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!

Apex Strategies

As I mentioned in my recent round-up post, I’ve been playing Apex Legends again pretty regularly. Outside of the initial complaint of there not really being enough new content to keep me coming back, there have been some decent content patches in the interim and I’ve been enjoying myself in the game. Some observations before we get to the meat of this post:

  • I’ve found that the population seems unharmed regardless of negative press and the fact that this title fell off the charts shortly after launch while others like PUBG and Fortnite continue to be at least listed on the top income charts. I didn’t have queues to begin with and I don’t now. Wait times between games are minimal.
  • While playing the game during launch I had exactly one win. It was actually the first round I had played. I didn’t touch Apex Legends at all during the first season, but have racked up 6 more wins during season two, and honestly I don’t think my play pattern has changed. Practice makes perfect and all, but for whatever reason things have clicked and I’ve been doing really well. I’m not sure if this is a reflection on the quality of players still playing on the Playstation 4, or if it’s a reflection of personal skill growth. I prefer to think it’s the latter.

This brings me to the topic of this post. I feel like my experience being at the bottom (prior to the first season) and losing repetitively but learning the core mechanics of the game has now combined with being relatively good at the game. As such I feel pretty confident sharing some tips with you that might help you to become a better player as well. So let’s get to it shall we? Here are some of my personal tips for getting better at Apex Legends, in no particular order:

Situational Awareness:

The first tip I have for you is to try and have situational awareness. You should know if you have short-range weapons equipped, so don’t fire at long range targets giving away your position. Shooting shotgun shells at someone on top of a cliff isn’t going to do anything except give away your position, and that means getting flanked by the enemy team. Perhaps your team isn’t ready for an altercation — one guy is looting a death box and another is heading in the opposite direction. Your mini-map can help with this information in split seconds. You should also be calling out enemies seen and where you are going using the game’s ping system. Sometimes it’s tempting to be a commando/hero and go it alone, but you should stick with the group. You are more powerful as a unit than on your own (despite the fact that there will be times you will have to carry your teammates). Listen to the environment for incoming threats — the game’s sound is there for a reason, and you’ll hear the enemy’s movements oftentimes before you see them. Know your enemy’s abilities! Every playable character has special abilities, you need to know how they work and how you can respond to them. For instance, Wattson’s ultimate will protect you from air strikes, but only if you’re inside its sphere of influence!

Environmental Awareness:

This comes down to being aware of escape routes, jump stations, ziplines and etcetera. Constantly check your map for your allies and for pings. Also, pay attention to where the ring is and where it’s going next. I’ve found that in my early game sessions I used to always try to be as close to the middle of the ring as possible throughout the match. Oftentimes this meant leaving teammates behind and heading off on my own, which I clearly no longer recommend. What I have found now is that hugging the edge of the ring seems to be more effective. Not only will you be able to pick off stragglers, oftentimes they will have been damaged by the ring so they are easy pickings. You also tend to see more teams trying my old strategy and being closer to the middle so you avoid some of the bigger conflicts. Staying alive is the name of the game after all.

The rest of my tips are less meaty:

  • Holster when you run long distances. This makes a huge difference, especially when trying to outrun the ring.
  • Always try to revive or respawn teammates but be safe. Don’t dive on a downed teammate immediately. Try to make sure threats are eliminated or distracted first.
  • Don’t carry items you don’t need. Give syringes and shield cells to teammates if they need them. Use the ultimate accelerants as soon as you pick them up.
  • Keep your shields and health topped off. Don’t be afraid to use these items during fights, but be aware of how/when you can do so.
  • Don’t forget to use your grenades!! I was guilty of not using my secondary equipment very often but now I try to do so every match.
  • Don’t use finishers if you only down one member of an enemy squad. You’ll get caught mid animation if you do. I believe there is a way to shortcut the animation but I’d avoid it until it is safe to do so.

That’s all I can think of for now, but hopefully these tips stick in your head and you are able to implement them. You can see me following many of these ideals in the following video, which ended up being one of my better matches in the game and one that I remembered to record.

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!

On the Battle Royale Front

I don’t know how it came to pass exactly, but since no one else in my corner of the Internet is writing about the Battle Royale genre, I kind of feel like it falls to me to do so because I’ve tried most and enjoyed a couple. I wouldn’t say I’m a super fan of this style of game, but I do keep finding myself writing about them when a new contender enters the ring. Generally speaking, the market is over-saturated with games trying to bank on Fortnite or Playerunknown’s Battlegrounds‘ success, but there are outliers and new competition cropping up left and right — and some of these are doing things to push the genre forward into realms I personally find more appealing. I’ve written about several games over the past few years, starting with H1Z1 and culminating with the new kid on the block: Apex Legends.

There have been a few news stories recently that kind of sum things up for the genre in the past couple of years. My take: Basically H1Z1 came out of nowhere and created the game mode, someone who consulted Daybreak then went on to create his own game (PUBG) and then the was Fortnite and only Fortnite. The dark ages have finally seemed to pass, with the new forerunner Apex Legends showing the potential the genre has to offer to an adult audience. I suppose you can give Call of Duty some credit too, because Blackout is pretty deece. Regardless, it seems that Apex’s surprise launch caught Epic Games off guard, but they definitely took immediate notice. I’ve read several articles that point out that Fortnite has already seen a ping system patched into the game and “respawn vans” are on the way too. The linked article said it best:

That said, Fortnite is still no slouch. It doesn’t have to imitate Apex Legends. The ping system was fine, but one who continues to watch Epic add Apex Legends features to Fortnite might wonder if they’re starting to just try to play keep up with their new contender. It would be a shame to see them just play keep up, rather than innovate on their style as they had for the better part of 2018.

I agree that it’s kind of sad to see the team responsible for the most popular Twitch game for nearly a calendar year needing to keep up with the Joneses. Why not iterate your own things? You already have the stupid factor, building, and the ability to use dances made popular elsewhere. Keep going with that, and let the kids have their playground. I’ll go hang out with the adults elsewhere, thank you. Pretty soon we’ll see hero abilities and then Fortnite might as well be Realm Royale. Sorry if I sound a little bent, I just can’t pass up the opportunity to talk shit on that game.

Back to the adult world. I’ve been playing Apex Legends pretty regularly and I have to say it’s a blast, particularly with friends, but even with randoms. Polygon has reported that the game has already reached 50 million players, and that’s pretty damn good for a month since launching. At their current trajectory they’ll be more popular than Fortnite before you know it, though that wouldn’t need to happen to prove which is the better game. Honestly the only one I’m really playing is Apex and I’m happy to be doing so. I still think the genre isn’t in the sweet spot just yet, but we’ve already seen these sorts of popularity contests between titles in many genres before it (take the MMO, MOBA and Survival Sandbox booms and busts for example). I still see interesting tidbits that are worth commenting on though, and here are a couple I shared on Twitter the other day, with some excess commentary:

So apparently one of the creators of Dark Souls/Bloodborne wants to make a Battle Royale variant. I think the combat alone would be pretty awesome, and could make for longer matches, though I’d think you might want to either limit the size of the map or the amount of players just to keep things from getting out of hand. Killing mobs in these games takes a while, and though the PvP doesn’t take as long, it could still end up being excessive. I’d play it though. You’ll just have to hope you get some armor and weapons quick before you get cut down, similar to the normal games.

I find this story kind of sad, just because of my nostalgic loyalty to Daybreak (more SOE/Verant). I wanted H1Z1 to be successful. I actually enjoyed their King of the Kill nonsense. We knew the NantG thing was going to bring changes down the pipeline, and I’m sure this is a ploy to get a mobile version up to compete with PUBG‘s mobile offering. Whatever the case, the game has changed names so many times at the point they’re probably doing more harm than good. Perhaps they don’t care and are aiming for an Asian market? Hard to say. Whatever the case I don’t play whatever they ultimately decide to call this game anymore, so it’s just a footnote in history. A shame to create something that has become so popular and then find a way to not reap the benefits. I guess that’s typical of the company though, isn’t it?

That’s all I have for today.

Life in 2019

It’s been a couple of months since I did an IRL check-in and because the amount of blogging I’ve been doing has tapered off a bit, I thought I’d take some time on my Sunday evening (which is actually Wednesday, but such is life when you work at a 24 hour establishment) to talk a little bit about what’s been going on. First, a quick recap:

We decided to move away from LA due to crazy cost of living to a more inland location which is a place I had lived a good portion of my life. This happened back in September of 2018. We knew that we were going to move by the end of December, and though I started looking for work starting back in September, I didn’t really get much in the way of progress going until December, in which I took a few days off of work to come out here and have some interviews. I essentially applied and had the interview for my current job all within the same month, but I didn’t have any solid answers about if I actually got the position by the time we had moved out here. Things were tense. Money was tight.

I kept looking for work, but then in mid-January I was called by my current employer who asked me to go in for a drug test. I was told I would be contacted by Backgrounds next, but the call didn’t come for a couple of anxious weeks. Once I received that call it was time to produce documents, get finger printed and jump through any other hoops they deemed necessary. Thankfully I passed all of the tests and was hired at the beginning of this month, and well, that should explain some of my absence.

I work a graveyard/early morning shift. The position is salary so there are days when I get to go home early and still get paid for my eight hours, which is a plus. There’s paid benefits, retirement, etc. The hours aren’t great but the salary is decent and cost of living is way down compared to where we were, so all in all its a move in the right direction. My girlfriend has managed to get some income as well, so we are doing well again, and the stress that I had has been relieved. My schedule however is another beast. I’m pretty much used to it by now, but it is a daunting task to go to bed in the afternoon. Sometimes I come home and take a nap followed by a waking period followed by another nap before I get up at 2 am to head in to the job. Other times I stay up until the evening and then get one bigger chunk of sleep. Neither has really been a preference, and being able to have that flexibility means I can always get things done or sleep, whichever comes first.

So bottom line, I appreciate your patience with me, I hope to get back into the swing of things, but blogging on the regular is hard when you don’t have as much time to play games to blog about. I had one advantage at my last job and that was the ability to occasionally blog at work, which will never happen here. It’s not a big deal though, I have had major life changes many times over the life of this blog, so I know I’ll settle into a new routine and find the balance once again. I haven’t had as much time to game/blog, but I have been doing some stuff, so I’ll break that down for you now, as it should outline near future posts.

I didn’t have the financial ability to attend the prerelease for Ravnica: Allegiance due to the above described scenario, but having an income again means the ability to dink and dunk my way into more Magic Cards. I still have a dozen or so decks in the works and I’m always finding cards from the new sets to brew around, or cards to add to my existing decks. As such, I purchased a Fat Pack, the Guild Kits and some extra packs from the new set, and I’m happy with the purchase. I happened into Teysa Karlov and Judith, the Scourge Diva which are two decks I’ve written about recently wanting to build, and the guild kits are excellent ways to supplement your collection along with packing in cool dice, stickers and pins. My girl also got me one of those mystery cubes they sell at the box stores and I got a handful of cool cards out of that as well.

I started a big MTG card organization project. I had done this is the past where I separated all of my commons/uncommons into boxes based on colors and took the rares/mythics out and put them into a binder. Over the course of the last few sets, I acquired a good amount of cards that I had thrown into a single box and needed to sort through. I completed step one of this today by getting those commons/uncommons into their appropriate boxes, and now the other box has mainly EDH staples and things I see myself actually using in it. Next up is going through those cards to put them into current decks and those in progress. Then I’ll have to pick the next deck I want to finish and purchase the singles necessary, though I have a wishlist a mile long for singles as it is, just to have them while they’re less expensive than they’ll eventually be.

On the gaming front, I’ve been crawling my way through Resident Evil 2, and haven’t played as much as I would have liked. I intend to play more this evening. It’s been a blast from the past so far, and I intend to share my thoughts once I complete both Leon and Claire’s campaigns. I’ve also played more Apex Legends, but not as much as my best friend. I went to his house the other day and we were taking turns on his account and rolled over level 26, while I’m a lowly 13. Apparently I’ve created a monster, as I was level 4 or 5 when I first saw him jump on. We’ve found another of our local friends that plays as well, so I might just have a dedicated team of three to play with so that’s promising. I have a pretty good knowledge of the map at this point and have had a few dozen kills spread about a few characters. Still have only managed one win to this point though, but I’ve been top 5 multiple times.

A while back on Twitter I bitched about wanting my job to start because I had RE2 and Magic cards and Anthem to buy, and obviously I accomplished the former two things, but I haven’t pulled the trigger on Anthem yet. I still think it looks like a great game, but there has been a fair share of positive and negative reviews along with plenty of opinion on how it could be better or why it’s the worst. I’m completely torn about it at this point, mainly because it’s a $60 title. I could justify buying it with my next pay check, and though some bloggers I trust have said good things, I’ve also fallen into this trap before with games like No Man’s Sky or Monster Hunter World. I don’t want to end up regretting the purchase, so I’m still on the fence. Plus, I haven’t completed the last two Bioware games, Dragon Age: Inquisition and Mass Effect: Andromeda are still on my hard drive ready to go… perhaps I should finish them first?

Honestly, I don’t know what’s going to happen. At this point I’m just enjoying myself as much as possible in my free time, and I’m hoping to get more settled to where I can blog more often and potentially podcast again. Thanks for hanging out while I checked-in. Happy gaming, where ever you find yourself.