Far: Lone Sails - Learning to Cope by Caleb Sawyer

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Almost a year ago, my grandfather died. It has been hard to escape feeling like a hack because I keep bringing that up. The reality is, I haven’t written much since that day and what I have written has been punctuated by a tone that overflows with grief that I’m still not sure how to deal with. Nevertheless, here I am, attempting to write again. This time though, I am not going to steer away from that well. Part of that is self-motivated. The other part is Far: Lone Sails.

I watched the trailer for Far: Lone Sails one night while perusing the upcoming games in the Xbox Store. The music, the art, the tone, instantly hooked me. I am partial to games that have a system based in upkeep. I love building cities in City Skylines. I love managing my base, personnel, and resources in XCOM. Maintaining the mechanics of this land ship, traveling across a wasteland was an easy pre-order. 

The first moments of this title froze me. My character sat in front of what I can only assume is the grave of their father. A picture lays propped against a tree. The music is soft and sweeping. The environment monochromatic. Grays and whites punctuated by the red coat and hat of the player. 

If there is one thing that stands out immediately in Far: Lone Sails, it is its ability to deliver an aesthetic swiftly and creatively. As a long time fan of Playdead’s Inside and Limbo, the task of telling a compelling story in the limited space of a side crawling platformer is a challenge not easily overcome. Music and art take center stage, while gameplay often takes a back seat, punctuating the visual tableaus with puzzles. Okomotive’s ambitious entry into this genre is an outstanding accomplishment. 

———

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My grandfather served 23 years in the Navy. A period of his life he spoke of sparingly. To this day I am unsure if that was because it conjured memories he didn’t care to relive, or if there was another reason. The stories he told were always comical. Stepping up several decks in a single bound while the ship flexed in choppy waters. Drinking hot beers on the deck while docked at shore in the Philippines. Nearly missing the boat back while resupplying. His Navy career was a mystery to me. It will always be a mystery.

———

Far: Lone Sails takes place in a world made desolate by a disaster given no explanation. As you step down a sandy beach, the sound of an ocean never comes. Instead a windswept desert stands in its place, the carcasses of various ships strewn about the wastes. As you step into your ship (the eponymous Okomotive), crank up the engine, and pull away from the scaffolding surrounding it, you set off across this lonely place. The destination: unknown. 

Within moments the world begins to unfold itself around you. Broken down ships are everywhere. Dust crept onto their decks. Debris lays scattered, half submerged in the sands of of time and abandonment. Something happened to this place. It is hard to keep from imagining a world full of color. Rippling seas teeming with life. Nothing remains but shattered hope, abandoned dreams, derelict homes. 

———

When my grandfather passed it was sudden. He had interstitial lung disease. One day he felt worse than usual. He and my grandmother went to the Emergency Room. Eleven days later he was gone. Despite the expertise of the doctors that attempted to help, they never found out what caused this flare up. Despite everything they attempted there was no explanation. I remember my uncle, sitting in shock next to his dead father. “My whole life I have believed in science. And science has failed me.” The words were sobering.

———

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As you progress through Far: Lone Sails the obscured history of the world begins to unravel itself. The shallow, dried out seabed gives way to rolling pastures. Billboards pass by for a small farming and industrial town, The Blue Isles. This town, as picturesque as it may look with its rolling green hills, rests abandoned. The hills are washed grey-green, and before long you find barns and farmhouses torn asunder. Cars rest on roofs. 

A tornado appears just beyond the last partially standing buildings. Without words it becomes clear: the damage done to this world is deep and irreparable. 

The game continues this story of unnatural disaster as you progress. Color comes and goes, rarely, but those colors are always bleak. Dreary. Joel Schoch’s score moves emotionally throughout these moments, rising as the Okomotive churns forward, dipping as night falls, rising as the day breaks, the amber glow of the sun projecting into the thick clouds that cover the world. Schoch’s score is incredible. I’ll never forget trudging through the rain, the drops plinking off of the Okomotive, while the score receded. Leaving me to the sound of the rain and my thoughts. One of the best parts of Far: Lone Sails’ score is its willingness to leave you in silence, proving that even in its absence it can have a dramatic impact.

———

It was rainy the day he died. I remember thinking, “thank god no one else will be happy today.” I had always found comfort in rain. Since then, rain has been…different. No longer just a source of comfort, it is a reminder. Every time it rains, I am brought back to that day. Each time a little less, sure, but it is still there. I think it may always be there. I’m not sure I want it any other way. 

The thought that he died of natural causes so suddenly felt, well, unnatural. He was tough, he rarely complained, and to think that one day his body just decided it was tired of struggling was hard to understand. 

For the next six months it was hard to see color in anything. Everything felt greyed out. Food tasted different, sleep was less rejuvenating, laughter didn’t linger like it used to. My inability to write became apparent quickly. I struggled for hours to get singular thoughts onto a page. I was afraid that talking about this loss openly would look like a crutch I was leaning on. So I didn’t write. 

———

The billboard for the Blue Isles says “A Fresh Start” just beneath the name of the town. Another says, “We Build Our Future”. The people of this place tried their hardest to move past the fact that their world was dying. But they don’t appear to have ever attempted to address the issue. The rusted and hulking remains of industry and manufacturing tell a story of a people who believed in science, and who were betrayed by that belief.

As the remains of civilization pass you can see people building escape hatches, not treating a wound.

———

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Writing has always been my release. My means of escape, of coping, of healing. Not writing meant I did none of those things properly. I bottled and distilled my grief, making each moment it returned stronger. I tried everything to get away from it. I hid my pain from my grandmother, trying to be strong for her. I hid my pain from my wife, trying to prove that I was fine. That I was able to hold it together. I tried my best to move past the fact that a part of my world had died. In reality I was building escape hatches. 

Without giving away the ending of Far: Lone Sails, because you should absolutely play it, I realized that part of me needed to let go, sure, but a larger part of me needed to face the problem head on and push through it. My grief is my Okomotive right now. I need to maintain the ship pushing me through life. I need to remember that, even if the ship is damaged, it is fixable. But it won’t be forever. Someday, it will decide it can go no further. When that time comes, it will be okay to let it go. To move on to another vessel. To take a moment and say, “Goodbye old Friend.”

The front of the Okomotive in Far: Lone Sails has two figures etched on its prow. An adult and a child. The house you pass through in the opening moments show you a Father and his child and the machine they created together. I am not entirely self-made. I owe a lot to Timothy Sawyer. His family was the thing he was most proud of. I realize now, that is why he didn’t share a ton about his service in the Navy. It wasn’t what he built with his hands. His family was. Now that he is gone, we must take journey forward, through the waste and colorlessness, to a new place. And he is still here for the ride. Even in his absence he has had a dramatic impact on all of us.

———

I valued every moment I had with Far: Lone Sails. It has brought me a lot of peace over the last few weeks and helped me better contextualize the struggle and pain of moving on. Of pushing through the shit to get to the other side.

Mechanically easy to pick up, hard to put down, a brilliant and evocative score, and entrancing art elevate Far: Lone Sails into the poetic. A contemplative and somber yet unwaveringly charming journey It hooked me immediately. Despite having beaten it twice, I keep finding myself coming back for a little more every couple of days. 


Bravo, Okomotive.

Thank you for making this game.

Heaven's Vault - Deciphering the Truth by Caleb Sawyer

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I went into Heaven’s Vault cautious. Not for any reason I believed to be ill-willed, but rather, simply because Inkle Studios set out to tell a story about the muddiness of history. That is an ambitious task. History is a deep, branching, and twisting thing. Stories evolve as they are passed down, events are remembered differently. Our memory of our own lives is subject to various degrees of fantasy, how fantastical then are the memories of our ancestors? While it is easy to point this out, it is difficult to put together a story with a consistently ambiguous lore. In fact, ambiguous lore is a bit paradoxical for most works of fiction. The backstory is essential in Mass Effect. No one debates whether or not the First Contact war between the humans and Turians happened. Nor are there really any questions about why. Heaven’s Vault tackles this paradox head on and does a surprisingly good job illustrating a world with a history in question.

A lot of the delivery of this rests on the core mechanic Heaven’s Vault is built around: deciphering an ancient and forgotten language. Players take control of Archaeologist Aliya Elasra, an orphan turned scholar, and search the reaches of the Nebula, for ancient scratchings and etchings of a bygone age. Aliya is resourceful, bringing her base knowledge of the linguistic characteristics of this language from the onset. As you progress, that knowledge grows as you discover more and more cast off fragments of a past culture.

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This mechanical core, searching for and finding ancient artifacts, inferring what the runes mean, and fact checking with later discoveries, defines the experience for the player. There is something uniquely satisfying to confirming that a collection of lines and segments means “Pilgrim.” Or realizing that segments of the same collection of symbols mean “Home.” It is in this process of discovery that Heaven’s Vault establishes the aforementioned convolution of history.

The player is forced to guess on translations when the symbols aren’t familiar, those guesses form the information you will act on, and then later translative opportunities confirm or contradict those assumptions. When later translations contradict prior guesses, as educated as they may be, you are forced to reconsider your prior assumptions, often times altering the understanding of how events played out. Even altering your understanding of this forgotten culture as a whole. 

This process is as refreshing and unique as it is challenging. And it is used to great effect in this title. Tasked with hunting down a missing roboticist named Janniqi Renba, Aliya traipses her way around the Nebula looking for signs of his whereabouts. Assembling pieces of his trail of breadcrumbs quickly reveals that there is much more afoot. A darkness approaches and it is up to you, the player, to what that means, and how Renba has gotten himself tied up in all of this. The ensuing pursuit is fascinating, even thought the payoff may seem a bit too encompassing. 

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Heaven’s Vault is worthy of a great deal of praise for its execution of its premise, absolutely. It is important to point out that the execution is perfect in every aspect. Few games ever are. This title opens Slowly, with a capital S. I get that every story needs to open with some kind of expository, I just feel that in this case, a lot of the initial dialogue could have been delivered using alternative means. The game leans heavily on a travel system between destinations that allows for a good amount of disembodied dialogue. 

In fact, that system would benefit from a little more content. Sailing the rivers of this universe that bind the Nebula is at first stunning. The environments and vistas are impressive, and the score is impressive, but after 5-10 hours of playing the game, the slow speed of travel and the lack of an easy fast travel system makes these moments drag a bit. Early in my playthrough I was in the cabin of my ship and I was able to tell my robotic companion Six that I wanted to rest. Six navigated the Nightingale to our next destination. Had this system been more readily available I would have absolutely used it more.

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Interestingly, despite Heaven’s Vaults amazing structure around learning a language, the game’s writing sometimes falters in its ambitions. It is hard to tell if these shortcomings are the result of the game’s thematic ambition, or if they are the result of the story accelerating a bit faster than these individual threads allow. A lot of the characters in Heaven’s Vault have a promising set up while the bulk of their existence never write lives up to that anticipation. While I wouldn’t venture to call these characters themselves thin, the writing often leaves a bit to be desired.

Further, the description of the game totes a flexible narrative. When this assertion is weighed in light of the didactic nature of deciphering a language, the different directions that the story can lead are clear. When you look to the choices the player is able to make, both in conversation and story progression, few of the choices you are able to make seem to make a lasting impact in the overarching narrative. 

After visiting a the site of a crashed ship and abandoned hiding place, Aliya is given a message from a mysterious being that immediately casts doubt on the motives of Aliya’s adoptive mother and boss. Enough doubt, in-fact, that I avoided giving her the relic I had found the entire game and there was really nothing that came of it. Sure, she asked me to deliver the artifact upon learning of my finding it, but not taking it to her seemed to have no real impact on how our relationship played out. On the other hand, a small side story concerning two laborers, one wounded and the other abandoned, I felt I had far more in charge of the events that played out. 

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In the end, Heaven’s Vault is is a complex and interesting narrative with a genuinely unique core and excellent world building. The score is majestic and mysterious, a great accomplishment for composer Laurence Chapman. Truly, the score saved a lot of those moments where the sailing dragged the momentum down a bit. It doesn’t deliver on everything it sets out to do, but for all of its ambition, the amount of time I was drawn in by just the discovery of the language and world it was creating was really satisfying. The many locations you travel between are diverse and beautiful, the characters, while sometimes shallow, are genuinely interesting, and the plot is entertaining and thorough. There is a lot in here for people who love digging into and solving mystery. 

Heaven’s Vault is available on Steam and PS4 for $24.99. Laurence Chapman’s score can be found on Bandcamp for $10.46.

@LubWub

Far Cry New Dawn: A Familiar Walk in Unfamiliar Surroundings by Caleb Sawyer

Far Cry New Dawn

In June of last year, a few months after the release of Far Cry 5, Terry Spier (Creative Director, Red Storm) said that the Division 2 would not be making a political statement. The game takes place in D.C. after a plague decimates the population. D.C. is in ruins, and the trailer released at E3 last year says “A remnant of a corrupt state lurks in the shadows, ready to engage in a new civil war. Agents of the Division are the only one standing against it.” So how…what the…?

I brought up Far Cry 5 earlier and I need to explain why these two are inextricably linked. Far Cry 5 could have been very political. The first Far Cry game to take place in the United States dived deep into satirizing what makes America tick: Guns, preppers, piss tapes, and fanatical religion. There was a little Trump, a little Alt-Right, a little religious violence, and for the first time ever, mostly white enemies. Who would have thought people actually would be upset by any of these things (definitely not the author of this [fake?] Petition?). 

What is most interesting about the setting and cast of Far Cry 5 is that, despite the ample material to draw from, it tried so desperately to remain apolitical. In fact, Ubisoft didn’t make a true political statement about the title’s contents, publicly or in the game itself. Something that reviewers and critics would hold issue with as literature began to be written up. So do you side with the petition and get angry at how political it is? Or do you side with the reviewers and get angry at how hard it tries not to offend anyone?

3 months later…

[The Division] is not a political statement? “Absolutely not.”

See, the line isn’t hard to draw here. Extremely mixed response from undecidedly political/apolitical game = Nope. No politics here. But boy would you look at how great D.C. looks? 

Enter Far Cry New Dawn. The first direct sequel to a Far Cry game. 

The Chop Shop

SPOILER ALERT

At the end of Far Cry 5. Nukes detonate all across America, making the big, bad, religious creep Joseph Seed “right” (ugh) and then the game rolls credits. New Dawn picks the reins back up seventeen years later. The wildlife has been altered, the flora is colorful, the world is overgrown, largely untouched by the hands of man. In the time that has passed, people have rebuilt, or at least they have begun the process. Within seconds of New Dawn’s establishing shots (you are the hero, you travel the wastelands and help small settlements get back on their feet, you’re on a train full of people and supplies) the antagonists show up. Colorful dirt bikes, wacky attire, fireworks, smoke grenades. 

Essentially you get rolled on by patrons of the post-apocalyptic (regular?) Burning Man and, well, it is kinda awesome.

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Here is where I realized Far Cry New Dawn would be different: in the introduction of its antagonists, two black women, Mickey and Lou. For the first time since I played Far Cry 3, I didn’t hear an ounce of allusion in their intro. They weren’t the personification of anything but post-Collapse, cut-throat survivors that took the dark path. 

This isn’t to say that New Dawn is without its own politics. There are plenty of story beats that lean into corruption, bribery, and religious fanaticism, but there is one key difference: this game doesn’t fee like it is about those things.

Outside of the return of a few of Far Cry 5’s characters, New Dawn largely stays away from what made its predecessor such a split-decision for most people. And while the setting and execution is familiar (think Mad Max, Rage, or a little Borderlands), there is something fresh about playing this setting in Far Cry’s formula, despite Far Cry’s formula being more than a little played out.

That perhaps is my biggest, and only real, gripe with Far Cry New Dawn. It just feels like more Far Cry. 

In many cases this isn’t a problem. When you love the mechanics of a game, when the studio changes those mechanics up it can be disorienting. Even disenfranchising. The thing is, Far Cry 3 released in 2012, and while I absolutely loved that game and its reimagining of what Far Cry was, those changes have remained largely unchanged in its successors. 

Far Cry New Dawn Outpost

Outposts still operate the same way: Kill everyone silently for a large bonus, knock out alarms and go loud for a small bonus, or throw caution to the wind and kick down the door, no bonus added. The vehicular mechanics remain the same, the shooting feels the same, the hunting and wildlife feels the same (except this time you are getting attacked by Wolverines, not Honey Badgers), and the bow is still the best weapon in the game. Though I want to make sure I don’t knock (get it) the bow - it fucking rocks - I need Far Cry remember how to change again.

The new mechanics introduced to this game are largely inconsequential. You can build up your base by collecting Ethanol, adding a bit of functionality to taking outposts beyond just shooting (or stabbing) people. But that neither feels adequately rewarding, nor does it explain how Prosperity (the base) builds a farm with…Ethanol. Once you upgrade the Workbench to make Epic weapons, you can completely ignore upgrading the rest of the base outside of the story mission that requires it. 

Far Cry Rush

I should make it clear that New Dawn is a direct sequel to Far Cry 5, and is likely built with the same exact engine and tools. Appropriately, Ubisoft priced the title at only $40. These things together make complaining that New Dawn feels like more of the same, feel a little obvious. That is literally what it is.

Minus one thing: Painfully irreverent and borderline overwhelming political overtones. 

There is a part of me that wants Ubisoft to not be afraid of having political commentary in their games. Then, there is another part of me that believes that there is some kind of political commentary in New Dawn. That perhaps this title feels better because it doesn’t appear to be commenting on current events, but that doesn’t mean it exists without a message. 

Then I come back to Spier’s response to the question about The Division 2 making a political statement: Absolutely not. Perhaps making a political statement means something different here. New Dawn had a message: Do everything it takes to make the world a better place. And that message could be seen as having political applications. But a direct political statement, that forces players to choose a side or fractures your base? Maybe that is what he meant to steer away from. 

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New Dawn appears to be the result of that decision. It wipes the political slate clean with a few dozen nukes and tells a surprisingly human story devoid of Alt-Right mouthpieces and trumpeted up stereotypes.

I want games to have a political voice, to take a stand on something, if they want to. But maybe this isn’t the worst thing ever. 

@LubWub

Apex Legends Crushes First Week by Caleb Sawyer

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UPDATE: Over Apex’s first week, it reached a total of 25 million unique players and more than 2 million concurrent.

While it is too early to tell if Apex Legends will stand the test of time, or even sustain its ridiculous popularity, I feel it is safe to say this: When it comes to guerrilla marketing, surprise, polish, and execution, few multiplayer titles have released with such aplomb. 

Just before the Super Bowl rumors started stirring. Vince Zampella had been abnormally active on Twitter in the last week, streamers were talking about trips to California, in the days leading up to the weekend keywords were being tossed in the air. Free-to-play, Battle Royale, Titanfall. All of them interesting separately, but together, a potentially amazing surprise. Then, during the Super Bowl, Vince sent this tweet:

“Looks like everything is unlocked now? Fun.

So, if you like Respawn, our games or even me, you should tune in tomorrow. Our stream starts at 8am pt and we’ll tell you everything about Apex Legends. Everything.”

There it was. A name. The Apex Predators were a mercenary group in the previous Titanfall games. What does this even mean. Fast forward 18 hours and we got to see Apex Legends, and at the end of the trailer? Available now. Almost literally overnight we got a AAA Battle Royale. For Free. 

The number of times something like this has happened can be counted on one hand (I searched for the actual number and I couldn’t find it). The number of times a AAA title has done this? I am at a loss. What’s more? Apex Legends launched STRONG. With over a million unique players in just the first 8 hours, Apex jumped out of the gate, with barely a hiccup in server consistency. 72 hours in? 10 million players, 1 million concurrent. Dominance.

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For players weary of the Battle Royale craze, this title has an answer for your complaints of there being a lack in originality. Rather than being plain, straight up BR game like PUBG, or having a mechanic as divisive as Fortnite’s building, Apex gives its players Overwatch-esque heroes. Each character (of the 8 present at launch) come with their own Passive, Active, and Super abilities. From Gibraltar’s Mortar Strike to Wraith’s Dimensional Rift to Pathfinder’s Zipline Launcher, the Supers are unique to the BR space. Used well, they are goddamn game changers.

Thirty-nine hours in, Apex is a bundle of nearly endless joy. The controls are buttery-smooth (as per usual Titanfall), the team mechanics are choice, and the map design is solid. I was apprehensive when I heard there were no Titans, and even more worried when I realized there were no jump packs (no wall running). After my time with Apex however, I am glad they aren’t a part of it. Frankly, I have no clue how they could balance a Titan, and the wall running would turn into a mechanic as divisive as Fortnite’s building. 

It is understandable if Titanfall diehards find themselves a little disappointed with this offering. After all, Apex does appear to have come at the cost of Titanfall 3 in 2019 (though Mr. Zampella is trying really hard to confuse us) and, for some, the Titans and free-running are essential to the experience. All of those gripes make sense.

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What I can say is this: Apex takes the Battle Royale game mode in a surprisingly refreshing direction, and it’s one of the most structurally sound shooters released in the last 8 months. They plan to release new guns and characters every three months alongside a battle pass as well. The future of Apex is intriguing, and if its present popularity is any indication, it isn’t going anywhere any time soon.

@LubWub




Show Me the Games: Holiday 2018 by Caleb Sawyer

Photo by @ollie_606

Photo by @ollie_606

2018 was a stellar year for games. From God of War kicking the door down in March, to Fortnite redefining persistent online experiences, to Red Dead Redemption 2 causing games to flee its wake, to Celeste, Owlboy, and Gorogoa taking hearts and thumbs by storm. It is impossible to tell people what they should go out and play because the list is humanly impossible to complete. That is, unless you are superhuman. So, rather than trying to page through every single Black Friday ad, we thought it would be more fitting to give you a list of games that you have to play. The deals run amok on Black Friday and with the Black Friday ads linked below we are confident you will be able to find these gems at a deep discount somewhere (in many cases EVERYWHERE). So for our list, in no particular order:

AAA Must Have Titles:

God of War (PS4 Exclusive)
Forza Horizon 4 (Xbox Exclusive)
Red Dead Redemption 2 (Good luck finding a discount here)
Battlefield V
Destiny Forsaken
Overwatch
PUBG (Xbox Exclusive)
Fortnite (Technically Free, but find all the V-Bucks deals you can)
Detroit: Become Human (PS4 Exclusive)
Monster Hunter World
No Man’s Sky
Marvel’s Spider-Man (PS4 Exclusive)
Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey
Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 (Doorbuster in many locations)
Hitman 2

Indie Must Have Titles:

Celeste
Owlboy
Dead Cells
Mark of the Ninja: Remastered
We Happy Few (If this even still counts as indie now)
Overcooked 2
Octopath Traveler (Switch Exclusive)
Unravel 2
State of Decay 2 (also questionably indie now)

Get out there and get some games!

BLACK FRIDAY ADS:

Walmart
Best Buy
Target
Microsoft Store
GameStop

@LubWub

Nintendo Switch-uation by Caleb Sawyer

Photo by @aleksdorohovich

Photo by @aleksdorohovich

If PlayStation’s offering came across a bit meager for variety, the Nintendo Switch is going to look a downright barren. Nintendo has been known to stick to their guns when it comes to pricing both their systems and their accessories, making Black Friday a small event for them, rather than the doorbusting sale you will see for everyone else. You can expect to find the Switch at its normal price of $300 across the board. If you are looking for accessories there are a few dynamite deals at each big store worth looking into. GameStop is selling the Mario Odyssey and Zelda Breath of the Wild accessory bundles for $34.99, down from their usual $70. They also give you a $50 gift card for the purchase of a new switch, which would make grabbing a few games a bit easier. Over at Best Buy, and easily the best savings this Black Friday, you can grab a 64GB memory card for your Switch for only $17.99, a huge drop from the usual MSRP of $80. Finally over at Target, you can grab a case for 20% off.

Those really are the best deals on the Switch and Switch gear. A small offering for sure, but still with some solid steals if they are what you are looking for.

BLACK FRIDAY ADS:

Walmart
Best Buy
Target
Microsoft Store
GameStop

@LubWub

Playstation 101 by Caleb Sawyer

Photo by @serumfabian

Photo by @serumfabian

PlayStation struts into Black Friday boasting the most systems sold in this console generation. Yet, (perhaps therefore) their offering for Black Friday is a bit shallow. Good deals are still out there but you will find them in far fewer varieties than Xbox. To start things off, literally every big box and electronics store is going to have the Marvel’s Spider-Man Slim 1TB PS4 for $199.99. GameStop, Walmart, Best Buy, and Target all have the bundle and it is easily Sony’s best offering this year. Both Walmart and GameStop have a PSVR Bundle that includes Astro Bot, a charming VR platformer that is impressing critics across the board right now, all for a chill $199. For a VR headset bundle this is really nothing to shake a stick at. I have to emphasize though, these bundles DO NOT include the PS4. You must purchase that separately. Gamestop also has a PSVR bundle that includes both the acclaimed Moss, and perhaps the most fun shooter I have ever played SUPERHOT. That bundle weighs in at $249. If you are looking to grab a new controller you can find the Dualshock 4 nearly every where for $39.99.

If you were to ask me, your best deals can be found at:

Anywhere you can find the $199 Spider-Man Bundle
Anywhere you can find a controller
If you are looking to immerse yourself, Walmart and GameStop for PSVR

BLACK FRIDAY ADS:

Walmart
Best Buy
Target
Microsoft Store
GameStop

@LubWub

Everything Xbox by Caleb Sawyer

Photo by @takeshi2

Photo by @takeshi2

Xbox is coming to Black Friday with some solid offerings. With systems lower then last year, you can look to find the Xbox One S in nearly any store (Walmart, Best Buy, Target, GameStop, and the Microsoft Store) for a cool $200, while Target and GameStop will reward you with a gift card for you console pick up ($20 and $50 respectively). Similarly, if you need to grab an extra controller, controllers are dropping $20 across the board, with the Microsoft Store also dropping their Design Lab prices by $10. If you are looking to bring home the beefy Xbox One X, Walmart and The Microsoft Store have both knocked $100 out of the MSRP, while Best Buy and Gamestop have the X for sale for 429. Best Buy offers their Xbox One X with a copy of Battlefield V and an extra controller, while GameStop bundled in a copy of Fallout 76 and that handy $50 gift card. Memberships are also on sale across the board, albeit at different price points. Walmart is selling 3 months of Xbox Live for at half price ($12.50), where Best Buy and GameStop are dropping $10 from the price of the 3 month and 6 month memberships. Target is taking $10 of the whole year subscription (normally $60 in total) and the Microsoft Store is offering a 1 month membership of both Xbox Live and Game Pass, each for $1. To round it out, GameStop has their 4TB hard drive on sale for $100, dropped from the original $129.99.

If you were to ask me, your best deals can be found at:

GameStop and Best Buy if you’re looking for the Xbox One X
Anywhere if you are looking for the Xbox One S
Walmart if you are looking to renew your Live subscription
Anywhere if you are looking to add a new controller

BLACK FRIDAY ADS:

Walmart
Best Buy
Target
Microsoft Store
GameStop

Thief of Thieves: Volume 1 Review by Caleb Sawyer

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Thief of Thieves released on Xbox Game Pass this week by publisher Skybound Entertainment and developer Rival games. The Point-and-Click, adventure style game shares a likeness to former Telltale titles like The Walking Dead and Wolf Among Us (the former, also a Skybound property). Based on a comic series penned by Robert Kirkman (Creator of The Walking Dead), Thief of Thieves puts you in control of Celia, a punk styled spy protogé of master thief Redmond. Volume One, available now, is an interesting starter for the series but is a bit limited by its length.

Volume One introduces you to Celia and her most recent mission, a motorcycle heist at a swanky party. While Thief of Thieves art direction is stylistically solid, the game breaks down a bit over its oftentimes clunky camera work. While the camera frames the environment well, its utility is undermined by the very same characteristic. Camera angles make it difficult to track patrolling guards, making sneaky entry and swift egress more difficult than it should.

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That being said, the title was still a lot of fun to explore, and the sandbox-style environments were fun to play around in. The UI paints objectives and pertinent information on the environment itself, much like 2010’s Splinter Cell: Conviction. Similarly creative, the games cutscenes are minimalistic motion comics, further lending to draw parallel to Thief of Thieves source material.

Overall, Volume One was fun to play but lacked any length to allow me to really get excited about what is coming in the next installments. Though the incipient episode ends with a genuinely alluring cliff-hanger that promises a far broader experience, I found myself wanting more in the moment, rather than in the future, a tricky line to dance for episodic titles.

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If you have Game Pass give Thief of Thieves a try. The lack of an upfront cost through Game Pass makes content like this far more accessible. For players without Game Pass, I think it would be safe to wait for a few more Volumes to be released. It is a bit too early to pass any real judgment on the title.

@LubWub

Florence and the Death of My Grandfather by Caleb Sawyer

Florence by Mountains

It’s not without a significant amount of dread that I finally sat down to write this. It has been nearly four full months since my grandfather’s passing and in that time every pursuit of outlet through writing has been stymied by a stifling sort of existential dread and survivor’s syndrome. Though upon typing that I feel it is more accurately summed up by simply saying, for the last three months I have felt like a failure. 

See, I failed to become something before he passed. I have a hard time articulating that emotion eloquently. After all, I am a father and a husband, I have a job, and I do run a little (nearly inconsequential) blog. But see, that wasn’t my plan. I was supposed to have made it. He was supposed to see me, happy, writing game journalism, or voice acting, or making games. For a living. And now he’s dead.

When I sat in the ICU at SLU Hospital, playing a little mobile game was nothing more than a distraction. Mostly for my grandmother, but also a bit for me. My grandfather wasn’t doing well, but the thought of his death in mere days was so far out of my mind it is legitimately hard to tell if I actually didn’t see it coming or if I purposefully looked every other direction. Regardless, I booted up Florence on my iPhone 7 Plus, put one AirPod in, handed the second to my grandmother, handed her the phone, and said, “Play.” Completely unprovoked.

What followed was serene and escapist. We both lost our ability to focus on anything but the music and art of this beautiful experience projecting from the screen of my phone. 

Watching my grandmother, no stranger to games, fiddle around while figuring Florence out was endearing. She was a hardcore Destiny player, both titles, but playing touch-based phone games was clearly new. She giggled as she figured out how to brush Florence’s teeth, as she tapped away at Florence’s social media. 

Video games are a huge part of my family. We threw a viewing party for every major E3 conference this year. Beer, barbecue, dogs, the whole deal. My grandma really started playing in 2012. She had conquered Portal 2, a feat she was immensely proud of, and in searching for a good game to follow that up my uncle, Benjamin, sat her in front of the Xbox and queued up Mass Effect. She was a convert overnight. 

Bioware's Mass Effect 2 (2010)

Bioware's Mass Effect 2 (2010)

Since that time, my grandma has built an impressive resume of completed games. She beat the entire Mass Effect trilogy, Journey, each Half-Life, every Halo, Deus Ex, and put 14 days into the original Destiny. I have always found joy talking about games with my friends, but there is nothing quite like the feeling I get discussing PUBG hit-boxes with my grandma. I brag about it. A lot.

Florence plays like a modern take on an interactive storybook. You help move conversation along by fitting together pieces of a puzzle into a text bubble, you place stickers on childhood paintings. Most importantly, you live the relationship of Florence and Krish as it evolves. You watch it spark. Sputtering at first, as you put together five and six piece text bubble puzzles. You watch it begin to catch fire as the puzzles have two or three pieces. You fall in love as the puzzles become one piece thoughts. 

Florence is a beautiful game that illustrates the complexities of relationships in this winsome, carefree manner. Florence and Krish’s love is contagious. I distinctly remember looking to my left to see my grandma smiling as she placed the pictures of their adventures on a cork board map. It’s an infectious experience. One that carried us along with it, in shades of blue and golden yellow. Stooped over my phone, sharing a pair of AirPods we played, like a parent and child reading a bedtime story after a nightmare.

My grandfather never really got into games. Often times, when the conversation at the dinner table inevitably wandered into chat about Destiny or Mirror’s Edge, he would look at my wife, shrug, and they would start their own conversation. It was like tradition. But we were working on him.

Ubisoft's Assassin's Creed Unity (2014)

Ubisoft's Assassin's Creed Unity (2014)

Once, while I played Assassin’s Creed Unity, he stopped as he walked past the screen. He recognized the streets. As a boy he lived in Versailles and spent a lot of time in Paris. He sat down next to me, giddy, and pointed me down streets and alleys in search of his boyhood home. That night I sat next to a six-year-old boy in my grandfather’s sixty-year-old body. 

In my family, games run deep.

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Florence isn’t all sunshine and love, unfortunately. The lovers settle into routine, let emotions bottle up, and before you know it the relationship falls apart. There was less joy in putting Krish’s things into boxes to be sent away. There is a moment, in this valley of the game, where Krish and Florence walk side-by-side through the snow. At first they hold pace, but slowly Florence begins to pull forward and Krish begins to fade into the white. The only thing my grandmother, as the player, could do was press on the screen. Florence slows her pace. Krish returns to focus. Each time she lifted her finger Florence would speed up. She kept pressing the screen. “I don’t want to let him go,” she said.

When I was a sophomore in college, in March of 2012, I decided to end my life. I was 20.

I had planned how, when, where. The place my depression had taken my mind obscured all other thoughts. I couldn’t see a reason to carry on. I hated my life, I hated myself, I hated that I was a burden on everyone around me. I remember kissing my girlfriend (now wife) goodbye as she left my room. She had no way of knowing what was happening in my head. I had gotten good at hiding it.

I shut the door, turned out the lights, flipped on Comedy Central, and waited for the right moment. Is there ever a right moment?

Before I found it someone knocked at my door. I could have just sat in the dark. It was late enough that no one would have given my being asleep a second thought, but I got up. It was my best friend Kristopher. He held out a copy of Skyrim, said, “Hey, I’m done with this. I think you’ll like it a lot,” and walked away. 

Bethesda's Skyrim (2011)

Bethesda's Skyrim (2011)

I played Skyrim until 9 a.m., went for breakfast, came back and played until he came by to get me for dinner. I put 97 hours into Skyrim over the next two weeks. I forgot to kill myself.

In my family, games run deep.

Florence’s world, during and immediately following Krish’s departure, gray-scales. All of the vibrant color washes out almost immediately. Then she stumbles across a set of paints that Krish bought her. She sits and stares at the set for a moment and begins to start painting.

The paint brings color back into her life and slowly but surely she finds happiness in her art. 

Nine days after my grandmother and I played Florence my grandfather died, his family gathered at his bedside, a bitter mix of disbelief and unfathomable pain. I remember my grandmother petting his head, “Fly away Timmy,’ she cried, “Fly away.” Images from those few moments fly through the View-Master in my head. They are raw and violent and painful. I think they always will be.

A painting of my grandfather Tim Sawyer, by my grandmother Christy.

A painting of my grandfather Tim Sawyer, by my grandmother Christy.

There is no way to explain the parallels Florence has had to my grandmother’s life. I spent the next ten days at her side, doing everything in my diminished strength to keep it together. To be there. To distract her. 

They were married for 48 years. You don’t just “distract” someone from that. 

But as we sat in (t)he(i)r house, now half-a-human-presence quieter, I looked at the art that covers her walls. All but three pieces are her own. I was immediately struck by the image of Florence finding her paints. Before I could say anything about my revelation my grandma quietly said, “I don’t want to let him go.”

It’s common for humans to draw comparisons to things that are far less similar than we realize. Florence’s story is not my grandmother’s story one-for-one, but large pieces are there. My grandparents loved each other. They traveled. They were happy. They argued. Things got rough. She loved his art so much that she didn’t pursue her own. He built her an art studio so she would. He’s gone now. 

She doesn’t want to let go. Someday she will have to pack his things into boxes. 

But now she has her art. Art that will someday help her move forward. Perhaps not move on, but certainly forward. Away from the gray.

Tim Sawyer

Tim Sawyer

When we finished playing Florence my grandmother and I each took a deep breath. There was something strange about the timing of all of this, we both realized. Within an hour, a game on my phone had spoken to us about love, sadness, grief, moving on, and being happy again.

In my family, games run deep.

~Caleb
@LubWub


Developer Mountains Website

Christy Sawyer's Twitter and Instagram, please check out her art.

MLB: The Show 18 and Learning to Lose Again by Caleb Sawyer

MLB The Show 18 and Learning to Lose Again

It was a 2-2 count,

two outs, runner on first, top of the seventh. Wacha had been throwing a stellar game. 6 2/3s innings, 3 hits, 6 Ks, and was on his way to another quick inning. The Cubs couldn’t figure him (me) out. I always ascribed these kinds of performances to being a result of my personal experience. I played baseball for 13 years, a majority of that time squatted behind the dish, the field general of the diamond. My coaches always expressed an unimaginable amount of faith in me, and as a result, I called every game. Pitch by pitch. Batter to batter. I was a student of the psychology of the Count. Who was up to bat, what did I give him last at-bat, how did he react to those pitches, what was the outcome? All of these questions filtered through my mind in the moments between the batter stepping into the box, the pitcher toeing the rubber, and my right hand dropping out of the offense’s line of sight to deliver the outcome of my brains arithmetic to the pitcher.

6 2/3s innings into this game and my mind was in that same Zen state. Javier Baez wasn’t an implicit threat, but then, that is kind of how baseball works. Everyone can be, and is, a threat. I had given him a changeup on the first pitch of the at-bat, one of my favorite calls to make. Starting a batter with a straight off-speed pitch was a deliciously devious tactic I employed frequently. The bottom-of-the-order batter would be expecting Wacha to aim to power through the 7 spot. Fast stuff first, off-speed second, movement last. He lurched for that first pitch changeup hard, his bat only getting halfway through the zone before realizing that he had assumed incorrectly. Strike one. 

Everyone can be, and is, a threat.

A slider on the inner half and two low and away two-seamers later, Wacha was in a comfortable place to throw anything he wanted. It was the bottom of the line up after all, power through. One of the things I love about MLB: The Show 18, is its ability to unearth these deep-seated emotions that I hold so close to my heart from my years in the dirt, sweating through a mask absorbing every ray of the summer sun. It was a close game, 3-1 Cardinals up at home, and Busch Stadium reacted appropriately. The crowd’s murmur became a steadily growing buzz. The vibration motors in the Dualshock 4 began to pulse, Wacha’s heart beating in my palms, my own heart matching the tempo. Fastball, four-seam, high and in. Time to see if Baez is prepared for me to elevate on him. But it was Wacha who wasn’t prepared. 

Six plus innings and 80 pitches made his accuracy dodgy at times, and this pitch, rather than being high and tight, came across the plate in a far more hittable location and Baez stung a ball into the left-center alleyway. The runner on first, whom I had blocked from my mind, was running on contact and though his speed rating wasn’t high, I had no chance at cutting him down at home. As Baez trotted in to second base I cussed under my breath, it was only a double, and with two outs it would be manageable. The Cubs unorthodox lineup structure meant that their pitcher would be up next, and Hendricks had been throwing a good game. Surely they wouldn’t pinch hit for him. Ben Zobrist stepped out of the dugout. 

I played MLB: The Show 17 extensively,

completing an entire season with the Cardinals, winning the World Series, and running away with several awards. We just didn’t lose. Finishing the season with 137 wins, it took my wife looking over my shoulder at the TV, pointing out that, “maybe you should play on harder difficulty,” for me to realize I wasn’t being real with myself. Baseball is a game about losing. Its the only sport where losing 70 games is still a good year. A good batter gets on base little more that three out of ten times. Imagine a quarterback who only completes three out of ten passes being the cornerstone of your offense. But that was what I had loved about baseball when I played. You’re 1-4 batting today and you struck out twice, but you get to go back at it tomorrow, and the next day. 

I played for extremely bad teams throughout high school. Summer ball was a bit different, but my freshman and sophomore Varsity team won ten games all together. It didn’t phase me at all. Get back out there tomorrow. It was an invaluable philosophical experience for teenage me. Baseball taught me that I was going to lose, a lot, but that the most important part of those losses would be picking myself up the next day, the next at-bat, the next inning, and trying again. Learning from failure. Embracing shortcomings as lessons. 

Zobrist is an above average hitter with runners in scoring position (RISP), and I have a bad history of being unable to get him out. Wacha was 83 pitches into the game, losing accuracy and velocity, and found himself with a runner in scoring position, the tying run. In any real world situation, this is where the manager steps out of the dugout, taps his arm, and a pitcher who had been warming in the bullpen begins the jog in from right field. I had been too confident in Wacha, and my dugout sat silent. I took a moment to get a righty and a lefty in motion and I sent the pitching coach to the mound, at once buying time for my relievers to shake the dust off, and giving myself a moment to focus. It was late in the ballgame, but I still had the lead. 

Pinch hitters rarely swing first pitch, but if they haven’t had a whole game to gauge you, they are never going to swing at a first pitch curveball.

Every kid dreams of getting to the Bigs and briefly, in my personal baseball career, it looked like that may be possible. I was good. I remember attending a Phillies camp my senior year. Later that summer I spotted their head scout at a few other camps I attended. 

When I went to college it quickly came unglued. I had played varsity ball all four years of high school, and as a result of performing well on varsity as a freshman, I never really had to work for my position again. My college coach didn’t know that, not that it should have mattered anyway. The sudden realization that I had been skating by did weird things to me. I bounced off of my new coach’s doctrine and found myself celebrating my first spring break without baseball my sophomore year. I turned to writing and video games, two things that were mainstays in the offseason. I was good at games and I was only getting better at writing. I swiftly carved out a new routine. 

Mound visits only fill your reliever’s readiness gauge half way. So unless you want to gamble with pitcher who hasn’t fully warmed up, you have to survive another batter. So I took a deep breath and faced Zobrist with as much confidence as I could muster. He got a curveball first. Pinch hitters rarely swing first pitch, but if they haven’t had a whole game to gauge you, they are never going to swing at a first pitch curveball. Usually. 

MLB The Show 18 Wacha

I still haven’t really recovered from baseball’s swift retreat from my life. It was like a good friend moved away. I promised I would keep in touch, that I would visit frequently, but in the years that followed “life took over.” Thats what I told myself. Deep down I was hurt and confused. I played it off to friends and family, claiming writing was something I could do until the day I died, and that a career in baseball was a long shot anyway. To this day I’m not sure how many of them saw through that. Im not sure I want to know. 

I quickly latched onto gaming. I had been playing for years and I was pretty good at everything I played. I still had that mindset of practice from baseball and so most things came, if not naturally, through persistence. Within a year I had built a pocket of comfort: genres I was good at, friends I played well with, game modes I excelled in. It was all very clinical. But as I carved out this spot for myself it began to mirror baseball, and unbeknownst to me, it became a place from which I drew a strong, false confidence. I always won here, and I preferred that to years of losing in baseball. But always winning isn’t how life works. Not in the slightest. 

The ball that Zobrist hit cleared the infield before the camera could even switch. I knew the sound of those hits. A hot and furious hiss of leather that moved past you in the blink of an eye. Few people know what it feels like to have their lives flash before their eyes. All third basemen know that feeling well. Baez moved to third and Zobrist triumphantly stepped to first. The Show 18’s list of improvements included more fleshed out player emotions, and when Zobrist reached first he turned to his dugout and pounded his fist against his chest, roaring to his teammates, rallying the troops. I seethed. Wacha’s confidence was shot. He had only thrown one pitch to Zobrist and as Ian Happ walked to the plate my hand was forced. I called in my righty, forcing Happ, a switch hitter, to hit from the left side. His weaker side. Luke Gregerson a lanky right-hander took the mound, mostly warm, with one job: shut it down. The problem with that job? He was in a tense situation and hadn’t had the chance to fully ready himself. In four pitches the bases were loaded.

Depression came in the months following baseball’s exodus. I wrote it off as nostalgia and sadness for a long time, a result of a large lifestyle change. As my depression developed, I dove deeper into games and their ability to make me feel powerful, like I could control everything that happened. I had somehow lost control of my life, but at least I could control this. That desire for control seeped everywhere. It impacted my relationships, my grades, my health. I could only get that control from games, so I lived in my Xbox and PlayStation. 

But always winning isn’t how life works. Not in the slightest. 

I decided this year that I would play MLB: The Show 18 with the adaptive difficulty on. Rather than finding a place that was tough enough to make me feel like I was just really good at the game, I allowed the game to tell me where the line was. A line where difficulty and reality met. When I lost games in The Show 17, I would become so angry that I couldn’t play for days. I often would back out to the home screen, kill the game, and try again. I think, deep down, my reaction troubled me initially, but I didn’t dwell on that thought. I played games to feel good dammit. I didn’t play them to lose. I would tell myself. 

That last sentence struck me, already off-balance emotionally, and as I tumbled down that staircase of memory each step punched a thought out it my mind. Baseball is a game about losing. 

Albert Almora Jr. stepped in with the bases loaded, two outs in the sixth inning. Gregerson was warm now, but hadn’t thrown a strike yet, so that initial reassurance came with a good dose of worry. Almora already had two hits, the only player who had done so, and while it could be argued he lacked home run strength, it wouldn’t take a round tripper to do significant damage. After four straight balls, he was taking first pitch, so I took advantage of that and pegged a mid nineties fastball in the lower half of the zone, strike one. I never throw two fastballs in a row to a leadoff hitter, so next came a change. Straight and low, Almora checked his swing, fooled, but the pitch missed low. I followed that up with a slider away, hoping to get him to make weak contact. He was seeing the ball well today and took the pitch for ball two. “What wouldn’t he expect next?” I asked myself, as the crowds anxiety passed to me. He had an advantageous count, a pitcher in a tight spot, and I had just missed with my only two off-speed pitches. I doubled up on the slider, hoping he wouldn’t guess that I would return with it. 

Almora reminded me, everyone is a threat. 

The ball he hit left my left fielder standing in one place, turning his body only so he could follow the parabolic trajectory to its landing place three rows deeper than the Cubs bullpen. In moments my 3-1 lead had turned to a 3-6 deficit. The Cubs fans in the crowd rejoiced, their dugout erupted. Gregerson stood with his hands on his hips, head bowed. It was one of those no-doubter home runs that you, as a pitcher, don’t even turn to look at. 

I immediately went to kill the game but caught myself. I returned to the game and watched the replay suite that follows a home run. This is real. I thought. Sometimes shit hits the fan. 

MLB The Show 18

As I finished up the game, unable to claw back at the Cubs lead, I mulled over my feelings. As the difficulty bar adjusted overhead I realized that The Show 18 was reteaching me a valuable  lesson I had forgotten. Loss happens, failure happens. But that’s just one mistake in a long season of opportunity. Wash your jersey, put up your cleats, and get some rest, because you are going to have to dust it all off tomorrow and go at it again. It would be dishonest leave out that, after saving and turning everything off in my living room, I sat in the dark and cried. 

It was like that old friend called, out of the blue. “Hey motherfucker!” They yelled, “Just wanted to let you know I moved back in town. We’re getting coffee tomorrow. Peace.” A smile cracked my face open, I took a deep breath, and I remembered what it meant to lose and learn. 

The next day I came back to my franchise and put the Cubs in ground, where they belong.

@LubWub
~Caleb

 

 

 

 

Our Favorite Weapons in Destiny 2: Utility Edition by Caleb Sawyer

There are a lot of lists out there about all the exotic guns you need to have in Destiny 2, but you can only equip a single exotic at a time. It is just as important to be able to put together a solid loadout, with or without exotics. There are so many ways to do this I can't possibly cover them all. What I can do, is tell you all about the most utilitarian weapons I have found, and how they compliment each other, in both PvP and PvE. You'll find a mix of exotics and lengendaries here, and the list may expand with expansions. 

Nameless Midnight

Destiny 2 (9).png

A solid vanguard scout rifle with good impact and average range. The average range is compensated with explosive rounds. While the impact damage may fall off the AoE damage does NOT fall off. Staggers like MIDA but instead stops whole groups. Couple it with your Hunter while wearing Knucklehead Radar, and you have an explosive scout rifle that retains the ability to keep the radar active while you shoot.

Nameless Midnight is given as an option for every character to take at the end of the campaign. After completing the Milestone for completing 2 Strikes, Zavala offers it alongside Origin Story and Showrunner and while Origin Story is also a solid choice, Nameless Midnight is always my choice. Save your energy weapon slot for an assault rifle.

Riskrunner

Destiny 2 (7).png

Really an artisanal gun. A pretty solid SMG, Riskrunner REALLY stands out when you know you are going to be taking arc damage, making it extremely useful against the Fallen. But because MIDA Mini-tool is arguably the more well rounded gun, Riskrunner should really be used in specialist situations.

Hardlight

Destiny 2 (5).png

Really hard to not praise this assault rifle. Aside from the fact that it has no damage fall off, penetrating and ricocheting rounds, it also sports an entirely unique trait that allows its elemental damage to be changed FREE OF COST, making it my go-to weapon in literally any PvE encounter. The utilitarian's tool.

It Stared Back

Destiny 2 (12).png

A hard find, but one worth working for, It Stared Back is the Raid sword. A non-participant in OG Destiny's sword craze, I was super reluctant to use any swords in D2. It Stared Back converted me instantly. Sporting a fresh trait that puts heavy ammo back in your reserves for consecutive hits, it can SHRED a couple majors, or a swath of smaller adds.

Swords also have terrific PvP compatibility. Because the user is jumped back to 3rd Person perspective, using a sword in PvP allows you to peek around corners and strike with extreme lethality. Give it a shot if you haven't already, you won't be disappointed.

First In, Last Out

Destiny 2 (4).png

With the sad, sad departure of The Chaperone, FILO is a as good a replacement as you're gonna get. Add to that a trait that auto-reloads a portion of the magazine when critically wounded and you can deal high precision damage at close range that can bring most baddies to their knees. Best for PvP use.

MIDA Mini-tool

Destiny 2 (3).png

MIDA Mini-tool is the answer to the question, "What if MIDA had a little brother? What if MIDA had a smaller, more aggressive, bee sting of a brother?" Mini is an SMG with a firing rate that will bleed the shields off of even the most intimidating foes. It has solid PvP and PvE uses (despite the fact that I GET the business end of that deal more often than I give it), and when you equip it with its big brother you get a mobility boost that is nothing to shrug at.

MIDA Multi-tool

Destiny 2 (8).png

Look. What do I really have to say about MIDA Multi-tool. It is a workhorse. Good impact, good range, and a third-eye scope that keeps your radar active while looking downrange. You will see MIDA-multi on PARADE in multiplayer. Being able to see your enemies move while you pick them apart is invaluable.

The Number

Destiny 2 (11).png

The Number is my Hardlight when I have something else Exotic equipped. A Future War Cult weapon, if you didn't earn it during the faction rally you won't be able to earn it now, unfortunately. However, The Number is nearly interchangeable with Uriel's Gift and Martyr's Make. They are large mag, ricochet round, high firing rate ARs with stellar stability, The Number sports a trait that stiffens the last rounds in the mag for a little extra spice. Changing its damage type is not as easy as Hardlight. But it is worth keeping a couple copies if you get them.

Merciless

Destiny 2 (6).png

Need to melt a major? Or really anything with a gold health bar? Merciless is your AI infused Fusion Rifle. Where most Fusion rifles are STRONG, Merciless charges faster and faster until the enemy you are shooting dies. So pit this bad boy against a Beefer and you are going to be able to spit out the last 4 rounds of the magazine like it's a scout rifle. The effects are...extraordinary.

The Prospector

Destiny 2 (10).png

Grenade launchers are a new addition to the Destiny universe and in mob situations, they are seriously valuable. The Prospector is an Exotic grenade puking machine with full auto and trigger primed grenades, pull to fire, release to detonate. The heavy hitting grenades have great splash damage and in instances like the Raid Castellum, can mop up even the most intimidating groups. Don't be afraid to use it on a major either, the stagger alone will buy you and your fireteam time to breathe.

I hope this list helps offer a little insight into a few ways to experiment with your loadout. There are guns I still don't have, most notably Antiope-D (because the Gunsmith is a stingy bastard) so look for the list to expand, or for new lists altogether! Feel free to comment about your favorites at the bottom.

~Caleb
@LubWub

The Adventure Zone: Balance Arc || A Thank You by Caleb Sawyer

TAZ.jpeg

Hey y’all. SPOILER ALERT. For real, if you haven't finished the first arc...probably don't read on. Or go ahead, you do you.

I remember where I was the first time I listened. I was working a closing shift at Starbucks. I had been put on dishes and I had discovered that, if you do it right, you can tuck your headphones down your shirt, into your pocket, and listen to podcasts while you washed dishes. I remember standing with my left earbud in, washing pitchers and tongs, hating where I was in life. But here, three sons and their father embarked on a goofy, stupid quest. And for a moment, I forgot about where I was.

I remember a wizard with a ridiculous quest to discover the food of his namesake. A delight unknown to the world he lived in, but one that he would hunt down nonetheless. He and his companions, a devout dwarf and a strong-headed human, venturing out in search of the last job they will ever need to take.

I remember their first battle. The Gerblin shattered, the Gerblin split, and the Gerblin axed from afar. Without practice, the three adventurers had bested their first trial with “aplomb.” There was a use of the word “horny” after that first fight. If only they had known how that would define them as a group.

I remember the when Sildar Hallwinter unceremoniously became Barry Bluejeans. In fact, that chuckle kinda got me in trouble at work. I remember Phandalin turning to glass in a furious flame and realizing, “Oh shit…this show is gonna be interesting.” I remember the introduction of the Bureau of Balance and the curious white noise.

I remember so many things from the Adventure Zone. The McElroy’s created something that reminded me what it was like when my imagination turned my back yard into Crystal Kingdoms and Wonderlands. I carried their stories with me everywhere. I listened to the first chapter of Petals to the Metal the day before I got married. I listened to the second chapter of The Eleventh Hour the same morning I found out my wife was pregnant. I listened to the first part of Lunar Interlude V holding my sleeping, four-day old daughter in my arms.

I listened to the final episode of “The Balance Arc” on the day it came out. The entire episode was punctuated by my tears. In fact, the entire three-part finale did this to me. The same podcast where things like “Abraca-FUCK YOU!” were shouted, completely controlled my emotions in its finale. Griffin’s outro about the Day of Story and Sound filled me with a joy that can only really be rivaled by a couple things (I mentioned them earlier actually). Taako fucking learned to make those tacos and I laughed myself into tears. When Magnus saw his Julia again, I was sitting in the dark, in my living room. My Xbox One dim in the background, I shuddered and trembled with sobs that I haven’t really experienced before. I know this all sounds cheesy, so let me qualify it all a bit.

I have struggled with depression heavily in the last five years. It has made friendships, family, love, happiness, literally everything in my life, more difficult. But The Adventure Zone, for the last three years, has been a constant that has provided a profound sense of joy and belonging that I very nearly forgot how to feel. And it was sneaky about it. If you would have told me then, that I would have felt the range of emotions I have at the actions of three brothers and their dad playing D&D, I most certainly would have laughed into your mouth.

But I would have been wrong.

Having listened to the end of Merle, Magnus, and Taako’s stories, there was a something about the end of each of their stories that felt…more than true, to me. If that makes any sense. Jeffandrew meeting the Tres Horny Boys and congratulating them, thanking them, felt like Griffin, speaking directly to his family. He says through Jeffandrew that he created all the rules that governed their world. He explains that he can’t control the worlds that he makes, he just makes them. “Whenever we make a world, we’re guessing, mostly.” He says. “We’re putting some English on a ball that will roll and roll for eons (three years) and we hope that it will land somewhere good.” Griffin did just that didn’t he?

Taako’s success speaks to obtaining something that doesn’t exist. Reaching the unreachable. And Justin’s biting humor is befitting an older brother, fucking with everyone because, well…he can. He’s fucking Taako. Clint’s Merle Highchurch, a father seeking to atone and spend as much time with his children as he possibly can, creates a school to train the next generation of adventurers. How appropriate that this whole story of adventurers was created by Clint and his children. When Griffin, as Mavis, asks Merle if he knows he’s Mookie’s hero, it felt like a son thanking his father. Travis, explaining to Griffin how Magnus found a reason to live, instead of dying in a blaze of glory, hit me like a sack of bricks. And when he sees Julia, and tells her that he tried to make her proud…like I said, there isn’t anything that can explain the full extent that The Adventure Zone moved me.

I write all of this so that I can say that I at least tried to explain those feelings, and so I can say thank you. Thank you, Griffin, for dedicating so much of your time to this story and creating something truly special. Thank you, Travis, for teaching me the importance of finding a reason to live, rather than looking for ways out. Thank you, Justin, for teaching me to laugh even in the face of the insurmountable. And Clint, thank you for training this group of adventurers so they could tell us this story, and thank you for living it with them, just like Merle would, with his kids at his side.

I know there is only the slightest chance any of you will read this, and I am ok with that. I’m just glad that I could write about it. I can’t wait to see what you guys do next. I can’t wait to see you in Chicago in November (best believe you good, good boys are getting a hug if I run into you).

I am, we all are, so grateful for you guys. Thank you, thank you, thank you. I will always remember.

~Caleb
@LubWub

Zap Blastum: Cover-Based Action for All by Caleb Sawyer

Zap Blastum is fun. That is the first thing I thought as I tapped away at the screen, strategically placing myself against cover to take potshots at less guarded foes. An isometric perspective cover-based shooter, the game uses touch controls, a feature that will make the game a blast on mobile devices and tablets. It is easy enough to pick up. Touch the spot you want to run, touch the enemy you want to shoot. The complexity comes in the form of enemy types and cover angles. 

Developer Kevin Dressel (@kevinddressel) says that he and his collaborators were inspired by games like Gears of War, but he wanted to make the skill requirement more forgiving. Zap Blastum accomplishes that goal extremely well. The ease of tapping commands makes the game a breeze to pick up. Once you get those controls down you can challenge yourself by firing while moving, aiming to beat time limits, and finding weapon upgrades hidden about each level.

Dressel also said he wanted to make a game that anyone could play. The violence of most shooters means that kids can't get in on the fun. Zap Blastum's cartoony style and robotic villains makes it perfect for hardcore gamers and kids alike.

Zap Blastum is a addicting game I could easily see myself putting several hours into on my phone. The combination of cover-based gameplay with XCOM's camera angle makes for a slick combination of mobility and visibility. By the end of my sit-down with it, I was shooting between cover and tossing grenades over enemy cover with ease.

For now, Dressel plans to release a Beta later this year with hopes of a full release in early 2018. To follow Zap Blastum check out developer Shiny Dolphin's website and Twitter.

Marshall's Theory: Wading Through the President's Holographic Nightmares by Caleb Sawyer

With the current political climate as it is, it only makes sense that it impacts as many levels of media as possible. Benjamin Poynter's (@BenjaminPoynter) Marshall's Theory, puts players in control of the President of the United States during one of his nightmares. A strange mix of hilarity and morbidity, "Marshall's Theory [is] a game with a central theme of paranoia."

Players control POTUS as he attempts to fight back protesters, encircling him with arms raised and signs hoisted. You can fire tweets to mow them down, carpet bomb them, or call in an Area-of-Effect strike a la Vladimir Putin dive-bombing the ground, Russian flag cape and all.

Marshall's theory utilizes a type of holographic projection provided by the minds at Looking Glass (@LKGGlass). The HoloPlayer One is an interesting piece of tech, and with a game like Marshall's Theory, the unsettling setting is complimented by the fuzzy holographic display.

Developer Benjamin Poynter, when asked about the role of games with social stances, thinks that games could say more. His experience travelling through D.C. with his wife during the Travel Ban protests, inspired him to take a stance and make games that voiced that stance. Marshall's Theory being the first.

Putin flies in to do damage.

Putin flies in to do damage.

Marshall's Theory definitely uses that voice without pulling punches. As players survive the nightmare and the protesters all drop dead, a prompt follows that says, brought to you by "The American Health Care Act." This is followed shortly after by an image of Abraham Lincoln falling on a spike. "It is a message that illustrates the death of Democracy," Poynter says. It certainly gets that point across.

Marshall's theory is also playable on PC. 

~Caleb
@LubWub

 

Lucah: Carving Through a Nightmare of Self-Discovery by Caleb Sawyer

In the last year, several games have tried to revisit the aesthetic, both in appearance and difficulty, of retro Zelda. Perhaps the most notable to do this was last year's Hyper Light Drifter. A title by a small team that knocked the socks of of nostalgic gamers and newcomers alike. Next in that same lineup comes Lucah, a gritty game about a boy's journey through a world of nightmares on the way to self-discovery.

The first thing that makes Lucah stand out is, well, its high contrast art style. The game is built in a black and white world of harsh lines and jittery animations. The jitter here isn't a lack of polish however, it is an embodiment of tumultuous mental state. Enemies shudder across the battlefield as they shamble towards you. The game's protagonist, the eponymous Lucah and his familiar stand out like beacons of light against this background of black and white nightmares, etched in neon blues or oranges.

Lucah's combat feels familiar (pun intended) but fresh. Your familiar floats around you to provide ranged attacks, and Lucah is capable of Heavy and Light attacks. It may seem favorable to rely on the heavy attacks right away, but after putting in a bit of due diligence, the light attacks add a lot of flexibility to your playstyle. 

Lucah's art style and knack for creative storytelling does wonders for first-time players, and the demo that was available at Pixel Pop was extremely well crafted, giving players enough time to get familiar with the controls, but cutting them off with a cliffhanger of a boss fight that made me want so much more than I got. 

Lucah recently was fully funded on Kickstarter and plans to release in 2018. The demo is up now, and I encourage anyone who has a PC and some free time to go give it a shot. The potential here is visible. To stay in the loop on development updates and release news follow Lucah on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter.

~Caleb
@LubWub

 

Anthromancer: Beauty, Mystery, and Deadly Aesthetic by Caleb Sawyer

The goal of any game, table top, digital, or otherwise, is to catch your eye. Walking the floor of Pixel Pop 2017 there was one game in particular that shouted "Come look at this!" Anthromancer is the creation of the multitalented folks at Dancakes. Yes, that is correct. Pancake artists by day, the people at Dancakes are also hard at work on a board game that is damn beautiful. 

In Anthromancer, minimalistic geometry meets otherworldly occult. Dan himself (@drdancake) describes the game as "the Voyager Record from another planet." For those unfamiliar, the Voyager Record was a bank of information stored on the Voyager 1, a space probe launched in 1977. In the record was a mix of media that included images, sounds, greetings in 55 different languages, and music. A time capsule sent into space for any intelligent species that may find it. For those playing Anthromancer, you have found a time capsule from another planet, and boy does the game get that across beautifully. 

You are immediately confronted with a board covered in geometric symmetry, save for the faction logos at the compass points, Claws, Souls, Gears, and Blades; four factions with advantage against one and weakness against another (Claws beats Souls in a tie, Souls beats Gears, and so on...). Aether sits in the middle, a confluence. 

Anthromancer plays like a game of checkers if each piece were summoned and had attack ratings on each side of the piece. And if you had Hymn cards that played a myriad of different strategic roles. So in other words, not like checkers at all. Anthromancer is a unique blend of conventional mechanics retooled into an experience that is part divine, part sacrilege, all enthralling. 

And that is just the surface. There is an musical component that will come with the full game, albums that hint at deeper truths hidden in the cryptic language littered about the board and cards. I played my game against Hank Gustafson (who appears to be better than Twitter, pff!) and as I played he regaled me with a lore richer than even the most heady expectations for a board game.

Anthromancer is a beautiful creation by people that desire nothing more than to bend your mind. Look for more news as they launch their Kickstarter soon (planning to coincide with the solar eclipse, as if there were any more appropriate timing) and we meet with them to get even more hands on in the future (even I am being mystical now).

Oh, and did I mention the game can also be used as a Tarot deck? Yeah...prepare to "Be Moved."

Follow Anthromancer on Facebook and Twitter!

~Caleb
@LubWub

Defend Neo Tokyo: Co-op Pacific Rim for the Dining Room Table by Caleb Sawyer

DNT-Promo.jpg

Amid the overwhelming lineup of indie videogames at Pixel Pop 2017 was an impressive crowd of tabletop games on display. One of those games was @STLGatewayGames Defend Neo Tokyo. I spoke with creators Jamie Toon and Jason Mayer about their ambitious board game at length and I can tell you this much, they have my money.

Conceived as a co-op monster fighting game, Defend Neo Tokyo gives up to five players the ability to build their own mech to fight towering abominations set to destroy Neo Tokyo. Players get to choose the arms, legs, and chassis of their mech from a pool of possibilities, allowing a level of freedom in customization that, in Jason's words "leads to a lot of different possibilities."

After players assemble their mechs they are tasked with beating a faction of monsters besieging Neo Tokyo. The launch game will come with sea monsters, land monsters, and giant insects, each with their own unique traits and tendencies. Before you ask, yes they plan to introduce Alien invaders in future expansions.

Defend Neo Tokyo is handsomely built, with what appears to be a complex system of power nodes and damage slots that is deftly explained and easy to get a grip on. The mechs that players build have abilities based on their choices that need accumulated power to use, the more powerful the ability the more power consumed. Take damage from a rampaging baddie, and you may need to spend a repair bot to restore functionality. 

If you're lucky enough to beat the team of monsters, a boss beast enters the game that serves as the final showdown. It's five on one monster slaying mayhem that is sure to leave players with memorable moments in the aftermath. 

Behold the menacing Gorganus!

Behold the menacing Gorganus!

Defend Neo Tokyo will be headed to Kickstarter in October, so keep your ear to the ground for more news in the coming weeks and months. We also plan to sit down with the folks at Gateway Games to play a game or two of our own. So stay tuned!

Check out Defend Neo Tokyo.

~Caleb
@LubWub

The Humans Behind it All: Pixel Pop Festival 2017 by Caleb Sawyer

I have been to three of four Pixel Pop Festival's, each in a different capacity. This year, as a journalist, I hoped to hone in on the theme in the bones of this year's indie showcasing festival. Within hours it was clear what Pixel Pop was trying to say. Games are made by humans. Normal people like you and me. Their successes and sacrifices were given a spotlight here, illustrating one message clear as day: Behind the games you love are people who have dedicated themselves to creating what they love.

I went to the original Pixel Pop Festival on a whim. My uncle and I had just learned about the event and, as gamers, content creators, and hopeful developers, we felt it too good an opportunity to pass up on. We bought our tickets at the door and walked through the halls of Webster University a bit aimlessly. Pixel Pop was small then, but had the heart of a dragon. There was an air of excitement in those halls. The realization that St. Louis had a vibrant indie game community was still fresh for most of the people there. There was this mild dumbstruck look on a lot of people's faces.

pxp15.JPG

Fast forward to 2017. I got my Press credentials in the last days of June and began to gear up for attending Pixel Pop as a member of the press. As more and more information came out I began to build my schedule for the two day event. Based on the information presented alone, it was clear that PxP2017 was going to be bringing a lot to the plate. A full schedule of panels and talks, an impressive list of content on display. I thought of the first Pixel Pop I went to. In a short four years a lot had changed.

That isn't to say that Pixel Pop was less organized before. It was young. It still is. But stepping through the doors onto the Expo floor this year made one thing effortlessly clear. The showrunners behind Pixel Pop had been hard at work. Pixel Pop Festival 2017 was bigger, better, and had something to tell its attendees: the St. Louis indie community is here to stay.

As a journalist I knew I wanted to find a theme. I knew, as soon as I arrived, that there was a message in the air. It was in the smiles of the exhibitors. In the games they were showing off. In the words of each and every panelist, speaker, and community member. In an age where technology so easily removes the faces of those responsible from their work, Pixel Pop Festival 2017 put the human element on glorious display.

pxp14.JPG

The Keynote Speaker, Rebecca Saltsman of Finji (@BexSaltsman) spoke about her family's triumphs and struggles adapting and creating in the game industry. From harsh lessons about preparedness, to sacrifices made for fiscal solvency, to being full-time developers with two young boys. It was refreshing, enlightening even, to see someone who, by most people's standards, made it, speak to the difficulty of the journey. The sea of heads nodded and hummed in acknowledgement and laughed in agreement throughout the talk.

Other talks focused on helping new developers get started on their own, bootstrapping their own games, balancing life and game development, and gaming for a cause. It was a lineup chock full of heart and down to earth advice from important voices in the game industry. 

The Expo floor was no different. Creators of all ages waited with eager hearts as attendees stepped up to their booths. In passing, at any moment, you could hear the stories behind these games. You could feel the pride in the developer's voices. Voices like @Waffle__Works Isaac White smiling next to a proud family as people played his charming, submarine side-scrolling shooter Submerged. Voices like Jason Mayer and Jamie Toon at @STLGatewayGames who gushed about their board game Defend Neo Tokyo (there was a SOLID showing by board games at Pixel Pop). Everywhere you turned, people in love with what they had created stood tall behind their creations.

In the short four years that Pixel Pop Festival has existed it has grown leagues beyond what I thought it could have, and this year's showing sets the bar high for next year. It was a privilege to be able to cover this event. The amount of love on display was palpable. St. Louis has a lot to be proud of in Pixel Pop. The most sincere thank you and congratulations to the team behind the scenes putting it all together. You all made an event deserving of every bit of praise it receives. Here is to a stellar 2018 show.

~Caleb
@LubWub

Xbox One X: A Step in the Wrong Direction? by Caleb Sawyer

Putting the Flop in Gigaflop

A new console approaches: the Xbox One X. New consoles always bring excitement and a spark of innovation to the gaming world, and we hope for something that won’t just prolong our 3-hour gaming sessions at 1 AM but also enhance and elevate our gameplay in the process. But is power truly king when it comes to gaming consoles? Well, when you look at the history of gaming consoles… not so much. And this is what worries me about the Xbox One X.

(Side note: No, I am not a Sony fanboy or a Microsoft hater. In fact, the Xbox was the first home console I ever purchased myself, thanks to a lot of birthdays and Christmases spent saving up money as a youngling. I chose the Xbox over the GameCube and PS2 for one simple reason: Halo.)

When a new gaming console is released, three major aspects matter:

A.) What is different about this console than all the other consoles out there?
B.) What exclusive games will I be able to play ONLY on this console?
C.) How much does the console cost?

The Console’s Individuality.

Out of the big three console developers (Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo), Nintendo has done the best when it comes down to the uniqueness of a new console. Nintendo isn’t afraid to innovate, which is why their consoles always tend to be sold out for AT LEAST the first few months post-release. From the GameBoy to the Wii and Wii U to the Switch, each of their consoles have done something that no other console before them has been able to do, enticing gamers with a method of play that no other console can offer. As for Sony and Microsoft, the tendency is just to improve whatever console of theirs came out last, or simply copy a trend Nintendo has already set (looking at you, PlayStation Move and Xbox Kinect). Improved graphics, improved controller, improved whatever -- they’re all just improvements, not innovation. You had vanilla before, but now we present... French Vanilla!!! Woohoo. There’s no drastic step forward or completely new feature, and we’re essentially just given an Xbox or PlayStation sequel. Instead, Sony and Microsoft seem to rely solely on their exclusive games and the content they hold.

What Games Can Be Played on the Console

As an example, take the Sega Master System vs. the Nintendo Entertainment System. Both were released in 1985 with the Master System being significantly more powerful. Despite this, the NES still outsells it by over 50 million units. The NEO GEO -- the most powerful system of 1990 over the SEGA Genesis and SNES -- only sold a measly 1 million units (the Genesis sold 41.9 million, the SNES 49.1 million). Nintendo 64 vs. PlayStation 1: PS1 smoked the N64 by nearly 70 million units. Xbox vs. PlayStation 2, PS2 outsells the Xbox by over 120 million units. Why? The games. As we’ve seen over the years, a great game library, not great specs, sells a console. Which brings me to my final point:

Price

Currently marketed as “the most powerful console,” the Xbox One X is hitting shelves at the high price point of $499 (USD). The E3 conference and their website boasts about the One X’s usage of 4K, its 2.3GHz CPU, 12GB of graphic memory, a 6 Teraflop GPU, etc… which sounds impressive, but is essentially just a more technologically-improved version of the previous Xbox with absolutely no innovative features. You’ll also be able to replay your old Xbox discs, or download some of the older Xbox titles, which is definitely a plus, however, there are some big red flags here. Not counting the console’s atrocious name, 4K can already be found on the PS4 Pro (a console that’s $100 cheaper). Plus, 4K isn’t quite the norm in living rooms just yet, so for most gamers, it’s a safe bet that 4K doesn’t really matter. And while the nostalgia factor works, it’s not something to rely upon. Are you really going to replay all of Mass Effect for the hell of it when Andromeda and plethora of other games are about to release? Let’s be honest -- probably not.

Microsoft keeps mentioning power. Gigaflops of it. Yes, you can be the most powerful, but can the games, specifically the exclusives, live up to that? After this year's E3, I’m convinced that (at least during year one of the One X’s release) no, the games definitely cannot. The lack of exclusives announced alongside the launch of the One X proves that developers are nowhere near ready to harness this kind of power -- to put it simply, it’s incredibly difficult make a game that utilizes the console’s space/power properly while also conforming to a reasonable development time. Most of the best games shown at E3 2017 (Anthem, A Way Out, Star Wars Battlefront 2) aren’t exclusive and can be played on both the Xbox One X and PS4 Pro… sorry, Microsoft, but no one’s going to shell out an extra $100 just to play Sea of Thieves.

Does the Xbox One X have potential to be next year’s best selling console? Absolutely! All Microsoft needs to do is give game developers the resources to utilize the power that the One X offers. That means games with gigaflops of actual content, not gigaflops of seas and randomly generated islands to happen upon (I don’t mean to keep picking on Sea of Thieves -- it’s just that out of the six announced exclusive titles for the One X, it was the only one that actually looked decent).

A gaming console needs good games to survive. If a gamer wants gaming power, they’ll just build a PC. If Xbox One X can somehow manage to rake in more exclusives that outshine the PS4 exclusives, the One X definitely has a chance to redeem itself. Otherwise, I think we'll just be sticking to Spider-Man on the PS4 and Super Mario Odyssey on the Switch.

~Richard
@richarizzard