With Nevi and Gav both outlining their games of a generation I thought I should follow suit. As I play most of my games on PC, I wasn’t sure when the outgoing 8th generation kicked off. Checking Wikipedia, it began with the Wii U in 2012. So really I need to think about the games that defined my time at uni and then this odd liminal period my life seems to be fixed in now. It’s an odd exercise thinking back, there are games that burn brightly and briefly, typically the grand single player experiences of the Witcher 3 and Red Dead Redemption 2, but then there are the games that just sort of weave themselves into the fabric of your life, memories of playing them becoming little more than a comforting background noise.
I feel almost obligated to include this in my games of the generation even if I don’t think I’ve ever strongly recommended it. As a kid I was a big nerd for WW2 history, particularly aircraft. Warthunder was catnip for anyone with a misspent youth pouring over aircraft reference books and poorly gluing together airfix. The aircraft look gorgeous and there’s joy* to be found just examining the aircraft models in the hangar. What’s more, it has an incredibly accessible mouse controlled arcade flight system. It allows you to easily control the aircraft in just enough basic detail from flaps and air brakes to make it feel more realistic than an arcade flight sim like Ace Combat without going fully down the rabbit hole of worrying about things like fuel mix and rudder trim.
I’d love to see Warthunder’s tech translated into a single player experience but alas, it remains a prisoner, locked behind a wall of free-to-play grind. Such a big time sink wasn’t too much of a problem for a first year uni student in 2013, but eventually the rate of progress diminished and I refused to pay out the exorbitant sums required to hasten my access to later game content, weaning me off the game as a result. Besides the odd
Progressing chronologically then, my next pick goes to the Xcom series. I know the first reboot, Enemy Unknown, was technically released at the tail end of the 7th gen era, but I didn’t discover the series until 2014ish. The game’s capacity for emergent narratives wasn’t really like anything I’d experienced before and I can still remember my first playthrough, naming my rookies after my housemates, beginning their alien hunting careers in the early evening and watching it all end in tragedy in the early hours of the morning.
I loved Xcom 2 just as much, and the option to create custom soldiers that could appear in the pool of rookies for your campaign allowed me to effectively import the veterans of my first completed Enemy Unknown run. Xcom 2 did become a little overloaded with features thanks to 3 big DLC packs though too much of a good thing isn’t the worst problem to have. The 2018 Legacy Operations DLC and then Xcom: Chimera Squad last year were both welcome opportunities to enjoy a simpler more narratively structured Xcom experience.
I was never great at Overwatch but it hooked me in a way few games have. I’m not a particularly competitive player but Overwatch was the first time I’d really come into contact with ranked play. I don’t know that a video game has ever been so frustrating as trying to climb the skill bell curve to attain the rank of gold, claiming the title of truly average. Now like everyone that ever played an online game I place the blame at the feet of my team. Or at least the 3 randoms that would complete our squad. A perfect string of games would be ruined by a player offended by our character picks either quitting or simply refusing to move.
Beyond the hooks of ranked Overwatch, I came to really enjoy the vibrant cast of characters and the ever evolving story. While I eventually moved on from Overwatch and Rainbow 6: Siege became the multiplayer game in which I tried and failed to achieve anything in ranked, I do miss the bright colours and positive vibes. As much as Siege has tried to copy the evolving story Overwatch did so well, it’s never moved me to play a character for reasons other than their abilities and loadouts.
Even before the lockdown I’d clocked up a lot of hours in TTS, largely thanks to the exceptional mod for X-Wing: The Miniatures Game. TTS itself is just a physics simulator with some handy tools designed for board gaming and unless you’re happy to just play chequers or snap, the real content for the game lies in the library of user made mods. Almost any board game you could want to play likely has some form of mod support on there. TTS doesn’t capture the full feel of playing a board game IRL but they do a great job when there’s no alternative. In the case of X-Wing: The Miniatures Game though, I’m almost nervous to return to the physical experience. I can’t wait for the social aspect but having become so accustomed to the digital precision that will make my hands feel so clumsy by comparison when moving ships and checking firing arcs.
While most are not “official” replications, I’d argue that they take a supportive role in the board game industry. Some board games can be extremely difficult to get hold of and TTS allows access to things that otherwise might be out of print or not sold in your region. Kickstarter also seems to be embracing digital games a little more and demos are being made available to try before you buy which I think is a dose of consumer friendliness sorely needed in the FOMO driven HYPE campaigns.
I tried to think of something a little more original than the largest phenomenon in the last 5 years of video games, yet Player Unknown’s Battlegrounds (or Plunkbag as it should have been known), and Apex Legends have been two of the games I’ve most consistently had on the go. As janky as early Plunkbag was, the freedom to pootle about the map gathering equipment with the ever growing tension of an encounter was exciting. Even though it made for an oddly paced experience, I came to really enjoy the opportunity to chat with friends I was playing with. I think they eventually removed it, but when the levels had rain and fog I absolutely loved the atmosphere they created. Sure, I guess they weren’t great for the people taking the game seriously but the experience they created was brilliant. This is not to say I wasn’t keen to win as I was absolutely hooked by the lure of Chicken Dinners even if they were a rarely enjoyed delicacy.
While I did try a game of Fortnite and gave Warzone a fair shake, Legends usurped Plunkbag for me and has remained my Battle Royale of choice ever since. Oddly lots of the stuff I fondly remember about Plunkbag didn’t really feature in Apex. There was a certain excitement to exploring the map and roaming around that I haven’t felt to the same extent in Apex even with it’s more polished graphical style. Despite smoother gunplay, a vibrant cast of characters and a more consistent pace of play, Plunkbag or at least my nostalgia for its quirks remains intact.
*Your definition of joy may differ