Take 5: JDR's Gaming Conclusions - 01/02/19

February 1, 2019

A regular look at gaming-related stories from the past week or so whereby conclusions are drawn from anything and everything. These may be incredibly well reasoned based on events from the week. Alternatively, they may be highly speculative, drawn from very little evidence. More likely, they will be somewhere in between.

Conclusion One: RPGs are only RPGs if you can RP

Ubisoft came under fire last week after it emerged that the latest DLC chapter of Assassin’s Creed Odyssey: Legacy of the First Blade took a prescribed route which many players were rightfully unhappy about. [SPOILERS FOLLOW]

In Shadow Heritage, the birthline of your character was revealed to be the product of utility rather than romance. In order to keep the blood of the assassins alive, Leonidas and Myrrine had a child (you) at the cost of their own happiness. Fair enough, if that’s your bag. The backlash came when the story concluded with you being forced down the same path — regardless of whether you were playing as either Alexios or Kassandra, and regardless of whether you were interested in actually having a relationship or not. After over a hundred hours of playing the action RPG, what Ubisoft essentially did was tell you that your choices about the path your character took counted for naught. They removed the role-playing from the role-playing game.

Now, Ubisoft has backtracked. In a Reddit post this week, Creative Director Jonathan Dumont apologised for the error. Here’s the full statement:

"Reading through player responses of our new DLC for Legacy of the First Blade, Shadow Heritage, we want to extend an apology to players disappointed by a relationship your character partakes in. The intention of this story was to explain how your character's bloodline has a lasting impact on the Assassins, but looking through your responses it is clear that we missed the mark.
"Alexios/Kassandra realising their own mortality and the sacrifice Leonidas and Myrrine made before them to keep their legacy alive, felt the desire and duty to preserve their important lineage. Our goal was to let players choose between a utilitarian view of ensuring your bloodline lived on or forming a romantic relationship. We attempted to distinguish between the two but could have done this more carefully as we were walking a narrow line between role-play choices and story, and the clarity and motivation for this decision was poorly executed. As you continue the adventure in next episode Bloodline, please know that you will not have to engage in a lasting romantic relationship if you do not desire to.
"We have read your responses online and taken them to heart. This has been a learning experience for us. Understanding how attached you feel to your Kassandra and your Alexios is humbling and knowing we let you down is not something we take lightly. We'll work to do better and make sure the element of player choice in Assassin's Creed Odyssey carries through our DLC content so you can stay true to the character you have embodied throughout."

What many players felt were the issues here were two-fold. Firstly, the “preserve the bloodline” motivation was unclear at best, and the romance was pushed to the fore with the underlying utilitarian need presented to the player almost as an afterthought. Secondly, same-sex relationships or the option for no relationship at all was apparently not considered. How this story got through QA in its final state is remarkable, and while it’s great that Ubisoft has taken feedback on board, it appears to be too late to rectify this plotline without some serious retconning. The third chapter of the DLC, Bloodline, looks set to pose some interesting questions...

Conclusion Two: Nintendo is brave

It isn’t often that the development of a game restarts. There is a multitude of reasons behind that. The time and money spent to date being the first and most obvious. Metroid Prime 4 was announced by Nintendo in 2017, at E3, 18 months ago. It’s not unreasonable to surmise that the development began way before then, too. That’s a lot of time, a lot of money and a lot of people’s work.

And yet, Nintendo has stopped it, and is restarting the development cycle afresh, this time with the experienced bounty hunters of Retro Studios, the same group that made the fabulous Metroid Prime trilogy on the GameCube and Wii.

It’s a brave step. The series is important to Nintendo and hasn’t properly been seen since the third part in the aforementioned trilogy. That trio of games brought back to life a long-forgotten character and wowed the world. It can do again, if done right. And that’s why this choice, although brave, is absolutely the right one regardless of what’s lost.  

Nintendo could have let this cancelled game version continue to be developed and the heights desired would never have been scaled. A less-than-great chapter in Samus’ story would be unleashed on the world and likely fail, in and of itself, and perhaps worse — damage the character, the franchise and the belief of Nintendo’s fans in Nintendo, and this franchise. Perhaps others, too?

So, well done Nintendo for making the brave and challenging business decision for the short-term, but one that longer-term will reap all the rewards it undoubtedly will deserve.

Conclusion Three: EA is one step closer to losing the loot box war

After a protracted battle with authorities in Belgium over loot boxes (the same battle in which 2K Games tried to get players to appeal on its behalf), it seems that Electronic Arts has thrown in the towel — at least for the time being.

EA had been threatened with criminal proceedings after Belgium declared loot boxes to be gambling in 2017 and wanted them banned. One of the main culprits was the child-friendly FIFA games where players could purchase Ultimate Team packs with real money, with the contents unknown until purchase. EA argued that this wasn’t gambling since you would always receive “something”. That argument didn’t sway the Belgians however, and faced with an imminent legal smackdown they conceded — albeit with the temperament of a surly child who has just been told to hand a toy back to his younger sibling.

“While we are taking this action, we do not agree with Belgian authorities’ interpretation of the law,” EA moaned. “The impact of this change to FIFA Ultimate Team in Belgium is not material to our financial performance.”

Of course it isn’t. It’s well known that microtransactions — including loot boxes — have very little effect on a company’s business or the way it models its revenue forecasts. Oh, wait…

Conclusion Four: There’s an Epic fight brewing with Steam falling

So now we have a PC marketplace fight on our hands. Brilliant: everyone loves it when multiple technologies, or formats, fight with the aim of becoming the number one and ideally only option around. Valve’s Steam has been synonymous with PC gaming and digital downloads since soon after its launch in 2003. Whilst other digital storefronts exist, Valve now has a real fight on its hands if it wants to retain its supremacy, as Epic has their store and it’s fighting hard.

The Division 2 will be available only via Epic’s store, and this week it was announced that Metro Exodus would be a timed Epic exclusive for one year. It’s like HD-DVD against Blu-Ray all over again, isn’t it? The losers in this are basically the end users, as is always the case. People now have to use two proper services to play games as there is no other way if you want to play the exclusives. So your library is split in two, your friends list, your achievements and everything else.

It’s a difficult one. Blaming Epic seems silly given it’s business and if they want to grow and win according to their strategy — and this is the way — then they have to do this to make a dent in Steam’s virtual monopoly. Steam itself could probably do with some proper challenge but, and this is the crux of the matter: whilst this challenge exists, whilst there is a dichotomy, the end user fails to get the experience they want, deserve and need.

We now have to wait and see how this fight between two behemoths of the gaming world unfolds. Epic has not done this lightly and they will not give up easily. Nor of course will Valve, given Steam is their focus now — not making games. So we just need to watch, observe, provide feedback and wait for this fight to be done. May it be swift...

Conclusion Five: Bethesda is not Armani

But don’t spoil their daydream. The latest hilarious gaffe in the ongoing Fallout 76 saga seems to have progressed to the developer outright trolling gamers. Talking about "The Bag" seems to be a regular occurrence these days, but they may well have outdone themselves this week with the release of “The Jacket”.

Announcing the launch of what could possibly be the “premium” clothing item of the year, if not the decade, Bethesda took to Twitter but somehow neglected to mention the $276 price tag in its tweet. For that price, you could pick up a high-end fashion label jacket from last season — so the big question is: what does this stunning piece of gaming merch look like?

...erm, cool.

It didn’t take long for the fashion-conscious Twitter faithful to respond with their thoughts.

It seems like some non-believers think Bethesda has a way to go before it can challenge the likes of Armani and Gucci. But here at Jump Dash Roll we can’t help but admire the sheer gall of a company who refuses to stop cashing in on a mediocre game. We’re rather hoping the next step is to release a range of sunglasses. But if you really want to invest in what Bethesda are calling “the best outerwear for exploring the wasteland of West Virginia” which has been “crafted from real premium lambskin leather”, head on over to their store. Just make sure your bank account can handle it.

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Rob Kershaw

I've been gaming since the days of the Amstrad. Huge RPG fan. Planescape: Torment tops my list, but if a game tells a good story, I'm interested. Absolutely not a fanboy of any specific console or PC - the proof is in the gaming pudding. Also, I like cake.