Because there is no way to break out of an animation sequence, you always have to let it play out in full, enemies can come in and stab or hammer or poke you.

This is even more commonly frustrating because sometimes if you’ve got two or three enemies, they can gang up on you and prevent you from getting out of their fighting tactics. If they hit you in just the right order, even dodging is impossible because the taking wounds animations have to completely play out and cannot be broken out of.

This is crap game design. The player character should always be able to regain control over the situation without waiting for a long-ish animation to complete. All animations need to be broken out of and stopped.

Leveled Characters

So I get that Ubisoft finally added numbers and character levels to the NPC’s in the game. It’s been a long time coming. But, the way this is implemented is entirely and complete garbage… especially for an assassin.

Some enemies are, for all intents and purposes, invincible. These appear with a skull in a red shield above their head. I shake my head at this crap. To simulate real people, the hero should be able to assassinate anyone at any level. Knives don’t discriminate based on level. Assassination is assassination. Level doesn’t matter to a knife. Levels should only matter for melee combat where skill is involved. A stealth assassination from behind or above should always kill the enemy regardless of level. I should rain down from above, knock them down then assassinate any NPC in the game regardless of level. This is how a knife works, Ubisoft. Unfortunately, Ubisoft sets it up so that whenever an enemy is ‘too strong’ (or too high a level), they are invincible from either weapon’s attacks or knife assassination. In fact, a sword that might kill someone at your same level, an invincible enemy might take at most 90 damage.

Again, this crap drives me absolutely bat shit crazy. It’s such a crap design. Ubisoft, stop, learn and listen… and STOP playing these stupid games with your franchises. If you can’t do leveled characters right, then don’t do them at all.

Worse, there’s a preference that allows you to set NPCs to fight at or around your level. Yet, when you turn this setting on, it does absolutely nothing. Characters who were weaker are always weaker. Characters who are leveled way above you stay leveled way above you. If you’re going to add this setting to the menu, Ubisoft can you at least make it work?

Can’t Kill Citizens

In past games, you could kill civilians, but if you killed more than 5, the game would desync. In this game, you can rarely do this. They are simply unkillable in many cases. He’s an assassin. Blades should work equally well on enemies and on civilians alike. Go back to desyncing if you don’t want us doing it. Don’t just prevent the blades from working at all. Though I have found places in the game where civilians can be killed, I’ve also found places where they cannot. This was an unnecessary addition to the game engine.

Horrible combat button placement

For whatever reason, Ubisoft has decided to muck with all of the previous combat button placement. In past games, attack was always on the ABXY or X⃝△▢ buttons in some manner. In Origins, Ubisoft decided to move them to the trigger buttons by default. Wait… what crap is this? Who ever designs games with attack on shoulder or trigger buttons? Thankfully, they offer an alternative mapping that at least puts them on X and Y. No, it’s not optimal placement, but it’s at least it’s on these buttons. Why would you put combat on X and Y over A and B? These combat moves should always be on A and B buttons (Xbox) or X and O buttons (PS4)… like every other game on the planet.

This is always called messing with a good thing and Ubisoft is now firmly guilty of screwing with this game just to screw with it and for no other reason. Bad design.

Smoke Bombs

In past games, you had the ability to get and drop smoke bombs at will. In this game, smoke bombs are tied to combat. To drop a smoke bomb in this game, you now have to perform some kind of combat maneuver, then following that maneuver, press the A button quickly to drop a smoke bomb. No No No NO NO! Dropping a smoke bomb should be a button on its own. Never tie it to a combat move. If I just want to drop a smoke bomb for no reason, that’s my choice. Stupid design.

Perfect Aim

This is one of those complaints I’ve had for a very long time and it keeps coming back time and time again. Every enemy has perfect aim and infinite line of sight. No one ever misses hitting you unless you’re overly good at dodging. Even then, arrows still seem to make their target even after dodging. Yes, you can use your shield to protect yourself, but if that works 50% of the time, you’re lucky. Some enemy is always knocking you back and typically enemies swarm making it impossible to use the shield effectively.

Swarming and moving out of range

Enemies in this game always want to come in swarms. When you climb to avoid the swarms, the NPCs (animals or humans) move just out of range of your ranged weapons if they can’t reach you. This means you can’t shoot arrows at them. This is plain out cheating by the developers. Don’t move NPCs just out of range because they can’t get to you. I’ve seen this tactic in other games and it is entirely unnecessary. Once again, stupid design.

Boat Battles

This is easily the weakest and most unnecessary parts of this game. Several times you’re on board a ship with Aya and random NPC schmoes who don’t make a difference to the story (other than Cleopatra in one battle). You’re tasked to sink ever increasing sized warships. These activities are stupid, unnecessary and overly hard to control. I didn’t find this part of the game at all fun. In fact, I would have preferred skipping this entire section of the game and have the game take me to the final destination. In fact, I almost abandoned the game entirely at this point. I managed to get through this lame, unskippable section of the game through some unnecessary tactics. If you can’t do boat battles right, don’t do them at all… or, at least let us skip the entire activity.

Seriously, what does a boat battle have to do with being an assassin?

Climbing Activities

As with other Assassin’s Creed games, climbing was the gimmick that made Assassin’s Creed work. It’s still in this game as well, but not explained as to how this character does it. He just does. As with other AC titles, climbing sometimes works, but sometimes doesn’t. It depends on what you’re trying to do.

In most cases, the camera gets in the way. Because climbing direction is heavily dependent on which way the camera is facing, when the camera randomly moves, you’ll end up careening off in the wrong direction and setting off a bunch of guards in the process. This is, in fact, one of THE most frustrating aspects of this game (and really, any AC game).

For utilitarian purposes, climbing works fine. For stealthy assassinations, I could swear that the game cheats and sends me careening right in the middle of a load of guards simply to alert them. I’ve learned never to use climbing as an assassination strategy unless there’s plenty of room to maneuver. Even then, it can all go horribly wrong.

Ignoring all of the combat problems, this is one of the games top problems. Though, I’ve had this complaint with just about every Assassin’s Creed game ever made. Though, this game seems to be worse about it than others.

Senu

In lieu of the previous semi-magical “Eagle Vision” that simply just existed, they replaced it with, you know, a pun. They give you “Senu”, a flying Eagle with ‘Vision’. It circles overhead like a vulture. When you activate Senu, you can control him to fly around and over various encampments to identify enemies, loot chests and various other identifiers.

Senu was an unnecessary addition to the game and does nothing to explain the other version of “Eagle Vision”. Instead, they should have simply used the tried-and-true Eagle Vision that had been long established in every prior game. It needed no explaining. Adding this eagle served no purpose other than to make a pun, which wasn’t funny. Senu could have been a great help if it could have not only stunned enemies, but actually damaged them by dive bombing them and/or pecking / scratching them. If you’re going to give us a companion (and since you’re already making this world completely unrealistic anyway), then while you’re at it, let us use Senu as a weapon against enemies right from the start. Such a waste.

Leveling Up

Yes, there is the ability to level up, but it’s so limited as to really not be helpful. You get enough experience points to level up timely enough, but it really doesn’t help make you stronger or better or faster most of the time. The majority of the perks are worthless. There are a few that help (poison darts, smoke bombs), but most don’t do anything to help make Bayek stronger, better or faster. In other words, the majority of the perks do nothing, with only a few having any real purpose. The few that do have purpose are so buried behind the ones that do nothing, you waste a ton perk points just to get to them.

Photo Mode

The photo mode in this game is nice enough, but doesn’t have near enough filters to make it worthwhile with depth of field being the best of the effects. Overall, it’s a nice enough feature, but it’s not worth playing this game just to use it.

Frame Rates, Audio Problems, Crashing, Lost Quests

Frame Rate Problems

One of the things I’ll say about the Xbox 360 versions of this game is that the frame rates were always consistent, particularly with climbing a synchronization point. When you get to the top, the camera circles the player character. This has always been a particularly smooth animation. Not in Assassin’s Creed Origins. Every single synchronization point animation is herky jerky and choppy… and this is at 1080p. I’m not even trying to run this game at 4K. I can’t even imagine what this animation looks like in 4K.

I only recently started playing this game because of a backlog of games I wanted to play first. I also thought that waiting would give Ubisoft enough time to patch stupid bugs. Well, they haven’t. This game is chock full of bugs and problems.

Lost Quests

This is a problem that also drives me insane. I’m playing along, select a quest and I’m on the way there to pick it up or finish it. There are two ways quests are lost here. The first way is I’m traveling a road and an invincible enemy appears and immediately spots me. Invincible enemies are an entirely stupid concept (see above), but they are also on horses that run far faster than mine does… which doesn’t make sense. So, they inevitably catch Bayek and desync. BTW, a single arrow shot or sword swing from an invincible enemy is nearly enough to desync. A second swing or shot and the game always desyncs. Upon respawning, the quest is gone. No where to be found. You can’t find it and you don’t know where it went.

The second place where quests get lost is when the game locks up and/or crashes. Upon restarting the game, the quest is gone. This one is just insanely stupid. It’s not like the game doesn’t have autosaves turned on all throughout. Even if the game just saved seconds before, the quest is gone. Worse, when you respawn, you can end up a long ways away from where you were.

I don’t know how many quests I’ve lost as a result of either of these two problems. Probably 15 to 20. This problem stems from the way this game chooses to save games (see below).

Audio Problems

This is a known problem. Ubisoft has had many reports of this problem going to late 2017. Yet, Ubisoft still hasn’t fixed this issue. I’ve run into it several times. After I’m done playing the game, I then sleep the Xbox One for a period of time. When I wake up the console, there’s no sound at all. When I attempt to change any audio settings in the game to bring it back, I only get an audio chirp about every 5 seconds. Note, the console itself has no problems producing sound as I get that from the Home screen and Cortana and other apps. This problem is entirely a bug in Assassin’s Creed Origins.

Crashing

Most games today crash occasionally. However, this game is well more buggy, crashing way more frequently than average. I’ve had hangs that turn into crashes. I’ve had hangs that recover. I’ve had random crashes with no hang. Since I’ve started playing, I’ve had at least one crash every 1-2 days. This game is not at all stable. Thankfully, the game saves frequently enough that you don’t lose what you’ve already collected. But, you may lose your active quest.

Game Saves

This game chooses to checkpoint save randomly. It makes a noise whenever it saves. I could really do without that noise. If you want to save a game, leave the noises off. Just save the game and put a visual notification. That’s all that’s needed.

You’d think that the game saves would do you a favor. In fact, they don’t. If you desync for any reason, you have to start whatever it was you are doing over from the beginning. The only thing that seems to be saved is chests you may have looted. These seem to remain looted after a desync. Other than that, your character respawns usually far away from the location where you were. This is annoyingly frustrating.

What is the point in a game save if not to recover exactly where you left off? Ubisoft, checkpoint saves are stupid. Get rid of them. Let us save exactly where we are and let us save at will. Let us start right back where we left off… in the middle of battle if necessary. Don’t throw us a long distance away and make us start that activity completely over. Stupid design

Graphics and Sound

While the cities and NPCs are ironically unrealistic in their actions, the visual world itself, particularly the sand dunes, the deserts and the oases are look reasonably realistic. Bayek’s character model is particularly well done. The same for the anime character seen in “Gift from the Gods” quest. I’m not even sure what that quest was about, but the character was straight out of a game like Final Fantasy. For less than 5 minutes on the screen, someone spent an inordinate amount of time modeling that character for the game.

The underwater action is well done and the water movement is better than most games of this type. As with most games today, these hyper-realistic game engines fall down in many small ways… specifically, low res models. While the lighting is well done, the statues and other models are just too low poly. Worse, the flags at the top of the temples are downright horrid. They fly and flap fine, but the edges of the flags look like something out of an 8-bit SuperMario game.

There is one sound thing that drives me insane in this game. It’s when Bayek has to constantly prompt the gamer to go do whatever urgent task is at hand. I don’t need or want that prompting. At least let me turn it off from the settings menu. Additionally, the enemies constantly taunt that the player’s imminent demise. I don’t want to hear this either. Let me shut off those taunting remarks from the enemies. These audio comments are entirely worthless. Either that or turnabout is fair play. If they NPCs can taunt, then let me taunt back with Bayek. Either that, or shut that stupid and repetitive taunting off.

DLC and Season Passes

As if I haven’t railed enough on this game already. Well, let me rail just a little bit more. The season pass costs $40, in addition to the $60 you’ve already paid. Yes, the Season Pass offers the following:

  • The Hidden Ones (Land add-on)
  • The Curse of the Pharaohs (Land add-on)
  • The worthless Calamity blade
  • The Horus Pack (outfit)
  • The Roman Centurion Pack (outfit)
  • 500 Helix credits

Questionably, Ubisoft has excluded certain DLC from this season pass (see below). This is where I begin my rant. What the hell, Ubisoft? First, you add critical game features (levels 41-45) as add-on content instead of actually, you know, patching the game where we already paid $60. I argue features such as increasing character level caps of the original game a critical game patch… not a DLC add-on. At least raise the level cap for everyone in any game version as prep for DLC add-ons. Tying this patch to a DLC is just asinine.

Second, you exclude certain DLC (e.g., the Deluxe Pack) from the season pass entirely? Why is this? All DLC world add-ons should be part of the season pass eventually, including whatever is in release day Deluxe Packs. Excluding these is just an unnecessary money grab. Sure, you can make a deluxe pack be exclusive for a month or two, but they should eventually make their way into season pass holder content. Shit, that’s an extra $10 on top of the $30 we’re expected to spend? Season passes are already questionable enough investments considering it’s possible that no further content will release for that $40 season pass price. Season passes are already a gamble for the gamer as there’s no guarantee of content quality, availability or indeed anything purchasing a season pass on game release day.

Present Day

As with most Assassin’s Creed games, Ubisoft throws in the animus portion as an afterthought. In fact, the story line almost identically follows the Lucy story line in the Desmond stories. Can you guys not think up anything original? The first time through it was fine, but a second time is pointless.

Perhaps it’s finally time to switch the roles around? Make the in-animus games as the afterthought and the out-of-animus present day the actual assassination area. I’d like to see an assassin scale a 50 story building and jump off into a dumpster below or use a parachute. I’d like to see then use the present day as a means to an end. It is fun to see these time period pieces, but let’s not lose sight of the story goal here. If you’re trying to tell a story about Abstergo, then let’s do that.

The in-game ancient temples were almost entirely worthless quest lines in the game as they never come full circle back to the present with Layla. Ubisoft, you guys have a lot of work ahead to actually turn Origins into something better than it currently is.

Overall

The game play mechanics are average. When the mechanics work, they work okay, but occasionally the collision detection is intensely bad. I can see the weapon connect with the enemy, yet nothing. This means extra work just to kill an enemy because the game didn’t detect it. Sometimes it means desync and forced restarting. The enemies who use the back up tactic just drive me absolutely insane. This tactic needs to be removed from the NPC combat AI. It doesn’t serve any purpose other than to frustrate. It doesn’t make the combat harder, it’s just plain stupid.

The stories are twice told tales that don’t really lead anywhere of any specific nature. The only story that ties it all in is when you exit the animus with Layla… Layla being a cheap knockoff of Lucy from Assassin’s Creed. However, what is she really doing there in the first place? We’ve already established the animus as a commercial thing that people can buy and use at home. Why are we going back to these coffin shaped devices? The only storyline that seems to tie it all in are the too few and far between temples were Bayek enables a pedestal which talks of Desmond and the imminent world destruction… not that Bayek will understand any of that… nor does he ever make any comments under his breath afterwards.

Worse, all of that modern day gibberish was inserted into the genetic code replay by the animus as a bug/feature rather than being an actual genetic memory from Bayek’s original story. Yet, Ubisoft completely ignored this leaving the gamer to assume that Bayek actually encountered that information. Sure, I believe he may have visited those temples, but I don’t believe he actually encountered that information during the reign of the Pharaohs. Why should I believe this? The story gives me more reason to believe the animus added that story element than Bayek actually having encountered it for real.

As for multiplayer, what multiplayer? Past AC games have had multiplayer elements, but this game has no direct multiplayer aspects. The only hint of multiplayer are the revenge quests which have you examine a body of a multiplayer in your world. Then, take on a revenge against the in-game enemies who killed that other player in their game. This is of very little consolation for the lack of multiplayer. It’s not like Ubisoft hasn’t offered multiplayer in past AC games. So, I’m befuddled why it was not in Origins.

This game could have been much, much better.

Graphics: 8.9 out of 10
Sound: 6 out of 10
Game Saves: 1 out of 10
Gameplay: 4 out of 10
Controls: 4 out of 10
Combat: 3 out of 10
Stories: 5 out of 10
Multiplayer: 0 out of 10 (there is no direct multiplayer or co-op).
Stability: 2 out of 10

Final Rating: 4.5 stars out of 10
Buy this game at $20 or less from the bargain bin or, if possible, rent it.

Game Review: Resident Evil 7 Demo

Posted in video game design, video gaming by commorancy on June 20, 2016

While I realize this is a only demo and may not resemble the real game all that much, what I will say about it is, I’m not terribly fond of it overall. I’m hoping the game is far different from this. Let’s explore.

Story

Your character ends up stuck in a creepy old farmhouse and must figure out a way to get out of it. Along the way you find things that may or may not help your character. Can you actually get your character out of the house alive?

Game Mechanics

Whether or not you can actually get out of the house is not really the question. The question is, are the game mechanics good? First, it is a preliminary game demo. So, in that aspect, it’s a little dumbed down.

On the one hand, it is somewhat better than Resident Evil 5 and 6… meaning, there aren’t zombies running and jumping at your character at every step. On the other hand, there are no zombies at all. In fact, the entire house is devoid of enemies entirely (other than when you answer the phone or find the back door key and try to leave). And then, the enemy is a cut scene that you can’t fight. So, in effect, this is more or less a puzzle questing game… and not a very good one at that.

Second, the only redeeming factor is the video tape. Because watching the video tape is also player interactive, you can do things with the characters on the tape (in the past) that open things up for the player in the future. This is the one and only one cool gimmick about this demo, but it is so underused as a game gimmick that it’s almost hardly not worth mentioning.

Graphics

Plainly and of what you can see of them, the textures, wood, roaches, character models and environments are supremely well done. Unfortunately, you’re hindered by having to roam the house using a flashlight. This means you can only see what you can illuminate with the flashlight. Otherwise, it all ends up dark. It reminds me a little of the way that Bioshock was lit in terms of the dark undersea lighting that gets brighter as you approach walls and items. Not so much the textures, but the lighting concept. In some ways this works, but it gets old and tiring after about an hour of play. I was hoping the fuse box would have actually let me flip the lights on in the house. But no, the only thing the fuse box does is let you drop down the attic stairs. And, that’s just a little weird. In such a decrepit old farm house, why would the owners have installed a drop down electric set of stairs that lead to the attic? Doesn’t really make any sense.

Puzzles

Unfortunately, other than the video tape gimmick mentioned above, the puzzles are mostly weak. Worse, the puzzles are tied to successfully completing events. Meaning, unless you do a very specific thing in the house, you can’t progress to and find the next puzzle piece (i.e., it simply won’t appear). If you cannot figure out what the game wants you to do, you’re stuck. Too many games offer puzzles like this. Some puzzles are glaringly obvious what you need to do. Though in this game, many of the puzzles are so obscure that you can run around for hours and never figure it out. That doesn’t make a game fun, it makes it tedious.

Game Development / Demo / Beta Testing

The game devs have a whole lot of work ahead of them to get this game right. I’m assuming this demo was released to test the waters with gamers. RE4 was a spectacular achievement for the Resident Evil series. But, as much as RE4 was an achievement, RE5 and RE6 were not.

I’m one of those people who firmly believes, “Once Bitten, Twice Shy”. In fact, I’ve been bitten one too many times with this series… both with RE5 and RE6. Shame on me. I won’t be bitten again. This is the reason I’m playing this demo. I was, in fact, hoping that this would have been another Leon game like RE4. After all, it’s been well long enough to finally get another Leon game.

Commentary

While Capcom seems to be on the right track with Resident Evil 7, assuming it can expand on this puzzle questing and video tape idea, I’m still very skeptical. This game has all of the hallmarks of tricking gamers into a decent opening puzzle level only to convert the game into yet another dual player zombie shooter (like RE5 and RE6 turned into) once you exit the house. If Capcom can keep this puzzle questing survival horror idea on-track throughout the entire game (throwing in some zombie apocalypse battles here and there), it might turn out to be a decent game. Unfortunately, it has a little too much of the telltale signs of converting into a completely different game once you leave the house. For this reason, I will wait until the game is fully released into the stores before I plop down $60 for this title. I simply don’t trust Capcom.

Though, I absolutely love the video tape idea of going back in time and opening doors, finding hidden secrets, leaving things behind, etc, for future characters to find and use. This is probably one of the freshest ideas in this game. Unfortunately, it’s way underused in this demo and I’m not certain exactly how much it could be used unless the main character carries around a camcorder and finds tapes along the way.

Skylanders Trap Team: Review + Kaos Trap?

Posted in botch, video game, video gaming by commorancy on January 9, 2015

trap-team-compatibility-logo[Update 3: 4/6/2015]: Gamestop.com has several Kaos Trap bundles now available online for purchase. Not only do they now have the same 3 trap bundle as on Amazon for $15.99 (only available in stores), Gamestop.com also carries 3 additional Kaos Trap bundles (online only) that Gamestop has created (Kaos-Water-Magic, Kaos-Water-Earth & Kaos-Water-Life) containing 3 trap singles as a bundle for $17.97. If you’re looking for the individual trap (not as part of a 3 pack), this is the best and least costly way to get it. Now I know why Gamestop has been hoarding Kaos Traps from their case packs at their warehouse instead of sending them to the stores. They have been stockpiling these Kaos Traps to create these 3 trap single bundles for online sales. Retailers should not be allowed to break case packs open and hold out stock for months for the purpose of creating bundles. All I can say is, if you want this trap, hurry.

[Update 2: 4/1/2015]: It seems Amazon’s stock of the 3 trap bundle has been temporarily depleted at $14.99. Try back in a day or two as Amazon refreshes their stock every day. However, don’t limit yourself to Amazon. All retailers are likely to get this 3 pack. Try looking at (or calling) Best Buy, Walmart, Gamestop, Target, Kmart, Toys R Us or any other retailer near you that carries Skylander’s toys.

[Update 1: 4/1/2015]: If you’re looking for the Kaos Trap, it is now included in a 3 trap bundle (Air, Kaos, Earth) for KaosTrapBundle$14.99 available now at Amazon. Be sure to choose the Amazon version marked at $14.99. Amazon has a tendency to put items in stock as the first item in the listing (even if it’s a higher price). Choose the Amazon item at $14.99 even if it says it ships later. If you don’t see a $14.99 listing, it means Amazon’s stock has been depleted and their listing has been temporarily removed. Try back again another day.

Skylanders Trap Team

While I have to give kudos yet again to Activision for producing a top notch installment to the Skylanders franchise, there is one huge peeve I have with this series. What is Skylanders you ask? Let’s explore.

Skylanders Video Game and RFID

This game is relatively simple video game with a brilliant gimmick that parents all over the country are cursing their wallet. This is exactly how it was designed by Activision. So, what is it?

It’s simple, it’s basically a cartoon turned into an action fighting game with characters that you must purchase separately. Each figure you purchase has its own strengths and weaknesses in battle. These are determined by the character’s abilities. Once you buy a character toy, you place it on the Traptanium Portal (included with the Starter Pack) and an RFID reader pulls character information stored on the toy into the game. So, the more you play with that character, the higher it levels up and the stronger it becomes.

In fact, it’s a brilliant use of RFID technology and video games. I’d love to see more RPG games use this idea. For example, a series like the Elder Scrolls or Mass Effect or even Star Wars RPGs could benefit from this. Instead of relying on finding items in the world, you would buy them at the store and level them up on your character. The item could then be added to any character you own. There are so many uses for this idea in gaming, it’s sad that it’s not being used more. I think it’s absolutely brilliant for gaming.

Toys and Scarcity

My peeve.. Activision has taken the approach of releasing toys in waves and at random times throughout the year. This does a couple of things. First, withholding some toys means that you can’t play parts of the game until the toy is released. Second, some of the toys are intentionally hard to find so that parts of the game cannot even be completed until you manage to find it or you are willing to pay the highly inflated price on eBay or Amazon.

For Skylanders, this approach is extremely frustrating and introduces kids into the fray of toy collecting early. But, unfortunately, kids don’t have the money to locate or pay for these toys. The parents are firmly on the hook for locating and placating their child’s video game play.

To this I say, “Shame on you Activision”. This series appeals to children at an age that have little concept of collectible toys or scarcity of toys on the shelves. What am I talking about here?

Skylanders Traps

The latest Skylanders game is titled Trap Team. The concept behind this game is that not only can you buy and use toy characters, you can now trap the villains you defeat and they become good characters you can use to defeat new villains and trap them. But, this is not just about any old trap. I’m specifically talking about the Kaos trap. Note that there are 40 or so villains in the game. This also means you need to invest in about 40 traps to to entrap the villains. What is a trap? It’s a small toy that looks like a crystal. It is initially empty, but once you trap a villain, it becomes associated with that specific toy trap. So, everytime you place that trap into the portal, it recalls that same villain. If you take that crystal and put it in someone else’s game, it will also pull in that villain into their game.

In addition to buying small traps, there are different elements (earth, air, water, fire, life, tech, magic, undead, light and dark). Each of these element types requires a special trap that is color coded. So, unless you have one of these specific types of traps, you cannot trap a villain of that type. More specifically, the main villain in the game is Kaos. He has his own personal trap type called, creatively enough, the Kaos trap. This trap can only ever hold Kaos. Once you trap Kaos, you can use him as a character in battle.

KaosTrapUnfortunately, Activision has dropped the ball heavily with this game in this area. While it’s easy to find Fire, Water, Earth, Air, Tech, Life, Magic and Undead traps pretty much everywhere, the Kaos trap is extremely hard to find. In fact, in a case of 20-30 traps, there may be only 3 Kaos traps. This means the store gets a boatload of these easy-to-find elements and Kaos trap immediately sells out. Because Kaos can only be trapped in a Kaos trap, you have to find that trap or your child cannot play as Kaos. Kaos is the absolutely strongest villain in the game, so having him to use in battle is extremely useful.

Note, a lot of people believe this trap has never been released. It has. It was released when all of the traps first released. However, there are so few in the retailer case packs that you’re unlikely to ever see it in the store. What I recommend at this point is to buy the Dark Edition Starter Pack which contains an Ultimate Kaos trap. This will at least let your child play as Kaos. The Dark Edition is a whole lot more expensive than buying the Kaos trap at retail price, but this trap is almost impossible to find in any retailer. At this point, to buy the Kaos trap alone aftermarket might cost you $50. Though, that’s cheaper than buying the Dark Edition Starter pack. But, if you’re buying the game brand new, I highly recommend buying the Dark Edition set. If you’ve got an existing a game you’ve already purchased, then buying an aftermarket trap may be the only answer. I’d also suggest filing a complaint with Activision on the scarcity of this trap.

Light and Dark Traps

The reason I excluded the Light and Dark traps from the above is that both of these sets were released immediately prior to Christmas. These traps are a bit hard to find because they are brand new. But, they can be obtained in the light and dark adventure packs that also contain the new level, the trap and a trap master. The light (Sunscraper Spire) and dark (Midnight Museum) adventure sets can be found periodically on Amazon. Note, make sure that it says you’re buying these from Amazon and not a third party seller to get the lowest price. When Amazon (or any store) has these in stock, they should cost around $29.

Activision’s Game Clock

There is absolutely no reason the Kaos trap is so hard to find. Activision could ship retailers cases entirely of the Kaos trap and completely eliminate the scarcity of this trap. In fact, there is no reason this trap is so scarce. This is an artificial scarcity that Activision has introduced into the series, but this type of scarcity doesn’t belong with this game. This is a completely mistaken and asinine strategy. If this were a series aimed at adults (and specifically adult collectors), such as The Elder Scrolls series, this situation is perfectly acceptable. Unfortunately, this game is targeted completely at children. This scarcity of the Kaos trap is likely backfiring on Activision hard and ruining their PR, but they seem oblivious to this issue.

Parents have no interest in playing this game (other than getting things for their children) and will ultimately take the game away from little Timmy when it becomes too costly and problematic. That means, no more money to Activision from that family. More and more families are pulling the plug on this game in their household because of this exact scarcity issue. To avoid disappointments in children, you take away the thing that’s causing it. Worse, children don’t have the longest attention span in the first place. So, when a child can’t do what they want to do in the game, they’re going to give up on it sooner rather than later and never come back to it. Meaning, if they can’t get the Kaos trap to play as Kaos when they need it, they’ll give up on the game and forget all about it by the time the Kaos traps do arrive.

Shelf Life of Games

Games typically have a 6 month or so shelf life at the longest before a newer more compelling game is released. Seeing as this game released October 4th, 2014, the clock is firmly ticking on Activision to make these toys more readily available. If Activision cannot solve this Kaos scarcity problem, assuming the parents haven’t already pulled the plug on the game, the kids will lose interest by the time the next game arrives.

Kaos Arena Game Play

What’s worse is not only the shelf life, but the replay-ability. This game is short. It doesn’t take long to get through the entire story piece. Getting through the arena levels takes only slightly longer. However, if you want to open every door and unlock every treasure, that takes substantially longer. Unfortunately, you can’t easily do this because Activision was, until recently, withholding critical toys to make this a reality. But, in gaming, not everyone is a completionist, let alone assuming this of children. While some children may want to finish the entire game and get every medal, not everyone will.

In reality, once you get through the story entirely, you’re pretty much done with the game. You don’t learn anything new or gain any new story by completing everything. So, it’s a stretch to ask kids to wait months to get the final content they need to complete the game. In fact, Activision is stretching it if they think they can stretch this game’s lifespan longer with this slow drip toy strategy. Activision will be lucky if many kids are still playing this game come March. Timing is everything with this game and Activision not delivering critical pieces of the game within a few weeks of the release of this game is really not a great strategy.

Costly

SkylandersDarkEditionOne aspect of this game that I haven’t yet touched on is cost. To really play this game properly, in addition to buying the Starter Pack Edition game kit (around $50) or the Dark Edition Kit (around $125), you need a Trap Master of every element and purchase traps of every element. Like Skylanders Swap Force required purchasing characters that you could swap their top and bottoms, you also needed every element and every power type to complete Swap Force. The same goes with Trap Team. Not only do you need a Trap Master of every element (of which Magic, Light and Dark are the hardest to find), you also need to buy a trap to contain each villain to be a completionist. That entails purchasing 40 traps in addition to 10 trap masters. Traps cost around $6 a piece and trap masters anywhere from $12.99 to $14.99, though Toys R Us puts them on sale at buy one get one 40% off regularly. So, you can reduce the cost by taking advantage of this deal. You can also save a little money if you buy the bulk trap packs that contain 3 or 8 traps bundled together.

And don’t think you can get away just with purchasing the toys. No. You’ll need to organize and store them. So, you’ll also need to purchase a chest for the traps and a case to hold the figures to keep them organized and stored.

EliteChopChopIt doesn’t stop there, there are also standard toy characters that you can buy to battle with and more powerful characters called Eon’s Elites (which are primarily collectibles and only available at Gamestop and EB Games in North America, Australia and New Zealand, and select retailers in Europe). They also appear to be limited. Be prepared to call Gamestop or EB Games looking for these Elites if you need to find them. There are adventure packs to add new levels to the game which usually retail around $30-35.

This is a fairly substantial investment for a game. Most games cost $60 with at most $10-20 worth of DLC. But, Skylanders can run you into the hundreds of dollars with all of the toys and add-ons. I’d recommend that, unless absolutely necessary, the toys should remain in their packaging. This will retain the value of the toy. So, when the game is done, you can put it on eBay and sell it off at a reasonably good value. People are willing to buy figures still in the package, so it’s always wise to do this when possible. Keep in mind that this is impossible to do for the traps. The traps have to be extracted from their packages to be used. But, the Trap Masters and most of the characters will play just fine if left in the package. The only exception to this is the Light and Dark adventure packs that include traps that must be extracted to be used. So, you have to rip open these packages for the traps.

Overall

The game is reasonably fun and plays like watching a cartoon. The voice acting is superb and the story is well written. But, it does require a costly investment in toys and extras. Unless you have the means and you are willing and able to run around or call stores constantly to find that ever-elusive toy or trap, you might not want to consider this game for your child. It could end up being a huge source of frustration. Else, you’re likely to find yourself spending a lot of time running around looking for the elusive trap, toy or character. And, these waves of new toys don’t stop. There are many variations of trap shapes (well more than there are villains). Toys will continue to show up in stores until Activision releases the next version of Skylanders. However, you will be able to use these toys in the next Skylander’s game, but Activision will require a new gimmick to force repurchase of an entirely new set of toys. Ultimately, the game itself is fun, but not overly replayable. However, for some children Trap Team may offer some level of replay.

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