Game of the Year 2016 Day 2 of 3

I didn’t play many disappointments this year but there were a couple of big surprises that elevated 2016 to one of the best years in recent memory. If you told me in 2015 that a new Doom game would brilliant, Street Fighter V was a bit of a dumpster fire and I would spend a lot of time playing a game reminiscent of Team Fortress 2, I would have called you mad.

Most Disappointing Game of 2016

Winner: Street Fighter V

I had grand plans for Street Fighter V. I was going train on a regular basis and actually compete in ranked matches. I was going to focus on a single character and “master” it. I was going to take Street Fighter seriously like I never did before. But none of that came to pass because I spent more time waiting for matches than actually playing. And even if I managed to get into a match, it was often hitchy and difficult to play.

My issues with Street Fighter V aren’t with the fundamental mechanics or lack of single player content – those didn’t help its case though. My issues stemmed from the game’s poor online play in 2016. I don’t care if I win or lose but I want to be able to learn from each experience. Losing or winning in a lag filled match accomplishes nothing.

Thankfully, I bought a physical copy and was able to sell it.

Runner-up: Fire Emblem Fates: Birthright

Most Surprising Game of 2016

Winner: Doom 

It’s been a long time since an id Software game was worth looking at let alone wow me. RAGE certainly didn’t live up to expectations; I bought a copy for cheap and didn’t even bother to play it beyond an hour. Doom is the anti-RAGE. RAGE was slow and plodding and Doom was in my face and demanded my attention. I had heard rumblings of positivity from hardcore id Software fans but they were the same folks who proclaimed RAGE was a good game. 

Doom blindsided me with its relentless action and gear shifter breaking calm of exploration. 

Runner-up: Overwatch, The Division

Fire Emblem Fates: Birthright Review

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I enjoyed Fire Emblem: Awakening enough to buy both Fire Emblem Fates titles, Birthright and Conquest, blind. I was content with gameplay loop in Awakening and was convinced they couldn’t muck it up. And since Birthright was supposed to follow the Awakening formula, I thought it was a good idea to play that first.

I was in over my head when I played Awakening. It was my first Fire Emblem game and I wandered in on hard difficulty and with permanent death on which resulted in me save scumming my way through the game. I thought: “I went into the deep end of XCOM: Enemy Unknown, how hard can this game be?”. It was difficult and I told myself that the next Fire Emblem game, I was going to play it on normal difficulty.

I didn’t learn my lesson.

I repeated the same process with Birthright but this time, I didn’t waste time banging my head against the final battle and lowered the difficulty so I could wrap the game up. I was nearing the 50 hour mark and the core gameplay wasn’t holding up against the torrent of grating thematic annoyances.

Birthright’s gameplay gimmick enabled dragon blooded characters to alter the battlefield at specific squares. The alterations swung between toggling passage ways and environmental hazards. I thought they underutilized these abilities because it never felt integral to the fabric of the game; they were integral to certain maps and missions but I was hoping to have more agency with this ability. It would have been interesting if I was given the ability to dynamically create a body of water, bridge or a wall of rock.

I was fed up with the relationship system, the base building and how the predictable narrative was unfolding. The increasingly straight forward battles didn’t do much to separate themselves from the random Challenge missions that I was grinding my characters through either. I wasn’t grinding for levels though. I paired my soldiers together in an effort to produce offspring. I didn’t dabble in the offspring aspect of Awakening so I decided to change that with Birthright. The first trio of children were interesting but it quickly became a time consuming chore and I was increasingly frustrated with how poorly they handled the accelerated growth of the offspring.

Every parent in the Birthright neglected their children and, unsurprisingly, their children found themselves in some kind of danger. They either escaped their time accelerated nursery (dubbed the “Deep Realm”) or enemies somehow found their way in. In the end, it was up to their parent and my avatar in this game, Elena (canonically named Corrin) to save them. Despite the ill conceived circumstances surrounding these rescue missions, their design and setups were often more interesting than every other mission in the game.

The awkward handling of offspring may have been present in Awakening but since I largely ignored that aspect of the game then, it was a non-factor. I tabbed through my share of conversations between characters in Awakening but I don’t recall them being so pandering — in fact, I felt Birthright was filled with creepy anime tropes.

I had weird face to face exchanges of one liners with characters that were all inexplicably flustered. I was asked to blow into the mic to cool off my significant other. I was asked to poke them in order to wake them up. I met a furry half breed which I thought was a big fat joke because I just witnessed one of many unsettling — and borderline incestuous — conversations between the main character’ and their adopted sister.

It didn’t matter where I looked, there was some kind of trope being played out. On one hand, they’re trying to make this war between Hoshido and Nohr a major ordeal but at the same time, they were undermining the gravity of the situation with anime bullshit.

I really hope the tone in Fire Emblem Fates: Conquest is dramatically different from Birthright but I doubt it. I expect more pandering and I don’t think I can stomach anymore of it. I don’t know when I will get around to playing Conquest but I think I’m done with this franchise for the foreseeable future.

I don’t like it

Ratings Guide

Checkpoint: Tesla Model 3 Edition

I felt a brief moment of regret after laying eyes on the Tesla Model 3. For approximately 5 seconds, I thought the car that Elon Musk unveiled late Thursday night was the ideal fit and that perhaps I should have waited for his latest product. But then I gathered my senses and went back to playing The Division.

I didn’t make a reservation. I’ve prodded people in hopes that they would but realistically, the Tesla Model 3 isn’t what I was hoping for.

The specification are sound:

  • 215 miles on a single charge
  • Starts at $35 000 USD before government incentives
  • 0 – 60 MPH in 6 seconds
  • Seats 5

It sounds all well in good but what they’ve shown so far makes me question who this is for. I think it’s for the Tesla fan that can’t afford a Model S or Model X; it’s not for the everyday person just yet and all the interior design decisions point to that fact.

But let’s talk about the exterior first. Outside of the weird grill-less front, I really like the look of the Model 3’s exterior. That single piece of glass for the windshield, roof and rear window is a source of envy. It makes me wonder why we haven’t seen car manufacturers try this kind of design though. Is it cost thing? A potential safety issue? I have no idea but I’d like to see this idea take off.

There are plenty of exterior shots of the car on Tesla’s website but the interior is absent. They’re not hiding it — they showed it off during that reveal — but it’s probably not final and they didn’t want many people studying it too closely.

The giant touch screen is an eye catching centre piece. However, once I was done being wowed and thought about what it would be like to live with that as the only means of input. I thought I would be fine with the first generation Volt’s capacitive touch controls but as soon as I got into one and had look at where I was tapping, I realized that not everything should be touch based. Basic functions like volume and climate control are fine as knobs. Just look at the Nest which pushed for simplicity and brought back the classic knob based thermostat.

According to Elon, not every detail in the Model 3 is set in stone and it’s all subject to change before actual manufacturing begins. One area, I would like for them to address is the lack of speedometer. There’s a widget on the top left that will display the speed but I don’t want to glance to the right, I would like to see it in front of me. I don’t need it in a traditional dashboard set up; I will be happy if they projected on the windshield.

Other decisions that made me question the appeal of the car for the masses is the trunk opening. My brother and I thought it was going to be a hatchback but that single piece of glass setup meant it’s the exact opposite of a hatchback with one of the dinkiest of trunk entrances I’ve ever seen.

There still may be too many concessions for people to go full electric but efforts like the Model 3 are very promising. I look forward to seeing the car on the road.

I finished Fire Emblem Fates: Birthright. I didn’t like it very much and I’ll elaborate why later this week. I also finished the main content in The Division but I’m not done with it yet. I’m curious what the upcoming Incurision (or “raid”) is like and there are still a handful of enemies to thwart in the Dark Zone.

Checkpoint: Tax Filing 2015 Edition

I’ve been using TurboTax for years. I buy the standard edition and file claims for my immediate family for less than $30 per year. I tried H&R Block’s free online offering last year but it couldn’t even handle my simple scenario properly. For the 2015 tax year, Intuit decided to step into the free game and offer TurboTax online free as well. I was going to check it out but then I heard of SimpleTax and the huge amount of praise that it received.

SimpleTax doesn’t offer the questionnaire that I’ve grown accustom to with TurboTax and that’s both a blessing and a point of worry. It’s a blessing for those who are familiar with their tax situation, have a handful of forms and receipts and just want to input them. TurboTax’s interview/questionnaire served as a checklist . I had forgotten about my public transit pass and if it wasn’t for the fact that I was owing money instead of getting a refund, I may have omitted it entirely. TurboTax would have “saved” me because it would have asked if that situation applied to me from the onset.

SimpleTax does have an optimization and suggestions function that made useful suggestions though. It suggested I take a look at medical expenses and I found out that I could claim my laser eye surgery. I would have likely explored that possibility with TurboTax’s suggestions phase as well but it was nice to see SimpleTax have that security blanket.

The process of inputting forms and receipts in SimpleTax was enough to win me over for subsequent years. It was easy to find what I was looking for with a few keystrokes in their search field. The boxes were laid out logically and I was able to tab through them with ease. I also found tooltips found throughout each form very useful.

I submitted my return for 2015 and if the tax man comes back with no complaints, I see myself using SimpleTax next year as well. I’m impressed with SimpleTax so far but I don’t think it’s as beginner friendly as TurboTax’s interview/questionnaire.

After 40 hours, I’m ready to close the book on Fire Emblem Fates: Birthright. I’m also nearing the end of the Division’s campaign but unlike Fire Emblem, I don’t feel like I’m done with the Division just yet.

Then there’s Street Fighter V which I’m trying to play more but any time I try playing online, I get fed up with the long wait times and end up chipping away at Survival Normal. There’s a new patch and character coming out next week that will hopefully give me the opportunity to find some quick matches. It’s incredibly silly to spend more time waiting on matchmaking and loading than fighting.

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