Another Year Goes By

2019 was the worst year for gaming, except all the years preceding it

It has become a hallowed tradition among writers, especially in the videogame space, to claim that *current year* is the best/worst ever for the industry. Like most traditions, its absolute rubbish. The truth is, 2019 was an interesting year for gaming, where small and medium studios released (or patched) great games while large publishers pushed out garbage or participated in outright political repression.

To sum up the year would have to contend with both halves. It would have to list all the good, great and important games that came out this year, and all the myriad of controversies and scandals that threatened to drown them in press coverage. 2019 really felt at times like a twisted example of Newton’s Third Law of Motion; for every good game released, there must be an equal and opposite controversy (more than one to my horror).

This is why I decided in my first year end’s summation to start with the bad then work towards the good. Listing all the scandals and controversies of 2019 that I could recall, then addressing the games that I actually liked. I won’t be banging on a lot on each subject, as chances are I already wrote about it extensively. That said, I won’t be listing either controversies or games in order of importance since I don’t really believe in numerical rankings. The lists are organized in order or recollection. Thus the more important things might be listed first. That said I will be cheating a tad and keeping my GOTY (Game Of The Year) pick for last. Enjoy (I doubt it)!

2019’s Controversies

Activision-Blizzard Silences a Hearthstone Player to Aid Chinese Repression of Hong Kong

Oh boy, straight out of the bat and I am already going in heavy. Yes, you read this right. On the 7th of October, Activision-Blizzard banned Hong Kong player Blitzchung from Hearthstone, alongside the two commentators in the tournament he won, for speaking up for the people of Hong Kong fighting government repression.

There is no way to spin it, even though Activision-Blizzard tried hard. The reality was that the company was cooperating with the authoritarian regime of Xi “Winnie the Pooh” Jinping in the oppression of the people of Hong Kong fighting for democracy. This was beyond disgusting considering that originally the company even withheld the rightful prize money Blitzchung won in the tournament.

Of course, Activison-Blizzard tried hard to make us forget about the situation, announcing Diablo IV (already known a year before) and Overwatch 2 (who really clamored for that!?) to try and divert attention while issuing a non apology for their reaction to a “tough e-sports moment”. As though Blitzchung uttered some racial slur instead of showing support for basic human rights.

If anyone needed more proof to the amorality of large corporations, the entire affair offered it in spades. Let me remind you that Activision-Blizzard could life the ban at any time, instead of just tepidly reducing it. The fact that they are not doing it is their active participation in, and support of, the repression of the people of Hong Kong. It is absolutely abhorrent.

Anyone supporting Activision-Blizzard by buying their products at this point is, by definition, supporting this cold calculus that prefers the Chinese market share over basic human rights. Suffice to say it prompted me to delete my Battle.net account, a decision I don’t regret for a moment.

Of course, this wasn’t the only thing Activision-Blizzard was up to this year: Laying off 800 staffers and developers earlier in the year even though the company posted record profits. Tried to monetize its games to a ridiculous degree in particular its Call of Duty franchise. Lost its partnership with Bungie and the Destiny franchise (to be fair, not a huge loss but a sign that Bungie doesn’t see any benefit in associating with the publisher) and its top executives used tax refund stock buybacks (the company doesn’t even pay taxes!) to sell their shares and make millions off what amounts to insider trading. What can you say but… nauseating, yeah, I think that sums it up quite nicely.

Anthem and BioWare Are Dumpster Fires

Can anyone recall that Anthem came out this year? Anyone? Yes, it surprised me as well that Anthem was, indeed, launched this year. Released in February (though in the most confusing staggered release that has to be seen to be believed), the game proved to be a mess from start to finish. A boring slug of repetitive missions, broken AI and generic story that somehow made Destiny at launch look better in comparison. The only interesting thing about the game proved to be the expose Jason Schreier of Kotaku broke regarding the behind the scenes development of the game.

I recommend reading the expose which I shall link here. That said, for those already familiar with it, BioWare proved to be a mess of a development studio, with no real leadership or vision while exploiting its developers. Developers were worked to the bone, many suffering mental breakdowns and counted as “stress casualties”, a military term for soldiers suffering mental trauma! Worst yet, it appears that this wasn’t new, in fact, it was part of the “BioWare magic”, a term that now induces nausea for me.

All of this led me to re-evaluate BioWare’s entire gaming catalogue, for the worse, knowing what I do now. That said, it didn’t help Anthem one bit and the game seems to be dying quietly, which for once, I approve. Electronic Arts would do well to shut down the development studio and fire everyone in management, which I suspect it will do if the latest Dragon Age installment would prove to be a commercial flop (or not meeting “expectations” no matter how absurd they are). At this point in time I am actually rooting for BioWare’s failure considering the harm and abuse it heaped upon its employees.

Fallout 76

I am so tired of Fallout 76. I hadn’t bought it. I hadn’t played it. Yet every month I must be reminded of its continued, sinful existence due to the controversies it manufactures. I am oh so tired of even thinking about it. This attempt at a “Live Service” game from Bethesda was so ill conceived that the gall the company had to actually sell it makes my blood boil.

I am not going to start rattling off each and every controversy it generated. If I did, if I even tried, I am sure I would fill an entire novel worth of pages. There is just so many and it is all so exhausting. I don’t want to. I won’t in fact. Regardless, Fallout 76 would not stop generating headlines throughout 2019. In fact, just a few days before writing this summation it once again dominated the gaming news cycle with a new hacking controversy.

If Bethesda had any sense it would kill the game already instead of allowing it to shamble on. It won’t, though, because it can still make money off of it, and that is the honest truth. So long as its worth it, Fallout 76 will continue to exist and Todd Howard will keep showing his face in public, the lying git. God, can it be midnight already so I can down this entire champagne bottle?

Lootboxes and Battle Passes

One of the positive developments of 2019 had been the increased crackdown on lootboxes. Countries and politicians had enough of the filth of gambling in games and finally started pushing back with bans, inquires and legislation. Though its still far from being completely removed from gaming, large publishers do seem to have taken note and started shifting away from the gross business model of taking advantage of children and addicts.

That said, the new model of battle passes is coming to dominate the scene and is almost as atrocious as lootboxes. Using similar psychological manipulation, the battle pass tries to get players to invest time and, more importantly, money in “Live Service” games, shackling them to a single product. My encounter with the first battle pass in Apex Legends was quite the learning experience.

Suffice to say, battle passes are “optional” in the same way that grinding in most MMOs (Massive Multiplayer Online) is optional, i.e. not at all. They are designed to entice and entrap players with the promises of unique cosmetics and unlocks, as well as offering experience boosts. At the same time the game puts speed bumps and artificial ceilings on earned experience points so as to not allow players to complete a pass quickly, thus dictating the completion rate.

I was completely frustrated by this system. I felt both the pressure and stress it created and it managed to sour my opinion of Apex Legends, a game I love everything about except this insidious battle pass malarkey. It managed to burn me out of the game to such an extant I can’t play it as religiously as I used to anymore. Its that bad.

If this is the future large publishers envision for gaming, than I made the right call abandoning them altogether. Independent and medium sized developers have managed to fill the void the so called “AAA” games have left quite nicely. In fact, its those developers that have pushed the envelope and created some of the best games this year. If it were not for Apex Legends, I wouldn’t have actually played a single “AAA” game this year and I don’t feel bad about it.

Battle passes are just the most recent poison large publishers are trying to push down our throats to maximize their revenue and am certain plenty more games are going to be ruined by their inclusion, and many gamers hurt by their psychological manipulations. Frankly, I have no idea what to do to combat it besides what I’ve done recently and that is to simply walk away from “AAA” titles. Only time will tell if a better solution exists.

Google Stadia

When writing the initial draft for this post I completely forgotten Google Stadia. Yes, I could not recall that this year, Google once again launched a failed product that hadn’t been well thought out or developed. Google Stadia was a disaster through and through, bringing lag into single player games, which I guess could be counted as an achievement of sorts.

It was obvious the system hadn’t gone through proper testing and is years ahead of its time. As it stands, the current internet infrastructure in most of the developed world cannot support the service and it was made painfully apparent from launch. However, I will give Google credit for inventing new ways to screw gamers. Games already don’t have physical copies, making their ownership by gamers doubtful. Now with Stadia, companies in the future could finalize their vision of controlling consumer access to games and nickel and diming them for basic access to their gaming library, thus maximizing profits further.

It is a hellish, dystopian glimpse of the future of gaming, and one which will come to fruition once the technology to support it becomes more widespread. Just wait a few years. When you will be billed for every minute of Call of Duty or Battlefield you play, you would have Google to thank for pioneering this expansion of the rentier economy into our gaming world.

2019’s games

Finally we’ve made it through the worst of 2019 and into the best of it. After slugging it through controversy after controversy we can at least take solace in the few good games that the year produced. Again, as stated before, the listing is made in order of recollection rather than importance except the GOTY which I saved for last. This is because I don’t believe in numerical rankings. Please enjoy, you’ve earned it.

Pathfinder: Kingmaker

Yes, I am well aware that this game launched in 2018. However, with bug fixes and additional content, it became playable in 2019 so as far as I am concerned it counts! Regardless, you can read my review of the game here. That said, it was great to once again experience an epic fantasy game that hit all the right notes, alongside great writing and characters. That said I do want to emphasize the word “epic”, as in both in size and length. You really need a lot of time to experience the full story of Pathfinder: Kingmaker so take that in mind when purchasing a copy.

Sunless Skies

A sequel to Sunless Sea, Sunless Skies takes the great atmosphere and cosmic horror aspects of the original and transplants them into space. Everything is bigger, better and greater. It improves on the faults of the original and though it still has a few issues carried over from its predecessor, is an overall great game. I will review it in the future though I still need to finish the main story. Suffice to say, a gem you shouldn’t miss.

Battlefleet Gothic: Armada 2

Talking about sequels, Battlefleet Gothic: Armada 2 was a game I dreaded playing. So good was its predecessor that I feared the sequel might not live up to the standards it set. I was (mostly) wrong and am glad for it. I had a lot of fun with this sequel, which like Sunless Skies, remembered that game sequels are about adding, improving and fixing things that didn’t work in the original game rather than cutting content and copy pasting. You can read my review of it here. Cadia still stands!

Grim Dawn

I don’t have much experience with ARPG (Action Role Playing Games) and Grim Dawn has been my first foray into them. That said, I’ve been enjoying the game’s mechanics, atmosphere, setting and writing. So far, I actually managed to advance quite further along and if it weren’t for a nice deal on Monster Hunter World, I might have finished it by now. Sadly though, I still have plenty to do in the game before I could give it a fair and comprehensive review. That said, I have enjoyed my time with it so far and hopefully will get to review it in the coming year.

Apex Legends

Yes, I still love Apex Legends. It is my favorite team based battle royale game and the only one in the genre I can stomach. I love its characters, its mechanics and its aesthetics. I abhor its battle pass which made me stop playing the game for long periods of time, burned out from the psychological pressure. It was also the only game from a large publisher that I played all year and only because it was free-to-play (though I did waste money on the first season pass). You can read my first impression here, but I still stand behind most of it. That said, I am weary of it thanks to the battle pass system.

GOTY: Pathologic 2

It had to be Pathologic 2. It just couldn’t have been any other game. The third sequel on this list, Pathologic 2 is to gaming what Shakespeare is to theater and the English language. It is one of the most thoughtful games ever created which explores many aspects, not just of human society and philosophy, but of gaming as well. When both the game and meta narratives are woven together so expertly, you know you are dealing with a masterpiece.

I don’t think there is a more important game to close this decade of gaming with than Pathologic 2. It is also a remake, so if you, like me, couldn’t get over the frustrating mechanics of the original, Pathologic 2 got you covered, allowing you to “enjoy” the story. I put quotation marks around the word enjoy because I am not sure if its fair to say that I drew something so simple as enjoyment from it.

Its a game that is hard to explain, a game that should be experienced by all and you too can read my attempt to review it on the site here. Better yet, just watch MandaloreGaming’s review (of the original and the remake) or Hbomberguy’s two hour thesis, both of which I’ll link below.


MandaloreGaming’s excellent review of the sequel


hbomberguy’s great disseration of the two Pathologic games

With this, 2019 and the 2010s are done and good riddance I say. Now brace as 2020 rolls in and new games are released, followed closely by new controversies and scandals. See you in the trenches!

Battlefleet Gothic: Armada 2

A (mostly) worthy successor to a great game

I must admit I had some trepidation playing Battlefleet Gothic: Armada 2. After discovering its predecessor and enjoying it immensely, I was quite hesitant playing its sequel. Even though I pre-ordered it (Tindalos Interactive did the pre-order bonus right – having it be a 25% discount to owners of the original game), it sat for months in my library, completely ignored.

It can’t be helped considering how modern gaming had worked to ruin the concept of sequels. In the past it meant a better, bigger game with added features and mechanics. Today, most franchises have turned sequels into nothing more than copy-paste jobs, sometimes even removing features from games only to re-introduce them later as paid content or following fan backlash.

In addition, I have to mention that Tindalos Interactive did make some promises regarding the original game that weren’t fulfilled (the addition of Necron and Tyranid factions). Then some time before its launch, the game was delayed several months to January 2019, that only strengthened my unease. Add to it the fate of Dawn of War 3, and you can understand my reluctance to play the game and be disappointed.

Thankfully this is not the case. Battlefleet Gothic: Armada 2 is (mostly) everything I liked about the original and far more. The game lives to the ideal of sequels past – being a bigger, better version of its predecessor while introducing new mechanics and improving on old one.

What Is Battlefleet Gothic: Armada 2?

To put it bluntly, Battlefleet Gothic: Armada 2 is a turn based strategy game with tactical combat reminiscent of the age of sail but with spaceships shaped like cathedrals and space monsters that would like to nom on them. It is every bit as glorious as it sounds.

Having played the campaign only (since its the only bit that interests me), the player gets to command its faction’s fleets on a galactic map divided to sectors and star systems. During the grand campaign, they’ll conquer systems, consolidate control of sectors, research and upgrade vessels and build multiple fleets to secure victory via completing story line missions.

Combat itself takes place in space (duh) where the player gets to command a squadron of ships with various abilities and complete objectives to win the battle (often by destroying the opposition). Battles play in real time, with the player controlling ships and ordering them around from a top down perspective. That said the game can be paused to queue orders, slowed down for better reaction or sped up to get to the action.

Setting

In the grim darkness of the far future there is only war. These are the words that open every Warhammer 40,000 novel and game, with Battlefleet Gothic: Armada 2 being no exception. The game does a good enough job explaining things for newcomers without boring more well informed fans. Suffice to say that the game takes place in the “present” of the Warhammer 40,000 universe. Cadia, the fortress world that held the forces of Chaos at bay for near 10,000 years, has finally fallen to the 13th Dark Crusade of Abaddon the Despoiler, warmaster of Chaos Undivided. The Imperium forces are in disarray as Chaos surges forward. At the same time, ancient threats are awakening, wishing to reclaim their lost glory as ravenous extra galactic invaders descend on the galaxy. Add to it the machinations of the Aeldari trying to stave off their extinction and green skins wanting their share in the fun and you get a chaotic galaxy filled with combat and bloodshed. Welcome to the 42nd millennia.

The Story

The story of the game is far more open ended than that of its predecessor, with four campaigns released so far. You can play as the following four factions: The forces of Chaos looking to destroy the Imperium once and for all. A Necron dynasty reawakening only to find primitives infesting its worlds and go on cleansing. The Tyranids trying to digest everyone and the Imperium of Man.

In the Imperium campaign you are thrust into the shoes of lord admiral Spire, the protagonist of the previous game. Having been lost in the warp for 800 years, he manages to escape to real space only to find the Imperium engulfed in turmoil. Adding insult to injury, the target of his pursuit – Abaddon the despoiler, is the one responsible. It is up to Admiral Spire to rally the beleaguered defenders of the Imperium, reclaim the Cadian sector and secure the Imperium from its many enemies, confronting the fleets of Chaos, Tyranids, Necrons and Orks. Not helpful are the machinations of other factions such as the Inquisition, Space Marine chapters and of course, the Aeldari.

The strength of the the original game was its writing, and the sequel builds on it. Missions are well crafted, varied and have great interactions between characters. You’ll be encountering many famous characters from the lore in the game, such as Trazyn the Infinite, Yvraine – Emissary of Ynnead and her boyfriend, Bobby G i.e. Roboute Guilliman.

I want to praise the prologue in particular. Not only are the cutscenes reminiscent of its predecessor, but they work well to inform fans and newcomers of what has transpired prior to the campaign. They also provide a great tutorial for new and veteran players. The presentation is so well done that I actually don’t mind replaying the prologue, which is a huge point in its favor. Not every day you get to command the legendary Phalanx, the mobile fortress monastery of the Imperial Fists.

While the story’s progress is player driven, the game adds a ticking clock mechanic with threat level gauge that increases each turn. Not only will it cause hostile factions to become more aggressive as it increases in levels, but if allowed to complete will signal a game over. This works well to give you enough breathing space to muster your forces but not to tarry too long.

That said, the game’s pacing is not great. Having to compare it again to its predecessor (which is only fair considering the amount of connective tissue storywise), it is far less tight and starts to drag on near the end. Part of it is the amount of combat you have to grind through in order to reach the final mission, and part of it is the fact that the original benefited from being canonical, thus having a tighter story. While Battlefleet Gothic: Armada 2 starts canonically, it soon veers off into uncharted territory, which is fine by me but it does feel that the lack of material caused the developers to whiffle near the end.

Adeptus Administratum

To secure the Imperium, one must have the ships and captains necessary to fight the enemies of mankind. Battlefleet Gothic: Armada 2 supplies both with its mechanical overhaul. The series now more resembles Total War: Warhammer as its strategic side had been thoroughly developed. The galactic map now has sectors, each made up of various star systems each containing planets. Sectors and systems are connected to each other via warp routes, and have differing resources. Some sectors may have an abundance of mineral rich systems to exploit, while others may house advanced shipyards or forge worlds. This gives certain systems and sectors greater importance in both securing and defending.

Capturing systems and defending them is an important part of the game. Some systems are vital as they contain worlds with certain upgrades, others have worlds that add special abilities or increase combat effectiveness of player fleets. Not to mention that there are only a handful of planets with large shipyards that can produce capital ships. You can fortify systems and station fleets in various sectors, but you soon find yourself overstretched (which is consistent with the setting). This is important since planets can be upgraded. Planets start at rank one and can be upgraded with resources to rank three. These upgrades require them to accumulate evolution points which they naturally generate so long as you control the system. Once they reach a certain threshold, you can spend resources to upgrade them, which in turns unlocks more benefits from said worlds. However losing control of the system will reset their rank, starting from one again.

The game has also reworked the renown system. In the past, renown, earned in battles, was used for pretty much everything. You used it to buy ships, favors, upgrades and special abilities. Now, renown acts as level progression, with each level unlocking new ships, upgrade points, fleets and early on, secondary objectives for battles. Instead, to build ships you need shipyards. Shipyards generate build points and have caps, so you can’t create a fleet from whole cloth (so don’t lose one!) on the go. Also you need a fleet in the system to receive the ship. The bigger the tonnage, the more build points needed. This means that only a select few systems can build the largest of vessels, making them points of great import.

Upgrade points used to be for individual vessels as they ranked up, but now apply to all (or certain) vessels and are earned with each renown level. They are divided into four trees, with the last upgrades requiring control of certain systems to complete. It is possible to complete all upgrade trees in a single playthrough but early on they prove quite valuable and hard to decide where to assign.

Resources are basically credits, and can be earned from planets. They are needed for upgrading worlds and paying upkeep for fleets. Early on they serve as a bottleneck though by late game you’ll be swimming in the damned things. Besides them there are battle plans. Battle plans are used to reduce the threat gauge and unlock special systems and can only be acquired by completing secondary objectives or stolen from enemy flagships via boarding actions.

Into the Fires of Battle

Not only did the strategic side of Battlefleet Gothic: Armada 2 receive an upgrade, but the tactical side as well. In the campaign, the player can bring up to three full fleets into combat, and the Imperium has access to not one, but three different fleet types with the Adeptus Mechanicus, Imperial Navy and Space Marines having various strengths and weaknesses.

As the player’s renown grows, so will the number of fleets they can field and their size as well as the size of battles. This slightly increases the size of battles from the previous game as well as allowing each side to field reinforcements upon incurring losses, and losses will happen. The game is as visceral and brutal as its predecessor. The addition of Tyranid and Necron factions into the mix forcing the player to adapt their tactics or risk being a bioform’s lunch.

While on the whole the combat system itself is relatively similar to the first game, there have been a few welcomed changes. First and foremost, ships don’t gain ranks, only admirals. Instead their crews gain experience from surviving battles, leading to improved performance in combat with up to four ranks of veterancy. This also removes special abilities from ships, with only flagships able to equip them upon their captains gaining ranks. Flagships can equip two active abilities and two passives and a fifth, strategic perk. This removes the problem of ability spam the game would often devolve into in mid to late game. That said, you can still field three flagships in a single battle so you can still do combination plays (my favorite is stasis bomb, disruptor bomb and then copious amounts of plasma bombs and nova cannon barrages).

That said, a major overhaul was made to the boarding mechanic. In the past, boarding actions were similar to fires, they did some damage to the hull of the ship and may incapacitate or destroy sub systems. While not completely useless, it wasn’t really that great. Battlefleet Gothic: Armada 2 changes that. Ships now have crew compliments and crewing levels. Boarding actions now deal damage to the crew. If staffing falls below 0, the ship losses a crewing level and becomes less effective. A ship can lose all of its crew and turn into a derelict, at which point friendly ships may transfer crew to it to bring it back into action or choose scuttle it, turning it into a mine.

Of course, troop strength varies from faction to faction. Some factions have hard hitting boarding actions (such as Tyranids and Necrons) and others may be extremely weak against it (Tau, Mechanicus). That said its a huge boost for the playstyle and gives Space Marine players in particular, a much needed buff considering how lackluster the faction had been before.

Unto the Anvil of War

A huge change was made to the battle objectives themselves. Currently there are only two modes in the campaign, capture in which each side has accumulate command points to win, either by holding certain areas of the map or by destroying opposing ships. The other mode is kill all, where one side must destroy all the ships belonging to the other.

However the other modes are not entirely gone. Instead they have been turned into secondary objectives. This is great for two reasons: First, having to do assassination missions against the Aeldari in slow Imperial Navy ships is the definition of insanity. Secondly, it gives the player choice in battle. Pursuing secondary objectives is useful as they provide various faction and fleet boosts afterwards. That said, they can also be made into useful distractions, such as convoy protection that turns the transport ships into bait to split the attention of the enemy.

Another upgrade to battle is hazardous environments. The game already has various hazards littering the battlefield, such as gas pockets, derelict stations and asteroid fields. The hazardous environments are conditions that can pop up randomly in battles and affect the entire battlefield. They range from space garbage that fills the radar with false signals, making locating the opposition difficult, to solar flares that torch the hull of unshielded ships. There are ion storms that turn gas pockets, often a favorite hiding place, to death traps and radiation waves that blind all sensors. Their inclusion can be quite a game changer and helps make battles less repetitive.

Ave Mechanicum

I mentioned before the addition of new factions to the game, and I do mean it. Besides two whole new factions: The Necrons who field unshielded ships that can regenerate their hull and have 360 degree firing arcs for their weapons that can damage hulls through shields. They also possess powerful troops, can all use short range teleportation and best yet, their capital ships can use star pulses which destroy all munitions fired at them (i.e. fighters and torpedoes) making them quite powerful foes.

The other faction being the Tyranids. The Tyranids terrify me. Their tactics involve using escort vessels as suicide ships that spread acidic clouds that eat through the hull of vessels and slow them down, allowing the larger ships to catch up to them. Their ships have a cloud of bioforms that will attack the hull of any ship foolish enough to get close and their troops are quite powerful. Engaging Tyranids at close range is suicidal and just from the tone of my words you can guess how much they traumatized me in the campaign.

Besides them, every existing faction received new fleet variations. While I mostly played the Imperium, I did encounter some of the new variations. In particular the Aeldari can now choose between the Corsairs, which were the default fleet in the previous game, and the Craftworld and Drukhari. The Drukhari in particular have a very distinct look, though all three employ the same style of combat. The Imperium gets the Imperial Navy and the Space Marines, but receives a third variation in the form of the Adeptus Mechanicus. Adeptus Mechanicus ships have less crew, better range but weak troops. That said, their strength is in their range, as most upper tier Mechanicus ships carry Nova cannons. They also have an alternate firing mode for the Nova cannon that causes enemy ships to slow down, helping them to keep range control.

Of Sound, Graphics and Miscellaneous Details

The game continues the tradition of having a very powerful soundtrack. I usually don’t notice these things but on this rare occasion I want to note just how good it is. The music is so good that I like to listen to it out of game, often when working on other projects or doing house chores. That is how good it is. Most important of all, it fits the setting to a tee.

Sound design is just as perfect as the first game. The sound of lancer turrets, the heavy thud of macro cannon batteries firing are perfect and help immerse the player. There is nothing more satisfying than hearing the impact of your ship’s ram as it plows into the side of a heretic vessel as engines burn at maximum. Its great.

Another feather in the game’s cap is the voice acting. Just like the previous game, its top notch. Its what you’d expect from a Warhammer 40,000 game. There is plenty of grit, determination and pathos. Trazyn in particular is well cast and now I can’t imagine the character without its mocking tone as it looks down on all these primitives who lack of appreciation to his preservation efforts. Them and their overly attached attitude to members of their species and relics… Truly baffling to a Necron of culture.

Graphically, the game looks great. The ships are so lovingly rendered, each a piece of art you can stare at for hours, with the game giving you the tools to do so in the fleet screen. The battle scenery is also beautiful, so much so that at times I found myself pausing the fight just to have a better look at the background. The game does the Warhammer 40,000 universe proud in the way it brings its models into life.

One miscellaneous detail I decided to sneak into this segment is the lore richness of the game. Anyone who has read Warhammer 40,000 novels and codexes will recognize many of the worlds, systems and sectors portrayed in the main campaign. There is a certain amount of pride to be had in exploring a sector and saying “Hey, I recognize this world”. I know its quite petty which is why I put it here near the end of the review but still, its very fun and shows the developers do care for the universe they are depicting.

In conclusion

Battlefleet Gothic: Armada 2 is a worthy successor to the original, improving on every single aspect of the original while adding much needed depth and variety. It continues the tradition of great visuals, great sound and voice acting to bring the Warhammer 40,000 universe alive. That said, the story does falter a bit near the end, feeling slow and grind-y but still enjoyable overall. I heartily recommend to fans of the original, people who enjoy age of sail combat, and of course anyone who loves Warhammer 40,000.

Pathfinder: Kingmaker – Enhanced Edition (v2.05)

Finally, a worthy successor for Neverwinter Nights 2

I had been putting off reviewing the game for quite some time. Finishing the main story, I felt exhausted, yet satisfied that I couldn’t write a comprehensive review straight away. Afterwards things kept happening, forcing me to push this review further back. Now that things have finally slowed down for the holidays, I can catch up and give my thoughts on the game.

As the sub title reads, Pathfinder: Kingmaker is a spiritual successor to Neverwinter Nights 2 and other asymmetric CRPG (Computer Role Playing Game) of the type. The genre had lost its prominence in the early 2010s, as large studios and publishers pivoted away from what was one of gaming’s staple genres and to first person military shooters (Call of Duty clones), butchering beloved intellectual property (*cough* Bethesda *cough*) or making mediocre third person science fiction shooters (hello BioWare).

By the middle of the decade though, the genre was seeing a revival with Shadowrun Returns unironically leading the charge, followed closely by titles such as Divinity: Original Sin, Torment: Tides of Numenera, Tyranny and The Age of Decadence to name those I managed to play. However none of them managed to capture that feeling of epicness that the Neverwinter Nights series held for me. That is until Pathfinder: Kingmaker.

Pathfinder: Kingmaker is set in the world of Golarion, a fantasy world that would be familiar to any fan of Neverwinter Nights though there are many subtle changes and different histories involved. As I wrote before, its an asymmetric CRPG employing modified D&D (Dungeons and Dragons) rule set. I haven’t played either the original or the Pathfinder tabletop versions but from my playthrough the skill system is far more simplified and some changes were made to mechanics such as poison (which I will whinge about later on in the review).

Start

Like any CRPG, the game starts with the player creating their custom character, picking appearance, class and putting points into skills and attributes. Nothing out of the ordinary. There isn’t a huge choice for customization, reminding me of the original Neverwinter Nights but considering the fact the game had been crowdfunded, easy to forgive. The meat of a CRPG, after all, is in the story.

That said, the Pathfinder system seems to have several interesting classes that differ from the D&D third edition, with some enticing multi classing options that would thrill veterans of the genre. I am not ashamed to say that I was tempted at times to deviate from my pure, two handed backstabbing rogue build, though I persevered.

Once done customizing the character, you begin the game in the starting location which serves both as a good tutorial and a hook for the story.

Setting

The player starts in the city of Restov as another adventurer lured by the call of the Spellswords, the rulers of the city, to form an expedition to the Stolen Lands; a region bordering several kingdoms that none had been able to lay, or more importantly maintain, claim to. Now a stronghold of bandits, the Spellswords wish to clear the area and install a friendly regime in place to keep the peace.

Of course, in the company of outcasts, mercenaries and vainglorious adventurers, tension rise from the start only to be further exacerbated by an attack on the mansion by unknown assailants seeking to disrupt the expedition. Indeed, there is something ominous about the Stolen Lands and their reputation, not to mention that the Spellswords seem to have an ulterior motive for sponsoring the expedition.

Under such ill portents the player and a small party of adventurers set out to the Stolen Lands to pacify the region and build a kingdom. Unknown to them, the Stolen Lands are not named so lightly, and many secrets lay buried under their surface.

Story

Reading the setting, its easy to see why I love the game’s story. It hooks you in with intrigue, mystery and of course, a deceptively simple premise. Adventurer called to clear some bandits and set up an outpost in the wilderness is a great framework to hang a story on and the developers took full advantage of it. The story itself grows almost organically from this simple start, each twist and turn not just surprising, but fitting and makes sense when put in context of the greater narrative.

I don’t want to reveal too much since I feel any further detail written may spoil and thus detract from that first, crucial, playthrough. However since story is the life blood of a good CRPG, its important to at least discuss some of it. Pathfinder: Kingmaker has a great story, filled with that epicness I wrote about earlier on. It may start as a simple, almost bog standard quest but it saws seeds of mystery and intrigue from the start that pay off later on. I can’t recall a single plot thread that didn’t end up with some satisfying pay off or led to the grand reveal near the end.

This is no small praise considering just how long the story is. We are talking easily 60-120 hours of gameplay, depending on individual ability, difficulty and whether or not the kingdom feature is enabled and all side quests are pursued. To make a story so grand and interesting that I’d still be invested in it even after a lot of repetitive busywork speaks volumes on the quality of the writing, and it is superb.

Characters in particular are well crafted. Considering the size of the game, you come across a great deal of them and each is written with interesting backstories, side quests and even satisfying resolutions (depending on choice). The companions in particular feel like real people, with differing ideologies, philosophical stances and motivations. They even interact with one another during travel and camping, adding more flavor.

The Companions

A party is only as good as the people comprising it and the game furnishes you with ten characters (11 with DLC) to choose from. Though you have an option of generating generic companions via the Pathfinder Society (in exchange for gold, of course), the base game, I feel, supplies you with good enough characters that I never took that option. The companions are AI controlled but can be given orders by the player, have their own classes and can be either level’ed up by the player for those who know what they are doing, or automatically level’ed up by the computer.

Each of the companions have their own reasons for tagging along for the adventure, their reasoning revealed in their quest chains. These side quests hold revelations about the companions and can influence them. They deal with many themes such as societal rejection, letting go of the past, finding out one’s roots, enacting revenge and suffering its consequences and so forth. Each and every companion story was an emotional roller coaster that felt at times satisfying and horrifying. Some of these companion quests can be quite tragic. Not every story has a happy ending.

The player can have up to five companions with him on an adventure, the rest remaining in the main hub area when traveling. The companions can be customized with gear, their AI tweaked and their inventory filled with whatever necessities (or junk) the player needs. There is also a communal chest to put gear in that is accessible for all the party, requiring less tedious micro-managing and item swapping between inventories. That said, the “size” of the communal trunk depends on the collective strength attribute of the party. Companions can also serve as advisors in the kingdom.

Kingdom Come

One of the main features of the game is the kingdom interface. Once you pacify the Stolen Lands, you become their ruler, awarded with a keep, construction points and the task of ruling the region. The game does well to meld the kingdom management aspect to the overall story. That said players who wish to focus wholly on the adventure aspect can turn off the kingdom management if they wish, a useful feature, especially for replay.

The kingdom can be managed through the kingdom interface tab, but only from the throne room, requiring the player to visit their capital frequently (like a true ruler). Every month there will be problems and opportunities. Problems are negative events that will hurt the kingdom, decreasing stability and affecting various stats such as community, military power, culture, commerce and so forth. If continuously ignored, the kingdom will be destroyed and the game will be over. Opportunities on the other hand can be ignored as they only give bonuses to the kingdom and if skipped, won’t result in any issues.

To resolve problems or pursue opportunities, the player must assign an advisor to deal with them. Companions can be appointed as advisors, as well as certain characters the player encounters throughout the story (some of which even I didn’t know you could recruit!). Once an advisor is chosen and assigned, they will resolve the event within the allotted time. In-game time passes either through the kingdom tab or via traveling in the overmap.

As the game progresses, the kingdom will grow, necessitating more advisors, expanding territories and founding villages which act as rest stops on the map for the party (as well as places to settle vendors). These villages, and the capital, can be upgraded with various buildings that affect the various kingdom stats. Building them is tricky as they require Construction Points (CP for short) generated by the kingdom on a weekly basis (or by converting gold into CP) and have adjacency bonuses if placed near other buildings. Since the building screen is grid based, and changes depending on terrain, it can get messy.

Sadly, buildings do not change the look of the villages or the capital, which is a missed opportunity. The system itself isn’t too complicated and can be rather shallow at times. As much as I did enjoy some of the events and stories contained within, I don’t find them as memorable as the main story or the companion quests. I feel like there is something that, in a future iteration, may be expanded upon, but I don’t begrudge anyone turning off the feature.

Stolen Lands

I mentioned the overmap before. The Stolen Lands, where the game takes place, are a region with many points of interests. Each place is a crafted level, with travel facilitated by the overmap. The overmap won’t show every location as it is shrouded at the start and only through travel will the player discover various places that can be visited and revisited throughout the game. Travel as written before, involves time and is done on pathways.

The party will grow weary the longer they travel, thus camping is necessary to rest and replenish. The camping mechanic is well implemented, allowing character interaction and assigning roles such as cooking, guarding, hunting and so forth. Different companions have different skills which may fit specific roles, with some more suited to cooking while others make great guards for example. A well rested party will get positive combat modifiers. Camping, depending on setting, also allows healing and restoring, cancelling modifiers received in combat.

A player may push their party onward but risks incurring worse and worse negative modifiers. Characters will voice their displeasure and beg for rest and you’d feel pretty guilty not granting it. Of course time is important and sometimes you must push your companion forward.

Of course the overmap will only increase in size as new lands are incorporated into the kingdom. This leaves plenty of places to explore and many quests to pick along the way. That said, there isn’t as much map variety as I’d like, and by the middle of the game you become so familiar with certain woodland clearings and mountain passes you just want to scream your frustration. Also encounters on the overmap become tedious by the late game and feel more of a nuisance slowing down progression.

Combat Difficulty

I have tried avoiding talking about combat as long as I could but there is no escaping it. Combat in Pathfinder: Kingmaker is both generic and frustrating in equal parts. I already eluded to it when talking about story but Pathfinder: Kingmaker doesn’t really do much with its combat mechanics, using instead the template that many CRPGs use, that is turn based combat playing out in real time with option to pause and queue actions.

While being generic as it gets, for the first couple of playthroughs I tended to die a lot, almost giving up at points. Now I am not the most elite gamer, putting myself squarely in the average category, but I have experience with CRPGs and I never recalled dying as often in other titles as I did in Pathfinder: Kingmaker. Thankfully the game comes with a robust difficulty setting, allowing you to pretty much tweak everything.

Part of the problem is the way poisons are implemented in the Pathfinder system. It seems poisons not only affect attributes, but can stack. Since every second creature in the game uses poison, you often find yourself quickly losing all your attribute points in say, strength or constitution, leading to your character’s death (or if you decreased difficulty, unconsciousness). This led me to both despise poison and prize any item that gave me protection from venom.

Even after tweaking with the settings and getting better at not dying from poison, the game kept being rather difficult. The difficulty can spike if you ignore certain events, such as a troll invasion early on. I kept thinking that I could concentrate on kingdom building while ignoring it but it soon ballooned, not only threatening my kingdom but infesting every area in the map turning every visit to a level into a glorious last stand against a tide of green and gray, forcing me to restart the game.

Even in my next playthrough, I didn’t really experience a breakthrough until chapter four. I was still struggling with the difficulty, clearing a final dungeon and getting wiped out time after time. After the umpteenth attempt and death, I loaded a save before the start of the dungeon and traveled back to my capital where I bought all the scrolls, potions and weapons I needed. After re-configuring my party I traveled back to the dungeon. I won’t say that I immediately triumphed but I would later clear it with only a couple of attempts (after wiping to the final boss). It was this moment that led to an epiphany of sorts. The game wasn’t difficult on purpose, I was simply playing it wrong.

Its the curse of modern gaming that makes you believe that however you play the game, you could win every engagement with a bit of ingenuity and some luck. The “play it your way” design has atrophied my brain because Pathfinder: Kingmaker isn’t that difficult the moment you prepare properly for the encounter. The game gives you all the tools to defeat its dungeons, but you need to put the effort.

There is a reason why the game gives you four weapon slots, unlike the usual two most games of the type allow. There is a reason why there is a communal trunk, not to mention bags of holding for extra storage. There is a reason why there are different groups of weapons outside of just proficiency, such as cold iron or silver. Once you realize all of that and do your homework in the game, you are more or less set to defeat every challenge the game throws at you, so long as you employ your brain. With this shift in perspective I was able to enjoy the game and die a lot less, which I think is a point in the game’s favor. That said, that point gets sullied by the repetitiveness of combat, which as I pointed before, can get dismal at later levels.

That said, anyone that played the game on unfair difficulty with the Last Azlanti option turned on and actually finished the game is a god among CRPG players. That or an extradimentional being.

Saving Private Scum

Talking about difficulty one must talk about the robust save system Pathfinder: Kingmaker employs. I haven’t seen such a good system in years. The game will auto save before entering a level, keeping up to three concurrent saves at default. This means you never lose too much progression upon wiping out. It also has a similar quick save system. Both can be increased to up to 25 each, giving you plenty of choice if you need to reload or take a different path.

At this point the system is so good that I pretty much going to look down on future CRPGs that lack it. It is indispensable and another point in favor of the game, as well as a mitigating factor with its difficulty (unless you play Last Azlanti at which point you are pretty much a mad person). Its also quite useful for dealing with the consequences of story and side quest decisions that may ripple unfavorably for you later on.

Decisions Decisions

I wrote that the lifeblood of a good CRPG is its story and writing. While this is true, what really separates a good story, from a truly epic one, is not just the scope of writing, but its depth. This involves the situations and choices the game confront the player with. Not just powerful enemies and bad odds, but unavoidable choices and laws of unintended consequences. The game has both in spades, not once forcing me to confront what I deemed moral and good.

This is aided by the alignment system. Alignment is a feature of most D&D games and though I have some issues with the concept, I do understand its necessity. That said in Pathfinder: Kingmaker the alignment system is fluid, rather than strict. Though not a new concept, Pathfinder: Kingmaker implements it quite masterfully with an alignment wheel that allows the player to track the change in their alignment.

Alignment is important in D&D both for magic, deity influence and of course, decisions. Some decisions in the game can only be unlocked through your current alignment, while others will affect your alignment. The game uses this extremely well, in particular with a few companion quests. Since companions have different alignments and viewpoints, its no surprise that their aims and wills will run contrary to the player, their quest lines reflecting this. There are some hard choices to be done. The real mastery is making a hard choice and feel justified with it, but at the same time regretting it. Without spoiling, Pathfinder: Kingmaker has these as well.

On Graphics and Other Things

By this point I pretty much exhausted most of the things I wanted to mention and discuss in reviewing the game. Its no surprise I left graphics to the end because its so miscellaneous in comparison to everything else that I really didn’t see the point in dedicating a section for it. The graphics are what you’d expect from an asymmetric CRPG from the late 2010s – pretty. The graphics are okay. They are passable. They never detracted from the experience but I don’t think they added anything to it. Both them and the art were passable and did their job. There was never a moment I thought “gosh, this is ugly” but I never had a moment where I thought “gosh, this is beautiful”.

The only thing I can mention in regards with graphics is some glitches with cloaks but this is just getting petty.

Other than that there isn’t much else to say. I did play with some DLC (Downloadable Content) and expansions such as Beneath the Stolen Lands which added a dungeon in which you must clear levels and go deeper into the belly of the earth to slay a creature of pure nightmare and madness. It had good writing, good loot, plenty of challenge and many tragic tales as you learn of the fate of previous adventurers that braved the dungeon. The Wildcards adds another character with interesting backstory and its own quest line and resolution within the story. The other expansion, Varnhold’s Lot adds a ~20 hour campaign where you get to play the events leading to chapter four from a different perspective that I didn’t touch because the main game had exhausted me enough and I felt satisfied with the ending I reached.

I mentioned crashes, and the game did crash for me a couple of times but always after extended playthroughs (after more than six hours) which I don’t think many gamers would run the risk of incurring. Thanks to the save game system I didn’t lose much progress.

In Conclusion

Its hard to sum up such an epic game and I feel like my review left a lot to be desired but if I continued to rattle off this post would be as long as a novel. Suffice to say that Pathfinder: Kingmaker is an epic fantasy CRPG with great story, interesting characters and terrific writing. It has bog standard combat system with some difficulty issues but a great save system to compensate. Its not graphically or artistically exceptional but does its job and I have enjoyed it immensely. That said combat can get tiring near the end, and many locations are repeated. Also at launch it seems to have been quite buggy but I played more than a year later during the v2.05 implementation and didn’t encounter any bugs.

I feel safe recommending this to any CRPG fan or gamer who wants to experience an epic story done right, a la Lord of the Rings style. I don’t want to do scores but if you twisted my arm I’d give it a 9 out of 10, deducting a point due to the repetitiveness of combat. Enjoy!

With Apologies to CCP Oracle

The hardest thing to do in the world is to apologize

I’ve been putting off this article for a couple of weeks. In fact I already wrote a couple of drafts just a day after the incident but I kept putting it off. No one wants to face their own shortcomings, and other things like CCP Games introducing gambling to EVE Online and igniting my rage happened, which felt like they needed addressing first.

That is a lie of course, I simply used the new controversy as a way to further delay the inevitable but its finally here. CCP Oracle, if you are reading this, (and I hope you do as I will tag you on twitter) I am genuinely sorry. I was rude and out of line and I shouldn’t have written that tweet. It was disrespectful, period.

Of course that is not enough. Its not enough to just say sorry. By itself the word is meaningless. What is important, the reason behind writing this entire article that seems little more than an act of public self flagellation, is to find out the reason why the incident happened in the first place and address that cause. Without it there is no in point apologizing so bear with me as we deep dive into my twisted psyche.

The innocent tweet about seeing more Korean players, including female streamers, flock to EVE Online following the launch of Korean localization, shouldn’t have elicited such a visceral response from me. That said I had mistaken CCP Oracle for a male developer and considering the current atmosphere in gaming and streaming services such as Twitch, made the wrong inference. That is all on me. When one assumes things without checking them first, one gets being made an ass. Its just logical. However like an ogre, lets peel the layers and dig deeper. Why would I even care about what a CCP Games developers had to say in the first place?

Lets start with the issue of Korean localization. A few years back CCP Games killed all localization efforts in the game, including the Korean language one. Being bought by Pearl Abyss, a Korean gaming giant, suddenly Korean language localization was back on the menu and done in quite a short time all considering. Yet at the same time, other, more established communities, must continue and play EVE Online in English rather than their native tongue. It feels both unequal and a tad hypocritical of CCP Games to praise the surge of Korean players after years of dismissing localization which is a barrier of entry for many people and not addressing the needs of other communities.

Then there is the part of the tweet that was the highlighting female streamers. I am all for more female representation in games, gaming and whatnot. Having more streamers covering EVE Online would be good for the game though I don’t think EVE Online translates that well into streaming. Its not a very fast paced game after all but that is not the point. The point is, CCP Games have a terrible track record with female players. The toxicity of some of the player base had worked to drive away many a female gamer, and I heard enough horror stories from female players to make me ashamed of having a penis. Its tough, its bad, and the fact is, CCP Games had done so little to protect its female players that promoting female streamers can almost be seen as throwing meat into the water. You know a shark is just gonna bite into it.

Okay, not great optics, but nothing worthy of lashing out. Obviously I was frustrated with what I saw as hypocrisy and irresponsibility but still nothing to send a mean tweet about. Time to delve greedily and deep to unleash the Balrog.

This tweet came only a few days after CCP Falcon resigned. A few weeks before that, Snuffed Out, my last home in EVE Online, shuttered as the content drought in the game continues. Friends keep quitting EVE Online one by one or reducing their activity and selling their super capitals. In this atmosphere of hopelessness its not hard to get frustrated, especially at CCP Games that helped create this situation. After all, its up to the game developers to, well, develop the game and outsmart the playerbase in order to promote conflict and engagement.

A lot of us waited with eagerness for some sign that CCP Games had a plan, that there was a solution to the horrible stagnation the game had fallen into in the last few years. The Las Vegas convention was seen as the place where CCP Games would unveil real solutions. We held out collective breath for the presentations and we got… Nothing. Absolutely nothing constructive was said in EVE Vegas. The entire event might as well have been cancelled. Instead of a roadmap or some acknowledgement of the rot EVE Online is in, we got a roadmap to a roadmap. Yes, we got a presentation about how CCP Games will implement short term roadmaps. I wish I were kidding.

That was it – the moment something broke inside me. The moment when I knew the game was well and truly gone because its developers have abandoned it. CCP Falcon’s resignation afterwards only cemented this feeling. CCP Falcon was the face of EVE Online and one of the main points of contact with the company for the community. Hate him or love him, he at least engaged with the playerbase. His departure pretty much created a gap between the community and the company. That void could not be easily filled especially after other community managers had either left or were let go in the last couple of years. With the last bridge burned, there was not even the pretense that the company was listening to us.

Which leads us here, to that moment where a frustrated, tired player gets sent a tweet of a CCP Games employee. All that anger, all that frustration with the state of the game, with the lack of an outlet, with that feeling of abandonment just comes out in one ugly tweet. An unnecessary tweet which demeaned an innocent employee and saw malice where there was none. A tweet that sought to hurt people that really had nothing to do with the situation the game is in.

The people who did mismanage the game, the people who are deserving of a good tongue lashing have been deaf to the community’s plight from the start. They already sold off the game and are moving on to make a new game which they’d either ruin later on or fail from the start as they done so many times in the past. They are the ones hiding behind people like CCP Falcon and CCP Oracle, using them as disposable human shields while they count the money they make from stock options and bonuses. They have shown a complete lack of care for the community that sprung around their game and attribute the success of the game to their genius instead of the hard work of both developers and players in keeping the game going all those years in spite of the lack of leadership shown above.

It is those people I should, and am, angry at but its exactly those kind of people that won’t listen to my rage at the continued decline of the game and community I’ve come to cherish. You can certainly see why and how its frustrating. That said, none of this is an excuse to lash at total strangers who probably have nothing to do with it all.

Once again I am sorry CCP Oracle for the tweet. I am sure that much like other developers in CCP Games, you were a player yourself who dreamt of working in the company developing the game and finally achieved this dream only to be hurled abuse by anonymous idiots on the net. I hope my apology will go some way into alleviating this.

The House Always Wins

Looks like gambling is back on the menu!

Recently, CCP Games posted a new developer blog introducing the HyperNet thus resurrecting gambling in EVE Online. I wrote resurrecting because EVE Online already had a robust gambling scene in the past. Third party sites set up and managed by players offered a variety of gambling options from playing poker, taking part in lotteries and raffles, to betting on sporting events; real and in-game ones. All of this was done without developer intervention and using what few tools there were in-game for it.

The boom of EVE Online casinos would come to influence the game’s politics, the massive profits sparking a long and arduous war that by its end would see the Imperium, one of the biggest player coalitions ever, defeated and driven out of its north eastern strongholds. Defeated, but not destroyed. That said, in 2016 the party came to a close when out of game events forced CCP Games to ban the entire operation, shuttering many sites.

The event, for those interested, was a scandal involving the Counter Strike: Global Offensive skin gambling sites and several prominent video creators in the community. The skins for the game could be traded between players using real currency, leading to a robust market. It wouldn’t take long for sites to set up to allow people to gamble for said skins. Several video creators with large audiences promoted said sites and made videos showing them winning big prizes, neglecting to mention that they either owned or were partnered with said sites. Not only was there an issue about disclosure, but many suspected that the lotteries could, and were, possibly rigged for the purpose of the videos in order to dupe impressionable viewers, many of whom were teenagers.

This scandal got wide media attention, and later government one as legislators began eyeing the unregulated videogame market with its loot boxes and microtransactions aimed at exploiting the poor impulse control of teenagers and gambling addiction of adults. Though it would take a few years for countries to begin actual legislation in the field, the added scrutiny would be a welcomed change to an industry that was (and lets face it, still is) consumed by greed.

CCP Games got ahead of the curve by rightfully banning gambling in the game and thus escaping embarrassing headlines and possible fines or age restrictions added in many countries around the world where it operates. For a while, things seemed okay, well, in the standard that a slowly burning trash fire might seem okay. However on the 27th of November, CCP Games made its announcement and all hell broke loose. Well I write all hell, in reality just a heavily commented thread on the new feature as well as a few reddit posts. Who says EVE Online isn’t dead.

The scheme works like this: HyperNet will be a fun place where players can set up and buy tickets for raffles. The raffles will be player made of in-game items. In order to set up a raffle, players have to purchase the number of HyperNet Cores corresponding to the item’s value. Cores can only be bought from the New Eden Store (NES, formerly NEX) via PLEX (Player License EXtension, never said CCP Games were clever with their acronyms) or from market resellers. Once the raffle is up, players buy HyperNet Nodes, i.e. tickets, with in-game currency. When all the tickets, I mean nodes, are sold, the raffle occurs and a randomly generated number decides which ticket, I mean node, was the lucky winner. The winner then gets the item in their hangar (though in the station where the raffle was created to eliminate item teleportation).

I have to give it to CCP Games, it really managed to make one hell of a scummy, poorly thought of, system. PLEX is an in-game resource that can only be generated via paying real money then re-sold on the market. The HyperNet cores require PLEX to be purchased and the costlier the item, the more cores needed, meaning more PLEX is required to set up the raffle. Not only as a friend commented is that an unfair tax levied on the person setting up the raffle, it also devalues the in-game economy, not to mention re-introduce gambling into EVE Online. This of course is meant to fuel demand for PLEX (which may be dropping with decrease in player activity) which will tempt people to generate more PLEX by, of course, buying it from CCP Games and offsetting subscription loses. Truly genius.

Players of course, have begun defending the practice because many fans are dumb, and the dumbest sycophants really tie their identity and human worth to an aging, broken videogame that is past its prime. The excuses made in the name of an immoral feature are really mind boggling but I think I’ll tackle a few of the prominent ones. That said I’ll be doing this without harping too much about the immorality of gambling or the actual psychological damage it does too much. I know this is akin to writing “I don’t want to criticize the moral aspects of cannibalism as much as its hygienic practices” but it is sort of.

Its not gambling – It is. Full stop. Period. Exclamation mark! Raffles and lotteries are gambling. Here is a simple test: Does it cost money to take part in and do you win something out of it? If the answer is yes, then it is gambling. I know this a hard concept to wrap the head around but gambling is pretty much any game where winning is largely dictated by chance and involves money. You might say that in EVE Online it shouldn’t be counted as gambling since money in the game is all made up but I counter this with the next argument:

EVE Online money isn’t real – The next goalpost is to simply say that the Interstellar Kredit (or ISK for short) isn’t real and thus has no real life value. That is not even remotely true and anyone holding this notion should probably be completely ignored and/or shunned from polite society. ISK has a real life value because CCP Games has made an exchange rate between PLEX and real money. Since PLEX is sold on EVE Online markets for ISK, we have a direct translation of worth. At time of writing 1 PLEX was sold around 3,500,000.00 ISK. Since the smallest batch of PLEX sold at the cash shop is 500 for 19.99$ dollars, 1$ can be converted to 87,500,000.00 ISK. Fact is, CCP Games often advertised many of the big fights in EVE Online as having real money equivalency, bragging about losses mounting to thousands and even tens of thousands of dollars in assets. It can’t just now run away from it when its inconvenient. That is not how life works.

Its a closed economy – Demolish the first two defenses and the defenders quickly retreat behind the idea that EVE Online is a closed economy, or more correctly, semi closed since real money comes in but value can’t be taken out. Again, this is erroneous to such a degree that it makes me think that the defenders of this feature are either children or have child like intellect. In the legal definition they are right, but legal definitions are like expiration dates, followed by most people but ignored by some. The fact is there exists a whole grey market in EVE Online that enables converting ISK back into real money. Sure its illegal, sure its risky and those caught are often banned, yet the illegal activity in EVE Online hasn’t decreased and in fact certain sectors of it have seen a marked increase in recent years that not accounting for them is pure stupid.

Its legal – When all previous arguments fail, cry “Its legal” in a nonsensical defiance of criticism. Of course gambling is legal IN SOME STATES. That means that in other countries its illegal. What more, many countries have recently moved to ban or legislate gambling in videogames and bringing back gambling to a game that already banned it once in such a stormy climate is truly stupid. Not to mention that in some countries gambling is heavily regulated in order to protect minors. Considering EVE Online doesn’t have a uniform rating around the globe with some countries allowing minors to play the game and you can almost see the negative headlines and future lawsuits coming. It only takes one case of a minor using the HyperNet and sinking their parents’ credit card to start a riot, and justifiably so.

It will fund more development – Stop. Stop right there. Moving from questions of legality, we arrive at the fanciful idea that the money generated from gambling will fund more developers for the game, thus tackling many of the major problems plaguing EVE Online. This is a fantasy, full stop. Let’s forget for a moment that CCP Games had been bought by Pearl Abyss, a Korean gaming giant with deep pockets that can easily fund more development for the game, the idea that this extra revenue will be funneled into game development and not investor pockets is laughable. Last Week Tonight with John Oliver already showed what happened to state controlled lotteries aiming to increase public revenue for education only to squander those funds, but you are telling me a for profit entity that doesn’t have the pretense of serving the public is going to invest those funds better!? At this point you aren’t deluded, you are disingenuous and possibly a lobbyist for CCP Games.


Case in point, how state lotteries work to harm communities

At this point there is nothing left to argue. There are no further excuses that can be made in defense of this feature. If anything, there are only things to argue against it, like the fact its immoral. Yes, I wrote that I wouldn’t harp on it and I haven’t. I mostly addressed the arguments head on without moralizing but the reality is, gambling is immoral. There is a reason why many countries legislate it and restrict it. Gambling is a real issue for people with addiction issues. Teenagers exposed to it are more susceptible to it and the way the videogame industry had implemented it was done purposefully to target vulnerable populations in order to squeeze as much cash as possible from them. You’ve all heard terms such as “whales” and “dolphins” dehumanizing problem gamblers. If you watch Jim Sterling’s video on the issue you’d see both the ways the industry sees us, the consumers, through such mechanics and the real human cost it incurs.


Jim Sterling exposing both the predatory practices of the gaming industry and the real damage it causes

We banned gambling from EVE Online once when we saw the dangers of it. Letting it back now, when the legal field surrounding it is even choppier is a signal from CCP Games to us, the players. Its a signal telling us that the company won’t tackle the important issues that plague the game but is instead investing resources in harmful mechanics, both to the players and the health of the game, to further monetize said player base. Its basically an admission that the company is either unable or unwilling to face the desolation that is the current state of affairs but it wants to keep increasing its profits. Now can I interest you in some HyperNet nodes?

Broken Mirror

What Call of Duty: Modern Warfare tells us about ourselves

Growing up I vaguely remember hearing an old Chinese fable. In the fable an emperor wishes to buy a gift to his favorite concubine and purchases the latest technological marvel – a mirror! He keeps it in a trunk so to present it in the birthday celebrations but the concubine, curious, opens the trunk and runs away in tears. When asked about it, she tells the emperor that he is cruel for bringing a new, beautiful concubine to replace her.

What I found interesting about the fable was the fact the concubine, upon seeing her own reflection, chose to flee in fear rather than explore further. Of course we could conclude that this is the place where the fable falls apart under modern scrutiny but that fact remained with me to this day, surfacing up as I looked into the controversy surrounding Call of Duty: Modern Warfare.

Before we go on I’d like to hang a nice disclaimer over this article: I didn’t purchase or played the new installment in the tired and creatively bankrupt franchise. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare already exists, it is arguably still a good game with a good story. There was no need, nor call, for a soft reboot which is the new installment that goes so far as to reuse the very same name. Its all a cheap marketing ploy and it is infuriating. Putting that aside, I did watch several reviews and read on the main controversy.

Skill Up in particular did a good job in covering it in depth. For those unaware, the game was banned in Russia as it depicts atrocities committed by Russian mercenaries. Now, the Russian mercenaries operating in Syria are undoubtedly ruthless war criminals, there is no need to even question that. However the game used terms and incidents which alluded or invoked atrocities committed by the United States armed forces, in particular in Iraq. Call me crazy, but appropriating American war crimes to Russian mercenaries smacks a tad wrong for me.

Of course, people were riled up by this and for a good reason. I hate historical revisionism just as much as the next guy and it seems like plenty of people were ticked off. That said, it didn’t stop the game from being another huge financial success, probably helped, and not hindered, by the controversy. Activision made a quick cost analysis comparing the United States market, still one of the most wealthy and influential one world wide, and the Russian one, a cratering economy with currency that is only worthwhile as kindling, and made the right decision. Well, not the morally or ethically right one, but considering it was rewarded with a shower of cash kind of invalidates the other two, no?

In his review Skill Up continues to delve into the game’s story and mechanics, portraying a work that attempts to be edgy and norms breaking while at the same time being safe and predictable. This is no surprise for me. You are not going to shift millions of units by showing American imperialism as it is; a ruthless, brutal and cowardly subjugation of countries where state of the art technology is used to bomb civilians back to the stone age while snipers terrorize the survivors and shoot at ambulances and medics. That might confront the target audience with the horrors their country perpetuates. Instead the Americans are framed as the good guys who are held back by politics from doing the right thing and go rogue to help plucky resistance fighters stop the mean Russians. I want to remind people this was also the plot of Rambo 3, in which the Taliban were portrayed as the heroes. Gotta love the 80s.

Half way through the review, Skill Up surprises the viewer and shifts from Call of Duty: Revisionist Warfare and into Spec Ops: The Line review. I love Spec Ops: The Line, though love may not be the right word for it. Is there a word that encapsulates respect while being depressed and horrified? Well, Spec Ops: The Line is one of my top 10 favorite games and a game every gamer should play once, ONLY once. It is a game that takes the generic American military power fantasy and forces the player to confront its actual bloody cost. Emphasis on bloody. It doesn’t pull any punches and is so soul crushing that by the end you feel completely drained of emotion.

I understand why Skill Up juxtaposed the two games. In a way Spec Ops: The Line is the game Call of Duty: American War Crimes’ writing attempts to be. At least that would be a generous reading of it. In reality, mister Skill Up is quite mistaken since Call of Duty: Abu Ghraib isn’t art. It is a commercial product aimed at teenagers and young adults who like power fantasies. Its ambition from the start was not to explore human misery and suffering but to sell as many copies as possible. Thus comparing it to Spec Ops: The Line smacks a tad of missing the point. Call of Duty: Guantanamo Bay was always going to have an insipid story whitewashing American war crimes whether its writers wanted it to or not. Because that is what shifts the most units.

I keep going back again and again to the financial motive. The reason is simple: The decision to white wash American war crimes in Call of Duty: Bay of Pigs is a conscious decision by Activision in order to maximize their profits. I already showed the economic rationale for alienating one market in order to profit from a much larger, more lucrative one. As much as I’d like to finger wag at Activision for such a despicable move I find myself neither outraged or surprised. After all, Activision simply made the choice that was the most profitable for it, and in our economic system, that is the only ethical choice for a multi national entertainment corporation.

As written before, their decision has already been validated by the sales of Call of Duty: IranContra. Its basically the only parameter measuring righteousness in a capitalist society. If the game had flopped, that had meant the market rejected this revisionist, power fantasy, cold war fever dream of a game. However by all indications this game is a stellar success, one befitting an entertainment juggernaut. There is a reason that for all its faults and dips in quality, the Call of Duty series continues to dominate the military first person shooter genre. I don’t really blame Activision for revising history either. Sure its a horrible thing to do and there should be a special circle of hell for historical revisionists, but it didn’t do it to advance an agenda like most politicians do, so much as to secure its profits. Because Activision knows its core demographic, especially in the western hemisphere, and it knows what would placate it and convince it to shell 60$ for its Reagan era rejected action movie Hollywood script.

This is the reason why the revision was made. Not because Activision hates the Russians, pretty sure if the situation was reversed it would have placated the Kremlin instead. No, the revision was made to appease the consumers because shining a light on the atrocities committed by the United States armed forces in Iraq and Afghanistan to name just two RECENT examples, would alienate them. Making a Spec Ops: The Line story with the sleek Call of Duty: My Lai Massacre mechanics is an appealing dream, but a dream nonetheless because there is no financial incentive for Activision to make it. Spec Ops: The Line, as excellent as it is, was still a cult classic. The word ‘cult’ should alert the reader to the small scale of success it garnered. Though financially successful, there is a reason why we have 20 iterations of Call of Duty yet no sequel to Spec Ops: The Line.

Skill Up of course was somewhat aware of the fact. In the video he admitted that the original developers of Spec Ops: The Line are currently working not on a sequel but a battle royale style game because that is whats popular, and its understandable. The studio has to make a profit for the publishers and thus its work will always aim to appease the largest consumer base and often adhere to the current trends. Anyone wishing for Call of Duty to be for once, subversive, were simply deluding themselves.

By now a theme emerges. Developers and publishers are trying to please consumers in order to make a profit. In that pursuit, they are willing to launder war crimes just to appease a segment of that consumer base, even if it means alienating other, lesser segments. Yet I absolved said developers and publishers from fault. Why? Well, going back to the fable of the concubine and the mirror, its the consumers who run away in tears when forced to confront the crimes of their fellow country people.

Numerating the crimes of the American empire is a long and arduous task better suited to smarter creators than myself. Renegade Cut in particular has done many great videos on the subject and I highly recommend watching their channel. That said, there is no escaping the subject when talking about Call of Duty: Dresden, the latest in a series of games that aims mostly for a North American audience, as it is both the birthplace of the series and the main market for its products. It is no coincidence either that a military first person shooter would revolve around a country which instigated the most wars in recent history while committing the most war crimes. The War on Terror has been raging non stop since 2001 and has a conservative death toll nearing a million people, mostly civilian. Reconciling this with escapist fantasy is impossible. Which is why Activision didn’t try. It chose to handwave it away because its audience would not be able to stomach it.

This is after all a basic human coping mechanism. Ignoring or denying the evils in our societies allows us to live a more comfortable life of ignorance. So long as we erect these walls we can pretend that the real human cost doesn’t concern us. Facts like our taxation funding civilian bombing or our consumerism allowing for sweatshops and modern slavery to prosper don’t register and dampen our spirit when we ignore them. How much more terrible would life be if one constantly thought about the human misery one created by simply existing and participating in modern society. I know that as a person with high anxiety and depression I’d probably break down into a sobbing heap of a man if I had to contemplate this every waking moment.

So I don’t, and neither most people. We go about our lives repressing that knowledge or, if our environment already built protective walls, completely oblivious of it. Any media that will seek to break through and undermine this blissful existence will, most often, be shunned. How many people ignored the horrors of the Vietnam war because it didn’t sit comfortably with them. How many ignored what happened in Laos, Cambodia, Myanmar and so forth. This is of course not a uniquely American situation either. Being born and raised in Israel, we were rarely, if ever, confronted by the horrors our government afflicted the Palestinians. The media rarely reported on the cost of our aggression to the Palestinians. Even today we devote far less time to the suffering of people in the Gaza strip as to the suffering of Israeli citizens living next to it, never asking how did things get to this point.

The worst part is not the discomfort, but the feeling of losing your foundation. Everything you thought you knew suddenly becomes a lie. Everything you were so certain of, was just an illusion. It can have a real traumatizing effect on people. Worse yet is the anger, an anger that often can’t find an outlet because the people that perpetuated most of this scam are either long dead or beyond your reach. You are adrift, rudderless and unsure if there are any safe ports in this suddenly hostile world. Why wouldn’t you just repress it all, forget these revelations and go back to a life of joyful consumption.

Corporations know this. They play along with it, they feed it and reap the rewards in a gruesome symbiotic relationship. They sell us the power fantasies we crave, assuring us that we are in the right, we are in the clear and our nation, so long as its a primary market, is the good guys. So long as its profitable for them, the large publishers and developers won’t change a thing. Its amoral, certainly, but its not immoral because we buy it. We absolve these companies from responsibility by constantly purchasing these games. No wonder critics may tire of it, but for the population at large its exactly what they want, what they crave.

That is the real issue that Skill Up and other critics can’t or won’t contend with. The success of Call of Duty: Hiroshima is proof that people want the same fantasy, the same reassuring piece of stale media to reinforce their beliefs about the world, beliefs partially formed by said media. They don’t want to be challenged by the media they consume. Simple as that. Thus, better, more complex and grey stories are often rejected by the mainstream audience. They don’t want to think about the complexity of morality and righteousness in a world where such terms are near impossible to define. No, they want to be reassured that their side is right, even when its not. Otherwise they won’t purchase the game, and Activision will lose a cash cow. Can’t do that so more of the regular slop.

In a recent article Martin Scorsese lamented the death of cinema and the rise of theme park commercial movies. While the film maker was much maligned for diagnosing correctly that Marvel movies were not cinema, i.e. high art, he was wrong in diagnosing the reason for their prevalence in popular culture. Its not that the Hollywood system now churns these empty spectacles for audiences thus teaching them to enjoy a flavorless product, but rather that the successful studios were those that catered for that exact taste. It may be a bitter pill to swallow but in reality most people go to the cinema to see a blockbuster movie filled with explosions and recognizable plot points and villains and heroes that are easy to recognize and understand. The studios producing these movies are the most successful thus able to produce more of them, a basic economic fact in our late stage capitalist world. The same goes for Call of Duty: Nagasaki.

Once we are willing to look at the mirror and see the faults in ourselves, we will be able to enjoy a much richer, more complex world of mainstream games. Until then we’d have to satisfy such hunger with the scrapes smaller studios attempt to provide. However Call of Duty: Highway of Death won’t do it since it has no incentive to do so. Because under capitalism, there is no ethical consumption.

The Blizzcon

Never a more fitting name

I always found it an interesting quirk of the English language to shorten the word convention into con, which can also be read as the word meaning a scheme to defraud people. In 2019 the two readings merged together in the Blizzard Entertainment convention, or Blizzcon for short. And what a con it was.

There is no need to repeat the fact that Activision-Blizzard banned a Hearthstone player for expressing support for the Hong Kong protests, along with destroying the careers of the two casters that allowed him to do so. There is no need, but I feel like we should keep it in mind. Activision-Blizzard did this to appease the Chinese government, an authoritarian regime that is curtailing basic human rights for minorities, occupies a sovereign nation and is all around corrupt. Again, something to remember.

Thus this year’s Blizzcon was put under the shadow of the Hong Kong protests and the Chinese government’s overreach in silencing western voices supporting said protests. Thankfully some real gamers and activists organized to protest the convention throughout the weekend, but overall they were not successful in stopping gaming news outlets from throwing themselves at Activision-Blizzard’s feet in printing non apologies and soft ball interviews while rushing to regurgitate the public relations spiel that the entire convention is set around.

I am not going to reprint the obvious lies that Blizzard Entertainment’s president, who is a fascist bootlicker and thus dubbed fascist bootlicker #13581234 in this piece, spouted in his commencement speech and subsequent interviews. Repeating the lie, even to debunk it, merely strengthens it as it disseminates it to the greater public. Instead I will simply distill the central claims and explain just how moronic they truly are.

There are three main points in fascist bootlicker #13581234’s babble: Activision-Blizzard apologizes for getting caught suppressing free speech, Activision-Blizzard supports free speech so long as it advertises its product and Activision-Blizzard would like you all to shut the fuck up about Hong Kong. These are the main takeaways.

The first is quite clear. Fascist bootlicker #13581234 droned on and on about how much bad Activision-Blizzard were in handling the entire affair and how “sorry” they were. Not sorry enough to unban Blitzchung and restore the casters, mind you, just sorry everyone made a stink about it. What really stuck out for me was the fact he called Activision-Blizzard’s actions “hasty” in banning and “slow” in explaining the reasons for the ban. Now call me crazy but a multinational corporation with thousands of employees and dedicated community managers takes two(!) full days before banning a player for advocating for basic human rights sounds quite on the slow side for me. As a discord server moderator I’d be remiss not to ban people within 12 hours of committing an offense, and I’m quite lazy.

Of course you can chuck it to Activision-Blizzard having fired 800 employees, many of them in the community management department, earlier this year. They then re-listed the positions to hire cheaper labor who wouldn’t be getting benefits and pay raises associated with veterancy. Classy.

As part of the apology, fascist bootlicker #13581234 threw their Chinese partners under the bus, saying the propaganda post in Chinese social media was unauthorized by the main office. This is an old trick of business partners pretending to disagree and publicly feud in order to appease their respective audiences. The Chinese company gets to be patriotic and Activision-Blizzard gets to pretend to western audiences that it doesn’t support the message.

If Activision-Blizzard really didn’t agree with it, fascist bootlicker #13581234 could have asked the message to be rescinded and the Chinese company apologize for acting without Activision-Blizzard’s permission but it didn’t, and it wasn’t. This is quite evident through both companies’ actions. The fact is, Blitzchung and the casters are still banned and that is all the evidence you need for Activision-Blizzard’s tacit approval of the post.

The second point regards the principle of freedom speech which is so enshrined in Activision-Blizzard’s conduct that they banned a player for using it. Now, fascist bootlicker #13581234 was quick to hide behind technical legalities when broaching the subject. Blitzchung technically broke the tournament rules by doing the unthinkable of using videogame tournaments to advocate for basic human rights rather than the consumption of more product. Quite the sin in the eyes of a corporation only interested in the bottom line. Worse, these human rights clashed with the opportunity to make money from the lucrative Chinese market so…

I’ll admit that breaking rules and guidelines should carry repercussions and not all speech should be tolerated BUT, and it is a huge but, advocating for basic human rights is the kind of rule infringement you gloss over. Sure, in the most literal interpretation of the law a felony was committed and punishment must be meted out but we don’t live in fucking ivory towers but in the grimey reality filled with grey areas and human rights abuses. I mean, come on, how much of a coward must you be to hide behind the technicality of rules and guidelines that you yourself write and change all the time!?

This of course side steps the bigger issue in which claiming neutrality or enforcing rules that help silence protest against an authoritarian regime is aiding that regime. That is the truth fascist bootlicker #13581234 obfuscated with his shameless rhetoric. The fact still stands that Activision-Blizzard aided an authoritarian regime to silence protest of said regime. No amount of empty platitudes and legalese can distract from that fact.

Which leads us to the last point. Activision-Blizzard tried to downplay the entire affair because in reality it needs the Chinese market. The company, like any major corporation in late stage capitalism, needs to continuously grow its bottom line or investors pull out, causing the stock to crash and heads to roll, often those of senior management who already amassed a fortune (woe to them /s). Chasing those profits, it will and have partnered with despotic regimes for the sole purpose of increasing revenue. Cost benefit evaluations found that principles get in the way of making profits and moral stances don’t really help grow a consumer base.

I used the word consumer because that is what it looks for. People to buy its products. The sin of Blitzchung in the company’s eyes was to jeopardize the growth of said consumer base by blacklisting the company from a huge untapped market. Thus he was made an example of. This is also why Activision-Blizzard pulled all the stops and showcased Diablo IV and Overwatch II, hoping to dazzle its consumers and the gaming press into reporting on these announcements alongside the non apology rather than the protests outside of the convention, and it worked.

Which is the con. The entire event was nothing short of a marketing ploy to sell product to people who, truth be told, are nothing if not die hard fans who tie their identity to the product. They were marks looking to be scammed and fascist bootlicker #13581234 provided. He gave all the empty words to assuage their guilt as they shelled out the money to participate in a hype machine that sees them in the most dehumanizing terms; Whales, dolphins, targets. Not people, not thinking, feeling human beings. Just product to be squeezed for cash and sold to investors as revenue potential.

Some dissented. Shouting here and there for Hong Kong’s protest. More stood outside the convention center and protested. Too few. The vast majority bought the snake oil fascist bootlicker #13581234 was selling them so they may consume product for the sake of consuming product. If it wasn’t so tragic it would have been funny.

That is the rub. The entire convention is manufactured hype created by public relation ghouls to generate “buzz” for the product so that idiots would buy it, oblivious to the many many failings of modern Blizzard Entertainment as a developer. It has to be said that it was also insulting in its announcements considering Diablo IV was already confirmed nearly a year ago after the previous debacle (do you not have phones!?) and Overwatch II is a sequel to a flagging game that is already fading from public perception, replaced by a trendy game that is destined itself to be replaced by some other vacuous creation.

The fans of course ate it up, and why wouldn’t they. After all, they are fans and as I wrote before, nothing more terrible exists than a videogame fan.

All in all Blizzcon 2019 was exactly what I thought it would be, and what everyone else should have expected – a non event. A complete waste of time and resources for everyone involved. Morons cheered for information they already had, conscientious people tried to remind soulless consumers of possessing an actual heart and fascist bootlickers lied and hid behind legal technicalities. Even writing this article is a waste of my own time.

That said writing this article I was reminded of when Blizzard Entertainment helped United States law enforcement agencies in tracking down criminals through their World of Warcraft logins. I hope the idiots that keep supporting Activision-Blizzard remember this the next time they make a joke about China or Xi Jinping. Wouldn’t want to lose those Battlenet accounts. Not that it matters to me because I already deleted mine so I can call Xi Jinping a fat miserable fuck who has a small knob which is why he feels the need to oppress his subjects. Also that he looks like Winnie the Pooh.

Oppressive Greed

The Rubicon was crossed, in more ways than one

It took me a while to get to the Blizzard keffeful (certainly a word I don’t get to use often!). I have been going over it again and again, trying to understand it. Not Blizzard’s decision, mind you, that is easy to understand, painfully so. No, what I was trying to understand was the shock and surprise many expressed on YouTube and social media. If anything did surprise me was the amount of pushback Blizzard actually got.

If you’ve been living under a rock (and if you have, do you have a spare room?) the entire episode involved Blizzard banning a Hearthstone player for expressing support for the Hong Kong protests as well as the tournament commentators that allowed him to express said support. The ban was quite severe, stripping the player of his rank in the game, banning him for an entire year and denying him his rightfully won prize money. Effectively, they destroyed his career in response to supporting basic human rights. Similar fates befell the commentators. What a class act.

While Blizzard would soften some of the punishment due to public outrage and political pressure as politicians saw an opportunity to score some publicity out of the event, the underlying reality hadn’t really changed. Blizzard used its power to silence a protest against an authoritarian regime oppressing the people of Hong Kong. It signaled that human rights and freedoms are against their flimsily enforced EULA. In effect, it sided with the Chinese government against the very people struggling to protect their rights. How can I emphasize this enough!?

Some view this as crossing the Rubicon, the historical event where Julius Caesar led his legions south of the river to occupy Rome, destroying the Roman republic and installing what would become a tyrannical regime over the generations. I always squirm at historical analogies but if we really had to call attention to this pivotal moment, I am afraid that ship, as they say, already sailed long ago. Large publishers have crossed the Rubicon so many times by now that you might as well pave over it and install a toll booth to generate some revenue.

Try to understand that as reprehensible Blizzard’s actions are, they are merely the logical end point of a corporation obsessed with profit. For such a corporation, anything that aids in the creation and accumulation of money for its investors and shareholders is kosher. Selling out human rights for Chinese Yuan is just increasing the bottom line for the quarter one in the financial year. If anything, the suits in Blizzard did what was right for the company by banning Blitzchung, they protected their bottom line.

While you are shocked about Blitzchung’s banning, where were you when publishers gutted games to sell already produced content on the first day of the game’s launch, in effect shipping games with locked content on the disc! Where were you when publishers introduced loot boxes to videogames, bringing gambling mechanics into a space populated by children and teenagers that were actively targeted by the mechanic. Not to mention many addicts and psychologically vulnerable people who were preyed upon by loot boxes. Worse yet, these loot boxes often gutted long established content from games (such as cosmetics) in order to sell it for hard cash. Later on they also aided in the introduction of grind into more and more games as loot boxes started offering solutions like skill boosters and in-game currency to skip said grind. Do you see the psychological manipulation on full display yet?

How about online passes which attempted to curtail the used games market, basically penalizing people for purchasing them and trying to force them to buy new copies. How about all the special edition faff (another great word!) that is cheaply produced but steeply sold and in recent years turned into a tiered system of special editions which literally gate content and access according to price. What about the patents publishers filed for various matchmaking systems designed to psychologically pressure players into purchasing microtransactions?

I could go on as these are just a few examples I could remember from the top of my head. There are plenty more over the years in which publishers schemed to drain the public of their hard earned cash. After all, these corporations don’t produce anything. They are not game developers making art. They are financiers, investing in game development then packaging the final product and marketing it for profit. The amount the developers then get is dependent on contracts but the bigger publishers often buy development studios in order to control that as well. Blizzard is not an independent entity but joined in the hip to Activision, one of the worst publishers around whose CEO has often been compared to the devil himself, which is an insult to the devil who at least can disguise his lack of humanity.

Once you see it through that prism its not that hard to understand the rationale behind the bans. The upper echelons in Activision-Blizzard made a cost benefit assessment. They believed they’d lose x amount of players in the west while gain y amount of players in China and so they dropped the ban hammer because it would be more profitable for them. Trying to appeal to their moral or ethical side is as much a waste of time as shouting at the wall, with even less satisfaction, because morality and ethics don’t increase profits. Hbomberguy demonstrated this through his analysis of “Woke” brands.

Not to mention that the people making the decisions, those in upper management, are not part of the same social circles as the rest of us plebs are. The investors and CEOs are often extremely rich individuals who are insulated from the moral outcome of the practices they implement in their “content” thanks to that extreme wealth. Google any major publishing CEO’s net worth and you would not be disappointed. These people don’t view gamers as people but as wallets to be milked. Whatever they decide which negatively impacts our hobby they won’t suffer from. If anything their wealth and position makes them more sympathetic to the likes of the Chinese government than the people of Hong Kong fighting for their freedom. After all, they belong to the same class as the rulers of China and its top officials, not the grubby proletariat trying to escape the daily grind of life with some electronic entertainment.

This is the sad truth. Gamers are the real commodity for these companies, and investors are funneling money into them not on the back of strong game catalogues or artistic merit but on how well these companies monetize said gamers. This is what drives investment analysis and the wild share price swings. Its sickening, but it doesn’t make this any less true.

At this point, the few of you who actually read my column are probably feeling hopeless and it is understandable. The system is literally rigged against us. However it doesn’t have to be. Outside of moral outrage and making noise on social media, there is something gamers can do to fight the abuse and blatant corruption. We can start campaigns of conscience to bring light to these abuses. We can pressure politicians in western democracies to actually legislate and regulate these companies, We can vote to elect politicians whose platforms will include such reforms. We can keep the issue alive and in the minds of gamers and mainstream media and force such a reckoning. It is also useful to remind people large publishers avoid paying taxes, sometimes at all, thanks to tax loopholes that should be erased.

Only through strict regulation will these companies do what is right, because as we’ve seen before, they won’t otherwise. It was government action and threats of more regulation that has caused them recently to pivot away from loot boxes. They should all still pay for the people whose lives and savings they ruined with their addictive mechanics. They should pay for silencing the people of Hong Kong. They should pay. It is up to us to make them pay their fair share.

Get political, because Activision-Blizzard already proved that the large publishers are political, and their politics of greed puts them squarely on the side of tyrants and oppressors. Remember, they will sell you without a moment of remorse, so show them no mercy.

#FreeHongKong #RevolutionofourAge

Snuffed Out

No king rules forever

On the 21st of October 2019, Hy Wanto Destroyer announced on Discord that it was over. Snuffed Out [B B C], the king of low security space, was no more. The alliance wouldn’t outright disband but for all intents and purposes it had.

My first encounter with the alliance was on the battlefield of Villasen, defending WAFFLES. [N0MAD] towers as part of Pandemic Legion [-10.0]. I decided to write up the battle as I was a battle reporter for EVE News 24 at the time, and wanted to expand coverage of news to encompass low security and wormhole space (with partial success).

Interviewing the combatants, I was granted access to the Snuffed Out teamspeak server. It soon became a second home for me. As Snuffed Out continued to generate fights and headlines, I was lucky enough to cover some of it. Major headlines included: Their valiant fights alongside ally Project.Mayhem. [16-13] against the Imperium, and poking at its low security underbelly, and causing no small amount of grief to those in charge. Their resistance to the viceroy program that would help kick off World War Bee (WWB). Their betrayal of Shadow Cartel [SHDWC], their long time arch nemesis, in Vaaralen. This subsequently caused a schism in the alliance resulting in the birth of Escalating Entropy [CHAOS] and the Placid Wars.

This constant contact allowed me to make friends with many Snuffed Out pilots, current and former, as well as fostering a deep appreciation for the alliance, even though I was a member of Pandemic Legion. People like: Tyler Burbon and his soundboard. Conaildo whose consumption of alcohol was second to none. Tau AD, one of the best fleet commanders I flew under whose anger and irritation were almost as famous as his thick Russian accent immortalized in countless dreadnought drops he led. Hy Wanto Destroyer who tolerated me even though I never delivered on the fanfiction he ordered me to write as punishment. Phantomite the snake who still did Harbingers even in 2019. Capitol One and his Harry Potter fanfiction. Emokidwithkantana and his My Little Pony discussions. Smarnca and his antics. PERUNGA, king of Tama and defender of the Nourvukaiken gate. Batschi, Donedy, Tyd Drakken, Meltur, Gugl, Amantus and many many others. So many I can’t list them all.

Snuffed Out, for all its setbacks, seemed to go from strength to strength even as my own fortunes seemed to decline. First was the ignominious death of Reikoku [RKK] due to internal strife, forcing me to join Hoover Inc. [DYS0N]. However, DYS0N itself moved, and morphed alongside Pandemic Legion, in directions I didn’t like leaving me once again homeless. I made one last gamble on House of Serenity. [H0S.], seemingly finding a home but it was not to be. Without a place, without a purpose, I spent most of my time on the Snuffed Out teamspeak server. Finally, as a joke, I applied to Lowlife. [LWLFE], doing what Snuffed Out members asked me to do for years. I was accepted. It turned out the joke was on me.

In Snuffed Out, for a brief moment, I felt that sense of belonging. I was enjoying EVE Online again, deploying, writing battle reports and just enjoying general banter. It felt like the heydays of Reikoku. It felt good. Sadly it was not to last. It wasn’t 2015 anymore. The game had fundamentally changed and the pressure of constant deployments wasn’t something I could keep up with as the alliance searched desperately for content. I burnt out again. What I didn’t know was that most of the alliance burnt out with me.

Perhaps it was inevitable. Low security space was never supposed to be the haunt of medium-sized alliances like Snuffed Out and Shadow Cartel. Maybe we were supposed to go big and settle in null security space and our refusal to do so had led to our content starvation. I still posit that the game itself had also changed for the worse. Citadels made content creation hard, if not downright impossible in the early days of their implementation. Rorquals unleashed untold mineral wealth into the game, allowing established power blocs to further entrench themselves with growing super capital fleets and imposing Keepstars and Fortizars in every system. Skill injectors sealed the deal, allowing individuals to create whole mining fleets and super capital squadrons out of thin air thanks to the application of skill points provided by ever increasing skill farms.

Snuffed Out tried to adapt to these changing times, making alliances where it could, coming up with schemes to better distribute moon goo to fund its operations and allow its members access to riches. It did what it could to eek out content but low security space was too small to sustain it while null security space had just too many people willing to pile in on any conflict. There was no longer a place for independent mid-sized alliances in EVE Online anymore.

Thus Snuffed Out leadership did what was best for the alliance, and frankly for them. Instead of burning out more of its pilots and allowing internal strife to rip it apart, they simply ended it. It was a hard but necessary decision.

Whether or not Snuffed Out will resurge is a question for anybody but I have a feeling that it won’t. Its disbanding is another chapter of EVE Online coming to a close, and I can’t help but feel sad for it. Snuffed Out had been an unofficial family for me for years, and official one for six months. Now it’s gone and I can’t help but grieve for its loss. Good luck to all my friends and comrades in their future endeavors.

So long, and thanks for all the memories.

Salivan Harddin is a member of Lowlife., Snuffed Out, and was an EVE Online battle reporter for the better part of five years.

Yet You Live in a Society

Social media exposes some of the deep issues in the gaming community

The day started well enough. I woke up early for a change, had a lovely cup of tea then left the house to take care of all my errands. By the time I came back and sat at my desk I had bought some freshly baked croissants from my favorite bakery alongside a can of cola, my only guilty pleasure. All in all, quite a good morning. Then checking Discord notifications I found out I was tagged in one of the servers I acted as a staffer on. Curious, I checked the message and kissed my pleasant morning goodbye.

The message was quite short; a simple taunt of “hey dumbass” and a link to a reddit thread concerning Apex Legends. I didn’t dig too deep but apparently there is a current controversy regarding the newest season, its monetization and the way its community team and lead developers had been addressing community dissent. I say these things because I really, really, and I don’t know how I can stress this enough, really don’t care. I don’t care because I’ve already been burnt out from the previous season and am currently not playing Apex Legends. Since the end of that season, I have been alternating between cRPGs (Pathfinder:Kingmaker) and grand strategy (Hearts of Iron IV, Europa Universalis IV and a bit of Stellaris) games and haven’t kept up with things.

I don’t hide the fact I love Apex Legends. It is my favorite game in the battle royale genre. I like the characters (especially Wraith), mechanics, feel and visual of the game. I enjoy playing it; alone or with friends and though I haven’t touched it in months, I may go back to it at some point in the future. That said, that doesn’t mean I agree with or have to defend the game and its creators, especially when they misstep or are just plainly wrong.

Like I stated above, I haven’t dug deep into this new controversy. I just read the titles of some of the videos I saw in my feed and listened to one or two of them briefly. Since I have no interest in the game at the moment, I have no interest in hearing about it either. From what I did gather, Apex Legends’ playerbase is up in arms after being squeezed for extra dollars during the current season since Electronic Arts is desperate for some cash and Respawn Entertainment is getting the much deserved backlash, prompting its lead developer to rant about entitled gamers. Am I right? Am I wrong? I don’t really care as I wrote before. It doesn’t really interest me at the moment and I don’t have much of a voice or influence to do anything about it. Sorry folks, I have other things on my mind.

So why was I tagged? Well, I’d assume part of it was because in that discord server (which is an EVE Online discord server mind you) I’m known both for loving Apex Legends and being a salty asshole who often calls out people for well-deserved reasons. I am not going to defend myself. I wish I was a nicer person but I am quite the unpleasant individual when it comes to EVE Online and its byzantine politics and tribalist mindset. I’m certain the individual saw an opportunity to piss me off and frankly succeeded. I did tag them back later on and wrote a litany of profanities just to clarify my stance on the subject. Setting that aside, this whole event made me think a little about the reasons behind tagging me to begin with. What was their grand design?.

I am guessing the person thought linking the reddit thread would act as a “Gotcha” moment, that rare proof that obliterates the opposition – the smoking gun, the vial of poison, the killer’s gloves. The reality though, is quite different. There was no “Gotcha”, since I didn’t read the story nor was in the loop. It did annoy me enough to illicit a response but not a constructive one and my stance regarding Apex Legends hasn’t really changed. I enjoyed the hours I put into the game so far. Whether or not the game developers are literally idiots who don’t understand how to foster good community relations is not going to change my mind about my past experiences. So why link it? Why try and antagonize me? The question kept bothering me.

I pointed out before the tribalistic nature of EVE Online, but in reality the same can be said for gaming in general. Many people will have their favorite games, games they may not be good at, but still feel are part of their identity. They build communities around them and incorporate them into said identity. I read and often hear “I am an X or Y player”. This denotes their “allegiance”, their “loyalty”. This declaration will often precede a defense of a game or an attack on a competitor or some other game that perhaps encroaches on the territory of their chosen game. That identity is important to them after all, and they must protect it.

In a way it does seem silly. After all, a game is a game, not real life. Yet these people derive some of their self worth from those games. After all, they are key parts of their identity. They are gamers who in the gaming culture are part of a “tribe” be it first person shooters, grand strategy players, or your run of the mill fast clicking simulators also known as real time strategy games. Some of these games though can be quite bad. Some of them, especially due to the state of game development and publishing in our current time, can be downright broken. Fallout 76 and Anthem are just two recent examples and there are sadly more I could probably find if I tried looking at previous years. I don’t think it’s a crime to love these games. After all people like The Room and that is a terrible movie whose appeal I never understood. Some people can like bad art. It’s a matter of personal taste and if they can derive enjoyment from it. I don’t see a reason to look down on them for liking such games.

The problem starts when people attack others for highlighting the flaws in those games. Fallout 76 is a bad game on every conceivable level, and yet some people defend it so vehemently to a worrying degree. They dismiss any criticism as being biased or unprofessional. They refuse to reckon with reality because it doesn’t just threaten their enjoyment of the game, but their whole identity. They invested their self worth in the game, being fans of the series and accepting its awfulness would be tantamount to admitting their own diminished status. They can’t accept it so they attack the sources of criticisms. When you don’t have a defensible claim, attack the legitimacy of the critics. It’s laughable, for sure but sadly all too commonplace. I see it everywhere in the gaming space. Because in gaming, you must have a winner and a loser.

This is the other part of the equation. Identity and self worth are derived from the game, but that game is in competition with others in its genre and the general gaming landscape. It’s an artificial competition created by publishers who wish to sell more copies of a game. Seeing these nascent communities, publishers and their public relations firms recognized their potential and hijacked them. They turned them into marketing ploys, supercharging the player base by using the games themselves against them. Skinner boxes and achievement bars, collectables and collector’s editions, not to mention the foisted sense of competition with other big named franchises. They created rabid fans by rewarding the most loyal, the most determined, and released them to the wild.

It’s no wonder these fans now see attacking one another as acceptable. The woes of the fans of one game is the joy of the fans of its rival. Especially in oversaturated markets, often in popular genres like battle royale currently is, the rivalry is quite mean and destructive. I remember playing Playerunknown Battlegrounds and seeing many deride Fortnite players as being children or childish due to its flashy graphics and cartoony art style. Even though Playerunknown Battlegrounds is a grey buggy mess that for me at least, was a tedious and frustrating game to play. Not that Fortnite enticed me either. In fact, I wrote the whole genre off until Apex Legends arrived on stage.

This brings us full circle. Apex Legends, let’s be fair, combined the hero shooter genre with the battle royale one to make a unique game that had plenty of energy and style. Unlike some of its competition it was free to play and launched in a perfect technical state which had sadly become an outlier rather than the norm. It was fun for me to play and I even reviewed it favorably. Do I regret that review? No, I stand behind it. At the time it was exactly as I described it and the memories I have of it are filled with tense firefights and hard won victories. That said, I can love a game and critique it. I can enjoy it and acknowledge its developers’ abhorrent behavior.

This is the crux of the matter. After showing my love and devotion to the game, it became, at least for others, embedded in my identity. They never asked me if I defined myself by the game, instead they assumed so. The moment the opportunity presented itself they couldn’t stop themselves from trying to “humiliate” me for my preferences.They thought they were “showing” me how hypocritical I was for liking a game whose developers and monetization had gone out of control. In their mind, admitting to this, accepting this was tantamount to betrayal. It was conceding defeat and thus making them morally superior to me because their games, thus their identity, wasn’t tarnished by a recent controversy. It is as childish and infantile as it sounds. Which is what really infuriates me.

Because it is these people whose fanboy mentality helps maintain the status quo in gaming, one where publishers hold all the cards and us players are but cattle to be exploited for the real customers – the investors. It’s those people that engage in fanbase wars that help no one and only further entrench developers and publishers into certain niches to peddle the same game over and over year after year. It’s those people who tried to silence critique of their favorite games by claiming various things from media bias to reviewers not being “good” at the games. It’s this slavish devotion to franchises that helped normalize many a horrible practice in video games. From microtransactions that “support the developers” (citation needed motherfuckers), the explosion of useless tat in collectors’ editions that themselves became tiered, incomplete products that would be patched later but were forgotten because “road maps” (ask the Anthem fanbase how is that working out for them, the whole two that are left) and so forth. Any criticism, any dissent and you were labeled anti gamer. You had to accept these practices or else these frankly inferior products compared to previous generations would cease to exist (good!). If all else failed, if all the excuses were brushed away for the flimsy webs of deceit they were, they’d turn the responsibility back to you. How can you critique the industry if you take part in it, by either consuming its products or earning money from writing about it. How can you critique society if you are part of it?

This conjured in my mind the famous comic strip. It is infamous to say the least and often used to bash anyone whose defense against a critique of a system is the fact those who levy that criticism participate in it, either blinded or willfully ignoring the fact that there is often no alternative to that system. I’ve seen it plenty on social media, and sadly in real life as well. Time after time these people think themselves clever for pointing out that since we participate in broken systems just to survive or enjoy the few things in life that can actually give us joy, that any critique meant to improve them is meaningless because “You live in a society!” like the clever kids they are. It is a self-assuring nihilism. If you point out such things, then nothing can be better and thus doing nothing is justified. Why struggle when the result will be the same regardless? A sickening justification of doing nothing.

In the end though, the reality is that these people had surrendered from the start. They weren’t, and still aren’t willing to fight for what is right because that is troublesome, risky not to mention unpredictable. They either benefit from the system (their so called status and mediocre games) or learned to tolerate it like the sheep they are and any danger for this status quo threatens them as well (how will I be an elite gamer otherwise!?). They are the worst part of the community for telling the rest of us to stop struggling, stop complaining, critiquing and striving for better video games, better work conditions for developers and actual legal oversight on lootboxes.

To these people, sorry but I am part of society, which is why I fight to make it better, because I care about it since I participate in it. This is why I’ll keep critiquing, keep calling out things and obviously support any action that teaches Respawn Entertainment and Electronic Arts that they can’t abuse their community with shitty monetizations. If you aren’t going to help me then stay out of my way because I have no time for your cowardice. Why don’t you go and buy more lootboxes, maybe one of them will contain your balls/ovaries. Also next time explain WHY YOU TAGGED ME TO BEGIN WITH. Maybe then I won’t have to write 2000 word articles like this!

Featured image taken from The Nib and is the property of Matt Bors