This year my goal was to finish Assassin’s Creed Syndicate, Halo 5, Homeworld: Deserts of Kharak and finally Grim Fandango. I am sad to report, I failed, and miserably. I had a 50% completion rate in no small part due to the release of several games including the time sink of Xcom 2 (reviewed on our site here by Scroo). What this exercise really hammered home is the dilemma of the modern gamer, prioritization.
Assassin’s Creed Syndicate:
First to touch on the games I played, Assassin’s Creed Syndicate was a solid experience, the game finally delivered on the promise of the franchise that has been missing in the last three entries. While I love Black Flag’s sailing mechanic the story missed out on a lot of elements and made me feel uncomfortable with the protagonist but not nearly as much as I outright disliked the leads of both Rogue and Unity. Simplification was the key, the use of the Frye twins (which was very hard to not make Futurama jokes about) kept the narrative fresh by switching between the two depending on the type of mission and preserving stylistic integrity of the character preventing ludonarrative dissonance from being a problem. This is one of the few times I’ve actually gone for completionism, the side quests were all solid fun and while they were plentiful they were never overwhelming like in Unity (which I basically just walked away from saying “screw this” when I couldn’t see my objectives for all the clutter of side quests). This title is well worth playing.
Halo 5: Guardians
Having bought this at the same time as Syndicate and not touched it I was actually able to finish the game rather quickly. Splitting the narrative between Blue Team with its succulently voiced Master Chief and Osiris led by Spartan Locke (or the Master Chief Grouch) the game was solid enough. There were some changes, Locke originally portrayed by Mike Colter (who is busy now being Luke Cage) didn’t return and was replaced by sound alike actor Ikè Amadi. Honestly, unless I was told, I wouldn’t have heard a difference. Amadi does his best with a bad script. I went into the game relishing the opportunity to spend time with Buck (aka my Mancrush Nathan “Captain Mal Reynolds” Fillion) to find very little actual interplay between the team members. There’s some random background chatter and the lush and beautifully rendered cut scenes which would actually make for a great movie/tv series on their own but beyond that there was no real difference who you were playing with.
Regardless if you were the Chief or Locke your companions were pretty brain dead AIs. Playing on Heroic the game never felt too tough, I was able to make it through the game with some strategy but the AIs of your companions are downright stupid often ignoring pleas for help or just running blindly into fire. Your enemies on the other hand would often coordinate attacks and make use of flanking and cover very effictively. If only my squad were so smart! The squad level commands were Spartan (forgive the pun) at best. You essentially had resurrect me, go here, use this vehicle and attack that. You don’t want to be worrying about issuing a ton of commands in a combat heavy game, understood, but some more strategy and differing play styles by your AI companions would be nice. Even the ability to set behaviour like in Mass Effect would have been cool (like get Buck to use heavy weapons or Fred to focus on sniping).
The story itself is the framing device to the next arc of the Halo universe. It feels like we may finally be done with the Flood/Covenant/Precursor story and introducing something entirely new. Allies become enemies and new alliances are forged but in the end the story felt annoying because of some of the reversals that just felt silly and the fact that much of this could have been resolved with a simple call back to base or a 5 minute conversation. That being said, the same could be said about 90% of action movies out there so there’s that.
Multiplayer is tight with none of the Halo Master Chief Collector’s Edition issues and due to its design even joining in months later thanks to a lack of a class system I didn’t feel overpowered by my opponents. The arena material was classic halo and the addition of mobility powers and clambering change the dynamic enough to make it feel fresh. The best part though is the addition of Warzone. This adds large scale team vs. team vs. environment play and is a sort of capture and hold based game play with points being accrued for destroying Precursor and Covenant who drop into the field of play. This is the most fun and revolutionary addition that could be a game on its own. One little possible concern is the addition of card packs but having played the multiplayer it’s easy enough to earn these requisition packs which unlock gear in Warzone matches as well as cosmetic material. That said, all of this can be earned simply by playing the game and I’ve not once had to buy any in game or even been compelled to consider it.
In short, if you like Halo and the universe Bungie created you’ll enjoy where 343 Industries are taking it. If you don’t you may not really enjoy the gameplay which can be at times frustrating due to working with team AIs that feel like they have brain damage. However, given the ability to play co-op, this could change the feel of the game especially with friends you can to something more enjoyable. Really with a 16 mission campaign that depending on play style can be run in 5 to 6 hours unless you are a fan of the universe or the multiplayer I’d suggest waiting for a sale.
That brings us to my shameful failures, Homeworld: Deserts of Kharak and Grim Fandango, to be honest I barely touched them. I did get a bit more time in with Homeworld but I found the lack of ability to issue commands in formation or line up where my units sat on the 3D environment frustrating and over the month of February, I had several betas pop up that were limited time, a couple of “Seasonal events” roll around in a few games I regularly play and the release of several new titles.
When I started gaming in the late 70s there were literally a handful of games a year. Many of them rehashes of existing games with just different plastic sheets you'd tape to your TV.
During the 80s and 90s it picked up but it still wasn’t the same kind of frantic pace you have today. You could get away with buying “all the games you want” because even at its peak during the "Holiday Season" it was still only a few dozen games at most which means you wont be overwhelmed.
But now we have new games showing up on a weekly basis. This doesn't count Betas, DLC, season events and so on. All of this makes it a challenge to just focus. I have access to Steam, PlayStation and Xbox and these libraries are littered with titles I’ve not finished. Many of these games are great - as long as I'm playing them - but I never really seem to make any headway through my backlog because of the sheer constant barrage of New Hotness that might be floating around in the gaming world. Thankfully, those games in those libraries aren’t going anywhere and I can always return to them, but as time marches forward it feels harder and hard to return to these abandoned games.
It makes me wonder if it wouldn’t be better if game companies cut development in half and focused on titles making really amazing experiences versus the constant iterations on old titles, re-releases, HD Upgrades, and the crazy release schedule we deal with now. In the end, no one forces me to buy these games and I’m lucky enough to have disposable income enough that I can live easily with my poor impulse control, but if I was a kid who didn’t have a lot of cash it would have been frustrating. I guess I’m lucky enough to have grown up in a time where 5 of my friends could split the cost of a game and share it using floppy disks to copy the game. Man, how the times have changed.