Sunday, December 29, 2019

Year in Review: Video Gaming in 2019

Video Games in 2019 had a metric ton of stories, almost all of which boil down to the following key points:

1. A game franchise spits out a new entry which is too much like (or not enough like) prior iterations and fans don't like it

2. A Triple A publisher comes up with or evolves an insidious monetization scheme which gets people mad (even though they seem to mostly continue buying the product --cough cough Call of Duty cough cough--). Bonus points if a country in Europe is suing the publisher for predatory monetization practices!

3. An indie developer is torn with strife after some inappropriate twitch comment, remark or Who Knows What and mayhem ensues in certain online sites.

4. Very occasionally a new game or a new iteration pops up that gets great reviews....but most gamers can feel it in the air; we're just a bit over a year away from two new console releases, and the big dogs are pulling back most of their special projects for this new console release to maximize their press. Anything coming out between now and new Fall season should be looked at as the "final release cycle" for this generation (for big dog triple A publishers, anyway).

...and on and on. The video game news cycle seems trapped in a feedback loop of epic proportions. When the news that sounds amazing is something like, "Hey, EA made a Star Wars game that did not maximize monetization and focused on a single player experience!" then you know your hobby has issues.

Generalizing the trend toward click-bait/negativity aside in this hobby, here's four trends and stories which kept my attention this year:

Resident Evil 2 Remake Revived the Series a Second Time

Resident Evil 7 was a great game in its own right, but it was only nominally a RE game in the sense that it pretended to be a new-style survival horror game at first, then bait-and-switched to a regular RE game toward the end. Resident Evil 2 Remake did a brilliant job of showing that that classic style of survival horror can stand on its own two feet, and that it is possible to do exactly that style of game with modern graphics and controls just fine. Easily the best game of the year for me!

Epic Games Gives Steam Some Competition (For Better and Worse)

For most of this year Epic Games has grown its storefront, tempted players with free games, and learned the hard way about how to handle a sales event. Their storefront is missing so many features. On the one hand, I recall 2004 when the Steam Store was a crappy prereq to get Half Life 2, but this isn't 2004; Epic, if you want to know what a good storefront looks like, check Steam out now.

In Epic's defense, their store functions about as well as Origin, Uplay or the travesty that is Bethesda's platform. It pales in comparison to the monster that Steam has become, and do not forget about GOG, which is easily the best overall storefront for the discerning DRM-free content we all want.

Games as Service is a Horrible, Horrible Thing (and it won't go away)

This year we watched the following things happen:

Anthem appeared and subsequently tanked; EA/Bioware dragged out its survival rate as they clearly planned to have a ton of post-launch plans for it, but then it turns out the contemporary consumerist culture of gamers who don't value games which can't hold their interest for 1,000 hours got pissed off and left. Given that Anthem probably couldn't reliably offer more than 50 hours of fun for anyone, I think there were identified issues well before release.

Destiny 2 broke free of Activision and went free to play with premium expansion content in Forsaken and Shadowkeep. On the plus side Destiny 2 is an awesome game to play; on the downside, it's now riddled (more than ever, it feels like to me) with freemium games-as-service content in the form of the item shop and the seasonal passes, all driven to keep a person playing content well beyond the sparse but entertaining story missions which are the only thing I really care about in Destiny 2. I miss the good old days of discrete single-player campaign content, or even the format of the original Destiny, which was a mellow blend of the two with less forced monetization.

Ghost Recon: Breakpoint tried to do this, and Ubisoft had a "come to Money Jebus" moment apparently when they realized that releasing this game and The Division 2 in the same year may have been "too much similar content, not enough distinguishing features" for the general audience. While I have been enjoying Breakpoint quite a bit, none of these issues are incorrect; they had big plans to make this game a Games as Service experience, and still plan to, apparently....unlike EA, Ubisoft doesn't just give up on a game until they've tried their hardest. I'll stick around for the ride, I think...but I will not spend any real money in their in-game store; that would be idiotic.

Countless other games continue to toy with this formula, even as other old classic MMOs try to remain relevant or update their process for the game. It's pretty horrible, overall.....thankfully there are still plenty of great single player experiences to be found; but finding good multiplayer games that aren't deeply and intrusively monetized is getting harder and harder.

Year of the Switch

The Switch had an enormously stand-out year in 2019. It released the Switch Lite while flooding the market with interesting new games and a metric ton of classic and old school titles upgraded for handheld consumption. This was an amazing year for gamers who care more about gaming then whether the console can pump out 4K resolution or not; and also for gamers looking to maximize their local co-op experiences. Family gaming on the Switch is the easiest option for gamers looking to play locally with kids and wives and such. For myself this is the console all members of my household each have one of, and the system we commiserate the most on (even if our tastes0 vary wildly, with the kid playing Fortnite and Pokemon, mom playing Luigi's Mansion 3 and the other Pokemon and dad playing Deadly Premonition and Legrand Legacy or something).

So those are the interesting trends this year in video games I noticed....sure, there are plenty of other stories floating around, but I have to say I think these were the ones which kept me most excited!

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