Spending Power

How can we spend a better way?

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A year ago (roughly) I made a list. More on that in a minute. Following a surprise swag bag of previously unpaid wage arriving in December 2017, I picked up a long-time target purchase: a 4k tv. My launch PS4 made a Cinderella-esque HDR transformation and I enjoyed the final third of Horizon Zero Dawn in eye-blistering graphical glee. Anyway, this made me reflect on what I had bought that year and compared that to my actual mental ‘wishlist’. The conclusion I made was that I was more prone to dipping into an impulse buy as opposed to the more desirable purchases. I’m not talking about cars and motor boats; I mean games, geek-toys and other media. This was personified by Horizon – a game I had courted since its launch – that had to wait until Black Friday and a significant price drop. Thus, the list was made.

As well as video games and films/boxsets etc I also collect Transformers so these made up the majority of the list. The highlights were a PS4 Pro to fully appreciate my new 4K setup, most of the biggest games of the year I knew were coming (God of War, Spiderman, Pokemon Lets Go, Smash, Starlink) as well as a few on the backlog (Injustice 2, Skyrim Switch, Mario+Rabbids).

2018 came and has nearly gone and astonishingly, I’ve only got one item left on the list. In the first half of the year, I mopped up most of the games – waiting for offers to sweeten the deal: £21 for Injustice 2 legendary edition, £31 for Skyrim on the eshop plus using Zeek vouchers for an extra 7% discount on credit, £26 for Rabbids on eBay…and by the summer, most games on the list that had been released were signed, sealed and delivered and mine! This had two added bonuses: my focus then switched to the larger purchases and I had a little extra left over for the impulse buys (£4.99 Shovel Knight amiibo was the highlight).

Just after the launch of Spider-Man in September, an eBay 15% discount code plus a very attractive PS4 Pro bundle finally persuaded me to pull the trigger. Raising £170 on eBay for my launch PS4 gave me a net spend of £105 on my Pro. Not. Bad. At. All.

I guess the moral of the story is budgeting and being objective about your purchases pays off. We all have digital service backlogs (especially on Steam…) and even games that have remained untouched. I feel like I’ve achieved something and when the Christmas dust has settled, I’ll start to think about a new list. This time though, everything on it – as Sheldon from Big Bang Theory once said – ‘hasn’t been invented yet.’

Winning E3

What makes the perfect E3 press conference?

Nintendo’s shares have plummeted this week after – what has been perceived to be – a weak E3. SEGA’s slide out of the console market arguably started when Sony gazumped them with the infamous ‘299’ at the Saturn’s stealth launch. Microsoft and Sony have both dropped the ball this generation too. What does this mean? For all its detractors, the power of E3 can not be underestimated; so what makes a ‘good’ E3? What is the formula to success?

Pacing

In recent Directs, Nintendo picked up the pace of games shown which has been met with positive feedback. Microsoft, who aped this speedy succession of showings at E3 this year, have been considered to have had a strong E3 whereas Sony’s disjointed conference diluted the message they tried to convey. Having a quick flurry of games means you can (almost) please all of the people all of the time. If a game is shown that doesn’t resonate with you, rest assured there’ll be another along soon. Pace can also be affected by ill-judged technology too…

Gimmicky Tech

Kinect. Move. Vitality Sensor. Wonderbook. MotionPlus. All of these technologies are no doubt impressive but make for boring – sometimes farcical- presentations. There’s nothing more jarring than watching a rep holding whichever whatever is in vogue this gen and failing miserably. Save it for the show floor!

Stupid Spin-Off Conditions

Don’t announce left-field spin-offs. Or, if you do, announce a mainline game in development in the series. Metroid Prime Federation Force failed because fans wanted a proper Metroid. Pokemon Let’s Go Pikachu/Eevee is announced and people eat it up because they know a ‘proper’ Pokemon is coming soon. At this year’s Microsoft Conference they knew this; if they’d left it as just Funko Pop Gears there would have been riots. However, because Gears 5 was announced, it’s okay!

Free Games Out….now!

We all love free stuff. We especially love free stuff which we don’t need. I’ve downloaded and tinkered with Fallout Shelter and Fortnite on Switch as well as Elder Scrolls Online and Division through Game Pass. It turns out if I didn’t buy/stick with those games a few years ago then I’m not going to now. But they’re free! You could buy Fallout 4 for about £3 pre-E3 so although one should never turn down a free lunch it’s usually something not needed. Just look at how much good will Microsoft has got for backwards compatibility though.

Old Games

Dev: “Last year was a great year for us!”

Us: “Show us new stuff!”

Don’t talk about or showcase games which came out last year.

Beloved Franchise Resurrection

Final Fantasy 7. Resident Evil 2. Shenmue 3. Shadow of the Colossus. Crash N’Sane Trilogy. We love remakes and long-lost sequels. Especially, when one of these comes out on Switch.

Indie Darling

Every dev needs an indie title which looks visibly stunning, plays slicker than an oiled otter and cost £1 to make. EA and Ubisoft have entered this space in recent years and Nintendo has fully leaned into the indie love-in.

However, E3 is often remembered for the unplanned moments: Ubi devs crying, Ubi devs whispering they nailed it (shoutout to Ubisoft!) or IGN staff going wild at Nintendo announcements. Leading up to E3 is a time to dream and ultimately if you want to succeed, these must be met or exceeded. After all, we never knew we needed a console-handheld hybrid…

Nintendo Indirect

Evaluating the hidden clues in the recent Nintendo Direct

Last Thursday’s Nintendo Direct was the one which finally met – and probably exceeded – all expectations. However, there’s a few bits and pieces of subtext to what Nintendo announced:

1. GameCube Virtual Console isn’t happening

Basically any title Nintendo releases in 3D post 2001 is game for a HD/3DS remake. Expect Mario Sunshine and Wind Waker/Twilight Princess to fill in the gaps between the next original incarnations of the series. Why charge £7.99 on virtual console when you can charge £49.99, right? If the games come with modern advancements like wide-screen that’s fine with me.

2. Samus Aran

Smash Bros usually has the most recent iteration of Nintendo characters in its roster so we can expect a few subtle hints to what Nintendo’s underused bounty hunter will be up to in Metroid Prime 4. It would be unthinkable to fathom a Smash game without her; I anticipate more than one tease for her next adventure.

3. Wii U 2019

With Captain Toad, Hyrule Warriors and Donkey Kong hitting Switch this year already – joining Mario Kart 8 – Nintendo seems to be drip feeding the Switch’s predecessor’s back-catalog out over the next few years. Mario 3D World, Mario Maker, Yoshi and New Super Mario Bros will no doubt pop up later in Switch’s lifecycle. OG Wii re-releases are conspicuously by their absence though…

4. E3 is all about Holiday 2018

The Switch has a healthy selection of support going to the end of July. June’s E3 events (whether they be Directs or Treehouse Live) will be all about the holiday season. We know Smash will be there but expect at least three more titles to pick up in time for Christmas. One of those will likely be Labo based and with Metroid Prime 4 and Pokemon looking like 2019 games, we might see HD re-releases or spin offs from these series. Plus we’ll know exactly what Virtual Console/Nintendo Classic/Nintendflix will look like too!

Possibly the most important and exciting piece of information from the Direct was how bullish Nintendo is prepared to be. Q1 was clearly just a chance for everyone to catch their breath before the big guns came out. Crash Bandicoot, Okami, South Park and No More Heroes are the right types of games for Switch: ideally suited to the versatility of the console. Expect even more at E3 to wrestle attention from Spider-Man and (yawn) Crackdown 3. It’s good to see the kind of swagger Nintendo has seldom been willing to share.

10 Predictions for Xbox in 2018

Football rules here: 3 points for a win, 1 for a draw (half-happens) and diddly-squat for a loss.

1. Xbox One X Price Drop – already had dramatic deals and bundle-ins: inevitable and likely sub £400 to compete with PS4 Pro

2. Kinect Replaced – Alexa/Siri style wireless peripheral reintroduces voice commands to the Xbox interface

3. Crackdown 3 Fails – underwhelming and not wait the wait

4. <E3 announcement voice> Console Launch Lifetime Exclusive for Today – Microsoft tie a major 3rd party title to timed exclusivity

5. Dormant Rare Franchise Rebooted – Banjo Odyssey anyone? Perfect Dark Zero Dawn? Hmm?

6. Halo 6 – announced not released; the game is vastly different from predecessors (games as a service or reboot)

7. Lost at Sea of Thieves – has a moment but quickly drops off: like Arms

8. Cuphead 2 – announced at E3 to thunderous applause

9. Xbox One S 1TB – becomes the base standard of the Xbox One family and 500GB consoles are sold off for peanuts

10. Momentum – Xbox now resigned to 3rd place this generation but ground is gained on PS4

10 PlayStation Predictions for 2018 – Reflections

Football rules here: 3 points for a win, 1 for a draw (half-happens) and diddly-squat for a loss.

1. Spyro Trilogy – just look at Crash…

Yes.

2. PlayStation 4 Pro Price Cut – £279 or less

I paid £315 for mine with Spider-Man; does that count?

3. Final Fantasy 7, Shenmue 3 and Dreams miss 2018 – see you next year guys!

Dreams beta happened but still no retail release of these.

4. PlayStation Now discontinued – a promising service slowly winds down

The service actually improved but is still light years behind Game Pass. With PS3/Vita support leaving PS Plus, could the services merge?

5. Rocksteady’s Arkham 4 – whatever this is it’s at E3 and has a BIG presence on the PlayStation stage

Heavily rumoured but managed to evade again.

6. Horizon 2 – announced; not released

PS5 game.

7. Death Stranding – we get a release date

A quiet year for Kojima’s independent debut.

8. 4k Streaming Push – Sony leans in heavily to this service, ignoring 4k UHD Blu-Rays

Nope. This was a year for the gamers.

9. Metal Gear Solid HD – Konami agrees if Sony pays for, develops and markets it plus buy the company a nice dinner

Wishful thinking.

10. PS4 Mini Announced – PSTV-esque but basically an OG PS4 but tinier and no Blu-Ray drive

We got PS1 Mini but this form factor rumoured for Xbox Scarlet so could happen for PS5

10 Nintendo Predictions for 2018 – Reflection

Football rules here: 3 points for a win, 1 for a draw (half-happens) and diddly-squat for a loss.

1. Q2 Zelda – this will be a smaller title and/or remake of a previous game

Nearly! Skyward Sword HD rumours will continue into 2019.

2. 2D Mario – a new iteration (leaving the ‘new’ name behind) in a new art style.

Nope.

3. Virtual Console HD – all releases are HD, with online features and 2018 comforts (this includes GameCube games)

Nope (sob).

4. Nintendo flicks the 4k Switch – Games look a bit better

Will the rumoured Switch 2.0 fulfil this??

5. 3DS HD lineup revealed – cue classics ported to Switch

The 3DS continues to survive in its senior years.

6. Smash Bros Switch Edition – remixed Wii U and 3DS game

Yep and then some.

7. Video streaming comes in full force – enter Amazon and Netflix

Does YouTube count?

8. Gameboy Pocket Classic – contains 20ish games from OG Gameboy with Color games saved for a future retro console

We will defo see this when NES/SNES classics have been fleeced thoroughly.

9. Super Mario Odyssey dlc – extra worlds to explore

Scratch that; Odyssey 2 (a la Mario Galaxy 2) will be a 2020 game.

10. Wave of 3rd party ports hit Switch from Q2 – some will be shameless!

Not as many as expected but Okami HD and the upcoming flurry of Final Fantasy/Resident Evil Games lead the way.

Dlc Ruined my Games!

In 2015, I did something I believed would be a no-brainer, low-risk investment: I bought the Fallout 4 Season Pass (or expansion pass or whatever it was called) at launch. When I purchased Fallout 3, I had waited for and loved the Game of the Year edition which included all expansions so this was a logical step to take. 200 hours into Fallout 4 though I’ve only scratched the surface of the added on content. It’s release came long after I was ‘done’ with the game. Bethesda RPGs are like comfort food for me: I’ll always drop back into them on a rainy day but I certainly didn’t get my money’s worth here. Loot boxes have dominated the paid-for expansion conversation this year but this generation’s dlc has possibly been overlooked for scrutiny – overshadowed by the likes of the former. So, I decided to analyse the dlc I’ve purchased this generation.

Batman Arkham Knight

Upon release, the ambiguous dlc plan was much maligned: the season Pass was put out without details of what it would include. I completed most of the on-disc content (Riddler challenges: nope!) but had been stung by the lacklustre Arkham City dlc. I decided to wait until the content went on sale. Over the next couple of years, I picked up the odd character skin pack a la carte plus the Batgirl add-on. However, the season pass came up in a PSN flash sale for £5.99 earlier in the year so decided to finally cough up despite owning some of the content already; it was cheaper to do it this way than buy the remainder individually. I played the Season of Infamy add on for one night and have not touched it since.

Hindsight verdict: stick to the core game. Arkham Knight’s ending – despite missteps along the way – was conclusive. Extending Batman’s final hours felt forced and unnecessary.

Star Wars Battlefront

At the height of Force Awakens mania, Disney Infinity 3.0 and Battlefront were bought. It was the start of the Xmas holidays when the latter was purchased; this resulted in jumping into a game which already full of seasoned experts with the game already having been out a while. After regularly getting kicked about in online shootouts I quickly moved on. When Rogue One released last year – alongside a free dlc weekend – I fell for it again: picking up the discounted season pass (and Star Wars Racer Revenge). It did give a few weeks of gameplay but I never really dived deep enough to warrant £50 (original gam +expansions) being spent on it.

Hindsight verdict: this expansion experience did not go the way I thought it would.

Destiny

First, a disclosure: I currently have no plans to buy Destiny 2’s expansions until further down the line. Having sunk nearly 100 hours into D2, I’m done with it for a while. Anyway, I bought all of Destiny 1’s add-on content and was happy to do so considering the ongoing nature of the game. I know I’m in the minority when I say this but I loved vanilla Destiny. Farming materials, learning those initial strikes off by heart and original Dinkle-bot were all part of this. Destiny’s expansions was more ‘pay to keep up’ content than ‘additional’. None of them hit the same high notes of the core game – in my opinion – despite adding much-needed story and Nathan Fillion. All in all Destiny cost me about £175 which is a fair reflection of the hundreds of hours I sunk into this ground-breaking game.

Hindsight verdict: D1 was one hell of a ride; albeit one which slowed towards the end. Despite the high price of entry to its full experience, it was worth it.

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

Nintendo’s Switch launch title is our game of the year – along with many other media sites’. However, the end-of-year, final expansion release almost changed this: for me, the additional content nearly ruined the memory of this amazing game. In the core game, all shrines have been conquered and Ganon has long since been defeated (once on Wii U and once on Switch). Unfortunately the tedious fetch quests for armour along with cheap, one hit KO missions in the expansions sully the inventive game design of the on-cart game. After a few evenings of trying to force myself to enjoy them (the second in particular) it’s time to finally move on from Hyrule.

Verdict: after vast expansions on some of Wii U’s games, Breath of the Wild’s expansions leave a lot to be desired. I wish I’d stuck to the original game.

My reflections on these experiences lead to an intriguing question. Currently, I’m knee-deep in Horizon: Zero Dawn. Weeks after picking it up on Black Friday, I’m still hooked delving through the quirky side-quests and errands. With the Frozen Wild’s expansion now out, is it worth picking this up? With more negative experiences than positive with dlc this generation I wonder if it would be better to let this amazing game just be. I don’t want it become another Zelda…