Thoughts on Battle Pass Value

Battle Passes are not really a new thing, however they have become more commonplace, particularly with games that are labeled as “free to play.” First, we should define what a “battle pass” is, in loose terminology at least. Some games will call this a subscription option, some will have some other sort of lore based name for it, but overall it ends up being a thing that coincides with a “season” of a game (lengths of which are determined by that game’s developer) and provides a way to earn more in-game loot for that particular title. For example, you’ll pay somewhere in the ballpark of $9.99-19.99 for access to a progression system that rewards various fluff items for the game. If you don’t pay the fee, you’ll still be able to unlock rewards by playing the game, but if you pay the fee, you’ll essentially get double the rewards (give or take).

My earliest experience with a system like this was with the MOBA SMITE. They had a system of adventures and things where if you paid a nominal fee, you’d get greater access to skins, loading screens, music themes, podiums and other fluff items that gave you that customized look that was far greater than those who were playing the game without spending any money. This has become the norm in games that are free to play — the company needs a way to monetize their game despite giving the base experience away for free. Skins and things that are not “pay to win” are generally favored over items that are only available for cash and adjust the power level of said customer who paid money over those who play for free  — thought it could be argued that this is the way it should be due to our capitalist nature as a country, but I digress.

In more recent years, I’ve actually participated in this sort of program with multiple titles. The newest game to introduce this sort of system was Apex Legends, where their battle pass opens up a slew of customization options that simply aren’t available when playing for free. To be fair, the game is pretty generous when it comes to currency needed to unlock new characters, along with crafting materials to make skins for characters and weapons. Where the exclusivity kicks in is with the loading screen and music theme customizations. Also, emotes that are only usable while dropping into the game. Some of the skins are “exclusive” as well, but I assume those will be craftable at some point. Whatever the case, there is a value proposition here that you’ll have to figure out for yourself. Do you see yourself wanting cool skins for your characters and guns? Are you tired of the normal theme music and want something else? Or can you deal with the fact that some people who are paying customers are getting something that you, the freeloader, is not getting as well? Honestly, it’s not that big of a deal to me. When a company is providing ethical (read: not pay to win) cosmetics in a cash shop to monetize the game I don’t have a problem with it. I also don’t have a problem throwing a few bucks at a game that I’ve gotten enjoyment out of, because companies would go under completely if no one paid for anything while playing their free to play game.

Another company that recently added this sort of system to their game was Supercell with Clash Royale. I wrote about their system called “Pass Royale” back when it first launched, and having run through that whole first season I can say that the rewards were well worth it for the $5 investment that was asked. I went ahead and paid the $5 again to play the second season with increased rewards as well. In this title, there have always been daily “crown chests” that required you to earn 10 crowns by any means necessary to unlock a chest with random rewards. That system still exists with the new Pass Royale, but if you are a paying customer, you’ll get essentially double the rewards. Instead of one legendary chest you’ll get two. You’ll also get “exclusive” emotes and tower skins, some of which were introduced solely to support this system. It still feels worth it in a game that you play regularly. I’d advise against purchase if you think you won’t play a game much throughout the course of it’s “season.”

And that’s what it comes down to. A personal assessment of whether or not you think the benefits are worth the cost. In nearly 100% of cases, these are free to play games that we are talking about, so it’s likely that you can still enjoy playing these games without spending a dime. You will be rewarded for spending money, but in most cases you won’t really benefit from these season passes unless you are regularly playing a game. This is due to the fact that most of these pass systems require you to play to unlock rewards, so I wouldn’t recommend paying unless its a game that you play regularly. In my case, I play Clash Royale daily so it was a no-brainer, especially for only $5. When it came to Apex Legends, I was more hesitant because I didn’t know if I’d make enough progress to meet a positive value, but my girlfriend ended up buying it for me and as such I have been playing almost daily just to make sure I get her money’s worth.

The choice is yours when it comes to purchasing these passes. I just thought I’d throw my experience out there in hopes that it helps someone make a decision. Happy gaming, all!

Thoughts on Team Fight Tactics

About a month ago, I shared some thoughts I had about an emerging genre – called Auto Chess or Auto Battlers, and my experience with the beta of DOTA Overlords. I really had no idea what to expect with this particular game or the genre as a whole. The name relays the fact that something automatic is happening, but other than that it’s a far cry from the real-time combat and tactics of DOTA 2 that it is named and modeled after. What I found was something that is nothing like Chess either, outside of having a chess like board to place your troops on. I wasn’t overly impressed with DOTA Overlords, but I attributed that to the fact that it was something new, it was still in beta, and I honestly don’t know much about DOTA itself to really know what these characters were going to do.

Given that DOTA Overlords was based on characters from DOTA 2, it was fitting that another game company famous for MOBAs would make their own version of the game. Enter Riot Games with Teamfight Tactics. This is the same style of game, but essentially reskinned with League of Legends assets. It plays in a similar fashion, but I’m sure there are some differences that the more trained eye would catch. I know that I was able to make it further in a game of Overlords than I was this title, so it seems to have a more difficult learning curve. Honestly I didn’t play all that much, I just wanted to check it out and share what I found, but I have to say that I’m not really a fan of this genre. I like controlling my character and using intellect and reflex to outplay my opponents. Watching a squad of characters I threw together perform actions without input from me feels like less of a game and more of a chore.

I prefer the visual style of this game over the DOTA version. That’s probably a personal bias though, and not reflective of anything — the graphics aren’t too far off from each other as it is.  The gameplay is exactly the same from what I saw. You get some money each turn, you’ll fight against some creeps to get more money, then you’ll take turns having battles with single opponents until someone’s life total is reduced to zero. It takes far too long to complete matches and I get bore far too easily for this shit. You’ll gain the ability to play more heroes, upgrade them (it doesn’t appear that there are items, so there’s a difference for ya) and I found that despite my knowledge of LoL characters, I really wasn’t able to put together a squad that would get me very far.

Don’t get me wrong, I think this is a game that someone out there will enjoy. People who suck at League would likely be able to play this more ably due to the complete lack of twitch skills required. At this point, the first determination should be if this style of game even appeals to you, and from there I’d probably point you in the direction of which MOBA appeals to you more, then play that developer’s version of the game. Outside of that though, I can’t really recommend it.

Early Impressions: Wolfenstein Youngblood

I’ve been looking forward to the newest edition of Machine Games’ Wolfenstein series, and it finally arrived this past week. Wolfenstein Youngblood is a game I had considered pre-ordering, but with how easy it is to get burnt these days, I decided to wait. Releasing on my payday was good for me, and thankfully it also didn’t run the full $60, instead being a $30 game on day one. Something came up that day though, so I didn’t end up buying it until the following afternoon. In the interim I read the “mixed” Steam reviews and it seems that most people were panning the game as not being a traditional Wolfenstein experience. Many compared it to other looter-shooter style games such as Destiny or The Division. It doesn’t have much of a story, the AI is poor and co-op is forced, etc, etc. Here are my thoughts on the matter:

There is no doubt that this is a game created using the same engine and made by the same team and past Wolfenstein titles. The gameplay is smooth, graphics crisp and the mechanics are sublime. I enjoy running around and shooting nazis now as much as I did back in the original. As far as story goes, it is true that it is not as straight forward as the previous iterations — you’ll get some tidbits via cutscenes, but the majority of the dialogue comes from characters you’ll interact with and from the sisters talking among themselves during levels. I’m about 7 hours into the game, and I feel like the story has pieced together well enough, but it’s not to the same level as when B.J. was at the helm. Whatever the case, I don’t find this to be a major downfall, particularly when we’ve all been playing this style of game for decades and the point is to shoot stuff and blow shit up… story used to not even exist. I’ll admit I really enjoyed Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus‘ story, but it wasn’t integral to my enjoyment either.

Gameplay is core to me in this style of game, and there is a weird amalgam of concepts that have been thrown together here, and yet they seem to work. This isn’t a looter-shooter, because you don’t constantly swap out gear or get different colored upgrades. It isn’t open world, because there is a “safe zone” called the catacombs and this is where your base of operations is. You will get new people residing here along the way, and most will give you quests. This is also the hub from which you sort of teleport (it’s explained as using the metro system) to different parts of Paris, or at least this world’s version of it. Story missions lead you to a point where you must beat several bosses at different locations, but it will end up where you won’t be able to progress immediately, instead needing to do some side missions (from the aforementioned quest givers) to gain experience. This is where I would correlate this game to other titles like Destiny, but it’s mostly just a co-op FPS with some light RPG elements and not quite the psuedo-MMOs that Destiny and The Division are. Enemies can become bullet-sponges after a time, but I can’t think of too many games where this isn’t the case, so I don’t understand the complaint. I have found that so far the AI isn’t terrible (as I haven’t wanted to play with randoms and I don’t know anyone personally that has this game on PC just yet), but I can see where it might become a liability in later stages of the game. Regardless, I don’t really see why the criticism is being laid on so thick. This is a fun game for $30, and thought it’s not exactly what we’re used to from this company, it isn’t a bad thing. It’s not a buggy mess like some of the other games in this vein have been either.

Instead of having new guns pop up all the time, instead you’ll collect coins throughout the world and can use them as currency to upgrade your predetermined set of weapons. Each item has a list of parts that can be upgraded, and from there you get some branching paths so you can optimize each as you see fit. As you gain experience you’ll gain player levels and with that comes perks that you can use to get different powers, have more health/armor, dual wield and other cool things. You really get to play the way you want to and I think that’s pretty cool for an FPS. There are a ton of collectibles in the world for those achievement hunters, and you can read/listen to those as you like. Easter eggs are around too… including an arcade cabinet housing the OG game.

Overall I think this game has a lot of potential. Future DLC could see this expanding into a psuedo-MMO, but it’s not quite there yet. Whatever the case, if you’re a fan of this series I think you’ll still like this title. Worst case scenario, it should be on sale by Christmas time.

State of the Game: Filler

I remember when I first started this column and it was initially created as a way for me to cram a bunch of small details into a larger post and get something published. At the time I wasn’t blogging as regularly as I would have liked, and part of that was due to playing many games at once and not feeling like I had enough to say about each on individually. As such, this became a weekly series that would be devoted to those Playstation Plus freebies and other games that I was playing that didn’t have much lasting appeal but I still wanted to throw down some thoughts. Or, I’d discuss progress from larger games I was playing, or throw in news about games I regularly played that had new patches or things of that nature. In the following years this turned into less of a weekly post and just a catch all for when I didn’t have much else to say. Lately it’s been even more sporadic, to the point where sometimes I think there’s no point in keeping it going, but I still need a catch all post format and this has worked so I’m going to continue to use it. It’s been about three months since the last SotG post, and this edition I have updates on games I’ve been playing in recent weeks that I’ve touched on in the past.

Apex Legends:

I wrote some fond thoughts about Apex Legends when it released, but you’ll probably note that I haven’t talked about it since. Part of this was due to the fact that I was getting a case of Battle Royale fatigue — since the genre started to take off in popularity, everyone was throwing their hat into the ring and I tried many iterations of the concept. Some I enjoyed more than others, and Apex Legends is definitely one of the better versions of this style. The other reason I haven’t talked about it is because I stopped playing for a while. A few of my friends play along with my son and I primarily played with them but the slow pace of content updates made the game stale after a while. Even the introduction of seasons and a battle pass system wasn’t exciting to me, and my stats prove that I didn’t play a single game during that first season. We did see the release of a couple of guns and the new character Octane during that time, but earning the in-game currency to unlock new champions is painfully slow, and they run you about $10 to unlock individually. I’d gladly plop down $30-40 if you’d give me all of the characters unlocked along with all future releases but I don’t really want to spend the money otherwise.

Nonetheless, season two launched recently and another new character, Wattson, was introduced. The arena was also changed up, with the large creatures that were off in the distance are now on the island, and some structures have been destroyed. Otherwise not much has changed, and yet I’ve been having fun playing it. One motivator is the battle pass, despite the fact that I haven’t paid for it. Everyone can participate for free, and new daily and weekly quests give you points towards your battle pass level. You’ll get free rewards just for playing, and though they aren’t amazing it’s better than nothing (or just the apex packs like before). If you want to drop the cash, the battle pass will get you a ton of extra value in the form or cosmetics ranging from character skins to different music and loading screens. We’ve seen all of this sort of monetization before, but it actually seems worth it in some ways. Unfortunately just unlocking the battle pass doesn’t do a whole lot for you, unless you’ve leveled up enough to get a large chunk of the rewards. I don’t see myself maxing out to get all of the super cool loot, so I’m still on the fence about spending the money. We’ll see where I am towards the end of the season to see if it’s justifiable. I can’t speak to other platforms, but the game still seems very much alive and well on the Playstation.

Clash Royale:

Clash Royale is still my go-to mobile game and I don’t see that changing. It’s been over two years, and I can’t say I’ve been playing anything that long anymore. I maxed out my ladder deck a while ago, and most of the cards have at least one star level as well. The new battle pass system, Pass Royale is going strong, and I’ve unlocked 10 levels, but you can essentially grind them out as you play. I like the fact that they streamlined quests as well, where you are not limited to a particular game mode to complete them. For instance, before there were quests that said “play 30 buildings in 1v1 battles” and you would only get updates while playing the ladder — not in 2v2, challenges or clan wars. Now that same quest reads “play 30 buildings” without the limitation, and it’s a nice way to clear quests faster. I’ve been working on leveling up my cards that weren’t a part of my ladder deck, and so far each deck I play has almost all of its cards at level 12 or maximum. I have a queue of cards that are ready to upgrade, a couple of them to maximum level but gold income is slow going. I should have a 2nd max level deck within a couple of months. I’ve been as high as Master 2 since the rework to matchmaking, and have been at that sort of level for the past couple of seasons. The guild has been floating at high gold/low legendary, but we can’t seem to keep afloat in the higher tier. Our core group was promoted to Elder recently and we seem to be the ones gaining ground, but some of the stragglers have kept us from staying in the top league. I’m sure that will continue to be the norm for a while but as the core gets stronger we just might be able to keep it going.

SEGA Heroes:

My 2nd favorite mobile game and one I’ve been playing for nearly a year, this game has a ton of progression that is slow going as well. Currently my account is level 63 (I have no idea what the maximum is), and my main team of heroes are all level 60, with Sonic being level 63 (they are capped at your account level). They are also all at 2 blue stars, which means I put a shit ton of cards into their progression. My focus as of late is farming skill upgrades (they all have their three skills at level 8) and trying to upgrade them further. The reagents needed to upgrade their levels are getting ridiculous, hence why Sonic is the only one above level 60. They also introduced some guild related progression, in that we have events that happen regularly where your individual progress helps the guild as well, so at the end of the event you’ll get your own solo rewards along with guild rewards. There are also boss battles that anyone in the guild can initiate, but they are timed events so you might not get to participate if you don’t notice or aren’t online when it happens. We have yet to down a boss, but you still get rewards if you participate. It seems okay but I can think of a few improvements to the system.

Void Bastards and Amid Evil:

I wrote about Void Bastards and Amid Evil recently after I picked them up during the Steam Sale. Since, I’ve put a few hours into each title and I’m still very pleased with the purchases. I’ve cleared the first world in Amid Evil and made some progress in the second. There really isn’t much to report there, it’s a straight forward game but it’s still a cool retro styled game that I highly recommend. I’ve got even more positive things to say about Void Bastards, it’s quickly become one of my favorite Rogue-lites of all time. The game play loop is similar each time but there is just enough variety for it to not get boring. I have opened up a bunch of different items and equipment that have made runs last much longer, and I’ve learned the general strategy of getting through the nebulas quickly. You don’t have to dock at every port, you can skip things and only loot ships when you need food or fuel (or a key item you’ve been looking for). You do need some of the upgrades to items and things before you can really get to this point though. Once here, you can get to the next story related items you need quite fast, and from there it’s on to the next thing. Currently trying to get together the pieces for the HR Computer, this coming after completing the ID Badge. It’s been a blast on both accounts.

Horizon Chase Turbo:

The other free game this month besides the one I already wrote about, Horizon Chase Turbo is a strange game that melds retro with modern aesthetics. I can’t quite place what game it reminds me most of… probably something on the NES or Sega Genesis, but whatever the case it feels like games I’ve played in the past, but boy does it run a hell of a lot faster than those games did. It’s 2D sprite graphics but they run fast and it’s hard to keep up with the twisting tracks coming ahead — particularly when there are hills and valleys. It is however quite a bit of fun! I’ve enjoyed clearing the first few areas of the game and testing out the other game modes. I’d recommend trying it if you need a game to jump in and play for a few minutes here and there, the races don’t last too long and they are enjoyable.

Crash Team Racing:

Speaking of racing games, I’ve also been putting my way through the CTR Remake. I’ve cleared the first couple of worlds along with some of the side events and have also toyed with playing online a bit. Like many games of this era, CTR has added a big content patch that brings a battle pass like system to the game. There are daily and weekly tasks that are earned just by playing the game in any of its modes, but playing online seems to get you more points faster. Leveling up your pass level brings rewards like skins and whatnot, but again there is no RMT here — everything that was added can be earned just by playing the game, and it doesn’t appear that they are planning on any further monetization. They even added several new tracks, something that didn’t happen with the original and something that gives me hope that this game will be playable for much longer than the original. New tracks keep things fresh and tasks keep you feeling like there’s always something to do. This is the model I like to see and wish more companies went this route instead of bleeding their customers.

That’s all I have for this round-up… Hope everyone else is having as much fun as I am!

Thoughts on DOTA Underlords

In another story where Valve went ahead and took the idea made by modders and made it their own, DOTA Underlords is the result of the success of another company making a mod for DOTA 2 (made by Valve, but in turn being originally created by a modder of Warcraft III) and its success being measurable by the company. A new genre of sorts is emerging, these games are being called “Auto Battlers.” What’s being pointed to as the original is called DOTA Auto Chess and was developed by Drodo Studio and was actually only just released at the beginning of this year. Turns out this ended up being fairly popular, by May they had 8 million unique players. The Wikipedia describes the genre as featuring “elements derived from chess, along with those from DOTA 2,” but the devs said they mainly referenced Mahjong for inspiration (which I was unaware is traditionally a multiplayer game). Since their popularity boom (they also created a standalone variant called Auto Chess), several mobile versions of the game have cropped up (I actually tried one recently and didn’t really care for it) and now it’s come full circle where Valve themselves had developed a new version. Currently in Beta on Steam, I decided to check it out to see what they hype was about.

I’m not really up to speed on the lore of DOTA, so I don’t really know anything about these characters or their abilities which probably puts me at some sort of disadvantage, but at this time I’ve only played against AI and can honestly say it’s not really the sort of game I’d normally play. Strange to say because I absolutely love Chess, but I wouldn’t compare this to Chess in any way, shape or form so there’s that.

Apparently there will be seasons so there will be a ladder and competition and all that. I’m not overly interested in trying to climb this ladder though, mainly due to some of my first impressions with the game. I understand this is a beta, but when the game crashes your entire PC when it’s been running for under two minutes is not a good look. I eventually got things set up and got into a game which started me off with a tutorial that explained things mechanically, but the knowledge of the different races and characters and how they interact is not inherent and I didn’t really get what worked better than other stuff. I generally just went for the more rare characters to run and made sure that I opened up the maximum number of heroes I could run at a time as fast as I could.

The game play is simple enough. There is a small grid (think game board) that you share with your opponent. You’ll get some currency to buy characters to dispatch into battle. Each has different stats, is a particular race/class, and has different abilities. They are arranged by rarity and the more rare characters cost more to buy. You have a bench where you can store them and swap them out between matches in order to have a better fight. You’ll place these units on your side of the board where you prefer, and then you’ll start the round. That’s where the game play stops, at this point you’ll watch your forces fight the enemy army and then a winner is declared. You’ll get currency and experience between matches, and you’ll level up as you go. Your level determines how many characters you can play per round, so you’ll want to level quickly to get an advantage. Otherwise it feels like a bunch of luck.

Getting through a single game seems to take an excessive amount of time. It’s not like playing a round of DOTA where you’ll expect to play for 30-45 minutes but you’re constantly doing things so the time just flies by. No, in this case you’ll click a few times and then watch the action unfold. Then you’ll click a few more times and repeat. You spend much more time watching things happen than actually controlling things, and that’s boring to me. I guess it’s not much different than the mobile titles with automatic battles, and honestly most of those haven’t held my attention either, so I guess your mileage may vary.

I ended up playing through a whole first game, which took over an hour, just to “win” and have the game lock up when it should have been providing me with rewards and salutations. Again, I know it’s a Beta but it’s not a good look. This might appeal to you, but at this current juncture this doesn’t appeal to me. I’d rather micro manage one character than watch a crew fight automatically.