When I was younger, I could be happy off one game a year. I would play the shit out of that game, sure—I have the obsessive synthesis system notes of Kingdom Hearts to prove it—but it wasn't until I got older that playing more than one game a year even opened up as an option for me. It started in college, where all my spare part-time job money went to buying the new hotness, whether it was Uncharted 3 or Catherine. I wasn't playing anywhere near the amount I am now, but I was experiencing more games at a time than I ever was before.
In recent years, that's definitely changed. Out of everyone on staff, myself and Reviews Editor Mike Williams probably play the most games per year. I keep a spreadsheet of all the games I play through the year, whether I touch it for an hour or see it through to the end. By my own steady count, I've played a staggering 86 games in 2019. That's too much, but still, it's better than before.
At the start of 2019, I made a New Year's Resolution to not push myself to finish every game that came out like I used to. There was no good reason for me to be exhausted all the time; at the end of last year, I barely remembered even the games I actually reviewed. What even happened in Hitman 2? I can't remember the particulars.
For the most part, I've stayed true to my new promise. I didn't have any interest in Days Gone, and after reading our so-so review, I didn't pick it up. I wasn't vibing with The Outer Worlds, so I dropped it almost immediately. (Thanks Xbox Game Pass.) I got overwhelmed and bored by everything that wasn't the battles in Fire Emblem: Three Houses, so I let it rot in my Switch library. Rather than force myself to power through games to get onto the next one, I took a less forgiving approach this year to the games I wasn't assigned to play for work. If I didn't click with it, I didn't stick with it.
And it's been for the better. I feel like I'm savoring games more than I have in some time, while also never forcing myself to play something I don't like—unless it's for review, of course. There are exceptions, like the weekend I lost to Disco Elysium, where I consumed all its 25 hours in almost one continuous sitting because of how absorbed I got. But I've been practicing what I preach with another game recently: Death Stranding.
I'm waddling through Chapter 5 of it right now—a spoiler-free answer to where I'm at is that I'm crossing the snowy mountains for the second time. A friend of mine said I'm about halfway through, which feels silly knowing there are 14 chapters in total. Who knows if he's telling me the truth or not, but it doesn't really matter, I'm soaking in every moment.
Death Stranding's at its best when there's nothing really going on, and the only thing in my sights is traveling from point A to point B, no matter what is in my path. I like driving straight through Mule camps. I like sneaking through BT zones, and optimizing my load out to figure out what would be the best course of action to survive it. And then there's just the hiking portions: clambering across rocks or driving at a steady pace with a tower of cargo. It's Breath of the Wild, but more mechanically clumsy in a way that feels endearingly human. It's relaxing, and captures exactly what I love about hiking: when it's just nature, my pesky allergies, and no cell signal to distract me. It's the point A, to point B.
I think if I powered through Death Stranding in a week like everyone else on staff who got an early code for review or guides, I wouldn't be enjoying it anywhere near as much. It's a game I'm enjoying instead like a weekly television show. I jump in, inch the plot forward a little bit, make some side deliveries on the way to my next main story delivery location, and build some bridges, roads, and whatever else I can sink resources into along the way.
It's the shared world aspect of Death Stranding that really makes it special to keep coming back to. It has a very altruistic sort of message, with the things you build and drop showing up in other people's worlds. A ladder I dropped in my last play session can help a player hours away in a pinch. As good as the acting may be, the story itself is a bit too on the nose with its message. A part of me wishes the writers reeled it in, and let the systems of the game speak the message of the game for itself. It's a game about connecting people again, and that is the most apparent in its unique online structure. After all, everyone who's been playing has no doubt had a moment of gratitude for something another player's left behind. Heck, I breathe a sigh of relief every time I see an already built bridge or a Timefall shelter. And when I build the same thing, I know strangers will feel the same way.
If I binged Death Stranding and mainlined it, I don't think it would have the same impact as it has with me playing it very, very slowly. I'm determined to finish it in the next couple weeks, even with Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice teasing me for our upcoming game of the year deliberations (I picked it up on Black Friday). It has me wishing I was able to play more games at this pace: slow, not in a rush for content or The Discourse. Instead, giving me something to ruminate on, kind of like how I've ruminated on Disco Elysium since I wrapped it in October, even though I wasn't on the hook for a review.
I'm playing Death Stranding in the way I basically used to play games, really. I'm taking it slow, enjoying my time, and I'm in no rush to get to the next destination. My lingering wish is that in 2020, I hope to apply my slow-playing approach to more games that pop up throughout the year. Who knows: maybe something like Cyberpunk 2077 will take me longer than a year, like The Witcher 3 once did for me.
Major Game Releases: December 2 to December 6
Here are the major releases for the week of December 2 to December 6. Want to see the complete list? Check out our full list of video game release dates for 2019.
- Halo: The Master Chief Collection [December 3 for PC]: The Halo series has periodically released on PC, but generally Microsoft has tried to keep it a selling point for the Xbox platform. Tomorrow, that all changes when Halo: The Master Chief Collection comes to PC. And when we say "PC," we don't mean Windows 10; it's getting a full release on Steam. Just another step in Microsoft making "Xbox" mean more than just the console.
- Life Is Strange 2: Episode 5 [December 3 for PC, PS4, and Xbox One]: The second entry in the Life is Strange franchise comes to an end. This tale of two brothers wraps up in this capper for one of the few episodic games still running. Sean and Daniel's journey ends, but will Life Is Strange continue on?
- Phoenix Point [December 3 for PC]: The man behind the original XCOM, Julian Gollop, is back once again to give the strategy genre a kick in the pants. You are the only thing standing between humanity and the mysterious, mutating Pandora virus. The new twist here is a first-person aiming mechanic, allowing you to destroy cover or disable parts of an enemy. Keep your morale up, keep your squad alive, and hope the random rolls end up in your favor.
- SaGa: Scarlet Grace - Ambitions [December 3 for PC, PS4, Switch, Android, and iOS]: SaGa: Scarlet Grace came to PlayStation Vita toward the end of its lifespan. Now with this expanded Ambitions version, players on more modern platforms can get a taste of Akitoshi Kawazu's latest RPG. The SaGa series has always been known for a certain weirdness, and Scarlet Grace is no different.
- Darksiders: Genesis [December 5 for PC and Stadia]: Following three titles in the action-adventure genre, Darksiders is trying something new. This top-down Diablo-style action game stars Strife, the final Horseman, alongside his brother from the first game, War. Together, the Horsemen will hack and slash their way through demon hordes.
This Week's News and Notes
- It was a great Thanksgiving weekend for the U.S.-based members of the USgamer team. Of course, many of us used the free time to play games that we missed throughout the rest of the year, in preparation for our Game of the Year discussions.
- We're currently in the midst of holiday sale season. Black Friday has passed, and we're currently in the throes of Cyber Monday. If you're having trouble deciding what to buy for your loved ones, we here at USgamer have a host of gift guides for you! The full list includes targeted lists: For the Gamer in Your Life Who Loves Throwing Parties, For the Music-Loving Gamer in Your Life, For the Aspiring Streamer, For the Traveling Gamer, and For the Nostalgic Gamer. Take a gander at them all for some great gift ideas!
- At the end of last week, the fine folks over at Yacht Club Games penned a guest post for USgamer, covering the development of Shovel Knight: Treasure Trove and Specter of Torment. This is only the beginning of our Shovel Knight coverage as we barrel down on the launch of King of Cards and Showdown. That pair of releases will mark the end of Shovel Knight, but the studio is already looking toward what's next.
- Are you looking forward to the genre shift in the 2020's Yakuza: Like a Dragon? The title might have a new protagonist as it leans hard into the RPG genre, but worry not veteran fans. There will be a few returning faces, including Yakuza's mainstay hero Kazuma Kiryu!
- This isn't on a release calendar because it's not technically a new release, but Red Dead Redemption 2 is coming to Steam this week. Rockstar launched the game on its own platform last month, without letting anyone know the Steam release was around the corner. If you purchased the game on the Rockstar Game Launcher already... well, at least you've already played it on PC, eh?
- Kat takes a second look at FIFA 20, determining how the game stands up now. Given the copious amount of FIFA 20 Black Friday sales, it's a good time to check in and see if EA has improved the title at all, and whether the community still feels the same about certain features.
- Axe of the Blood God: Kat invites Dicebreaker's Sara Elsam to talk about the heat that's been seen in the Dungeons and Dragon community lately. D&D is in a great place currently, so our RPG podcast is reaching out to an expert to talk about the original RPG. Also Kat and Nadia talk a little bit about Mistover! Subscribe and listen here!