Well, this was a funny old year on the games front. All the platform holders tended to do their own thing this year and I wonder if it might mean that we’ll be soon seeing them all choose to follow their own schedules instead of falling into a hardware arms race yet again. The answer to that might be at E3 when we find out if Sony comes up with an answer to the Xbox One X.
The console that could win it all…
I don’t own a Switch right now but it seems like every week there is something to remind me that perhaps I should accept the inevitable and get one! Maybe the WiiU was a practise run for what the Switch would deliver in both capability and content; the latter has already benefited from that with many great titles making the transition in the form of enhanced versions (Mario Kart 8 Deluxe) or sequels (Splatoon 2).
On top of that Nintendo has The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild as a Switch launch game and Super Mario Odyssey arrive to close out 2017. Both end up fighting it out to win many game of the year awards and in doing so made it pretty darned clear to the others that no matter how awesome you might think your software catalogue is, it still isn’t as good as Nintendo’s. With additional titles coming and a Pokemon game on the horizon it can only get better from here.
The last portable console I played much of is a Nintendo DS which had Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars almost permanently plugged in. Prior to that it was an Atari Lynx so taking a console with me in my bag is not something I often considered. But having one with a big friendly screen capable of playing Skyrim seems just too good to be true. A lot of people seem to think that too with the Switch selling more than 10 million units in less than a year.
The console that could lose it all…
Next we have Sony who right now are incapable of not selling PlayStation 4s. They are disappearing by the truckload. Bolstered by a software library that finally began to push out a pile of titles promised years ago you’d think that it’d all be smooth sailing however it seems they’re also pretty good at putting a foot or two into their own mouths.
First up is their continued poor handling of the cross console multiplayer push by Microsoft. With one of their biggest franchises in Minecraft being able to work across PC, mobile and Xbox One (soon for Switch too) and also one of the biggest third party titles in Rocket League already able to play nicely you’d think that maybe Sony would succumb to the pressure and open up some multi-platform games to the other consoles. But apparently Microsoft’s Minecraft audience will introduce rogue elements into PlayStation Network that Sony thinks will damage their incredibly well behaved players in ways they simply can’t handle.
Then on the subject of backward compatibility it seemed like they are even willing to ruin the reputation on their own franchises when one of their own execs says that they wonder why people would even bother wanting to play the original Gran Turismo. Yet they’re happy to charge people for HD remakes of old games or stream them… As long as there is money in it for them I suppose.
It probably won’t change anything though. While they are top of the heap and making big money this is likely how the situation will remain for the foreseeable future. You can’t really blame them for wanting to hold onto that audience for as long as possible and Sony did a lot right in the beginning which has paid off incredibly well and have turned the tide and become the Xbox 360 of this generation with a machine that has a wide appeal to gamers.
Considering how these “console wars” have so easily flipped the winners and losers between generations, operating like you’re always going to be the top dog might not work in the long term and it’ll be interesting to see what they do to strengthen their position for the future.
The console that’s the HD remaster of its former self…
The Xbox One X is definitely one beast of a console and for the first time in four years the platform has a substantial technical edge over PlayStation 4. Impressive though the PS4 Pro may be, the numbers game that worked so effectively against the launch Xbox One has now swung against them.
You can’t necessarily call it a winner yet. Making a console like it a few years back may not have been possible but the attitude towards building the Xbox One X really should have been there in the beginning of the Xbox One’s life. The hardware and software legacy of that launch has taken Microsoft a long time to overcome and though they’ve got significant mind share now in delivering the goods there’s still much to do… like bring on the games.
It’s a bit weird to think that for both the PlayStation 4 Pro and Xbox One X, we basically have hardware launches with no actual games to go with them. Both relied on patches to existing games that would take advantage of the new hardware and justify their existence. And with enhancements to backward compatibility, the Xbox One X was going to even make your VERY old games on the platform look great. When has there ever been a platform launch until PS4 Pro/XBOX where a major selling point was that it makes old stuff better?
However it plays out, this was the console Microsoft needed to make. Not only are they showing respect to the software legacy of the platform (and brand loyal gamers) through backward compatibility but now they are doing the same on the hardware side and being true again to the company’s original ideals of building powerful GAMES consoles. Hopefully next year they’ll start playing catch up we’ll start seeing a few more exclusive games for it too.
A new galaxy… but with old issues
Mass Effect Andromeda had the potential to dominate discussions in the beginning of the year thanks to it being part of a heritage of some of the best roleplaying games to grace PC and consoles. It did that but often for the wrong reasons. And that’s the frustrating thing about it. There is a really good game in there but at launch it was often let down by a lack of polish that exposed plenty of visual issues with the game. Thankfully no where near as bad as Assassin’s Creed Unity but it was enough to start a backlash.
It also didn’t help that the main questline was not as interesting as the sidequests and that the early parts of the game suffered from that as a result. But if you could get past that and get into the meat of the game there were enough moments that really showed a team who were trying hard to make a great Mass Effect game. I’d even go so far as to say the sequence leading to and including the final battle might just be the better than both Mass Effect 2 and 3 as it takes all of the positives from the game and throws it into one action packed conclusion.
The post launch patches really did a great job of bringing the game that much needed polish and I’d recommend you give it a go if you liked the earlier games. The downside is the work on the patches effectively killed our chances of DLC and it seems now that much like the protagonist Ryder in the beginning of Mass Effect Andromeda, the series with go into hibernation again for a while before we see it again.
Nevertheless, Mass Effect Andromeda was my third most played game of the year so it definitely kept me occupied right through to the end. And with role playing games that’s all you really want isn’t it?
I’d buy that for a dollar… and that… and that… maybe
Oh, loot crates… those silly little things that let you buy a chance for a stupid hat you may barely even see in a game. The prevalence of micro-transactions in games now has opened up the possibilities of abusive tactics by developers to earn money beyond a player’s initial purchase and the worst of it came to a head in Star Wars Battlefront II.
In the case of Battlefront II it was that star cards, the game’s method for applying ability boosts to players, were only accessible through purchasing loot crates with either in game credits (earned slowly) or purchased directly. Either way it was random chance that would determine what you received and those players willing to commit enough funds to purchase multiple crates would likely end up being the better equipped players in combat.
The game itself is not that bad – the production values are incredible and the campaign is a great addition even if goes a little too far into fan fiction territory at times. The idea of “paying to win” in multiplayer, which still is the bulk of the game, just drove a lot of people VERY mad and all of the goodwill generated by bonuses like free DLC disappeared. Still, the first batch of DLC arrived in time for The Last Jedi in cinemas and even included additional campaign content which is quite a rarity now for shooters.
I’m not entirely immune to micro-transactions. Cosmetic items have an appeal from time to time for games that I play a lot of but right now they’ve mainly been confined to Elite Dangerous. It might seem insignificant but I was rapt to be able to pay a couple of dollars to put my ship’s name and ID on the exterior paintwork! Buy paying for “a chance” to get a useful boost in a game… I rarely buy lotto tickets so that’s not going to work for me.
Nazi a game like this in a long time…
Having Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus arrive at the end of the year was a glorious way to test out my Xbox One X Scorpio Edition. With so many shooters focusing more on the long tail of multiplayer and less on the story side it’s impressive to see Bethesda buck that trend and in this case developer Machine Games deserve additional kudos for what has to be one of the most memorable experiences I’ve had in a game in years. Long after I’ve finished it I can still rattle off a half dozen moments that are far more awesome than the majority of games I’ve played in the last couple of years. It’s gloriously bonkers in all the right ways.
The game is certainly not perfect. With shooting mechanics that are more old school than some players might prefer and difficulty spikes that can leave you frustrated at times, the story however plays out with such bravado and unpredictability that I can’t have anything but respect for what they achieved. Even with overly heavy handed dialogue and moments set up deliberately to shock you, the last time I can remember a shooter successfully delivering something similar in a campaign was Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare and that game was only able to achieve that on a couple of levels not through the whole game.
Taking a licking but they still keep ticking…
This year my play time has been dominated by games that weren’t even released in 2017. Games like Titanfall 2 simply got better with age and then you have something like The Division which had fallen off my radar completely but thanks to the recent 1.8 patch has become a bit of a revelation that is finally giving me the kind of experience I so wanted shooters of a similar nature to deliver.
Earlier I mentioned that Mass Effect Andromeda was my third most played game of the year. My first and second were two old titles in Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain and Elite Dangerous. I was expecting Elite to be right up there but to be beaten by MGSV was a complete surprise. Both games have deserved my time as MGSV is an incredible but flawed experience while Elite continues to scratch my space cadet itch further thanks to those pesky Thargoids.
In the end…
I really think 2018 has the potential to change the console market and perhaps bring some much needed balance with clear successes for everyone thanks to them all having products that can appeal to their own segments of the market. 2017 was also a big year in games with both Sony and especially Nintendo bringing out some huge titles for their systems and it’ll be interesting to see if anyone, including Microsoft, can match it. Time will tell how the year plays out but it’ll be an exciting time ahead!
Please note that all opinions, however skewed, are my own and may not be completely aligned with reality. Feel free to share your own thoughts in the comments below. 🙂