Fallout 4 – Review

Fallout 4’s greatest strength is also at times its greatest weakness, which can be summed up/forgiven/excused/berated (delete as appropriate to your preference on this) as “being a Bethesda game.” Even since the initial reviews came out and having talked with many people about this, it has become a bit of a Marmite subject in that you love this or hate this. But to make such an arguably condescending phrase for the game really shadows some of the problems the game has and, equally so, hides some of the best things that Bethesda Games studio has done with this entry to the Fallout franchise.

Fallout 4 moves the action of the post-apocalyptic America to Boston, giving us a world where lots of scorched woodland areas and small satellite villages surround the massive city. It is incredibly huge and I know I missed places in my run that I’d seen in videos online, so it is entirely possible for you to miss places, no matter how dedicated you are to exploring the landscape.

It is a rather beautiful landscape, even if it is borne of destruction. There’s something about the desolation of society’s constructions, mixed with reclamation by nature, which is wonderful but hard to pull off. There are times that the scope is too much for the game and concessions are made with lower resolution textures and occasional lag in the texture streaming. This becomes a lot more evident in the built up areas but there is a lot more going on that takes your attention away from the obvious issues.

The video you see above (don’t worry, no spoilers) is the wonderful Andy Kelly of PC Gamer fame (@ultrabrilliant) and his award winning Other Places series, showing you the first area of the game and how wonderfully it highlights the sense of desperation the game evokes. This is down to a multitude of things that the Bethesda Game engine does very well. The colour palette is wonderfully vibrant and dour, capturing both the positivity of the pre-war age and the decay of the post-war world. This is apparent all throughout the world in larger historical structures or even the smaller pop-up shack communities you encounter. The grass and the ground is arid, dying but not quite dead, along with the concrete blending in with its cracked and broken roads and fallen structures. Nothing ever feels like it’s the same but it’s all disorientating enough to make you think you might have been there before, really helping with the need for exploration. The lighting doesn’t do a lot compared to other RPG visual feasts but it doesn’t need to when the morning fog rolls in, or the dark electrical storm shades the sky and your immediate vision in hues of murky brownish green.

The problem with this and the design of the world and the buildings is that it doesn’t feel very human, or it feels too tied to the more angular, broken edge feel that the last generation of Fallout games had. At times the apocalypse seems to have abandoned all curvature and the more you play, the more you feel this is down to the game design and engine rather than artistic choice. The draw distance as well, with the graphical issues of texture pop in can sometimes take you out of the fantasy and into the frustration of loading. In the actual menu screen there’s one low-resolution stretched texture, and it’s obvious and sticks out like a sore thumb.

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Once you move in to the world and explore, along with your now voiced character, you get to meet the typical people you’ve come to expect from the franchise, those being the deliciously maniacal, the weaselly, the addicted, the persevering, the cynical and the violent. These people of the Commonwealth live and die by your actions, and your assumption of responsibilities. Whether it is by building a settlement, defending one for the Minutemen or making yourself a made person in some of the bigger city communities. All of the people have interesting stories and need you to do interesting things for them that will put you in mortal danger, and at times it can feel like an over reliance on the fetch quest or clearing an area of nasty things. But it also feels, more importantly, like you aren’t really in control of your character, even when the decisions on loyalties, allegiances and betrayals come to distort your moral compass.

You might find abandoning your RPG play through of the game until you’ve done it at least once to be a good idea. For long periods of the game there is much more of a focus on the gunplay and action/adventure style than there is on interacting with the world in a unique way. One of the things that the old games were great for and has been much lauded and celebrated was the freedom in how you play and approach the world with your character, like Jake Tucker’s great piece on being a cannibal in New Vegas highlights. If anything, this game suffers from two things in the story and character interaction. Firstly, it’s entirely possibly that we’ve over eulogised the previous games and were expecting, with the voice and the better speech choice system, a new advancement to the freedom we want to have. Secondly, the story and the way the narrative is constructed really limits your choices as to what you can do, at least for the initial run.

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What do I mean by this? My example in Fallout 3 is that you are a young man just going out in the world looking for your Dad, a feat that you probably didn’t expect to actually complete, therefore you can do what you want. In New Vegas you were a nameless courier who is shot and has only the drive to find out who shot you and get revenge, therefore you can do what you want. In Fallout 4 there’s a central event that drives your character that is very human and informs that relation you have to your character. It’s incredibly hard to make your character do all the bad, evil, good, charitable things you might want them to do because the human instinct to resolve the game’s central plot stops you from really doing it. It’s hard to explain it without spoiling the story, but initially it isn’t the RPG you’re probably expecting.

When it comes to customisation though, I have three minor problems. There should be a higher camera when it comes to building the settlements so you get a better look at what you’re building. There should be a bit more of forgiveness for being over encumbered, especially as scavenging for junk now has a practical purpose, like allowing a fast travel to a local location or something. I also want to be able to wear armour whilst wearing any type of underclothes like a suit. That’s my only feedback for things I want, everything else is a great and welcome addition. Whilst the settlement construction options aren’t massive, they are excellent as a side distraction, compared to the side quests available before in previous games for escapism. There are some rather excellent ways to adjust your guns and armour, and all of these things require a smart and well educated use of the new levelling and perk system, which is simplified and much more succinct in its practical uses. But it’s because of these things that I am really excited for the mod function to become available for the console iterations of the game.

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The games issues don’t stop with the textures, or the story, or the ancillary questing being very focused on a simple fetch or kill target. There are big frame rate issues on the console during battles thanks to the overload of AI and particles, and occasionally in areas where the build up of buildings and items can lag the game down from a mostly consistent 30fps to a lot lower. Obviously the PC users don’t have that problem but it is rather annoying and can hopefully be worked in with various patching and optimisation.

But the more time you spend with the game, its quirks, its characters and its environment, the more you forgive it its faults. In a way this is the closest you’ll get to experience Stockholm Syndrome with a game. You’ll lose hours of your life and you’ll see something in the game design and construction that will make you think that the game hasn’t come on as much you would have hoped or expected in the eight years since Fallout 3 or the five since New Vegas. But then you’ll carry on, going to the next area, wanting to find where the hell Dogmeat has got to now, and you just can’t leave it. You shouldn’t be enjoying it, everything about you is saying you should stop, but you can’t.

The biggest problem with the game is the expectation, that we didn’t know we had until the game was announced, hasn’t really been matched once we got it in our hands. But much like the other iterations, it’s the repeat play, it’s the exploration and it’s the ability to have a new experience every time you start a new game that will forgive the technical limitations, even if you don’t feel it the first few hours that you play. You can say that all of this is what Bethesda does and that “it’s a Bethesda game,” but in truth it is both Fallout’s greatest weakness and also its greatest strength.

Summary

Fallout 4 might not be the game you’ve been expecting or hoping for. There’s a definite problem in that the scope of the game isn’t realised in the technical ability of the console, at least without further patches or optimisation. As such, the controls, the feel and the general atmosphere of the game feels like the last games and by association, last generation. But in truth, we wanted more of the same but better to look at, better to control and with more things to do, and that’s exactly what we’ve got.

Good Points

  • Amazing, large world
  • The new weapon modification and settlement building is a great addition
  • So vast that you’ll need several play throughs to fully experience it

Bad Points

  • Graphics and frame rate are disappointing
  • The game feels more action/adventure than RPG at times
  • The story can sometimes feel limiting to your role playing freedom

Why a 7.5?

The hangover from the previous games is most evident in that the graphical optimisation is pretty bad at times with texture pop-in lags and frame rate drops. Plus the experience you get from it isn’t really the same as you might have had previously, and might be a bit too action focused in places compared to previous games. But it is great and much more rewarding once you’ve got in to it and play it again the way you want to. There’s lots to learn and relearn but the story and the technical issues the console versions face can sour the experience.

 

This review is based on the PS4 and Xbox One versions of the game.

 

 

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Dishonored Definitive Edition – Review

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I am one of those people. The ones who didn’t play Dishonored the first time around. I know I’m a terrible person but you’ve got to appreciate that whilst I was studying at one of those fancy rich educational establishments (a concrete block of a North London university) I was busy playing Halo 4, and practically nothing else. I had things to do, essays to write and some neon glowing digitising necromancer to completely obliterate. Although TheGameJar did review it and you can check out what we wrote about it three years ago here.

So when I get a remaster of Dishonored appear on my Xbox One dashboard, I couldn’t be happier. Not only did I now have the time and the excuse to correct my glaring lack of steampunk-stealth, but I could do it in an uprated resolution! Bonus. It actually surprises me that this has been released now, if I’m honest. It’s quite the busy time for games and this is one of those critically acclaimed games that, from when I’ve spoken to people anyway, seems to be the one most people missed. You’d have hoped with the second instalment having been announced but not dated, it would have been released at a time to give it the best exposure.

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Normally I don’t talk about business errors and such because I’m a games critic, not a financial aficionado. But I mention it because it is a game that is really deserving of the applause and plaudits it got and definitely needs to be enjoyed by everyone for two reasons.

Firstly, this game is a bloody visual treat. From the outset the mix of dystopia, that reeks of the Michael Radford 1984 movie, is a wonderfully dark world jarring against where you start, that palatial and almost Olympus-like godly seat of power in Dunwall. The divide between the ruling oligarchy and the plague ridden masses owes a lot to the industrial era feel and there are several nods to this in the items and throwable objects in the game, things like Whale Oil (which was the preferred combusting fuel before petroleum was found).

But you know this because you’ve probably seen it/played it already/have heard others wax lyrical about it. What we do have to say is that the updated resolution both champions this and also lets it down in a few places. The characters and the sights are wonderfully detailed in their slightly Gerald Scarfe-esque way. The areas are also deliciously detailed in that Victorian London way. But only in places. Whilst the game’s uprated textures are wonderful, you can see where the original design had to be scaled back to work on the last generation consoles and sadly some of them aren’t updated. It’s inevitable that some low res and copy-and-paste textures appear in games and one of the sad side effects of improving the game for this edition is that it’s highlighted it.

It highlights it in other ways too with occasional frame skips and screen tears. I’m not one to bang on about such things as you know, I’m pretty much in the “enjoy the fucking game you stupid bastards” camp. But I have to mention it because there are times where it is very noticeable. Again this isn’t laziness or anything like that, it’s just the usual sort of problems that occur when you force an old engine to do things quicker. Lots of remasters have fallen to this issue and Dishonored hasn’t escaped it but it is by far one of the best looking and stable of the bunch.

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Which again probably goes to show how good it was in the first place and that is something that’s reflected in the gameplay, the second reason to champion this game. The “play-how-you-want” dynamic is something that we’re probably quite used to now with the release of so many open-world games, but none of them really have the same dynamic choice as Dishonored, even now. Yes you can go super stealthy or super attacking but all interwoven with the steampunk is the magical fantasy that has the powers such as the Blink ability that can teleport you anywhere within close reach, regardless of height. It definitely adds a new dimension and can meet any player at and difficulty challenge that they wish.

So thankfully this is all still really good, although slightly overpowered. The plot of Corvo trying to reinstate the rightful heir with the help of separatists, whilst also avoiding the plague that is befalling Dunwall also still holds up rather well. And that soundtrack, well it is lovely. In fact, you can listen to it hear for free and I implore you to do so. This edition also brings you several DLC packs included in the game, which include two story add ons. So there’s more Corvo for your concern.

It is a great game, and I’ve enjoyed visiting it for the first time in this semi-updated guise. Although I do have to admit that I wish I hadn’t approached it from a critical eye because the faults I’ve found are all ones of age and engine capability rather than the game. It does make me annoyed that it’s taken me this long to get in to it. I’m not a lover particularly of stealth games, but the way that this game gives you various options to go about your tasks, regardless of if it ends up as a chaotic mess, still hasn’t been bettered in this type of game, at least not in one that I’ve played.

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Well, this is exactly what it says it is really, a definitive edition of 2012’s Dishonored. The uprated graphics, rather than breath new life, do a great job of showcasing how good it was to begin with and make a great case for you to play it if you haven’t before. Sadly the graphical limitations appear thanks to the game engine’s age which can’t be helped. But enjoyable and great value with all the DLC included.

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  • Uprated textures highlight great character design
  • Still a great game with a very dynamic approach
  • Doesn’t feel like a remaster for the sake of a cash-in

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  • Some textures not improved in scenery
  • Occasional frame skip and screen tear
  • Probably not good for those who already brought the game

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Well, to be honest nothing has changed. That’s not to it’s detriment, but the improved graphics and frame rates are nice, the package is nice and the option to revisit or even start off an adventure in Dunwall is very welcome. But it is essentially exactly the same game, and so exactly the same score. Which is good really because the limitations involved make it hard to be better without changing the game dramatically and the porting across to the current generation hasn’t made it worse. So it’s quite the success really.

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Second Fallout 4 Cartoon Shows Off Perception Talent

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More of the public service announcements from Vault-Tec yesterday as Fallout 4 gets another cartoon video. This time Bethesda is showing off the talent of Perception. Which can only mean V.A.T.S!

If you missed the first one last week, Bethesda is releasing a series of 1950s style public service cartoons to aid your knowledge about on the various attributes that you can assign to yourself when you start the game. Fallout 3 had the baby book. We’ve been over this already, you know this, let’s get to the video.

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If you haven’t seen the E3 gameplay video of Fallout 4, assigning these talents happens very early on by a visiting salesman for Vault-Tec. He visits your house and will successfully sell you a place in the local vault in case of nuclear doom. Again… a spoiler – Nuclear doom ensues.

Bethesda, or Vault-Tec (who probably exist now somewhere), are doing a video for each of the attributes: Strength, Perception, Endurance, Charisma, Intelligence, Agility and Luck… S.P.E.C.I.A.L. in case you didn’t get that. Yesterday’s video shows us how the V.A.T.S. system works. The Vault-Tec Assisted Targeting System is a perception based aiming tool. You can scan your enemies in advance and choose where to shoot them. The better your perception the better your chance of hitting the person. Plenty of headshots and decapitations ensue.

There’s also a lot of stealing possibilities which the video encourages. These ‘morally ambiguous’ skills should be practiced on children, the elderly and the incapacitated. In case you were in any doubt, you can totally play the game as a massive arsehole, which suits us just fine!

Fallout 4 is due out on PC, Xbox One and PS4 on November 10th 2015, and we for one cannot wait. If you’re local to the Colchester area, be sure to check out our friends at Xtreme Gaming who are doing a community event celebrating Fallout on Friday September 18th 2015. (@Xtreme_Gaming). Keep it here for all the goodies!

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Returning to Tamriel – The Elder Scrolls Online

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Returning to Tamriel brought some mixed emotions to me. Originally, I was going to review The Elder Scrolls Online again, a year after I last did this with its original release on PC, with it’s new Tamriel Unlimited moniker. Surely enough had changed and moved in that year on that I could go back and almost revise my review, I thought, but as the hours I was sinking in to it became longer and the reviews from other sites started coming in, I realised I couldn’t do that.

That’s because, despite improvements, nothing has really changed and the games positives and negatives are still exactly the same. It was actually quite nice to see so many people pointing out the exact same issues I had last time out, and even one of my friends I’ve been accompanying on our MMO adventure making reference to a major frustration of mine. So, instead of a review (because to be honest I’d be giving it exactly the same score this time around) I thought I’d give a brief summary of what I’ve learned now that I’ve spent much more time in Tamriel, and how ‘unlimited’ it really is.

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Money is Pointless

 

On the one hand, TESO has solved one of life’s biggest problems with the overly wealth-biased capitalist oligarchy that we live in. On the other hand, it does it at the ‘expense’ (pun intended) of any mercantile or crafting activity, save for a few well-subscribed guilds. Money is really quite insignificant in The Elder Scrolls Online. You need it to buy a horse and to increase your inventory space (more on that later), and that’s pretty much it.

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Since the abilities of the mounts all got normalised to be the same with no advantages, there’s no point saving 40,000 coins as opposed to 10,000 coins for the cheapest yet identically able horse. Other than that you can craft things and sell them to the merchants for an infinitesimal amount of money compared to the time and effort you have put in to scrounging for the crafting components. I have brought Starmetal so I can craft in my native style from a merchant but only at the start. Now I find everything while adventuring so my only reason to spend money with merchants is gone. There are guild traders so you can buy and sell items, a little bit like an auction house, but to even access them you need to have a guild of fifty active people which, if we’re honest, is bloody stupid if it’s a game you’re going to play with a few of your mates. I’m pretty sure if you’ve got ten friends then chances are 4 of them don’t even play video games and two of them probably don’t even like fantasy games or MMO’s so you’re bollocksed really.

Of course the lack of the auction house does stop people completely ruining the economy of the game, but the complete lack of it and the lack of incentive to actually do things which turn in to financial gain equally cripples the economy. It’s incredibly communist in its workings how the foraging and set prices for all commodities means that, whatever amount of gold you may have, you actually have no advantage or disadvantage whatsoever. Of course this is the way of the Elder Scrolls games, money is relatively unimportant to the world where everything is outside. But it is very relevant to an MMO.

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The Battle Against Inventory Space is Real

 

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It’s weird how “over encumbered” is a struggle we never really fully deal with. We want all the things so having to mercilessly scrap, sell and destroy things seems like a sad process. Much like when you’re going through all the old band T-shirt 21 year old you brought and 31 year old you looks at with envy at how thin 21 year old you used to be.

But MMO’s have their version of this problem and The Elder Scrolls Online is no exception. Limited inventory space is and obvious thing for any game but the limits in TESO seem to be far too small. You have two storage spaces in your bank and your own inventory (and a Guild bank should you be lucky enough to have one). This fills up on average 4,867,308 times per gaming session. Here’s the process:

Go explore/visit dungeon > Search crates/boxes > Pick up crafting items (jewels, provisioning ingredients, etc) > Fill inventory > Destroy things to get actual reward for mission/dungeon > Empty in to bank > Repeat.

Then there’s this problem:

Get items > Deconstruct everything for crafting > Fill inventory > Empty in to bank > Repeat.

Or there is:

Construct items for crafting writs > Fill Inventory > Bank Full > Scavenge for items to compete writ > Unable to refine items as inventory full > Scream > Repeat.

This is quite literally the only use for money and, because there isn’t really an economic system so you can actually be good at getting money, it takes a lot of time to make enough to unlock the extra spaces in either your own inventory or the bank. It’s a slow process filled with lots of frustration that can either be cured by not picking up anything (which feels a bit soulless) or by visiting the main city every 15 minutes to unload and consolidate what you have over and over again.

There are a few other ways to get around it like training horses but pretty much every way to increase your capacity and therefore your skills involves money. There’s also only one bank per area and the areas have between three and four towns. The lack of that accessibility really hampers the game and the exploring experience unless you’re loaded. And there is one sure fire easy way to get rich quick…

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Plunder Thy Booty

 

Stealing was “nerfed” very early on in the game’s life, but really it is quite stupid. I have almost every racial motif and a load of recipes, not to mention trinkets that I can pick up every 15 minutes or so from the boats at the docks. A lot of these things have come from my friend who is now a master thief. He has spent so long levelling up through stealing and making money by fencing stuff that he’s actually missed a lot of story.

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The annoying thing is that it’s very addictive and you can regularly make something like 1,500 gold per day at a minimum. There are obviously a few issues to hamper your experience like the stolen items taking up inventory space (they don’t stack with normal items) or the fact that getting caught can be a chaotic experience of running away followed by a lonely experience of avoiding anything resembling an NPC that can hurt you. But once you’ve done it a few times and got used to it, it’s the easiest way to make guaranteed money.

In fact it’s so easy, it’s overpowered. You can go down to the city’s docks at any time to see two or more people sneaking around checking every crate and barrel to sell everything, just to make a quick buck. The reward for stealing far outweighs the rick and it feels like a lot of measures that have been taken to stop people ruining the game have in fact helped to ruin it in some places.

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It’s not all frustration though. The console version is a very impressive conversion of the game. The controller has been very well adapted to the hotbar MMO design (a bit like Dragon Age Inquisition has, to be honest) along with easy to locate sub menus, which are well designed. My only gripe is that jump and action are combined but you can change that at the sacrifice of another button in the options.

Graphically the game is very nice. It’s a very different world to Skyrim but is definitely at a higher texture resolution. There’s the occasional lag for the texture streaming but it all works rather well. The only issue there has been the occasional downtime and PSN issues that have occurred. The game still suffers from being a single player story/quest system in a MMO environment but the group events like the Dolmer’s and boss battles make you feel rather grateful for the appearance of others. It’s also a world that makes you want to explore it and methodically complete it, much like its Elder Scrolls cousins.

I’m honestly glad I’ve returned to Tamriel, despite what might look like a typically British spat of moaning. For a console MMO it is the right mix of non-subscription and casual Elder Scrolls fun whilst still having the dynamics of the franchise and lots of playability. If you’ve got a lot of people or make a lot of friends in game then I’m sure the dungeons and guilds are a much better experience, but even for a small group, it’s a lot of fun. If you haven’t visited before, you probably should.

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E3 2015: Bethesda Recap

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As far as debut’s go, this is probably one that will live long in the memory for all of the right reasons. Bethesda took a giant leap to the stage at E3 (at the Dolby Theatre which hosts the Oscars, no less) with an already impressive level of hype.

Doom, whilst teased last year to select convention attendees and an extra three second clip last month, was very obviously going to be on the agenda. Fallout 4 was also going to be hotly anticipated and late on Saturday some leaks began to appear for Dishonoured 2 thanks to some tech-testing fluffs. But we had no idea (which is actually quite a thing in this day and age) of what was going to happen.

Doom was first out of the blocks and it did not disappoint at all. iD Software have been incredibly quiet since RAGE and lost their lead guru John Cormack to another reality. But that doesn’t seem to have dampened the original core concept of Doom or its successors – over the top, gory violence. It’s a simple concept really, to just kill all the things in a outlandish manner with big guns, but it’s very rarely executed well (pun intended).

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We saw some excellent melee attacks including a guy having his face smashed in by his own, still attached, broken leg. We saw some fantastically smooth gunplay and weapon selection and some fast and fluid movement. The things that made games like this and Quake excellent is the fast frenetic pace of the games that heighten the excitement, the fear and the adrenalin of the game, and Doom looks to have it in abundance. We were treated to a very well lit and molten factory level set on Mars which seems to have channeled all the tropes of horror science fiction with the cinematographic flair of more recent times, including a good Red Dwarf-esque mobile hand passkey that got a good laugh. We were then treated to Hell with demons coming at us from all sides and the final shot of a BFG volley cutting to black.

The most interesting thing in this is what looks like the first Next Generation console level editor. A simple tool to snap rooms and place objects to create your own levels and game types for multiplayer. Think of Halo’s Forge but with much easier room placement. This is Doom Snapmap and it looks excellent for the creative people and modders that have always been key to the franchise’s extended success. It’s something that will certainly breathe a lot of life in to multiplayer and is a great way to get people to stay involved. Especially on the console market as the game will be coming on PC, Xbox One and PS4 in Spring 2016.

Keeping with the online focus, Battlecry announced an upcoming beta. The online team based combat strategy game looks like a crazy cross between Team Fortress and a non-fantasy MOBA. It’ll be interesting to see but we’ll have to wait until the beta’s have come before we get more of an idea on the game.

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Next up was the team from Arkane Studios, who’s Dishonored completely took the critics and gamers by surprise a few years ago. Now it’s most definitely back with you being put in to the position of Corvo once again… Or you can play as the daughter of the Empress, Emily Kaldwin. This is what we were shown and it’s great to have a new female protagonist to play with. The steam punk setting is well and truly alive with some focus on the high flying speed running and magical abilities, in a totalitarian world of death and decay.

If you’re worried about playing Dishonored 2 because you missed the boat, never fear. Arkane are releasing a collected edition of Dishonored this winter with some new textures and all the DLC. This Definitive Edition is coming for PC, Xbox One and PS4… I’ll be honest, I’m very excited for it and of all the ideas I had for a remaster (if you can call it that) Dishonored was not the one I was expecting to hear from at this conference.

Another game I wasn’t expecting to hear anything about was the recently released Elder Scrolls Online, but we got a nice little video of some new areas coming to Tamriel Unlimited on both PC and Console and we’ve also been treated to a new card game call Elder Scrolls Legends (Presumably “Scrolls” was taken by someone else?), although we’ve seen nothing of it. I was also hoping to see or at least hear some news of the other Bethesda franchises like Quake and The Evil Within, but we just got their logos at the end. At least they’re still there and more may come in future.

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Speaking of the future, ready your Pip Boys. I could talk to you a lot about Fallout 4 but you should just watch the conference from 1 hour and 5 minutes in. Returning to the Wasteland, you will walk the area of Boston with your companion Dog and do as you’ve always done – explore, fight and customise. You’ll start your story pre-bombs which give a little tongue in cheek look at the psuedo-1950s lifestyle and create your character. This looks incredibly as the old style of sliders and templates have disappeared. Instead you just select the part of the face you want and just play away, regardless of gender (hurray!). You’ll wake up 200 years later as the sole survivor and are set free to explore. No spoilers.

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The customisation is incredible though, from very specific parts of guns to your heavy armour set, clothing and even building your own settlement, Fallout 4 looks to be far and away the best open world role-playing game in terms of player individuality. Creating a world to you, the player that you have affected seems to be one of the things that Fallout 4 is bringing out, which is something the other hinted to. But the technology is now here to make it happen.

Speaking of technology, the Pip Boy is updated to be more than just a static menu (as the developers know you’ll spend a lot of time there) and has become a lot more dynamic. You’ll also be able to interchange memory tapes for audio and even games. We’ve seen a good version of both Donkey Kong and Missile Command in the demo (the latter is increidbly appropriate) and there’s a lot more to come. Especially if you’ve got your eyes on the collectors edition that includes a working Pip Boy… Well sort of. This soon to be gold dust peripheral is a wearable phone dock that allows you (with a free app) to use the whole thing as a second screen and be your Pip Boy access. The app is coming anyway so anyone can do it, but having your own Pip Boy as you play? Well that’s just swell. We also have the Sims/XCom/Tiny Tower-esque Fallout Shelter. A fun little distracting building game where you become the overseer of your own vault, released for free last night on iOS.

Bethesda didn’t show a lot but truthfully they didn’t need to. It was a lesson in how a company can show a minimal amount of products but with a huge amount of quality. All of it coming for next generation consoles and PC. All of it absolutely captivating. Sometimes you just need to do a good job and in their debut to E3’s conference schedule, Bethesda certainly nailed it.

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The Illusion of Choice

Choice (noun):

1. An act of choosing.
2. The right or ability to choose
3. A range from which to choose.
4. Something chosen

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Illusion (noun):

1. A false idea or belief.
2. A thing that seems to be something it is not.

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The illusion of choice is something that gaming truly thrives upon. Open world genre is a specialist of following through with that illusion. But I will come on to that with more detail. What do I mean by this statement?

Well the word definition above from the Oxford English Dictionary would suggest that in gaming terms I mean it is the false idea or belief that you have the right or ability to choose.

Gaming is built on this very illusion and sometimes, only sometimes, a game comes along that is clever enough to address it. Most times, we don’t even think about it or very occasionally the game surprises us by blatantly providing the illusion.

gta4Grand Theft Auto 4 is my first example of the latter. Of course Grand Theft Auto 5 is littered by choices but its predecessor provides the best example of the illusion. The final mission is a consequence of the choice you make before shortly before. But this choice is an illusion. The character may change that is affected by this choice and the end game of this might be slightly different as to who is still available to socalise with, but essentially, exactly the same thing happens.

A character close to Niko’s life dies at the hands of a betrayl starting a multi layered end mission filled of gun blazing revenge. It is essentially the same drama and this later choice isn’t really a choice that changes anything in the game except who dies. Arguably the dramatic choice is the revenge on Dimitri rather than Jimmy but the outcome is the exactly the same.

So the choice that you make at that later stage is in fact an illusion because you’re not really choosing anything except death and before that, you have no knowledge that the choice defines who dies.

That may sound like I’m clutching at straws but if that decision was placed earlier in the game and the story went on a different tangent of associates depending on that choice then I would be more convinced that it is a choice. Compare it to Grand Theft Auto 5 where your final choice redefines your accessibility to the world and the characters reactions to you.

fallout 3 1Games like the Elder Scrolls and Fallout present you with the massive illusion of choice. It is possible to survive in the world and just live in it without completing a single mission. Of course it severely limits your ability to enjoy the game and eventually you will have to succumb to completing missions so that you can buy things, survive and defend yourself. Which is where the illusion comes in. You are presented with a completely free world open to wherever you want to go. However eventually, you will have to do something that the game intends you to do. You have a lot of choice as to how and when you go about it (apart from Fallout 3’s ending stopping your game).

For example a friend of mine booted up Oblivion on his brother’s computer. Never played it before and after the prison escape, he walked around, found a cool looking gate and when through. What then happened was that he completed the Shivering Isle add on, completely unaware that it was such and hadn’t even touched the main story and to my knowledge still hasn’t. Whilst there has been a choice the game still drive you to complete its missions regardless of how linear it isn’t.

Watch_Dogs on the other hand has practically zero choice. You go through the game in an incredibly linear fashion and you have very little to do in the end game except collecting things. It is in a way antithetical to the genre as there is so little that you can do, compared to other examples in the genre. Alan Wake for example and many other games will force a repeat play through to find the things that you’ve missed which is fun sometimes because you get to relive the bits that you enjoyed and pay more attention to the world around you. These games, first person shooters especially, of course do not even bother with the illusion of choice…

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Except one. Bioshock.

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Bioshock Infinite Burial At Sea 1 featMuch has been written and lauded about the genre defining moment in which that you have been the willing pawn in a sick and twisted game. I mean you specifically, not your character. The universe of this franchise eventually ends completely destroying any illusion of choice by bringing the world into an infinite paradox. But its stand out moment way back in Rapture fully broke the fourth wall and opened up the illusion of choice in both story and gaming mechanics. It’s an amazing moment with some far reaching dramatic consequences. But it is also video gaming’s Magic circle moment where the tricks where shown and explained.

I’ve spent a good hour or so writing these thoughts on choice and I’m completely glossing over lots of games, moments and gaming theory. But I’m stuck trying to think if I can think of a game that is truly free of this illusion. Minecraft instantly comes to mind along with its building contemporaries like Terraria, Starbound and the like. Maybe some city builders too, although games like Sim City and its younger contemporaries still don’t feel completely free of direction. But one game I think really takes away all notion of illusion is a strategy giant.

If I can think of one game that completely rewards your choices, and punishes them too, gives you objectives only and leaves you to the devices of its AI and allow you to glory or failure. That game is Civilization. Arguably the mark of any good strategy game is one that gives you that illusion of your own choice and consequence to succeed how you want to and any iteration of Sid Meier’s classic franchise gives you the option to dispense of the scenario based win and allow you to sink hours and hours in to your choices. It, along with Minecraft maybe, answers as an opposite to the earlier supposition.

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Why All The Doom 4 Anti-hype, Bethesda?

Trying to read between the lines when it comes to gaming news can be tricky at times. My current brainpower is currently attempting to decipher the news coming from Bethesda/ID over Doom 4.

When I first got in to writing about games, Duke Nukem Forever was coming out. In fact I reviewed it but the news and the hype that Gearbox’s Randy Pitchford managed to generate around it without shedding so much as a peek of gameplay was quite impressive and deflected from the truth that… There’s no polite way to say this. It was disappointingly shit.

At present though, with the beta release of Doom 4 around the corner and the reveal of the game at QuakeCon (a self imposed deadline admittedly), there seems to be a lot of stories that is designed to (industry speak) manage expectations.

Being a purchaser of Wolfenstein, which coincidently is slowly being recognised for being one of the year’s best and most fun releases, I have access to this beta along with a few other GameJar people. I can imagine we will be furiously fragging things with a BFG and waxing lyrical about it.

But all of these sound bites that are appearing like “Don’t assume it will be awesome” do make you worry.

If you haven’t heard, there is a lot from Bethesda warning against people assuming a game will be good due to the legacy of the franchise. Which if you are a relatively sane human being you would know not to believe. But Bethesda’s Marketing guy Pete Hines… Yes, marketing guy, is saying to remember how good Wolfenstein was before we got the current iteration in the franchise.

His logic is sound of course, it’s been an age since Doom 3 and things have changed massively. They will need to go into this game to create something amazing in its own right. But this anti-hype, this reverse psychology against it is a little bit disconcerting.

wolfenstein review 3With Wolfenstein, the game returned a bit to its original simple FPS sentimentalities. Something that (apart from spending ages looking at the floor for armor like a pig sniffing for truffles) was very successful for that game. It had a good story, the gameplay allowed the story to breathe and it was simple enough but challenging to play that you didn’t get left out even as a casual gamer. It was a huge success.

So why, given that the Doom beta was a big ploy to sell the game, would Bethesda start letting people down already? Surely the game already isn’t that bad that they are working on damage limitation? Given that it is a Doom game, I’m guessing the industry hype that will inevitably come from journalists and bloggers alike will shift the units.

So I can’t decide whether they are trying to distance themselves from the success of the Wolfenstein game and let us down early and easy or if this is all a clever ploy to keep their cards as close to their chest as possible.

Given the dominance in the FPS market for consoles with Battlefield and Call of Duty, you could see why they might distance themselves a bit. Quake has always been know for its fast paced and adrenalin filled multiplayer but only on the PC. This has been well and truly usurped by the current trendsetters for console.

If Doom can channel that and create a great multiplayer game that has that speed, especially as these new consoles could easily handle the frame rate for it, then it has the possibility to present a big challenge to the established few. Especially as the taste for those games is slowly diminishing among some gamers, it could be a good time for some Quake-esque Doom multiplayer to strike.

I just can’t tell if this is honesty or a clever way to hype the game on the footage and beta rather than legacy. I can’t decide if this is admission of faults or underhanded hubris. I can tell that I’m probably trying too hard to read between the lines here but, for me at least, I see something either being brilliant or whatever your personal description of the opposite of brilliant is.

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