Disney Dreamlight Valley: early access review

Spoiler Warning: There are minor spoilers ahead for Disney Dreamlight Valley.

I don’t usually go for “early access” titles. Some developers and publishers really take advantage of early access, pushing out incomplete games and getting players to effectively pay full price to do the work of a quality assurance team, and just in general, I’d rather wait until a game is ready for prime-time before sinking my energy and money into it. A title has to be something truly exceptional to attract my attention while it’s still in early access. Enter Disney Dreamlight Valley.

At time of writing in November 2022, Disney Dreamlight Valley still has some of the issues that make early access titles so offputting – major missing features, an incomplete story, and some bugs, glitches, and areas where more development time is needed to give the game some polish. But despite that, I’ve sunk more than 100 hours into the game since it launched in early access back in August, and I’ve been having a whale of a time!

The title screen as of the most recent update.

Disney Dreamlight Valley blends the customisation and design gameplay of titles like The Sims with the casual life-sim gameplay of the likes of Animal Crossing, combines those with some simple but fun nonviolent puzzle-solving gameplay, and then also throws in character-focused storytelling that can absolutely compete with any narrative game on the market – at least if you’re a Disney fan! The game’s characters, all of whom are lifted directly from Disney’s extensive back catalogue of blockbuster films, feel real and feel fun to engage with, and the game has so much to offer to kids and adults alike as a result.

As expected, recent titles like Frozen and Moana feature in a big way, but Disney Dreamlight Valley also happily incorporates characters from titles that are almost certainly less well-known nowadays (especially among younger players) like The Sword in the Stone. In fact, the very first character that players will meet upon starting a new game is Merlin – a storytelling decision that I find incredibly bold.

Mickey Mouse, a player character, and Merlin.

Unlike in games like Animal Crossing, where villagers can feel flat and repetitive after a while, the characters in Disney Dreamlight Valley feel much more complete. Partly, it must be said, that’s because they’re all familiar characters from films that most players will be familiar with, but a big part of the way they come across in the game is down to some creative quest design and some pretty good writing. Characters will also interact with one another, stopping for a casual chat that players can overhear while wandering around the valley or participating in other quests, and this small detail goes a long way to making Dreamlight Valley feel like a real place and its inhabitants like real people.

As an early access title, there are of course areas with room for improvement. But I have confidence that developers Gameloft will take player feedback on board and implement changes and fixes as they have done already. Improvements have already been made, for example, to the in-game photo mode, to the impact weather can have on the game world, to certain character interactions that players generally weren’t happy with, and much more besides. One of the advantages of early access is that developers have an opportunity to get feedback from real players – and Gameloft has certainly shown a willingness to change, adapt, and tone down different elements of the game in response.

Promo screenshot featuring Ursula.

Disney Dreamlight Valley feels like it’s also taken on board feedback and criticism of other titles in the casual life-sim genre, particularly 2020’s Animal Crossing: New Horizons. Complaints and criticisms about that game and how difficult it was to play long-term when compared to other Animal Crossing titles abounded, and while Disney Dreamlight Valley is still very much incomplete – multiplayer and cross-platform play have yet to be added, for example – other criticisms that I and others levelled at New Horizons simply don’t apply here. Crafting, for example, is so much easier and smoother in Disney Dreamlight Valley, and the simple fact that tools don’t need to be replaced every five minutes is fantastic!

Characters feel dynamic and respond in real-time to events in the game, and each character has their own series of quests to play through in addition to the main storyline. While there’s a case to be made that exhausting all of the quests should bring the game to an end, there are still “daily duties” – mini-quests that can involve some or all of the game’s roster of Disney characters. Moreover, when the main quests and character quests have all been completed, Disney Dreamlight Valley remains fun to play as an Animal Crossing-esque casual life-sim game; there’s still fun to be had. Racing through certain questlines is not how the game is intended to be played, and several quests have natural timers – plants that take time to grow, or objectives that can only be performed at certain times of day, for instance.

Crafting in Disney Dreamlight Valley.

Although the in-game economy works relatively well at the moment, there are potentially things that could be reworked or rebalanced in future. The titular “dreamlight,” for example, that players accumulate as a reward for accomplishing tasks and finishing quests has a limited number of uses – and when all of the different areas of the map have been unlocked, I found myself simply accumulating dreamlight by the boatload with no way to use it or spend it.

Likewise, the in-game “coins”, while slow to acquire at first, soon build up, and I found that getting a moderately decent crop farm going soon racked me up over 2 million coins – and although there are things to spend those coins on, I’ve hardly made a dent in a money vault that even Scrooge McDuck would be envious of!

Scrooge McDuck in Disney Dreamlight Valley.

While we’re on the subject of currencies, it’s clear that when Disney Dreamlight Valley exits its early access phase and goes free-to-play that a significant focus for the game will be on recurring monetisation and in-game microtransactions. Gameloft and Disney have not promised that all characters and story content will take the form of free updates, either, so there’s a risk in the longer-term that Disney Dreamlight Valley will turn into one of those titles that can be quite a money-sink. For parents of younger kids, that can absolutely be an issue, and it’s worth being aware of at this stage. While Disney Dreamlight Valley is currently quite generous with its various in-game currencies, one in particular – “moonstones” – is clearly being readied to be sold.

Moonstones can be earned in-game at time of writing, and are used to purchase cosmetic items like furniture, clothing, and motifs that can be added to custom designs. Players are also required to spend a large cache of moonstones in order to unlock more items for purchase via a kind of “season pass” that, once again, feels like it will be the target for future monetisation. Free-to-play games and ongoing “live services” require a source of income, but again it’s worth being aware even at this early stage that this is the model Disney Dreamlight Valley plans to adopt.

In-game monetisation is planned in future.

Character customisation is fun in Disney Dreamlight Valley, and I feel that there are a decent range of options including different body types, hairstyles, and so on – with some extras that can be unlocked in-game that weren’t available right at the start. There’s also a huge range of different types of furniture – many pieces of which are lifted from or inspired by modern and classic Disney films. And while there are plenty of clothes to choose from, I think I’d like to see a few more outfits and costumes that allow players to dress up as their favourite Disney characters. Some of the clothes feel a little too “generic” to me, and some of the costumes and outfits are more “inspired by” the films rather than directly taken from them. So that’s an area that I’d like to see improved upon! To give one example that may be more relevant to some fans than others, while Disney Dreamlight Valley includes a decent approximation of Princess Anna’s dress from Frozen, there really isn’t a good facsimile of Elsa’s dress from the same film, despite it being one of the most iconic of modern Disney Princess costumes.

But for the creatives among you, Disney Dreamlight Valley offers a pretty extensive customiser, allowing budding designers to create their own Disney-inspired outfits. The game includes a range of blank clothes – tops, dresses, hoodies, and even Mickey Mouse ears – that can be customised with patterns, designs, and much more. These designs are unlockable through gameplay, so the more time players invest in Disney Dreamlight Valley, the more options there will be when it comes to making fun outfits. Although I have the imagination and creativity of a colour-blind slug, even I managed to create a few fun designs with an intuitive and easy-to-use customiser.

Customising a dress in Disney Dreamlight Valley.

So that’s all there is to say for now! I may take another look at Disney Dreamlight Valley in the months ahead, perhaps when it’s ready to leave early access and go free-to-play. If you have Game Pass either for PC or Xbox, Disney Dreamlight Valley is incredibly easy to recommend. At £35/$30, there’s more than enough content to justify the price in my view – and coming in at less than “full price” is fair for a game that is still in early access and has a few issues as a result. However, despite being in early access, I found my 100+ hours with Disney Dreamlight Valley to be remarkably smooth and free from major bugs; there have only been a couple of occasions on which the game crashed, and thanks to a frequent auto-save, I didn’t even lose any progress.

There are anecdotal reports from folks who play on Nintendo Switch having a worse time with more frequent crashes and finding the game to be a less stable experience, but as I’ve played it on PC I can’t speak to that – however, it’s worth being aware of that and checking out other reviews if you plan to play on Switch.

Remy from the film Ratatouille.

For my two cents, Disney Dreamlight Valley is probably the most fun gaming experience I’ve had in 2022. For anyone who’s a Disney fan there’s a lot to love – familiar and new friends to meet and hang out with in a game that blends both narrative storytelling and casual life-simulation. I haven’t seen some of the newer films from which some characters were taken (Remy from Ratatouille and the titular Wall-E were both new to me) but even with that limitation, I had a whale of a time.

Disney Dreamlight Valley is also one of the best early access games that I’ve played – speaking for the PC version, at least. Despite a persistent issue with cloud saving (which I’ve been repeatedly assured is being worked on) the game is largely bug-free on PC, runs smoothly and plays exceptionally well. Were it not for the incomplete story and some impassable doors, you’d hardly realise that the game was in fact still in early access!

So there we go. I’m happy to recommend Disney Dreamlight Valley at this time. Check back when the game leaves early access and I’ll try to share my updated thoughts!

Disney Dreamlight Valley is out now – in early access – for PC, Mac, Xbox One, Xbox Series S/X, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, and Nintendo Switch. Disney Dreamlight Valley is the copyright of Gameloft and the Walt Disney Company. Some screenshots used above are courtesy of Gameloft. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

“My cash-grab is NOT a cash-grab!” exclaims man who’s definitely working on a cash-grab

Since I covered the announcement of The Last Of Us Remastered… Remastered last year, I’ve left the project alone. I’m flat-out not interested in a game that’s been remastered or reworked for the second time in just nine short years, especially when the PlayStation 4 version is perfectly playable. I don’t seek out projects that I don’t like with the intention of crapping all over them; there’s more than enough negativity in gaming communities online that I don’t want to add to it.

But a widely-reported remark from a developer/animator (whose name I won’t share to avoid piling on) really pushed me over the edge. The Last Of Us Remastered… Remastered (or whatever it’s going to be called) is a cash-grab. It’s the second remake of a game that was released in 2013 at the tail end of the PlayStation 3’s life, and it’s being resurrected for the second time entirely as a cheap cash-grab by Sony.

The Last Of Us is being re-remade.

After sharing my initial thoughts back when the announcement was made, I was content to ignore this new remaster. I have no plans to buy it – especially not with a ridiculous £70 price tag (or close to £100 for the deluxe version) – so that was that. Comment made, time to move on. But for one of the senior developers to have the audacity to speak about the game in such a brazen and dishonest way… I just couldn’t let it lie.

The Last Of Us is a good game. It was a great way to close out the PlayStation 3 era for Sony, and it was the game that convinced me to buy my first ever PlayStation console. I consider it one of the best games of the 2010s, and even though its sequel struggled under the weight of a clumsy narrative that tried to be too smart for its own good, the original game hasn’t been sullied by that controversy and remains one of the best examples of narrative, linear, single-player adventures.

The Last Of Us is undeniably a great narrative experience.

But this second attempt to “update” The Last Of Us for a new console generation is motivated purely by profit. Sony is cheaping out; recycling a game that they already have rather than investing in something new. By reusing things like recorded dialogue and motion-capture performances, and by not having to pay a team of writers to come up with a new story, the project can cut costs compared to making a new game from scratch.

There are remasters and remakes that are absolutely worth your time. Resident Evil 2, for example, was remade a couple of years ago from the ground up, and updating a title from 1998 to bring it into the modern-day with a new engine, new voice acting, and so on was absolutely worth doing. It introduced the title to a crowd of new fans who didn’t play it the first time around – and for whom going back to a clunky PlayStation 1 title would be offputting.

The remake of Resident Evil 2 feels much more worthwhile.

The Last Of Us doesn’t have that excuse. Not only is the PlayStation 3 version still perfectly playable in its own right, the PlayStation 4 remaster is an iterative improvement, bringing sharper graphics and ensuring that the game can be played on both PlayStation 4 and new PlayStation 5 consoles. As I said when the project was announced last year, I can’t imagine it would be worthwhile to resurrect the game for a second time – not so soon after the first two versions were released.

New video game generations have offered diminishing returns over the years. There was a huge difference between games from 1980 to 1990, and from 1990 to 2000. But even by the turn of the millennium, things were slowing down. The difference in graphical fidelity between a game from 2000 and one from 2010 was less noticeable than it had been in previous decades, and the difference between a game from ten years ago compared to a brand-new game released today can be so small that it’s difficult to spot.

Is this image from the PlayStation 3, 4, or 5?

Grand Theft Auto V is the same game fundamentally as it was when it was released in 2013 – the same year as The Last Of Us – and it’s still going strong. There have been tweaks as the game was brought to new consoles, but those changes have been criticised for being incredibly minor. Skyrim, The Witcher 3, and many other games from the past decade likewise hold up incredibly well and are still a ton of fun to play.

The only reason for a project like The Last Of Us Remastered… Remastered to exist is to be a cash-grab. That’s why it was dreamt up and that’s all it will ever be. It might be a good cash-grab – and with a game as good as The Last Of Us at its core it should be, provided the new team doesn’t screw it up – but it’s still a cash-grab. And I don’t want to claim that the people working on it aren’t working hard – I’m sure that they are. I’m sure a lot of energy and passion has gone into this cash-grab from the developers. As someone who worked in the games industry, I know how passionate developers can be, and even when a game isn’t great, good developers will still give it their all. That’s commendable.

Promotional image for The Last Of Us.

But that doesn’t excuse trying to present a project like this as something it’s not. The Last Of Us Remastered… Remastered may end up being decent with pretty graphics and neat animation work that talented developers put a lot of time, effort, and passion into making. But that doesn’t make it any less of a cash-grab. I genuinely hope that it will be good – because I don’t want the reputation of The Last Of Us tainted by being associated with a sub-par remaster. But this isn’t a fundamentally new or even different experience; anyone who’s played the original game won’t need to play this version.

And that’s what makes it a cash-grab. It’s an attempt by Sony to, well, grab as much cash as possible for as little investment as possible. Without spending the big bucks that would be needed to create The Last Of Us Part 3, or any other brand-new game, Sony hopes to grind out a remaster that will save them some money but still rake in the cash from fans of the original game. And that strategy will probably succeed, if past experience is anything to go by.

For just $100, you can own the “Digital Deluxe Edition!”

Buy The Last Of Us Remastered… Remastered if you want. Or don’t. If you haven’t played the game yet, it might even be worth waiting for the new remaster to get the most up-to-date and visually polished experience. It’s definitely a game worth playing… but I’m not convinced that this version will be, at least not for me – nor for most folks who’ve already played it.

But whether it’s good, bad, or mediocre, and regardless of how hard individual developers have worked on it, The Last Of Us Remastered… Remastered is a cash-grab. Trying to pretend otherwise is either pure and selfish dishonesty or abject self-delusion.

The Last Of Us Part 1 will be released for PlayStation 5 on the 2nd of September 2022, and for PC at an unspecified later date. The Last Of Us is the copyright of Naughty Dog and Sony Interactive Entertainment. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Happy Birthday, Morrowind!

Depending on where you are in the world, today or tomorrow will mark the 20th anniversary of The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind. The open-world role-playing game was one of a few titles in the early 2000s that genuinely changed my relationship with gaming as a hobby – and kept me engaged when I might’ve otherwise began to drift away. To me, even twenty years later it still represents the high-water mark of the entire Elder Scrolls series, and I’d probably even go so far as to call it one of my favourite games ever.

It can be difficult to fully explain how revolutionary some games felt at the time, especially to younger folks who grew up playing games with many of the modern features and visual styles that still dominate the medium today. But in 2002, a game like Morrowind was genuinely groundbreaking; quite literally defining for the very first time what the term “open-world” could truly mean.

For players like myself who cut our teeth on the pretty basic, almost story-less 2D games of the 1980s on consoles like the Commodore 64 or NES, the technological leap to bring a world like Morrowind’s to life is staggering. Considering the iterative improvements that the last few console generations have offered, it’s something that we may never see again, at least not in such a radical form. Comparing a game like Morrowind to some of the earliest games I can remember playing must be akin to what people of my parents’ generation describe when going from black-and-white to colour TV!

One thing that felt incredibly revolutionary about Morrowind was how many completely different and unrelated stories were present. There was a main quest, and it was an interesting one, but instead of just random side-missions that involved collecting something or solving a single puzzle, there were entire questlines for different factions that were just as long and in-depth as anything the main quest had to offer. It was possible to entirely ignore the main quest in favour of pursuing other stories, and that made Morrowind feel like a true role-playing experience.

For the first time (at least the first time that I’d encountered), here was a game that gave me genuine freedom of choice to be whoever I wanted to be – within the confines of its fantasy setting. There were the usual classes – I could choose whether to be a sword-wielding warrior, a sneaky archer, a mage, and so on – but more than that, I could choose which stories I wanted to participate in… and choosing one faction over another would, at least in some cases, permanently close off the other faction to that character. That mechanic alone gave Morrowind a huge amount of replayability.

To this day there are quests in Morrowind that I haven’t completed – or even started! That stands as testament to just how overstuffed this game was, and as I’ve mentioned in the past, the amount of content in Morrowind eclipses both of its sequels: Oblivion and Skyrim. Morrowind offers more quests, more factions to join, more NPCs to interact with, more types of weapons to use, more styles of magic to use, and while its open world may be geographically smaller, it feels large and certainly more varied – at least in some respects – than either of its sequels.

I first played Morrowind on the original Xbox – the console I’d bought to replace the Dreamcast after that machine’s unceremonious exit from the early 2000s console war! But the PC version gave the game a whole new lease of life thanks to modding – and mods are still being created for the game 20 years later. There are mods that completely overhaul Morrowind’s graphics, meaning that it can look phenomenal on a modern-day PC, and there are so many different player-made quests, items, weapons, characters, and even wholly new locations that the game can feel like an entirely new experience even though it’s marking a milestone anniversary.

Although modding and mod communities had been around before Morrowind came along, it was one of the first games that I can recall to genuinely lean into and encourage the practice. The PC version of Morrowind shipped with a piece of software called The Elder Scrolls Construction Set as a free extra, and it contained everything players needed to get started with modding. I even had a play with the Construction Set when I got the PC version of Morrowind a few years after its release, and while I lack the technical skills to create anything substantial, I remember it being an interesting experience.

I followed a guide I found online and managed to create a companion for the main character, as well as added doors to a specific house so it could be accessed from any of the towns on the map! I also added a few items to the game, like an overpowered sword with a silly name. By this point, Morrowind and its mods were just good fun, and as I didn’t have a PC capable of running Oblivion when that was released a few years later, Morrowind mods were an acceptable stand-in!

Before Morrowind became overladen with mods, though, there were two incredible expansion packs released for the game. This was before the era of cut-content DLC or mini DLC packs that added nothing of substance, so both Tribunal and Bloodmoon were massive expansions that were almost like new games in their own ways. Both added new areas to explore, new factions, new characters, new items, and new questlines. While Tribunal was fantastic with its air of mystery, I personally enjoyed Bloodmoon even more. I like wintery environments, and the frozen island of Solstheim, far to the north of the main map, was exactly the kind of exciting environment that I’d been looking for.

So that’s it for today, really. I just wanted to take a moment to acknowledge the anniversary of one of my favourite role-playing games, to celebrate some of the things that made it great – and continue to make it a game that I’m happy to return to and to recommend to fans of the genre. Regular readers might’ve seen Morrowind on some of my “PC gaming deals” lists around Christmas or in the summertime, and when Morrowind goes on sale on Steam, for example, the game-of-the-year edition with both expansion packs can be less than the price of a coffee. It’s also on Game Pass following Microsoft’s acquisition of Bethesda – so there’s no excuse not to give it a try, at least!

In the twenty years since Morrowind was released, many other games have imitated its open-world layout, its factions, its branching questlines, and its diversity. Some newer games have bigger worlds, more characters, and so on… but Morrowind will always be a pioneer. It may not have got everything right, but it’s a landmark in the history of video games that showed us just how immersive and real a fantasy world could feel.

As one of the first games of its kind that I ever played, I have very fond memories of Morrowind. Often when I pick up a new open-world, fantasy, or role-playing title, I’ll find myself unconsciously comparing it to Morrowind, or noting that Morrowind was the first game where I encountered some gameplay mechanic or element for the first time. It really is an incredibly important game. So happy birthday, Morrowind! Here’s to twenty years!

The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind is out now and can be purchased for PC or via Xbox Game Pass. The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind is the copyright of Bethesda Game Studios and Microsoft. Some images above courtesy of UESP.net. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Video game spotlight: Banished

This is the first part of a new occasional series that I’ll be running here on the website in which I’ll be taking a look in more detail at some of my favourite video games. It’s a lot of fun to review brand-new games and keep up-to-date with all the goings-on in the video games industry, but sometimes it’s nice to step back and just geek out about some of my all-time favourites!

If you’re a regular reader of my gaming content you’ve probably seen me talk about Banished before; it’s a mainstay on my lists of recommended titles whenever there’s a big Steam sale! But despite having recommended Banished on several occasions going back to the website’s first month in operation in 2019, this is the first time I’ve taken a deeper look at the game.

A recent town of mine in Banished.

Banished was released in 2014 for PC, and I honestly can’t remember where I first heard about it. The early- and mid-2010s were a mess for me for all manner of reasons, and my memory isn’t great even under the best circumstances! Suffice to say that I discovered Banished shortly after its launch, and for a relatively low price of admission when compared to titles in a similar city-building space, I thought it was at least worth a shot. The fact that I’m still playing it almost eight years later should tell you how I feel about it!

What astonishes me about Banished is that its developer – Shining Rock Software – is actually just one person. A single person managed to create this incredibly intricate and challenging game, one that exists in a pretty unique niche within the overall city-building game realm. I think that’s absolutely incredible, and well worth taking a moment to consider. Banished was a labour of love – and it shows. Maybe it doesn’t have the flashiest graphics or the most complex and numerous in-game mechanics, but it brings a lot to the table regardless. I’d still include Banished as one of my all-time favourite titles even if it had been put out by an entire studio backed up by a major publisher, but the fact that it’s an indie game made by a single person is just mind-blowing.

A market, crop fields, a mine, and houses.

I usually like to play games on the easiest mode available. Particularly with fast-paced titles like action games and shooters, I find that I just don’t have the reflexes, reaction time, or just the ability to play those kinds of games at that level. This should be the subject of a longer essay sometime, but as someone with disabilities, I really do believe that difficulty options are an accessibility feature that as many games as possible should include. I’ve been playing video games for more than thirty years; if I haven’t “got gud” by now, I’m not going to! But we’ve drifted off-topic.

Banished offers several different difficulty options that can be combined in different ways to customise the experience. The number of families (and individual citizens) that the town has at the start, the harshness of the weather, and whether disasters (like fires breaking out) are switched on or off all make an impact, as does whether the randomly-generated map has more or fewer mountains. Instead of just offering a standard easy, medium, or hard mode, Banished allows players to really tailor the kind of experience they want to have – and I think that’s something more titles in the city-builder genre should try to emulate.

The “New Game” menu.

I would call Banished a game that’s deceptively complex. Its relatively small number of buildings and resources makes it seem, on the surface, that it should be relatively easy to get to grips with. Harvest enough resources to keep your small population healthy, happy, and well-fed. That’s all there is to it, right?

But when you get stuck in, there’s so much more to it than that. Balancing your resources so you aren’t over-producing and wasting storage space while also making sure you don’t produce too little of something and run out is like walking a tightrope at times! I’ve ended up in some very sticky situations because I had slightly too much or too little of something important at just the wrong moment – and it can be fatal, in some cases, if you get caught out.

Harvesting a crop of wheat in Banished.

For example, it’s tempting to use all the logs your citizens gather to construct new buildings – especially at the beginning of the game when you don’t have many. But if you burn through your supply of logs too quickly and don’t have enough citizens assigned to chop down trees or work as foresters to replace them, come winter everyone will freeze because there won’t be enough firewood! Conversely, if you construct a woodcutter’s cabin and don’t keep a careful eye on how much firewood they’re making, they can easily chop up all of the logs you have meaning you won’t have any when you want to construct the next new building!

Banished isn’t a game you can set and forget. In order to truly succeed you need to be on top of your resources pretty much all the time. Even though there aren’t that many you need to manage, it’s a balancing act to stay on top of all of them at once. A single disruptive event can completely bowl you over if you aren’t careful, and when citizens don’t have the right balance of resources their health and happiness will drop, making them less productive. In the worst case they can die – starvation, cold, disease, and so on can all spell doom for the residents of your community!

A small cluster of buildings in a forest.

Take a recent game I played as an example! While building up my town I was constantly hampered by a lack of stone to construct new buildings. Even after building a stone quarry this problem persisted for a while, so I prioritised things like building new houses closer to the quarry so I could get more stonecutters. I constructed other buildings in what I considered to be descending order of importance, prioritising things like making sure there was enough food for a growing population, which meant adding new crop fields, fishing docks, and assigning citizens to those jobs. After a while, there was an outbreak of disease – the measles, in this case. But because I hadn’t constructed any hospitals, the disease ripped through the population! By the time I’d figured out how badly I was screwed, half the town was infected. I pulled everyone off their jobs to get a hospital built, which happened in the nick of time. Doing that, however, meant that there was less food as the harvest went to waste as winter set in and the crops were still in the fields!

All in all, the citizens of my town had a very bad time because of a combination of bad luck and bad management on my part! A lot of citizens ended up dying because there was no hospital, and the disease was only stopped because a few hardy souls managed to scrape together enough resources to build a hospital from scratch at the last minute. It took a long time to recover from that!

Official Trekking with Dennis Top Tip:
Remember to build a hospital!

Like many great PC games, Banished happily encourages modding. There is (or was) a solid modding community, with mods adding in brand-new buildings, gameplay elements, and visual overhauls to name but a few. Shining Rock Software was keen from the very beginning for fans and players to get involved and develop their own mods for the game, and there are some very popular ones that really transform Banished into something different. Playing the game without any of these is fine – wonderful, even – but if you’re ready for a different experience after playing the original version, mods like Colonial Charter give Banished a whole new lease of life.

Returning to the original game, though, there’s plenty to enjoy. There are eight different types of crops, eight different types of fruit trees, and three different types of animals for the town to take care of. These are all different – and the differences aren’t merely cosmetic, either. Some crops grow faster than others, or grow better in different conditions. Citizens are healthier when they have a varied diet – and that includes multiple types of crops, fruits, meats, and the like.

Citizens walking past an orchard in the winter.

The three different animals (cows, sheep, and chickens) all produce different resources for the town, too, and at different rates. Sheep will produce wool, which is great for making clothes, and cattle will produce leather – but you’ll get an awful lot more wool per sheep than leather per cow! Chickens will produce plenty of eggs! It can be easy to overproduce wool and eggs (in my opinion, at least) once you start building a lot of animal pastures – and this can eat up storage space that could be used for other goods!

There are many strategies that players have developed in the years since Banished was released. I play the game my own way, and I’m sure you can find a strategy that works for you either through trial and error or by looking them up online! The fact that there are so many different approaches to playing the game, and so many different recommendations and suggestions for how to get started, what to build first, and so on is testament to the fact that Banished truly is a complex and deep experience.

Pastures holding sheep and chickens near a market.

Banished is a game I can get lost in for hours at a time. Building up a small town, managing its starting resources, and then establishing a trading post to bring in different crops and herds is a ton of fun. Because maps are randomly generated, Banished feels different every time. Every game starts off in a different location, with a different combination of starting resources. There are some things I usually like to do first – my top tip is to make the first building you construct a school so your citizens will always be well-educated and thus more efficient – but other than that I like to play it by ear, see what resources I have in the immediate vicinity of my starting location, and then decide how best to expand!

If you haven’t tried Banished, keep an eye out for it when Steam sales roll around; in recent years it’s often been heavily discounted, meaning you can pick it up for the price of an expensive Starbucks coffee! Even at full price, though, Banished is a game I’d happily recommend to anyone who enjoys a richly-detailed and complex city-builder or strategy game. I would caveat that by saying that Banished isn’t a “casual” game that you can absent-mindedly play while distracted!

So that’s it for this time. After having talked about Banished on a number of occasions I wanted to give it its own full article here on the website. This “video game spotlight” series will hopefully be an occasional thing I do going forward, so keep an eye out for my take on a number of other titles that I’ve enjoyed over the years in future! Happy building!

Banished is out now for PC. Banished is the copyright of Shining Rock Software. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

How long is too long?

Spoiler Warning: Minor spoilers are present for Dying Light 2, Red Dead Redemption II, Kena: Bridge of Spirits, and Animal Crossing: New Horizons.

I’ve talked a couple of times about video game length here on the website, and specifically about how some games can feel too short to offer good value at their price point. Games which cost £65 or $70 but only last five or six hours routinely get criticised for being too short, but my argument is that they’re really just priced incorrectly – had a six-hour game cost £25 instead of £65, it feels like a better price point and thus better value.

Take Ori and the Blind Forest or Kena: Bridge of Spirits as examples – relatively short games (under twelve hours) yet priced around the £30 mark. Both games felt like great value at that price point, and no one seemed to argue that they were somehow “too short.” In my review of Kena: Bridge of Spirits I even argued that padding out the game much beyond the 12-hour mark would’ve been too much.

Kena: Bridge of Spirits was the perfect length for the kind of game it wanted to be.

Over the past 24 hours I’ve seen a different argument arise online, particularly in relation to upcoming action-horror game Dying Light 2. Developer Techland recently claimed that total completion of the game is expected to take in excess of 500 hours – longer, they say, than it would take to walk from Warsaw in Poland to Madrid in Spain. That’s a distance of 2,631 kilometres, or 1,634 miles.

Long-distance hiking aside, I’ve seen a lot of folks online actually criticising Techland and Dying Light 2, proclaiming that its length “isn’t a selling point,” or that the game is “too long.” Having tackled a similar argument before with games that were said to be too short, I wanted to take a look at this and consider whether a game can indeed be too long.

This recent boast from the Dying Light 2 developers hasn’t gone down well with everyone…

In 2020 I spent in excess of 120 hours playing Animal Crossing: New Horizons, and the longest I spent in any single game in 2021 was Red Dead Redemption II, which took me 103 hours to complete the main story and the epilogue. I’m not a completionist who has to get every single achievement and discover every single hidden item or collectable. According to Red Dead Redemption II’s in-game progress tracker, after my 103 hours I’d completed 84% of the game.

However, the remaining 16% was – for want of a better term – fluff. It consists of collectables, travelling to obscure locations, catching at least one of every fish… in a word, boring nonsense that I had no interest in! Likewise with Animal Crossing: New Horizons – after 120+ hours I felt I’d done everything that the game had to offer at least once, and I had no real interest in continuing to dig up fossils or buy random junk from the shop to keep playing.

After more than 100 hours, I’d completed 84% of Red Dead Redemption II.

Games have a natural lifespan, just like any other entertainment product. That length will depend on what the game has to offer, how repetitive some of the tasks and missions are, and many other factors. If Red Dead Redemption II had offered another 103 hours’ worth of proper story missions, I daresay I’d have kept playing because I found the story to be engrossing – but I wasn’t going to spend that time in a fairly static endgame world where all of the missions were complete and all I had left were collectables to find and minor tasks to perform. That doesn’t hold my interest.

For some folks, though, it does. Some games encourage players to keep playing over and over again, and in some quadrants of the gaming community, it isn’t uncommon at all to find players who’ve dedicated literally years to a single game, sinking thousands or even tens of thousands of hours of playtime into titles like Minecraft, EVE Online, or even the aforementioned Animal Crossing series.

EVE Online is well-known for having very dedicated players who play for years and years.

But statistics would seem to suggest that those kinds of players – and those kinds of games – are comparatively rare. For example, in Red Dead Redemption II, most players have unlocked the achievement or trophy for completing the game’s first chapter. Yet on all platforms – Xbox, Playstation, and PC – barely one in three make it to the end of the epilogue and see the credits roll. Red Dead Redemption II has been out for more than three years, so there’s ample time for most players to have progressed that far if they’d wanted to – but it seems that the game’s length sees more and more players drop out as the story goes on.

I like a long story. I’ll happily watch a television show with seven seasons or something like the extended versions of The Lord of the Rings films. And I enjoyed my time with Red Dead Redemption II. But perhaps players who seek out these very long experiences are in a minority – achievement stats for a number of big titles would seem to bear that out.

Scarcely one in five Steam players who started Red Dead Redemption II actually managed to finish its story.

I mentioned the length-versus-value debate at the beginning, and I think a variation of this argument comes into play for long titles just as it does for short ones. If a game is unnaturally “long” because it’s padded out with repetitive fetch-quests, a massive open world that takes ages to traverse, and hundreds of hidden collectables that make no impact whatsoever on gameplay and story, then a developer shouldn’t be bragging about length. That isn’t a long game – it’s a bloated, padded one, and one that probably won’t be much fun for 80% of the time!

This is what I think people were getting at with the Dying Light 2 situation. While some folks may feel that any game can be too long to be enjoyable, the real criticism seems to be that players are concerned that the developers of Dying Light 2 are making a nonsense brag based on how the game world is going to be stuffed with minor, inconsequential fluff. Tasks like shooting 200 pigeons in Grand Theft Auto IV aren’t actually a lot of fun for most players who wanted to complete the entire game, and while finally unlocking that last achievement or trophy may provide some folks with a brief hit of dopamine, the frustration of having to track down 200 obscure, hard-to-reach locations across a large open world probably wasn’t worth it.

Shooting pigeons was a minor task in Grand Theft Auto IV.

So is Dying Light 2 “too long” at 500 hours? Until the game is in reviewers’ hands and we can find out how many of those hours are spent on fun, interesting, or original quests, I don’t think it’s possible to say. Some people may argue that 500 hours will always be too long, and for them that may well be the case. Aside from Civilization VI, I can’t think of any game in the past decade that I’ve spent much more than 100 hours playing – so I guess I’m part of that crowd as well.

In principle, though, I don’t think 500 hours has to be too long for Dying Light 2. But it depends what the game has to offer by way of story, exploration, and engaging gameplay. If the bulk of players’ 500 hours is spent chasing boring collectables or slowly trudging across an open world that’s too large for the game’s mediocre level of content, then yeah, I’d agree that it’s too long and has been overstuffed with meaningless fluff. But if there’s a long story that manages to hook players in and keep their interest, then it’s a whole different conversation.

At the end of the day, we all want different things from our games. Folks who have busy lives and other commitments might feel the need for a shorter game, or a game that they can dip in and out of easily. Players with more free time or who like to stream their gameplay on Twitch might prefer longer, open-ended games that are chock-full of collectables. We all like different things, and there really isn’t an answer to a question like this that can satisfy everyone. If you think Dying Light 2 is going to be too long for you to enjoy… don’t play it, I guess. There are plenty of shorter games out there to take your interest instead. For my two cents, I’d rather see a game have too much content than too little, and be too long rather than too short – especially if it’s charging me £60 or $70!

Dying Light 2 will be released on the 4th of February 2022 for PlayStation 4/5, Xbox One/Series S/X, Nintendo Switch, and PC. All titles mentioned above are the copyright of their respective developer and/or publisher. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

A handful of older films, games, and TV shows that I enjoyed in 2021

Spoiler Warning: Minor spoilers may be present for some of the entries on this list.

At this time of year, practically every outlet – from dying newspapers to new social media channels – churns out list upon list of the best entertainment products of the year. The top threes, top fives, top tens and more of 2021 abound! I have something similar in the pipeline, but today I wanted to take a look back at a handful of films, games, and TV shows from previous years that I found myself enjoying in 2021.

I have long and seemingly ever-growing lists of films, games, and TV shows that I keep meaning to get around to! I still haven’t seen Breaking Bad, for example, nor played The Witcher 3, despite the critical and commercial acclaim they’ve enjoyed! I also have a huge number of entertainment properties that I keep meaning to re-visit, some of which I haven’t seen since we wrote years beginning with “1.” In 2021 I got around to checking out a few titles from both of these categories, and since there are some that I haven’t discussed I thought the festive season would be a great opportunity for a bit of positivity and to share some of my personal favourite entertainment experiences of 2021… even though they weren’t brand-new!

Film #1:
The Lord of the Rings trilogy (2001-03)

We’ve recently marked the 20th anniversary of The Fellowship of the Ring, the first part of Peter Jackson’s epic adaptation of J. R. R. Tolkien’s magnum opus. The passage of time has done nothing to detract from these amazing films, and this year a 4K Blu-Ray release has them looking better than ever before.

The early 2000s had some serious pitfalls for film and television. CGI was becoming more mainstream and many filmmakers sought to take advantage of it, but just look to the Star Wars prequels and how outdated the CGI in those titles is; it hasn’t held up well at all. The majority of the special effects in The Lord of the Rings were practical, and combined with clever cinematography even incredibly dense and complex battle sequences still look fantastic two decades on.

Though I don’t re-watch The Lord of the Rings every single year without fail, I’m happy to return to the trilogy time and again – and I almost certainly will be for the rest of my days! The Hobbit and Tolkien’s Middle-earth was one of the first fantasy worlds I encountered as a young child; I can vaguely remember the book being read to me when I was very small. The conventional wisdom for years was that The Lord of the Rings was unfilmable – but Peter Jackson proved that wrong in some style!

Film #2:
Despicable Me (2010)

I spotted this while browsing Netflix one evening, and despite having seen at least one film with the Minions, I hadn’t actually seen the title that started it all. I have to confess that I didn’t have particularly high expectations, thinking I was in for a bog-standard animated comedy. But Despicable Me has heart, and there were some genuinely emotional moments hidden inside.

The Minions got most of the attention in the aftermath of Despicable Me, and can now be found on everything from memes to greetings cards! The critters are cute, but they’re also somewhat limited – and I think it’s for that reason that I didn’t really expect too much from Despicable Me except for maybe a few laughs and a way to kill an empty evening. I was pleasantly surprised to find a much more substantial film than I’d been expecting.

There were still plenty of laughs and a ton of cartoon silliness to enjoy and to keep the tone light-hearted. But there was a surprisingly emotional story between the villainous Gru and the three children he adopts – especially Margo, the eldest. I can finally understand why the film has spawned four sequels, fifteen shorts, and a whole range of merchandise!

Film #3:
Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (1989)

The Final Frontier has a number of issues that I’m sure most of you will be aware of. It arguably suffered from a little too much involvement from William Shatner, who sought to put Captain Kirk at the centre of the story at the expense of others. But The Final Frontier has some truly great character moments, including one of the final times that Kirk, Spock, and Dr McCoy would be together before The Undiscovered Country brought an end to Star Trek’s original era.

The film has some truly funny moments, too: the scene where Uhura catches Chekov and Sulu pretending to be caught in a storm being one, and Scotty’s moment of slapstick being another that never fails to win a chuckle. The Undiscovered Country was a great send-off for Star Trek’s original crew, but it was quite a heavy film with a lot of tense moments and high-octane action. The Final Frontier brings more light-hearted moments to the table, and that’s something I can appreciate when I’m in the right mood.

There are some exciting sequences too, though. The shuttle crash is a very tense and dramatic moment, and the final confrontation with the entity at the centre of the galaxy, while silly in some respects, does succeed at hitting at least some of those same dramatic highs. Though I wouldn’t suggest that The Final Frontier is anywhere near the best that Star Trek has to offer, it’s well worth a watch from time to time.

Game #1:
Control (2019)

Though hardly an “old” game, I missed Control when it was released in 2019. It had been on my list for a couple of years, and I was pleased to finally get around to playing it this year. The game had a far creepier atmosphere than I’d been expecting, with protagonist Jesse having to battle an unseen enemy called the Hiss.

One thing I really admire about Control is the way it made incredibly creative use of some fairly plain environments. The entire game takes place in what’s essentially a glorified office building, and rows of cubicles or the janitor’s workspace could, in other games, come across as feeling bland and uninspired. But Control leans into this, using the environments as a strength, juxtaposing them with incredibly weird goings-on at the Bureau of Control.

I also liked that, for the first time in years, we got full-motion video sequences in a game! FMV was a fad in gaming in the early/mid-1990s I guess, primarily on PC, and titles like Command and Conquer and Star Trek: Starfleet Academy made use of it. It had been years since I played a game with FMV elements, and it worked exceptionally well in Control – as well as being a completely unexpected blast of nostalgia!

Game #2:
Super Mario 64 (1996)

Despite the serious limitations of Super Mario 3D All-Stars on the Nintendo Switch, which I picked up last year, I can’t deny that it’s been fun to return to Super Mario 64. One of the first fully 3D games I ever played, Super Mario 64 felt like the future in the late ’90s, and even some titles released this year, such as Kena: Bridge of Spirits, owe parts of their 3D platforming to the pioneering work that Nintendo did with this game.

Super Mario 64 is and always has been good, solid fun. There doesn’t need to be an in-depth, complex story driving Mario forward to collect stars, because the game’s levels and bosses are all so incredibly cleverly-designed. Jumping in and out of different painting worlds is relatively quick and feels great, and the sheer diversity of environments is still noteworthy in 2021. Mario goes on a journey that takes him through snowy mountains, a sunken shipwreck, sunlit plains, cities, clouds, and more.

I can’t in good conscience recommend Super Mario 3D All-Stars. The way these games have been adapted for Nintendo Switch isn’t worth the asking price. But even so, going back to Super Mario 64 has been one of my favourite parts of 2021, a chance to reconnect with a game I played and loved on the Nintendo 64. If you’ve never played it, track down a copy and give it a go. You won’t regret it.

Game #3:
Red Dead Redemption II (2018)

I’d been meaning to get around to Red Dead Redemption II for three years – but I’d always found a reason not to pick it up (usually it was too expensive!) It took forever to download on my painfully slow internet connection, but it was well worth the wait. I’ve had a fascination with America in the 19th Century for as long as I can remember – I guess partly inspired by playground games of “the wild west” that were fairly common when I was young. I even had a cowboy hat, toy gun, and “Davy Crockett” hat when I was a kid!

Red Dead Redemption II transported me to that world in a way that I genuinely did not think was possible. Films and TV shows can do a great job at pulling you in and getting you lost in a fictional world, but the interactive element of video games can add to that immersion – something that was absolutely the case with Red Dead Redemption II. The amount of detail in the game’s characters and open-world environments is staggering, and having finally experienced it for myself I can absolutely understand why people hail this game as a “masterpiece.”

I wasn’t prepared for the many emotional gut-punches that Red Dead Redemption II had in store. In many ways the game tells a bleak and even depressing story, one with betrayal, death, and many examples of the absolute worst of humanity. But every once in a while there are some incredibly beautiful moments too, where characters sit together, sing, play, and revel in their bonds of friendship. Red Dead Redemption II gave me the wild west outlaw fantasy that my younger self could have only dreamed of!

TV series #1:
Star Trek: The Original Series (1966-69)

I’ve re-watched quite a lot of The Original Series this year, probably more episodes than I’d seen in the past few years. Because of its episodic nature, it’s easy to dip in and out of The Original Series, firing up an episode or two to spend an hour with Captain Kirk and the crew without feeling the need to commit to an entire season of television.

The Original Series started it all for Trekkies, and I’m always so pleased to see that modern Star Trek hasn’t lost sight of that. In this year’s episodes of Lower Decks and Discovery we’ve gotten many references and callbacks to Star Trek’s first series, keeping the show alive and relevant as we celebrated its fifty-fifth anniversary – and the centenary of its creator, Gene Roddenberry.

Though dated in some ways, many of the themes and metaphors present in The Original Series are still relevant today. Society has changed since the 1960s, but in some areas we’re still fighting the same or similar fights for acceptance, for equality, and so on. The Star Trek franchise has always had a lot to say about that, being in some ways a mirror of society and in others depicting a vision of a more enlightened, optimistic future.

TV series #2:
Fortitude (2015-18)

I went back to re-watch Fortitude this year, for the first time since its original run. The series starts very slowly, seeming at first to be little more than a murder-mystery in a different setting. But it builds up over the course of its first season into something truly unexpected, crossing over into moments of political thriller, action, and even horror.

There are some truly shocking and gruesome moments in Fortitude, and it can be a harrowing watch in places. But it’s riveting at the same time, and I managed to get hooked all over again by the complex characters, the mysteries and conspiracies, and the bleak but beautiful arctic environment.

Fortitude featured some star names among its cast, including Michael Gambon, Stanley Tucci, and Dennis Quaid – the second-most-famous Dennis to be featured on this website! Although it was fun to watch it weekly during its original run, Fortitude is definitely a show that can be enjoyed on a binge!

TV series #3:
Family Guy (1999-Present)

Family Guy’s sense of humour sometimes runs aground for me, dragging out jokes too long or failing to pay off neat setups with decent punchlines. But with the full series (up to midway through Season 20 at time of writing) available on Disney+, I’ve found myself putting it on in the background a lot this year. The short runtime of episodes, the lightheartedness, and the way many of the jokes are often disconnected from whatever nonsense plot the episodes have going on all come together to make it something I can dip in and out of while doing other things.

There are some insensitive jokes, and some entire storylines in earlier episodes have aged rather poorly. But Family Guy seldom strikes me as a show punching down; it satirises and pokes fun at many different groups. In that sense it’s kind of halfway between The Simpsons and South Park; the former being more sanitised and family-friendly, the latter being edgier and meaner.

I rarely sit down and think “gosh, I must watch the latest Family Guy episode.” But if I’m in need of background noise or something to fill up twenty minutes, I find I’ll happily log into Disney+ and put on an episode or two.

So that’s it.

There have been some great films, games, and television shows that were released in 2021. But there were also plenty of entertainment experiences from years past that, in different ways, brightened my year. As we gear up for New Year and for everyone’s end-of-year top-ten lists, I wanted to take a moment to acknowledge that.

I hope you had a Merry Christmas, a Happy Holiday, or just a relaxing day yesterday! I did consider writing something to mark the day, but I found that I had remarkably little to say that was different from the piece I wrote last year. 2021 has been “2020 II” in so many respects, unfortunately. However, unlike last Christmas I will be able to visit with some family members – I’ll be seeing my sister and brother-in-law later this week, which will be a nice treat! So here’s to 2021’s entertainment experiences – and as we enter the new year, it’s worth keeping in mind that we don’t only have to watch and play the latest and newest ones!

All titles on the list above are the copyright of their respective broadcaster, distributor, developer, network, publisher, studio, etc. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

New consoles one year later – was it worth it?

It’s been a whole year since the launch of the Xbox Series S/X and the PlayStation 5. The consoles debuted a week apart in early November 2020, and I thought I’d mark the occasion by taking a look back on what has to be considered a pretty rough year for both machines.

At time of writing, both the Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5 are out of stock in the UK – and this has been the case for twelve months. Occasional deliveries of consoles to retailers are either sent out to folks who pre-ordered or are snapped up within minutes of going on sale – often by bots. Availability of the less-powerful Xbox Series S has been spotty, but generally better than its more powerful cousin, which is good news for gamers on a budget. However, availability overall has been poor.

Promotional image of the Xbox Series X.

These aren’t the first machines to launch without the supplies to meet worldwide demand, and it’s likely that they won’t be the last. But as I argued last year, this particular console launch feels far worse and more egregious than practically any other. It’s certainly true that other consoles in the past had supply issues. Getting a Nintendo Wii in the UK in 2006 and into 2007 was difficult, for example. But this feels far worse than that, and when compared to the launches of the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One in 2013 it’s pretty damn bad.

As we keep hearing on the news, issues with “supply chains” abound across the world, and this was true a year ago as Microsoft and Sony prepared to launch their new consoles. Many components involved in the manufacture of the machines – from silicon to microprocessors – were feeling the pinch due to a number of factors. The pandemic had hit manufacturers in China and Taiwan hard earlier in 2020, but there were also additional pressures from a growing cryptocurrency mining craze that ate up vast numbers of graphics cards and other components. As a result of all of these factors and more, both the Xbox Series S/X and the PlayStation 5 launched with far less availability than necessary.

Two PlayStation 5 editions – with and without a disc drive.

Ever since the transition from 2D to 3D, it’s taken game developers a while to truly get to grips with new hardware and release games that can fully take advantage of the computing power on offer. As a result, for at least a couple of years following the launch of a new console many games are in transition – looking slightly better, perhaps, than the prior generation, but still nowhere near as good as they could. With the diminishing returns on offer considering that Xbox One and PlayStation 4 titles could already look decent, many games released for the two new systems over the past year haven’t really felt new or innovative.

This generation, like the one before it really, will almost certainly go down as an iterative step rather than a transformational one. When consoles from the previous generation could knock out visually-stunning titles like Red Dead Redemption II, Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, and Ghost of Tsushima, it really feels like there’s limited room for improvement! Put the average player in a room with the best-looking games of the last generation and some of the first titles from this generation and they’d struggle to tell the difference.

Last generation’s Red Dead Redemption II is a stunningly beautiful game with an expansive open world.

There’s a case to be made that Microsoft and Sony should’ve waited. Rather than letting down their audiences by having totally inadequate supplies, if they’d delayed their releases by a year and used that time to build up stock in anticipation of a bigger launch in 2021, we could be talking about the new consoles releasing this month. It’s still possible that they’d both sell out just like last year – but it’s also possible that the extra manufacturing time, without the pressure of fulfilling pre-orders from increasingly irate customers over the past twelve months, would have led to a better launch window for both consoles.

So I guess that’s where I come down on the issue. The consoles were launched callously by both companies without adequate levels of stock to meet the demand that they knew existed. The predictable outcome has been that scalpers and touts have been re-selling consoles all year long for close to double the recommended retail price, lining their own pockets in the process. It seems as though Sony and Microsoft don’t care about this in the slightest, and they’ve been content to leave the problem of bots and reselling to retailers. Some retailers have tried to put in place mechanisms to prevent bots from buying up every available machine, but as we’ve seen all year long these reactions have been more miss than hit.

A handful of Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5 consoles being offered for sale via a popular auction website. Prices are easily approaching twice the recommended retail price for both machines.

In terms of games, both Microsoft and Sony – as well as practically all third-party developers – have pursued a year-long policy of making titles available on last-gen consoles as well as the two new machines. Only a handful of titles have been true exclusives, with PlayStation games like Ratchet and Clank: Rift Apart and Returnal carrying their flag. Microsoft fans have to be content with basically no exclusives right now, with games like Forza Horizon 5 and the upcoming Halo Infinite also launching on PC and Xbox One.

Might there be some buyers’ remorse among PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X players? I would think so – especially if they paid over the odds for their console to an eBay scalper. Neither machine feels like particularly good value even at their recommended retail price, let alone at the prices folks have actually had to pay to get their hands on them! The handful of exclusive games are backed up by “enhanced” versions of last-gen titles, but in many cases I’ve genuinely struggled to tell the difference between different consoles’ versions of the same title. The improvements on offer over the past year have come in terms of things like frame rate – jumping to 60fps from 30fps for certain titles – and then in comparatively minor areas like controller battery life. These things are hard sells.

The PlayStation 5 DualSense controller.

There have been some changes over the past year, though. Microsoft’s aggressive pursuit of the Game Pass model represents great value for players on a budget, opening up an entire library of titles for a relatively low monthly fee. Sony still hasn’t caught up and doesn’t have a functional Game Pass competitor yet. Both companies have also made big moves into supporting PC gaming – with games that were once PlayStation exclusives making their way to a new platform. In lieu of having enough PlayStation 5 consoles to sell, perhaps that’s something of a consolation prize for Sony!

Overall, I can’t even be generous enough to call the past year a “mixed bag.” There are far more negatives than positives as I see it, and unless both companies can get to grips with the supply and demand issue, this Christmas will be the second in a row where folks are either going to have to pay silly money for a new console or go without. That isn’t a good look, and the longer these problems drag on the worse it will get for the reputations of both Sony and Microsoft.

Last year I felt that it was wrong to launch the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series S/X given the low levels of stock and the myriad other issues that a pandemic-riddled world was facing. The past twelve months have done nothing to change my mind or convince me I was wrong about that. Inadequate manufacturing capacity has kept both consoles out of too many players’ hands, and those who did succeed at getting a pre-order – or more likely who paid close to double the price to a scalper – have found a perishingly small number of exclusive games on a machine that doesn’t feel like much of an improvement over the last generation. The Xbox Series S/X and the PlayStation 5 have potential – but over the past twelve months, neither have come close to reaching it.

Xbox and all other related properties mentioned above is the copyright of Microsoft. PlayStation and all other related properties mentioned above is the copyright of Sony. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only is not intended to cause any offence.

Luigi’s Mansion 3 – final thoughts

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Luigi’s Mansion 3.

Time flies very quickly, doesn’t it? I think that might be the single spookiest thing about my playthrough of Luigi’s Mansion 3! I started playing last October, with a view to putting out a full “Let’s Play” series of articles in the run-up to Halloween, but once Halloween had passed by I put the game on the back burner for a while.

I like Luigi’s Mansion 3. It’s a fun game with some clever mechanics involved, there aren’t any bugs or random spikes in difficulty, and overall it’s the kind of sweet, lightly scary fun that I like to see at this time of year. From my perspective, though, it just didn’t make for a great game to write about in-depth for a full series of articles.

Let’s wrap up Luigi’s Mansion 3.

The reason for that is simple: Luigi’s Mansion 3 has some fantastic gameplay but is relatively light on story. You know the premise: the spooky Hellen Gravely and King Boo have kidnapped Luigi’s friends, and over the course of a dozen or so levels – represented by the floors of the Last Resort hotel – Luigi has to fight various ghosts and spirits to get them back.

In short, the fact that I can summarise the game’s entire story in a couple of sentences encapsulates what made it a struggle to write about in such depth. I could easily write a review of the game – but to give a blow-by-blow account of every interaction on every level, which I tried to do at first, quickly became repetitive. I didn’t think the articles I was putting together were all that interesting to read, let alone entertaining, so I really didn’t know what to do with Luigi’s Mansion 3 for a while.

The game’s title screen.

I kept promising myself that I’d get back to the series once I had a better idea for making the write-ups interesting. But the only thing I could really think of was condensing the articles into fewer instalments, and even then I still didn’t like what I’d produced.

This website has involved a degree of experimentation on my part. Some things developed organically – like the weekly Star Trek theories I write when a new season is running. Others have been attempted, but for various reasons didn’t work as I initially hoped. The Luigi’s Mansion 3 series of articles has been one such disappointment.

Figuring out how to write about Luigi’s Mansion 3 was a challenge.

However, I like to think I’ve learned something worthwhile from the experience! The biggest takeaway for me is that I have more to say and more to talk about when a game has a strong narrative. Once I’d got the prologue out of the way and settled into the Luigi’s Mansion 3 gameplay loop, I found myself running out of things to say. That says something about the way I write as much as it does about games like Luigi’s Mansion 3, and I know that a lot of people have published playthroughs focusing on this game – and many other titles with a comparable style. But this is my website, and I have my own way of writing and of approaching this format!

I would definitely like to do more playthroughs – but as I approach the subject again, I need to consider the choice of games carefully. I chose Luigi’s Mansion 3 last October specifically because it had a spooky theme, but I didn’t really stop to think about how the game works and what I’d be able to write about at the end of each play session. Having learned a thing or two as a result of this experience, I’d like to think any future playthrough series will be a much more interesting read from your point of view – and a much more enjoyable writing experience from mine!

The titular Luigi.

With all of that out of the way, what did I think of Luigi’s Mansion 3? Having never played the first two games in the series, I was coming at the game from a newbie’s point of view. There were a couple of points where having a bit more knowledge of either the greater Mario franchise as a whole or the prior Luigi’s Mansion titles might’ve provided a player with a little more – but this was mostly in the form of “easter eggs” and references; nothing story-wise or gameplay-wise relied on knowledge of other games.

And that’s the way it should be! Luigi’s Mansion 2 came out for the 3DS in 2013, and the original game was a launch title for the GameCube back in 2001, so expecting Switch players in 2019 – when the game was released – to remember everything from the previous two titles would’ve been an impossible ask! I felt Luigi’s Mansion 3 was approachable and newbie-friendly.

The first title in the series was released in 2001 on the GameCube.

Nintendo’s first-party titles are almost always high quality. I didn’t encounter any bugs or glitches, and only a couple of very minor graphical issues. Luigi’s Mansion 3 looked decent even on my 4K television screen, and the Switch’s graphics in general are fantastic considering the console’s size and portability. With a file size of only a little over 6GB, Luigi’s Mansion 3 packs a lot into a small package – making it quick to download and easy to store even on the Switch’s limited internal storage.

Gameplay was fun, and offered several completely unique elements that I’ve never experienced in other titles. Luigi’s main weapon is his vacuum – the Poltergust G-00 – which makes a return from the two older titles, albeit in an updated form. This fun and unique weapon allows Luigi to tackle ghosts in a variety of ways, including slamming them into the ground, bashing them against each other, and firing a shockwave.

Gameplay was great fun.

The Poltergust can also be used to fire a plunger which can be used to interact with the environment. Though it does have applications in combat, the plunger shot was largely useful for navigating previously-blocked areas of the hotel as well as uncovering secrets and hidden items spread throughout the game world.

The addition of Gooigi – Luigi’s gooey doppelganger – made navigating levels much more interesting. Areas that Luigi couldn’t access on his own were easy for Gooigi to reach, and this had functionality both to advance the main story and for idle exploration and retrieving hidden gems. Having two playable characters with different abilities isn’t something new in video games, but Gooigi put a unique and fun spin on the concept, and came in handy on many different occasions!

Gooigi and Luigi.

Story-wise, Luigi’s Mansion 3 was pretty basic. That’s to be expected, though, and what story there was was done very well. These kinds of games don’t go all-in on big, believable narratives, and that’s absolutely fine. What mattered in Luigi’s Mansion 3 wasn’t really the story but the gameplay, and in that regard the game was an enjoyable experience.

Hellen Gravely was a King Boo superfan, and kind of a parody of a certain type of obsessive fan that I think we all see from time to time. Otherwise the story was a riff on a very familiar concept in the Super Mario series – a nefarious evil-doer has kidnapped someone special to our hero, and he must fight his way past the baddie’s minions, working his way up to defeating the big bad herself, in order to save them all.

Hellen Gravely, the game’s villain.

Trapping Mario and the others in paintings was itself a riff on the Super Mario 64 idea, at least on a superficial level, so in that sense nothing about the story of Luigi’s Mansion 3 was groundbreaking. What it did was put its own spin on a couple of existing concepts, then execute those ideas very well. As escapist entertainment it was perfectly enjoyable, and there was enough of a story to keep the game’s momentum going.

As someone who isn’t really into horror, what I liked about the setting was that it retained a spooky, creepy aesthetic, but kept things kid-friendly. I would wager that all but the most sensitive of children would be able to play and enjoy Luigi’s Mansion 3, and as a game to play in the run-up to Halloween I can hardly think of a better one! Striking the right balance in a game all about ghosts in a haunted hotel is a tricky task, and it would’ve been easy for the game to slip up and become scarier than intended. Luckily it avoided that particular pitfall.

I had fun with Luigi’s Mansion 3.

So Luigi’s Mansion 3 is an odd one for me. I failed in my mission to write up a full playthrough, but despite that I actually had fun with the game itself. The fact that it didn’t make for a good writing project is more to do with how I like to write and what I look for when it comes to writing up a full playthrough of a game. Luigi’s Mansion 3 is everything you’d want from a title of this nature.

I’ve been meaning to write this conclusion for a little while now, and October seemed like the right month once again! To those of you who tuned in for my Luigi’s Mansion 3 playthrough last year, thank you. I hope you enjoyed the pieces that I was able to write. Stick around, because I’ve got other ideas for playthroughs that – fingers crossed – will be more substantial!

Luigi’s Mansion 3 is out now for Nintendo Switch. The Super Mario franchise – including Luigi’s Mansion 3 and all other titles mentioned above – is the copyright of Nintendo. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Game length and value

From time to time a video game will come along that causes controversy for its length. Titles like last year’s Resident Evil 3 remake, PlayStation 4 launch title The Order 1886, and even Gears of War 4 have all been criticised in some quarters for being too short, and whenever such criticism is made the same keyboard warriors crawl out of the woodwork. “There’s no such thing as too short!” they exclaim, stating that a game’s length doesn’t matter so long as the game itself is good. And that’s not an unfair argument; many players would rather play an excellent game that’s 6 hours than endure a bad game for 60 hours. But that isn’t the end of the affair.

This whole discussion seems to stem from a place of wealth and privilege. If someone has a huge budget for gaming, then of course the length of a game doesn’t matter. Paying £50 or £60 for a six-hour experience is absolutely fine – but only for players who can afford it. Many folks, myself included, have a limited budget for games and gaming, and the length of time we’ll be able to enjoy a game is thus a factor in deciding whether to purchase it and whether it meets our needs, especially considering how many games are out there waiting to be played.

Last year’s Resident Evil 3 remake is one title that has been criticised for its length.

In brief, if I’m confronted with two games that are each £55 (the standard price for brand-new AAA games in the UK at present) one of which is 6 hours long and one of which is 30 hours long, one game clearly offers better value than the other; I will get more gaming for my money with the longer title. “Enjoyment” is a nebulous concept which is difficult to quantify, but if we assume both games are in the same genre and both were well-received by reviewers, one game demonstrably offers better value.

It’s uncommon for me to pick up a brand-new title at launch specifically because of how pricey games can be. Though length isn’t the only consideration when deciding which new game to pick up, it certainly can be one factor among many. Though I would never say “short games are bad,” because many aren’t and can be a lot of fun, how much time I can expect to enjoy a game for is a factor for myself and, I have no doubt, for many other players with limited funds.

Anthem was also attacked in some quarters for its short campaign.

The length-to-value calculation assumes that games are initially offered at full price – £55 or $60 for the basic version, with some ultra-special editions going for a lot more. But there is a second component to this issue, and for me it gets right to the heart of the matter. Some games, such as Ori and the Blind Forest, are competitively priced right from the moment that they launch. Both games in the Ori series didn’t ask full price, and because both games were relatively short (at around eight and ten hours respectively) they still offered good value.

If a game only has six hours’ worth of content and asks for £55 or $60 up front, it deserves all of the criticism that it gets. But if the same game were to launch for £20 or £30, practically all of that criticism would melt away. The game could be seen as good value because it would be priced accordingly. Raw length on its own isn’t the issue, the real reason why some people – especially those of us on lower incomes or with less money for gaming – can feel ripped off by a short game is that they feel like bad value.

The Ori games aren’t particularly long, but they don’t charge full price either.

Getting the best value for money isn’t always about buying the cheapest product. If I buy an incredibly cheap roll of bin liners (garbage bags) but they leak so I have to use two each time, I haven’t necessarily got the best value. If I buy a cheap pair of headphones that break, and I have to keep replacing them every few months, I haven’t necessarily got the best value. The same is true of video games: I could log on to Steam or any other digital shop right now and buy the cheapest game I could find – but there’s no guarantee I’d enjoy it or even be able to play it.

Value for money exists whatever kind of product we’re talking about, and video games are commercial products. Just like the cheapest game isn’t necessarily the best value game, nor is the longest game. But when considering all of the different factors involved in deciding whether or not to go ahead and make a purchase, for a lot of folks length absolutely can be a valid consideration.

The Order 1886 is another title that was subject to criticism.

If a game is too short, and a player only has enough money for one new game, I can quite understand that player choosing to overlook that game in favour of a longer one. For someone whose primary hobby is playing video games, how long a video game lasts can be important. If a game is over within a few hours, and can thus reasonably be beaten in a day or even in an afternoon, someone on a limited budget could find themselves stuck with nothing to play for the rest of the week or the rest of the month.

This is why length matters. It isn’t the only thing that matters, and I don’t believe that most folks on this side of the argument are trying to simplistically argue that “short game equals bad game.” But what we are saying is that short games that ask full price aren’t great value, and that some publishers need to reconsider how much they charge if their latest title is particularly short.

Game length can be one factor in determining value for money.

There are many short games that I’ve played over the years that I had a lot of fun with, and I would never say that short games are inherently bad or not worth playing. But at the same time, when reviewing a title like that you can expect to see me comment on the length and even go so far in some cases as to recommend players wait until a game’s price is reduced before picking it up. That’s simply because of my own perception of a game’s value.

Think about it like this: a six-hour game that costs $60 is charging you $10 per hour of playtime, whereas a six-hour game priced at $20 is only charging $3.33 per hour of playtime, and a game with a hundred hours’ worth of content at $60 is charging you a mere 60¢ per hour of playtime. Now it’s true that not all games and thus not all hours of gameplay are created equal, but assuming that we’re looking at games with similar review scores within the same genre then I think the comparison is apt.

Let’s conclude by answering a question: can a game be too short? No, but it can be too short to offer good value at its price point. Asking for games to be priced accordingly instead of blindly leaping to the defence of publishers who are, in some cases at least, trying to get away with overcharging and underdelivering, will see this argument all but disappear.

All titles mentioned above are the copyright of their respective studio, developer, and/or publisher. Some screenshots and promotional art courtesy of IGDB. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

The “live service” spiral

Have you ever wondered why so many so-called “live service” games fail to live up to expectations and ultimately get shut down? Or why so many of these types of titles are actively despised by players all around the world?

I’ve lost count of the number of times an exciting-sounding game has been announced only for me to end up sighing with disappointment when I hear the dreaded words “live service.” To many players, those words have come to epitomise all of the worst things about gaming as a hobby in 2021, and it’s got to a point where a game has to offer something truly exceptional before I’ll even consider stepping over the live service hurdle to give it a shot.

This is how “live service” games make me feel!

I’ve talked on a number of occasions about the “release now, fix later” business model that has corrupted the modern games industry. In short, games companies see the internet as an easy way to roll out patches and fixes after a game has been released, thanks to the ubiquity of internet connectivity on every gaming platform nowadays, so they figure they can release a game in an incomplete state and fix it after launch. Though games like Mass Effect: Andromeda and Cyberpunk 2077 prove that this isn’t a phenomenon unique to live services, these kinds of titles are almost universally afflicted.

Many live service games launch with a “roadmap” – another dreaded gaming neologism that rightly turns off anyone who hears it. In lieu of actual gameplay features, levels, and content, the game arrives in a threadbare state with a so-called roadmap, which is little more than a euphemism for promises of updates and new content. All too often, though, the promised updates never arrive because the game gets shut down. The roadmap leads to a dead end.

How’s that roadmap working out for you, Anthem?

If a game felt complete – with enough characters, levels, and whatever else it needs – promises of further content would be no bad thing. It would give the game’s fans something to look forward to while they enjoyed what was available at launch. But it’s rare that a live service feels complete at launch, and most roadmaps end up promising content that should have been part of the original game.

So we come to what I’m calling the “live service spiral.” Here’s how it goes: a live service game launches to mediocre reviews from critics and players, with many criticising its threadbare state and unfinished nature. Though there is a roadmap promising further content to come at some nebulous future date, many players who were considering picking up the game instead adopt a “wait-and-see” approach, biding their time until the promised updates arrive and the game is actually worth playing. But this leads to lower-than-expected sales, which in turn means that the publisher panics and decides to cancel the roadmap, ending development on the game and cancelling planned updates and patches. The game’s remaining players drift away, disappointed, to await the next title and begin the cycle again.

The first Destiny game was an early example of this phenomenon.

In 2021, having seen so many of these live services stumble out of the gate and get unceremoniously shut down shortly thereafter, I have less and less sympathy for players who still believe the hype and get hooked in with promises. If a game isn’t good enough when it launches to be worth my time – and more importantly, my money – why should I give it either on the back of vague promises? And if you choose to invest in a live service game knowing how many have come and gone in the blink of an eye, why should I offer you my sympathy when the next one follows the pattern and also fails?

So many games have been in this position. Just in the last few years we can call to mind titles like Anthem, Star Wars Battlefront, WWE 2K20, Destiny 1, and probably Marvel’s Avengers within the next few months. So there are more than enough examples to serve as warnings that this business model is not worth investing in.

Marvel’s Avengers could be next on the chopping block.

Here’s the basic problem that games industry managers and executives can’t seem to wrap their corporate heads around: for every Fortnite or Grand Theft Auto Online there are a dozen or more Anthems or Destinys. For every title that adopts a live service model and makes a success of it, there are dozens more that fail. And if a company isn’t willing to put money and effort into creating a title that players actually want to spend their time playing, desperately chasing the faltering live service trend will always be a losing proposition.

Many live service games were doomed from the very moment they were conceived in the mind of a business executive. Someone with precious little understanding of the industry looked at Fortnite or Rainbow Six Siege, and without knowing the first thing about those games nor realising they’re about a decade too late, said to their team “make me one of those.” From that very moment the game was dead on arrival – but nobody realised it, or at least nobody had the balls to tell the publisher.

Not every game will see the success of titles like Fortnite. Companies need to set realistic expectations.

All the way through development and through the extensive marketing campaign that followed, dedicated developers tried their best to build a game to the specifications of some moron in a suit, and it was all for nothing. All of that time, effort, and money was pissed away chasing after a concept that’s already played out for a company that never understood it in the first place. In many cases, “crunch” and other abusive working practices saw developers and other employees suffer actual quantifiable harm, all for the sake of a meaningless, useless piece of shit game like Anthem. Imagine working yourself half to death for the sake of Anthem, only to see the game shut down months after it launched.

Hopefully the backlash some of these games generate, combined with lacklustre sales and continued failures to meet expectations, will see this business model slowly start to die off. But all of us need to be very careful about throwing our money into any live service game that comes along in future. Companies have proven time and again that they see these games as disposable and they’re willing to cut and run from a failing project no matter how many players get screwed over in the process. If they treat their own games with such little respect, why should we buy into such a model?

We have to find a way to break the live service spiral, to show games companies that this business model is no longer viable. Some noteworthy failures, like those mentioned above, will start to cause a rethink in corporate boardrooms, but the process needs to accelerate. Not just for the sake of us having better games to play, but for the physical and mental health of those in the industry working on these titles.

All titles mentioned above are the copyright of their respective studio, developer, and/or publisher. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

More of the worst things about modern video games

A couple of months ago I took a look at some of the trends I hate the most in the modern games industry. But one list wasn’t comprehensive enough, apparently, because I’ve found ten more of the worst things to look at today!

Gaming as a hobby has come a long way since I first owned a Super Nintendo. Games have evolved from being little more than electronic toys to being a legitimate artistic and storytelling medium in their own right, and many of my favourite entertainment experiences of all time are in the gaming realm. Games can equal, and in some cases surpass, film and television.

Mass Effect 2 has to be one of the best stories I’ve ever experienced.

But not everything about gaming is fun! There are annoyances and problems with games today, some of which didn’t exist a few years ago, and others which have dogged the medium since its inception. As always, this list is entirely subjective, so if I criticise something you like, or ignore something you hate, please keep in mind that all of this is just the opinion of one person. If you want to check out my previous list, you can find it by clicking or tapping here.

With all that out of the way, let’s get started!

Number 1: Checkpoints

Cal Kestis at a checkpoint in Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order.

Is it 1996? No? Then let’s stop using checkpoints and allow players the freedom to save their game whenever and wherever they need to! With relatively few sensible exceptions – like in the middle of a boss fight or during a cut-scene – there’s no reason why modern games can’t incorporate a free save system.

Checkpoints were a limitation of older hardware and software; games and consoles weren’t always able to offer players the ability to save the game anywhere, so designated save zones – or checkpoints – had to be incorporated. This was already a step up from passwords that you had to write down (remember those?) but checkpoints are simply unnecessary and out-of-date in modern games.

Control also uses a checkpoint system.

With gaming having grown in the years since checkpoints were the only way to manage save files, more people from different backgrounds are getting into the hobby – including many more adults, working-age people, and folks with less free time. Having to replay a lengthy section of a game because the game didn’t offer the freedom to save when you needed to is incredibly frustrating, and considering that there is no technical reason for not implementing a proper save system, in my opinion there’s no excuse.

Whine all you want about “vision” and “integrity” and that players should “git gud,” but a lot of folks simply want to play through a fun and entertaining narrative. We also want to play through it once, not multiple times because of the lack of a convenient save function. Checkpoints seemed to have largely disappeared until the likes of Dark Souls brought them back as part of its “extreme difficulty” shtick. But there’s a difference between a challenge and something frustrating; checkpoints are definitely in the latter category.

Number 2: Boring and/or repetitive side-missions

“Another settlement needs our help.”

It’s no good bragging about the number of quests or missions in your game if 80% of them are the same – or equally as bad as each other! Open-world games tend to fall victim to this, but it’s a phenomenon that can plague all manner of different titles.

These kinds of missions follow one of a couple of different formulae: “go to location X and pick up item Y” or “go to location X and kill Y number of enemies.” Then that’s it. Mission over, receive a few experience points or a random, usually-not-worth-it item, and repeat. Such quests are nothing but padding for a game that should’ve been shorter and more focused.

The Mako in Mass Effect: Legendary Edition.

Even otherwise good games can end up going down this route. Mass Effect 1 is a case in point. The main story missions in the game are phenomenal, and while the stories which set up some of the side-missions sound like they could be potentially interesting, each one basically consists of “drive vehicle to location, kill enemies, press button.” Because 90% of the side-missions use basically identical maps and environments, this gets old fast – even if the storyline setting up the mission seems superficially interesting.

If you can’t make a good side-mission, skip it. I’d rather play a game that isn’t as long but doesn’t have this unnecessary fluff padding it out and, frankly, wasting my time.

Number 3: Collect-a-thons

Another feather. Yay.

On a related note, many open-world games have recently begun being padded out with miscellaneous items to collect. Upon picking up a feather, for example, the game will tell you that you’ve discovered 1/100 – only 99 more to go! These items almost always have no impact on the plot or gameplay of a title, and often don’t even give out a reward for finding all of them. At most you might get a trophy or achievement for collecting all of them.

At least boring side-missions usually have some kind of setup. A villager needs you to kill the rats in his basement, an admiral needs you to shut down all four computer cores, etc. Though the missions themselves are junk, a modicum of thought went into their creation. Collect-a-thons have no such redeeming feature. Often the items to be collected are so random that they have no link whatsoever to the plot or character.

Pigeons in Grand Theft Auto IV are another example.

Why does my grizzled war veteran on a mission to save the world need to spend his time hunting down 100 feathers or 50 leaves? If the items did something – anything – like if they could be used for crafting or if they were notes or recordings containing lore and info about the game world, well at least there’d be a point. It wouldn’t necessarily be a good point, but still.

These items are added into games – often in obscure or hard-to-reach places – purely to pad out the game and extend its runtime. They serve no purpose, either narratively or in terms of gameplay, and while I have no doubt that some players find collecting every single in-game item fun, for me I’d rather the effort and attention wasted on features like this was refocused elsewhere. One side-mission, even an average one, would be better than 100 random pieces of shit to collect.

Number 4: Online cheating

An aimbot for popular game Fortnite.

If you have a single-player game and want to turn on god mode or assisted aiming, go for it. Cheats can sometimes be accessibility features, offering a route through a game for players with disabilities, as well as providing a way to skip the grind for players who don’t have much time. But when you go online and play against real people, you damn well better leave the cheats behind!

There are so many examples of cheating players getting caught and banned that it can be kind of funny. Even some professional and wannabe-professional players have been caught out and learned the hard way that the internet never forgets. But no one should be doing this in the first place.

Some losers even cheated at Fall Guys, for heaven’s sake…

Trying to take away the most fundamental tenet of competition – fairness – is so phenomenally selfish that I don’t even know what to say. If there were a financial incentive – like winning the prize money at a big tournament – I could at least recognise that some folks would be tempted to try to take the easy route to payday. But in a game like Fall Guys where it’s supposed to be fun… I just don’t get why someone would feel the need to cheat.

Some games have a bigger problem with cheating than others, and games that don’t get a handle on a cheating problem fast can find themselves in serious jeopardy. It’s unfortunate that the anonymity of the internet means that a lot of players simply get away with it, with some even going so far as to use “disposable” accounts, so that if one gets banned they can just hop to another and keep right on cheating.

Number 5: Overly large, confusing levels

Looks like fun…

We kind of touched on this last time when considering empty open worlds, but some games have poorly-designed levels that are too large and almost maze-like. Getting lost or running in circles – especially if no map is provided – can become frustrating very quickly. These kinds of levels are often repetitive and bland with little going on.

Some games have levels which are simply not well laid-out, making it difficult to find the right path forward. I’ve lost count of the number of times I was trying to explore, thinking I was investigating a side-area, only to find it was the main path forward, and vice versa. Advancements in technology – particularly as far as file sizes go – have meant that levels and worlds can be physically larger. Sometimes that’s a good thing, but sometimes it isn’t!

This also applies to featureless open worlds or maps without landmarks for ease of navigation.

If a game has a map, or if a level is well-signposted (either literally or figuratively) then it shouldn’t matter how large it is. Players will be able to figure out where to explore and where to go to proceed with the story or quest. But too often that isn’t the case, and getting lost, backtracking, or not knowing where to go are all annoyances! Not every level has to be massive. Some work far better when kept concise, especially if the number of things to find or do in the level are limited.

Obviously I don’t include in this category mazes or levels which are deliberately designed to be puzzling. Some games make clever use of deliberately puzzling levels, where exploring and figuring out the right path is all part of the fun. Others just screw up their level design and leave players wandering around, confused.

Number 6: Orphaned franchises/unfinished stories

I’m not even going to say it…

Though the phenomenon of a story being abandoned partway through is hardly new – nor even unique to gaming – the rise of more cinematic, story-driven games since the turn of the millennium has brought this issue to the fore. The first encounter I had with this was in 2001 when Shenmue II dropped off the face of the earth (following abysmal sales in Japan and elsewhere) meaning that the saga was never finished.

But it isn’t just financial failures that don’t land sequels. The lack of a third game in the Half-Life series has become a joke at this point, more than fifteen years after the last mainline entry in the series. Fans have been clamouring for Half-Life 3 for a long time, and the recent success of VR title Half-Life: Alyx proves there’s a market and that the game’s audience is still here.

Will there ever be a Bully 2?

Sometimes a studio gets busy with other projects. There hasn’t been a new Elder Scrolls game, for example, in part because Bethesda has worked on the Fallout franchise and Starfield in the years since Skyrim was released. But there are also plenty of cases where a developer or publisher finds a cash-cow and abandons all pretence at making any new game so they can milk it dry.

Look at Rockstar with Grand Theft Auto V’s online mode, or Valve with its Steam digital shop and the success of online games like Dota 2 and Counter-Strike: Global Offensive. Those studios could make new games or sequels to existing games, but instead choose to focus on older titles. Similarly, studios like Bethesda found success by porting existing games to new and different hardware, as well as releasing new or updated versions of older games.

Number 7: Ultra Special Super Extreme Deluxe Editions

How many different “editions” does a game need?!

I’m not talking about so-called “collector’s editions” of games, which are often simply the game plus a statue or other memorabilia. Those can be fine, because if someone is willing to part with silly money to get a resin statue of an in-game character who am I to judge? What I greatly dislike are games that are sold with multiple “editions” – i.e. a “basic” version with missing features, then several progressively more expensive versions with those missing features added back in.

Some games take this to silly extremes, with a “basic” version retailing for full price (£55/$60) and the most expensive “deluxe” edition being far more expensive for the sake of adding in-game content (extra skins, missions, etc.) that were literally developed alongside the main game then cut out. Some of these ultra extreme special editions can retail for £80, £90, or even £100 in some cases, and that’s just deceptive.

Sports games, like the FIFA series, do this a lot.

This is an evolution of the “day-one DLC” phenomenon that was present a few years ago. In the case of Mass Effect 3, for example, an entire main character, a mission to recruit them, and all of their scenes and dialogue, was literally developed along with the game, perfectly integrated and designed to be part of the game, then cut out and sold as downloadable content literally on the day the game launched.

In multiplayer titles, the extreme special supreme editions can come with in-game advantages, making them literally pay-to-win. In free-to-play games, perhaps a degree of paying for an advantage is to be expected – but some of these games are asking full price, then giving a competitive advantage to players who pay above full price.

Number 8: Unrepresentative trailers/marketing material

Anthem made a fake trailer… and look what happened to the game.

I used to work in video games marketing, and I thought I’d seen every shady trick in the book! But some of the trailers and marketing material that publishers show off in the run-up to the launch of a new game can be downright deceptive. Some games, like notorious failure Anthem, even went so far as to create fake “in-game” footage to be shown off at marketing events, which is incredibly bad form.

Cyberpunk 2077 is another example. That game was developed to run on high-end PCs and next-gen consoles, and the Xbox One/PlayStation 4 version was so poorly-optimised when it launched that many folks considered it to be literally “unplayable.” The trailers and marketing material hid this fact, and developer CD Projekt Red deliberately kept those versions of the game away from reviewers. The result was that no one realised how broken the game was until it was too late.

CD Projekt Red didn’t show things like this in the Cyberpunk 2077 trailer…

Mobile games are notorious for putting out trailers that are entirely unrepresentative of the games they’re selling. Many mobile games are samey, basic tap-a-thons with unimpressive graphics and mediocre gameplay, yet the trailers make them seem like big-budget console-quality games. In a way this isn’t new; 2D games in the 8-bit era were often marketed with cartoons and fancy graphics that made them look far better than they were!

The thing is, unrepresentative marketing always comes back to bite a company. Just ask CD Projekt Red, whose implosion in the aftermath of Cyberpunk 2077′s abysmal launch will enter gaming history.

Number 9: Massive patches and updates


Last time I criticised ridiculously huge file sizes for games, and this time I want to pick on updates and patches in particular. There’s no feeling more disappointing than sitting down to play a game you’ve been looking forward to all day only to find that either the game or the console needs to download a stupidly large update before you can jump in.

Some updates can be dozens of gigabytes, and if you’re on a slow internet connection (like I am) or have limited downloads, it can take forever to update the game – or be outright impossible. Once again, folks with limited time for gaming are in trouble here; even on a reasonably fast connection, a massive update can cut into or erase the time someone set aside for gaming.

After buying a brand-new console, downloading patches and updates can be a time-consuming task.

The stupid thing is that many of these updates appear to change absolutely nothing! I’ve lost track of how many times Steam has updated itself on my PC, for example, only to look exactly the same every time. While it’s good that games companies can roll out bug fixes, patch out glitches, and even fix cheating issues remotely, these things can happen at the most inconvenient times!

In the run-up to Christmas it’s now commonplace, even in mainstream news outlets, to see advice given to update new consoles and games before giving them out as presents. Little Timmy’s Christmas would be ruined if he had to spend all of Christmas Day waiting around for his new PlayStation to update before he could use it!

Number 10: We’re drowning in sequels, remakes, and spin-offs

The Final Fantasy series is up to its fifteenth mainline title…

It’s increasingly rare for a games company to produce a new game that isn’t based on an existing franchise or property. Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t an issue unique to gaming – it’s happening on television and in cinema too. We’re 100% in the era of the franchise.

As great as it is to play a sequel to a much-loved title, it’s also great fun to get stuck into a completely new story with new characters and a new world. Unfortunately, as is the case in television and cinema, companies are increasingly viewing brand-new stories as risky – if fans don’t respond well then their investment will have been wasted!

How many Call of Duty games have there been by now?

Sooner or later, I think this franchise and sequel mania has to break. It can’t go on forever, not least because existing franchises will run out of material and fans will lose interest. But right now it shows absolutely no signs of abating, and some video game franchises have become annual or almost-annual fixtures. The Call of Duty series is a case in point – there’s been a new game every year since 2005.

I appreciate studios willing to stick their necks out and take a risk. Control is a good recent example of a successful new IP, and Starfield will be Bethesda’s first wholly new property in decades when it’s finally ready. But there’s certainly less storytelling innovation than there used to be, and fewer new games in favour of sequels, franchises, and spin-offs.

So that’s it. Ten more things that bug me about modern gaming!

I’m sure I’ll be able to think of more later!

Although we’ve now found twenty annoying trends in modern gaming, the hobby is generally in a good place. Technological improvements mean games look better than ever, and the increase in gaming’s popularity has seen more money enter the industry, as well as quality standards generally rising rather than falling. There are problems, of course, but the industry as a whole isn’t in a terrible place.

At the end of the day, it’s fun to complain and have a bit of a rant! The last list I published seemed to be well-read, so I hope this one has been a bit of fun as well! Now if only someone would make a Star Trek video game… perhaps the lack of one warrants a place on my next list!

You can find my first list of the worst things about modern video games by clicking or tapping here.

All titles mentioned above are the copyright of their studio, developer, and/or publisher. Some screenshots and promotional art courtesy of press kits on IGDB. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Five ideas for Star Trek video games

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for the Star Trek franchise, including minor spoilers for Star Trek: Discovery Season 3.

The Star Trek franchise has not been particularly well-served in the video game realm, especially in recent years. With the exception of Star Trek Online, which continues to receive updates, there hasn’t been a major release since 2017’s Bridge Crew. Both Online and Bridge Crew are somewhat niche titles, too, with the former being a massively multiplayer online game and the latter being a title designed with virtual reality in mind.

There have been a couple of new smaller games released this year, including free browser game Star Trek: Kobayashi Maru and Star Trek Legends for Apple Arcade, but considering the renewed popularity the franchise is currently enjoying, it feels as though there’s potential for ViacomCBS to do more with Star Trek as a video game franchise.

Star Trek: Kobayashi Maru is a free browser game. And it’s pretty good!

Star Trek Online was originally launched in 2010, and while the game is still being supported at time of writing, surely its lifespan is limited and it will eventually come to an end. The only other significant release really in the last decade has been the awful 2013 Star Trek action/adventure title, which was so badly-received that director JJ Abrams criticised it, fearing it actually harmed Star Trek Into Darkness when it was released that same year.

In this article I’m going to suggest five potential Star Trek video game ideas, and we’re going to consider different ways that the franchise could make a new attempt to score a hit in the gaming realm – something that hasn’t happened in a long time! Two of the biggest and most successful Star Trek video games that I can recall were 2000’s Star Trek: Voyager – Elite Force, which celebrated its twentieth anniversary last year, and the Star Trek: Armada duology of real-time strategy titles which were also released around the turn of the millennium.

As always, caveats apply! I’m not saying that these games will ever be made, and I don’t have any “insider information!” This is just a wishlist from a fan. Nothing more.

Number 1: Star Trek: First Contact

A Borg drone seen in First Contact.

I’ve already proposed a First Contact tie-in once before, but this time I want to hone in on one particular aspect of my suggestion from a few months ago. In short, First Contact – which is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year – would make for an excellent first-person shooter title with horror elements. Think Star Trek’s answer to Doom Eternal and you’re in the right sort of area!

Players would take on the role of a security officer aboard the Enterprise-E during the mission to Earth, and this character could be customisable which would be a nice touch. After arriving in the past, the player character would be one of the security officers tasked with holding the line and retaking the lower decks of the ship from the Borg as they attempt to assimilate the Enterprise-E and prevent first contact from taking place.

An Enterprise-E security officer firing his phaser rifle.

Though the main cast of the film would be present at points, the game wouldn’t necessarily have to follow the entire story directly. This would be a looser adaptation, with a focus on the battle for the lower decks of the Enterprise-E while Picard, Riker, and co. are busy with the main plot of the film. This would allow for maximum storytelling leeway, and I think a fun and engaging story could be written depicting the fight between Starfleet survivors and the Borg, which was something we saw parts of in the film but not the entire thing.

The first mission might take place during the Battle of Sector 001, and the player character could be present for significant moments like the holodeck scene with Picard and Lily, or even the spacewalk to prevent the Borg using the main deflector. In addition, the narrow hallways of the Enterprise-E, as well as jeffries tubes, catwalks, and even areas of the ship we haven’t seen like nacelle tubes would all make for dangerous and scary enclosed spaces to battle the Borg!

Number 2: Star Trek: Discovery

The USS Discovery.

As Discovery approaches its fourth season later this year, it’s not unfair to say the series has well and truly established itself in the franchise! As the series which brought Star Trek back to television after a twelve-year break, Discovery has been flying the flag for Star Trek for almost four years now. Some Discovery characters have been included in Star Trek Online, but it would be wonderful to see the series get its own video game adaptation.

Though there are many different ways a Discovery game could go, I feel like a third-person action/adventure title would be a great fit. Think Star Trek meets Uncharted or Jedi: Fallen Order and you’re on the right track! A game with a strong focus on story and with mysteries and puzzles to solve along the way would suit this game perfectly, and while it could be connected to either the Control story or the Burn, perhaps an altogether new and original storyline would work even better.

Michael Burnham would be the game’s protagonist.

Players would, of course, take on the role of Michael Burnham. However, at points in the game it would be possible to assemble away teams, picking up at least two other characters to join Burnham on her mission. Games like the Mass Effect series worked well with three-person squads, and adapting it to work here would be great.

The game could be set in either of Discovery’s time periods, but the 32nd Century naturally allows for the most storytelling options, as there’s nothing in canon to constrain it. The game could bring back familiar Star Trek races that haven’t been seen since past iterations of the franchise, and all of this could be done without treading on the toes of anything the series wants to do on television. Tying a game into an ongoing series makes a lot of sense, and while it isn’t something we see every television show try to do any more, it would still be a fun idea.

Number 3: Star Trek: Armada III

A sequel to this game would be fantastic!

I mentioned the Star Trek: Armada games earlier, and they were great fun to play around the turn of the millennium. The real-time strategy titles – of which there were two – played similarly to games like Age of Empires, and there were campaigns to get stuck into as well as random matches. Star Trek: Armada II in particular became a LAN party favourite for a couple of friends and I, and we played it regularly!

In addition to starships that could fight, part of Armada II involved base-building and resource collecting, with different kinds of ships and space stations required to research, build, and maintain the fighting ships. There were different factions to choose from as well, which is a must for this kind of title.

A screenshot of Star Trek: Armada II.

Armada III could pick up where the earlier games left off in the early 2000s, with a setting around the 2370s-80s. Or it could be set in the 23rd Century to connect with Strange New Worlds, with factions like the Klingons, Tholians, and Gorn. Alternatively, a 32nd Century setting would be an option, with the rump Federation and factions like the Emerald Chain and Ni’Var.

Regardless, I’d keep the real-time strategy gameplay more or less unchanged, with options for deathmatches and a single-player campaign. There are plenty of real-time strategy titles at the moment, with the genre going strong. There’s no reason why a new Armada title couldn’t be one of them!

Number 4: The Dominion War

A Jem’Hadar attack ship.

If Armada III would be a real-time strategy game, I imagine that the Dominion War could be adapted to make a wonderful grand strategy title. If you can imagine Star Trek mixed with the likes of the Total War series, you’re on the right page.

The Dominion War is perfect for this kind of grand strategy game, and players would have the choice of siding with either the Dominion and Cardassians or the Federation Alliance. The game would depict the entire war from beginning to end, starting with the loss of DS9 and concluding with the Battle of Cardassia… or the Dominion conquest of Earth!

Earth seen in Discovery Season 3. Think you could conquer it if you were in charge of Dominion forces?

Both factions would change as the game wore on, with the Romulans joining the Federation alliance midway, and the Breen throwing in with the Dominion about two-thirds of the way into the campaign. Perhaps, though, these events would not be set in stone, and failing to achieve certain objectives or keep key characters alive would mean the new allies don’t join.

The game would be similar to Total War titles in that there’d be an overall campaign map, but players would also be able to dive in and participate in individual battles. Pre-made battles or randomly created ones could be available to play in multiplayer as well, though the main campaign would be a single-player experience.

Number 5: An open world title

A map of the galaxy seen in Discovery Season 3.

Perhaps the expression “open galaxy” would be more appropriate! It would actually be tricky to create a true open world in a Star Trek game, unless the action was to take place entirely on a single planet. But in the vein of games like the Mass Effect series or Knights of the Old Republic, perhaps a role-playing/adventure game could be created with multiple planets to visit.

Players would have their own starship or runabout to command, along with a variety of potential recruits to join their crew, giving this game a “Mass Effect meets Star Trek” kind of feel. In addition to a main quest, which would see players tasked with defeating some kind of nefarious villain, there would be many smaller missions and side-quests allowing for plenty of opportunities for Star Trek fun.

A Mass Effect-style game in the Star Trek galaxy? Yes please!

I imagine the player character would be a Starfleet officer, given a “covert ops” assignment and sent on their way with minimal interference from Starfleet command, which would account for the large degree of player choice on offer. Though there would be a main story to follow, a big part of the fun of open world titles is exploring the map, discovering fun locations and side-missions, and getting lost in the world.

Star Trek has what I consider to be the best world-building of any franchise, so crafting a game that took advantage of the deep lore that the Star Trek galaxy offers should be something achievable. Giving players a practically blank slate to create a character and take them on their own Star Trek adventure sounds amazing, and I bet a game like this would win the franchise new fans.

So that’s it. Five ideas for future Star Trek video games.

Star Trek: Voyager – Elite Force (2000).

Star Trek video games, unlike comparable titles in the Star Wars franchise, have never really hit the mainstream in a big way. There have been some successes: Voyager – Elite Force had a moment in the year 2000 where it was popular with PC gamers, for example. But I don’t think it’s unfair to say that most Star Trek games have really only appealed to hardcore Trekkies. Finding a way to reach out beyond that is key to the success of any future title.

That doesn’t mean ViacomCBS should jump on some of the gaming industry’s fads or worst trends, but I think it does mean that, if they’re going to go to the expense of developing a video game, it should be one that has more than just niche appeal. I’ve mostly considered single-player games, because those are my personal favourites in most cases, but as Star Trek Online has shown, there is room for multiplayer experiences as well.

Star Trek is currently enjoying a renaissance, and if this continues it’s not implausible to think that future Trekkies might look back on the 2020s as a “golden age” of Star Trek in the same way fans of my generation look back on the ’90s! Video games aren’t essential to Star Trek’s success going forward, but the medium continues to grow and there’s a huge degree of crossover between Trekkies and gamers, so taking advantage of that and producing a high-quality, engaging game that’s fun and easy for new fans to get stuck into seems like a no-brainer to me. I’d dearly love to see a new Star Trek game some time soon – and I’ll be keeping my fingers crossed!

All video games mentioned above are the copyright of their respective studio, developer, publisher, etc. The Star Trek franchise – including all titles mentioned above – is the copyright of ViacomCBS. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Civilization VII: Ten historical factions and leaders the game could include

Civilization VI was released for PC in 2016, and was subsequently ported to home consoles. The game quickly became one of my favourite strategy titles, despite not having played many turn-based strategy games beforehand. There have been new games in the Civilization series every five or six years on average, so with the current title approaching its fifth anniversary, now seems like as good a time as any to consider a few historical factions (and their leaders) that the next game in the series could include.

In the 1990s, when the first couple of Civilization games were around, I was more of a fan of real-time strategy offered by the likes of Command and Conquer, Red Alert, and Age of Empires. It wasn’t until 2016 that I gave the series a fair shake and came to realise just what I’d been missing! Civilization VI became my most-played game of the late 2010s, and at this point I’ve sunk hundreds of hours into playing it.

Civilization VI (2016)

Civilization VI has a roster of almost 50 factions, some of whom have two leaders to choose from. These factions come from all over the world and represent a huge span of history, from the distant past to contemporary times. I’ve tried to pick a similar range for my list, including factions from different continents and who flourished at different points in history.

Some strategy games can feel European-centric, partly because of the unconscious bias of their developers, perhaps, but also because European history is generally subject to more detailed study and has more archaeological and documentary evidence preserved. Civilization VI – and the whole franchise, really – has done well to avoid this particular pitfall, and I hope to do the same!

For the sake of clarity: I don’t have any “insider information.” I’m not claiming any of these factions will appear in Civilization VII or any future entry in the series. I don’t even know for sure that such a game is in development! So please keep in mind that this is a wishlist from a fan of the series. Nothing more. With that out of the way, let’s take a look at the list!

Number 1:
Faction: Wales
Leader: Llywelyn the Great (13th Century)

The flag of Wales.

Starting close to home, the Civilization series has previously featured the English and Scottish, but never the Welsh! Though England and/or the British Empire are mainstays of this series – and of strategy games in general – it would be great to see an independent Wales featured for a change.

Wales still exists today as a constituent country of the United Kingdom, and recent decades have seen a degree of self-government, with powers delegated from the British parliament in London to the Welsh Assembly. But Wales existed as an independent realm for centuries before falling to English conquest in the 13th Century.

Modern statue of Llywelyn the Great.

There are many historical and legendary figures from Welsh history to choose from, but few are as successful as Llywelyn the Great. He came to dominate Wales in the early 13th Century through a series of conflicts, annexations, and wars. He successfully defended Wales against the English, sided with the Barons against King John in 1215, and after starting his reign as a minor noble, came to be recognised as the ruler of practically the entire country.

In terms of a unique tech, unit or building, Wales could have the Millennium Stadium – home to the Welsh football and rugby teams. Wales is a strong sporting nation, with a rugby team that punches above their weight, frequently appearing at the pinnacle of the game despite the country’s small population.

Number 2:
Faction: Inuit
Leader: Nerkingoak (18th Century)

Territorial flag of Nunavut, Canada, a territory with a large proportion of Inuit peoples.

The Inuit peoples (also known historically as Eskimo) inhabit the northernmost reaches of North America. Related populations also exist in northern Russia, Greenland, and Europe. Though Civilization VI introduced several Native American factions – and Canada – the Inuit were not amongst them, and it would be great to see them included in future.

Bringing indigenous peoples into works of fiction like this can be controversial, but developers Firaxis have managed to work with representatives of different groups during the development of past games and expansions to ensure their perspectives are listened to. In short, the controversy boils down to two things: these games involve war and conquest, something native groups argue their ancestors did not participate in, and the fact that indigenous peoples have to be “westernised” in order to be competitive factions, developing technologies they didn’t historically use. Those are understandable objections.

Mikak, daughter of Nerkingoak. Painting by English artist John Russell c. 1769.

Little is known about the life of Nerkingoak, who was a tribal leader in the mid-18th Century. His daugther, Mikak, visited England in 1768 as part of a plan by the English to broker better trading agreements with Inuit leaders. Because of the harsh environment of the Arctic Circle, many Inuit peoples lived traditional lives with little interference from European powers well into the 19th Century.

The natural fit for the Inuit in a Civilization game would be to give them the ability to live and settle in the coldest parts of the map! Perhaps by ensuring Inuit settlements could thrive on snow and ice tiles they’d get a unique gameplay advantage, being able to settle areas of the map that most other factions would consider to be out-of-bounds.

Number 3:
Faction: Madagascar
Leader: Queen Ranavalona I (19th Century)

Modern-day flag of Madagascar.

Though Madagascar’s capital city, Antananarivo, appears in Civilization VI as an independent AI-controlled city-state, Madagascar itself – or its Malagasy people – have not been a playable faction. Madagascar’s location as an island off the African coast has led to its society being a blend of African, Asian, Arabic, and European, and while still considered “off the beaten track” in the 21st Century, tourism has become a big part of the Madagascan economy.

Madagascar was one of the last parts of Africa to be colonised by Europeans, spending 63 years as a French colony. The island was invaded during World War II by the Allies to take control away from Vichy France, and would be important later in the war for Allied shipping around Africa.

An engraving of Queen Ranavalona I.

In the early 19th Century, with European powers intent on colonising all of Africa, Queen Ranavalona I stood in opposition, successfully maintaining Madagascar’s independence for her entire reign. At a time when women were not generally in positions of power anywhere in the world, her powerful and successful policy of isolation – while marred by other domestic problems – can certainly be considered a success.

In terms of unique technologies, perhaps Madagascar could take advantage of its incredibly diverse wildlife, with some kind of animal park or national park. Alternatively, Queen Ranavalona I’s policy of strict isolationism could see opponents’ units or religions deteriorate inside Madagascan borders.

Number 4:
Faction: Xia China
Leader: Yu the Great (2nd millennium BC)

No known flag or banner of the Xia dynasty exists. This jade axe head is believed to date from the period of the Xia dynasty.

Chinese history falls into many distinct dynastic periods, the earliest of which is the Xia dynasty. Though the Xia did not govern all of modern-day China, their influence on successive Chinese rulers was significant, as the Xia established the concept of dynastic rule by Emperors.

As we head this far back in time, history, legend, and myth all blend together, and although there are extant relics and artefacts from the Xia period, little can be reliably known about the Xia period or its leaders; practically everything we know comes from later sources.

Han dynasty depiction of Yu the Great.

Yu the Great was the legendary emperor who was said to have “controlled the waters,” reducing flooding in the Xia heartlands. Rather than damming rivers directly, or building dykes and levees, Yu dug canals and irrigation channels to mitigate the worst floods, keeping Xia farms safe from unpredictable flooding.

Surely one of the unique properties of Xia China would have to be connected to that! Perhaps Yu would be able to build farms further away from water sources due to his irrigation prowess, or if natural disasters are part of the game, Xia China could be immune to flooding.

Number 5:
Faction: The Confederate States of America
Leader: Jefferson Davis (19th Century)

The flag of the Confederate States of America c. 1864.

A controversial choice, perhaps, but the Confederate States of America (a.k.a. the Confederacy) is seldom depicted outside of titles specifically about the American Civil War, and could be an interesting inclusion in the next Civilization game. The CSA was founded by political leaders from the American Southeast in 1860-61, and it was their intention to break away from the United States of America following the election of Abraham Lincoln, a known abolitionist. On a personal note, the American Civil War has long fascinated me, and is a subject I studied at length while at university.

To this day some neo-Confederates defend the CSA as pushing for “states’ rights,” but there can be no separating the attempted creation of the country from the issue of slavery. The Confederacy would formally exist for a mere four years before defeat in the American Civil War in 1865 saw the USA re-occupy all of its territory. The breakaway states were slowly given full readmission to the Union in the second half of the 1860s, and the country tried to move on – not always successfully.

Jefferson Davis.

Jefferson Davis was the Confederacy’s first and only president, and by his own account didn’t want the job when it was first offered to him. Regardless, he accepted, and though unsuccessful during the war, in the 1870s and 1880s he wrote a significant work detailing the events from his point of view, becoming a leading proponent of the “lost cause” mythology that defined southern thinking for decades.

Perhaps the Confederacy could be given a unique unit – General Robert E. Lee. Historical analysis generally ranks Lee as one of the finest military tacticians of his generation, and his leadership of Confederate forces in the latter part of the war arguably postponed the Confederacy’s defeat.

Number 6:
Faction: Knights Hospitaller (a.k.a. Order of St. John)
Leader: Jean Parisot de la Valette (16th Century)

Shield of the Knights Hospitaller.

The Knights Hospitaller were a Catholic religious order, created during the crusades. They were initially headquartered in Jerusalem, following the city’s conquest by crusaders, but subsequently lived on Rhodes and finally Malta. The Knights’ defence of Malta is legendary, defeating a massively superior Ottoman force at the height of the Ottoman Empire’s expansion into Christian Europe.

The Sovereign Military Order of Malta still exists today, albeit in a very different form. Finally driven from Malta by Napoleon in 1798, the Order is now headquartered in the Vatican along with other Catholic religious orders. They have recently returned to Malta in a limited capacity, however, leasing Fort St. Angelo – an important fortification during the defence of Malta – from the Maltese government.

Statue of Jean Parisot de la Valette in Malta.
Photo Credit: Continentaleurope at English Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Jean Parisot de la Valette was a French nobleman who was Grand Master of the Order during the 1550s and 1560s. He commanded the defence of Malta against Ottoman forces led by Dragut on behalf of Suleiman the Magnificent. The Knights’ victory after a brutal siege was the first reversal the Ottomans suffered, and marked the beginning of the end of Ottoman expansion into Europe. The Maltese capital Valetta is named in his honour. I cannot recommend the book The Great Siege by Ernle Bradford highly enough if you want to learn more about this fascinating event!

The Knights could draw on either their defensive strategy at Malta or their inhabitation of islands for unique techs and bonuses in Civilization VII, perhaps with a unique defensive fortification that could restore a portion of its strength at the end of each round, mimicking how the Knights resupplied Fort St. Elmo during the siege of Malta.

Number 7:
Faction: South Sudan
Leader: TBD

The flag of South Sudan.

South Sudan has been a country for less than a decade, officially becoming independent from Sudan in July 2011. It’s the world’s newest country! Despite the joy many South Sudanese felt at independence, however, economic issues combined with a bloody civil war have made the country a difficult and dangerous place to live.

African nations and civilisations tend to be under-represented in strategy games – and in western media in general – so South Sudan would be an interesting inclusion in any future game. With other independence movements around the world, South Sudan won’t remain the world’s newest country forever, but the fact that it’s in that position now would make it a first for a game like this!

South Sudan’s location in Africa.
Picture Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

Because of the South Sudanese civil war and ongoing problems within the country, it’s difficult to choose a real-life figure for the game. It would feel wrong to encourage players to take on the role of one of South Sudan’s real-life political or military figures given things like restrictions on freedom of the press and accusations of criminal acts during the civil war. Perhaps that rules out a country like South Sudan for a game like this – but there are positives too, including the mere act of representation.

As a new nation born in the 21st Century, South Sudan could have a unique characteristic based on that. Its status as a nation on the upper reaches of the River Nile could also be the source of a unique technology or ability.

Number 8:
Faction: Nepal
Leader: Prithvi Narayan Shah (18th Century)

Nepal has a unique flag!

Despite being sandwiched between China to the north and British-controlled India to the south, Nepal managed to remain independent. That’s no mean feat considering much of the region came under the control of European powers in the 18th and 19th Centuries, and perhaps Nepal – which was for a long time the world’s only Hindu monarchy – was helped by its location in the Himalayas.

Nepal coalesced in the mid-1700s following a series of annexations and conflicts, and has remained unified ever since. Its terrain helped keep it relatively isolated, and though there were contacts and trading going on with India and China, Nepali society and culture developed separately from its larger neighbours.

A painting of Prithvi Narayan Shah.

Prithvi Narayan Shah is considered the “Father of the Nation.” He was the first King of Nepal, and he was the leader who first unified (and conquered) the smaller kingdoms present in the region, coalescing them into a single nation. The Shah dynasty he founded would rule Nepal until 2008 when the country became a republic.

In a game like Civilization VII, Nepal’s bonuses would surely be derived from mountains. Nepali units could be able to traverse mountains, they could found cities and build other improvements on mountain tiles too. In the late game, perhaps Nepal could see a tourism boost, reflecting the increase in the number of tourists in the 21st Century who flock to the country to visit and climb Mount Everest.

Number 9:
Faction: Khoisan Peoples
Leader: ǂKá̦gára (mythological)

There is no Khoisan flag that I could find. This piece of Khoisan cave art may be over 20,000 years old.

The Khoisan peoples are not one single homogenous group. They are, in fact, a collection of related peoples who inhabit southern Africa. The Khoisan peoples were South Africa’s first inhabitants, arriving millennia before the Bantu-speaking peoples and white colonists.

Anthropologists consider Khoisan peoples to be the descendants of the first humans to leave the “cradle of humanity” in Africa, and thus they may very well be the longest-established groups of people anywhere on Earth, having inhabited southern Africa for more than 150,000 years. Though they suffered greatly under South Africa’s apartheid regime, many Khoisan peoples retained their traditional hunter-gather nomadic lifestyle well into the 20th Century.

Khoisan people depicted in colonial-era art.

Khoisan languages were never written down, and are still being studied by linguists and anthropologists. There is a mixture of history, legend, and myth in their oral traditions, making it hard to choose a distinct historical figure. ǂKá̦gára, the one I’ve proposed here, is almost certainly mythological, perhaps closer to a demi-god than a human!

The Khoisan peoples in Civilization VII could benefit from staying in their starting region, reflecting the Khoisan peoples’ real-world history of continuous inhabitation of southern Africa. Additional bonuses could be added for each era the Khoisan stay put, granting defensive bonuses or economic ones.

Number 10:
Faction: Wessex
Leader: Alfred the Great (9th Century AD)

A modern flag of Wessex.

We come full-circle and end where we began: the British Isles! As mentioned, England and Scotland have been included in past Civilization games, but none of their predecessors have been. Wessex was an independent kingdom from the end of Roman rule in Britain until the formation of England itself – which was done under the rule of the royal house of Wessex.

Wessex was initially one of many smaller Anglo-Saxon kingdoms during England’s dark ages. The end of Roman rule left a power vacuum, and sub-Roman Britain collapsed into a number of independent realms, one of which was Wessex in the south-east. After fighting against other Anglo-Saxon kingdoms and against the Vikings, Wessex would eventually succeed at unifying England into a single country.

18th or 19th Century depiction of Alfred the Great.

Alfred the Great is an historical figure with legendary status in England. His rule saw conflict at first, but eventually he was able to make peace with the Vikings, leading to a period of stability for his kingdom. Alfred also paid great attention to education, insisting that schools switch from using scholarly Latin to vernacular English as their language of instruction.

Any bonuses previously assigned to England could in theory be assigned to Wessex in a future Civilization game, but there could also be bonuses based on Alfred’s reputation as a learned man with a passion for education. For example, schools and universities could generate additional science and/or tech points.

So that’s it. Ten factions and leaders who could potentially be part of the next game in the Civilization series… whenever that may come!

The Civilization series has come a long way since its debut in 1991!

I’ve tried very hard to be respectful to the diverse peoples and nations on the list above, and I hope that comes across. There’s always a debate about how to include different civilisations and peoples in games like this. I’m a big advocate of representation in all forms of media, especially for peoples who have been historically under-represented, but I understand the argument that has been made by different peoples and their representatives in the past about their inclusion in games about warfare and conquest, as well as the “westernising” of their cultures. Developers have to walk a delicate line between making a game that’s fun to play and in which factions are balanced while avoiding “whitewashing” or excessive historical revisionism. I hope developers Firaxis and publisher 2K Games can manage to get the balance right.

This could be an entire essay in itself, and perhaps one day I will write on this subject in more detail. For now, suffice to say I’ve tried to pick some different factions and leaders that I haven’t seen depicted in many games or in the Civilization series. Whether any of those above will be included in future is anyone’s guess, but I think it would be neat if they could be.

Though I don’t know for sure whether a new Civilization game is in development, it feels like an inevitability that a new game will eventually be made. The popularity of Civilization VI shows that there is a market for this kind of turn-based strategy or digital board game, and while there are other titles in the genre on the horizon – such as the upcoming Humankind – I’ll be really interested to give Civilization VII a try whenever it’s ready!

Civilization VI is out now for PC, PlayStation 5, Nintendo Switch, and Xbox One. The Civilization series – including all titles mentioned above – is the copyright of Firaxis and 2K Games. Some images courtesy of Wikimedia Commons. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

The worst things about modern video games

The first home console I owned – after saving up my hard-earned pocket money and pestering my parents for ages – was a Super Nintendo. Gaming has changed a lot since then, and while many of those changes have been fantastic and introduced us to new genres, not every change has been for the better! In this list I’m going to cover some of my biggest pet peeves with video games in 2021.

As always, this list is entirely subjective. If I criticise something you like, or exclude something you hate, just keep in mind that this is only one person’s opinion. Gaming is a huge hobby that includes many people with many different perspectives. If yours and mine don’t align, that’s okay!

Number 1: No difficulty options.

Some people play video games because they love the challenge of a punishingly-difficult title, and the reward of finally overcoming an impossible level after hours of perseverance. I am not one of those people! In most cases, I play video games for escapism and entertainment – I want to see a story unfold or just switch off from other aspects of my life for a while. Excessive difficulty is frustrating and offputting for me.

As someone with health issues, I would argue that difficulty settings are a form of accessibility. Some people don’t have the ability to hit keys or buttons in rapid succession, and in some titles the lack of a difficulty setting – particularly if the game is not well-balanced – can mean those games are unavailable to folks with disabilities.

While many games are too difficult, the reverse can also be true. Some titles are just too easy for some people – I’m almost never in that category, but still! Games that have no difficulty settings where the base game is incredibly easy can be unenjoyable for some folks, particularly if the challenge was what got them interested in the first place.

In 2021, most games have difficulty options as a standard feature. Difficulty settings have been part of games going back decades, and in my opinion there’s no technical reason why they shouldn’t be included. There’s also not really a “creative” reason, either. Some developers talk in grandiose terms about their “vision” for a title being the reason why they didn’t implement difficulty options, but as I’ve said before – the inclusion of an easier (or harder) mode does not impact the game at all. It only impacts those who choose to turn it on, and considering how easy it is to implement, I find it incredibly annoying when a game is deliberately shipped without any difficulty options.

Number 2: Excessive difficulty as a game’s only selling point.

While we’re on the subject of difficulty, another pet peeve of mine is games whose entire identity is based on their difficulty (or perceived difficulty). Think about this for a moment: would Dark Souls – an otherwise bland, uninspired hack-and-slash game – still be talked about ten years after its release were it not for its reputation as impossibly difficult? How many late 2000s or early ’10s hack-and-slash games have dropped out of the cultural conversation? The only thing keeping Dark Souls there is its difficulty.

A challenge is all well and good, and I don’t begrudge players who seek that out. But for me, a game has to offer something more than that. If there’s a story worth telling under the difficult gameplay I’m impressed. If the difficult, punishing gameplay is all there is, then that’s boring!

Difficulty can also be used by developers as cover for a short or uninteresting game. Forcing players to replay long sections over and over and over can massively pad out a game’s runtime, and if that’s a concern then cranking the difficulty to ridiculous levels – and offering no way to turn it down – can turn a short game into a long one artificially.

I’m all for games that offer replay value, but being forced to replay the same level or checkpoint – or battle the same boss over and over – purely because of how frustratingly hard the developers chose to make things simply isn’t fun for me.

Number 3: Ridiculous file sizes.

Hey Call of Duty? Your crappy multiplayer mode does not need to be 200 gigabytes. Nor does any game, for that matter. It’s great that modern technology allows developers to create realistic-looking worlds, but some studios are far better than others when it comes to making the best use of space! Some modern games do need to be large to incorporate everything, but even so there’s “large” and then there’s “too large.”

For a lot of folks this is an issue for two main reasons: data caps and download speeds. On my current connection I’m lucky to get a download speed of 7 Mbps, and downloading huge game files can quite literally take several days – days in which doing anything else online would be impossibly slow! But I’m fortunate compared to some people, because I’m not limited in the amount of data I can download by my ISP.

In many parts of the world, and on cheaper broadband connections, data caps are very much still a thing. Large game files can take up an entire months’ worth of data – or even more in some cases – making games with huge files totally inaccessible to a large number of people.

This one doesn’t seem like it’s going away any time soon, though. In fact, we’re likely to see file sizes continue to get larger as games push for higher resolutions, larger environments, and more detail.

Number 4: Empty open worlds.

Let’s call this one “the Fallout 76 problem.” Open worlds became a trend in gaming at some point in the last decade, such that many franchises pursued this style even when it didn’t suit their gameplay. Read the marketing material of many modern titles and you’ll see bragging about the size of the game world: 50km2, 100km2, 1,000km2, and so on. But many of these open worlds are just empty and boring, with much of the map taken up with vast expanses of nothing.

It is simply not much fun to have to travel across a boring environment – or even a decently pretty one – for ages just to get to the next mission or part of the story. Level design used to be concise and clever; modern open worlds, especially those which brag about their size, tend to be too large, with too little going on.

The reason why Fallout 76 just encapsulates this for me is twofold. Firstly, Bethesda droned on and on in the weeks before the game’s release that the world they’d created was the “biggest ever!” And secondly, the game had literally zero non-player characters. That huge open world was populated by a handful of other players, non-sentient monsters, and nothing else. It was one of the worst games of the last few years as a result.

Open worlds can work well in games that are suited for that style of gameplay. But too many studios have been pushed into creating an open world simply to fit in with a current trend, and those open worlds tend to just flat-out suck because of it. Even when developers have tried to throw players a bone by adding in collect-a-thons, those get boring fast.

Number 5: Pixel graphics as a selling point.

There are some great modern games that use a deliberately 8-bit look. But for every modern classic there are fifty shades of shit; games that think pixel graphics and the word “retro” are cover for creating a mediocre or just plain bad title.

It may be hard to remember, but there was a time when the idea of using a deliberately “old-school” aesthetic would have been laughed at. The first few console generations were all about improvements, and I’m old enough to remember when 3D was a huge deal. It seemed like nobody would ever want to go back to playing a SNES game after trying the Nintendo 64, and while there are still plenty of gamers who love the retro feel, I’m generally not one of them.

That isn’t to say that realistic graphics should be the only thing a game strives for. And this point works for modern graphics or visual styles in general – bragging about how detailed the graphics are, or how unique a title’s art style is, means nothing if the game itself is shit. But it likewise works for pixel-graphics games – an outdated art style does not compensate for or cover up a fundamentally flawed, unenjoyable experience.

Games with pixel graphics can be good, and many titles have surprised me by how good they are. I’ve written before about how Minecraft surprised me by being so much more than I expected, and that’s one example. But I guess what I’d say is this: if your game looks like it should have been released in 1991, you’ve got more of an uphill battle to win me over – or even convince me to try it in the first place – than you would if your game looked new.

Number 6: Unnecessary remakes.

We called one of the entries above “the Fallout 76 problem,” so let’s call this one “the Mass Effect: Legendary Edition problem.” In short, games from even ten or fifteen years ago still look pretty good and play well. There’s far less of a difference between games from 2011 and 2021 than there was between games from 1991 and 2001 – the pace of technological change, at least in gaming, has slowed.

“Updating” or “remaking” a game from ten years ago serves no real purpose, and in the case of Mass Effect: Legendary Edition I’ve struggled at times to tell which version of the game is the new one when looking at pre-release marketing material. There’s no compelling reason to remake games that aren’t very old. Re-release them or give them a renewed marketing push if you want to drum up sales or draw attention to a series, but don’t bill your minor upgrade as a “remake.”

There are some games that have benefitted hugely from being remade. I’d point to Crash Bandicoot and Resident Evil 2 as two great examples. But those games were both over twenty years old at the time they were remade, and having been released in the PlayStation 1 era, both saw massive upgrades such that they were truly worthy of the “remake” label.

I’ve put together two lists of games that I’d love to see remade, but when I did so I deliberately excluded titles from the last two console generations. Those games, as I said at the time, are too recent to see any substantial benefits from a remake. In another decade or so, assuming sufficient technological progress has been made, we can talk about remaking PlayStation 3 or PlayStation 4 games – but not now!

Number 7: Fake “remakes.”

On a related note to the point above, if a title is billed as a “remake,” I expect to see substantial changes and improvements. If all that’s happened is a developer has run an old title through an upscaler and added widescreen support, that’s not a remake!

A lot of titles that acquire the “HD” suffix seem to suffer from this problem. Shenmue I & II on PC contained a number of bugs and glitches – some of which existed in the Dreamcast version! When Sega decided to “remake” these two amazing games, they couldn’t even be bothered to patch out bugs that were over fifteen years old. That has to be some of the sloppiest, laziest work I’ve ever seen.

There are other examples of this, where a project may have started out with good intentions but was scaled back and scaled back some more to the point that it ended up being little more than an upscaled re-release. Kingdoms of Amalur: Re-Reckoning springs to mind as an example from just last year.

Remakes are an opportunity to go back to the drawing board, fix issues, update a title, and bring it into the modern world. Too many “remakes” fail to address issues with the original version of the game. We could even point to Mass Effect: Legendary Edition’s refusal to address criticism of the ending of Mass Effect 3 as yet another example of a missed opportunity.

Number 8: The “release now, fix later” business model.

This isn’t the first time I’ve criticised the “release now, fix later” approach taken by too many modern games – and it likely won’t be the last! Also known as “live services,” games that go down this route almost always underperform and draw criticism, and they absolutely deserve it. The addition of internet connectivity to home consoles has meant that games companies have taken a “good enough” approach to games, releasing them before they’re ready with the intention to patch out bugs, add more content, and so on at a later time.

Cyberpunk 2077 is one of the most recent and most egregious examples of this phenomenon, being released on Xbox One and PlayStation 4 in a state so appallingly bad that many considered it “unplayable.” But there are hundreds of other examples going back to the early part of the last decade. Fortunately, out of all the entries on this list, this is the one that shows at least some signs of going away!

The fundamental flaw in this approach, of course, is that games with potential end up having launches that are mediocre at best, and when they naturally underperform due to bad reviews and word-of-mouth, companies panic! Planned updates are scrapped to avoid pumping more money into a failed product, and a game that could have been decent ends up being forgotten.

For every No Man’s Sky that manages to claw its way to success, there are a dozen Anthems or Mass Effect: Andromedas which fail. Time will tell if Cyberpunk 2077 can rebuild itself and its reputation, but its an uphill struggle – and a totally unnecessary one; a self-inflicted wound. If publishers would just wait and delay clearly-unfinished games instead of forcing them to meet arbitrary deadlines, gaming would be a much more enjoyable hobby. Remember, everyone: NO PRE-ORDERS!

Number 9: Forcing games to be multiplayer and/or scrapping single-player modes.

Some games are built from the ground up with multiplayer in mind – but many others are not, and have multiplayer modes tacked on for no reason. The Last Of Us had an unnecessary multiplayer mode, as did Mass Effect 3. Did you even know that, or notice those modes when you booted up those story-focused games?

Some games and even whole genres are just not well-suited to multiplayer. And others that are still have the potential to see single-player stories too. Many gamers associate the first-person shooter genre with multiplayer, and it’s true that multiplayer games work well in the first-person shooter space. But so do single-player titles, and aside from 2016’s Doom and the newer Wolfenstein titles, I can’t think of many new single-player first-person shooters, or even shooters with single-player modes that felt anything other than tacked-on.

Anthem is one of the biggest failures of the last few years, despite BioWare wanting it to be the video game equivalent of Bob Dylan. But if Anthem hadn’t been multiplayer and had instead maintained BioWare’s usual single-player focus, who knows what it could have been. There was potential in its Iron Man-esque flying suits, but that potential was wasted on a mediocre-at-best multiplayer shooter.

I started playing games before the internet, when “multiplayer” meant buying a second controller and plugging it into the console’s only other available port! So I know I’m biased because of that. But just a few short years ago it felt as though there were many more single-player titles, and fewer games that felt as though multiplayer modes had been artificially forced in. In the wake of huge financial successes such as Grand Theft Auto V, Fortnite, and the like, publishers see multiplayer as a cash cow – but I wish they didn’t!

Number 10: Early access.

How many times have you been excited to see that a game you’ve been waiting for is finally available to buy… only to see the two most awful words in the entire gaming lexicon: “Early Access?” Early access billed itself as a way for indie developers to get feedback on their games before going ahead with a full release, and I want to be clear on this point: I don’t begrudge indie games using it for that purpose. Indies get a pass!

But recently there’s been a trend for huge game studios to use early access as free labour; a cheap replacement for paying the wages of a quality assurance department. When I worked for a large games company in the past, I knew a number of QA testers, and the job is not an easy one. It certainly isn’t one that studios should be pushing off onto players, yet that’s exactly what a number of them have been doing. Early access, if it exists at all, should be a way for small studios to hone and polish their game, and maybe add fan-requested extras, not for big companies to save money on testers.

Then there are the perpetual early access games. You know the ones: they entered early access in 2015 and are still there today. Platforms like Steam which offer early access need to set time limits, because unfortunately some games are just taking the piss. If your game has been out since 2015, then it’s out. It’s not in early access, you’ve released it.

Unlike most of the entries on this list, early access started out with genuinely good intentions. When used appropriately by indie developers, it’s fine and I don’t have any issue with it. But big companies should know better, and games that enter early access and never leave should be booted out!

Bonus: Online harassment.

Though this problem afflicts the entire internet regardless of where you go, it’s significant in the gaming realm. Developers, publishers, even individual employees of games studios can find themselves subjected to campaigns of online harassment by so-called “fans” who’ve decided to take issue with something in a recent title.

Let’s be clear: there is never any excuse for this. No game, no matter how bad it is, is worth harassing someone over. It’s possible to criticise games and their companies in a constructive way, or at least in a way that doesn’t get personal. There’s never any need to go after a developer personally, and especially not to send someone death threats.

We’ve seen this happen when games are delayed. We’ve seen it happen when games release too early in a broken state. In the case of Cyberpunk 2077, we’ve seen both. Toxic people will always find a reason to be toxic, unfortunately, and in many ways the anonymity of the internet has brought out the worst in human nature.

No developer or anyone who works in the games industry deserves to be threatened or harassed. It’s awful, it needs to stop, and the petty, toxic people who engage in this scummy activity do not deserve to be called “fans.”

So that’s it. Ten of my pet peeves with modern gaming.

This was a rant, but it was just for fun so I hope you don’t mind! There are some truly annoying things – and some truly annoying people – involved in gaming in 2021, and as much fun as playing games can be, it can be a frustrating experience as well. Some of these things are fads – short-term trends that will evaporate as the industry moves on. But others, like the move away from single-player games toward ongoing multiplayer experiences, seem like they’re here to stay.

Gaming has changed an awful lot since I first picked up a control pad. And it will continue to evolve and adapt – the games industry may be unrecognisable in fifteen or twenty years’ time! We’ll have to keep our fingers crossed for positive changes to come.

All titles mentioned above are the copyright of their respective developer, publisher, and/or studio. Some stock images courtesy of pixabay. Some screenshots and promotional artwork courtesy of IGDB. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Some next-gen ports are receiving a well-earned backlash

Whenever a new console generation kicks off, it’s inevitable that there will be some games that are released on both new and old systems. This is perfectly understandable in many cases, as games which are new and have had a lot of time and effort put into their development want to get the widest audience possible. Many titles in this category go unnoticed, or at most some reviewers will point out that the game may not be fully-optimised for new hardware. But some other titles are the subject of pretty heavy criticism, and I can fully understand why.

When it was announced that Grand Theft Auto V would be ported to the Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5, many fans were upset. This was a game initially developed for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, and it’s going to be ported again? Grand Theft Auto V has been a juggernaut this console generation after getting its start in 2013, but after more than seven years fans are itching for a new entry in the series.

Grand Theft Auto V was originally released in 2013 for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3.

In 2014, when Grand Theft Auto V was re-released on current-gen consoles, it was barely a year old. No one at the time begrudged Rockstar the chance to port the title to new hardware because there was an understanding that the game had been a big undertaking. As the Xbox 360/PlayStation 3 era drew to a close, it made sense to bring some new titles to the new systems.

But that was six years ago, and in that time Rockstar has developed and published precisely one new game – Red Dead Redemption II. There are arguments to be heard that the pace of game development as a whole has slowed, and I don’t want to ignore the reality that developing an open-world game on the scale of Grand Theft Auto V is a colossal undertaking. But that doesn’t excuse what seems to many fans to be the company taking shortcuts.

Red Dead Redemption II is Rockstar’s only game in seven years.

What’s worse is that the time and effort spent on creating a next-gen port could arguably be better spent creating a new title. Even in a studio with the financial resources of Rockstar, porting existing games does take time, resources, and personnel away from other projects. So it’s not just a case of corner-cutting – fans feel that the company is wasting time.

Practically every current-gen title is going to be “forward-compatible” with new hardware anyway. What that means is that any Xbox One game should work on the Xbox Series X, and any PlayStation 4 game should work on PlayStation 5 by default – including titles like Grand Theft Auto V. So there’s no need to spend time and money reworking a seven-year-old game for new hardware; existing versions will work just fine.

Both next-gen consoles will be backwards-compatible with current games by default.

If the upgrades were going to be free, allowing players who own a current-gen copy of the game to experience the tweaks and changes on new hardware, I don’t think anyone would mind. In fact, players have praised companies like CD Projekt Red, whose 2015 title The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is receiving such a free upgrade. But Rockstar – and other companies too – plan to re-release their old games and get gamers to shell out more money for the next-gen version. It feels decidedly anti-consumer.

Even though I’m not a big online multiplayer person, I recognise the appeal that Grand Theft Auto V has as an online experience. But after seven years I feel that online experience has run its course, and most players will be ready for a new challenge. Those who want to stick with what they already have can either continue to play on Xbox One/PlayStation 4 or can even bring their existing copy of the game to the new consoles; there’s no need to buy it all over again.

Grand Theft Auto V is getting a next-gen re-release in 2021… eight years and two console generations later.

Another company that has been roundly criticised for its approach to next-gen is 505 Games, publisher of Control. This is a game I’ve been looking forward to playing, as it has great reviews, but it’s another example of next-gen upgrades being denied to existing fans. The only way to play Control will be to buy it again on the new consoles, and to many fans the small upgrade seems like a big expense.

The Last Of Us was similarly criticised at the beginning of the PlayStation 4 era for being re-released in a “remastered” state less than a year on from its PlayStation 3 debut. At the time I was genuinely shocked by the gall of developer Naughty Dog; how can a game less than a year old be remastered already? But The Last Of Us sold very well on PlayStation 4, cementing this business model in the minds of executives as one that works and will rake in cash for comparatively little effort.

The Last Of Us was re-released on PlayStation 4 mere months after its PlayStation 3 premiere.

At the end of the day, that’s what this is all about. Money. Re-releasing a game with a few minor upgrades and hardware-specific tweaks is relatively inexpensive and offers companies huge financial rewards. It should be no surprise to learn that a big company wants to make more money, and I get that we live in a society where profit and growth matter. It’s just that it feels so anti-consumer, and even big companies need to be aware of their reputations. It’s easy to dismiss criticism and backlash as coming from just a whiny minority of hardcore fans, but companies like Electronic Arts have found – to their great cost – just what can happen when they push players too far.

It’s only in the last console generation that the idea of cross-generation releases has been such a big deal anyway. In the days of the SNES and the Nintendo 64 the idea of a game from one system being ported wholesale to new hardware just didn’t exist. There were ports, but they tended to be things like Super Mario All-Stars, which was a compilation of several games instead of a single title, and offered players good value as a result.

There weren’t many ports in the SNES era, and those that did exist were bundles like Super Mario All-Stars.

But if you’d told me in 2005, when the Xbox 360 was launched, that the original Halo game was just going to be straight-up ported to the new system and that players would be expected to “just buy it again” I’d have been absolutely gobsmacked. What a nonsense idea that would have been even as recently as 2005! We’ve come to accept some of these things in the fifteen years since, but even by today’s standards, some of the proposals for next-gen re-releases are drawing well-earned backlash.

Though it wasn’t possible to predict the impact of the coronavirus pandemic even a few short months ago, the changing situation in the world should be something companies take note of. There’s a good chance that many folks are going to have less disposable income at least in the short-term, and being asked to re-purchase a seven-year-old game on a new console is definitely not something that should be considered under current circumstances. Even were it not for the pandemic, I think this practice would still be inappropriate and anti-consumer. But given where things currently sit, it’s even worse.

This is the kind of practice that can start big companies on a slippery slope to reputational damage and more widespread criticism, and I would advise them to tread carefully. Rockstar – or any other company engaged in a similar practice – could garner a lot of goodwill today by announcing that the next-gen version of whatever game they’re working on will be free to anyone who currently owns it. Or, on the flip side, they could continue to draw criticism and ire for their greed and lack of care.

All titles mentioned above are the copyright of their respective studio, developer, and/or publisher. Some screenshots and promotional artwork courtesy of press kits on IGDB. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Ten films that (probably don’t) need a video game adaptation!

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for the titles on this list.

Gone are the days when your run-of-the-mill popcorn flick came with a video game adaptation. Why? Well, the truth is that many of those games were mediocre or just outright bad, and after a while the entire film tie-in sub-genre became tainted. Gamers weren’t as interested, and at the same time, studios and publishers were able to make more money developing their own franchises instead of sharing the proceeds from a licensed title. There are still tie-ins from time to time, but not to the same extent there were a few short years ago.

Today, there are a few remaining film franchises that produce video games, but more often than not they’re not direct film adaptations. Instead we see titles like Alien Isolation, which is set in the world of the 1979 film Alien, but isn’t a direct adaptation of any of the films. There are also games like Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order, which I recently played through. Jedi: Fallen Order likewise uses Star Wars’ setting but tells an original story.

It’s a shame, because over the years there have been some outstanding video game adaptations of films. I talked about this a little while ago when I put together a list of titles that I’d love to see remastered, but the adaptation of Star Trek: Generations is up there as one of my all-time favourite games.

With all that in mind, here are ten films that I’d love to see adapted as a video game. The usual disclaimer applies: these are not titles that I’m saying will ever be adapted, just titles that I feel could be fun to play through – provided the game was good (and had a suitably high budget!)

Number 1: Star Trek: First Contact (1996)

Out of all the Star Trek films, First Contact’s relatively action-heavy nature could make for an inspired first-person shooter. The narrow hallways of the Enterprise-E and the menacing threat of the Borg would make for a terrifying combination, and this could even be a game which veers close to the horror genre if developers chose to go down that route. As I said when I wrote about the Borg a little while ago, out of all of Star Trek’s villains, they’re the ones best-suited to a crossover into horror.

There are several ways this could go, including a multiple-protagonist approach which would see players take on the roles of several of the main cast. Or alternatively, the player character could be a nondescript security officer tasked with retaking the lower decks of the Enterprise-E.

First Contact isn’t exclusively a Borg story, though, and the game could be split into different chapters which would include slower-paced missions set on Earth, repairing the Phoenix and preparing for humanity’s first warp flight.

Number 2: Commando (1985)

By coincidence, a video game sharing the title of this action flick was released the same year as the film, and some people still think the game is supposed to be an adaptation – but it’s not! Commando has garnered a cult following that arguably exceeds its status as a competent but otherwise unremarkable title. Arnold Schwarzenegger gives a typical “Arnie” performance, and the story is suitably over-the-top.

But I bet players would love stepping into the shoes of Colonel John Matrix and just going postal on wave after wave of kidnappers, terrorists, mercenaries, and all manner of typical eighties action film baddies! This one wouldn’t need to be a massively high-budget production to be successful; any mid-tier action/shooter could be redressed in the style of Commando and be a success. It would work as either a first- or third-person title.

Number 3: Any of the recent Marvel titles

A couple of the earlier films in the MCU received proper video game adaptations, and a couple of others got mobile game tie-ins, but there hasn’t been a major game in the series since the Xbox 360/PlayStation 3 era. The new Marvel’s Avengers video game is plagued with issues, and one of the strangest for me is that it didn’t license any of the actors’ likenesses. I’ve heard the game described as feeling like “a cheap knock-off” of the films as a result.

I’m not the biggest fan of Marvel or of comic book films in general, but even I have to admit that they’re big business right now, and should be ideally suited to a proper video game adaptation. Realistically any of the films could work, but what might be even better is a game that lets gamers play through the events of multiple films, perhaps those leading up to Avengers Infinity War and Endgame.

Number 4: All Quiet on the Western Front (1930/1979)

This is really just an excuse to talk about the lack of First World War titles! However, both the original 1930 version and the 1979 remake of All Quiet on the Western Front are great films with strong characters and an emotional story that could be adapted to make a fascinating game.

When looking at war stories, in some respects the “obvious” choice is a first-person shooter – in the vein of Battlefield One, one of the rare shooters to use a First World War setting. But for All Quiet on the Western Front, a real-time tactics game akin to the recent Broken Lines could be great too – that format can work well to tell stories that rely on multiple playable protagonists.

Since Wolfenstein 3D in 1992 – which was a game that led directly to the creation of the first Doom a year later – many war games have used World War II as a setting. There’s nothing wrong with that (though the World War II shooter definitely became stale by the mid-2000s) but the First World War makes for a fascinating, underused setting.

Number 5: Moana (2016)

Disney was one of the last companies to give up on tie-in games, and because their films are aimed at kids, it makes a certain kind of sense that they’d feel able to churn out a basic but playable title to accompany big releases. However, by the time of Moana’s 2016 release even Disney wasn’t interested in tie-ins, and while a free mobile game was cobbled together it’s no substitute for a proper video game adaptation.

Moana’s adventure narrative perfectly suits an action/adventure title, as she travels from island to island on her boat to save her people. A 3D platformer with puzzle elements would also work, in the vein of a classic title like Banjo-Kazooie. The world of Moana offers a lot of different environments, including different islands and the realm of monsters, meaning a good variety of levels should be available.

Number 6: The Quatermass Xperiment (1955)

Based on an earlier television special, The Quatermass Xperiment is a fascinating example of mid-century horror/sci-fi, and features a plot in which an alien organism infects an astronaut. The infected man escapes, and the titular Professor Quatermass must work to find him before it’s too late. This setup would make for an exciting horror/adventure title, in which players would not only have to track down the mutating monster, but would have to find clues to figure out what’s happening and what to do about it.

The original film was in black-and-white, and I love the idea of having both a colour and monochrome version of the game to allow players to choose what kind of experience they want to have. I’m not the biggest fan of black-and-white in a general sense, but in some properties it works very well, and it’s something that has only ever been attempted in a handful of modern games.

Number 7: Deep Blue Sea (1999)

Recent titles like this year’s comic Maneater demonstrate that there’s still a market for shark-horror games, and 1999’s Deep Blue Sea is one of the better shark films of recent years. A game adaptation would be a marriage made in heaven then, surely?

If you’ve played Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, you may remember an underwater base on the ocean planet Manaan that served as one of the game’s levels. It was creepy and claustrophobic as players had to contend with not only the wildlife outside, but flooded sections and crazy inhabitants of the base. Deep Blue Sea, being set on an underwater facility, lends itself to that kind of gameplay too, and players could navigate the base and the waters outside while trying to fend off the hungry, overly-aggressive sharks.

Number 8: Star Trek II, III, and IV (1982-86)

The Wrath of Khan remains for many Trekkies the high-water mark of both the Star Trek film series and of all stories featuring The Original Series’ cast. It also formed the first part of a trilogy of films that told one expanded story, and in many ways, a game that only adapted The Wrath of Khan would be leaving out the rest of that story.

The Wrath of Khan would obviously be the best and most exciting part, and could feature the Battle of the Mutara Nebula as its climactic boss fight. Ship-to-ship combat has been tried in a number of Star Trek games, and in my opinion getting this aspect of the game right would be the biggest challenge – but one that would have the biggest payoff if it was successful.

The Search for Spock could have levels including stealing the Enterprise, which could make for a fun stealth section, as well as sabotaging the USS Excelsior, and The Voyage Home would not only let players pilot a Kingon Bird-of-Prey but would also feature a fun and nostalgic ’80s setting. I love this idea, and producing a fun adventure title from this trilogy would be amazing.

Number 9: Forbidden Planet (1956)

Forbidden Planet is an absolute classic of the science fiction genre, and arguably inspired franchises like Star Trek and Star Wars to a degree. The fictional world it created, with the planet Altair IV and the starship C-57D has never been revisited – though the film has been referenced and paid homage to many times.

This is one film where the plot could be directly adapted, but also we could see a broader game world based on the setting that it created. When you consider the success of the Fallout franchise with its ’50s-esque retro-futuristic aesthetic, there’s clearly a market for the visual style of Forbidden Planet in the gaming realm.

Number 10: For Your Eyes Only (1981)

James Bond films tend to have stories that are well-suited to a stealth/action title. The Nintendo 64 game Goldeneye is a classic example of how Bond can work as a video game. While other attempts to make Bond games have been overshadowed by Goldeneye in some respects, there are several creditable titles that have been released.

For Your Eyes Only might be my favourite Bond film – though there’s certainly room for others, like License to Kill! The storyline is a Bond classic – the secret agent must retrieve a stolen piece of technology that could fall into enemy hands. Roger Moore’s Bond visits a number of exotic locales, gets to drive some classic cars, and of course has an array of fancy gadgets at his disposal. All of which would make for an exciting and fun video game!

So that’s it. Ten films which probably don’t need a video game adaptation – but could absolutely be given one regardless! In a way I can understand why the tie-in video game has disappeared, and while many players won’t be terribly upset or won’t care, there are many recent titles which, had they been released fifteen years earlier, could have been accompanied by a solid video game.

The titles I’ve put on this list are from a variety of eras, including some from well before video games existed! But as we continue to see with titles like Friday the 13th and the aforementioned Alien Isolation, going back to older films isn’t something game developers should be afraid of. Trying to make an unabashed classic into a modern game may draw criticism from some quarters, but if the game is good when it ultimately releases, practically all of that criticism will melt away and the game will find an audience.

This list was just for fun, and to give a few examples of titles that could – but almost certainly won’t – be made into video games.

All titles mentioned above are the copyright of their respective studio and/or distributor. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Fall Guys – First impressions

I’m not usually an online multiplayer guy, and Fall Guys – also known as Fall Guys: Ultimate Knockout – is the kind of massively-multiplayer game that I’d ordinarily overlook. The last online games that I played with strangers were Mario Kart 8 and Rocket League, and it’s been a while since I played those. But after hearing great things about its fun, silly gameplay I decided to take a look for myself, and for £16 on Steam it wasn’t a huge risk despite Fall Guys being a new title.

To be up front, Fall Guys currently has some issues with its server capacity; this is something that’s being worked on. High demand for the game seems to have caught developer Mediatonic and publisher Devolver Digital a little wrong-footed, but I’m confident that, with the game reviewing well and being popular, those problems will be fixed before too long. It is, however, understandably frustrating to get disconnected or to have to wait a long time to join a game. But part of the fun of Fall Guys is that its levels are very short – a couple of minutes or so at a time – so it’s easy enough to jump back in, and losing or getting disconnected doesn’t end up causing a huge amount of lost progress. If you’re on the fence about buying the game, though, it’s worth being aware of this server problem. It may be prudent to wait a couple of weeks to see how quickly it can be fixed if you’re really worried about it.

A couple of server error messages.

The first time I tried to play Fall Guys after installing it, I was hit with this server problem. Despite waiting almost half an hour I wasn’t able to join a game. It was only when I came back to try again several hours later that I was actually able to successfully play. Although the server problems made for a poor first impression, Fall Guys is a ton of fun!

The game is a cross between a competitive “battle royale” and television game shows like It’s A Knockout and Total Wipeout. For some reason, it also reminds me of late-90s kids’ show 50/50. Fall Guys’ levels are designed to look like they’re taken from such shows, deliberately using the aesthetic of soft foam rubber obstacles. In fact, many of the levels are designed like obstacle courses! An indoor children’s play area would be another good comparison when considering the look of the levels.

One of the levels, showing off the “soft foam rubber” look.

The other side of Fall Guys’ aesthetic is the incredibly cute character design. It’s hard to say exactly what these little guys look like – personally I feel like they’re somewhere between Oompa-Loompas and marshmallows – but they’re absolutely adorable. There are customisation options, some of which can be unlocked simply by playing enough rounds of the game. Other character customisation options are, however, paid for with in-game microtransactions. Because Fall Guys has a very child-friendly atmosphere, it’s worth making sure your parental controls are up-to-date if you plan to get the game for your little ones to play. Obviously I’d prefer a game that had no microtransactions at all, but this is the realm of online multiplayer – and these days, in-game monetisation comes with the territory. If Fall Guys were charging more than its £16 asking price I’d be annoyed at their inclusion, but considering that there are some cosmetic items that can be acquired in-game, and taking into account the relatively low up front cost, I think the microtransactions are okay. They’re easily avoided for those who don’t want to participate.


So Fall Guys is a battle royale/game show? How the heck does that work? Glad you asked! 60 players compete in a variety of events, including races, challenges, and some team events, to be the last one standing. Though it’s possible to play the game in such a way as to sabotage someone else’s chances of progressing, for the most part – at least in the early rounds – it’s easier to focus on one’s own character or team. Navigating the obstacles – like see-saws, spinning platforms, and windmills – to win a race or to make it to the next stage is great fun. And the team challenges borrow from the likes of Rocket League – there’s even a football-themed one!

I’m not great at games in general, let alone competitive multiplayer titles. Yet despite my limitations, I had a lot fun. I was able to progress to the latter rounds on several occasions, and the times where I lost in round one or two it usually only took a few seconds to load up a new game and try again. Fall Guys isn’t something you can be great at on your first attempt, even if you’re a regular online gamer. However, with each round lasting only a couple of minutes or so, losing doesn’t feel so bad.

Losing at Fall Guys is no big deal. Just try again!

Each round whittles down the number of players until only a few remain. The first round is supposed to begin with 60 players (though I’ve seen anywhere from 49-60 in practice), and of those, perhaps 40 will qualify for the second round. The game continues in this way until it reaches a final round, with the survivor crowned champion. Though I haven’t won (yet?) I’d reckon playing a full session from the preliminary round to the finale is only going to take maybe quarter of an hour at most. And as I keep saying, any time you’re eliminated, getting into a new game doesn’t take all that long.

There’s a “roadmap” of updates planned for Fall Guys, promising more content, more cosmetic items, and new levels. Though I’m generally sceptical of this kind of business model, the current version of the game has a lot to offer and doesn’t feel like it’s missing anything major. If you play for a while you do start to see the same levels repeat – there are 24 levels at time of writing, including three “final rounds” – but again, each one only takes a couple of minutes, and they’re chosen at random. If you discover a burning hatred for a specific one, I guess it might be annoying to keep encountering it, but Fall Guys is the type of game where even something like that doesn’t have to be a big deal.

An example of a character in the game.

It’s been a while since I played through a game that’s as apologetically fun as Fall Guys. There’s no story, there’s no background or explanation given for why these weird little characters are taking part in a game show, and there doesn’t need to be. It’s just simple, casual, pick-up-and-play fun. I had a smile on my face practically the whole time, and making it to the end of a challenging level when it looked like I wasn’t going to manage in time has been legitimately thrilling.

A lot of care and effort has gone into crafting what could be one of the sleeper hits of 2020. Though the server issue is definitely frustrating, it’s something that will hopefully be resolved in the coming days, and aside from that I encountered no bugs or glitches during my time playing. I’m looking forward to jumping back in!

A race begins!

So this has been my initial first impression of the game after spending a couple of hours with it today. I may write another piece in the coming weeks if I find that I have more to say after spending longer with Fall Guys. But for now, what I’d say to anyone on the fence is that Fall Guys is great fun, and the kind of game that practically anyone could pick up easily. The server issues are a problem, but when I got into the game on my second attempt I didn’t experience too many disconnections and was able to load up a new game every time without having to wait too long. However, it may be worth checking back in a few days or a couple of weeks to see if that’s still an issue if you’re concerned. For £16, though, I can’t really fault the game for the way it plays. If you’re a subscriber to PlayStation Plus, you’ll get Fall Guys for free this month – and if you’re in that category you have no excuse for not trying it out immediately!

Fall Guys is available now for PC and PlayStation 4. Fall Guys is the copyright of Mediatonic and Devolver Digital. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Some great Steam Summer Sale deals for PC gamers

Update: The Steam Summer Sale has now ended. All prices listed below will no longer be accurate. Check back in December for a rundown of some of the best Holiday Sale deals.

Spoiler Warning: I’ve tried not to include major spoilers for any of these games, but minor spoilers may still be present.

It’s that wonderful time of year again! No, not Christmas – though we are halfway there, as yesterday marked half-Christmas – it’s Steam Summer Sale time, which means there are going to be some spectacular deals for PC gamers. Sales like these make PC as a platform much more competitive compared to consoles. It’s true that there are sales on console games too, and of course console games on disc are much more easily traded in and resold, but no sale on other platforms can match the sheer number of deals available on PC.

Some titles can be reduced by as much as 90% – and from time to time there are full games available for free too. Even though getting started with a gaming PC – especially a higher-end one – can be more expensive than a console, these sales go a long way to making up for it.

Let’s do some quick maths! If a games console costs £400, and on average each game costs £40 (newer games will cost £55, older ones might be reduced so let’s average it out at £40) then by the time you’ve bought ten games you’ve spent £800 in total. But you could buy a decent gaming PC for £700, and with the deals available in sales you could easily pick up ten games – or more – with your leftover cash. And your investment will only get better over time. A console player with a library of 50 games will have spent £2,000 on games alone at an average cost of £40 each. A Steam library with 50 titles almost certainly won’t cost you anywhere close to that!

Okay, enough maths. Let’s get into the list!

These are titles I personally like and would recommend; this is not a comprehensive list of everything on sale. Some titles may have been mentioned on my previous PC gaming sale list in December (but don’t read that one, it’s out of date now and the prices will be wrong). The list is in no particular order.

All prices are correct in the UK at time of publication. Prices and discounts may vary by location and are subject to change. The Steam Summer Sale ends on the 9th of July at 6pm UK time.

Number 1: Max Payne (65% off, £2.09)

Max Payne, which was a game I first played on the original Xbox circa 2001-02, is a phenomenal game. Bringing The Matrix’s “bullet time” to video gaming for the first time, its third-person shooter gameplay was unique and innovative. Even though the features which I was blown away by at the time have been reused many times since, at its core Max Payne is still an engrossing crime/noir story that’s absolutely worth experiencing.

The blend of gameplay with graphic novel-style cutscenes adds to the dark, true-crime feel of Max Payne’s world.

Number 2: Vampyr (70% off, £13.49)

A game set in the midst of a pandemic seems particularly timely at the moment! Vampyr uses the 1918-19 Spanish flu as its backdrop, focusing on a doctor in a great rendition of early-20th Century London. Praise was heaped on Vampyr for its soundtrack and the main thrust of its gameplay.

The team behind the amazing Life is Strange put the title together, and Vampyr gives players a lot of choice about how to proceed through the game.

Number 3: Assassin’s Creed Origins (80% off, £9.99) & Assassin’s Creed Odyssey (67% off, £16.49)

The Assassin’s Creed franchise, which kicked off in 2007, almost burnt itself out by the mid-2010s. Publisher Ubisoft pushed for more and more titles to be released – more than one a year at one point, and the result was that the quality dropped and the franchise almost died. Origins rebooted Assassin’s Creed and introduced a number of customisation options and roleplaying game elements, something Odyssey refined a couple of years later. The result was two of the best games in the whole series.

Both games have a free “Discovery Tour” DLC, which is a non-violent walk through some of the real-world history of the games’ ancient Egypt and ancient Greece settings.

Number 4: Doom (2016) (70% off, £4.49) & Doom Eternal (50% off, £24.99)

Considering Doom Eternal only released three months ago, and is arguably a contender for game of the year, its 50% discount is huge! In 2016, Doom rebooted the long-running franchise, returning the series to its action roots and away from the horror vibe of Doom 3. This worked phenomenally well, and Doom Eternal honed that formula still further.

Both games also have great soundtracks that perfectly fit the tone and setting. Above all, Doom and Doom Eternal are just good solid fun.

Number 5: Terraria (50% off, £3.49)

Terraria is 2D Minecraft. That’s basically its selling point, yet the game is so much more than that. Earlier this year, Terraria received what was billed as its final update, as the team behind it are moving onto other projects. In the nine years since it was released it’s been updated a number of times, bringing new elements to the game. There are some great boss battles which are difficult and require a lot of strategy and skill. And it’s a great game to play with a friend.

I had a lot of fun playing Terraria in co-op, and though it’s designed to play great as a single-player title, that was where I had the most fun.

Number 6: Sid Meier’s Civilization VI (75% off, £12.49)

I’ve sunk countless hours into Civilization VI since its 2016 launch, and this digital board game has never been dull. While I’m not wild about its business model, as there are now a large number of DLC packs, the base game is still really enjoyable for fans of turn-based strategy.

I picked Civilization VI as one of my top ten games of the last decade, and for good reason!

Number 7: Shenmue I & II (75% off, £6.24)

I’ll probably be recommending the first two Shenmue games to everyone I meet for as long as I live! The first entry in the series was the first game I played that really showed me what gaming as a medium was truly capable of. Telling a slow-burning story of revenge that would be at home as a big-budget series or film, Shenmue created a genuinely realistic world, pioneering the “open-world” concept before anyone else. It was unlike anything I’d ever played before, and its story holds up today.

Some aspects of these games haven’t aged well, particularly the controls used for fighting. But if you get lost in the story, as I did, you won’t care.

Number 8: Plague Inc: Evolved (60% off, £4.79)

I first played Plague Inc. on iOS, and it’s rare that a mobile game like this can be successfully ported to PC. There are a few examples, of course, but it’s an uncommon success story. Plague Inc: Evolved is very similar in terms of gameplay to the original mobile title: you play as a disease trying to wipe out humanity. Timely, I know. The graphics got a boost and there are a wider variety of options in the current PC version.

Plague Inc. was on my tongue-in-cheek list of inappropriate things to watch and play while self-isolating a few weeks ago.

Number 9: No Man’s Sky (50% off, £19.99)

No Man’s Sky is an interesting title. Widely criticised on its 2016 release for failing to deliver on a number of promised gameplay elements, in the years since Hello Games have put in a lot of hard graft to rehabilitate its image. In 2020, after a number of free updates and patches, No Man’s Sky finally delivers on those initial promises, and I had a lot of fun with its sci-fi setting and exploration gameplay.

Some people have been put off ever buying No Man’s Sky because of the controversy. If you feel strongly about it that’s absolutely fair enough – but you will be missing out on a fun experience.

Number 10: Ori and the Blind Forest (75% off, £3.74) & Ori and the Will of the Wisps (20% off, £19.99)

I’ve been partway through an article on these two amazing games for a while, but I keep getting sidetracked. Hopefully I’ll finish it before too long! Both Ori and the Blind Forest and Ori and the Will of the Wisps are beautiful games – both visually and in terms of their stories. The games both 2D platformers in that niche genre often referred to as “metroidvania”.

Both titles are considered masterpieces, and I honestly can’t recommend them highly enough.

Number 11: Jade Empire: Special Edition (75% off, £3.74)

Bioware is better-known today for games like Mass Effect and Anthem, but in 2005 they released Jade Empire, a role-playing game set in a fictional world based on ancient China. Hot off the heels of their success with Knights of the Old Republic, the game uses a very similar format as players build up a party of characters and go off on an adventure. I had a great time with Jade Empire back on the original Xbox – where it was a console exclusive – and recently replayed it on PC.

I’ve long considered Jade Empire an underrated gem, and if you like Bioware’s older titles from the 2000s, you’ll definitely have a great time here.

Number 12: Grand Theft Auto V (50% off, £12.49)

Grand Theft Auto V is a juggernaut – having premiered on the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, it’s set to be ported once again to the Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5. Not many games have such longevity, and the amazing thing is that in the seven years since its release, it’s hardly ever dropped out of sales charts across all platforms. The reason for this success is of course its multiplayer mode, but there’s a great single-player campaign too. If you’ve somehow avoided it until now, it could be a great time to pick it up!

The familiar open-world Grand Theft Auto gameplay is still present, but the open world of Los Santos feels like a genuinely lived-in city. There are also some great voice acting performances from the trio of main characters.

Number 13: The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind (70% off, £3.89) & The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion (70% off, £3.89)

I remember reading about Morrowind in a gaming magazine (remember those?) in 2002. I thought it sounded absolutely fantastic, and when I picked it up for the original Xbox I wasn’t disappointed. Morrowind is such a full game – even now, almost two decades on, there are quests I’ve never completed and factions I’ve never joined. Oblivion is a half-step between Morrowind and Skyrim, and while it’s been a while since I played it – and I’ve only played it once – it was definitely a fun experience at the time.

Oblivion also features Sir Patrick Stewart in a voice role, and though his character isn’t present through the whole game, having his voice definitely adds to the experience!

Number 14: The Deus Ex Collection (88% off, £7.79)

2003’s Deus Ex Invisible War was my first foray into the series. I went back and played the first game in this first-person action/adventure series afterwards, as I fell in love with its dystopian future setting. Human Revolution came in 2011 and dragged me right back into that world, and Mankind Divided – which is a direct sequel to Human Revolution – rounds out this bundle of four games.

Even if you skip the older titles, definitely give the two most recent ones a try. They’re great first-person stealth/action games, and there’s a surprising amount of customisation.

Number 15: Murdered: Soul Suspect (90% off, £1.59)

I like games with a novel or interesting premise, and Murdered: Soul Suspect definitely has that to offer! A police detective is murdered – don’t worry, that isn’t a spoiler, it’s practically the first thing that happens in the game! The twist is that this is the playable character, who returns as a ghost to solve his own murder! As a mystery game, once you’ve solved the case there isn’t much replayability, but for this price it’s definitely worth one go around.

Murdered: Soul Suspect is underrated, at least in my opinion. It isn’t particularly long, which is one reason why it may have underperformed when it was released in 2014.

Number 16: Planet Coaster (75% off, £7.49)

I loved games like Rollercoaster Tycoon and Theme Park back in the day. After a number of years where the theme park management sim didn’t really receive any new titles to speak of, Planet Coaster reinvigorated the genre. There are a wealth of options for your theme park – which can be almost overwhelming at first – resulting in a game with limitless customisation potential.

Even without any of the game’s DLC packs, there’s still a heck of a lot to have fun with here.

Number 17: Mirror’s Edge (90% off, £1.79)

Mirror’s Edge is one of those titles that has been heavily discounted for several years now. I don’t really understand why – it’s a great-looking game that plays really well, and its parkour-based running and jumping gameplay is uncommon if not wholly unique. From that point of view, I bet it’s something you won’t have experienced before – reason enough to pick it up for less than the price of a pint!

EA’s recent deal with Valve to bring their games back to Steam means the sequel, Mirror’s Edge Catalyst, is also available.

Number 18: Titanfall 2 (67% off, £8.24)

Big caveat here: I haven’t played Titanfall 2 yet. However, it’s widely regarded as a phenomenal game, but was released in a very competitive window for first-person shooters, with EA pitting it against two big annual releases from Battlefield and Call of Duty. As a result it underperformed in the sales department. Titanfall 2 is another game which benefits from EA’s recent move to bring their back catalogue to Steam.

This is a game I’ve had on my wishlist for a while, and I was pleased to be able to pick it up at the discounted price!

Number 19: Sonic Mania (66% off, £5.09)

Originally a fan project, Sonic Mania is a beautiful old-school 2D Sonic game that you would think had been lifted straight from the Sega Mega Drive! The story behind the game’s development is sweet – a group of dedicated fans put together a rough cut which they showed off to Sega, who snapped it up and commissioned them to expand and polish it for the mass market.

Sonic Mania is a labour of love by genuine fans of the series. Too few games nowadays can say that.

Number 20: Garfield Kart: Furious Racing (60% off, £5.19)

I love funny, silly racing games like Garfield Kart or Meow Motors. If you don’t have a Nintendo Switch but are missing being able to play Mario Kart, this could be a fun alternative! It’s a comparable experience to Nintendo’s kart-racer: a fun, arcade racing game that’s easy to get started with.

Additionally, if you’re a fan of the Garfield comic strop (I was only dimly aware of it) you’ll find many familiar faces.

Number 21: Total War: Medieval II (75% off, £4.99)

The first game in the Total War series I played was its first entry, Shogun: Total War. The follow-up to that game was Medieval: Total War, and I wouldn’t like to guess how many hours I lost playing that game in the early/mid-2000s! Medieval II updates the game using a more modern engine, and brings a lot to the table. A title that mixes grand strategy with real-time battles is, for many strategy fans, the best of both worlds.

While a lot of people will recommend the Total War: Warhammer games, I think the franchise works best with real history, and the medieval period is just perfect for this kind of game.

Number 22: Banished (66% off, £5.09)

I’ve talked about this great city-builder a few times here on the website. It’s absolutely fantastic, and the fact that this complicated game was developed by just one individual is still shocking to me! Banished is in that sweet spot when it comes to open-ended games: easy to pick up but hard to master.

The game starts with a small number of settlers, and players must build up a town, gathering and storing enough resources for everyone. Getting the right balance is what the game is all about!

Number 23: Red Faction (75% off, £1.24)

2001’s Red Faction pioneered destructible environments in games. Using rockets and other explosives, it was possible to blow holes in walls or floors, create foxholes and craters, and generally use the levels themselves to gain the upper hand. I didn’t own the game at the time, but a friend did and we spent hours in multiplayer trying to outsmart each other with traps and hidey-holes! If you can think of any modern game that allows for such environmental mayhem, chances are it owes a lot to the trail blazed by Red Faction.

For me, this one’s on the list as a nostalgia trip and a bit of a guilty pleasure. But Red Faction does have a fun campaign, and if you can look past the outdated visuals I think you’ll have a fun time.

Number 24: Fallout 4: Game of the Year Edition (70% off, £11.99)

My first experience with the Fallout franchise was 2008’s Fallout 3. Fallout 4 is more of the same, as Bethesda brought development back in-house after outsourcing Fallout: New Vegas. There are a range of ways to play and plenty of customisation options, and the base-building element which was new to Fallout 4 is a ton of fun and could be a whole game by itself. It’s kind of a post-apocalyptic version of the house-building seen in The Sims!

The Game of the Year edition includes both main DLC packs, each of which expand the story and provide new areas to explore.

Number 25: Portal 2 (80% off, £1.43)

There really isn’t anything quite like the Portal series on the market. A mix of puzzle game, 3D platformer, and first-person action game, Portal 2 builds on its predecessor and gives players a truly unique experience that can be difficult to put into words. There’s a horror element to the game too – nothing scary, but definitely unsettling, especially if you pay attention to the dialogue!

Setting aside the “can’t count to three” jokes, it would be great if Valve could revisit this series one day. It’s been almost ten years since Portal 2 was released, and while it still holds up today, I’d love to see a new game using this formula.

So that’s it. Some great deals in the Steam Summer Sale.

If you were to buy every single entry on this list, it would cost you £228.20 – for 33 games (including the Deus Ex bundle). That averages out at £6.92 per game or thereabouts. Considering some of the titles were only released in the last few months, I think that represents outstanding value. To reiterate what I said at the beginning, these sales give PC an edge over consoles, despite consoles being cheaper initially. Something to consider as we await the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X, eh?

I hope this was interesting and informative, and may have given you some inspiration for titles to take a look at as we enter the summer season. At a time where some form of lockdown or quarantine is still in place in a lot of areas around the world, having something to do to kill time is more important than ever. Gaming can be great for that.

All of the games on this list are available for purchase on Steam at time of writing (26th June 2020). Prices were correct at time of writing. The Steam Summer Sale ends on the 9th of July 2020. Prices may vary by region and are subject to change at any time. All of the games on this list are the copyright of their respective studio, developer, and/or publisher. All screenshots and artwork courtesy of press kits on IGDB. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

On the subject of gaming addiction

This column deals with the sensitive topic of addiction, and may be uncomfortable for some readers.

In 2018 the World Health Organisation surprised and upset a number of fans of video games when it formally designated “gaming disorder” as a distinct clinical condition. The reaction was, sadly, predictable, and boiled down to some variant of the following argument: “I’m not addicted to video games! Therefore video games can’t possibly be addictive!” Many commentators and outlets that focus on video gaming piled on with complaints and criticism, and the result is that the subject is still controversial even today, almost two years on from the WHO’s initial decision.

I’m not a doctor or psychologist, but I wanted to take a moment to defend the decision to categorise gaming disorder/video game addiction as a separate condition, because I feel that too many people who don’t really understand the topic had a knee-jerk reaction to attack it. To them it felt like an attack on their hobby, and perhaps what we can gleam from that is that the messaging surrounding the decision could have been better and clearer.

Firstly, the commentators who criticised the decision, even those who work for major publications, are universally not medical professionals. Their knowledge of the subject is limited at best, nonexistent at worst, and quite frankly having a bunch of uninformed people criticising doctors for a medical decision is comparable to conspiracy theories like the anti-vaccine movement or the Earth being flat. The people who made the decision to categorise video game addiction in this way are qualified to do so, and they will have made their decision on the basis of investigations and evidence, all of which has been peer-reviewed. The people who took offence to the decision simply aren’t on that level.

The biggest problem some people seemed to have is that the decision felt like an attack on gaming as a hobby. Many people have long derided games, dismissing them as children’s toys and even blaming gaming for criminal and violent acts, so I can understand why, to some people, this felt like just another attack in a long line. But it isn’t, because the designation of gaming disorder in no way says that all video games are a problem or that all gamers are addicts. The classification of alcoholism as a disease doesn’t mean that the vast majority of drinkers are alcoholics; no sensible person would even dream of making that argument. Alcoholism affects a small minority of drinkers, just as gaming disorder affects a small minority of gamers. And no one is trying to say otherwise.

Something that can become a problem for one person isn’t going to be a problem for everyone. Many gamers – by far the majority – play games in a sensible and responsible way, enjoying their hobby without allowing it to dominate their life. But some people will take it too far, and will allow it to take over, perhaps as an expression of other mental health issues but perhaps simply because they allowed it to get out of hand.

Choosing to classify gaming disorder as a separate and distinct condition means that more studies can be performed in the field, more information disseminated to psychiatrists and other healthcare professionals, and the result of these things is that for those people who do suffer, better help, and help more tailored to their specific problem, will be available. This can only be a good thing, as it will mean more people will have access to specialist help.

In order to meet the criteria for an individual to even be suspected of having gaming disorder, there’s actually quite a high bar. The most important factor is that their gaming is having a detrimental effect on their life. This could manifest in many ways, which will vary from person to person.

When I was a student at university many years ago, I witnessed gaming disorder firsthand. I was living in a rented apartment which I shared with just one other person, and this person (who will of course remain nameless) became addicted to video games. The individual in question was, like me, an exchange student, which is how we met and how we came to share an apartment. He had friends back home who he liked to play games with, and this was around the time that online gaming was just taking off. He would spend endless hours playing an online game, often late into the night, and over the span of a few weeks it began to have a huge impact on his life. He stopped attending classes, which saw him end up in a mess of trouble with the university as he failed every class that semester. His parents found out, which caused personal problems for him with his family, and his failure to pay rent – despite promising me he’d paid his share – almost wound up getting the pair of us evicted. This was in addition to the weight he lost from not eating properly, the destroyed social relationships with other exchange students at the university, and the missed opportunities to have the once-in-a-lifetime experience of living in another country. Ever since then I’ve used his story as a warning, because his addiction to gaming had serious and lasting consequences.

There is a happy ending to this individual’s story, however, and that is that he did eventually get his life back on track and scale down his gaming. When we parted ways we didn’t keep in touch, so I can’t be certain he’s still living his best life, but as of the last time we were together it definitely seemed that he was moving in the right direction. It took an intervention from his family – who flew halfway around the world to see him after he failed all of his classes – and a twice-weekly therapy appointment to get him to that point, though.

Any time someone tells me that they know loads of people who play games who aren’t addicted, I tell them the story of my ex-roommate, and make the same point: “just because it hasn’t happened to you or someone you care about doesn’t mean it hasn’t happened to anyone.”

I hope that nobody tries to use the designation of gaming disorder to attack what is for most people a fun and innocent hobby. That would be counterproductive, and would lead to people who genuinely have issues with gaming addiction finding it harder to get help. But so far, that doesn’t seem to have happened. The designation is just that: a clinical classification designed to help that small minority of people who have a problem.

It’s worth noting that some games, especially in recent years, have gone out of their way to introduce potentially addictive elements to their gameplay. In particular we can look at lootboxes and randomised rewards, which in many games are little more than gambling – often using real-world money. There are frequent news stories, some of which end up in the mainstream media, of individuals who end up spending hundreds or thousands of pounds on these in-game “micro” transactions. In one case last year here in the UK, a child inadvertently spent his parents’ entire monthly wages in a game.

Putting a warning label of some kind on games that have in-game “micro” transactions is definitely a good idea, but in an era where physical sales of games in boxes (where such a label would be affixed) are in terminal decline, that probably won’t be good enough. And as I noted from my former roommate’s experience, which came long before such in-game transactions were commonplace, gaming addiction doesn’t always manifest with titles that have such systems in place.

We also have to be careful how we use the terminology of addiction – and of mental health in general, but that’s a separate point. When reading reviews of new titles, I often see the word “addictive” thrown around as if it were a positive thing: “this new game is incredibly addictive!” That kind of normalisation and misuse of the term can be problematic, as affected people may simply brush off their addiction by thinking that’s how everyone plays the game. I feel that writers have a certain responsibility to try to avoid this kind of language. Presenting addictiveness as a positive aspect could indirectly contribute to real harm. I’m sure I’ve made this mistake myself on occasion, but it’s something I hope to avoid in future.

Gaming addiction, like other addictions, is a complex problem that is not easily solved. It’s no easier for someone suffering from some form of gaming disorder to “just turn off the console” than it is for an alcoholic to “just stop drinking vodka”. The temptation is always present and it can be overwhelming. Anyone suggesting that it’s a simple case of “just stopping”, as if it were that easy, doesn’t know what they’re talking about. Again, it comes back to the point I made earlier: just because it might that easy for you doesn’t mean it is that easy for everybody. One person’s subjective experience is not a complete worldview; many people find it impossible to break the cycle of addiction without help. This classification has the potential to make more specialised help available, which is the primary reason I support it.

So that’s my take on the subject. Gaming can be addictive, and for a small number of people, that addiction can cause real harm and create lasting problems for themselves and their families. Recognising this reality is a good first step if it means more research can be conducted into the subject as that will hopefully lead to better and more effective treatments for people whose gaming addiction requires outside intervention. I’ve seen firsthand how this can happen, and I have absolutely no time for the argument that goes: “well I don’t have a problem with gaming addiction, so it must be fine for everyone!” That is a blinkered and selfish way to look at the subject.

For anyone reading this who thinks they may be affected by gaming disorder or video game addiction, I’ve prepared a quick checklist of questions you can ask yourself. If you find yourself answering “yes” to any of the points below, I would suggest you reach out to someone who can help – talking to a friend, family member, or someone you trust could be a great first step, and of course professional medical help is always available.

Question #1: Do you find yourself thinking about video games all the time, and planning ways to get back to your game as quickly as possible if interrupted?

Question #2: Have you missed important events – such as work, school, meetings, or other appointments – because you couldn’t tear yourself away from gaming?

Question #3: Do you find yourself unhappy, depressed, angry, or irritated while not gaming? And/or would you say that your happiness is inextricably tied to gaming?

Question #4: Have you ever lied about how much time you spend gaming to cover it up? And/or do you break rules or limits set by others on how much time you may spend gaming?

Question #5: Have you tried to spend less time gaming but failed?

Question #6: Do your friends, family members, or people close to you ever tell you that you spend too much time gaming? And/or do you feel that you have neglected your relationship(s) as a result of gaming?

Question #7: Do you forget to eat or skip meals because of gaming? Do you skip showering or fail to take care of basic hygiene and grooming because of gaming?

While not everyone who answers “yes” to the above questions will be an addict, these points do indicate that something may be amiss with your relationship with gaming.

At the end of the day, if you’re happy with your life and gaming is a hobby, that’s okay. If it isn’t causing any harm to yourself or other people, there is no problem. But for some people gaming can get to a point where it stops being a harmless bit of fun and becomes something more sinister: an addiction. Missing important events, skipping school, neglecting friends, skipping meals, skipping showers, etc. are all points which can indicate an individual’s relationship with gaming is becoming unhealthy, and if you recognise these signs in yourself, I encourage you to reach out and get help.

Yes, gaming disorder or gaming addiction is a real phenomenon. The World Health Organisation did not invent it, all they have done is classify it and formally recognise what many people have known for a long time – that it is real. Far from being an attack on gaming as a hobby, this should be seen as a positive thing, as it has the potential to help affected individuals get better and more appropriate help.

This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Length isn’t everything… but it IS important.

Resident Evil 3 is the latest game to release to mixed reviews, with one source of criticism being the game’s length. It’s primarily a single-player experience, but the main campaign takes less than six hours to finish. Any time a video game receives criticism for its length the same group of people come out, proclaiming that “it doesn’t matter how long it is as long as it’s good!” The discussion around some titles thus descends into arguments between people who feel that there is such a thing as “too short” and people who feel that length makes no difference.

I can summarise my position on the issue quite succinctly: I don’t care how long a game is, provided it is priced accordingly. Article over, stay tuned for more – wait, it isn’t over? Hmm.

Let’s take a step back and look at why game length does actually matter. The way I usually explain it is like this: most people have a budget for gaming, and if there are two games for the same price, one which lasts three hours and another which lasts sixty, then one title is clearly better value than another. Next, if someone can only afford one new game a month or every few months, then they are absolutely right to consider how long the experience they are paying for will last. If a game is over in an afternoon and it’ll be weeks or months before they can get another one, that’s absolutely a fair consideration. This applies to many people, but folks on fixed or low incomes will feel this even more acutely.

Resident Evil 3 (2020) has released to mixed reviews.

Different games appeal to different people. So a game like Overwatch could be argued to have hundreds of hours of potential gameplay – it’s a multiplayer shooter, and there’s no campaign to beat. Players can play as many matches as they like. But for someone who dislikes multiplayer games, Overwatch would be a waste of money because they wouldn’t enjoy the experience. Thus it doesn’t really fit the model outlined above, and I’d say for the most part, multiplayer-only games don’t really fit in the same way. When I talk about game length I’m primarily considering single-player experiences.

There are also questions regarding at what point one considers a game to be “complete”, and again this will vary from person to person. Someone may consider a title finished if they beat the main campaign once, others may want to play it twice. Some people might want to unlock achievements or trophies, and still others may be completionists who want to unlock everything, explore every area, and discover every hidden item. So a game which may have a six-hour campaign on the surface can potentially be a thirty-hour experience for some people – and the question of value will depend on how a person chooses to play their games and enjoy their experiences.

A game like Lego Star Wars: The Complete Saga has a number of levels to complete across its story mode, but it also offers great replay value by having a large roster of unlockable characters, many of whom can do different things on those same levels. There are also tons of hidden collectables and coins across every level, such that the game has – for some gamers, at least – many more hours of enjoyment than just the “basic” story.

So where does this leave Resident Evil 3? The problem with it, and why I feel it’s been criticised in this area, is that it’s a full-price game – that is, it retails for £50-55 ($60 USD). That’s the same price as Red Dead Redemption 2, which offers a story roughly fifty hours long. And it’s more than twice the price of the recently-released Ori and the Will of the Wisps, which offers a story that’s around eight to ten hours long.

Some people are already uncomfortable by the comparisons, getting ready to bash their keyboards in anger and say that “length doesn’t matter!” But it does to a lot of gamers, especially at this price point. It’s not a question of raw length. A game can be short yet still feel like an enjoyable and worthwhile experience. Short games are not inherently bad games, and I don’t think anyone’s trying to say that they are. I’m certainly not making that case. But if a game is primarily a single-player experience, as Resident Evil 3 is, it needs to factor its length into its price in order for people to feel that they got a good deal and weren’t ripped off. If I paid £55 for a game and it lasted less than six hours, I’d be disappointed, especially considering that there are better options out there for me to have spent my money on.

Ori and the Will of the Wisps is a short game that has received critical acclaim.

Ori and the Will of the Wisps never pretends to be a long game. The first entry in its series, Ori and the Blind Forest, was even shorter, and both are considered amazing games. Stay tuned, by the way, for my own thoughts on Ori and the Blind Forest, as I have an article in the pipeline about it. But the producers behind the Ori series recognise that its comparatively short length means it needs to be priced accordingly, and they factored that in when the games were released. If they’d both been full-price titles they wouldn’t have been so well-received, and at the very least, their reviews would have come with caveats.

By comparison, The Order: 1886 was roundly criticised upon release for being too short for its price. This PlayStation 4 exclusive was one that many people were anticipating, but upon release it ended up being a disappointment. Many reviews at the time made note of the game’s length, and while it wasn’t the only source of criticism, the fact that it was a full-priced game that lasted around five hours was something that left many players and reviewers feeling let down and ripped off.

This principle is something which can apply to other forms of entertainment as well. If you’ve been a reader since last year, you may remember my top ten television series of the 2010s – you can find the list by clicking or tapping here. In that list, I explained why I preferred Elementary to Sherlock – two television shows about Sherlock Holmes in a modern-day setting. Sherlock has thirteen episodes, Elementary has 154. That isn’t the only consideration, but if there’s more to enjoy I’ll always want more of it. While not all of Elementary’s episodes were good, enough were to make it a more rounded, enjoyable experience. And not every Sherlock episode was good either, especially in its fourth “season”.

To my mind, Resident Evil 3 should fall into the same bracket as the Ori series mentioned above. If it were priced at, say, £30 instead of £55, people wouldn’t be giving it a hard time over its length – because it would be priced somewhat more fairly. And to return to my explanation as to why, the hypothetical low-income or budget gamer could pick up Resident Evil 3 and still have money left over for something else to play when they’d beaten it.

2015’s The Order: 1886 was criticised for its length.

Length is inherently tied to the value of a game, and while it isn’t the only determining factor in making purchase decisions and review scores, it is undeniably a factor for many people. If someone is in a position where they can waste all the money in the world on the latest games because they can afford it, well good for them. But many people can’t, and therefore how long they’ll be able to enjoy a purchased game is important – even more so in the days of digital distribution, as there’s no chance of trading in completed titles.

Quantity over quality is not a sound argument. But that isn’t the argument that I’m making, nor is anyone who criticised Resident Evil 3 or any other game that seems too short. What I’m saying is that length is tied to value, especially at higher prices and when considering people on lower incomes who can’t afford to get every new title that they might want to.

While I haven’t played Resident Evil 3 for myself, it serves as a good example – the latest in a long line – of why games publishers need to consider adjusting their pricing to fit a game’s length and value. By charging full price for a short game, people will feel that the money they invested was not worth it, which will hurt the game’s reputation and ultimately result in fewer sales. There is a balance which publishers need to hit, and in the case of Resident Evil 3 it seems that, at least for some gamers, they missed the mark.

All titles mentioned above are the copyright of their respective studio, developer, and/or publisher. Images courtesy of Press Kits sourced via IGDB. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

A few of the best holiday sales deals for PC gamers

Important: The 2019-20 Winter/Holiday Sales have now ended; prices listed below will no longer be accurate.

It’s the time of year where the main digital shops for PC games have big sales, and there are some great deals in there that are worth checking out.

Despite costing more up-front than a console – significantly more, depending on what kind of specs you go for – using a PC as your primary gaming platform can save money in the long run when you take into account sales like these. If you’re willing to wait a little and not jump on a brand new title on release day, within a year you’ll almost certainly find it discounted.

That’s not to say PC is necessarily the best option for budget gaming, but it is worth considering that many titles can be bought at a significant discount this time of year. If I were giving advice on the absolute best budget setup, I’d have to say that an Xbox One S with Xbox’s GamePass service is hard to beat. GamePass is a subscription service (think Netflix, but for games) and with the lower entry price of the Xbox One S you can be set up and playing a bunch of titles pretty quickly – assuming you have a good internet connection. But we’re getting off the subject.

I’ve had a look at the big sales over the last couple of days, and I’ve picked a few titles that are worth grabbing for the discounted price.

Disclaimer: discounts and prices are in GBP and may vary depending on where you are in the world. Prices are correct at time of writing; sales end at the beginning of January. The list is in no particular order.

Spoiler Warning: Though I’ve tried not to spoil the plots of titles listed below, minor spoilers may be present.

Number 1: Mass Effect 2 (Origin) £4.49, plus £8.79 for all DLC

Promo screenshot for Mass Effect 2 featuring Jacob, Tali, and Commander Shepard.

I named Mass Effect 2 as my number one game of the decade a little while ago, and I absolutely stand by that. The game tells a story that would be at home as a big-budget television show or series of films, as Commander Shepard must put together a crew for a dangerous mission to stop an alien race abducting human colonists.

It’s a much more streamlined version of the first game in the series, with fewer weapon and ammo options cluttering up your inventory. The third-person shooting mechanics are great, and the addition of biotic and technical powers adds an extra dimension to combat.

For a game that is basically ten years old by now, it still holds up remarkably well from a graphical point of view. For £4.49 it’s well worth a punt, though if you want the complete story – including the mission which bridges the gap between this title and its (somewhat disappointing) sequel, you’ll have to get the DLC pack as well.

Number 2: Fallout 3: Game of the Year Edition (Steam, £4.49)

Promo screenshot of Fallout 3.

Considering that for £4.49 you’re getting the entire main game of Fallout 3 plus five DLC packs, there’s a lot of content here.

Taking place in a post-apocalyptic Washington DC, Fallout 3 dumps players in a large open world. There is a main quest to follow, but there are also dozens of side-quests and other factions and NPCs to meet and engage with. There’s also a “karma” system – with points awarded for bad and good behaviour respectively. Doing bad things to people will result in negative karma and vice versa – these can affect gameplay.

With a ton of ways to play thanks to character creation and levelling-up systems allowing you a huge range of customisation options, Fallout 3 is a steal at this price and if you really get sucked into its world, will give you hours and hours of entertainment.

I’d absolutely recommend Fallout 3 over Fallout 4. But whatever you do, don’t buy the catastrophe that is Fallout 76.

Number 3: The Epic Games Store – Free £10/$10 voucher

This isn’t a single game, but the Epic Game Store is currently offering a free voucher to spend on games over £14.99. I know that the Epic Games Store has been controversial in PC gaming circles because of its aggressive policy of paying for exclusive titles, but they’re currently offering a £10 voucher to anyone who’s signed up.

The voucher is valid until May next year, and can be used on most games priced over £14.99, which includes titles that are currently on sale. It isn’t valid on pre-orders or in-game content, but if you figure a title has been discounted by £10, and you can save another £10 thanks to the voucher, it stacks up to be a pretty good deal.

I have heard that the discount is also available in Euros and US Dollars, but you’ll have to confirm on the Epic Games Store website that the deal is available in your region.

Number 4: Age of Empires: Definitive Edition (Steam, £3.75)

A comparison of the changes from the original version to the Definitive Edition.

Age of Empires came out in 1997, and was the first real-time strategy game that I played on PC. Microsoft spent a long time reworking this classic of the genre for modern PCs, and though the wait seemed to last forever, the end result was worth it.

Though many people prefer Age of Empires II, I’ve always had a special respect for what the original game did – for both my own PC gaming experience and for the genre as a whole. And the opportunity to dive back in when the Definitive Edition was released was too tempting to pass up.

You start with a Stone Age tribe of humans and have to build a town, while managing such resources as food, wood, stone, and gold. And in addition, you have an array of combat units to fight off other players (either AI or real people if you feel up to that). Battles can be intense in Age of Empires: Definitive Edition, and with the number of units you can have in any one game being raised from the original 50 all the way up to 250 this time around, be prepared for some truly epic fights.

There are campaigns as well if you want more of a story, but I’ve always preferred to set up random matches against AI opponents.

Number 5: Banished (Steam, £5.09)

A town in Banished on this promo screenshot.

Another title from my top games of the decade, Banished is a town building and management game.

If you can imagine Age of Empires without the fighting, you’re close to understanding what Banished is about. Players start with a small number of citizens and a stockpile of resources, and must work to keep citizens fed, clothed, healthy, and happy. Striking the balance is harder than it sounds, and gathering all of the necessary resources to build all the different buildings needed takes time.

Different factors affect how well citizens will perform – if they lack suitable clothing they’ll need to spend more time keeping warm, or if they weren’t educated at your town’s school house they will work less efficiently.

Considering the entire game was built by just one single person, Banished is an amazingly detailed experience, one that’s very easy to get stuck into and lose hours playing.

Number 6: Lego Star Wars: The Complete Saga (Origin, £5.11)

A few of Lego Star Wars: The Complete Saga‘s huge roster of characters.

When it was released in 2007, Lego Star Wars: The Complete Saga contained levels set across all six Star War films. Obviously since then we’ve seen the Star Wars universe expand, but that doesn’t mean that this incredibly fun game is not worth taking a look at, especially when it’s on sale.

If you’ve never played any of the Lego games, they take whatever their setting is and make it incredibly fun. This is a very polished game, and has literally hundreds of collectables and unlockables hidden throughout its numerous levels. Every major and minor Star Wars character from the first six films makes an appearance – and when unlocked, almost all are playable.

Going back to a previously-beaten level with a different set of characters might unlock new areas or allow access to previously-off limits collectables, and finding every single hidden Lego kit and collecting every single coin to 100% complete Lego Star Wars is a heck of a task. For such a low price there’s a lot to do here, and while it isn’t a game that takes itself seriously in any way, it’s great fun and well worth a look. I’ve even played this with people who aren’t Star Wars fans and they all had a great time.

Number 7: The Witcher 3: Game of the Year Edition (GOG, £10.49)

Promo screenshot for The Witcher 3.

Big disclaimer: I haven’t played this game for myself. But The Witcher 3 is held up by many gamers as one of the best single-player experiences ever created, and with the Game of the Year Edition at 70% off, giving you the main game and both of its expansions, I’d say the reviews alone make it worth a look if you’re like me and haven’t got around to playing yet.

Excitement for the series is sky-high at the moment, thanks to Netflix’s The Witcher series getting rave reviews and being picked up for a second season. So maybe this could be a good time to finally jump into this world.

Number 8: Project CARS (Steam, £5.84)

A race in Project CARS.

For some reason, racing games over the last few years have all ended up looking absolutely stunning, and Project CARS is no exception. For a game that’s approaching its fifth anniversary it looks incredible, and even if it were released today it would still be a great-looking title.

But there’s more to a game than graphics, and luckily Project CARS has a lot to offer for racing fans. There are 65 cars in the base game, with others available as DLC – and the DLC packs are also on offer at the moment. Each car can be tuned to fit the way you want to race, and there’s both a career mode as well as the freedom to set up individual races.

Number 9: Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order (Steam, Origin, and Epic Games Store, £45.64)

Main character Cal Kestis in a promo image for Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order.

Another big disclaimer: I haven’t played this game yet. But Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order is a return to single-player gaming for the Star Wars franchise, and by all accounts it’s a great game. Some reviewers have criticised the difficulty – even comparing it to Dark Souls – but there is a “story mode” which supposedly reduces this significantly.

This isn’t going to be a game like Knights of the Old Republic, because it’s not a role-playing game in the same way as those classic titles. It’s more in the vein of an adventure title like the Uncharted series, but with a Star Was setting.

When you factor in that the £10 voucher will actually let you nab this for £35.64, this might be a title worth picking up over on the Epic Games Store, and considering it’s only been out for a month or so, the 17% discount seems generous.

Number 10: Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic series (Steam, £5.01 or Origin, £4.74)

A battle taking place in this Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic II promo screenshot.

I mentioned the Knights of the Old Republic games in the entry above, and at £5 or less for both games, that’s a pretty great deal in my opinion. I played both titles on the original Xbox when they were new, and they’re absolutely incredible.

Taking a setting several thousand years prior to the events of the main Star Wars films, Bioware gave themselves an almost blank canvas to tell a really exciting story of a war between Sith and Jedi. And you actually get to choose whether to stay with the Light Side or allow your character to succumb to the Dark – with different outcomes in both games depending on which path you choose to follow.

Some people will tell you that Knights of the Old Republic II is the better title, but both are incredibly strong stories, wholly single-player, and a lot of fun to spend hours with. The non-linear nature of the story, as well as a number of optional side-quests, and of course the differing Light Side and Dark Side paths, combine to make both titles very replayable.

Number 11: The Monkey Island Collection (Steam, £7.64)

Promo screenshot for Monkey Island 2.

A series whose first two titles date back to the days of MS-DOS, Monkey Island is a hilarious pirate-themed point-and-click adventure. The first two titles – The Secret of Monkey Island and Monkey Island 2: LeChuck’s Revenge – have been remastered with voice acting and up-to-date graphics in this collection.

The series follows the story of wannabe pirate Guybrush Threepwood, as he blunders his way across the Caribbean. I don’t want to spoil any of the jokes, but the series has an incredible sense of humour.

These games require a lot of puzzling and thinking, figuring out which objects in your inventory could be combined or used to interact with the environment. There are walkthroughs online, though, so if you get stuck help is available.

And the third game, The Curse of Monkey Island, has one of my all-time favourite NPCs: Murray the talking skull.

Number 12: Sleeping Dogs: Definitive Edition (Steam, £2.39)

Promo screenshot for Sleeping Dogs: Definitive Edition.

In a strange way, the manner in which Sleeping Dogs: Definitive Edition portrayed Hong Kong felt familiar to me – I’d played Shenmue II years previously, and despite never having set foot in the city, playing Sleeping Dogs felt like a strange homecoming of sorts.

The game takes the Grand Theft Auto playbook and completely changes it up – firstly by switching the setting from America to Hong Kong, and secondly by making the player character an undercover police officer instead of a criminal.

There’s a hugely detailed story to get stuck into, and an exciting open world that genuinely feels lived-in. I have no idea why the game is so heavily discounted, but for less than the price of a drink you’ll get hours of fun, both from the main game and its DLC packs.

Number 13: Euro Truck Simulator 2 or American Truck Simulator (Steam, £3.74)

The view from your cab in this promo screenshot of American Truck Simulator.

If you’re looking for a slower-paced experience, something to do while you listen to your favourite tunes, or you’re just a big fan of trucking, one or both of these titles might appeal to you.

The Truck Simulator games put you in the boots of a truck driver, giving you journeys across either Europe or the United States to complete in exchange for cash you can use to buy new vehicles and upgrade your fleet. Business management is part of the simulation, but at its core it’s primarily a driving game.

This isn’t like a Grand Theft Auto or Crazy Taxi title where you’re rushing around, not caring about damage to your vehicle or the environment. Collisions will cost money, and the point of the game isn’t to kill and destroy, it’s to relax and enjoy the beautiful environments. American Truck Simulator is my favourite of the two, simply because of the scenery, but both games are strangely compelling, and if you need to unwind or just have time to waste, you could do a lot worse.

Number 14: The Outer Worlds (Epic Games Store, £37.49)

Promo screenshot for The Outer Worlds.

Another title that comes with the “I haven’t played it yet” disclaimer, but The Outer Worlds received stellar reviews from critics. Coming from Obsidian Entertainment – the team behind games like Knights of the Old Republic II and Fallout: New Vegas – this wholly original title takes players to a distant outer space colony where corporations are in charge.

The environments look amazing, and from what I hear the story is an exciting one. Another game that might be worth spending that £10 voucher on, The Outer Worlds has been on my radar for a while, and I can’t wait to see what it has in store.

Number 15: The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind – Game of the Year Edition (Steam and GOG, £3.89)

The town of Seyda Neen in a screenshot for The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind.

Another of my all-time favourite games, The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind represented a massive jump in both quality and scale over its two predecessors, and really set the stage for future Bethesda titles – including Skyrim and the Fallout series. The roots of what would become Skyrim are here on full display, and while the game’s lack of voice acting and heavy reliance on text may be offputting for some, it is an incredibly detailed experience.

The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind actually offers a lot more than its sequels, Oblivion and Skyrim, in some respects. There are more weapon types – including throwing knives and spears – and more factions to join – including three great houses. Considering this game was first released in 2002, it was incredibly ambitious, and the open world it created, while imperfect and dated by today’s standards, was a monumental achievement.

Hundreds of hours of gameplay await if you really get stuck in, and because of the huge number of factions it isn’t possible to complete every single quest and side-quest in one playthrough – so there’s always a reason to come back. I bought the game when it first came out on the original Xbox, and in 17 years I still haven’t completed 100% of the game. There really is just that much to do here.

Honourable mentions:

It isn’t possible to detail every single game that’s currently on sale, such is the scope of Steam and other shops. But I found a few more that would be just as worthy of an entry on the list above:

The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion (Steam, £3.89) – If Morrowind‘s reliance on text isn’t your thing, Oblivion is fully voice-acted and is a great entry in the series in its own right.
Two Point Hospital (Steam, £8.49) – A spiritual successor to classic title Theme Hospital, this game is a hospital management title with a real sense of humour.
Steel Division: Normandy ’44 (Steam, £11.89) – A realistic WWII real-time strategy title with a detailed and exciting single-player campaign.
Control (Epic Games Store, £32.15) – Another contender for your £10 voucher, Control is a supernatural third-person adventure.
The Sims 4 (Origin, £8.74) – It can be hard to recommend The Sims when considering the price of all of the various expansions, but at this discounted price it could be worth it if you want to try the most up-to-date edition of the classic life simulator.
Shenmue I & II (Steam, £8.49) – Absolutely among my all-time favourite games, Shenmue tells a slow-burning, cinematic story of revenge, set in a wonderfully realistic open world.
Resident Evil 2 Remake (Steam, £14.84) – Considering this is one of the best games of the year and only came out in January, this horror title’s 67% discount is huge.
Star Wars Battlefront II (Origin, £19.99) – Though incredibly controversial upon release for its microtransactions, Battlefront II has a solid single-player campaign, which has been updated with a free expansion, and the story it told was worth the asking price.
Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown (Steam, £24.99) – A fun, arcade-style air combat game with an interesting story.
Rise of Nations: Extended Edition (Steam, £3.74) – Similar in some ways to Age of Empires, this game is a fun RTS title that takes you through almost all of human history right up to the present.

So that’s it.

A few titles I found that are worth considering before the sale ends at the beginning of next month. I reckon if you bought all fifteen entries on the list, you’d have spent £143.58 (assuming using the £10 Epic Games Store voucher) and that works out at less than £10 a game – including two brand new, expensive titles. Excluding Jedi: Fallen Order and The Outer Worlds, you’d spend £70.45 and have a huge library of games to play heading into 2020.

These sales are part of what gives PC gaming an edge over consoles, and even if you just want one or two new titles to play, there are some great discounts on plenty of games across every genre.

I hope this has been helpful for some of you. Remember that sales are currently taking place on GOG, Origin, the Epic Games Store, and Steam – and a number of titles are available in multiple shops so it’s worth shopping around to make absolutely sure you’re getting the best discount.

All titles listed above are the copyright of their respective studio, developer and/or publisher. Prices listed are for the UK versions only and were correct as of 22/12/2019. Sales end at the beginning of January – though it’s possible some discounts may end sooner. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Live service? Buyer, beware!

The Elder Scrolls: Legends, a fairly uninspired digital card game from Bethesda, has become the latest in a long line of live service games not to deliver its promised content. The reason is simple: maths. The numbers didn’t add up for Bethesda to make continued development worthwhile, either because the game had already slipped into loss-making territory, or the scant money it was making wasn’t enough. So after two-and-a-half years, new development has been shuttered, and while the developers promise to continue “maintenance” support, in reality the game is brain-dead and on life support. It’s only a matter of time before it’s shut down altogether, and while Legends does have a single-player mode which I’d hope would be able to continue to be played, a lot of live service games don’t. When the servers are switched off, that’s it. Curtains. It doesn’t matter how much money you might’ve put into the title.

At this point I’d hope more and more gamers are becoming aware of this phenomenon. It isn’t an isolated issue; time and again a live service title will launch – often in a half-finished state – with promises of huge amounts of additional content to come. Often termed a “roadmap”, far too frequently these promises don’t come to fruition.

In most cases good intentions are there in the beginning. Nobody makes a bad game on purpose, and developers do genuinely intend to release the additional content when the game is launched. In that sense, strictly speaking these aren’t scams or deliberate false advertising. But it’s a hard pill to swallow nevertheless for a player who purchased a game like 2014’s first-person shooter Destiny, which promised to be a “ten year” experience. Destiny received its final update barely two-and-a-half years later, with a full sequel released a few months after that – as another full-priced game. And think also of Anthem, Bioware’s live service which launched only in March 2019 – only to have its roadmap cancelled after a single update.

In many cases, there is good reason from the point of view of games companies to discontinue support and move developers over to new projects. At the end of the day, no company can survive long term running a loss-making project, and there comes a point for a live service where the number of players – or rather, the number of players spending money – is simply not high enough to be sustainable. In cases like Anthem perhaps it’s the case that the number of players (and the amount of money coming in) actually never hit that mark.

A significant part of the problem is the way these games are planned and developed in the first place. Releasing what is essentially an unfinished title, with the promise of future updates and content to pad it out, can lead to live services feeling underwhelming when they first release. But this is a flawed strategy – interest in any game peaks in the days immediately before and after its release, so if it’s incomplete, riddled with glitches and bugs, and is overall a mediocre experience, that’s the narrative of the game in the minds of players everywhere, and that’s also what critics (and players) will be saying when they write their reviews. A bad launch can doom a project before it even has a chance to get going.

Surely it would make more sense to ensure that a live service is released with more than just a moderate amount of content. How much exactly is required will vary from genre to genre and title to title, but a couple of recent examples jump to mind. Fallout 76 released with no non-player characters to interact with. In a franchise which has always been strongly story-driven, this was surely a huge mistake. The result was a large, empty world, and besides wandering around it to see the locations and fight a few monsters, there wasn’t actually anything worthwhile to do. If the game had launched with significantly more going on, some of its other issues – notably the glitches and graphical errors – would have been less noticeable and the game would surely have got a better reception.

The 2015 iteration of Star Wars: Battlefront also suffered from the problem of missing content, compounded in its case by charging what was seen as excessive amounts of money for that missing content when it did finally release months later.

The fundamental problem is the “release now, fix later” business model. In most cases, a majority of players will not be willing to stick around long enough if the game feels lightweight and incomplete. And the reason for that is simple – there are other, better games available to play right now, games which aren’t short on content and which don’t have the same problems. Most games, with very few exceptions, have a short lifespan. If you consider all of the titles that released in the first half of the 2010s, how many are still being played in significant numbers today? In terms of live services, I can think of Grand Theft Auto V, Diablo III, and Rocket League. Maybe you can think of one or two more, but out of all the games that came out in those years, only an absolutely minuscule percentage are still being played in significant numbers to be sustainable and to warrant continued developer support. In short, the odds are against any game, no matter how great it seems, to survive beyond a couple of years. Only the truly exceptional, genre-defining titles make it. And most live services, especially ones which launch incomplete and broken, were never going to be anywhere close to that level.

When I see a game launch in an incomplete state, my first reaction isn’t to buy it, wait for it to get better, and keep playing. The promise of future content means nothing if the game isn’t good enough now. My reaction is to stay away, and wait to see whether things improve. And judging by a lot of reviews for these types of live services, a lot of people feel the same way – or wish they hadn’t spent their money too soon. The “wait-and-see” approach, which is a natural consumer response to any incomplete product that promises future improvements, is fatal to many live services. They become caught in a spiral: a bad launch leads to low player numbers, low player numbers leads to less income, less income means the company decides to cancel future updates, and the cancellation of updates leads consumers who were in “wait-and-see” mode to not bother with the title and go elsewhere.

In many industries – perhaps all – companies, driven by the desire to make as much money as possible for as little effort and expense as possible, see a successful product and try to copy its formula. This is what’s happened with live services. Once a few had been successful, games publishers decided to try to emulate that style of game and by doing so, hoped to reap the same rewards as Epic Games had with Fortnite or Rockstar had with Grand Theft Auto V. The fact that such titles are once-in-a-generation success stories didn’t matter to executives who thought only of the financial gains and nothing of the games or their players.

While it does vary from player to player, most people like at least some variety in their games, just as most people like some variety in their entertainment in general and in other aspects of their life. The number of players content to only play a single title for a decade must be small compared to the overall number of gamers across every platform. While it’s true some titles like Starcraft II or World of Warcraft manage to have active playerbases years after release, with some dedicated players sinking tens of thousands of hours into those games, the reality is most players have a library of titles, and are frequently looking for a new experience. After beating the campaign of a game like Destiny or Anthem, most folks will move on and look for the next adventure – and if the game isn’t all that good, the chances of them returning are slim, even with online multiplayer and expansion packs to try to lure them back.

So in addition to all the problems of releasing half-baked products, putting off players and causing many to avoid jumping in at launch, the very concept of a live service that lasts for years has a natural ceiling – a cap on the maximum number of players who would even hypothetically be interested to keep playing for such an extended period of time. Even the best title which could draw in players and convince them to ditch other games has, therefore, a natural limit of players who’d be interested to keep coming back. And in many cases, the sheer amount of money it costs to keep development going at this level, with updates, patches, and large expansions will simply never be cost-effective when considering the maximum number of players the game is ever likely to get. So if a studio sets itself up for future development expecting Grand Theft Auto V levels of income, but launched to average reviews in an incomplete state, the playerbase will simply never exist for that to be sustainable.

The reality is that many live service titles were never going to succeed. From the very moment the concept sprang into the head of an executive, it was a losing proposition. And to the credit of developers – who are usually not involved in the decision-making process – they do a valiant job under often difficult circumstances to get a title ready and keep it operational. But if the concept is bad, if the player numbers simply do not exist to justify the cost, and the game is pushed out before its ready, there’s nothing they can do. Even the most talented gamemakers can’t fix an unfixable mess, and that’s what many of these live service titles are – unfixable messes built on a flawed idea that was dreamt up by managers and executives who don’t understand the industry they’re supposed to be experts in.

I have to be honest and say that by the end of 2019, if someone chooses to buy into a game on the promises of marketing which speaks of “roadmaps”, “ten year plans”, and “improvements to come”, my sympathy for that person when the title shuts down a year later is limited – or nonexistent. There have been enough titles like this by now from almost every major games publisher in the industry that people should know better. A game – any game, regardless of promises – shouldn’t be treated as an investment to sink huge sums of money into, but a temporary product to be enjoyed while it lasts. While it may seem sad to think of games as disposable, that’s the way publishers treat them, and to avoid disappointment it’s the way we need to start thinking too. At this point I’m incredibly wary of putting any money into in-game content, as I simply don’t know how long that game and that content will be accessible. If someone has money to burn and they don’t mind losing it, that’s fine, but I don’t have that luxury and nor do many others.

There’s an old Latin expression – caveat emptor. It means “buyer beware”, and that basically sums up how I feel about live services. There is a chance – a very, very strong chance based on recent experience – that the title will not last as long as it says it will, and will not release all of the patches, updates, fixes, and expansions that it promises to. As I said before, this isn’t deliberate and it isn’t a scam, but it is the reality of most live services. And any player buying into such a service needs to be aware of that up front, and know that disappointment is coming down the line. If, armed with that knowledge, they still decide to proceed, that’s their call. But I’m afraid that they don’t get to turn around and whine when it all goes belly up, because we’ve all been down this road enough times to know that that’s where it was going.

Let’s all treat live services the way publishers do – as disposable, temporary products. If you want to spend your money on a game you won’t be able to play in future, and on in-game items that you’ll never see again when the game shuts its servers, that’s your call. But at least be informed of that decision, and be aware that there are many other titles, both single-player and multiplayer, which don’t jerk you around and waste your time and money. Maybe, just maybe, if we all bought those kind of games and left live services alone, nobody would have to suffer the money loss and disappointment that comes from their practically-inevitable demise.

All games and franchises mentioned in the article above are the copyright of their respective parent companies. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

I didn’t buy Shenmue III

I was a huge Shenmue fan back in the Dreamcast days. I played both the first and second instalments many times over, and I loved the modern, real-world setting, and the cinematic storytelling. Before I played Shenmue, my experience with video games was limited mostly to 2D titles on the SNES and Sega Mega Drive, and while I had played 3D games before on the Nintendo 64, most of those were titles like Super Mario 64 or Donkey Kong 64, neither of which you’d describe as particularly story-driven, cinematic, or realistic. My favourite N64 games, by the way, outside of Super Mario 64, were probably Star Wars: Shadows of the Empire and Jet Force Gemini, both of which managed to have decent stories. But I digress.

Shenmue represented a colossal leap in gaming for me, showing me that video games were more than just digital toys and could tell stories that would be equally at home on the big or small screen. And Shenmue was a genuinely groundbreaking game in many ways. Its large world, with short transitions between areas, was as close as it was possible to get to an open world in 1999. Characters felt real, they had jobs, they had schedules, their place of work was open during some hours of the day and closed in others. Almost every shop and restaurant in the game was accessible, even if many of them played little or no role in the main story. It was possible to spend hours and hours just walking around town, soaking up the atmosphere, talking to people, and yes, playing mini-games. To call the mini-games “mini” is a bit of a stretch, because contained within Shenmue were two full games of the 1980s – Space Harrier and Hang On – as well as a darts game and two QTE games. This alone was enough to draw me in. I spent hours playing Space Harrier and Hang On, first at the in-game arcade, and later when I realised it was possible to win copies of the games to play at main character Ryo’s home (on an anachronistic Sega Saturn), I tried to do that too.

While we’re talking about QTEs or quick-time events, Shenmue was the game that invented them. While QTEs get somewhat of a bad rap nowadays, thanks I’m sure to their misuse and overuse in other titles, in Shenmue they added a sense of tension and drama to what would’ve otherwise been a simple cut scene. Shenmue had even found a way to make its cut scenes interactive, and again that was a huge deal in 1999 and one I really came to enjoy. It kept the gameplay going during those moments. Sure, there were still cut scenes (a large number of them) but the QTE sequences were something new and exciting, and because you had mere seconds to respond, added a great deal of tension to the sequences in which they appeared.

Shenmue described its world in the manual as F.R.E.E – “Full Reactive Eyes Entertainment”. For some reason I still remember that two decades later! It was the term for describing an open world before anyone had invented the name “open world”. And though Shenmue‘s world may seem small in comparison to some titles today, it really did let you do a lot. It’s easy to understate nowadays just how much the game fitted into its four Dreamcast GD-ROM discs – there was walking/exploration, fighting, QTEs, driving (both a forklift and motorcycle), examining both the environment and objects in first-person, mini-games and arcade games, fully-voiced characters, a day/night cycle, randomised weather patters (and day-accurate weather for that region of Japan based on real-world weather data) which included snow, rain, overcast, and sun, and other elements which I’m sure I’m forgetting. For its day, Shenmue was incredibly ambitious, and while the finished product might not appeal to everyone (I’ve heard some describe its slow pace as “boring”) it blended together all of those elements successfully into a single experience that really felt like a real, lived-in world. No other game before had come anywhere close to this, and I was awed by what I was playing.

Some aspects of Shenmue and Shenmue II have not aged well, and it’s worth admitting that up front. The controls for the fighting sequences are essentially taken straight from the 2D beat-em-ups of the early- and mid-90s, complete with complicated multi-button combos, and don’t translate well to a fully 3D game. I would often find Ryo flailing around, swinging kicks and punches at mid-air because an opponent had moved to one side or the other. And the lack of a difficulty option is noticeable nowadays, especially speaking as someone with health issues who usually will play games on whatever the easiest setting is! And the controls, even on last year’s remaster, are clunky and awkward by today’s standards. I lost count of the number of times Ryo would get stuck halfway up a staircase because there was no fine control, or how he would find it difficult at times to successfully navigate a doorway. Much of the recorded audio in the first game is also of relatively poor quality, and on a decent set of speakers or a soundbar today sounds like listening to an amateur YouTuber who’s just upgraded to their first $15 microphone.

But despite these criticisms, when I replayed the games last year, for the first time in well over a decade, nostalgia hit and I was really enjoying myself again.
So why haven’t I bought Shenmue III now that it’s finally out?

It’s been eighteen years since I left Ryo in a cave in China, and as a huge fan of the first two games, I should’ve been first in line on day one to pick up the third title and resolve that cliffhanger. But I wasn’t. Shenmue III has been out for a few weeks now, and I still haven’t picked it up either on PC (my primary gaming platform) or PS4. As the third part of a game which was all about a single story, Shenmue III was unlikely to pull in a lot of new players, which means it really needed older fans of the games, or people who’d become fans by playing last year’s rereleases, to step up and buy in. And while early sales put Shenmue III somewhere in the top ten PS4 titles in its launch week, it doesn’t seem to have sold like hotcakes.

That matters because if the game doesn’t sell enough copies for the likes of Sony and Epic Games (both of whom pumped money into the title well above its $7m that it earned from Kickstarter) how will it get a sequel? But wait, isn’t Shenmue III the sequel I’ve been waiting eighteen years for? Nope. Because it doesn’t conclude Ryo’s story.

I genuinely don’t understand how Yu Suzuki and company could have made such a monumentally bad decision. Shenmue as a series was as dead as dead could be. And it died because it was a failure. It managed to have a very vocal fanbase, but that fanbase was tiny. Only around 100,000 people bought Shenmue II in 2001, a drop-off of more than 90% from the 1.2 million players who bought the first game. And Shenmue lost an insane amount of money for its companies. The reason Sega was totally happy to part with the rights to the franchise in 2013/14 is because they knew then that it would never make them any money. So when Shenmue fans raised a whopping $7 million in 2014 to make a third instalment, Yu Suzuki and his team should’ve recognised what a miracle that was. Finally, after all these years, the story could be complete.

But Shenmue‘s story, which had been planned out in 1999, was supposed to take place over multiple games, five, six, perhaps even seven titles being necessary to complete all sixteen “chapters”. The first game, by the way, contained only the first chapter, with chapter two taking place between games in comic book form, and three, four, and five encompassing the second game. So on the one hand, Ys Net – Yu Suzuki’s studio responsible for making the third game – had raised $7m to make another game, while on the other hand still having perhaps ten or eleven chapters remaining.

The sensible thing to do would’ve been to make cuts. Whole sections of the story could’ve been cut out, or alternatively released as novels or comics. And Shenmue III, so eagerly awaited by fans, could’ve rounded out the story and given Ryo the conclusion we’ve all been waiting for. It didn’t have to be a perfect ending by any means, but it did have to be an ending, because the chances of getting lightning to strike twice and being able to make another Shenmue game after this one were always slim to nonexistent.

And that was before Ys Net managed to upset many of their core fans with delays and the now-infamous Epic Store exclusivity deal on PC.

When that news broke last year, that Shenmue III wouldn’t complete the story, I was gobsmacked. I’d never imagined that they’d make such a horrible decision, and while I’d avoided donating to the project when it was seeking crowdfunding (as I do on principle for every project – I just don’t have the money to waste) I was certainly planning to pick up a copy when it released. But upon learning that the story wouldn’t draw to a close, I became increasingly sceptical of Shenmue III. For me, the worst possible outcome would be getting drawn back into that world, only to be left on another cliffhanger like I was in 2001. And with slim prospects of a sequel any time soon, that would be like reopening an old wound. And under those circumstances, it might be better to wait and see whether a sequel can be developed before deciding. At the end of the day, I don’t want to waste my time on another incomplete game. And you can bet your boots if Shenmue III doesn’t get a sequel, in another fifteen years there won’t be anyone around willing to stump up crowdfunding cash to try. It’s now or never.

If Yu Suzuki couldn’t bring himself to make significant cuts and changes to the story to get it to fit into a single release, someone else needed to be brought in to make those changes for him. Realistically, this was probably Shenmue‘s only chance to conclude its story and Ys Net blew it.

As a fan from the Dreamcast era, I’d rather leave Shenmue there, an incomplete masterpiece, sadly unfinished, rather than drag it into the modern era where it would become a still-unfinished game and a colossal disappointment. I hate becoming jaded, bitter, and negative about a series I used to really love. But I just can’t understand the decision-making that led to this. And I’m so very disappointed that still, eighteen years on, Ryo’s story is unfinished. They had a golden opportunity – handed to them by the fans – and they didn’t take it. If Shenmue III is disappointing for any reason, it’s that. And I honestly don’t know whether I want to bother with it again, because right now Shenmue IV seems like a very unlikely prospect. It’s disappointing to have waited so long only to get another unfinished story.

Sorry Ryo, but I think you’re on your own.

Shenmue III is out now on PC and PlayStation 4. Shenmue I & II are available on PC, Xbox One, and PlayStation 4 as a single title. All copyrights are owned by Ys Net, Sega, Epic Games, DeepSilver, and Sony. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Shenhua and Ryo Hazuki in a press image for Shenmue III.