The Four Most Overrated Franchises

4. Assassin's Creed - I think this has more to do with oversaturation than anything. Had they stopped at Assassin's Creed II, and then followed up with Assassin's Creed III, it'd be a tight, compact, well told trilogy. But instead, they released two pseudo sequels to Assassin's Creed II in rapid fire, which overall taken as the Assassin's Creed II trilogy may have told a compelling story, but each game failed to progress the gameplay and instead felt like episodic content at a full $60 price tag.

Assassin's Creed and Assassin's Creed II were fine games with okay mechanics, a fun open world to traverse, and they looked great. They were also tedious, overlong, full of filler, had convoluted and poorly told stories, and hit or miss modern day sequences.

The episodic sequels continued the story of Assassin's Creed II. Perhaps unnecessarily so. Concepts brought into the episodes was hit or miss. The games had an exciting cat and mouse multiplayer mode, but shockingly dull vehicle sequences, quick time events, and even tower defense for some reason. After the content dump that occurred, they began teasing that Assassin's Creed III was finally a real, full sequel made by the A Team at Ubisoft Entertainment. Which is a retroactive way of admitting Assassin's Creed: Revelations and Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood were less than spectacular, but hey buy this one because it's going to be what you thought those games would be.

3. Halo - Don't get me wrong, Halo: Combat Evolved was a revolution when it first came out on the Xbox. It essentially launched Microsoft's first console into the mainstream, and forever changed first person shooter mechanics. And the sequel, Halo 2, was also pretty great and further cemented the foundation for Xbox Live, and led to modern console online gaming. That deserves some major credit. But a formula became apparent. Silent generic soldier protagonist #725 would wake up, do some tests to configure the controls and would instantly be dumped into a fight against generic aliens known as The Covenant. And at the exact halfway point of the game, the player would begin on a long quiet corridor section, where predictably some sort of virus appears, only instead of the tired cliche of zombies, Halo uses The Flood, a zombie like parasite that has some sort of hive mind sentience, but for all intents and purposes, it's zombies. Then you fight them, the Covenant reenter the plot, the Flood and Covenant clash and Master Chief passes through this battle, then finally he detonates a Halo ring. Which is a confusing and generic plot device which seems to be whatever the writers want it to be. In one game it's a weapon, the next it's a tool, the next it's a religion. Whatever Bungie needed at that time, they stuffed the Halo rings into it. It's like Nanomachines in Metal Gear Solid or The Force in Star Wars. Need an answer? Just throw in a Halo ring and shrug.

By Halo 3 the formula was firmly in place. But the rise of Call of Duty also occurred with Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare. First Person Shooter mechanics had again evolved, and Halo 3 was the first game to show it's age. Left trigger had become the "look down the sights" button, but Halo kept it as the "throw a grenade" button. Most guns in Halo 3 had no sights to look down. These may seem like a small control difference, but at the time it was a massive fossil in the genre. Halo 3: ODST was an interesting experiment, but ultimately just that. A short, slight, downloadable experiment. And seemingly as an apology for their experiment, Halo: Reach came out and became the most formulaic title in the entire series.

Halo 4 could be a breath of fresh air, with a new studio in 343 Industries taking over for Bungie. The game looks impressive graphically, and has a new alien race, although surely the Covenant play a large role. But clearly this game won't be the zeitgeist phenomenon it was. It won't push the genre ahead. It won't lead the charge. It will simply be an iteration on a popular franchise.

2. Call of Duty - No, I'm not going to be that guy. Call of Duty is a great franchise, that first set an amazing standard with Call of Duty, then became a benchmark game in the current gen's hardware development. The franchise has played a larger role in the lives of both the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 than I think anyone is willing to admit. Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare changed gaming forever. And up until a major rift within Activision, Infinity Ward was consistently innovating and pushing the medium forward with their Modern Warfare series. But during the production of Modern Warfare 2, trouble began between creative and business, and the minds at Infinity Ward were attacked and ousted from the company. Treyarch, the B Team which filled off years with standard but passable entries in the overall franchise, took over and accepted the larger role in the company. They're the one's using the old tech. Infinity Ward, the one that finished Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3, isn't even close to the same developer. They're Infinity Ward in name only. Treyarch was always the company using the Infinity Ward engine and model, but simply plunked down a new setting (usually World War II), and characters. Now that Infinity Ward is no more, realistically, Treyarch has no one to hide behind. They can't ride the coattails of more creative developers. And now that they must lead the way into the future, you can see how they're doing it. By not doing. Old graphics, tired gameplay, hallway shooting, frivolous story. Sure, Call of Duty: Black Ops II looks to be somewhat unique. But considering the model has existed since 2007, a few tweaks don't make an old dog new. The tiredness of the franchise, and the community backlash comes from Activision's hatchet job of what was a great development team.

But no matter how you slice it, there is a new Call of Duty every October, and it's not nearly as good as sales would suggest.

1. God of War - I know I'm going to offend some here. God of War to me, is as tired as Call of Duty, if not more. Three games with no true innovation other than graphics and a raging hard on for gore. Two handheld spin offs with the same lack of innovation and same raging boner. And now God of War: Ascension, a game nobody asked for, that takes the incredibly dated isometric camera, button mashing combat, health orbs, and quick time events into the future. Were you dying for another prequel that tells the uninteresting story of the uninteresting Kratos, yet again? We know how he got his markings, scars, whiteness, chains, anger, death, rebirth, vengeance, more anger, but this time... you get to do it again. Ascension (taking the new approach of not calling an unnecessary sequel "4" but instead slapping on a colon followed by a random word; see Gears of War: Judgment) looks to tell the already told story of an angry Kratos before he finally killed everyone. The game will no doubt star an angry Kratos killing everyone. But before he killed those guys, and after he killed those guys. The story really needed to be told. The world was waiting to find out how he killed these guys, before those guys, and after those guys.

But it's not all old. Sure, the camera is still isometric, because it's 2002 apparently, and sure the combat is still stilted and mashy, and sure there is still a goofy quick time event to finish off every enemy, but hey did we mention Kratos has a bracelet that can rebuild broken buildings? See? NEW! SHINY! Buy us! We have multiplayer!

God of War: Ascension's redeeming quality may be as a tech demo for the final years of the PS3, but little else. It's a game no one asked for, and it's just a way to cash out before the next gen, and a full God of War game graces the launch, or shortly thereafter. Surely Gears of War 4 will look to do the same.


What's wrong with classes?

A disappointing trend seems to be the cutting down on character classes. Games have always based classes on the trinity, the three S's: Strength (fighter), Speed (thief), Skill (mage). And for the life of me, I can't think of a fourth archetype that isn't just a variation or hybrid of the three. But that doesn't excuse a simple three class sytem, unless you're Trine, and that's the theme. Dragon's Dogma was a bit of a disappointment in that regard. It had fighter, rogue, and mage as basic classes, then two coats of paint that were essentially just new moves for the old classes. And a game built on a four person party, that is strictly single player, so balance isn't as much of a concern. This was a let down.

But worse are games that aren't even worrying about the coat of paint. Games like Torchlight 2 and Borderlands 2 are just going with 4-5 classes and calling it a day. I understand the need for balance, which is more difficult with more classes, but you should have more classes than slots in a party. If you can literally cover all the bases in a group, of course you're going to. Which removes a lot of flexibility. So basically in party based games with either competitive online play or raid type groups, you need balance and flexibility. Easier said than done. EverQuest 2 had an insane amount of classes. A bunch of basic classes that all give way to two or three upgrades at level ten, and another upgrade at level twenty. And all of these classes were available to all of the races. This isn't even to mention a three pronged skill tree for all of these twenty classes and all of the fifteen races having special racial abilities. This was pretty amazing, except at higher levels, pretty much half the classes were worthless, and every group just wanted rangers for DPS. On the other end of the spectrum, you have World of Warcraft. Ten or less classes, with only four or so available to each race. Some only available to one faction of the two. And each race has it's own starting zone. So depending on which race and faction you choose, you may never even see a possible class. This system was pretty good for balance. But with a hardcore audience, and a focus on raids, everyone tended to know every class, and had most covered with their alts.

But why should balance carry the same importance in single player games? Why not have some weird classes in fantasy based games? Dark Souls included a hardcore class, where you start out naked with lowered stats. Games should have fun with it, and let us dig deep and play some more flamboyant classes. Every game should have a paladin class. (due to some confusion from a certain thick headed reader, I'd like you to read that sentence like you would: Everyone loves pudding. Which is obviously not literally true.) A fighter with high defense and heal spells, but with relatively low attack output. This class lets skilled players fight in areas way beyond their level. Fights are long and grueling, but with patience, and timely healing, it can be done. Why not include a ninja class? A rogue type with cloth armor and very little health, who can dual wield katanas and deal out damage crazy fast. People would love that. It'd be refreshing from the basic cop out rogue with leather armor, two daggers, and a sneak skill. Hell, while we're at it, why not have a drunkard class? You have to keep alcohol in your inventory, and have to stay drunk to fight well. You use your fists to brawl like a barfighter, and the damage is randomized, but is best when at a balanced level of intoxication. Too sober and you're weak, too drunk and your accuracy is low.

Also, don't just have a 'mage'. Have a wizard for elemental spells. Have a warlock for poison based damage over time. Have a summoner for pets. Have a priest for heals. Don't just roll it all into one class. Don't just have a tank class. Have a guardian to tank, a knight to deal damage, and a paladin to do a little of both, then have a monk or dragoon type for quirky flex roles. And every game needs a bard! (Again: pudding.) The thankless bard class that pretty much only works as a support role. It's a thankless job and only the hardcore want to do it. But with the best buffs and wards, the bard is always welcome. I'm rambling and spinning my wheels at this point. But don't reduce it to just the trinity. That's boring, and pretty much kills replayability.


What it would take; The Wii U

I'm not going to lie, after the Wii, Nintendo has to prove something to me. I know they don't care, they can package old hardware and mini games and the casual market will buy it tens of millions of times over, making me and the "hardcore" market utterly irrelevant. But in a fantasy land where my $400 actually matters, Nintendo has some making up to do.

This E3 did not give me anything to suggest they're interested in winning me back. A new goofy controller, misguided interests, and more mini games. Nintendo seems to think that video gaming is five adults sitting on a couch having a real life Mario party. And one of us gets to put down jumping platforms for the others! Doesn't that sound like fun? Well, not for me! I have friends, fear not. I'm not lonely. But I don't hand out Wiimotes at the door when my friends come over. Maybe I'm weird. Maybe everyone invites people over to play the latest Luigi's Mansion mini game. I play online, and occasionally with my brother or a friend. But I wouldn't buy a console based on it. I was just beginning to see myself using their tablet controller, and they seemed to make it out to be the secondary control option, with the old Wiimote and Nunchuck combo being the primary on most of their E3 demos.

The mini map and inventory use of the second screen seem perfect. But the gimmicky panoramic functions and the opportunity to play dungeon master for everyone else's fun doesn't seem very enticing to me. But whatever. A console is about games. With good games, I'd overlook any weird notions they have. So lemme see the games. I'm sure they're working on a new Mario, and not a sidescrolling New Super Mario Brothers, a real 3D Mario. Super Mario Galaxy 3, or whatever it's going to be. I'm sure there's a new Zelda in the works. Donkey Kong, Star Fox, Metroid. Even if it's just a teaser trailer for each, just show us something to entice us. Let us know that there are great games coming beyond the launch. Here we go, E3 2012. Oh what's that? No games? NintendoLand you say? Is that like a new Smash Brothers? What? It's an amusement park, but a game. Are you fucking serious? Get out of my office. You're fired.

That was the single worst E3 showing I think I've ever seen. And that's saying something. Sony spent forty minutes telling me about a Harry Potter book you play/read with a Playstation Move. And you know what? I'd buy ten of them before I give two shits about the Miiverse. This was supposed to be the Wii U's coming out party. I don't think it can be stressed enough that this console is being released in JUST A FEW MONTHS. The Durango has a better launch line up, and that console hasn't even been announced. We know everything we know from leaked court hearings.

The 3DS gets a new Paper Mario game and a full Luigi's Mansion game. Those would be AAA launch titles for the Wii U. Get your priorities straight Nintendo. A new next gen console launching is a bigger deal than a years old handheld. And while it's great the 3DS is getting those games, Pikmin 3 won't move units. Pikmin was a great but niche title. And sadly, Pikmin 3 looks just like Pikmin 2 which looked just like Pikmin 3. Newer graphics and a new species of Pikmin isn't innovation.

And I'm gonna need a real online mode. Not that weird code-based thing the Wii had. Or the limited handheld versions of online play. I'm talking full on. It'd be great if it was free, with a feature filled subscription based Pro version for those who want it. But anything is better than nothing. Thankfully, they talked about Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, and a bunch of other app based features which suggests some of the online features of the other two consoles, but they followed that up with a few worrying comments. Such as "We are aggressively pursuing the realization of an online system where vulgarity and unpleasantness are not allowed." Their words, not mine. I love the idea of a fantasy land where I don't have to listen to homophobic, racist, moronic kids singing into their microphones everytime I play an online game, but the idea of moderators listening in or a strict no cursing policy does not sound like an improvement. Nintendo is a family company, but we are not all kids. So while you reserve the right to block games like The Binding of Isaac due to unsavory material, I'd reserve the right not to be censored by some old fuddy duddy who seems to live in a childlike state of Willy Wonka euphoria. Sorry Miyamoto, you're great and all, but not all of us live in that world. Your youthful wonder has been the heart and soul of Nintendo, but your company is years behind at this point. And sadly, nothing I've seen yet suggests that will change. Everything shown of the Wii U suggests it is not a next gen console. It is a this gen console, and that the Wii was a last gen console (which is a common criticism). And if the Wii U had launched in 2006, maybe it would have been great. But in two years when the Durango and Orbis launch, will Nintendo once again be a full generation behind? The old adage is "Gameplay, not graphics" or something like that. But the technology race has never been run as fast as it is today. And the Wii burned me. And I'm sure there are a lot of skeptics who have the same burn-scars as me, and are looking at the Wii U like an angry badger with a gold coin in it's mouth. I'm curious and I want to reach out and grab it, but I'm keeping my distance until I know it's safe. Or whatever. I was never good at metaphors.

But, I can probably go fuck myself, and the Wii U will target dads and moms and grandparents, like the DS and Wii did, and they'll sell a hundred million units and they'll swim through a Scrooge McDuck-esque pool of cash. And I can go protest, and no one will hear me or care. But again, if we pretend my $400 means something, they can have it. They just have to show me something.


Character Creation

Whenever I hear someone say they create female characters in games because "If I have to stare at an ass for 40 hours, I might as well like it." And that always rings so creepily false to me. It makes me think of some Freudian roleplaying perversion. First of all, I don't sexualize my character. I'm not oggling my Dwarf's ass. I don't stare at it and think "Man, if only I could be staring at a sexy Elf ass instead of this sweaty Dwarf." If you're sexually attracted to your digital character, or you're trying to be by creating a sexy character, you've got bigger problems than finding a more revealing set of armor. This is especially true of male gamers who make it a rule that they create only female characters in their games. At that point it's not even character creation, but it becomes wish fulfillment. If you want to play as a girl, just do it and don't come up with creepy justifications of why.

I get character creation. I too put way too much effort in getting my avatar to look just right. I could never play as most custom built characters I see. Most people just seem to throw a bunch of settings together like purple skin, a mohawk, and a white mustache, then name him xXKill-MoreXx and they're good to go. I will never understand that. I tweak the sliders for nearly an hour before I'm satisfied. And I'll usually restart the game a few times. I've even started a game over ten hours in because I decided my character's nostrils were just a little too big. I've done that more than once actually.

First off though, my characters always have to be realistic. They have to look as detailed as the in game NPC's. My character has to look as though he belongs in this world on this adventure. I have to think up a backstory and give him an appropriate name. But instead of roleplaying women in some role reversal way, I always create slightly ugly warriors. A little overweight, balding, a big beard. I give them a humble off kilter name like Barton or Tonkin. My characters would never be the lead actor of a movie. My characters look more like what they call "character actors" which means "too ugly to be the star". They end up looking like Paul Giamatti or Phillip Seymour Hoffman. If I can make them fat, I do. If I can make them Dwarves, or as short as Dwarves, I do. I don't know why. I'm five foot six, and one hundred and thirty pounds. So when I make a fat Dwarf, it's not a representation of me. I'm not making a character to look like me. I don't know why I make them fat and ugly. I just do.

So clearly, I'm also a fucking nerd. I'm a screenwriter, who lets his writing spill into his gaming in ways some would probably find weird. But even I put a line of decency between making an extremely detailed character, and making a hot chick with giant tits, because "If I'm going to stare at a character, she might as well look like a porn star." That is weird. Telling yourself it's more normal and heterosexual than playing as a dude is just a backwards logic used to make yourself feel better, because even you know it's weird.


A Better Way to do Multiplayer

Every developer seems to be throwing in some barely designed deathmatch to their single player franchise. Most likely to lengthen the playtime of that game and try to beat out the used game market. People keep their copies when they're addicted to multiplayer. Since this is the goal, why does every multiplayer mode feel like a barely thought out addition? It's just a horde mode or a team deathmatch. Sometimes they add RPG-like stat progression and perks, but the gameplay is still just as one dimensional. Max Payne, Mass Effect, Uncharted. Even God of War is adding a deathmatch mode. And often times it doesn't even gel with the single player side of the game. Starhawk, which by rights should only be a multiplayer game, actually teaches you the wrong way to play during the single player campaign. Spec Ops: the Line is a game based on emotional visceral feelings, but ditches that for a standard team deathmatch, which only exposes the fairly uninspired combat mechanics.

Looking at Tera, a gorgeous action game with intuitive combat on the one hand, but mired by fetch quests and other MMO cliches on the other, that got me thinking. When it comes to action RPGs, rather than create a clunky standard MMO spin off, why not add a multiplayer dungeon raid mechanic. Take a game like Skyrim, Kingdoms of Amalur, or Dragon's Dogma (which has a pseudo-online mechanic) and rather than simply add co op which would be a mess, add dungeons. In your single player game you go up to a meeting stone in town, and enter a queue, picking from one of however many dungeons, and you enter an online instanced dungeon with a team of similarly leveled players. You're in a group of four, six, or eight, and you fight extremely difficult enemies using strategy and communication. The dungeons take a few hours and have the best loot. And you take that loot back into your single player game. Cohesion, synergy, or some other corporate word. Dungeon raids are the pinnacle of MMO gameplay. And it's what can lengthen an MMO's lifespan when done right, or kill the MMO before it's grown when done wrong. And if done right, it would add a Diablo-like level of replayability that could go on for hundreds of hours. It would be easier to implement than a co-op mode, and it's more imaginative than a stuffy deathmatch mode.


Should AAA Games Think Smaller?

By the end of Mass Effect 3, the story is so big in scale, it's almost unbelievable, even for a video game, that one man (or woman, hey FemShep) could possibly solve the problems at hand. In a reverse way by having such a small cast fighting such a big fight, it made me feel as though the universe was actually underpopulated. And that goes for most games that involve destinies or saving the world. Infamous and it's sequel have you traveling through what is essentially and empty city husk. Even the side missions feel empty. Rather than being given to you by side characters, they're faceless, nameless NPC's.

I think the problem with these games is that in striving to give you such a huge spectacle, they lose personal stories. Aside from the main character, usually a generic, brown haired, white, thirty year old with a gravelly voice, the worlds feel comparatively empty. Even ones as big as Skyrim's. I think these major games should focus on smaller stories. Interpersonal conflicts. The Dark Knight was a massive movie, in scope and success, and the climax of that movie involves the Joker, some dogs, and two boats. No doomsday device. No saving the world. No chosen hero following destiny.

Game of Thrones shows the perfect roadmap. The consequences in Game of Thrones, both the TV and book series, are no doubt massive as entire nations go to war, but the inciting incident is usually quite small. Two families quarreling. One guy had a son out of wedlock, someone breaks a vow, one person is executed. Small struggles involving select groups of people that ripple outward as the repercussions suck everyone in. But rather than having a main villain be a cackling stereotype who wants to destroy the world for no real reason, or an omnipotent dragon, or an alien race who wants to wipe out humanity just because, have the villain be a person. Just a guy with a goal. A three dimensional, non cliche, whose goal runs contrary to the hero, thus causing the conflict of the story.

There's no reason to default to world destruction. Not every villain has to be evil. The lives of every human don't need to hang in the balance. By going smaller in scope, you can tell a great emotional story. Max Payne isn't saving the world. And the villains aren't looking to destroy it. And at times, you wonder if Max is even doing the right thing. Shades of grey, you see. Those are good.


Dragon's Dogma: Expectations vs Reality

I'm highly anticipating Dragon's Dogma. In fact, now that Ni No Kuni has been delayed until next year, Dragon's Dogma is the only game I plan on buying this year. That will definitely change come E3, but for now, it's all about Dogma. Which is why I'm kind of being bummed out by every limitation I find out about. I suppose I let my imagination of what the game could be get away from me.

When I first heard about the four party system, I was excited. You don't get four characters in most RPG parties. And when I heard about customizing your pawns, I thought you could customize all three pawns in your group. Imagine all of the character creation possibilities. You could make four Dwarves (they'd technically still be human, but whatever). It'd be hilarious to see all four tiny little fighters climb onto the back of a Cyclops. But, as it turns out, you only get to make one pawn, the main sidekick. I'm sure I could find two pre made or user made pawns online that would match a theme, but it's not the same.

That's okay, two is better than one. I quickly thought up another fun party dynamic. I'd make the main pawn a good looking, gallant, magic fighter, as close to a Paladin as I could. Heavy armor, like a true Prince Charming. Then I'd make his partner, a fucking ugly oaf with a bowl cut, big nose, and scars. A big dumb lug who picks everyone up and throws them (something you can do in the game). It'd be like Lenny in Of Mice and Men. But the funny part is, I'd be playing as the oaf, and the true Hero is the AI controlled pawn. But then i found out the pawns will be limited to the basic classes and advanced classes. The advanced classes are really just purified versions of the basic. So realistically your pawns can only be one of three classes: fighter, mage, or archer. So if I can't make my Prince Charming a paladin (called a mystic knight) he'd just be a basic fighter, and my oaf would have all the cool abilites. Well that kind of ruins the dynamic I had planned. If the oaf is doing complex magic buffs and heals, and Prince Charming is just hacking away. This also means that trading and optimizing pawns (a big online component) will really just be trading fighters for mages and mages for rogues. Players will most likely play as the three cool hybrid classes, and pawns will just be basic party additions. Why? Why limit the pawn system, which seems like one of the main aspects of the game?

Capcom is pouring money and resources into this game, which before being tied to a Resident Evil 6 demo was an unheard of game no one cared about, but had become a black horse engine that could. All of the sudden people are talking about this game. There's hype and excitement. My thoughts are that this game could be the Saint's Row to Skyrim's Grand Theft Auto. While GTA/Skyrim have massive budgets and sales, they deliver mostly conventional experiences. Good looking, well polished, but very by the numbers. Whereas Saint's Row uses it's lack of standards as a boon, and the game delivers all of those whacked out moments and freedoms missing from the bigger game. This was and is my hope for Dragon's Dogma. So why then would they limit the pawn system? Why not allow me to customize all four party members and loan out any of the three at any time? Why not allow me to access all of the game's classes for any of my group members?