Star Wars Battlefront II - title

Dang, I was really hoping to get this one out before the end of the year...

Thanks to previews, journalists, and complaints from beta users, this is yet another game that I knew better than to buy on launch day at full retail price. Even before the game came out, beta players and gaming websites were already condemning Battlefront II for its pay-to-win multiplayer system. When the media finally got their hands on preview builds of the full game, they were quick to attack the online progression system. Once the game was released, public outcry forced EA to literally neuter the game's online economy.

Slot machines are legally required to disclose
their paytables -- and sometimes their RTP.

EA started damage control by slashing the prices of heroes so that they supposedly weren't as much of a grind to unlock. However, the sneaky bastards also reduced the rewards for various in-game activities (such as completing the campaign), so as to render the cost reduction virtually moot. Then, EA disabled micro-transactions altogether. So by the time I finally started playing the game (over a month after launch), it was a totally different experience than it was intended to be at launch.

Star Wars license-holder Disney was furious with EA for potentially tarnishing the Star Wars brand (especially with the pending release of The Last Jedi). EA's stock prices fell as a result.

Battlefront II has actually caused law-makers and regulatory agencies in the United States and Europe to consider whether loot boxes qualify as "gambling", and whether they should, therefore, be regulated as such, including banning their sale to minors. Corporations are also starting to hop onto the bandwagon of self-regulation. Apple announced that all iOS apps with randomized micro-transactions must disclose the odds associated with rewards. This is the same disclosure that is actually legally required for actual gambling, such as slot machines.

For the record, I do not object to gambling per se. I actually bet every week on college and NFL football. Don't worry, I live in Nevada; it's legal for me. I spent almost three years working as a game developer for a slot machine manufacturer, and the only reason that I'm not still at that job is because the entire department in which I worked got laid off in the wake of a corporate merger (I'm actually very bitter and opposed to corporate mergers, by the way, but that's a discussion for another time). So I don't have a problem with gambling. I just think that it has a time and a place, and I don't want that time or place to be in my video games that I'm already paying $60 just to play. This is why casinos don't generally charge a cover fee.

I personally feel that Shadow of War and Destiny 2 are much more egregious examples of corporate avarice.

Also, for the record, I think that Battlefront II's micro-transaction controversy is a bit overblown. It's an online multiplayer shooter in which there is no win condition or end state. Whether you want the extra hero characters, and whether you're willing to spend time or money to get them is entirely up to the player's own whim. The game is perfectly playable without those heroes, and you can play through the campaign completely without spending an extra penny. It's a bit sleazy that EA markets the game by advertising these characters, and then locks them behind a grind/pay wall, but fighting games have been hiding unlockable characters behind grind-walls for decades.

Battlefront II isn't even the worst micro-transaction / pay-to-win system to come from EA! EA Sports titles like Madden and FIFA have been getting away with much worse pay-to-win systems (via their respective Ultimate Team modes) for years. Personally, I also think that Shadow of War (review coming very soon) has a much more offensive micro-transaction model because Warner Bros actually tied it into that game's campaign. If you want to finish the story, you either have to sit through the grind, or pay to speed it up. Though all of these pale in comparison to Activision and Bungie locking formerly-accessible end-game content behind the pay-wall of a Destiny 2 expansion pack.

In any case, it's sad that a review of a video game has to turn into a political op-ed, but that's the sad state of things right now.

Controversy and public outrage forced EA to completely disable in-game purchases.

So, if I knew that the game was controversially terrible, why did I bother to play it? ...

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Star Wars: X-Wing - wave II expansions

I really enjoy the Star Wars: X-Wing miniatures game, and have been playing it on and off for a few years now. Unfortunately, the core set is very lacking in variety, and so the game really needs to be expanded in order to be fully enjoyed. There's a myriad of expansions available, and they can be pricey. A single fighter ship expansion retails for $15, large ship expansions retail for $30-50, and the huge (epic) ships can cost as much as $90 or $100! If you get into this game, be prepared to spend money.

I never got into much of the Star Wars extended universe, so my interest in expansion ships has been mostly limited to content from the classic trilogy. This allowed me to be at least somewhat frugal in my early expansion purchases, but I still tried to find as much variety as I could. At the time of this review, I own (and have played with) the following expansion: Millennium Falcon, Slave I, Lambda Shuttle, VT-49 Decimator, X-Wing, A-Wing, TIE Fighter, TIE Advance, TIE Interceptor.

I also recently purchased the Corellian Corvette expansion (the foot-long huge ship that stands on two bases), but I've yet to have a chance to play it. I'm also interested in trying out the Imperial Raider, which (as I understand) is a ship that was conceived for the X-Wing miniatures game and then also ported into Armada. I also haven't played the "Most Wanted" expansion, which adds a third faction and could hypothetically allow for three-player games. I don't think that there's an official ruleset for a three-player deathmatch though, so even with a third faction, you'd probably just be playing in teams.

Small ships (fighters)

There's really not much to be said about the small fighter expansions, as they play (mostly) the same as the X-Wings and TIE Fighters that come packaged with the core set. Each ship comes with its own special abilities that add some nuanced differences to how they play, but they still play similarly at fundamental levels.

Star Wars: X-Wing - multi-ship collisions
Be very aware of each ship's Pilot Skill, as the risk of collisions dramatically increases with more ships.

The biggest change (and most obvious ones) is that they allow for larger fleet sizes, which complicates the board and requires more careful management of your ships. With more ships in play, you have to be much more aware of what ships are where, what their respective pilot skills are (e.g. their turn order), and what kind of movements and abilities each possesses. Collisions become much more frequent and harder to avoid as more ships are added, and a careless player will probably also find themself running their own ships into each other -- especially if you're trying to fly tightly-packed formations. Of course, I've never run my own ships into each other ...

Perhaps the most obvious expansion is stand-alone X-Wings and TIE Fighters. These are a little bit more than a simple repackaging of the core game's components...

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Star Wars X-Wing miniatures game

There's two versions of this game available now. The original one was released back in 2012 and was based on the original Star Wars trilogy. With the release of The Force Awakens in 2015, Fantasy Flight released a variant core set based on the new movie. The variant set includes miniatures based on the new Resistance X-Wings and First Order TIE Fighters, as well as some revised rules.

I haven't played the variant set with the revised rules, so this review will focus on the original release of the game. My understanding is that the rule changes in the updated version do not alter mechanics, but rather it makes some clarifications for some circumstantial edge cases. If I ever do get a chance to play the revised rules, and find that they substantially alter the game, then I'll either write a separate review of that, or I'll add to this review (depending on how extensive the changes are).

I've had this game for a few years, but didn't play much of it over that time period. Lately, however, my girlfriend and I have gotten really into it -- trying to play a game every weekend or two -- and have been buying lots of expansion ships. So I decided that it was time for me to finally get around to reviewing the game.

Miniature games are a dangerous thing to get into. The core set for X-Wing contains only three ships: a single X-Wing and two TIE Fighters. Without expansions, this leaves the game with relatively little replay value, as there's only so much you can do with such a small roster of ships. There's a handful of pre-made mission scenarios and character cards that can add a bit more variety. The ships themselves are very high quality models - nearly collectible-quality models. Screw having a box, when you're not playing the game, you can display these miniatures on a shelf or in a curio cabinet somewhere! Other components in the set have good production value, which is one of the trademarks of Fantasy Flight games.

Star Wars X-Wing - play area
The game has no board, but is played on any 3'x3' playing surface. Fantasy Flight does sell optional play mats.

Since this is a miniatures game, there is no actual game board. Instead, you'll need a 3 foot by 3 foot playing surface for the play area, plus some extra room for ship cards and components. Fantasy Flight sells play mats with various patterns, along with numerous other accessories. You can also get away with a solid black sheet of 3'x3' felt or cloth from your local craft store, or a bigger sheet if you want larger play areas (you can fold a sheet of cloth to any size you need). In lieu of such a play surface, the game box includes a set of 4 cardboard "corners" that you can use to delineate the borders of the play area. The play area can also be decorated with asteroids or other cardboard obstacles that come packaged in the game.

Plastic dogfights

The game itself is a four-phase process. In the first phase (Planning Phase), each player secretly selects a maneuver for each of their ships using a cardboard dial. This maneuver will determine the ship's movement during the following phase.

Star Wars X-Wing - maneuver
The maneuver templates make ship
movement simple and intuitive.

The second phase is the Activation Phase, in which each ship executes its planned movement. Each ship has a pilot assigned to it, which has a skill level on that pilot's card. Ships are moved ("activated") one at a time in ascending pilot order (lowest skill pilot goes first). The ship's chosen maneuver is revealed, and ship movement is handled by slotting a cardboard maneuver template into the front of the ship's base, picking up the ship, and finally slotting the back of its base at the far end of the maneuver template. In general, movement is a pretty easy mechanic to execute.

It gets a little more complicated if there's overlap between objects in the play area. In the event of a collision, the ship moves as far along its maneuver template as possible before it collides with the other ship or obstacle...

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Battlefield 1 - title

Nobody can make a game about World War I. Trench warfare is too boring. Nothing really happens. There isn't a strong, identifiable villain or good versus evil struggle.

Those are among the many excuses that people made for why all the video games are about World War II, and never about World War I. And then the gaming public and journalists got a glimpse of this:

The teaser trailer for Battlefield 1 was a smash hit.

That teaser trailer was damn good. People were excited. I haven't played a first-person shooter since Call of Duty: World at War, I generally hate online shooters, but even I was excited to try out this game! And other people were hyped about it too.

Now, I never really bought into the idea that World War I was "not video game material". I've long advocated for games to look at all periods of history for inspiration, and World War I is a monumental moment in world history that certainly deserves to be examined by games. The indie market certainly realized this, with games like Valiant Hearts and Verdun. But the big publishers have completely shied away from "The War to End All Wars".

This is a shame. The rapid technological advancements and radically new military tactics that evolved leading up to (and during) the war could be great material to examine in the form of a game. The widescale industrialization of warfare, the complicated politics, and the general fuzziness of the morality of the war are also ripe source material for dramatic storytelling. So it's about time to see this war thrust into the mass market spotlight.

I'd prefer to have seen a strategy game along the lines of Total War; but whatever, I'll give DICE and Battlefield 1 a chance.

The futile indifference of war

First impressions were actually pretty damned good. I was actually really impressed with Battlefield 1's campaign tutorial. It's basically a guided tour of the game's various core mechanics: shooting at enemy soldiers, capturing victory points, piloting vehicles, and so forth. It does a good job of introducing each of these mechanics and systems by jumping the player around between multiple characters in a large-scale battle.

But what really stuck out to me was how the tutorial transitioned between these different set pieces, and how it handled player death. This tutorial is actually surprisingly merciless and difficult. As you complete one set piece, the game gradually (and subtly) increases the threat until it becomes overwhelming and your character dies (or they just kill you after a timer expires), which allows the game to teleport you to the point of view of another character for the next set piece. The dying character's name and birth / death years are shown on screen during the transition, granting that character with a certain degree of humanization.

Battlefield 1: tutorial death
The excellent tutorial emphasizes the indifference and futility of "The War to End All Wars".

Depending on how good you are at the game, you'll go through between half a dozen to a dozen different characters, each with a name and an age. And they all die. The tutorial makes this war look brutal and futile. It even has an almost Dark Souls-like indifference to the player character, killing you without a second thought and forcing you to respawn as another poor, dumb bastard who's about to die for his country, rather than restarting you at a checkpoint until you get it right.

I even wish DICE had gone a bit further by also displaying the character's birth place and maybe even a snippet or two of other biographical trivia. Maybe listing some hobbies, or saying that he was on his high school's varsity football team, or some other little detail like that. DICE settled for just the name and birth / death year, but it's still effective and establishes a very strong running theme throughout the tutorial. The point is a bit undercut by the rapid pacing and by how conventional the actual running and shooting feels. But I still walked out of this tutorial excited by what the rest of the campaign had to offer.

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A gamer's life...

Welcome to Mega Bears Fan's blog, and thanks for visiting! This blog is mostly dedicated to game reviews, strategies, and analysis of my favorite games. I also talk about my other interests, like football, science and technology, movies, and so on. Feel free to read more about the blog.

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