I Miss Couch Co-op

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I grew up with games like Halo 3, Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2, and Star Wars Battlefront. I would spend entire nights with my friends eating junk food and playing games together on the couch. I loved being able to hang out with my friends and family and all get to play a game together on the same screen. I have played hours of Little Big Planet, Towerfall, and Rock Band with my family. This new generation of consoles has seen a departure from local multiplayer, and a complete focus on online multiplayer, and I think it’s a shame.

Some of my favorite memories from my teens were of playing Zombies in Halo 3 and battling for the sniper roost on the Rust map of Modern Warfare 2. It was great to get together in person, lock ourselves in a basement and stay up all night eating pizza and gaming. As I’ve grown older, I still enjoy getting together with my friends and gaming all night occasionally, but now if we want to play together, each person has to bring their own PS4 and screen. While still fun, it’s inconvenient and a lot more work. It also loses a little sense of intimacy, it feels more like we’re playing next to each other and not together.

Don’t get me wrong. I love online multiplayer too. I have lots of friends who now live all over the country, and it’s fantastic to be able to get on discord and play with my friends all over the country. I’ve also met several great people in Overwatch and Fortnite chat that I enjoy playing with. I also understand that local multiplayer isn’t important to many people because they don’t have friends locally or they don’t have the time to organize a larger get together. It’s just easier to play with everyone online. I do understand this, but I also think that there is something more that you can get by having in person contact, drinking and eating together. It’s, at least, important to me.

Ideally, games would have both local and online multiplayer. All of the games I mentioned before have that feature. I could play Battlefront with my friends or online, or the single player. I want every player to be able to play the way that they want. It’s such a shame that Halo, once the pinnacle of local multiplayer, has abandoned it entirely. I know that this is more of a personal nostalgic complaint, and that this isn’t an issue for everyone, but I do care about it and that’s enough for me.

DLC: Good or Bad?

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DLC is an important issue in the industry that gamers tend to be very split on. Some think that new features are always a good thing, even if it costs more money and some think that DLC is anti-consumer and unacceptable in any form. Like most issues, my opinion is somewhere in the middle. Some DLC is good, some DLC is bad. I think that intent, cost, timeline, and type of game are all relevant when deciding if a piece of Downloadable Content is bad or not.

I think that the biggest problem with DLC in games is when a game is released, has a $60 price tag, and then has paid DLC a week later. When a game has extra content for sale so soon after release, it means that the content was ready and always intended to be part of the game. The devs simply released an incomplete game at full price and then offered the rest of it for more money. The complete game is not $60, but $70, $80, $100, or more, depending on how much DLC there is. Marketing an incomplete game as a finished product while holding the rest hostage under an additional pay wall is anti-consumer and unacceptable. One of my absolute favorite series is terrible about this and I have been forced to stop purchasing their products: Total War.

I have been playing the Total War games since Medieval Total War in 2002. I have hundreds of hours in Rome, Shogun II, and Empire Total War and dozens in the others. These games are incredibly fun and appeal to my strategic and gameplay sensibilities on almost every level, but a month after each game is released there’s $20-$40 of DLC. Usually a game will launch with 5 or 6 playable factions in a map of 25+ AI factions. In a couple months after release, they will often add 5 or so more. These were obviously in the works at launch, but unfinished. They were always intended to be in the game and charging more money for them as if they were simply extra features is dishonest and unethical. If the game is unfinished, they should either delay the release or publish the rest of the content for free. Creative Assembly, though amazing at creating games, has business practices that I can no longer support.

In shooter games like Call of Duty, the devs will release new map packs as paid DLC. Fighting games like Injustice will also do this with new playable characters. I don’t see this as quite as awful as the Total War system, but it’s still not great either. While the extra content is not necessary to play or enjoy the full product, but it splits the player base. Since only some people will be able to play on all of the maps or as all of the characters, matchmaking becomes more complicated, separating players into those who can play with the extra content and those who can’t. This becomes worse and worse with every added piece of DLC. Companies try to solve this by offering a Season Pass, which guarantees access to future DLC for a one time price. This concept, while seemingly practical and will probably save you money, is not a good idea as a consumer. You are paying for content that doesn’t exist yet. There is no guarantee that future DLC will be of acceptable quality or that there even will be more DLC. It is the same issue as pre-orders, which I will get into in more detail another time.

I think that a game that does this well is Overwatch. The game is a one-time purchase, $40 for PC and $60 for Console, and you get access to all current and future content. Every new character, map, balance fix, event skin, etc is available to you. You never have to spend another cent. The way that Blizzard can do this and continually create new content for the game is through the optional loot box purchases. The loot box system is one that is controversial and some see it as anti-consumer. I covered this topic in my post about loot boxes. Essentially, as long as the contents of the loot box are only cosmetic, I am fine with the system existing and I much prefer it to being charged for each new character or map.

Another situation that is worth considering is free-to-play games. While I don’t like a system where parts of the game are locked behind a pay wall, but as long as the game isn’t pay-to-win, I suppose it is acceptable. I think that a good middle ground here is a game like League of Legends or Paladins, where most of the characters are unavailable initially. You have to either purchase them or unlock them eventually by playing the game. Each week, there is a rotation of characters that are playable for free, that week. The game is free, it is all unlockable by playing the game, and there is a way to experience all of the content if you play long enough.

Now on to examples of DLC that I think is specifically done well. First, I want to talk about From Software and the Soulsborne Series. Every game, other than Demons’ Souls, has had at least one piece of DLC. Every single one, in my opinion, has been an excellent addition to the game. They usually release the base game with plans to add DLC later, but the content in the DLC never feels like it should have been included in the base game. They all are clearly additions to the world and story and each one has added several hours of content. Bloodborne’s The Old Hunters expansion included my favorite boss fight in the series. For a paid DLC on a fully priced base game to be acceptable, I think that the added content needs to be high quality, solid quantity, and should feel transformative or at least additive to the base game.

Firaxis, the makers of Civilization and XCOM, is an interesting case. I find that each game they release is excellent on launch and feels complete. Their major expansions have all be amazing and worth every penny, but they sometimes have smaller DLC packs which, while not necessary for the game, don’t merit their own price tag. XCOM 2 had a collection of additional soldier customization options called Anarchy’s Children. This should have either been included in one of the later DLC’s or added for free. Civilization VI adds new playable civilizations to the already plentiful list every few months. I think that these are often over priced. They are always good, but should be priced reasonably. On the other hand, XCOM Enemy Within improved on Enemy Unknown exponentially. It completely transformed the game and added tons of new content. Civilization V Gods and Kings, Brave New World, etc were all massive overhauls of the game, adding new features and changing mechanics. XCOM 2 War of the Chosen could have been marketed as a separate game. It completely changed how the game is played and added hours of new content. Overall, Firaxis has a few lackluster but not terrible DLC’s and arguably some of the best DLC ever made.

The last example I want to mention is The Witcher 3. The Witcher 3 is often held up as an amazing example of DLC done right. I just want to add my voice to this. Hearts of Stone, as an expansion was excellent. The story, new characters, new monsters, new part of the map to explore, new crafting mechanics were all excellent. The missions for Von Everic were quite different and very fun. I also loved how well it fit into the post game of Witcher 3. You didn’t need to start an entirely new playthrough of this massive game to play the new content at a satisfying level. I was blown away by Hearts of Stone and it was probably my favorite DLC in any game…until Blood and Wine. Blood and Wine was bigger and more saturated than most other AAA games. If I had to pick my least favorite thing about the base game of Witcher 3, it was that many of the Witcher Contracts and side missions felt pretty similar to each other. This was not a problem at all in Blood and Wine. Every mission, was unique, hilarious, evocative and fun. Posing for a painting with a dead griffin, winning a grand tourney, helping a love struck knight woo a cursed woman, enduring the bureaucracy of Beauclaire banking, and my favorite quest in the whole game: entering a land of corrupted fairy tales. When people say that DLC is unacceptable, I can understand that, but then I point to Blood and Wine and realize that DLC can sometimes be amazing and absolutely worth it.

Loadouts in Multiplayer Games

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Until around a year ago, I wasn’t much of an online multiplayer person. I played some here and there. Uncharted 2, Call of Duty Black Ops, classic Star Wars Battlefront and Battlefront 2. I did love local multiplayer. Modern Warfare 2, Battlefront, and Halo 3 I would play for hours on split screen with my friends. I also played some Warcraft 3 and Starcraft online as well. In the spring of 2016, a friend of mine sat me down and made me play Overwatch for a few hours. I almost instantly fell in love with it. The art style, the eccentric characters, the gun play all felt amazing. I was converted to multiplayer games and bought Overwatch for myself the next day. Since then, I have put some time into several games I never would have touched before: Lawbreakers and Ghost in the Shell betas, Paladins, Player Unknown’s Battlegrounds, and Fortnite Battle Royale.

I found that I preferred the games where everyone enters the battlefield equal. I liked Uncharted 2 multiplayer more than Call of Duty partially because Call of Duty had loadouts and Uncharted did not. In CoD, each player selects which guns, attachments, explosives, etc their character would start the match with. In Uncharted 2, every player would start with an AK47 and a grenade, but better weapons would spawn in specific locations around each map. The beginning of the game was a rush to get to the weapon you wanted before anyone else. It was simple, but equal. The only things that distinguished one player from another were skill and map awareness. In CoD, I never knew what kind of loadout a player I would encounter would have. Maybe they had been grinding for hours and have unlocked amazing weapons and would have an advantage over me in gear. I would gladly sacrifice gear customization for balance.

I do want to quickly mention how much I appreciate Modern Warfare 2 and its merit based progression. Instead of earning credits to buy gun upgrades and such, you have to play with a gun and accomplish tasks to earn the right to upgrade it. I just would prefer it to be in a single player game(Wolfenstein does this well) rather than a competitive multiplayer game.

One of my absolute favorite things about Overwatch is that every Genji is the same. I know exactly how much health he has, how much damage I can risk from him, what his abilities and cool downs are. There is no advantage one Genji might have over another except skill. I feel similarly about Fortnite BR and PUBG. Every player starts off equal and only skill, map awareness and luck will lead to victory.

I quite liked Paladins, and will talk about it more at a later time, but I don’t like the loadout system, especially because you have to get the loadout items in loot boxes. I think the mid-match upgrades you can purchase are interesting, but it makes it difficult to know what I’m going up against when I see a Kinessa. She could have different health, damage, etc than a Kinessa in a different game.

I understand that this is a matter of personal opinion and it’s a pretty minor issue, but I like to analyze the games I play. I know that many people like loadouts because they are a clear representation of game progression, but the only progression in multiplayer games that I care about is personal skill.