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The Xbox One at One – Part One

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It has been a year since the release of the Xbox One and it seems time to review what the new platform has offered and how it fared. The list below are Xbox One titles that my family and friends purchased and played over the last twelve months as well as their respective review scores from IGN and Gamespot. There are a many things of interest to note.  Overall, Gamespot rates games lower than IGN but the ratings are consistent except for the freakishly low 6 for Destiny from Gamespot. I cannot explain why they alone seem to find that game lacking. Other than that anomaly however, the games all enjoyed high ratings and popular success. I cannot pick a loser in this bunch. Each delivered what it promised and looked great doing it.

Date Title IGN Rating Gamespot Rating
November 2013 Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag 8.5 9
Battlefield 4 8.5 8
Call of Duty: Ghosts 8.8 7
Dead Rising 3 8.3
Forza Motorsport 5 8.8
February 2014 Plants vs Zombies: Garden Warfare 7.8 7.5
March 2014 Titanfall 8.9 8.6
May 2014 Watch Dogs 8.4 8
Wolfenstein: The New Order 7.8 8
September 2014 Destiny 7.8 6
Forza Horizon 2 8.3 8
November 2014 Assassin’s Creed Unity 7.8 7
Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare 9.1 8
Far Cry 4 8.5 7

What were our favorites? It depends who you ask. My kids loved Plants vs Zombies: Garden Warfare and expressed fleeting admiration for Forza Horizon 2. For me, standouts included Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag and Titanfall both of which are solid and beautiful examples of their genres. All of the adult gamers agreed that Call of Duty: Ghosts suffered from the same issue as many titles in that series, lag. In the case of Ghosts, the issue is so severe that we don’t bother playing it anymore. Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare seems to be a bit better behaved but I haven’t played in a few weeks. For me the Forza games are always a big hit and Forza Motorsport 5 and Horizon 2 are both the best in their respective series.

But the true standout for us all and the biggest surprise for all us as well is Destiny. In terms of total playtime since its launch, nothing comes close to our focus on Destiny. With the “The Dark Below” DLC about a week away, the new content will keep us busy for a while.

Expectations

In my last post, I mentioned that “what you get out of the experience depends greatly on what you are expecting.” I have found this to be especially true in the case of the most recent three games I purchased.

Before I buy a game I read reviews and view trailers and gameplay samples. All three of these popular games are favorably reviewed, but much like any piece of art or entertainment, the mood of the audience greatly affects the way the piece is experienced. To illustrate, I will use the following three games: Forza Horizon 2, Borderlands The Pre-Sequel and Destiny and myself, my family and friends as the audience.

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Forza Horizon 2

To be completely honest, the first Horizon did not blow me away. While I am a huge fan of the main Forza series, I have always preferred driving games that focus on the realistic experience of driving as opposed to those that concentrate on the nightlife, street racing and party car culture. While I much preferred the original Horizon to any of the Need for Speed titles that I own, I still liked the on-track Forza 5 better. My sons, however, have always liked driving open world games, especially ones that allow the user to drive almost anywhere. That’s why they liked Test Drive Unlimited 2 and Driver San Francisco (though in truth its world is not entirely open). They all like Horizon 2, especially like the barn finds.

The new Horizon improves on the first in every way. The resolution and attention to detail both in the cars and the environments are impressive. The art direction, lighting and weather systems help elevate this game greatly in terms of its style and mood. In fact this game comes very close in depth of mood to my favorite of all – Colin McRae’s original Dirt. The gameplay is smooth, the handing is realistic and completely adjustable to match the user’s skill level. Horizon 2 takes all of Forza’s best features, the handling of the cars, the ability to make the game as easy or challenging as desired and allows you to drive some of the most exciting cars in beautifully crafted southern European settings. I mean who wouldn’t want to drive a vintage Ferrari through Tuscany?

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Borderlands The Pre-Sequel

Those of you who have read my posts before know that the Borderlands series is one of my personal favorites and I often mention its humor and its bravery in what the developers chose to include. So it is surprising that I have spent little time with the game thus far, something telling in itself.

How is it possible that the sequel to my favorite game is out and I am not playing it? Here it is: I am more interested in playing Destiny. Really? Destiny? A game made by the same studio that created the Halo series that I knock for not having a soul? Yes, things seem to have changed.

My sons also awaited the release of this latest version eagerly and have played more extensively than I. They defend the game and say that I need to give it another chance. I will do that, but I am not alone in feeling sluggish about this title. Some of the people I game with most often have echoed the sentiment.

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Destiny

So what is it about Destiny? The simple truth is that while it’s not a game that aspires to make you laugh, there are beautiful, quiet moments as well as intense firefights and overall, it is a great, solid game that keeps you coming back.

I have not played Titanfall since getting this game. I love Titanfall and have regenerated many times. In Destiny, I am on my third character, with a nearly level 28 hunter and a level 25 warlock and somehow even going through the story mode three times is not boring. I have assembled my own personal strike team and we play every chance we get. We are very much looking forward to the newly announced downloadable content pack, The Dark Below due to come out December 9th, regardless of the fact that as Xbox players we will not get access to all of the new material. Please see Destiny‘s New DLC Kinda Screws Over Xbox Players for details.

The Destiny season pass also includes the second scheduled DLC pack, House of Wolves, which should, along with special events like the Queen’s Wrath and Iron Banner, keep the game fresh and in active rotation while other new titles are released. Considering that the competition includes the well-reviewed Sunset Overdrive, not to mention Call of Duty Advanced Warfare, gamers everywhere will have their hands full and so will we.

Hype and its Costs

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There seems to be an established norm in the game industry that the biggest releases require not just brilliant marketing and seemingly limitless advertising budgets, but must inevitably accrue a previously unprecedented level of hype as well. Sometimes the hype is internally generated in the form of claims of “Next-Gen” or whatever and other times, it is the target audience or press that project their desires on the game in varying levels of accuracy. No doubt, hype sells games. It also has its downsides.

It is impossible to ignore the recent release of Bungie‘s Destiny. Ads for the game and its release are everywhere you look online and the live action commercials run frequently on television. I have played the game extensively, finished the campaign and am continuing with the strikes, crucible matches and various available sides missions. I like the game more than I expected I would. It is beautifully crafted and apart from some recent server connection issues, plays smoothly. It cost $500 million dollars to make and earned that amount back in its first day. But it’s clear that it is a victim of its own hype. Most of the criticisms I have read and heard are a direct result of the claims that the developer made. I expected that there would a backlash to a launch this large, but some of the critiques go well beyond my guesses.

As Dennis Scimeca of “The Daily Dot” noted “If any studio other than Bungie had released such a bait-and-switch as Destiny, critics and gamers alike would be losing their minds.” It could be worse? Maybe I am missing something, but this is a solid and fun game and no game ever lives up to the hype. In fact, nothing does. No film, no phone, nothing. People always seem to expect more – at least some people do. I could mention politics at this point but that world is so skewed by each individual’s own agenda to render it inapplicable. I don’t think that the detractors of the game have a specific agenda, but the scale of their disappointment still surprises me. In his article “Destiny doesn’t come close to living up to the hype,” Dennis Scimeca provides his review of the game and explains what he believes are the game’s many shortcomings. For the most part, I agree with his opinions. The main missions are repetitive and follow the formula too closely. The addition of the recent Queen’s Wrath missions have helped broaden the selection if only in levels of difficulty and not terrain or the enemies fought.

It is odd that the game cannot be played without Xbox Live, a fact that came acutely to our attention a few weeks ago when we temporarily lost power and as a result, our Verizon FIOS as well. A local transformer had spiked and then ran out of juice completely which, in turn fried our master FIOS box and left us without phone, cable or internet connectivity for days. This was especially irritating as it was over a long weekend when my oldest son and I were planning on spending some time playing the game. As our friends played and advanced beyond our player levels, we realized how much we enjoyed and missed the game. We are back and have been making up for lost time. It’s a shame that there is no split screen option as most of the time we play we could both be playing if the option was available.

To me, Destiny feels like a blend of the recent titles from the Halo and Mass Effect series. If I have one complaint about Destiny it is that it is a bit short on soul. The Halo series casts a long shadow in this respect as the characters in Destiny are in no way personal. Even the live action commercial contains more emotion, humor, wit and bravado. Mass Effect went much farther in that respect with actual scripted interplay between the characters. It added another level not only in gameplay but in how much you like and identify with the cast. If you are really looking for a game with personality and soul try Red Dead Redemption or any of the Borderlands series. No one has more soul or humor than Borderlands. But no matter what the critics say, there is plenty to enjoy in Destiny.

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