Exclusive: Ship of Heroes’ Casey McGeever on the superhero MMORPG genre

Ship of Heroes is super-jumping right into 2018 with two documents of note. The first is a retrospective of what the Heroic Games team learned from the community in the past year, including the fact that players want harvesting, crafting, and trading mechanics as well as crowd-control and pet mastery classes and Halloween. The team also says it understands the community’s desire for solid character creation and combat, details on character powers, and real gameplay video demonstrating development progress – particularly a mission video.

“A powerful character creator, and a positive community, are the two most important features of SoH, as judged by the voters in our polls,” writes the studio.

The second document, published here exlusively on Massively OP (not sponsored), is a reflection on the state of the MMORPG industry, particularly the superhero corner of it and how Ship of Heroes fits in, penned by Heroic Games’ Casey McGeever. We’ve included the whole piece below:

It is an interesting time for Ship of Heroes, and for the MMORPG industry at large.

This year, NCSoft launched the MOBA Master X Master, resurrecting the iconic MMO superhero Statesman… and closed it before the year was out. After more than four years of operation, Disney abruptly closed Marvel Heroes Omega and severed ties with Gazillion Entertainment. Consumers view new games soft-released in perpetual alphas by both small and large studios with the skepticism borne of experience, as a great many MMOs are delayed year after year, or never launch at all. Some question whether there is a future for any superhero MMO.

The tools for creating games are steadily improving, but players grind through free-to-play content and quickly move onto something new, leaving studios trying to find new ways to monetize while churning out DLC and expansions. Big, exciting raids are locked behind paywalls, and behind months or years of grinding. Lockboxes and cash shops have users angry about the pay-to-win business model. Unhappy gamers make these immersive worlds, which already lean towards apocalyptic visions of reality, unpleasant places to stay and spend time, until new players and nice players alike leave, or stay and become equally bitter.

What made MMORPGs worth playing in the first place has been lost: a shared sense of community, of getting to know other players and working cooperatively. Players want to help each other on missions and raids, trade resources and craft upgrades, and generally interact in ways that build real friendships. If one reads what people are saying, that is the main message: they want a game worth playing, one that will not be spoiled by its own toxic atmosphere.

That is why Ship of Heroes is destined to succeed.

We’re an MMO unlike any other, one that gamers of all ages, levels of ability, and monetary situations can enjoy together. We set the example for our audience; our dev team is honest and open, and reliably delivers on its promises – so even when we have setbacks, we’ve earned the trust that we’ve been given. We work closely with our community, seeking feedback and improving the game with it. We are committed to moderating our community so that negative and destructive players will be asked to shape up or leave, allowing everyone else to relax and have fun.

We’ve released eighteen videos and counting, and anyone can see how much we’ve advanced in the latest ones. We are careful not to overpromise, but what we do promise, you can count on having. Our track record has turned some of our most vocal detractors into staunch supporters, and we’ve welcomed them to join us, on our forums and elsewhere.

It is understandable that some players are wary, having been burned by other projects. But being a small studio with excellent management means we do not need a World of Warcraft-style audience of millions to pay for the game, nor do we need Kickstarter funding – it would have sped up development, but we are succeeding without it. We are decidedly against lockboxes and pay-to-win cash shops; we may offer extra costume pieces at some point down the road, but nothing that gives people who pay extra a combat advantage in the game. Ship of Heroes will not be free; we’re on a subscription model, which both deters those who don’t really care about the game from playing, and ensures that we won’t ever need lockboxes to be financially stable.

Ship of Heroes will go into Beta in 2018, and donors of $25 or more will be welcome to play. But the ship is boarding now. The community is already active, and we are making key decisions right now. To join the discussion, come join our forums – the devs and I are on the boards every day.

We hope that the launch of Ship of Heroes will be more than a rebirth in the superhero MMORPG genre, that it will encourage a new path for the industry overall, for MMOs of all types. But in creating an idyllic universe where you can be a powerful character of your own flexible design, where better to start than with superheroes, and what backdrop could be more limitless than the expanse of space?

To players of the old great and dearly-departed MMORPGs, to newer players who never saw what a positive community was like, and to other dev houses – I extend the invitation. Join us in our mission to resurrect positive community. Join us in launching your own unique games, if you have the inclination. Help us create an MMORPG that is not just fun to play mission-to-mission, but is also the kind of place where you might want to hang out and stay a while. Together, we can reshape the world.

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32 Comments on "Exclusive: Ship of Heroes’ Casey McGeever on the superhero MMORPG genre"

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Suikoden

I don’t think that mentioning Master X Master or Marvel Heroes really had anything to do with the rest of what he had to say. Neither of those shut down because they were Superhero MMOs. Master X Master only had a character from a super hero MMO, and Marvel Heroes had a pervert for a CEO. Coincident he doesn’t mention the other 2 that are running. I think he was stretching to make a point with that first paragraph that he shouldn’t have tried to make, or should have taken more time to actually make it.

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Magnus Itland

I think these are admirable goals, and I hope other companies will also concentrate on delivering on their promises, build a healthy community, and have a simple, honest payment model.

(Unlike, say, a certain Asian game where I recently made a Free to Play alt and went out in the forest to harvest resources, only to find my tool breaking instantly. Buy a new tool, try again, break again. Realize I was not welcome despite F2P being an advertised option. Asian politeness perhaps, but not something I hope to see again.)

That said, as much as I look forward to Ship of Heroes (if I live that long, I am already 59), I don’t expect it to have hundreds of thousands of players. More like hundreds of players. If Heroic Games are willing to keep the servers running for those, I’ll certainly be willing to pay a monthly subscription fee. But I don’t think having to ban unruly players is going to be a day job at Heroic Games.

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MrNastyButler

I would like to see this game succeed. I do like what I’m seeing from this group but I’m still wary. Positive, but wary none the less. I look forward to seeing what it holds in the future and hope it comes out well.

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Utakata

Now this has just perked up my pigtails. <3

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Chosenxeno .

Backed this game months ago. The fact that it has announced a Subscription Model just made my choice that much better. They are also avoiding the Hardcore Archaic Design Philosophies non-sense.

This is the 3rd MMORPG to announce a sub-model. Pantheon and, surprisingly, Ashes of Creation. Ashes seems a bit more big budget so I dunno if Sub will work for them tbh. It would be nice to see them crush it to the point of being able to stay a sub.

At any rate it’s nice to see sub returning. Raw Sub is the only honest payment model. Buy to play isn’t too bad either. Free To Pay(I know what I said:P) is cancer…

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Bhagpuss Bhagpuss

It irritates me that developers feel the need to bash other MMOs and the genre in general in order to make their own game sound in some way more evolved or refined. I don’t know what MMOs Mr McGeever has been playing recently but I don’t recognize his negative characterization of the hobby as I experienced it in 2017. The communities in the MMOs I play are considerably LESS toxic than the communities back in the so-called Golden Age he harks back to. There’s some very selective remembering going on here.

I hope Ship of Heroes does well. I hope it builds and holds the kind of community he describes. If he thinks communities like that are either rare or vanishing in the wider hobby, however, he is very much mistaken.

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Utakata

I don’t think he was bashing other MMO’s though…unless you and your /upvoters feel that stating the facts of the situation outside the anecdotal is considered bashing. o.O

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Dug From The Earth

I dont think devs should bash other games as a whole, however i think gameplay elements IN those games are (and should be) 100% open to criticism. If devs think they can do better, announce it. If they cant put their money where their mouth is, then it will their own downfall.

Gameplay mechanics are a huge part of what make or break a good game, and its important that people are aware of both the good or bad that exist in a game. That way they can avoid the bad, but mostly, so that devs will make active effort to move away from bad aspects, and towards the good.

The communities in the MMOs I play are considerably LESS toxic than the communities back in the so-called Golden Age he harks back to. There’s some very selective remembering going on here.

I have similar memories to what he references. In 1998, I played Asherons Call 1 for over 2 years. I also played Anarchy Online in 2001-2002, and Dark Age of camelot from 2001 to 2004. I personally experienced far fewer toxic players in all 3 of those games, especiall Asherons Call 1. Compared to today, the games i play (WoW, GW2, and ESO) where i cant 5 minutes without seeing toxic behavior in chat, or a toxic player in at least 1 group im in during the few hours I play each day that directly affects my experience playing.

Good communities can exist in any game, no matter how bad or toxic a rep it has earned (legit or not). He isnt suggesting that these dont exist.. he is suggesting that the are scarce in comparison to golden age games. Im not sure which games you played “in the golden age”, but the two things golden age games had going for them were this:

1. There were considerably less players in golden age games. Asherons Call 1 for instance had a peak subscription count of only 120k players. (in comparison, look at the million plus players some games have today. Proportionally speaking, fewer players means fewer trolls and toxic people you are likely to bump into.

2. Golden Age games were not just more complex (both from the sake of being complex, and lack of intuitive design), but often also more challenging on purpose. Many were designed with groups being a requirement in order to succeed at things (and not just raids). This required people to work together much more so than in todays games. This wasnt just “Mythic mode end game raiding” either. This was just the normal day to day activities in games that required players working together. If you were willing to be a team player, you really didnt have any place to be in the game. (remember, games back in the day, were more of a geek/nerd thing to do, so if all you cared about doing was trolling, it wasnt likely you had the game, or even a computer, to do it on. Now days a person who is just looking to be a D-bag, probably has at least 1 computer (or console) at their disposal. Toss in all the F2P games, and there is no barrier preventing them from jumping in the game just to be a toxic jerk to others.

So when he makes comments about community and how mmorpgs used to be in regards to it, he is accurate in what he says. Todays games are hugely focused on making nearly everything something you can play solo, and most of what you rely on, something you can 100% self sustain for.

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IronSalamander8 .

The only one of these 3 super hero MMOs I backed was the kickstarter for City of Titans and it’s made progress but has been slow and I don’t expect much out of it. I barely even check the KS updates I get. This one I heard of thanks to this site and it looks like it has more done than CoT but time will tell. Also when I write CoT I think Circle of Thorns by default! CoX had issues for sure but I no other MMO has had the same fun factor for me over these years.

MMOs in general are no longer coming out at a rapid pace and while with games like WoW and FF14 it’s certainly not dead but it seems a bad time to add new ones and especially when superhero MMOs seem to only enjoy limited success. With a smaller budget on top of that one wonders how well these games will do despite my own hope that they will in fact succeed despite this.

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overbyte

With a 100k subs a small studio could run indefinitely with no problems. These sorts of communities tend to be very dedicated and willing to support ‘their’ game so I don’t think they will struggle. Add to that the mmo market is much bigger than it was during the CoX days and there’s a recipe for a successful game

I think the model of a smaller studio with smaller populations (100k Vs 1m subs) is great and much more realistic than the ridiculous bullish expectations of the last 5 years or so

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Denice J. Cook

Nice!

I’m looking forward to trying this one once open beta hits.

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Dug From The Earth

As much as I agree with many of the points made here, I just dont think its going to be a large enough of a success in the mmorpg genre as a whole, because the game is going to come across as too much of an indie, niche mmorpg… and what the genre needs is a more quality triple A game… or more specifically, more of a general super hero success, not one that is mostly targeting a smaller demographic of players from ages long past.

Im willing to be that of the super hero fans out there (which there are many), a large portion of those are gamers of some sort. Despite this however, we will probably see pretty low numbers when it comes to player base size for this game. This is speculation of course, but it just feels like the super hero hype in the industry right now (the popular stuff), is on the other side of the spectrum for what is driving this games design.

As a gamer, I respect what smaller devs teams want to do with an mmorpg, but very few of these ever get very far. Hell, very few triple A mmorpgs get very far. As the article above states, community is important, and without many people buying and playing the game, its much harder to build that community aspect. The dev team may not need 7 million players to pay their bills, but a healthy mmorpg community needs a decent amount of players to feel healthy enough to persist.

If this game was setting out from the start to be a new and original, modern looking and feeling mmorpg, id have slightly larger hopes for it. But as it stands, it already feels dated most likely due to its attempt to mirror a game from 13+ years ago and pander largely to that games audience.

This goes out to all (3?) of the studios making these super hero mmorpgs: “There are more gamers out there who want a super hero mmorpg, that have never played City of Heroes.”

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overbyte

I couldn’t disagree more. The problem with mmos over the last decade has been that since all the studios saw wows success they all thought that they could throw a studio, a silly budget and a license at it and rake in the loot instead of building a community with slow and steady progress and realistic expectations. Before wow, mmos had 1-200k. After wow any game with fewer than a million players has been considered a failure which is a tragedy as teams get cut and people declare the games dead. Positive moves like server merges feed ammo to armchair producers and trolls and make studios prematurely pull games based on the negative vibe around them (and subsequent stock price issues) more than their actual numbers.

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Dug From The Earth

The problem with mmos over the last decade has been that since all the studios saw wows success they all thought that they could throw a studio, a silly budget and a license at it and rake in the loot instead of building a community with slow and steady progress and realistic expectations

This was 100% accurate…. 7+ years ago.

The age of the “Lets make a quick WoW clone” was rampant in the mmorpg industry afters WoW’s initial success, and for a good 5-6 years after WoW had been out. After that point however, and all the failures of said “wow clones”, the industry realized that it wasnt a successful strategy, and aside from the numerous asian mmorpgs, we stopped really seeing this sort of thing much, if at all.

The games that have been coming out over the last 5 years, have not fit this “WoW clone” concept that existed in the past. Sure, there will always be elements of past games, in newer games, but the age of the quick and dirty WoW spin off is long past.

Maybe thats part of the problem. People still think that whats wrong with the mmorpg genre currently, is that its still the “wow clone” issue.

Before wow, mmos had 1-200k. After wow any game with fewer than a million players has been considered a failure which is a tragedy as teams get cut and people declare the games dead

Here is another misconception. Games back in the day, like EQ1, were fine at 200k players. Why? Because “Gaming” in general, wasnt nearly as popular as it is today. The number of actual people who played video games, was far fewer than today. The number of those gamers that actually played mmorpgs, was even less.

Today however, the number of gamers out there is immense, and the number of online gamers is so much more than when those older games had a mere 200k players.

So yes, given the number of gamers out there, that play these games, if an online mmorpg barely has 200k players, its not a very successful game, unless it intentionally was only catering to a small niche portion of the players out there.

Which goes to the whole “super hero” thing. The number of gamers out there is huge. The number of gamers who like super heroes is probably pretty big too.

To make a modern, super hero, online video game, and not be able to draw in a decent portion of that HUGE customer base, is kind of a failure. Unless of course, you are only targeting a very small portion of that player base on purpose… such as just those people who played City of Heroes. Then its just intentional. Which is where my discontent comes from. I want a modern, super hero mmorpg that is large and played by many, rather than small and niche. Small and niche is exactly what all 3 of these studios making super hero mmorpgs are doing.

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overbyte

my point is that they don’t need to. Small and niche is all they need and want and is a better business model than big, gnarly and dead in 5 years.

Who knows. Maybe someone will tangle with the mouse and try another marvel mmo and we can watch the licence fee turn it into another 100m dollar lockbox infested flop because it didn’t retain 10m players

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Dug From The Earth

Well, best of luck to them then. Seems to me though, that smaller studios with smaller games, have just as much (if not more) trouble keeping their small and niche game alive and kicking, as bigger games.

I guess the difference is, when a bigger get gets shut down, the shock value always seems much larger.

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overbyte

Could be :)

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Chosenxeno .

It might not dominate the market but this game and as much as it annoys me, Pantheon will see success in their Specific Niche Target Audiences. What you are actually seeing is the future of MMORPGs imo. I said many years ago that what EvE is/was the future: Niche MMORPGs seeing success due to a very dedicated playerbase.
I was also saying that Devs need to be smart enough to know they are Niche. Looks like they got the memo. This is the future.

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Dug From The Earth

I hope that its just the near future, and not the long term.

Seems both big and small studios arent willing to risk trying for bigger and better mmorpgs. If they fail, its a huge loss, vs say… making another survival game that they can cover development costs for just during early access. Hey, they can even still slap on the “MMO” tag to it and have it up there in the charts with other mmorpgs.

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Crowe

I agree with some of the points you’re making there. But I think that a studio who plans/designs well could make a MMO for both the players that want a superhero MMO *and* the ones that have never played CoH.

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Dug From The Earth

Thats what I was getting at. There needs to be a studio whose goal is to make a NEW, modern super hero mmo, that isnt pandering to an ex-mmorpg player base (ie: CoH)

Unfortunately, all 3 of the studios working on super hero mmorpgs, are all doing them as a type of “bringing City of Heroes back to life” of game, each with their own spin on things. That might be great for ex-CoH players who might be wanting to play more CoH, even if its only partially similar, but for the rest of the super hero gamer fans out there, that nostalgia appeal is completely absent.

We need a super hero mmorpg that can appeal to both the ex-CoH players AND general super hero lovers/gamers at the same time. Unfortunately, none of the 3 games in development manage to do this very well, if at all.

Any if any of the 3 current studios tries to say otherwise, its just a blantant PR move. The games they are making speak loud enough on their own to debunk this.

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Chosenxeno .

” doing them as a type of “bringing City of Heroes back to life” of game, each with their own spin on things”.

That the Genre. When something is “The Benchmark” of a niche people try to put their spin on it. Actually. That’s gaming. See: PUBG

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Dug From The Earth

Thats not a genre, thats a marketing strategy.

And more than once in this past year, marketing strategies have proven to be the bane of the gaming industry.

Just to follow up on this mindset some… Yes, its common to “clone” or copy a game. Typically however, this happens to NEWER, popular games.

You referenced PUBG.

PUBG JUST left early access. Only a few months back, another company tried to “Clone” the PUBG concept… Fortnite.

Another example.. Survival games. Ark hit it off big.. tons of sales on steam… shortly after, we have a HUGE assortment of clones and similar survival games. All within a years time.

Now lets take Ship of Heroes… which is trying to follow a “benchmark” of another semi popular game…. only… its a game from 13+ years ago.

See where the pattern was broken here? There is no “success” to cash in on here. CoH hasnt been a success for many many years, even during the last few before it got shut down. The marketing strategy to copy/clone the popularity (ie: see PUBG) of a specific game, is to do so WHILE that game is a big hit. You simply cannot see that logic or strategy here with what Ship of Heroes (or the other 2 games) are doing with city of heroes.

Sallidar
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Sallidar

PUBG was a clone, or have you forgotten H1Z1? The trendsetter isn’t always the first game to market. SoH will have it’s chance and presuming it will fail before it’s even had a chance is something that is far too prevalent in the gaming community. You are not able to tell the future, so give the game a chance to make it’s mark, or not.

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Dug From The Earth

PUBG was a clone, or have you forgotten H1Z1? The trendsetter isn’t always the first game to market

And WoW was a clone of EQ and other past mmorpgs. Thumbs up on accurately making a point. Perhaps we can get back on topic now which is specifically about how the problem with the mmorpg genre is/isnt because of the craze to clone/copy WoW.

You are not able to tell the future

lol, its called making opinionated predictions. It sparks discussions which is part of what this forum is for. I never claimed my opinion on the games future success to be fact, but again, props on accurately pointing out that I, in fact, cant tell the future. At least I can go forward knowing the truth about my lack of supernatural vision.

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A Dad Supreme

and what the genre needs is a more quality triple A game…

I think Red Dead 2 will probably be the one that could do this if it’s half as good as GTAV.

Many people are not only tired of sub-AAA MMOs, but a lot are sour on Asian MMOs as well, which is where most of them come from these days.

A good, solid Western MMO with a new focus (Cowboys!) could be just the shot in the arm this industry needs to reboot.

Nathaniel Downes
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Nathaniel Downes

Red Dead 2 isn’t an MMO.

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A Dad Supreme

Red Dead 2 isn’t an MMO.

In the past I’d agree, but the way the term has been thrown around recently, it’s definitely an MMO just by ticking a few boxes.

# dug: not sure what the genre needs is a superhero MMO (to stay on topic with Crowe’s statement) to pump life into it.

Even when we had three superhero games running, none of them blew the doors off even at their most popular in terms of subscriptions.

Most of the best selling ones at least out of the gate, have been non-superhero based MMOs.

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Dug From The Earth

Crowe seems to be suggesting that they believe there is a studio out there that can make a good Super Hero mmo for BOTH players that have and have NOT played City of Heroes.

Here is the actual quote

I think that a studio who plans/designs well could make a MMO for both the players that want a superhero MMO *and* the ones that have never played CoH

You suggested Red Dead 2….

imo, that was sorta out of place

Now… DOES the mmorpg genre NEED a super hero mmo in general? Hard to say. Id love for there to be one. But what the genre needs as far as mmorpg theme, is highly subjective. Does the genre need something specific if its got that specific thing, just something thats several years older? Depends on if that older game is still relevant and competitive or not. For example, I would consider Champions Online to be obsolete as a contender, however DCUO seems to be still holding on to the edge of the cliffside.

I think when people are looking for something more recent however, they want something that is on solid ground, and by solid, I dont just mean how many copies it sold through steam. I mean reliable player base, current replay value, remaining lifespan, live developer support, etc. Many gamers have already played the hell out of games that have been out for the last 5+ years. Eyes are looking towards the horizon for new (and hopefully better) things… just in general. It doesnt have to be super hero oriented. But for the sake of this article, and thread, i really would like it to be a super hero game.

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Dug From The Earth

Nor is it a super hero game… (user created mods could change that though lol – see ironman and hulk mods in GTA)

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IronSalamander8 .

I loved CoX but I can’t really argue with you here. It DOES indeed feel like cashing in on nostalgia for that game. It had some great positives but things have changed over these years and they need to acknowledge that even if they do wish to celebrate the old game and be aware of that as they go forward.

On a somewhat related note I have recently acquired all the classic Doctor Who available on DVD as a fan of the show from the late 70s and on. Some of them are as good as I remember but some… not so much. Nostalgia can blind one to the faults of the thing one is celebrating and they can easily fall flat if they do.

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Mike Davenport

Not to pour salt, but it’s what I have said all along. As spiritual successors, they are catering to people’s nostalgia moreso than the expectations of a AAA game. I’m sure all three will be good, but if you get that “Indie” vib, I think it’s well placed.

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