Category Archives: Opinions

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Flawed Masterpieces: Dark Souls

Welcome to Flawed Masterpieces. A series designed to look at the weaknesses of gaming’s greatest titles, and remind us all that the past was not perfect.

Dark Souls is a great game. Actually, as the title of this article suggests, it is a masterpiece.

I’ve only thought of Dark Souls more recently with the release of Bloodborne, which has reignited my love of the Souls franchise like a freshly kindled bonfire in the hopeless night.

Yet as much as I love Dark Souls (I once wrote it ruined me for other games, and stand by that statement in many ways) it is not a perfect game. Some of its flaws didn’t become evident the first time through, nor the second or even the third. But as I go through what will be my fifth playthrough of From Software’s great contribution to gaming, I have found there are things about Dark Souls which do hinder the game. Some of these hindrances are small. Others…well to be honest some of them continue to impact the franchise to this day.

So with respects to my fellow Dark Souls travelers, I present the biggest flaws of Dark Souls.

The Magic System

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Magic in Dark Souls was intentionally dialed back from its Demon Souls counterpart, on the grounds that the old magic system made certain parts of the experience meant to be challenging in a specific way, far too easy to get around.

That’s fine, but the problem became that making a pure magic character in Dark Souls is a huge chore. Even assuming you have a slight indication of where to go and how to manage your path to pure sorcery (which, as I’ll be discussing later, is a big assumption) you’ll find your ability to manage the early game on your limited spell repertoire alone to be nigh impossible. Even the act of casting a spells will require some online fact checking for many new players.

Eventually, you can get a handle on how the process works, but this doesn’t mean the game makes this class pursuit any easier. Compared to regular weapons, truly useful spells are incredibly difficult to locate even for the more thorough players, and Dark Souls system of granting you a limited number of casts per bonfire visit means that at some point you will have to devote resources to an alternate form of combat.

I’m sure that this is where some Dark Souls players who went through the entire game with nothing but spells will tell me I’m crazy, and that devoted magic builds are incredibly powerful late game, but the fact remains that Dark Souls treatment of magic throws every possible hurdle at the player who wishes to use it as a primary resource.

And that’s what really bothers me about the process. Not that magic isn’t viable or entertaining, but that for a game already so focused on making things as difficult as possible, the heavy restrictions placed on such a primary mechanic  simply feel arbitrary.

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I don’t mean this entrant to be as controversial as it will inevitably be, but I am of the camp that says Blighttown is an uninspired misery.

Let’s start with something everyone can probably agree on. Blighttown’s framerate, especially pre-patch, is a joke. It’s so bad in crucial moments, that the conspiracy theory that it was intentionally implemented into the level to add to the general misery doesn’t actually sound that unreasonable.

Beyond that, the entire basis behind Blighttown seems to have been to throw the most miserable aspects of the game at the wall to see what sticks. That means curses, unavoidable enemies at the bottom of ladders, leaps of faith courtesy of awkward platforming, unreasonable distances between bonfires, annoying enemies and poison around every corner.

Some of these can be countered through shortcuts and the right combination of inventory, but in true Dark Souls fashion it’s going to be very likely you won’t have acquired much of it by the time you get to Blighttown. That means you’re in for multiple, miserable attempts through the long way around.

And that sucks. Dark Souls is at its best when it’s difficult, but fair and Blighttown eschews that notion in favor of introducing the kind of annoyingly overwhelming (and wholly unenjoyable) level of frustration non-Dark Souls fans have come to unfairly associate the series with. On my multiple playthroughs of the game, it is always the one area I roll my eyes at, even with the shortcuts.

Surviving Blighttown has created a brotherhood among Dark Souls players, due to that overwhelming feeling of satisfaction that comes with besting it. However, that doesn’t make it a good level. Just an epic pain in the ass.

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Amidst Concerns, There is Hope to Be Found in Nintendo’s New YouTube Policy

Earlier this year I managed to upset a few people by suggesting that Nintendo was making an error by not even bothering to acknowledge the Twitch Plays Pokemon phenomenon. I believe the phrase “click-bait” was tossed around.

Despite some of the more enthusiastic claims to the contrary, it wasn’t my intention to insult Nintendo or its fanbase to any serious degree. It’s just that as a fan of Nintendo who happens to live in the modern world, it became frustrating to see another instance of them falling so far behind the times, in terms of adapting to, and even taken advantage of, modern internet gaming culture culture.

Nintendo’s going through some rough times at the moment, that admittedly have very little to do with whether or not they gave Twitter shout-outs to Twitch. But for a company with a history of sticking to their ways to a fault, it was disheartening to think that they were not learning from the past, and were very much willing to repeat it.

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Just As It Should, Unreal Tournament Now Belongs to the Fans

Like the ending to a good Curb Your Enthusiasm episode, sometimes its satisfying to see it all come together.

In a previous post, I mentioned that not enough was being done to cherish the games and franchises of days gone past, and ensure that they have a healthy presence in the future. In another word related doo-hicky about Unreal Tournament 2004, I also lamented the notions  from developer Epic that suggested we would not be seeing another Unreal Tournament game anytime soon.

In both instances, it was troubling to realize that no matter how beloved, influential, successful, and full of potential a gaming series may be, ultimately its place in the future is not certain.

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Five Game Franchises That Need to Raise The Difficulty

The world needs easy games. They’re enjoyable, they don’t ask for much and they sometimes are necessary to help certain titles get across the level of entertainment that the developers are aiming for.

I know this, and I still hate them. When I play a game, I want that controller to be the connection between myself, and the gates of hell. I want a game to beat me down, so I can smile even broader when I best it. To me, there is no such thing as too tough.

Somewhere between personal preference and logic, I’ve come to the conclusion that while there does indeed have to be easy games, not every game that is easy necessarily needs to remain so. In fact, there are some entire series even that would benefit if some accessibility was traded in for a little challenge.

Assassin’s Creed

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This is tricky, as part of the fun of the Assassin’s Creed series comes from the way it allows you to pull of such incredible feats with relative ease. Yet after six main games, and a host of mobile spin-offs, many fans have had the chance to get well acquainted with the mechanics of the series, to the point that many of the supposed obstacles in the single player campaign, are instead becoming obligations.

In fact, the Assassin’s Creed franchise suffers so greatly from a lack of challenge, that even the most minor bumps in difficulty would aid it greatly. This is especially true of the series’ “Block-block-counter” combat system, but could just as easily apply to the assassinations themselves, where a little more required intelligence, and creative freedom on the player’s part would in no way be unwelcome.

Assassin’s Creed IV proved there is still plenty of creativity left in the franchise, but the series would reach its full potential faster if it starts asking a little more out of the player.

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Bear Simulator Kickstarter Page is Filled With Red Flags

Yesterday, I mentioned the story of Bear Simulator and it’s highly unlikely rise to funded status on Kickstarter. At the time I felt it prudent to avoid personal comments regarding the matter as much as possible, as I felt many of my observations were  largely grounded in a fundamental misunderstanding of the appeal of this style of game.

However, after looking over the Kickstarter page more intently, and other relevant materials, I was stunned by the amount of warning signs to be found. The Bear Simulator Kickstarter page is a treasure trove of red flags that should make even the most enthusiastic of gamers raise serious doubts regarding the project.

Considering that Bear Simulator is already funded, and that I have absolutely no control on how people spend their money, these thoughts may be a little superfluous. If there is still anyone considering supporting this project, though, I had to share some of the most glaring signs of a potential Kickstarter scam there are to be found on the Bear Simulator project page.

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Changing of the Guard: Five Old Developers (and Their Modern Spiritual Successors)

Developers come and go. Such is the gaming business, such is life.

But sometimes, it can feel like the developers that have gone, never should have went. The video game industry is constantly changing and, as a result, even the greatest of developers can fall by the wayside, or otherwise lose the touch that made them standout.

It’s easy to mourn those developers gone by, but if you look closely enough you’ll find that for every developer that falls, another twenty rise that were clearly influenced by them. In some rare cases, you even get a developer who feels like the direct descendant of greats gone past.

So before you find yourself longing for those great developers of the past, be sure to check out some of these new comers who so often feel like the spiritual successor to those legends.

Treasure/Vlambeer

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In my mind, there are few greater compliments you can pay to a developer than to compare them to Treasure.

Treasure‘s games were almost always of the highest quality, but what always impressed me about them was how unique they were. The studio rarely made the same kind of game twice, yet they maintained a standard of excellence throughout all their endeavors that made it so you always knew you were playing a Treasure game, based off the personal experience alone.

Vlambeer may be young, but they’re already exhibiting that same quality. They have this incredible ability to absolutely nail a fundamental game concept, then infuse it with so much charm, that the title becomes an immediately noteworthy experience, without real equal. Many have tried to copy Vlambeer’s efforts (the amazing Vlambeer Clone Tycoon emphasizes this), but it’s impossible to replicate the studio’s personality.

While Treasure still does make an occasional development appearance, if you want to re-live the feeling of playing something made by the legendary studio in their prime, without dipping into nostalgia, play anything made by Vlambeer.

Id Software/Flying Wild Hog

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I feel like I’m going to regret not putting this in all caps, or meme form, but let me start this comparison by saying that Flying Wild Hog has not made anything on the level of Doom or Wolfenstein yet.

Rather this comparison stems from the similarity in style between the two studios. Id Studios used to be the undisputed champions of balls out first-person-shooters, that seemingly never aimed to be historically significant, but ended up being so due to how tightly structured, and just plain fun, those games were.

Flying Wild Hog‘s history may be limited to a remake and a so-so original effort, but even from that small sampling, it’s obvious that they’ve got an uncommon understanding for how old school FPS games worked. Their games retain the formula, and feel of those 90′s shooters, but also account for the innovations made in the genre since then, resulting in something both unique and familiar.

While Flying Wild Hog is still a breakthrough hit away from being truly on the map, I feel that they are a couple years away from being one of the premiere names in high quality shooters.

Sierra Entertainment/Telltale Studios

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Telltale are often compared to LucusArts, but I feel they share more similarities with Sierra Entertainment, the makers of King’s Quest, Leisure Suit Larry, Gabriel Knight and others.

The biggest reason for this, is the way both companies maintained several major franchises, and spent most of their time developing those worlds further, while perfecting the gameplay formula they revolved around, as opposed to pursuing entirely new endeavors.

That may sound like a knock, but it’s really far from it. Sierra got to a point where their adventure game formula was down pat, and it allowed them to devote their efforts instead to exploring trickier domains, such as writing original plots, or crafting memorable characters.

The same could be said of Telltale. While Sierra eventually got away from adventure games, I’ll always remember them for those series, regardless of how good their other games may be. I feel the story of Telltale will largely be the same.

Bullfrog Productions/Simogo

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In truth, there is no historical equivalent for Simogo. Their games defy classification, and even at their worst are never anything less than intriguing.  Unfortunately, because they’re primarily a mobile developer, you may not be aware of them.

In a way, they remind me of Bullfrog Productions.

Bullfrog were ambitious to say the least. A couple of sequels aside, their games routinely revolved around a concept that was never thought of before. What’s amazing about that is the final product rarely felt experimental, and instead was usually a confident embodiment of even the most outlandish ideas.

Bullfrog never seemed interested in re-treading the same design ground, and neither does Simogo. If you’re a fan of outside the box gaming, you have to be paying attention to them right now.

Rare Ltd./Platinum Games

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It amazes me to think that there will be a generation of gamers who don’t know how great Rare was. The studio’s story may inevitably be whittled down to their status as a $375 million failure (which is, in and of itself, debatable), but there was a time when the Rare logo was synonymous with greatness.

Rare made games that required a concentrated effort to not fall in love with, and they did it across a variety of genres.

Platinum Games may not inspire the same awe the Rare name once did, but believe me when I say they’re getting there. Comprised largely of former members of Clover Studio (makers of Viewtiful Joe and Okami), Platinum have that Rare quality (no pun intended) of making games with qualities so obvious, that only the most scrupulous of nitpicking reveals their faults.

That’s not to say they’re perfect games, they’re often far from it, but each Platinum Games title is an experience that often goes beyond the traditional ways we judge and analyze games. That’s what made Rare so great, and that’s what makes Platinum worthy of the comparison.

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If Sony Wants Morpheus to be a Success, They Need to Learn from the Mistakes of the Move

Sometimes the video game industry reminds me of the line in Fellowship of the Rings,where Bilbo describes Hobbiton as a place where “Change comes slowly, if it comes at all.”

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Virtual Reality has the potential to be one of those changes, as it provides a fresh approach to the very idea of video games, both from a design and consumer perspective. In a few short years, the concept went from “entertaining, but far off, idea on Kickstarter” to “the keynote reveal of Sony’s GDC conference.” Experiencing one of these devices yourself essentially guarantees you will spend the next few conversations annoying your friends with how amazing it is.

The time for VR is certainly approaching, and the question now becomes; “Is the world ready to accept it?”

See, VR as a concept is far from new. Not only is the idea of entering a virtual reality one of the oldest tropes in the world of science fiction, but gaming has its own history of products that tried to give users that experience.

And they all sucked.

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I hate to be so blunt in that interpretation, and perhaps should elaborate that many of these devices had ambition that far outstripped the technical limitations of the time, but when you get down to it, none of the peripherals that promised a virtual reality experience offered anything remotely close to a usable version of that idea.

To put it another way, when the Virtual Boy has long served as the VR poster child in gaming, you know there have been some missteps.

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As a result of those many failures, the notion of virtual reality carries a negative association that is, quite honestly, well deserved in many cases. VR has long since been written-off as a pipedream in the minds of many, and attempts at it to date have done nothing to curb that image. Even the most recent devices (such as the Rift) still raise questions regarding how valid they are as long term, substantial entertainment devices.

But the real difference between the daunting amount of absurd VR failures gone past and this new breed of virtual reality (or augmented reality) devices, is that the technology behind these new devices actually works. Put aside all your reservations regarding whether or not the Rift or Morpheus is worth the investment, and your left with the baseline fact that these machines do what they promise to do (I’m assuming a bit in the case of Morpheus, but reports suggest that is true).

In order to help curb those perceptions, Oculus has been smart enough to get their system out there, and on the face of people who might not normally experience it if it were just a “gaming peripheral.” A great example of this is how the touring Game of Thrones exhibit used the Rift to take people on a ride up the series’ infamous Wall.

While the exact metrics regarding how many people have gotten to use the Rift, or how many have had their perceptions altered after doing so, are unavailable, it’s hard to deny that the company’s commitment to getting the Rift out there wherever they could, has spread awareness of the device more than just a standard retail release of it would have.

And now its time for Sony to do the same. If they’re looking for a starting point, I can think of few better than a careful consideration of what went wrong with the Playstation Move.

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Looking back, the biggest problem with the Playstation Move wasn’t necessarily that it didn’t work, or that there weren’t good uses for it, but rather that the device was just kind of there. After the big initial announcement, you really got the feeling that the Move was only on shelves as a token notice that Sony was aware of the success of the Wii, and wanted PS3 users to know that, if they cared, there was something similar available for them.

Morpheus cannot be another case of that strategy. Not only is it not able to ride the overwhelming success of a previous device in the same way the Move did with the Wii (the Rift isn’t even available yet for retail), but the idea of VR is arguably a much tougher sale, as its benefits can’t really be conveyed easily via a clever commercial, and instead have to be experienced.

As such, Sony needs to be aggressive as it concerns promoting the Morpheus. A useable display of the device needs to be in every major electronic retailer possible. No major tech or gaming event between now and the launch of the Morpheus should be without one. Maybe they even need to reach out to more indie developers, or in-house studios, to work on projects specifically designed to show off the capabilities of Morpheus, and make it desirable.

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In other words, they need to do everything they didn’t do for the Move. There’s a fair chance the price of the Morpheus will look shockingly similar to the price of the PS4, and without an aggressive campaign that convinces enough early adopters to get one in their homes, and then let word of mouth carry the marketing burden more from there (much like what happened with the Wii) the Morpheus will just sit on store shelves.

And if that happens, then what was the point of bothering with the technology at all? Rest assured that a device like the Morpheus will not sell on its own, and unless Sony learns from mistakes gone past (as they’ve done with the PS4 in general up until this point) it’s inevitably going to join the considerable ranks of VR device failures, regardless of how capable it may be.

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In Gaming, Storytelling Matters More Than Plot

Yesterday at the game developers conference, Tom Abernathy of Riot Games and Richard Rouse III of Microsoft Game Studios managed to set video game comment sections and message boards everywhere on fire, with a speech entitled “Death to The Three-Act Structure!,” which questioned the importance of plot in gaming.

The basic summary of the speech goes something like this:

As you may or may not know, the majority of gamers don’t seem to be finishing the games they start. Theories abound regarding why this is exactly, but Abernathy and Rouse believe it has something to do with gaming’s reliance on the Three-Act Structure theory of plot design.

According to the pair, that method of storytelling doesn’t necessarily translate over to games the way it does for films and television, and leads to many gamers being unable to accurately relay the plot of games they’ve beaten (at least according to studies done by Microsoft).

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Five Incredibly Long Single-Player Games (That Aren’t Worth Your Time)

Looking back, I realize that many of my favorite gaming experiences are in long games. There’s something so rewarding about really investing time in a great game that takes a while to reveal its full potential.

That being said, length is not a guaranteed factor in overall game quality. In fact, video game history is riddled with titles that ask 50-100 hours out of the gamer, but give little to nothing back in return.

So before recent long games like Dark Souls get you hankering for some epic gaming quests, or even believing that longer game length is somehow always a good thing, I’d like to curb your enthusiasm with these five long single-player games, that are not worth your time.

Captive

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Sci-Fi dungeon crawler Captive and it’s 15,000 plus levels could theoretically take you half a lifetime to beat. I say theoretically, because no one seems to have ever beaten the game in the completionist sense.

As a heads up, you shouldn’t make an attempt to either. While Captive was, and still is, impressive from a technical standpoint, it’s really just a mundane dungeon crawler at heart. There is still a fanbase for those experiences, but the fact that Captive never really ends makes the already tedious gameplay feel even more pointless.

Daggerfall

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The temptation to play Daggerfall may be strong considering that its part of the Elder Scrolls franchise, but before you dive in, be warned that it is an Elder Scrolls game made before technology could really support such a thing.

Much like Captive then, what you get is a game that is absolutely massive, but painfully dull at the same time. Daggerfall is one of the largest games of all time by several literal miles, but most of it is just a randomly generated mess that’s built on some shaky RPG mechanics.

Daggerfall has its place in history, but that place shouldn’t be on your hard drive.

Final Fantasy II

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You may notice that even the most intense of Final Fantasy discussions never seem to include Final Fantasy II. Chances are, you only find that odd if you never actually played the game.

The original Final Fantasy gets a pass for being such an innovator, but Final Fantasy II deserves no such accommodation. It’s story, characters and design are already mediocre by series’ standards, but what puts it into the garbage heap is a leveling system that’s so broken, it actually requires you to take damage in order to improve your health stats, among other mind boggling gameplay oddities.

Final Fantasy II isn’t the longest Final Fantasy game, but it’s one of the only ones that you don’t feel worth your time by journey’s end.

Gothic 3

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To Gothic 3′s credit, the game’s art style is pretty good, and it’s got a few mechanics that I’d like to see more modern titles adopt.

To Gothic 3′s discredit, it had the very extreme misfortune of being released after Elder Scrolls: Oblivion. As such, Gothic 3 already felt like a much more dull Elder Scrolls game, with way too many bugs, at its release, and time has done nothing to mend that image.

I’ve got a lot of respect for some of the depth of Gothic 3, but when you’ve got a 100 hour game that only works right half the time, and isn’t as fun to play as a game that you likely already own when it does, it’s hard to really justify the investment.

Dragon Warrior VII

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Perhaps the most controversial entrant on this list, Dragon Warrior VII is the continuation of the famed Dragon Warrior (or Dragon Quest) series, that gained some infamy on its release for taking at least a 100 hours to beat.

That’s fine, but the problem is that the game doesn’t really start to pick up until about hour 50. While the remaining half of the game is quite good, and admirably ambitious, you really have to draw the line at a game that takes 50 hours worth or real, human time to start to be worthwhile.

Sure there are many longer games, or more complex ones, that take some time to get into, but none of them feature quite the same awkward getting to know you period that Dragon Warrior VII does. By the time you actually start enjoying yourself, it really begins to feel like a case of Stockholm Syndrome, as opposed to a well-crafted slow-burn.

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Witcher 3′s Delay Leaves 2014′s Holiday Season Wide-Open

This week in game releases has been simply incredible.

Highlighted by Titanfall and Dark Souls II, this week has also gifted gamers everywhere with the arrival of one of the greatest multiplayer experiences in years (Towerfall) on systems where people might actually be able to play it, and brings us the much anticipated full release of the GOTY candidate Hearthstone. If that’s not enough, you lucky 3DS owners out there get to grab Yoshi’s New Island on the 14th.; a release that I as a non-3DS owner am intensely jealous of.

Despite all that concentrated greatness, the biggest video game release news of the week may just concern a game that isn’t coming out yet.

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Developer CD Projekt revealed that the highly anticipated Witcher 3 will be delayed until 2015. In an open-letter to the fans explaining the situation, the team fired off the usual rhetoric concerning delayed games, and revealed that the move was one done to assure the quality of the final product. Given the quality of the series so far, I tend to take their word on this one.

However, the absence of Witcher 3 on the horizon does create a power void of sorts in the 2014 holiday release schedule. In fact, going off of the Game Informer release schedule for 2014, with the exception of Destiny’s release in September, and the supposed October release of Arkham Knight, the holiday season is absolutely barren.

To say the least, that’s odd.

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While gaming might not be as dependent on the holiday rush as it used to be, it’s still something of a tradition that your biggest releases will come out in the fourth quarter. With E3 still on the horizon, there is still a fair chance we’ll get some surprise releases to fill the crucial October through December sales period, but given the recent E3 trend of announcing games that aren’t due out until next year at the soonest, that seems less likely.

It’s an unusual release balance to be sure, but it’s also one I kind of like.

As a kid, I used to be bothered by the fact that the best games didn’t come out in the Summer when I actually had the time to play them. As an adult, not much has changed, as the holiday rush is traditionally insane on a personal and professional level, and keeps me playing all the biggest games well into the new year.

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A one year reprieve from that madness where all the biggest games come out on a more sensible time-table is certainly appealing, but that’s not the reason I’m excited about the wide-open holiday race.

See, as much as I love gaming, I have to admit that between the fact I’m rapidly approaching veteran gamer status, and the 24 hour video game coverage the internet provides, I’m rarely every surprised by a video game. Occasionally something great comes along I wasn’t expecting, but it’s not often.

That’s why the completely blank holiday release schedule gets me so excited. I guarantee you that 3-4 month period will be as loaded as ever with big releases, but the difference this time is that we might not necessarily see them coming a mile away.

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2014's Biggest Game?

Not to mention that if indeed the amount of Triple-A titles this year will be subdued, then it may lead to smaller companies that might otherwise be terrified to release around the holidays, taking that period by storm, and flooding it with a variety of games that would usually get sprinkled throughout the year with half the fan-fare. To me, that’s a much more exciting prospect than the usual red carpet parade of A-list titles.

It’s not that Witcher 3 would have taken over the holidays by itself, but it was a place holder of sorts that ensured the traditional VIP list of holiday games was going to be intact. Its absence removes that reserved slot from the holiday table, and leaves it wide open for a walk-in to get the best seat in the house.

And that’s good news. Because as fun as the big name holiday rush is, there’s no greater gift in gaming than a game that takes you by surprise, and we could be looking at a holiday full of them.