Welcome back to another Weekend Whammy, my friends. Hopefully you’re doing good, having fun, staying safe and all that good stuff. This week I’m chatting a bit about my initial impressions of Returnal, a bit of Titanfall 2 and then jump into the news where we have some interesting Microsoft insights to chat about, Sony financials, a Sony-Discord deal and more.
Still working on the Outriders review. It’s getting there, I swear. I finished up the game, did some Expeditions, found a few Legendary items and now I feel quite happy with the whole thing and have little desire to go back to it, although I might because I want to check out the other classes. That, though, is a good thing because I like that Outriders is not a live service game with no ending in sight.
Returnal is finally here, only the second triple-A PS5 exclusive we’ve got and the first one to release outside of the console’s launch. It has been a bit of a drought, but at least Returnal is proving to be worth the wait thus far. I’m maybe 5 hours in or so and I don’t think I’m in love with it as much as a lot of reviewers have been, but it’s still early and I am most definitely having a lot of fun with it.
It’s a gorgeous game, certainly, and as atmospheric as a really atmospheric thing. But it’s also surprisingly fast-paced in its movement. Sprinting is Doom levels of speed, letting you leap around like like a 3-year-old that found the bag of sugar in the cupboard. It makes combat dynamic and fun.
Speaking of which, the combat is excellent. Housemarque do an outstanding job of bringing bullet-hell style combat into the fully 3D space. I just love the way walls of projectiles fly at you, letting you weave and strafe. The key is that Housemarque have managed depth perception damn near perfectly, making it feel natural to judge the spaces and gaps. It’s frantic and fast and exciting. But the lack of enemy types is a tad disappointing.
I’m not sold on the rogue-like elements, though, probably because I keep mentally comparing it to how exceptionally well Hades does the whole live-die-repeat thing. So far, it doesn’t feel like I’m making a lot of progress on my runs, and death lacks the same excitement as it does in Hades where getting splattered means getting more cool story stuff and wicked upgrades. Each run also takes quite a long time, so when you do eventually snuff it, it’s a lot more of a punch in the solar plexus, especially when you realise you’ve not really progressed in any meaningful way.
Still, the steadily growing mystery of the strange alien planet and the time-loop keeps dragging me forward like a wife dragging a reluctant husband through the clothing department. I want to know what’s going on. I want to know why Selene’s house keeps appearing, and who the astronaut is, and what it all means. And I want to know why Selene is far too willing to touch random alien objects, add them to her suit and even allow parasites to latch on to her. She’s worse than the bloody scientists in Prometheus.
I really appreciate how the game uses the capabilities of the Dualsense controller because outside of Astro’s Playroom we haven’t seen them used to much effect. Returnal does so much with the controller, using little pulses and vibrations and sound cues to immerse you into the world. And the idea of pulling the left-trigger down halfway to aim, and all the way for alt-fire is absolutely awesome. I’d imagine other games will adopt this, although multiplatform games might not.
Interestingly, Housemarque have stated some form of save function is coming due to community feedback. This has pissed off a lot of people who are justifiably worried about save scumming and such potentially ruining the core concept of how Returnal works. I have mixed feelings; I do think they can’t just implement a standard save and load system, but with that said Returnal’s runs are much, much longer than a normal rogue-like and it’s annoying to have to lose a load of progress because you have to put the controller down and go to bed, or go do something. Sure, you can leave the PS5 in rest mode, but I’m not a fan of leaving stuff on overnight when I don’t have to. If nothing else, I like saving on electricity where I can. Quite a few times I’ve done a run in Returnal and done much better than I had anticipated, and mourned the lack of a save function.
How could they combat it? Maybe something like you can only load a save once per session? Or autosaves with no manual load function? I don’t know. Housemarque are much smarter than me, so hopefully they can figure something out.
Between sessions of Returnal I’ve been playing Titanfall 2 in preparation to do a Best of Xbox Game Pass on it, and by Jesus and all his carpenter chums I had forgotten just how brilliant the campaign is. I just wrapped up a stunning level where you wall-run, platform and shoot your way through a humongous factory, and now I’m straight into a section that plays around with jumping around time. The variety of the design is nothing short of excellent, the combat is utterly absorbing and stomping around in a massive Titan is more fun than that whole sex thing. Seriously, the fact that Titanfall 2 got widely overlooked by people is sinful, and I demand the human race be made to repent.
I maintain hope that a Titanfall 3 might yet happen, though. Apex Legends is set within the same universe and has done tremendously for Respawn Entertainment, and they’ve also put out Jedi: Fallen Order which obviously did great while proving that Respawn seem capable of turning on a dime. They’re such a versatile company, and I would love for them to get a chance to return to Titanfall.
Before we get to some of the industry news, let’s get caught up on what games Playstation owners will be getting for free in May provided they have an active PSN subscription. These are available from May 4th (baffling that there’s no Star Wars stuff) and as long as you add them to library you can download them whenever you like, so long as you still have a PSN membership.
Wreckfest: “Burn rubber, break rules and shred metal in this full-contact racer from the creator of the FlatOut. Race and upgrade patched-together cars, improving their looks and toughening up their body armour to survive the epic crashes and neck-to-neck fights over the finish line in competitive races.
“Enjoy some hilarity in Challenge modes as you get behind the wheel of crop harvesters, three-wheelers and much more, then challenge your friends online in multiplayer up to 24 players.”
I reviewed Wreckfest a while back and really enjoyed its focus on smashing and bashing while you race. The handling is weighty and fun, the chaos is great and the multiplayer is a blast provided you don’t get angry about constantly being smashes into walls.
Keep in mind, Wreckfest is only available for Playstation 5 owners.
Battlefield V: “Enter mankind’s greatest conflict with Battlefield V as the series goes back to its roots in a never-before-seen portrayal of World War 2. Experience all-out multiplayer** with your squad in the vast Grand Operations and the cooperative Combined Arms, or take on single player War Stories.
“As you fight in epic, unexpected locations across the globe, enjoy the richest, most immersive Battlefield yet.”
I’ve fallen off the Battlefield series recently, so this should be a good reason to jump back in. I’ve been missing having a competitive multiplayer game to jump into. Man, I used play Battlefield: Bad Company 2 like it was a religion and was pretty damn good at it. Anyway, it’s worth noting you can also get Battlefield V on Game Pass as well if you have an Xbox.
Stranded Deep: “Test your survival skills in this open world adventure. In the aftermath of a mysterious plane crash, you are stranded in the vast expanse of the Pacific Ocean. Alone, without any means to call for help, you must do what you can to survive.
“Explore underwater and on land as you hunt for supplies to craft the tools, weapons, and shelter you’ll need to stay alive. Stay sharp: hunger, thirst, and exposure conspire against you as you brave treacherous elements and the dangerous creatures of the Pacific.”
Never played this one, but it sounds quite fun and seems to be well liked, so I might check it out.
Bit of small news here to kick off: The Official Playstation magazine is dead, and has been replaced by Play Magazine. I bring this up because I still have a lot of video game magazines and subscribe to Edge and PC Gamer and usually pick up the Official Playstation mag every month from the local store. It seems to be the same team behind the new Play magazine, though, so its more like a rebranding. Still, it does mean there are no more “official” video game magazines around.
As an example of how far magazines have dropped on popularity thanks to Youtube and video game sites and the Internet in general, OPM used to regularly sell over 500,000 copies per month. Now, though, the circulation is listed as around 21,000 per month.
Fun fact, it’s sort of a dream of mine to get something published in a gaming magazine, so I guess if I that to happen I had better hurry up before they’re all gone. Send me an Email, Play Magazine.
Sticking with the Sony theme, there are plans to bring Discord and Playstation together. Discord recently announced it was no longer looking for a buyer and would instead be going public. But it seems some interesting deals were made behind closed doors as president and CEO of Playstation, Jim Ryan, posted up some fascinating news on the official Playstation blog.
At PlayStation, we’re constantly looking for new ways to enable players around the world to connect with one another, form new friendships and communities, and share fun experiences and lasting memories. It’s in this spirit that we’re excited to announce a new partnership with Discord, the communication service popularized by gamers and used by more than 140 million people every month around the world.
Together, our teams are already hard at work connecting Discord with your social and gaming experience on PlayStation Network. Our goal is to bring the Discord and PlayStation experiences closer together on console and mobile starting early next year, allowing friends, groups, and communities to hang out, have fun, and communicate more easily while playing games together.
The post also goes on to mention that Sony have made a minority investment into Discord as part of the new deal.
It’s exciting stuff and could help make the Playstation 4 and Playstation 5 much stronger socially. Discord has become the defacto method of communication for many PC gamers, and while Playstation’s social stuff is decent I think Discord could make it so much better.
But this could also open the way for Discord making its way to Xbox as well, making it easier to communicate with friends over multiple platforms. Although whether Sony, MS and maybe even Nintendo would even agree to such a thing is difficult to say.
Meanwhile, Playstation is looking extremely health as a brand. The Playstation 5 has now shifted over 7.8-million units despite the current constraints, while Playstation as a whole took a profit of £3.2-billion for the fiscal year which ended in March. Sony said that the 34% increase they’ve seen is largely due to a big surge in software sales. It was also reported that 34% of Sony’s impressive $25-billion in revenue was made up of add-on content, including microtransactions. Meanwhile, boxed games made up just 5%, while digital games accounted for 21%.. Finally, Sony noted a big increase in money generated from Network Services sales, namely Playstation Plus subscriptions.
All in all, Playstation is looking exceptionally health, beating out the Xbox when it comes to sheer money, although of course Xbox is just one small part of Microsoft while for Sony the Playstation brand is their main money spinner. The point is, Playstation is in great shape, and they’re also promising to invest $200-million in their first-party studios.
Microsoft have revealed that they’ve decided to reduce their cut of PC games sold on their storefront to 12%, bringing it in line with the Epic Store. That means when you buy a game from the Microsoft store, the developers will get 88% percent of the money, rather than the 70% they were previously getting. This new policy will come into effect on August 1st.
Steam continues to take a 30% cut of all sales, although that number can drop to as low as 20% if the game sells enough copies. The Epic Store launched with the 12/88 split, sparking a lot of debate about Steam’s much higher percentages. With Microsoft also shifting to a 12% split, is this putting any pressure on Steam? Well, the answer appears to be no, at least for now. Although the Epic Store does appear to be doing well, albeit losing money due to handing out free games and signing exclusives, Steam remains the dominant store for PC games. Many argue that Steam justifies its cut due to its many other features such as forums, user reviews and much more. Perhaps the simplest argument is that Steam justifies its cut simply by being the biggest store on PC.
It’s also worth nothing that on consoles the 30% split remains the standard across Xbox, Playstation and Nintendo. Meanwhile, physical stores take 30% as well. This does make Microsoft’s shift to a more generous split on its store seem a bit more like a PR move, since the MS store doesn’t exactly shift a lot of games compared to Steam or even Epic. But it could also be viewed as a way for Microsoft to test the waters, potentially opening the way for the Xbox storefront to adopt the 12/88 split as well, which would be fantastic news for developers.
That, at least, appears to have been the plan. In a 2021 internal Microsoft document made public due to the Apple vs Epic legal battle, a section titled Microsoft Store Standard Fees & Revenue Shares Overview, it’s stated that ALL games will be moving 88/12 in CY21. This is specifically mentioned in the “Microsoft Store on Xbox” subsection.
It’s also interesting to note that the document includes a mention of proposed idea of PC games getting the 88/12 split provided Microsoft gets streaming rights. Here’s the line:
“There is a proposal currently under Gaming Leadership Team consideration to adopt 88/12 as a public PC games revenue share for all games in exchange for the grant of streaming rights to Microsoft.”
No mention of this was made when the change to Microsoft PC store was announced.
However, despite what the document may say, Microsoft are currently stating that they have no plans to change the way they handle console game sales. The Verge asked Microsoft about these plans and were told, “we have no plans to change the revenue share for console games at this time,” which was later clarified further when Microsoft said, “We will not be updating the revenue split for console publishers.”
The first comment uses wording that provides a lot of leeway, basically saying that they aren’t changing things right now but could do tomorrow, a week from now or a month from now. The second statement is much harsher in its language, and strongly suggests Microsoft have altered their plans, at least for the time being.
Personally, I support the Epic model here, simply because I like to see the creators getting as much of the money as possible. I also don’t think Steam need to charge so much, although without a look at their running costs it’s impossible to judge whether that 30% is eaten up or is mostly just profit. Regardless, there’s growing pressure across the industry to adjust these numbers to favour developers and publishers more.
Finally, a fun little bit of news that caught my attention. Another internal Microsoft document, revealed via the ongoing Apple vs Epic legal battle, has shown us what Microsoft thought of The Last of Us 2. The Executive Portfolio Update from August 2020 would not usually be see by the public, and within its digital pages are things like a list of upcoming major releases. Most intriguing, though, was a review of The Last of Us 2, of which Microsoft had high praise, especially in regard to the game’s graphics and attention to detail.
The visual quality and attention to detail in The Last of Us Part II is absolutely best-in-class in basically every area, and the overall presentation is significantly ahead of anything that other teams have been producing on console and PC.
We were frequently stunned by the quality of the game’s visuals, something that sadly seldom happens these days. It’s even more impressive considering that the game feature two separate player characters with different groups of allies, in different locations, along with flashback sequences taking place years before. It features a shockingly wide variety of environments, weather, and day cycles in locations ranging from Wyoming to California.
Executive Portfolio Update
I absolutely agree with MS, here. While I had a lot of problems with The Last of Us 2, the graphics certainly were not one of them. The game is astounding in its level of detail, especially the animations that consistently amazed me. There’s so many small things to notice that flesh out the world or make the characters seem more connected to it. The environments are beautiful and almost always feel bespoke, barely using any repeated assets and textures. It’s all the more incredible that Naughty Dog pulled it off on the Playstation 4, pushing the aging hardware to breaking point if the fan-noise on my PS4 Pro was anything to go by.
It might seem strange for a company to review a competitor’s product like this, but it’s actually quite normal and happens all the time. Of course, said reviews are never expected to be made available to the public.
The Last of Us II is the exceedingly rare video game where what it accomplishes in moving forward the art of narrative storytelling in video games as a medium ultimately outweighs whether everyone “likes it” or even if everyone has “fun” playing it. That said, we loved it, had a great time playing it, and find ourselves still thinking about its characters and stories even after finishing the playthrough.
Executive Portfolio Update
Again, I mostly agree. I didn’t enjoy the story and characters, but I agree with the idea that Naughty Dog told the story they wanted to tell, that they crafted something incredible from a technical and artistic perspective. I’m glad the game exists, ultimately, and that a lot of people loved it.
All right, we’ll wrap it up here, shall we? Remember to stay safe out there, play awesome games and just generally be cool.