Why a Halo 3: Anniversary Just Couldn’t Happen

This year’s Electronic Entertainment Expo has come and gone and, with it, a slew of unfulfilled expectations and disappointments. One of these disappointments (besides Bethesda’s press conference) is the lack of a Halo 3: Anniversary. But hey, at least the Flood are canonical again.

What strikes me as perplexing is that Halo: Combat Evolved (2001) and Halo 2 (2004) both received the anniversary treatment after 10 years, but that Halo 3 (2007), the hottest selling and generally most beloved game in the entire series, is left untouched for its 10th anniversary. It’s awkward to say the least—the first two Halo games received graphical upgrades on the 10 year mark, but Halo 3 conspicuously discontinues this trend.

Pushing aside my frustration with Halo Wars 2, a game that I believe alienates more than half of the Halo community, I’m going to view the lack of a Halo 3: Anniversary in 2017 as a plus and not a minus. We know that Halo games are released every 3 years. However, because 343 Industries did not showcase a teaser trailer for Halo 6 at E3 this year, we can surmise that the next major Halo title will be delayed until 2019. That, combined with 343 Industries investing most of its manpower into Halo 6 because they do not have to worry about developing a Halo 3: Anniversary, and there is an increased chance that the follow-up to Halo 5 will be the game that we all want and need it to be. A longer, more coherent campaign. A streamlined multiplayer. A state-of-the-art Forge mode. Split-screen. And dare I say… a veto system? These are features that we can expect in Halo 6 by virtue that 343 Industries does not, for instance, have to deal with another Master Chief Collection debacle.

I understand 343i’s decision to not remaster Halo 3 this year because from a logistical and technical standpoint, it’s just not feasible. Halo 2: Anniversary’s graphics look like what vanilla Halo 3 looks like currently. I’d rather wait until the 20 or 25 year anniversary for a remastered Halo 3 to match the more high-powered tech. Also, playing through Halo 3’s campaign again to celebrate its 10 year anniversary anyway (because I know my life will be consumed by Destiny 2 in September), the game still plays so smoothly. It’s not a clunky mess like Halo 5.

And so, if I have to delay gratification and wait a few extra years for Halo 3: Anniversary because 343 Industries wants to invest its resources into Halo 6 to make it the best Halo game that it can possibly be, then I am totally fine with that. On the other hand, if 343 Industries never gives Halo 3 some type of special treatment, then I will be thoroughly disappointed. They really need to win back some of the fans that they already lost.

Why “Breath of the Wild” Disappointed Me

Disclaimer: This article will express an unpopular opinion on The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. If you cannot handle negative criticism of a universally beloved game, I would suggest that you stop reading right now.

I’ll begin this article by saying that I do not hate Breath of the Wild. Rather, I dislike it enough that I couldn’t possibly force myself to play it any longer.

I wanted to like the newest Zelda game, but it’s plagued by so many problems that it was impossible to justify my $385 purchase on the Switch. So what did I do? I put an ad out on Craigslist for it, and I sold that sucker for $350. I figured that despite taking the $35 dollar loss, I at least squeezed enough time out of the game to develop a solid opinion of it.

It’s difficult to fathom BotW’s overwhelmingly positive reception. Multiple esteemed critics gave the game perfect or near-perfect reviews, regarding it as a staple of the open world RPG genre, a game with few to no flaws, and even “one of the greatest games of all time.” And while BotW was initially a 9 out of 10 for me, after about 15 hours of play, it dropped down to an 8 and then a 7 out of 10. As such, these next several paragraphs will discuss exactly where (in my opinion) the game goes wrong.

My complaints begin with the lack of sufficient voice acting, which is absolutely inexcusable. Most of the dialogue you will need to read in a text box while characters grunt and moan at you. The voice acting that is present in the game is either subpar at best or cringe-inducing at worst, with actors dispassionately reading their lines like middle school students in a play. I understand that Zelda games aren’t known for impeccable voice acting because until now, they were entirely devoid of it. But this is 2017—open world RPGs of this caliber are supposed to come fully voice acted. Why is it that whenever I’m talking to one of the main characters, for instance the former King of Hyrule or Lady Urbosa, I have to switch from listening to their lines to reading their lines? It completely breaks the immersion factor.

In addition, while expansive and beautiful, the game’s open world is severely lacking in depth. You could spend hours traversing the map without ever encountering an interesting side-quest, activity, or character, as its landscapes consist largely of empty space that stretches on for miles. I always say that a gargantuan open world map means nothing if it consistently lacks compelling incentives to venture off the beaten path. There are, of course, a fair amount of shrines and towers you can unlock as fast travel points, but they pale in comparison to Skyrim’s multitude of caves, dungeons, tombs, camps, and outposts. Besides, each region contains 4 to 8 shrines that sit out in the open, while the rest remain annoyingly hidden. This leads to my third complaint.

The game is overly repetitive. Shrines can be summed up with, “Walk in, solve a puzzle, take a spirit orb. Walk in, solve a puzzle, take a spirit orb,” and there’s nothing more to it than that. Stables are cut and pasted, enemy diversity is finite, and towers are just an excuse to halt progress and artificially inflate play time. Even the game’s own main story fails to add diversity, as the quest, “Captured Memories” has you traveling to 12 destinations scattered around the map just to watch 2 minute cutscenes.  Furthermore, while I have not played through any of the Divine Beasts yet, from what I’ve heard, they are simply glorified shrines that do not measure up to previous entries’ elemental temples.

By the way, what is up with that score? There are perhaps 2 or 3, 30 second tracks that play during your travels in the wilderness. Compare this to Ori and the Blind Forest (2015) or The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim (2011), two of my most beloved games. Skyrim plays over 80 minutes worth of atmospheric music during your journey, while Ori plays a different track in every level. As a diehard fan of open world RPGs, music is essential for sustaining immersion, and BotW’s lack of a satisfactory soundtrack only degrades its quality further.

Side note: The weapon breaking mechanic is a minor complaint of mine. I can understand people’s frustration with it, but for the most part, it didn’t bother me too much because I always had 5 to 7 weapons in my inventory.

My final complaint is the game’s lightly padded, generic story. Yet again, we are treated to an end-of-the-world trope where a princess needs saving and a fallen hero rises up to defeat an ancient evil. How many times has this story been told exactly? The main premise is that 100 years ago, an event took place known as the Great Calamity that devastated the Kingdom of Hyrule. Link must therefore regain his power to save Princess Zelda and defeat Calamity Ganon once and for all, and characters will repeat this exposition some 5, 10, or 15 times. Though, I lost count.

Overall, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is a good game, but it is not an amazing game. It does not redefine the action open world RPG genre in any capacity, and it is certainly not the “quintessential system seller” that reviewers fooled me into believing.

If I had to give the game a final rating, it would have to be a 7/10 (which essentially equates to a great time-killer) and an 8/10 if I was being generous. Nonetheless, I hope that you were able to derive more enjoyment from it than I did. It still has its fair share of redeeming qualities, such as its slick and satisfying combat mechanics, ultra realistic physics engine, and wonderfully crafted puzzle shrines. But unfortunately for me, this entry into the Zelda franchise did not cut it, and I’m so glad that I got most of my money back.

I guess my bar for action-oriented open world RPGs has been set too high. I’ll stick to Skyrim and Witcher.

Skyrim: Why it’s Still the Best Open World RPG

“Let me guess. Someone stole your sweetroll!”

 – Guard, Skyrim

No other game has been able to live up to the same heights as Bethesda’s The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim (2011), with its deep immersion, customization, and exploration elements that even today’s open world RPGs have trouble emulating with complete accuracy. To be clear, Witcher 3: Wild Hunt (2015) comes close—very close. I commended Witcher 3 for its cutting edge approach to storytelling, impressive graphical fidelity, multifaceted characters, dynamic world, and overall wealth of content. Hearts of Stone (2015) and Blood and Wine (2016), the two expansions to Witcher 3, actually added new meaning to the term “videogame expansion,” setting the bar high for story-based DLC and adding on to what was already a gigantic game. And yet, even 5 years later, Skyrim still outcompetes CD Projekt Red’s masterpiece.

It’s no secret that I have strong feelings for Skyrim (that makes it sound like I’m romantically attracted to the game). I invested about 300 hours into the Xbox 360 version, which might not seem like a lot in the context of how massive the game truly is, and purchased Skyrim Special Edition on a Black Friday sale. Essentially, Skyrim is so special to me because I keep crawling back to it after all these years. It possesses an intrinsic charm that the Witcher series, GTA V, and Fallout 4 ostensibly cannot recreate. The all-important question is, what does it get right?

The first and perhaps most important thing that Skyrim gets right is its novelty factor. Part of the reason that I was disappointed by Fallout 4 so much is that I was always pitted against the other factions when I didn’t want to be. If you sided with the Minute Men, then you couldn’t play through the Brotherhood of Steel quests, and you would miss out on all of that content. In Skyrim, on the other hand, you are able to play through all faction questlines at your discretion, and you don’t have to worry about making enemies. Furthermore, there is an insane amount of caves and dungeons to explore, as well as quests that you just accidentally stumble upon while straying off the beaten path. There are even quests that, to this day, I haven’t played.

The second thing that Skyrim gets right is its level of customization and personalization.

Customization wise, the game gives me the freedom to play whoever and whatever I want, a trademark of Bethesda’s approach to immersion. I typically enjoy playing as an anti-hero in Skyrim; I can murder an entire town of innocent NPCs yet at the same time not have to feel guilty about it since I’ve just saved the world from total annihilation. I am also free to traverse the map as a vampire-werewolf hybrid, and later return home to my dog and two kids after a long day of questing, looting, and exploring.

Personalization wise, many experiences in the game feel non-scripted, as though they were designed for me and no one else. For instance, I can slaughter all the guards in Whiterun, and if I’m feeling regretful afterwards, I can reload the save and pretend like it never happened. I can drag around battered corpses and toss them into the nearby river to watch them drift away. I can pickpocket lords and jarls and hope they won’t notice. I can defy the laws of gravity by riding my horse down an incredibly steep mountain. I can assassinate the High King of Skyrim and then parade around with his clothes in public. I can stick a bucket onto the Riverwood Trader’s head and steal everything in his shop. Then, if I become over-encumbered, I can drop dozens of pounds of useless junk in the middle of the road. I can do all of those things because the game simply lets me, and it always ends up feeling like an experience that was handcrafted for my personal enjoyment.

The third thing that Skyrim gets right is its MUSIC. Skyrim simply wouldn’t be the game that it is without Jeremy Soule’s epic, emotionally charged score. Every piece not only complements the game’s atmosphere, it enhances the atmosphere altogether, making you feel like this is your story that you are writing as you go along. The music also tells a story in itself. For instance, The Streets of Whiterun communicates the quiescence of the town of Whiterun, while the heart-pounding Watch the Skies communicates the fast-paced nature of a dragon attack. My favorite pieces are The Jerall Mountains, Distant Horizons, Dawn, and Aurora. Soule really knows how to compose an unforgettable soundtrack.

I could go on forever about how amazing The Elder Scrolls V is, continuing with its superb leveling system, well-written quests (sometimes), and satisfying combat mechanics. However, I’d have to admit to a bias with respect to the game’s actual quality. It is not without its faults; some quests, at least back in the day, were bugged and thus could not be turned in. Also, companions annoyingly block your path, the same six or seven voice actors are used for virtually every NPC on the map, and the game can generally become repetitive after enough playthroughs. Nonetheless, Skyrim remains at the top of my list, and it may be awhile before it loses its spot. You could argue that my fondness for the game is a function of my nostalgia, since a lot of media always seems better than at the time I first consumed it.

What it all comes down to is the view. Even though Skyrim is a virtual world with no physical basis in reality, it brings out the nature lover in me. Sometimes, the best parts of the game are emerging from a cave that I’ve been stuck in for hours, and taking in the awe-inspiring view of the vast, snowy landscape (and then getting attacked by a dragon to ruin the moment). It truly makes me glad to be alive to experience such profound beauty, even if it is, at the end of the day, just a video game.

Sadly, Skyrim will never be as special as when I first played it—I know that. However, it will always have a special place in my heart for opening me up to a world with so many things to discover and memories to make.

Are Multiplayer Videogames Dehumanizing?

“To rend one’s enemies is to see them not as equals, but objects—hollow of spirit and meaning.”

―Destiny (2014), In-game description of Exotic weapon Thorn

Thorn used to be one of the most loathed Exotic weapons in all of Destiny’s multiplayer. The Hand Cannon was so detestable that people felt offended whenever they were killed by it, complaining that it was a “noob’s weapon” that took no real skill to use. They would send you hate messages, rant about it on the forums, and even use the weapon itself to stoop to the level of its offenders. You would know when you were killed by Thorn, too, as getting hit by it twice to the head or three times to the body would cause your screen to turn into a mucky greenish color while your character slowly died from the weapon’s damage over time effect.

Bungie’s Hell spawn that was the Thorn was unarguably the most obnoxious weapon to ever plague the fronts of competitive multiplayer, but I couldn’t help but think that this obnoxious quality was what made it so enjoyable to use in the first place. During the five months when Thorn was in its prime, the time when everyone used the weapon to their sadistic pleasure, I too derived profound enjoyment from the poison effects and inevitable slow and humiliating deaths that would follow.

The widespread abuse of the Thorn brought to mind a broader question regarding the nature of online competition: do multiplayer videogames unknowingly cause people to lose touch with their more compassionate sides? In other words, do they diffuse empathy to where people become indifferent to the pain experienced by their virtual opponents?

Multiplayer videogames practically dominate the market right now—Halo, Battlefield, Call of Duty, TitanfallDestiny, and Overwatch are among the most popular and widely recognizable of the bunch. To answer the question of whether these types of games decrease empathy and increase indifference, I inquired as to why they’re so popular and how they affect perceptions of human emotions beyond just the immaterial game world. I arrived at a couple of interesting conclusions.

First, multiplayer videogames have gained traction as both an entertainment medium and as a way of relieving stress because they satisfy a primitive urge to compete against and weed out the weaker members of our own species. They appeal to man’s darker qualities such as greed, selfishness, and aggression.

If you are unfamiliar with Skill-Based Matchmaking, the idea is that if you adjust matchmaking parameters enough so that weak players get matched up against other weak players, and the strong against the strong, you appeal to a more generalized audience of casual players and thus sell more copies of your game. From a business standpoint, this makes sense. However, SBMM is actually counterintuitive to the principles of intraspecies competition (competition that occurs within a species as opposed to between two species) since the strong will always prey on the weak. In evolutionary terms, this is comparable to killing a weaker member of your own hunting tribe just so you can eat that extra piece of meat and stay alive yourself. It’s an intrinsically motivated act of selfishness.

Another explanation for why people are so drawn to multiplayer videogames as an outlet for aggression is that, plain and simple, they don’t have to worry about the consequences of murdering people in cold blood. Think of it this way: when you defeat an opponent in a multiplayer match, to you they are nothing more than an avatar stripped of virtually all human qualities. They are a cheeky and elusive moving target, or a bundle of pixels generated by your television screen. They are a virtual punching bag that you can slam on, beat, stab, humiliate, demean, and degrade to your heart’s content, and all without a single consequence to bare. Who wouldn’t take sick pleasure in that? I know I certainly have.

Yet when we give it a second thought, we start to realize that in control of that avatar, that cheeky moving target, that bundle of pixels, is a real person. A living entity with thoughts, feelings, memories, goals, dreams, aspirations, and heartbreaks. Have you considered that, beyond all of that bloodshed and mass chaos in Battlefield’s “Conquest” mode, someone is feeling a little hurt, even if they’re thousands of miles away from you?

By now, you probably think this article is a glorified criticism of multiplayer videogames. It’s far from it. Personally, I’ve invested hundreds of hours into Halo Reach, Destiny, and the Modern Warfare series. I have no qualm with these games; I love them. At the same time, I do have a few regrets about how I’ve treated my opponents over the years. I have tea-bagged, viciously wailed on corpses, and shouted vile obscenities over the microphone. Even today I display these behaviors out of compulsion but not intent. Nonetheless, I’m writing this article to attest to how our treatment of strangers over the Internet, despite the anonymity, still matters and that we should practice better sportsmanship. Just because they live halfway across the world doesn’t mean they deserve to be treated any differently from you or me.

And so, coming back to the question of whether multiplayer videogames decrease empathy and increase indifference, the answer is yes they do, but only if our behavior is left unrestrained. We can easily lose touch with our compassion, but we also have to remember that we can activate it when it’s needed.

I think I’ll just stick to RPGs.