It used to be a lot less complicated to own a console.
Yes, systems like the PlayStation and even the NES had multiple SKUs, but they were more cosmetic than anything. You could buy a console at the beginning of a generation with the understanding that, barring technical issues, it would last an entire generation. This is no longer the case.
In a few months, Microsoft will be releasing Project Scorpio, a beast of a console that will represent a fairly sizable leap from the launch Xbox One. It will be competing directly with the PlayStation 4 Pro, which launched last year. Both will tout 4K graphics, huge amounts of storage, and other benefits. But their real advantages will be in the framerate department, which is already evident in recently-released games like MLB The Show. Some will say that these advantages are small, but one wonders how long it'll be before the gap starts to grow, particularly between games on the Xbox One and the Scorpio.
Sony and Microsoft are taking this step for any number of reasons. They're taking it in response to last generation, when the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 overstayed their welcome and fell far behind the PC. They're taking it in response to what they hope is the rise of 4K and VR. And they're taking it because they know there is a hungry audience of hardcore gamers who want the best possible experience at all times, even if they have to double dip.
It's a move that has been roughly 17 years or so in the making-ever since Microsoft decided to build the Xbox with off-the-shelf parts and make it the functional equivalent of a mid-range gaming PC. In that time, "Elite" models, expanding hard drives, annual tablet releases, and even the New 3DS have all conspired to put gamers in the mindset that their console is transitory, something to be regularly upgraded and replaced. Even the Xbox 360's well-documented hardware issues have a played a role to some extent. How many Xbox 360 owners wound up throwing up their hands and buying an Elite simply because it was more reliable?
Up until this point, though, the games have always played more or less the same no matter which SKU you've owned (the New 3DS being an interesting exception). Now that is no longer the case. Depending on how much stock you put in framerates, owning a PS4 Pro or a Scorpio could practically be mandatory in the years ahead. As developers work to squeeze more and more power out of the current round of hardware, those stuck with stock PS4s and Xbox Ones could find themselves falling further and further behind. Sure, your launch Xbox One may technically be able to play the latest games in a couple years, but the experience may feel fundamentally compromised by long load times and lower framerates.
In that, consoles have taken one more step toward being indistinguishable from PCs, creating a class of haves and have-nots out of those who are willing to invest the cash to keep up with the latest trends. Just a new PlayStation 4 Pro will cost you about $400, and that doesn't include the cost of a new 4K TV ($1200) or a PlayStation VR ($400). For the uninitiated, it makes for a dizzying, and kind of alienating, range of possibilities. As a professional, I find just the $400 for the PlayStation 4 Pro kind of hard to swallow. I can't imagine what the general populace feels like as they weigh the various possibilities and wonder what they should buy.
The upshot of all this is that if you adopt early, it's now with the knowledge that updated SKUs are apt to be on the way, which may ultimately force you to shell out again in just a couple years. The gaps are fairly modest now, but it's hard to say what things will be like in a year or two, or next generation. Regardless of what happens, playing on a console is more complicated and expensive than ever; not just for gamers, but for developers as well.
To be clear, I like my PlayStation 4 Pro for the (currently modest) advantages it offers, but I'm also not a big fan of what it represents. Going forward, anyone who buys a console will have to decide what they want to sacrifice: money or performance.
Hell, maybe it would be better just to buy a Switch.
Kat's Obscure RPG of the Week
All of you who are currently playing and enjoying Persona 5 might want to consider Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel-an RPG with fairly similar beats. Yes, I can already hear you saying it: "But Kat, this isn't an obscure RPG at all!" But I'm guessing that more than a few people reading this article have never heard of Trails of Cold Steel, a cult favorite with a small but very fervent fanbase, and I'm writing for them. I'm sure Trails of Cold Steel supporters won't object to a little love being thrown its way.
Anyway, like Persona 5, Trails of Cold Steel puts you in a high school class full of anime characters you can get to know and date. But unlike Persona 5, which is set in real-world Tokyo, Trails of Cold Steel features a military academy set in a kind of alternate Europe in which a handful of noble houses are on the verge of falling into civil war. It takes a bit to get going; but once it does, its likable cast and rich setting takes it a long way. It's easy to recommend if you're looking for a nice, meaty RPG to play on your Vita or PlayStation 3 between bouts of Persona 5.
Nadia's Note Block Beat Box: Stardew Valley's It's a Big World Outside
Spring is here! That's not to say winter won't try and take one last good swipe at us like a wounded bear, but I think we're through the worst of it. The robins have been determined to wake me up at four in the morning with their relentless tweetle-tweeting, so that's a good indication we have one foot in springtime.
Spring weather calls for spring music, and Stardew Valley's "It's a Big World Outside" is as spring-ish as game music gets. It's an uplifting song, but there's also something grand and solemn about it. I guess that's spring in a nutshell: It's a cheerful time of year and watching the world shake itself awake is uplifting, but there's also something awe-inspiring about witnessing the earth come back to life again and again.
Anyway, get out there and plant some parsnips. And don't forget to find a partner for the Flower Dance.
Mike's Media Minute
We're sort of all over the board this week!
First up, Marvel's X-Men line relaunch hit a snag, when the first book, X-Men Gold #1 was brought under fire for some controversy. A number of international readers noticed that the book's artist, Ardian Syaf, had hidden some references to the politics of his home region of Indonesia. These references included messages that read as anti-semitic and anti-Christian (increasingly odd given the title's Jewish writer and famously Jewish X-Man Kitty Pryde as the leader). Marvel has said that the artist will be disciplined, but comics work months ahead, so Syaf is the interior artist for #2 and #3 and there's little ability for Marvel to change those issues. Not the best way to start a relaunch.
In other news, two film that have leaned towards nerd culture have bombed out at the box office. Power Rangers and Ghost in the Shell are both losers at the box office. Power Rangers had a strong domestic start, but no legs and no international showing. In contrast, Ghost in the Shell had little domestic showing and a decent international start, but will see its legs cut off by Fate of the Furious and Beauty and the Beast's foreign debut. Both projects have their own issues, but it's a shame neither went anywhere.
Finally, Kamen Rider Amazons Season 2 has kicked off this weekend. We're still in the dark on the North American release of the first season, but the darker, more adult Kamen Rider dives into it's second season after a timeskip. Watching the first episode, I was a bit surprised at how the entire thing feels like a throwback to an earlier era of Kamen Rider. It feels like it was shot in the same style as the Kuuga to Faiz shows, which were generally darker in tone than current fare. Worth checking out for lapsed KR fans.
Caty's AltGame Corner
Pixel by pixel, Reddit came together over one glorious April Fool's Day weekend to construct what Nadia called a "garish digital quilt." This massive, collective project was called Our Place, or rather, "r/place." From Majora's Mask to the typical penis drawing, r/place's canvas grew to be an immense and eclectic celebration of everything Reddit stands for (which is, succinctly, everything). And now, someone's made the project into a (probably) impossible to solve puzzle. Literally.
On itch.io, you'll find the browser-bound r/place puzzle. The puzzle itself is disorienting, where you initially see the completed piece for a fleeting second, before its pieces scatter far and wide across the now-blank canvas. Zooming in is essential to see every puzzle piece fit together. As I fiddled with the image, I wondered if it's possible for anyone to solve the r/place puzzle given its chaotic pixelized clutter. But I commend anyone who takes on the task, saves often, and is able to reorder r/place's immense, collective artistic feat.
Racing With Jaz
Last week I wrote an article comparing the three biggest upcoming racers of this year: Gran Turismo Sport, Forza Motorsport 7, and Project CARS 2. What's clear is that each has its own strengths, and all are going to deliver an outstanding racing experience.
What's also evident is that Gran Turismo Sport and Forza Motorsport 7 will both be used as showcases of 4K technology. I've already played Gran Turismo Sport on PS4 Pro and walked away very impressed. The game's graphics are silky smooth and look absolutely gorgeous, with astonishingly realistic detailing and outstanding lighting effects.
Not to be outdone, it seems that the Forza series might look even better. Last week, Project Scorpio finally broke cover thanks to Digital Foundry's exclusive coverage over on Eurogamer, and one of the demos that DF's Richard Leadbetter saw was Forza Motorsport 6 running native 4K at 60FPS. Apparently, it used up a little over 65% of the GPU's resources, leaving plenty of overhead for further visual improvement. That certainly bodes well for Forza Motorsport 7, and if Turn 10's racer does really take advantage of the Scorpio's powerful graphics hardware as expected, we should be in for a visual treat.
So where does that leave Project CARS 2? Don't count it out. The game is being developed on PC as well as consoles, so the game's "Ultra" assets should port across very nicely to PS4 Pro and Scorpio upgrades, resulting in another outstanding-looking racer. Whether it'll match the two more established racing series remains to be seen, but either way, fans of driving games certainly have a lot to look forward to.
- I seriously cannot put Breath of the Wild down even long enough to play Persona 5. It's that good. As an aside, the greatest feeling in the world is the first time you slice off a Guardian's legs and watch it explode into a million pieces.
- But on the subject of Persona 5, I've seen more than a few people complain about the localization. Here's my take: It's a step down from Persona 3 and 4, mostly because of some editing problems, but it's not enough to detract from the overall story. Atlus has always gone with an approach that emphasizes the fact that the characters are Japanese; and while it can sound a little stilted to our ears, it usually helps add color to the setting. Moreover, Persona 5 mostly nails the aspects that matter, like the voice acting—Morgana in particular is just perfect. All told, it's not Atlus' best script ever, but some of the criticism I've seen of it seems a little overblown.
- Hearthstone's new expansion dropped last week, bringing with it a host of new cards and decks. At the moment, the ladder is being dominated by Quest Rogue-a new archetype that involves cycling cards back and forth in order to complete an objective and get a major power boost. It's kind of a tricky deck to play, but because it's getting a bunch of hype, lots of people are playing it on the ladder and failing miserably. I'm amused.
- Nadia has thoughts on the best versions of every Final Fantasy to date. Protip: If you own a Vita, make sure to grab the Final Fantasy IV Complete Collection. You won't regret it. And don't settle for the GBA version of Final Fantasy VI! The GBA's sound really doesn't do that legendary soundrack justice.
- Shadow of War looks a lot like Assassin's Creed in this new gameplay video.
- Mike with a look at Playerunknown's Battlegrounds, which has purportedly sold a million copies in Early Access. I'm actually surprised that there aren't more games like Battle Royale and Hunger Games out there.
- Nintendo Direct this Wednesday. Here's hoping that Nintendo has something special up its sleeve (they probably don't, but more Splatoon 2 info is always nice).
- Axe of the Blood God Update: This week is our hundredth episode, and the theme is "Why we love RPGs." We want to hear your thoughts! Send them to firstname.lastname@example.org or simply DM me.
- And on that note: