Hello everyone. Apologies if you were expecting to see Todd this week. Those of you who caught his last column may have seen him playfully suggesting that he was leaving GiN. In fact, he is just moving to a brand-new place, one that is really sweet by the way. Once he gets everything set up, we should expect to see more columns and even videos from him, straight out of his new studio. So, we may find out if he ever conquered Nuka-World!
In the meantime, you are stuck with me, John Breeden, the editor here at Gameindustry.com. People tell me that I am in charge, but normally only when there is work to be done, and I am tasked with doing it. Hence, here is my substitute column in place of Todd’s normal rant. Hey, at least I didn’t have to help him pack boxes.
This week I wanted to talk about developers, and to some extent publishers, and why they sometimes get everything right, even though they are more likely to grab our attention when they seem to go tone deaf to the gaming community’s wishes.
We all know examples where we were collectively facepalming ourselves, asking what the heck they were thinking. And here at GiN, being a news organization, we cover those events because they are important to the community. Take for example the whole Mass Effect situation. The series more or less lost credibility with its fans after the ending to Mass Effect 3 provided us with one of the worst blow-offs in game history, with no regard to the rich story that developed over the sprawling, epic three game series. Instead we got a multiple choice ending, and absolutely nothing we previously accomplished had any effect on anything. My cat could have gotten the same result as me, and she didn’t invest hundreds of hours playing the series. Beyond that, all three endings were basically the same, with only very subtle differences between them.
Anyway, the message to Bioware was pretty clear, that story matters. Thankfully, they got that message loud and clear with Mass Effect: Andromeda, giving us an epic story that will stand the test of time as one of the greatest experiences in gaming. (pause for shock and laughter) Only yea, they didn’t listen at all. They spent all their time working on shooting mechanics apparently, which were admittedly quite good, but strung what was essentially a space opera together with a storyline that was as weak as water. And they capped it off with an ending that was as forgettable as it was annoyingly stereotypical – a boss battle where you had to destroy generators to take down the previously invincible bad guy. Oh, and then there was a cocktail party where you at least got to talk a bit to your crew, so on that, the ending to Andromeda was better than Mass Effect 3, but still pretty much a failure, as the eventual and total cancellation of the series proves.
Perhaps because of the shocking nosedive of the beloved Mass Effect series, other developers and even publishers are starting to listen to fans. A great example of this is the recently released Destiny 2 from Bungie and Activision.
Here too, we had an original game where the shooting mechanics were incredible, especially for an online-only title, but a fairly weak, some would say nonexistent, storyline. I bet quite a few Destiny players are like me, and can’t even remember what we did story wise over the course of the entire game and all the DLC content. I think I might have met the Traveler at one point, or it might have been Paul McCartney, who gave me a pretty mundane weapon and told me that I did a good job, even though I don’t really remember what I did other than shoot monsters.
The danger was that Destiny 2 would follow that same path, but thankfully, it didn’t. GiN Reviewer Michael Blaker was a harsh critic of the original Destiny, for a variety of reasons. He even stopped playing the game, even though he was highly invested in it and a leader of his guild. However, surprisingly enough, he gave Destiny 2 four out of five GiN Gems in his review, mostly due to the fact that Bungie listened to its players and tried to add in things, like a good story, that were sadly missing from the first game.
Bungie went beyond just adding a story for Destiny 2 as well, fixing many of the problems that players complained about in the original. For one, the loot system makes a lot more sense now. No longer will you be given epic engrams and have them decrypt into a plain old weapon. There were other gameplay tweaks as well, all for the good, like new power weapon classifications, and more drops of special ammo, in both the single player story and PvP maps. And PvP was also enhanced to emphasize teamplay, something that should have been at the heart of a game like Destiny to begin with given the cooperative nature of the storyline and the whole, guardians stand together theme.
Destiny 2 isn’t perfect, but the efforts that Bungie made to appease their fanbase is an incredibly good step in the right direction, one that they can further tweak as the endless parade of DLCs get ready to start deploying.
Another notable example of a publisher listening to fans again puts the spotlight on Activision and the much-loved Call of Duty series. Yes, Call of Duty is a masterpiece, but the constant future-war type campaign games started to get a little tired for many players. Experiments with space combat and starfighter wing type missions pretty much fell flat. CoD was starting to get a reputation as a cookie-cutter cash-in series. Gamers wanted a return to the roots of the series, and Activision listened, making the next game harken back to World War II.
Having played the Call of Duty: World War II beta, our reviewer Marion Constante was highly impressed. Marion is a huge CoD player, even competitively. She has made a few videos showing off the various maps, including a great one with the Call of Duty: Modern Warfare holiday maps that you should check out if you have not done so already. Nothing like gunning down other players in front of the old Christmas tree.
But even Marion started to think that CoD needed a revamp. Sending development back to Sledgehammer Games and rebooting the World War II genre was a great idea, and what the fans really wanted. Let’s just not forget that it was the same fans years ago who said that endless World War II CoD games (plus their competitor Metal of Honor) were getting a bit boring. So, I guess the lesson there is to change things up every now and then. Perhaps a good strategy going forward would be to flip between WWII and modern CoD games. But in any case, the publishers listened to gamers, and are doing what they can to make it fun again.
Finally, I want to bring up an upcoming game, Star Wars Battlefront 2. When the original game came out, I was mesmerized by how good it looked. People in both my local Walmart and gaming store would line up to watch the trailers. It was like a movie, but playable. And people generally liked the game. It ended up earning a GiN Game of the Year award for atmosphere back in 2015.
But for all its beauty, it was still basically a multiplayer affair. So much so that when someone famously tweeted about the need for single player gameplay, it got liked and shared millions of times. It would be easy for Electronic Arts, which has not been the friendliest to player communities, to simply ignore that outcry. But they didn’t. Instead, they are gifting us with a deep single player campaign, as well as offline, split screen gameplay with friends against AI opponents that doesn’t require foraying online – and you can still earn rewards while doing so.
In addition to adding a real single player mode, Star Wars Battlefront 2 is also changing the way players pay for the game. The current plan, and I hope this continues, is to offer microtransactions so that people can purchase cards to spawn as heroes or vehicles or whatever. Now, before you toss tomatoes or thermal detonators at my feet, know that the transactions are optional, and everything that you can buy with them is obtainable in the main game, though likely doing so will be difficult. The tradeoff however is that Battlefront 2 is going to have all free DLC. So, no season pass required, and all additional content will go to everyone’s game. This will certainly include new multiplayer maps and whatnot, but hopefully also new single player missions. Sounds like the force is finally with the players on this one.
Yes, developers sometimes screw up, and publishers sometimes don’t listen to gamers, but more often than not, they at least try to give us what we want. And lately, as evidenced by Destiny 2, Call of Duty World War II, and Star Wars Battlefront 2, it seems they are following our lead. It’s a good time to be a gamer, and Todd will have lots to do it seems once he gets all settled into his new gaming palace.