I started hearing some buzz about this new game called Remnant: From The Ashes.
Most of what I’m hearing is that it’s “too hard” and that it’s a “Souls-like.” This of course triggers the usual “games have to make everyone feel like a winner” backlash, which is mostly what drew my attention. I’m sure the PR folks behind Remnant will be ecstatic to hear that, because I probably never would have heard of this game otherwise.
I watched a little bit of a gameplay video from some random games media outlet. Gamespot maybe? Are they still a thing? I don’t remember. It was one of the first Google results. I turned the sound off, because I didn’t want to hear Random Games Journalists A & B yammering about their advance press copy. I just wanted to see the game mechanics. (That’s a little tip from me to you: If you just want to evaluate a game on its own merits, free of the “influence” of influencers, just turn off the sound.)
It didn’t look anything like a Souls game to me. I mean, for starters, it has guns. There’s a whole lot of dialog. There are quests. None of these things are Souls-like.
So I’m immediately skeptical. I’m thinking somebody is throwing around the “Souls-like” and “difficult” labels just to generate controversy, to drive game sales. (The old “we dare you to beat our game!” trick that gamers always fall for.) The major games media reviewers I’ve seen appear to be on board with the PR trick and happily complicit in talking about it as a Souls-like. (After all, mentioning a comparison to a popular/controversial game brings hits to their web site just as much as it racks up sales for the developer.)
It seems like a no-brainer to skip a game with deceptive marketing where the reviewers are regurgitating copy from the publisher. But there’s a voice in the back of my head whispering, “You love the Souls series, wouldn’t it be great if it really was a Souls-like?”
But I know better than to just buy a brand new game without doing some research. Steam reviews are mostly useless in 2019. Aggregation sites are clearly gamed. I pondered this dilemma. How do you try out a game for yourself in 2019 without actually buying it? Nobody makes free demos anymore. Hrm. What a puzzle.
Oh yeah! Streamers! Or better yet, YouTubers! YouTube content is easier to search. (And, you know, Twitch streamers have a reputation for being bought and paid for.)
Then I thought about the pool of YouTubers that I’ve watched play Souls games. Who better to evaluate this alleged new “Souls-like” game? Moderately successful YouTubers are bound by law to buy and play the latest new games as quickly as possible, so surely they would have started into Remnant by the second day.
There are bazillions of YouTubers who play Souls-like games. I don’t normally like to endorse YouTubers for a wide variety of reasons, but it fits with the Blaugust Developer Appreciation Week theme, which this year morphed into Content Creator Appreciation Week. I immediately thought of this one guy Keith Ballard. I’ve watched him play Dark Souls 3, Bloodborne, and Sekiro. He’s a little abrasive at times, especially in his older videos where he talks so fast and unfiltered that he sounds like he’s just chugging energy drinks and caffeine pills one after another. He’s grown a lot since then, and overall I like his analytical style.
One little search later and I found a video. He went into Remnant: From the Ashes with the exact same skepticism that I have:
I don’t think he made a final judgment, but after watching, it seemed pretty clear to me that this game isn’t even close to a Souls-like, except in the most superficial of ways (“there’s a third-person camera so it’s just like Dark Souls!"). If anything, it looks like it’s closer to a BioWare game than anything else. Why not market that instead of making up something that’s obviously not true?
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