60 Days of the Microsoft Game Pass
I have tried all sorts of game platforms. Paradox’s Gamersgate was my first digital platform, which I tried out because I was disenchanted with the AAA roleplaying games on the PC in 2011 and was looking for something different. In 2013 I bought my first Steam game, a rather mediocre rpg called Aarklash: Legacy, which I couldn’t get anywhere else. Since then, I’ve bought games on GOG, Origin, Uplay, and the Epic store, resenting each additional launcher I had to install, but not enough to pass up a good deal on a game I really wanted to play. One thing I had been considering awhile was the Microsoft Game Pass. The primary game I wanted to play was The Outer Words. In November, I looked at the platform and saw they had a lot of other games on my Steam Wishlist, including A Plague Tale: Innocence, Mutant Year Zero, Age of Wonders: Planetfall, Bloodstained:Ritual of the Night, Dragon Quest XI: Echoes of an Elusive Age, and No Man’s Sky. Buying all those titles would have cost me a small fortune. So, I took the plunge in November and gave the Game Pass a try.
The Outer Worlds show us a solar system where corporations are almost unchecked in their power and control. At least on the surface its flashy and garish.
Buying a game vs. Buying Time
One of the main differences between Microsoft Game Pass and Steam is that you are paying a monthly rate for access to a game library rather than actually buying a game which you can play at your leisure. When I buy a game on Steam or GOG, that game has to convince me not to continue playing it. For example, one of the last games I played on Steam was The Labyrinth of Refrain: Coven of Darkness, which I found an interesting attempt to reinterpret the Wizardry style dungeon crawler. Labyrinth of Refrain’s big innovation is that your characters belong to one of six basic classes, which simply define their base attributes and weapon proficiencies, but they join covens, which take up a party slot. The coven determines what spells or abilities a character can use, and each coven has one or more character slots. As the game advances you find new covens which you can try out. You have six coven slots, but the number of characters who can fill them continues to grow. However, interesting does not necessarily mean fun, and I gave the game 20 hours before reaching a boss fight I couldn’t win without grinding. The game was just enjoyable enough for me not to quit it before then, and since I bought it, I kept playing in the hope it would get more entertaining.
Mutant Year Zero, one of my first Game Pass games, gave me a very similar feeling. The tactical game has X-Com like combat, but with first two and then 3 protagonists, who just happen to be mutants roaming around a post-apocalyptic world. Mutant Year Zero is one of those games that I would describe as competent. The presentation and voice acting are for the most part well done and capture the feel of a comic book. Combat is small scale and simple (but simple does not mean easy) in comparison with X-Com, but decently implemented. There is also some very basic character development, loot and exploration, but nothing overly ambitious or deep. The loot you normally find are coins or weapon parts used to upgrade weapons, though occasionally you find a hat or some other piece of equipment. The maps are pretty small and have a handful of combat encounters on them. I gave the game 4 hours on the Game Pass. I would have played it more if I had bought it on Steam.
I gave Bloodstained: Ritual of The Night 45 minutes and it reminded me why I have not played a platformer in over 25 years. I am sure it is a great game if you like that kind of gameplay. I am unsure if I’d bought it on GOG or Steam if I’d have refunded it (I’ve only done this 2 times, and only for technical reasons) or if I’d actually have stuck with it. I only gave Middle Earth: Shadows of Mordor an hour of my time. This was a game I would never have bought on Steam, as I was unsure if the gameplay was for me, and indeed it was not. The game was largely combat, and I didn’t like the combat all that much.
On the other hand, I want to point out that I found some great games very dull at the beginning. The one that sticks most in my memory is Final Fantasy X. I didn’t like the protagonist and found the gameplay boring at the beginning. But Final Fantasy X is brilliant for may reasons, including that the protagonist may be the narrator, but is not the game’s hero (or in this case heroine) and that the depth of the story and characters and gameplay really only unfold slowly as the game progresses.
With Final Fantasy X in mind, I have stuck with Dragon Quest XI, despite it trying my patience. Dragon Quest XI reminds more of the classic Final Fantasy games than any other modern JRPG I have played. It has the same silly monsters, larger than life npcs, and fairy tale like story and tone that those classic games did. It does have some wonderful game design decisions that any RPG developer could learn from. The initial loading screen summarizes where you are in the main quest. It actually has an entertaining mini game which makes crafting items fun. Its comfort features are cleverly integrated into the game world. For example, that you can manually save at any church or statue of a deity by confessing or that you can fast travel by casting a teleport spell. Also, many of the side quests require or reward you by getting you to better learn the game’s systems like crafting or power up attacks. I would call that very clever game design. My 17 year old daughter also walked in while I was playing and said it was a beautiful game, so there is that too. For all those good things, the story is rather generic. The protagonists’s appearance is defined, even though he has zero personality (other than he is the chosen one) which I find an odd decision. And I found the first three companions rather dull and clique. The fourth one I liked better, but he arrives first after 10 hours of play. The combat and character development I would also only call satisfactory, up till this point.
Though there is no question that Dragon Quest XI is a visually impressive game with well designed gameplay, it has a lot of typical tropes that turn people off of JRPGS, whether its the silly monsters, kid protagonists, cutsy art, or whimsical tone.
Going, Going, Gone
One of the benefits of owning a game is that you can play it at your leisure. And if a game is removed from Steam its still in your personal library if you have bought it. I played through Sword Coast Legends (well part way through at least) long after it was removed from Steam. The same isn’t true for the Game Pass. Games come and go. Shortly after I started Age of Wonders: Planetfall I got a warning it would be removed from the Game Pass in two weeks. I researched on the internet, and when a game leaves the Microsoft Game Pass, you can no longer play it even if it is installed, and all you can do is keep your save games and buy the game in the Microsoft store if you wish to continue playing. I usually rotate between 4-6 games and never play the same game 2 days in a row. While this means it takes me longer to finish games, it also keeps the games fresh for me. I ended up playing Age of Wonders: Planetfall around 12 hours in those two weeks and interrupted my normal gaming routine to play it even that much.
One of the big criticisms of Planetfall is that it looks like a reskin of Age of Wonders 3. There is definitely some justification to that criticism. While there are some small gameplay differences like ranged overwatch, the main difference is the science fiction setting, and anyone who has played Age of Wonders 3 will feel at home. For anyone who has not played Age of Wonders 3, Age of Wonders: Planetfall combines standard 4X strategy elements like base building, exploration, and development with tactical battles, a story-based campaign, and the development of heroes which are more often found in rpgs or some rts games. Heroes not only have skills and units related to their own faction, but also have a specialty (like a class) which lets you research additional units and powers. The campaign has a lot of quests (both side quests and the main quest) and many of the scenarios have multiple mutually exclusive victory conditions. For example, when playing the insectoid Ki’ro I was given the choice of helping resurrect the long dead queens of the insectoids, which would restore their hive mind, or to oppose their resurrection so that the Ki’ro could maintain their individuality. I spent over 70 hours in Age of Wonders 3 and enjoyed the story-based campaigns that game had to offer. I even bought one of the expansions. And while Planetfall doesn’t offer much new gameplaywise, I would have certainly played longer if the game hadn’t left Game Pass. Having played 12 hours, on the other hand, didn’t motivate me to go out and buy the game either. Maybe I will someday if it gets a deep discount. In the end the situation left me somewhat unsatisfied, and this is certainly one of the biggest disadvantages of playing on the Game Pass.
On the top left you can see all of the main (yellow) quests which I must complete and all the side (blue quests) which I can complete. In the campaign of Age of Wonders: Planetfall, finishing the main quest line wins the scenario, which is atypical of most 4X strategy games.
Why 30 days turned into 60
I think most people who come to RPGWatch are experienced gamers with specific tastes and not say younger people who want access to a broad range of games for a low price. I know that holds true for me. So, playing on the Game Pass has only continued to make sense for me so long as I found games that really excited me and were not merely time killers.
One of the first games I installed was A Plague Tale: Innocence and though the game is labeled as a rpg (among other things), I find it hard to define it as such. The game has set characters and a story that you watch rather than influence. Also, the main character, Amelie has upgradable equipment and learns a few alchemy skills as the game advances, but all in all character progression is pretty limited. That said, I really enjoyed the game. Its shortish (it took me more than 12 hours to finish) but has a great story and characters. And even though the characters are mostly young teens and one kid brother, its very dark. Unlike most story-based game, A Plague Tale: Innocence has well designed and variable game play. In some segments you have to sneak past and/or quietly assassinate guards. In other segments you need to avoid obstacles (mostly hordes of hungry rats). There are also some puzzle like boss battles, which I found frustrating, but I was so motivated to finish the game that I eventually managed to get past them. Though much of the gameplay is puzzle-like it is not abstract and I always knew what I had to do to progress. In addition, the game is visually impressive and has excellent voice actors.
A Plague Tale: Innocence is full of these darkly haunting locations.
The game that motivated me to come to game pass initially was The Outer Worlds. It has an early/mid-20th century pulp science fiction feel to it (think Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers). And while it has dark undertones, the world in which bureaucratic corporations dominate a solar system is both visually bright and humorous. In a way, the game world reminds me of the film Brazil, where terrible things are happening beneath a veneer of civility and ridiculousness. I think many of the game’s characters, including both your companions and the npcs are very well written. This along with the art style and unusual setting are the highlights of The Outer Worlds. I didn’t find combat, exploration or the inventory system all that interesting, and shops, for example, often have completely worthless inventories. By midway through the game, I had much more money, ammo, and lockpicks than I could possibly use. However, the quests and characters kept me wanting to continue and The Outer Worlds is certainly one of the better rpgs I have played over the last year.
Right before my second 30 days, GreedFall came to Game Pass. GreedFall is one of the only rpgs I know set in a fantasy world based on the age of colonization. As someone who studied the period of history used as an inspiration for the setting (the 17th century), I was impressed how well GreedFall’s quests, visual design, and factions capture the feeling of that age and transport them into a fantasy setting. GreedFall’s factions and lore are also expertly transmitted through the game’s companions, who each have extensive personal quests which paint a picture of each of the factions that they belong to. These quests also do any excellent job of showing the contrast between the companions who become the main character’s friends and represent the best qualities of their factions and villains in the very same faction who represent the faction’s darker side. Greedfall’s combat is for me bland and the controls leave something to desire, but thankfully combat is not the game’s focus. The game’s quests, characters and stories are the highlights and more than offset the somewhat clumsy combat. Greedfall also has pretty cool exploration and a decent crafting system. There is no way I’ll finish it by the time my 60 days turn into 90, so I guess Microsoft will get another month’s payment out of me.
Though my companion and trainer Kurt (bottom left) is the embodiement of loyalty, during the course of GreedFall we meet a number of other coin guards who are downright dastardly.
As I said, I play 4-6 games parallel, so between the games I really wanted to play, I also tried out quite a few others.
I already mentioned Dragon Quest XI above, but one of the first games I installed was No Man’s Sky. This game is basically a very low stress walking simulator. It’s a great game when you want to play something relaxing. In No Man’s Sky you explore various planets. You can catalogue alien plant and animal life to earn funds. You can mine minerals to build with. You can find knowledge pillars to teach you alien languages. There are buried data modules which help you purchase new blueprints, which in turn lets you build new technology. Also, there are alien buildings, which you can locate to get navigation data. The data you can trade in to get special maps where new blueprints or other useful items can be found. There is a main story, but its more of an afterthought that teaches you the game’s various game systems, rather than an interesting story per se. The game’s random planets are visually impressive and I found it worth a visit when I wanted a break from thinking tactically or playing through the twitchy action combat in other games. The gameplay is repetitive, and No Man’s Sky was not the type of game I’d get fired up to play, but it was a nice change of pace now and again.
Slay the Spire is an entertaining indie deck builder. There are four characters with their own unique card decks which can be customized in different ways. The game also offers you new cards based on the ones you have already picked, which really leads you to be able to play the same character on different runs with a very different approach. The game itself has you scaling a tower and giving you the choice of path, which features normal and elite battles, the chance to visit a store or rest, as well as treasure rooms, and text events. It entertained me as long as I could try out different card combinations.
In my 3rd run with the Defect in Slay the Spire, I've specialized in generating multiple lightning orbs, in my prievious 2 runs with the same character I pursued very different strategies.
My Time In Portia is a life simulator. You inherit your father’s workshop in the town of Portia, and your first big commission is building a bridge, which requires you to learn how to build various workshop machines. You can also learn to farm, mine, cook, fish, fight monsters, and raise animals. In addition, you can get to know the townspeople, getting quests from them and learning their stories. Its sort of like a 3D Stardew Valley with a different starting point, since initially you are a builder and not a farmer. This is also a low stress game, which can become quite addicting as you renovate the old workshop into whatever you want it to become.
After 90 days?
At this point there are still a few games on the Game Pass I’d be willing to play like Final Fantasy IX , the Final Fantasy 7 Remake, Monster Train, and Gears Tactics, but once I finish The Outer Worlds and GreedFall, There is nothing that really excites me anymore on the Game Pass. The four titles I just mentioned are probably all “in between games” for me and I still have plenty of games in my Steam library that I really want to play. Thus, for me personally, the Game Pass has been a great short term solution, but I just don’t see myself as a long term subscriber. But who knows, in one or two years, when they have added a number of new games, maybe I’ll return for another 60 days.
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