Saturday, December 29, 2018

The Disappointments of 2018

Now that I’ve gotten all the positivity of gaming in 2018 out of the way, it’s time to go into the games that left me unsatisfied. As per usual, just because a game is on this list doesn’t make it necessarily bad. All it means is that, either or technical issues or questionable design choices, it left a sour taste in my mouth.

That being said, the disappointments of 2018, presented in random order, are:

Holy crap, we’re starting with this? Okay then.

As someone who plays and has played a lot of different card games over the years, the monetization model for Artifact was so obnoxious, and colors the rest of game so much, that despite hearing how fun it is to play, I never want to hand over the $20 necessary to get started. Will Partin over at Waypoint penned an unintentionally damning criticism of it, and to avoid copying his points I would instead encourage you to check it out. In short, there is no way to try the game for free, and no way to acquire cards without spending in some form, either on packs, draft tickets, or on the Steam marketplace.

This is a barrier that not even physical Magic the Gathering puts in place. If you, the reader, went to a local game store, you could ask for a Welcome Deck in MTG, which would be provided to you for free. It’s a starter deck, so it doesn’t have many great cards (as one could say of any starter in any TCG/CCG you could imagine), but it gives you a chance to try the game out before you commit money to it.

I’m not surprised Valve took this approach with Artifact, but I’m certainly disappointed.


I genuinely have no idea how or why Square Enix greenlit this game, and chose to publish it. No matter what point I am in the game, there is something wrong with what’s going on on screen.

The decision to remove audio from most of the game, while an intriguing idea, is badly executed. Unfortunately, the rest of the package doesn’t do enough to make up for the loss of audio, and I spent most of my first run confused. While spoken lines are strictly necessary to tell a story, other, non-verbal, communication skills like body movements and hand gestures would have gone a long way towards improving the experience. Even worse, this choice was supposedly made to help players empathize with the deaf protagonist, which would be fine if he didn’t clearly understand and respond to the people speaking to him.

On top the that, the game is just sloppy, with loose controls, animations that frequently phase from objects in the world, and a mildly incestuous story that barely makes sense when the audio is introduced in the second playthrough.

At least it was fun to riff on it for a few streams.

I had been playing Overwatch on and off since it was released in May 2016, but as of this summer I have permanently uninstalled the game from my PC. And I have no further interest in continuing to play it.

At a core level, I disagree with many of the most recent design choices, the final straw being what they did to Symmetra. In a full confession, I have difficulty with precise aiming in fast paced shooters, which is why I tend to gravitate towards characters like Reaper, whose shotguns have wide close-range spread, and old Symmetra, whose beam locks onto targets. As of June 2018, this characteristic of Symmetra has been adjusted so that precise aiming of her beam is required, and it no longer locks-on to targets.

As a player, I could overcome my aiming weakness and get better with practice, or choose another character like Mercy or Moira to play a different role using the skill set I already have. However, that’s not what I wanted out of Overwatch. I wanted to play Symmetra because they style, even if not competitive, was fun for me. Similar reworks seem to herald an awkward homogenization in Overwatch’s design in an effort to make every character “viable”, and I cannot continue playing the game if that’s the intended direction.

But more than that, I remember a Rock Paper Shotgun piece that came out right around the announcement of the rework. They referenced a YouTuber names Latif who reviewed the original release of Overwatch from an accessibility standpoint, as a less-abled gamer. He praised how “innovative” Symmetra’s lock-on was for people like him, so that they can still contribute to the team, even if they don’t have the physical ability to aim the way most people can. Not through lack of practice (like me), but due to the way their own body functions.

I think about people like him, and how Overwatch seems to be leaving them behind, and it makes me genuinely sad in a way that hinders my ability to enjoy it anymore.

Fallout 76
This is another one of those games like Artifact that, while I haven’t played it, I exist in a space adjacent to it and I would be remiss if I didn’t take the opportunity to at least talk about it here.

Listening to people I know play Fallout 76, and reading/watching the stories of people playing, make me question what is going on at Bethesda, and whether or not they truly understand what people enjoy about their flagship games, and that’s before we even get into its many technical issues.

I was already bouncing off the Bethesda bandwagon after Fallout 4. Like Jeff Gerstmann in Giant Bomb, I was growing tired of the bugginess that is common to their games. Further, I was starting to bounce off Bethesda’s core design ethos. When I play one of their games, I want to go on varied and interesting side quests, much like I remember from my time in Oblivion and Fallout 3. Somewhere along the lines, that shift towards a more procedural, systems-driven design focused far too heavily on character growth and fetch quests.

My best experience weren’t the ones hacking away at skeletons or ghouls. They were the moments where I was using a high sneak skill and invisibility to rob bystanders of all their valuables, or voting out the eponymous president of the Republic of Dave. Fallout 76 (and even Fallout 4 to some extent) was made out of the filler, not the meat.

So not only do I look at Fallout 76 with apathy and disinterest, Fallout 76 makes me look at the next Elders Scrolls game with apathy and disinterest.

The Inpatient
I feel bad for Supermassive Games. After Until Dawn, it sometimes feel like they aren’t sure what else they can do. Their follow-up, Hidden Agenda, was an interesting idea built on heavily flawed technology.

With The Inpatient, they attempted to leverage a different tech, Virtual Reality, to tell a prequel story explained why the asylum in Until Dawn exists in its decrepit state. Unlike Moss, I didn’t find that the addition of virtual reality did anything to add to my experience. In fact, I was often taken out the experience thanks to fairly unwieldy controls for navigating the 3D space.

Like A Way Out, this story wasn’t anything to write home about. Unlike A Way Out, it’s gimmicks and characters did nothing on top of that to keep my interested for its relatively short 2-hour runtime.

I can’t help but feel disappointed, even though I probably shouldn’t have been.

Detroit: Become Human
I praised Detroit earlier for the portions of the game revolving the android Connor and his human partner Hank. If their third of the game was all the game had to offer, as they try to solve the cases of Androids going rogue and rebelling against their owners, it could easily be one of my favorite games this year.

Unfortunately, there are the segments with Kara, an android who is trying to escape an abusive owner with his daughter in tow, and Marcus, who leads the android rebellion. Kara has the problem that every playable female character in a David Cage games does: She is a perpetual victim, and exists in an uncomfortable space as a result. Considering how tertiary her entire storyline is to the game’s overall themes, it makes me wonder if there was a point to including her beyond “she’s the lady from the tech demo”.

As for Marcus, the game leans on, and honestly abuses, imagery from the Civil Rights Movement in American history. Everything from Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have A Dream” speech, to the Million Man March are misappropriated in used in contexts simultaneously pay lip service to their meaning, while disavowing them to “tell a story about Androids”.

To top it off with a ton of unpleasant Holocaust imagery used in a similar manner, it’s no wonder my friends and I were left speechless at the end of our stream series.

Dissidia: Final Fantasy NT
It absolutely hurts to put Dissidia NT on my list of disappointing games. While I certainly had my share of fun playing it casually for the first month or so after release, but I couldn’t help but think of how much more fun I had with the PSP Dissidia games the entire time I was playing.

Bluntly, the decision to move the 1 v 1 combat in the PSP games to a 3 v 3 multiplayer system took a lot away from what made those games enjoyable. It feels terrible to lose a game because someone on my team wasn’t pulling their weight, or the enemy decided to 2 v 1 one of my friends, leaving us exposed.

What made it worst was an incredible cluttered and cumbersome UI, and the on-screen action can be hard to read due to the number of enemies and attacks going off at the same time. Even when I got used to, I still found it difficult to keep focus on any one object/character in view, as the UI takes up most of the screen real estate.

I still want to see a Dissidia on home consoles, but this isn’t the way I want to see it.

Sea of Thieves
I really enjoyed the 2 hours of so I spent playing Sea of Thieves, and I wonder if I’ll ever go back to it now that expansions have been released for the game. Sailing the high seas with my friends, exploring uncharted islands, plundering treasure, and singing sea shanties all the way.

The problem is that, at least when we played it, that was all there was to do. I have no doubt that if I had played much more, my playgroup and I would have quickly grown bored of what was there. Without any sense of reward or progression to sustain what limited content there was, I had no real reason to keep with it.

There was a solid core here, but not enough to do with it.

Shadow of the Tomb Raider
At the risk of repeating myself, I think back how much Sam and I loved the 2013 Tomb Raider reboot, compare that feeling to my thoughts on the sequels, and wonder just what the hell happened to this IP.

I didn’t realize at the time, but my praise of the 2013 reboot, and my tolerance of its gratuitous death scenes, was contingent upon an unspoken promise: That afterwards, Lara would take up the reigns as Tomb Raider, and begin to grow into a capable and confident hero, similar to her prior incarnation, albeit more grounded.

Yet this never happened. Instead, the third game was billed as the “end to her origin story” and I’m still waiting for Lara Croft to become the Tomb Raider that the box claims her to be. Considering how many unique and interesting directions they could’ve gone with a modern interpretation of one of gaming’s most famous heroines, having three origin stories in a row makes it clear they never intended for her to be anything more than what she was in the 2013 reboot.

What a waste.

Far Cry 5
Well, well, well.... What a game to end this list on.

I’ve already spoken at length about how I feel about Far Cry 5’s core message (whether or not Ubisoft intended to have one), so I won’t speak on that further.

What I will take is how formulaic and mediocre the game felt, even divorced from that context. I can’t think of a single moment in the game’s runtime that I could call a highlight of the experience. Aside from the abysmal ending sequence and the aforementioned article I wrote on it, the first thing that comes to mind is how I mistaking calling the female herald Faith Seed’s name for “Grace Seed” on accident.

With a standalone DLC expansion on the horizon, I find myself wholly disinterested in the Far Cry brand as a whole at this point. It’s just another standard Ubisoft open-world games, and I’ve honestly played enough of those to last a lifetime.

And there you have it. Compared to previous year, I feel like I have more meat for this list than I’m used to. I hope that’s not a sign of years to come.

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