No Man’s Sky Next: Is Hello Games’ space game worth a re-visit?

What a difference two years makes, eh?

In 2016, Hello Games (with, let’s not forget, considerable marketing support from PlayStation) launched procedurally generated space exploration game No Man’s Sky on the PlayStation 4. Hello Game’s  leader Sean Murray touted all the amazing things players would be able to do in the game and the hype just flowed.

Turns out, though, a lot of the stuff that Murray mentioned you would be able to do, you actually couldn’t. No Man’s Sky was a game that gave me conflicting emotions when it was launched. Here’s a quote from my review:“No Man’s Sky is probably one of the few games that I’ve really been conflicted about it. I like that you can explore a huge galaxy – and Hello Games have done a nice job of making you feel you are in a huge universe – but I’m not really big on the fact that after a few hours the game becomes a grind and, frankly, a little tedious.
Hello Games is an indie studio – despite the fact that PlayStation handled all its PS4 marketing – and should be applauded for trying something risky and ambitious, but I can’t help but think that because of the massive hype heaped upon it by both PlayStation, games media and gamers themselves, it was never going to live up to expectations.”

Looking back at my coverage of No Man’s Sky, it seems I, too, was caught up in the hype surrounding the game. I posted quite a few videos before release, and my review wasn’t overly critical, closing with “I’m sure in a few months No Man’s Sky will be a much different game to the one that it is now (a new patch was released for PC and PS4 on Friday) and chances are I’ll revisit it sometime in the future just to see to see what has changed.

Well, two years [and some other updates] later, and No Man’s Sky is the game it should have been at launch thanks to the recent Next update and it’s a great update (all the images here are captured using the game’s photo mode)   but it begs the question: Should Hello Games have just waited two years to release the game in a more complete state rather than release it when they did, half-finished ?

The answer is, of course, yes. The original game was rightly pilloried by gamers and critics alike because it wasn’t what Sean Murray at Hello Games promised it was. It also wasn’t what Sony hyped it up to be in the flashy trailers it sent to games writers like me. Gamers around the world bought it based on all these promises , and were swept up in the hype that only the games industry seems to be able to generate. Gamers thought they could do all these amazing things but were disappointed  when they found much of what they were promised was untrue.

I think it’s admirable that Sean and Hello Games have stuck with No Man’s Sky, despite all the criticisms and negative press, and kept updating it. I take my hat off to him and the studio. They could have easily said “Ok, game is launched, we’ve got our cash. Let’s jet off to a tropical island somewhere and hunker down” but they did. They stuck it out and supported the game.

I’m making my way through the game again thanks to the Next update and it feels like a completely different game from launch –   planets are more detailed and varied, crafting has been tweaked, there’s a third-person view for ships and your avatar, plus dozens of other tweaks – but the grind is still there. If you weren’t a fan first time around, I doubt new graphics and changed game play features will convince you to stick this out.

Sadly, though,  part of me feels that no matter how impressive the Next update is – and it is impressive, especially compared to the original game  – the damage has already been done for No Man’s Sky and a lot of gamers have already been burned by the launch state of the game.

It’s a sad indictment on the gaming industry that two years later, No Man’s Sky is now the game it should have been. As gamers, we shouldn’t  be content with paying for games then hoping they’ll get fixed into something better sometime down the line but it seems to be a worrying trend that is becoming more and more common these days.

If you haven’t played No Man’s Sky before – and Xbox One players can now see what all the fuss is about – then now is probably the perfect time to do it: It’s the game that it should have been at launch, and newcomers haven’t been burned by what happened before. That said, I’m sure owners of the original game (if they still have it) in their droves are revisiting the game thanks to the Next update, as I have done, but I think No Man’s Sky is a lesson for the entire games industry to take note of:  Don’t ship a game that promises things it will never deliver on.

Here’s some simple advice for game developers and (perhaps, especially, publishers/marketers): Delay the game until it does what you say it does. Don’t bow to publisher pressure to release a game way too early just because it wants the sales revenue.

As a gamer, I’d rather wait a few more months for a better game, and be satisfied, than buy a game that is half-finished and doesn’t let me do what you’ve hyped it up to do, and will never deliver on those lofty expectations.

Gamers will forgive you for a game that’s late but does what it says on the box.They’re  not so forgiving when you promise them the moon and all you hand them is a pebble.

OK, so to answer the question I put in this blog post’s title: Is Hello Games’ space game worth a revisit? Thanks to the Next update, yes, it is. I’ve still had the game crash on me since after a post-update patch (funnily enough, changing my PS4’s internal clock to Pacific Standard Time seemed to fix it), but the game is much improved on the original. It’s just a pity it took two years for that to happen.

 

Something On My Mind: Has Xbox lost its way?

Something On My Mind is an occasional thought piece about,  well, something that has been on my mind for a while. 

Last console generation, I could confidently say that the most played console in my household was the Xbox 360.

Microsoft couldn’t do anything wrong with that console and just seemed to have nailed it with the Xbox 360. I played games on it much more than my PlayStation 3.

This generation, however, it’s a complete reversal: My Xbox One console sits gathering dust underneath my TV, with my Nintendo Switch and PlayStation 4 getting all my gaming attention. I know it’s been a while since I used my Xbox One when every time I turn it on there’s a hefty update for it.

The reason? I think it’s because, for me, the Xbox One doesn’t have any compelling single-player experiences like the PlayStation does, and I’m a strong single-player campaign gamer. Give me single-player any day of the week.

The last time I turned on the Xbox One was to download Mad Max using the Xbox Game Pass (which I think is a good scheme) and Sea of Thieves (which I quickly stopped playing through lack of content) and State of Decay 2, two games that are strongly multi-player or co-operatively focused titles.

Sure, Backward Compatibility on the Xbox One is a nice feature,  but to be honest, I don’t have a current generation console so that I can re-play games that I’ve already played on my Xbox 360, even if they’re in a higher resolution and run at faster frame rates (look, my eyes are getting so bad these days I’m not sure I can pick up frame rate drops anymore). I have my Xbox 360 if I want to play games from the last generation.

For me, I want engaging, compelling narrative-driven games and I get that with the PlayStation: God of War, Detroit Become Human, Horizon Zero Dawn, the Yakuza series. While Sony was investing in development studios and putting faith in single player games, Xbox was focusing on Kinect and its  vision of the Xbox One being an all-singing, all-dancing entertainment centre – and I think that’s hurt Xbox.

I may be wrong here, but these days, Xbox’s target market seems to be more and more the multiplayer crowd, given its investment in games like Sea of Thieves, Player Unknown’s Underground (PUBG) and State of Decay 2.

Microsoft’s Xbox One X might be the world’s most powerful console – and I’ve no doubt it is – but for me, what’s the point of having an amazingly powerful piece of hardware without must-have, compelling single-player games for it?

I’m not a fan boy of any gaming platform: Sure, I play most of my games on a console, but I still buy and play games on my PC (I have a huge backlog of Steam games I’ve bought but haven’t played yet). As far as I’m concerned, if you play games, no matter what platform, you’re a gamer.

I’m hoping that at E3 in a couple of weeks, Xbox announces a line-up of games that will restore my faith in the hardware maker and make the most of its console’s power. All I want is some really strong single-player games that make me want to play my Xbox One just as much as my PlayStation 4 and Nintendo Switch.

Is that too much to ask?

 

State of Decay 2 review: Brains, machetes & zombies

Image supplied

I’ve decided that when push comes to shove  I’d be useless when the zombie apocalypse strikes.

Of course, I’ve decided this after playing Undead Labs’ State of Decay 2, the new zombie survival game on the Xbox One (and Windows 10 PCs), but let me explain: I’d be fine when it comes to actually killing the aforementioned zombies.

I’ve got using machetes, chef’s knifes, baseball bats and tyre irons  to cave in zombie skulls and lop off zombie limbs down to a fine art but it’s the other stuff that you need to survive that I might struggle with. The keeping other people alive part.

You see, State of Decay 2, like the game before it (Unfortunately, I couldn’t find my original review of State of Decay but I don’t think I rated it that highly, to be honest. I remember it was quite buggy), is a zombie survival game where you have to not only ensure your survival but also that of a rag-tag bunch of colleagues that have banded together to ensure the survival of the human race from the zombie scourge.

Success in the game not only revolves around killing the aforementioned zombies but by establishing bases, scavenging for food and resources and generally ensuring your fellow survivors are well fed, well rested, happy and, importantly of all, have all their limbs at the end of each day.

The game opens with you having to turn a ramshackle property into a fortified base: It means climbing cellphone towers and billboards, using the vantage points to search for anything that can provide supplies: medical centres, petrol (gas) stations, hospital, shopping malls and military barracks for anything – and everything – that will help in your survival. Scraps of metal can be used to build stronger fortifications and work benches that can be used to upgrade and repair weapons, and scavenged seeds can be used to grow crops for your fellow survivors.

State of Decay 2 is a zombie survival game where killing zombies is just part of it. Oh, and it also has permadeath. Let that sink in for a minute: If you or one of your squad mates dies, they’re dead for good. There’s no respawning: They’re dead, gone, kaput, six feet under, sleeping with the fishes …

Image supplied

State of Decay 2 brings some tension to the searching for supplies front as often you’ll be looking over your virtual shoulder for imminent zombie attacks as you sift through a chilly bin or a bookcase for stuff. You can do a fast search but it makes so much noise that you might as well yell at the top of your lungs “Hey, zees. I’m over here. Come and get some!

Something I learned early on was to survive for any length of time you need a vehicle but unlike other games, cars aren’t blessed with infinite amounts of petrol to keep them going. Some cars have a 1/4 tank, some will have 1/2 a tank. It depends – so you’ll often have to scavenge more fuel.

You can’t carry limitless amounts of supplies in your rucksack, either. Eventually, you’ll realise you can’t always take everything you want so sometimes it becomes a internal debate with yourself on whether you should take the boom box or the medicine (I’d take the medicine any day but that’s just me). I’ll say again: Getting a vehicle early on is extremely helpful as it means you can transfer backpack contents to the vehicle, freeing up inventory space.

State of Decay 2 has some promise as it’s much, much deeper than a zombie-fest game like,  say Dead Rising, and the spectre of character permadeath hanging over it means you tend to be more tactical in situations  rather than rush in all guns blazing but not all is perfect in this zee-infested world.

The game is buggy.  I played the game before and after a mid-review period 6Gb update was made available. At one point, a character I was talking to had no head. He just sat there on a bench, talking, with no head on his shoulders. It was quite disconcerting.

Character models are rough (with a couple of early characters that I met being downright scary looking) and for a current current generation Xbox One  game, I felt it look pretty last generation at times, to be honest, with flat and lifeless textures.

I lost count of the number of times I got a vehicle stuck on a rock that frankly it should have cleared easily, too. None of the bugs I came across were game-breaking  but it seems to be a worrying trend this generation of some publishers releasing games in a less-than-ideal state then patching out all the problems later. It’s a trend I’m not a fan off.

It’s also frustrating that if you want to swap to another character because you need another skill set or materials your current characters doesn’t have, you have to quit the current mission as you can’t do it on the fly.

No doubt, State of Decay 2 will find favour with fans of the series like the original did, and the inclusion this time of a co-op mode will widen its fan base (my son didn’t want to play co-op with me so I was unable to test out the mode for this review)  but personally, I’d wait until the inevitable patches start coming  to iron out the bugs before venturing forth into these zombie-infested wastelands.

Review code kindly supplied by Xbox New Zealand.

 

A bit late to the party: Mad Max (2015)

A bit late to the party is an occasional series where I play a game that came out some time ago that other people say is worth playing. First up, is Avalanche Game’s Mad Max which came out in 2015.

I never got around to playing Mad Max, the game, when it first came out.

I remember seeing the movie and thinking it was “Alright” but it didn’t blow me away like other people so when the game was released I wasn’t that interested in playing it. Maybe it’s because I’m a Kiwi and the movie is set in Australia and I wasn’t invested in the country.

Strangely, though, I remember watching some YouTube You Plays of people playing Mad Max and being captivated by the game mechanics and the game world. I still didn’t play the game, though. A few weeks ago a few people I know were posting on social media how Mad Max is an underrated game that more people should play. That piqued my interest and recently, thanks to Xbox NZ which has provided me with a year subscription to its Xbox Game Pass service, I decided to download Mad Max which is offered through the service.

And you know what? The game is growing on me, despite seemingly having a focus on car customisation of Max’s vehicle – the Magnum Opus – and driving, and a control scheme that at times seems less intuitive than it should.

I’m only an hour or so in but the narrative is developing nicely (featuring a nasty chap called Scarborus Scrote): Max, the main character, has met hunchback mechanic Chumbucket, who acts like a portable car repair shop, crouched in the boot of Max’s car as it roars through sand dunes and shipwrecks. Chumbucket lives in the rusting hull of a giant container ship and refers to it as the tabernacle. He worships the car like it is sacred, his language interspersed with references to car terms. This game is a petrolhead’s wet dream.

The game seems to draw nicely on the themes and characters from the Mad Max movies (both the most recent one and the ones featuring Mel Gibson) and it seems that the game has a rather deep car  (and Max) customisation system. I’m really enjoying the harpoon that you can install on the Magnum Opus and use it to rip out the fuel tanks – and drivers – of other vehicles, as well as parts of enemy fortifications. You can also customise Max with a beard, if you like.

I’m going to try to play a little more of Mad Max this weekend but from what I’ve played so far, I think I’ll enjoy exploring the dune wastelands of apocalyptic Australia!

Have you played Mad Max, the game? What did you think?

 

Some minutes of me playing Rare’s Sea of Thieves & some initial thoughts

Sea of Thieves is an interesting game.

When it’s played with players that chat amongst themselves so you can co-ordinate who does what in a quest (“Hey, WIbblewobble42*, set the sail angle”,  “Consolegrindr4434*, man the cannons: I see a ship on the horizon!”,  “Oi, F3nd3r B3nD3r3323*, repair the ship!!), it can be super fun and incredibly rewarding, but when players don’t chat amongst themselves and there’s no communication – or you’re taking to the high seas on your own –  it can be a frustrating, often, lonely experience.

Sea of Theives, as it was designed by Rare, is a game that is best played with friends – and friends you know, I’ve decided. If you don’t like MP games and don’t have a good crew with you, it’s a frustrating experience. It looks good, though: I’m playing on my PC via cross-play ( I don’t currently have an active Xbox Live Gold membership which is needed to play Sea of Thieves) and I have to say I’m loving the cartoon-ish art style. The sea, too, is perhaps on of the best looking seas I’ve seen in a video game in a long time, with rolling waves that bounce your ship around.While I’m running an old nVidia GTX660Ti (3Gb of memory) I’m managing a fairly solid 30 frames a second at legendary settings and 1080p. Of course, I could increase the FPS if I drop the resolution.

A couple of times I’ve joined crews and despite me having voice chat – one player confirmed that he could hear me – there was no chat, even though I was talking. I guess not everyone wants to chat in Sea of Thieves but it made for an awkward quest. There was no coordination in what was happening, apart from one guy – the same one who kept on running up to people at the start and saying (in a rather annoying voice) “Do you have a voice box? Do you have a voice box?” – and the in-game chat, which lets you message with generic commands like “Ahoy”, “Man the cannons”, “I’m low on health”, that sort of thing.

Sea of Thieves is best played with a crew because if you’re on your own, when you set sail you have to control everything yourself: You have to check the map, you have to set the sail length and angle, you have to raise the anchor, you have to steer the ship and you have to climb the crow’s nest to get a better view on things. It also means if you’re ship gets damaging or is taking on water, you’ll have to go below decks, grab some planks and plug up the holes before you sink.  If you have several people, it means they can (hopefully) each man one of those stations and co-ordinate a voyage. Sea of Thieves is definitely more fun played with other people.

If you die, you’ll be transported to the Ferry of the Damned, a ghost ship where you’ll stay in limbo (for a few minutes) before you can travel back to your ship. Incidentally, if you get left behind by crew mates or can’t find your ship, a mermaid (seemed to be a merman, actually) will be floating in the sea with a flare: click on him and you’ll be transported back to your ship.

Sea of Thieves has lots of promise and I’ve read online some people compare it to PlayStation’s No Man’s Sky. I think that’s unfair, to be honest. Despite early day hiccups through unexpected demand, Sea of Thieves is doing what it says on the tin: Offering sea-faring adventures to online pirates, even if a lot of the quests seem similar. I’m sure Sea of Thieves will evolve over the coming months, as Rare looks at things and sees how players interact with each other.

Microsoft will be pinning its hopes that Sea of Thieves does well to help bolster its – in my humble opinion – rather light exclusive gaming line-up.

*I had a good play session tonight, with a few online companions. With a good crew, that work together, Sea of Thiives is great fun. I also found that there are more chat options: One guy was giving rather long sentences so I’m guessing you can type using a keyboard if you’re on PC? 

*I made all these names up. I didn’t actually come across anyone with those online names. Any similarities to actual online names is purely coincidental and if they actually exist, wouldn’t that be incredibly amazing on my abilities? Cripes, what  if they were actually playing Sea of Thieves as well? 

Prey impressions: Did that coffee mug just move? DID IT JUST MOVE??

Here are my thoughts so far on Prey, the first-person shooter set in space from Bethesda. I haven’t finished the game yet but thought I’d let you know what I thought from what I’ve played. I’m playing on Xbox One using a code supplied by Bethesda

If Prey has taught me one thing, it’s this: Be wary of coffee mugs.

You heard me right: Be wary of coffee mugs. And office chairs. And globes. And bath towels. You see, in Prey, sometimes items aren’t what they seem. They could be the game’s alien life form, called a mimic, that’s out to eat your face.

Set in the year 2035 on the Talos 1 space station (in an era when John F Kennedy wasn’t assassinated and Russia and the US are working together to build the first space station), Prey is, I guess, a re-imagining (of sorts) of the original Prey, with the player controlling Morgan Yu, a scientist/test subject who has to find out what has caused a breakout of the alien mimic life form. As we’ve seen in many games before Prey, Yu can’t remember what has gone before so as he explores the Talos 1 things and events become a lot clearer.

Prey has a real Bioshock/Half Life/Dishonored feel about – and I don’t think that’s a bad thing. Half Life because, well, the first weapon Yu finds is a wrench, Bioshock because Yu can upgrade his abilities (through a skill tree)  using augmentations called neuromods and Dishonored because the studio behind the Dishonored games – Arkane Studios – is also the developer behind Prey.

What follows is exploration and fetch quests as Yu wanders about Talos 1, trying to get to the bottom of what caused the mimic containment break. It’s an amalgam of several games, wrapped up into one. The mimics are the game’s enemies and smaller ones are black, spider-like creatures that can suck the life force from humans, causing them to multiply. They’re also incredibly fast and can often jump at you from nowhere. The wrench comes in handy with the smaller mimics but weapons like shotguns, a gun that fires blogs of glue and a pistol is handy against larger humanoid enemies like phantoms, which often have powers of their own and move incredibly swiftly. A nice touch are the service robots – called operators – that can be fabricated to repair your suit and heal you up. Another nice touch is that you can recycle all the junk you’ll inevitably pick up (lemon peels, scraps of paper, alcohol bottles) using recycling machines and turn them into materials, both organic and synthetic, that can be used to create equipment and weapons.

I have to admit that I jumped a few times while playing Prey. It’s not because it’s overly scary, because it’s not, but it’s because I just seem to wuss out when it comes to horror/survival games. I can watch horror movies no problem but horror video games? Man, I need to keep a spare pair of underwear handy. I guess it’s because with horror movies it’s easy to see what’s going to happen. With horror games, I genuinely find I have no idea what’s going to happen.

With no word of a lie, I stood outside the doorway of a room that was bathed in darkness for 10 minutes, not wanting to go into it, because I was worried some mimic was going to transform from a coffee mug into a spidery alien and try to eat my face. My fears are real, people. My fears are real.

I spent countless times – wrench at the ready – inching forward towards desks with coffee cups resting on them, worried one of them was a mimic. Someone I follow on social media said they found a desk with two coffee cups on it – and one of them rolled to the side, disappearing somewhere in the room. I would have lost it right there.

Eventually, Yu is able to scan the environment for mimics from a distance but, yeah, not knowing whether a coffee cup – or some other object – is actually what it appears to be is quite unnerving.

Missions are what you’d expect – go here and get a keycard that will open a door to another area, go to this room to recover something for someone who will give you a code for something – but there are  some interesting side quests that add to the back story to what happened on the Talos 1 before the mimic containment break. Talos 1 is also an interesting setting, too: It’s a living  space station with crew quarters, kitchens, reactors, medical rooms, cargo bays and nooks and crannies to explore. Prey’s story is an interesting one as well, set in a place where nothing is as it seems.

While nothing like the sequel to the original game (which came out last generation in 2006) that Human Head was working on before Bethesda canned it, so far Prey is a lot of fun that really has a Bioshock/Half Life vibe to it.

One thing is for certain: It’s made me look at coffee mugs in a whole different light.

 

Grinding Gear Games studio visit: Path of Exile going console

NB: I originally wrote this story for Fairfax NZ’s stuff.co.nz website but I’m re-publishing it here.

In an unassuming cream-coloured building in Auckland’s western suburb of Henderson (a relatively pleasant, if mostly silent, 37 minute Uber ride in lunchtime traffic from the city’s domestic airport environs),  nestled at the fringes of a car park that’s actually part of a Pak ‘n Save supermarket, something magical is happening.

And on the first floor of that cream-coloured, average looking building is Grinding Gear Games, a video game maker co-founded in 2006 by like-minded guys Chris Wilson and Jonathan Rogers in Wilson’s garage in the Auckland suburb of Newlands New Lynn that’s doing that magic.

One of the co-founders of Grinding Gear Games, Jonathan Rogers, at the company’s Henderson studio.

Wilson and Rogers met while studying computer science at the University of Auckland.  “He was significantly more talented, and I realised if I tethered my horse to this guy, anything he’s doing will be good from a programming point of view,” says Wilson, who also studied finance while at university.

The pair also had something else in common: A love of PC action RPG games like Diablo 2, but Wilson thought they could do better, especially if they focused on the online multiplayer RPG space, an area they felt was lacking. “We were missing a game that captured the feeling of something like Diablo 2 online,” he says.   “We wanted to build an online community.”

Wilson says looking back, it was never his intention to co-found a video game studio – his programming background was focused on the security side of things – but when they saw a gap in the market they felt they could do something about.

So they set to work on making the game they wanted to play themselves. That game was Path of Exile.

“We started out as hobbyists,” says Wilson as we sit on a comfortable couch that leads off the company’s lunch room/kitchen area.

Part of the open-plan office of Grinding Gear Games.

Staff wander about the open-plan office, posters of characters from the company’s game adorning a wall as you enter the studio.  A mountain bike rests against a couch  in a room off the kitchen. There’s a BBQ on a small balcony outside. You can see Pak ‘n Save from the room we’re in.

“We didn’t think it was that hard to make a game. We initially had dreams of finishing it in a year or two,” says Wilson as we chat about the company’s history.  “It was really hard to make a game, we found out,” he says.

Fast forward 10 years, though, and Grinding Gear Games employs a tad over 100 people, the garage in Newlands New Lynn is a distant memory (Wilson tells me that his wife put up with the arrangement until the company expanded to eight employees),  and its only released one game in that time: Path of Exile.

Launched in 2013, Path of Exile is free to play but makes its money through micro transactions for cosmetic stuff like character outfits that don’t affect the game play balance.  The game is incredibly popular in North America and Europe – and it’s coming to Xbox One later this year.

Action from the Xbox One version of Path of Exile.

The console version will feature all the content that features in the PC version of Path of Exile as well as all the released expansion packs.

I have a confession: Path of Exile is not normally the type of video game I’d play if I was at home and had some time to game. It’s online only, for starters, which is not normally something I’d play (I have old fingers so tend to suck at online games and stick with single player campaigns). I have played action RPGs like Dungeon Siege and Diablo but I’m not what you’d call a master.

Playing a build of the Xbox One version, I’m an archer, firing arrows at weird beasts and teleporting around the game map. At first glance, the game seems impossibly complex: There’s something like 1500 passive skills, which themselves can be upgraded using gems. That’s mind-boggling.

At times the battles are so chaotic and frantic, with explosions, spells and electricity punctuating the game world, that I’m not sure what’s going on.  One of the dev team (I think it was Jonathan Rogers, actually) comes over and using magical commands  he plops me into one of the game’s boss battles. He warns me I’m terribly underpowered and I’ll die. He was right: I did die. A lot. It gave me a taste of what to expect, though.

The PC version of Path of Exile has seen 40 per cent growth in the past few months and boasts a base of 16 million players. Grinding Gear has big plans for the game this year, planning to release the full version of the game in China later this year, something Rogers says will be big but also a little daunting.

“Early indications are it’s going to be a big success there. We were looking at some Chinese fan sites and they have rankings of upcoming games and gauge how keen people are on the game, based on posting in forums and that sort of thing. In one of them, we were No. 2 as one of the most anticipated games so that kind of thing is looking very positive.”

As Grinding Gears’ technical director, it was Rogers’  job to get Path of Exile working on Xbox. It wasn’t an easy task. Rogers says one of the biggest challenges was getting the game’s complex user interface working on a gamepad controller, rather than the traditional mouse and keyboard used for the PC version.

“I remember when I first hooked up a controller it played like absolute garbage so it took a long time of fiddling around, of play testing, of looking at other games to see what they did. I do think the game plays really well on a controller.”

“We didn’t want to compromise the console experience. We didn’t want to dumb it down, ” Rogers says, adding the performance improvements made to the Xbox One version have been carried over to the PC version.

More from Path of Exile.

Rogers believes that releasing Path of Exile on Xbox One will open up a new audience for Grinding Gear Games, something that is exciting.

“I definitely think there is going to be a good number of players on console. We want to get at least a million players on console. We want to try and get multiple millions if we can,” he says.

Thanks to Xbox New Zealand which provided flights for me to visit Grinding Gear Studios.

My week in gaming: Auckland, Zelda and visiting strange planets

This week I got to do something that as a gaming writer I haven’t done in a long, long, long time: I visited a game development studio to talk about an upcoming Xbox release of a game that’s already out on PC.

A screenshot of the upcoming Xbox version of Path of Exile.

The game is Path of Exile, an action RPG made by an Auckland studio called Grinding Gear Games. If you’re a PC player, you’ve likely heard of it: Path of Exile is a free-to-play online multiplayer game that is hugely popular in Europe and America – and it’s coming to Xbox soon. No release date has been announced yet .

While I have to say multiplayer action RPGs aren’t really my first choice for video games, the Xbox version of Path of Exile is looking pretty good.

Look out for a story from my visit in the coming weeks.

Flying from Christchurch, where I live, to Auckland, where Grinding Gear Games is, gave me a good chance to play a heap load of Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild on the plane – and I’m really liking the game. The portable mode of the Switch is amazing and while the degrading weapons in the game is a bit of a pain in the arse (especially when a weapon breaks mid fight), I’m slowly making my way through the lands of Hyrule. I tamed a horse last night so am now wandering the lands on horseshoe-clad hooves rather than shoe leather.

The new research pods in Astroneer are quite weird, too. This one looks like a tomato, right?

Lastly, I’ve gone back to Astroneer this week after the latest update and I’m not sure what I think about it at the moment, to be honest. I still love the game (which is in early access) and its one of my best game purchases of the last year (along with Thimbleweed Park) but the new update has tinkered with the research tree – (when you land on a planet you find strange objects that can be scanned at your base that will reveal blueprints for technology like solar panels, space ship parts, batteries, etc) – and now research like the 3D printer, which is used to, obviously, print out objects, is much, much harder to find.

Developer System Era has now created a tiered research system but that means it’ll take much, much longer to find blueprints for things like the aforementioned 3D printer and the vehicles – and on some planets the research “nodes” aren’t that easy to find. I hear that the developer is looking at patching the game again to make those items much easier to find sooner rather than later.

OK, so that was my week in gaming. How was yours?

 

Mass Effect Andromeda thoughts so far

I’m not 100 per cent sure what it is but Mass Effect Andromeda just isn’t geling with me like previous Mass Effect games did.

Sure, it’s been a while since I played and finished Mass Effect 3 (and don’t shoot me but I didn’t have a problem with the way it originally ended before fans made a noise about it and Bioware changed things), so things might be a little fuzzy in my old man brain, but I can remember the narrative and dialogue in ME3 being much better than that in Andromeda. Much, much better.

I don’t what it is with the dialogue in Andromeda. It just feels off. It doesn’t feel right. It feels forced and cliched at times. It feels clunky, too, often delivered unemotionally so I didn’t get invested in the characters and what was happening.

I tried to see if I could find my review of ME3 I did when I wrote for Fairfax NZ but I can’t find it anywhere but I know it was a game that I couldn’t put down as I guided my Commander Shepard to the final battle against the Reapers. Andromeda, which is set 600 years after Mass Effect 3, involves new characters, new situations and new enemies as you guide Pathfinder Ryder through the Andromeda system to find new worlds to inhabit.

Mass Effect Andromeda just isn’t capturing my attention like previous Mass Effect games did. I just don’t want to spend hours playing it like I did Mass Effect 3 and Mass Effect 2. Sure there are a shitload of side quests and while some are genuinely fun, most, sadly, are uninspired.

Since I started playing, the game has been patched, so some of the freaky walking stuff and creepy faces has been removed but things still look a little off to me in the character department. Environment wise, especially planet-side, things look really nice. Andromeda is generally a nice looking game – as some of the screen shots show – when it comes to planets and environments but I’m just not finding it as enjoyable as previous Mass Effect games.

I thought some of the voice acting was flat as well, with some of the voices sounded unemotional and uninterested in what was happening around them.

There’s depth to Bioware’s latest game, though, with a deep skill tree for players to customise their Pathfinder to exactly the type of hero they want. Those gamers who love tinkering with stats and the like will find much to keep them busy here as Andromeda has a lot of boosts, buffs and augments to experiment with.

Does her face look a little odd or is it just me? It’s the lips, right?

This guy’s standing just a little too close: Like bisecting my Ryder a little too close!

This NPC is called Angry Woman. Yes, Angry Woman.

The combat was solid enough, with the upgradable biotic powers useful in close quarters combat, depending on the skill tree you were going down. One thing I didn’t like, though, was a Sudoku-like puzzle that has to be solved when you tackle the game’s vaults.

I’ve never been good at Sudoku so these really frustrated the hell out of me (It wasn’t helped by the fact that most of the time you’ were forced to fight remnant forces every time you got the puzzle wrong).

The in-game menu system was confusing to navigate easily and graphical glitches abound: From NPCs doing weird things to stuff just sinking through other objects. I don’t know whether it was just my game but every time Ryder initially excited the Tempest (his spaceship) he wasn’t wearing a helmet but a split second later, he was wearing a helmet (Funnily, enough, Ryder’s squad mates weren’t wearing helmets, though). Personally, I feel as if the game could have done with a few more months in the oven, to polish things up a little.

Look, glitches aside and less-than-inspiring dialogue,  Andromeda isn’t a bad game and I’ll likely stick it out for a few more hours just to see what happens but for me, it’s just not a great, must-buy-right-now game, and that’s kind of sad when you think about it.

 

 

 

I just finished Thimbleweed Park – and all I want is more

About 20 minutes ago I finished Thimbleweed Park, the crowd-funded point-and-click adventure game from veteran game makers Rob Gilbert & Gary Winnick, and all I can say is: When can I sign up for the next game from these two?

Bravo, bravo, bravo, Messrs Gilbert & Winnick.

It says something about the quality of the game and how much you enjoyed playing it when you really, really, really, really hope the game makers have got another idea in the pipeline. Put it this way: I’d plonk down $US20 in a heartbeat to back another game from Ron Gilbert & Gary Winnick

I mentioned in a previous post that during my play through that the puzzles hadn’t proved too taxing. As the game nears completion things get a little tougher but they’re nothing insurmountable.

I have to admit, though, in a panicked moment when a character suddenly became unplayable and was holding an item another character needed I reached out to Ron Gilbert on Twitter as to what I should do and whether the character would return. “They will be … just wait,” he replied.

He was right. Not long afterwards the character returned and everything fell into place. I felt like a real chump, if I’m being honest, but it speaks volumes to Gilbert that he was willing to answer such an inane question from me. He must have thought I was a right plonker.

If you’re a fan of classic point-and-click adventure games like Monkey Island, Full Throttle and Maniac Mansion, then Thimbleweed Park is a real trip down memory lane and a no brainer at $NZ23.99. It was 12 of the most enjoyable hours I’ve spent playing a video game.

Oh, and if you do buy it  and play it and enjoy it, for the love of Pete, sit through until the game’s end credits have finished: There’s a sequence that will bring a smile to the faces of gamers who cut their teeth on computers like the Commodore 64 and old school games (I had to make do with a Sinclair Spectrum and an Atari ST but I still categorise myself as one of those old-school gamers).

So, Ron Gilbert & Gary Winnick, when do we hear more about your next game?