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My friends and family have always found that video games and board games are always good go-to gifts for me during the holiday season (which for us, starts in the fall, as my partner and I both have birthdays in September and October). 2020 was a bit different, however. For one thing, the COVID-19 pandemic meant that we weren't able to get groups together for tabletop gaming nearly as often as we used to. The pandemic didn't stop us from tabletop gaming altogether, but we restrained our play to being with only a few regular players, and even then, played mostly 2-player games in order to avoid having multiple house guests at a time. We even sometimes wore masks while playing, just as an added precaution.

It wasn't that I didn't want new board games (or expansions to games I already have); rather, we just weren't sure when I'd ever be able to play them. For example, I did receive the new Crusader Kings board game by Free League Publishing. Hopefully, I'll have an opportunity to play it sometime soon, and be able to write a review for it to go along with my review of the video game.

But video games were not a hard purchase because of the pandemic. Sitting at home and playing video games is, after all, one of the best and safest pass-times during a pandemic. Rather, the big video game releases of this fall came with a lot of baggage or circumstantial reasons why I wasn't enthusiastic to buy them.

Lack of games didn't sell me on a PS5

First and foremost is the biggest of the big new releases this year: the new consoles. I've never been an XBox-player, so there was no interest in a new XBox to begin with. I am, however, interested in the PS5. But I wasn't rushing out to buy one because I'm not going to buy a new console if there aren't any exclusive new games to play on it. And since I wasn't rushing out to buy one, supply problems meant that it only got harder to find one. Honestly, I was surprised that the PS5 seemingly sold so well considering that there just wasn't all that much to play on it. My lack of enthusiasm for the new console meant that even though my partner considered trying to buy one, she eventually decided against it.

The only 2 games on PS5 worth playing are not worth buying a new console.

The big releases for the PS5 were the Demon's Souls remake and Miles Morales. So far, they are the only 2 games worth playing on the PS5, which is why I saw them bundled together with the console at multiple retailers and resellers. I was interested in both, but not enough to drop $400 on a new console -- especially not during a time of economic uncertainty. I'm sorry Sony, but if you want to sell me on a new console, you got to have something better than a remake of a game from 10 years ago (and 2 console generations ago) that I already played the hell out of back in the day, and a sequel to game from 2 years ago that looks like it's mostly just more of the same (and which is also available on the last-gen console anyway). Every other big release for the PS5, from Assassin's Creed: Valhalla to Cyberpunk: 2077 was also released on other platforms, so again, there was no need to rush out and buy a PS5 to play these games -- which I wouldn't have done anyway because both of those games have their own baggage, which I'll get to later in this post.

I only bought a PS4 because of Bloodborne, and the PS5 has so far lacked a similar console-selling exclusive. Maybe they'll have one eventually. Maybe if Elden Ring were a PS5-exclusive, I'd be in more of a hurry to secure myself a console. But as far as I know, that game is set for release on PS4 and will also be available on PC, so I don't need a PS5 in order to play it, the way that I needed a PS4 to play Bloodborne.

Death Stranding should have been a PS5 launch title

What's especially odd is that Sony has had several high-profile PS4 exclusives all released within the last year. Any of them (or all?) could have been delayed so that they could be PS5 launch titles. Sony has recently seen Death Stranding, Final Fantasy VII Remake, and The Last of Us Part 2 released exclusively on PS4 -- all within 6-to-12 months of the PS5's launch. Even if each had a PS4 version as well, if the PS5 versions looked and played substantially better, I would have had much more interest in a PS5 because there would actually be some uniquely good games on it. With Death Stranding being Kojima's follow-up to the cancelled P.T. / Silent Hills project, which I was very excited about, I might have bought a PS5 for Death Stranding.

In hindsight, I feel like Death Stranding in particular really could have benefited from being a PS5 launch title. The game released on PS4 in late 2019 to mixed public reception. But if it had been a launch title for a new console, it might have seen more hype surrounding it. Sony fanboys and media outlets probably would have defended the game a lot more strongly if they were using it to defend their $400 console purchase.

Death Stranding's unique approach to open-world traversal would have made it
a good technical showcase for the PS5's DualSense controller's haptic feedback.

More importantly, the unique traversal mechanics of Death Stranding would have been a great showcase for Sony's new "DualSense" controller's fancy new haptic feedback mechanics. The DualSense controller could have more robustly represented the different terrains or cargoes that Sam is carrying, and the controller's buttons themselves could have provided physical resistance to the player's inputs, making it harder to balance Sam over rough terrain or while climbing. Holding Death Stranding back for release on PS5 would have (in my opinion) likely made both the game and the console seem more technically advanced and innovative to the general public. Even with a PS4 release to accompany it (in order to increase units sold and recoup the cost of the game to Kojima Productions), the PS5 version's technical innovation via the DualSense controller would have made the PS5 version of Death Stranding be the definitive version to play!

But none of that happened. All the games I cited had PS4 releases, and the few games on the PS5 were just not worth $400. The end result was both me and my partner knowing that we would certainly enjoy a PS5, but not feeling like it was worth the expense at this time. Maybe later this year.

WARNING:
The following contains sexual content that may not be safe for work or children, including descriptions of alleged criminal behavior at Ubisoft, and a screenshot from Cyberpunk that contains nudity. Reader discretion is advised.

Not supporting companies with poor business practices

Sony's PS5 launch may have been underwhelming, resulting in non-purchases from us, but other holiday season releases that I was interested in were burdened with worse baggage of corporate evil that lead me to actively boycott the companies and products.

I've avoided buying retail products from Activision, EA, and other publishers due to
greedy and exploitative micro-transaction practices.

For years now, I've avoided purchasing EA, Activision, and 2k games in retail because of their insistence on shoving unnecessary micro-transaction and loot box economies into practically every game that they publish, often to the detriment of the game's own balance and meta. Both those publishers' attempts to normalize the practice of selling un-regulated gambling to minors via games intended for young audiences, and sports titles intended for general audiences, has forced me to buy all EA and Activision games used, rather than give a single penny to either company. Aside from expansions for 2k's Civilization VI, and the sole exception of Red Dead Redemption II, I have not bought (or received as a gift) a new retail copy of any EA, Activision, or 2K game, up until a friend bought me a copy of EA's Star Wars: Squadrons for my birthday. And in the case of Red Dead Redemption II, I only heard about the allegations of abusive crunch after I had bought the game, and quickly came to regret my purchase. Even though I play and review EA's Madden game every year, I always wait a week or a month to buy a used copy off eBay from someone who bought the game, played it, and got sick of it. I've also been doing the same with annual game series like Assassin's Creed or Call of Duty: if I play them in a given year, I buy them used.

Star Wars: Squadrons, by the way, is a game that I have no reservations about paying retail for, and I've been evangelizing it since it's release. It's a mid-budget production with a less expensive $40 price tag, and no in-game real-money purchases (as of the time of this writing). These sorts of mid-budget games from large publishers have been missing from the industry for years, and the return of such products should be celebrated and supported! And if you have a PSVR, you're doing yourself a disservice if you don't play this game!

Other than the bright spot of Star Wars: Squadrons, the other big games of the season all came from companies that have been in the news for the absolute wrong reasons.

I'm boycotting Ubisoft because they harbor rapists

I was curious to try out Assassin's Creed: Valhalla. Ever since sailing mechanics were introduced to the series in Assassin's Creed III and Black Flag, I've been wanting to see the concept applied to exploration and raiding mechanics during the Age of Vikings. It took years, but Ubisoft finally delivered. Too bad I didn't get to play it yet.

Reports have been surfacing throughout 2020 that Ubisoft has been systematically enabling sexual harassment and sexual assault of its employees by the companies senior management. Worse yet, the company's own HR (which is supposed to protect the employees) acted to conceal allegations of wrong-doing and protect the abusers. Guilt goes almost all the way up to the top, forcing executives as high up as the vice president of the company to resign. The misconduct seems so ingrained in the company's culture that it is incredibly hard to believe that the company's CEO Yves Guillemot wasn't aware of it -- or worse yet, actively involved. It's like the Catholic Church over at Ubisoft.

Since I enjoyed the sailing in Black Flag, I've been hoping for a viking-themed Assassin's Creed.

That kind of behavior cannot be condoned.. As of the time of this writing, Ubisoft has made public statements apologizing for the abuse and insisting that it will change its policies and practice, but as far as I know, no meaningful action has been taken by the company. Even the executives who were fired were allowed to keep stock and other vested interests in the company, so they continue to personally profit from the company's success. If you bought an Ubisoft game in 2020 or 2021, you are directly supporting known rapists. If the allegations are true, these executives, including CEO Yves Guillemot himself, should be criminally prosecuted, and as long as the company continues to protect and enrich them, I will not be giving Ubisoft any of my money, and I will be encouraging everyone that I know to similarly boycott the companies products and services.

So even though both me and my partner wanted to go viking on the PS4 (or PS5) with Assassin's Creed: Valhalla, my vociferous objections to purchasing a retail copy of the game lead her to avoid buying the game for me for the holidays. Obviously, she doesn't want to support a company that encourages a rape culture either.

CD Projekt Red epically botched Cyberpunk's release

Then there was Cyberpunk 2077. I had been looking forward to Cyberpunk for a few years. I loved The Witcher 3, and my fondness for the game has only grown in the intervening years. CD Projekt Red has been seen as one of the darlings of video game developers and publishers since Witcher 3's release. The company has publicly denounced many of the most abusive and exploitative practices of its peers. It has, in the past, taken public stances against abusive crunch practices, crunching its employees to get the game finished, punishing the workers for the management's decisions to change the scope of the game (including substantially rewriting the plot to incorporate Keaneu Reeves into the game), while refusing to decide to delay the game long enough to allow its developers to do their jobs while not under duress. They also announced that Cyberpunk would have micro-transactions as part of its online multiplayer mode.

I've read speculation that Keanu Reeves' expanded role lead CDPR to crunch to revise the game.

Those were bad enough for me to withhold buying the game on launch day. But then the game actually came out, and the problems got worse. The actual game was riddled with bugs. On the last-gen platforms (PS4 and XBoxOne), it is reportedly so unstable as to be unplayable (think Fallout: New Vegas on PS3). It was so bad that online retailers (including Sony and Amazon) pulled the game from their stores. Even on the new consoles and on PC, the game is supposedly full of issues. It reportedly feels un-finished and un-polished. This is despite the fact that CD Projekt Red continuously showed footage of the game running on high-end PCs and insisting that the console versions performed "surprisingly well".

So in the end, CD Projekt Red exploited its employees with extensive, forced overtime, only to end up releasing a game that flopped horribly. I mean, it still made a crap-ton of money, but it won't sell as much as it otherwise would have (especially once you factor in the lost revenue from all the refunds). More importantly, the negative PR is likely to hurt CD Projekt Red's reputation for years to come, and may also hurt the sales of their next project. At least when Rockstar crunched to finish Red Dead Redemption II, they ended up making a good game that was well-received by the public. So at least Rockstar could argue that the extra work was "worth it" (in some sense). CDPR can't even say that much.

Hopefully, all these publishers have learned their lesson regarding the treatment of their workforce. I'm not going to hold my breath for them to change their ways though.

My partner enjoyed the character creator.
She did not enjoy the actual game due to
glitches and performance issues.

This once again left my partner with another potential holiday gift idea that she had to mothball. Though I still did end up receiving a copy of the game anyway. It was gifted to me by a friend who wasn't aware of the political issues surrounding the game, or of my plans to withhold purchasing it. I wasn't going to turn down the gift, and I appreciate the thought.

I haven't played the game yet, but I did activate family sharing on Steam to allow my partner to play it on her new gaming PC that I bought her for her birthday. She was curious about the character creator, and had a lot of fun playing around with character creation. The actual game itself was less fun for her (see her sidebar below). She immediately ran into issues in the tutorial with button prompts not appearing, leaving her clueless as to how to finish the stealth takedown tutorial. The tutorial prompt simply wasn't showing up, and none of the settings menus labeled which key is used to do a stealth takedown. Worse yet, online guides all showed gamepad controls and not keyboard controls. After numerous attempts, we were able to get the prompt to show up, but then she continued to have severe graphical issues in the early missions that she played. She finally gave up on the game after trying (and failing) to drive the car using the keyboard and mouse controls. Based on her difficulties, I will certainly be using a gamepad when I finally get around to playing the game (at least for the driving).

In the days and weeks following the game's release, the bad news didn't stop rolling in for CDPR. Additional reports surfaced that CD Projekt Red had embargoed reviews and had forced media outlets to sign NDAs preventing them from discussing the performance issues in reviews on the older platforms. CD Projekt Red had even gone on the record insisting that the game "runs surprisingly well" on the last-gen consoles. While the phrase is ambiguous and subjective (CD Projekt Red's definition of "surprisingly well" may have meant that they are surprised it runs at all), they definitely mislead consumers into thinking that the games would perform respectably on last-gen consoles. Another blatant lie.

Regardless of the fact that the quality of the released product is ... "suspect" at best, this incident has exposed CD Projekt Red as being a cheating, lying, exploitative corporation, just like all the other evil corporations in the world (and in the video game industry). The company (a former darling within gaming communities) lost virtually all of its credibility and good will overnight. It's no better than EA, Activision, 2k, or Warner Brothers Interactive. But hey, at least they aren't raping their employees -- at least not to our knowledge...

Hopefully next holiday season, the PS5 will actually be worth buying, and maybe the games released on it will have been created and released without the corporations working their employees to exhaustion and literal mental and physical illness. And hopefully Yves Guillemot and the other alleged rapists at Ubisoft will have been held to some kind of accountability for their alleged crimes, and people buying video games won't have to inadvertently support known rapists. Oh, and hopefully the stupid pandemic will be over by the 2021 holidays so that I can actually play some damn board games for my birthday!

My Partner's Thoughts on Cyberpunk 2077

What follows MegaBearsFan's partner's impressions of Cyberpunk 2077 (as written by her) based on her limited play-time near the game's launch.

I really wanted to have fun with Cyberpunk. I did have fun through the character creator. But how does anyone have any time to play this game and live a life? As soon as I got into my car, I received what seemed like twenty urgent quest notifications. The game made it seems like if I didn't start these quests, all of civilization would fall. I have a job to do, chores to do, and a kid to feed. I don't have time for a game like this with my responsibilities. I felt like it was holding me hostage because it wouldn't let me save manually. What the hell kind of game does not let you save? I told [MegaBearsFan] that if it made me lose even 10 minutes of progress, I would never pick up the game again. I don't have time for that.

The sad thing is, I enjoy the cyberpunk genre, I was excited about Cyberpunk, and I really wanted to enjoy it. However, it's near impossible to enjoy the game while stressing about a million urgent side quests, an inability to save when it's convenient for me, while also and putting up with bugs and rendering issues that took away from the game's aesthetics. And I was playing on a brand-new gaming laptop! I wasn't even playing the crappy PS4. This was on PC.

In regards to the character creator, I had fun for a hot minute playing with the floppy penises. Honestly, penises are funny looking. I see what CDPR did- they used the character creator and Keanu Reeves to make their game stand out because without these two elements, the game really can't stand on it's own feet. CDPR should look at character creators from games like recent Soul Calibur games or even WWE games in the early 2000's- these are character creators that are worth a damn and don't need floppy penises and bushy vaginas to be interesting. Cyberpunk is as floppy as the penises in the character creator.

I know, I know. I only played for a few hours. Is it fair to judge a game by only two hours of play? Fuck yes, it's fair. Between my first job, side jobs, hobbies, and taking care of my child, those few free hours are the most valuable part of my day, and I don't have time for shitty games that don't even work.

MegaBearsFan's note:
Geez. and you all thought I was harsh in my criticisms of games ...

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A gamer's thoughts

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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