TMGR [11]: Mount & Blade Warband Multiplayer

This was a totally different night from my Napoleonic 20mins, but it doesn’t seem to make so much difference which night you play on the original vanilla game.

I loaded in and was browsing the multiplayer servers in under a minute. I chose the busiest server – it’s always a siege server where one group of plays defends a castle from another group of attacking players – and loaded in. Unfortunately, it was a server that uses custom maps, and big custom maps at that. Cue 2 mins wasted loading that map! That left me a bit miffed, but raring to get going once I was in.

This one was a round nearing its end. I joined the defenders and got stuck in.

To make the most of my small time I decided to go as infantry fighter. I generally like to warm up as an archer or crossbowman on Mount & Blade’s multiplayer, but infantry is where it gets really exciting, so I cut straight to the chase. Funnily enough, I never really play as cavalry online which is a bit ironic for a game called Mount & Blade!

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True to form, the infantry fight was intense. There was 4 mins left, where we were holding a gate from hordes of Nord (essentially Vikings) attacking players. I held it with basic armour but a big shield and long spear. It really did the job and I got a very respectable 4 or so kills for my one life. I find other players on the vanilla multiplayer aren’t so good against spears, which gives me a bit of an advantage as Napoleonic War’s muskets act like spears when you use them in melee. 

We held that gate, and that was awesome feeling when the timer hit 0. There we stood in the gate, undefeated like heroes.

A few seconds later, the next round loaded and it was a much more difficult map to defend. A sort of round village, with our flag to defend at the centre of a half walled square in the middle. The enemy all went as cavalry and trampled us. The first round was over in under a minute, they rushed us before we could even organise, which wasn’t so great.

Next round we were ready though, and I managed to take down 8 horsemen before I got caught by one of their lances. I was dead proud of that.

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Just then the timer went. That has to be the cruelest 20min ending timer yet. I really struggled to drag myself away, but that I did.

All in all, Mount & Blade Warband’s Multiplayer was great fun. Fighting as infantry was a great choice to get the excitement going fast. The only negative was how difficult it was to tear myself away, I wanted to go on for ages longer. For that, it loses a tiny half point, but for an awesome 20mins I’m happy to give it 4.5 out of 5. 

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Digital Salad – lifeasadigitalsalad.wordpress.com

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Massive MMO battles

I’ve never played EVE Online, but I’ve always followed it with interest. Massive space battles, controlling your own space ship. It sounds right down my alley, but the steep learning curve always put me off. I always like reading blogs about it though.

I recently read about the infamous ‘Bloodbath of B-R5RB’. Catchy name right?

The bloodbath of B-R5RB was a enormous battle in EVE Online fought over 2 days in January 2014. This battle even has its own fully fledged Wikipedia page it was that significant – believed to be the largest online battle ever.

Here’s some of the stats from B-R5RB:

  • 21 hours of sustained conflict involving 7,548 player characters.
  • 74 Titan class ships destroyed. To give this some scale, Titans are the biggest class of ships in EVE Online. Conflicts before B-R5RB generally involved a handful of these juganoughts, and they almost always meant a win for whichever team had one on their side. 74 Titans lost is 1/3 of all Titans ever destroyed in the game – within 21 hours. To give you some scale on a Titan, they’re each 21 times bigger than Captain Picard’s USS Enterprise.
  • The equivalent of 11 trillion ISK (in game currency) of losses overall. That translates to roughly $300,000 real world money.

Ultimately, the attacking Russian coalition smashed the unprepared defending N3 clan. N3 retreated after a stoic stand, but ironically, nothing much changed in the long running war between the factions. The Russian coalition fractured and stalemate across the galaxy followed.

The game’s developer, CCP Games, even marked the battle with a permanent monument, a graveyard of Titan wrecks in the B-R5RB system.

Massive MMO battles are fascinating. That’s partly me talking as something of a ‘numbers’ guy, but also as a gamer as well. It’s an amazing thing that there can be such huge battles on online games.

I was lucky enough to be part of Planetside 2’s world record set on January 24th this year – 1,158 players simultaneously in an online First Person Shooter battle (the most ever). It was a really special experience as a gamer, and although I’ve never been that big a fan of Planetside 2, it remains a real highlight in my gaming life.

How amazing is it that modern MMOs can set such amazing records? Who knows where online gaming goes from here, but it promises to get bigger!

Digital Salad – lifeasadigitalsalad.wordpress.com

Salad Saturday Screenshot [30]

Time for another Saturday Screenshot! This time it’s one from the PS4 collection, from my time playing Assassin’s Creed Unity on Cake Box Fox’s account. We finished the game probably about a month ago now and had a great time with it. Here’s a screenshot:

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Here I am early on in my play through as the Assassin Arno, on a Paris rooftop hanging out with a feline friend that I found.

I thought the occasional cats I found in my play through of Unity were a really nice little touch. What was probably a small afterthought of the developer’s does a world of good in making the game world feel alive.

I for one always enjoyed taking a screenshot of myself with cats whenever I saw them. This one promptly ran off not long after the screenshot.

Talking of Assassins Creed, I’ve been having great fun in the newly released Assassins Creed Syndicate – this time based in London. I love the inter-play between the Frye twins and the London setting is well executed, interesting and alive. I’m planning on doing a blog once I’m finished with it, but for now I’m having far too much fun taking over London as the leader of the Rooks.

Digital Salad – lifeasadigitalsalad.wordpress.com

TMGR [10]: Mount & Blade Full Invasion 2

This is part 2 of my Mount & Blade series of reviews, after last week’s review of the Napoleonic Wars DLC. This week it’s the Full Invasion 2 mod.

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Full Invasion 2 (FI2) is a huge mod, and arguably one of the most popular of the wide variety of free ones out there. FI2 is the same gameplay, with the one mode of co-operatively holding out against increasingly difficult waves of bots.

The major difference between this and my favourite Napoleonic Wars server that I mentioned last week is that this takes place in all sorts of odd settings. You can hold out as the Spartans from the movie 300 against an invasion of anyone from the Persians to Modor from Lord of the Rings to modern army soldiers as just one example.

First things first, it took 5 mins 30secs to load this mod up.

FI2 is a massive mod of countless totally new textures and whatnots. In total its probably bigger than the original game it’s built on – and that hits the load time massively. It was incredibly frustrating waiting on that load-in screen with the time ticking down.

It wasn’t over there though. I picked the busiest server and loaded in. It was WW2 soldiers versus an invasion of skeleton bots. Sounded fun and nice and halloween-y. Trouble is, you only spawn in once a boss is killed, and a boss only spawns every 3 rounds. You guessed it – I loaded in just after they’d killed a boss.

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Partly because of my own bad timing, it wasn’t until 14 mins and 30secs into my 20mins that I actually spawned in to fight. That’s essentially ¾ of my time gone to loading and waiting. Not good! Even if you ignore that I was doing a TMGR, nearly 15mins from pressing play to actually playing just isn’t good enough for a game full stop!

Once I was in to the fight I was having great fun though. I picked to play as a German sniper and started dropping the skeletons. In just 5 mins I managed to kill 14 of them and got through about 4 rounds; we even got a boss kill in. It was great fun working together as a team once I was in, but the trouble was how long it took to get in.

The best game in the world would still be rubbish in practice with a massive load-in time. One of the Digital Salad rule of games design there! 

Sadly I’m going to have to give Full Invasion 2 a 2 out of 5. It pains me, because if the 5mins I had with it were spread to even just 15mins of the 20mins I had to give to it, it would’ve probably been a 4.5 out of 5. After all though, the whole point of these reviews is to be time limited, and Full Invasion 2, despite being awesome, isn’t kind to a time limited gamer.

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Digital Salad – lifeasadigitalsalad.wordpress.com

TMGR [9]: Mount & Blade Napoleonic Wars

Onwards with the 20min game reviews – and this one will kick off a series of Mount & Blade themed 20mins. The game I often rave so much about, how does it stand up to the tough test of the 20min review?

Also, Happy Guy Fawkes Night!

I did this first 20mins on a Wednesday night as a quick disclaimer. As boring as this may sound, Wednesday night is the worst night to play on a public Napoleonic Wars server as it’s the night all the regiments do their training and that leaves the public servers pretty empty of excitement. Regiments aren’t my kind of gig, they’re way to serious for my liking, but whatever floats your boat I guess!

Anywho, I loaded into one of my favourite servers, the Roleplay server. Two teams of real players face off against each other on a battlefield. One life each, 200 players, and a strict set of rules that you have to follow officers and don’t kill musicians or surrenderers.

From pressing the play button I was into and playing in a round within a minute and a half. That’s damn quick, so extra kudos there, and it meant plenty of extra time to play! There was a bit of good luck on my part, as a round had just ended so I spawned straight in to the start of a new one.

I loaded in to a snowy map as an Austrian infantryman against the French. First round we were holding a church and got annihilated by some French cavalry which encircled us. That was mainly just 10 minutes of firing in the vague direction of a far away target and then being trampled by the overwhelming French cavalry – not the most fun. 10mins remained and I was starting to worry 20mins wouldn’t be enough to give the game I rave about so much justice!

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I got two more rounds in in the next 10mins though, which were quick and brutal wins for us Austrians holding the church – much more fun!

I think this 20min review highlighted the slight problem of Napoleonic Wars, and some other games. It can be really incredibly boring sometimes (actually, maybe more than 50% of the time if I’m honest), but those good rounds are so awesome you just want more. You’d be prepared to play for hours of the dull stuff for just 10mins of the awesome stuff. I got 10mins of the dull and 10mins of the good, which is a pretty good ratio.

Because of how addictive I used to find the pull of the good I’ve made a promise to myself to not play if I’m finding it dull. I only keep going if I’ve dropped in to one of those awesome rounds. I can afford to be a picky gamer when there’s so many games vying for my attention out there.

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I guess Napoleonic Wars was lucky in this 20mins that I got so much awesome gameplay in. That said, the score has to be based on the 20mins I had with the game, and aside from a slightly slow start I had great fun and at least 10mins of fantastic team based Napoleonic warfare. It was the Mount & Blade series at it’s best for that time, and for that I give it 4 out of 5.

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Digital Salad – lifeasadigitalsalad.wordpress.com

GW2 Heart of Thorns release – the free to play perspective

GW2 has had the mother of all updates. The expansion, Hearth of Thorns, has been released and alongside that the free base game has had a major update.

I’ve not brought the Heart of Thorns expansion personally. I’ve only just been getting in to GW2 again recently, but the stuff on offer in the expansion didn’t appeal to me all that much. That’s where I stand at the moment, but it doesn’t mean to say that I won’t ever buy it though!

Why I Game has written up a great post about the fun he’s been having since the expansion released. I’d recommend a read for the ins and outs of how the expansion plays!

All in all, the multiple releases have definitely gone down incredibly successfully when you look at it technically. It also coincided with the seasonal Halloween stuff being dropped, which in itself is a big patch. That there haven’t been any major bugs or crashes is a major technical success for the developers.

I’ve not purchased the expansion though, so I’ve been playing in the good ol’ free to play base game. Here’s my perspective on the changes that’ll affect me.

One of the first things that really caught my attention was the reduction in Dungeon rewards. They’ve reduced the experience and gold gained from completing a dungeon by 1/3, when dungeons had already been hit by previous nerfs. I saw some conspiracy theories out there that this is all part of a scheme from Arena Net to phase out dungeons. Whilst I’m not going to go fully tin-foil hat on this change, I think it will inevitably lead to the numbers of players doing dungeons phasing out into nothingness, which is a shame – I’ve always enjoyed the GW2 dungeons.

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Player versus Player got some very overdue attention as well. There’s a league, a new reward structure and a whole new gameplay mode. Sadly though, the PvP scene on GW2 is long dead, and I very much doubt, even if these changes are really good in practice (I admittedly haven’t tried them out personally), that there’s much chance of resurrecting it.

For me, the real big changes have been with World versus World. I’ve basically become a wvw’er since coming back to GW2. The borderlands were always favourite maps of mine, but they’ve now been replaced with 3 enormous maps themed on the new expansion.

I’ve got a few concerns with the new borderlands maps. Firstly, there’s a lot of PvE stuff thrown in there, some of which is even expansion specific. Why put PvE stuff that’s designed for people with the expansion into the free to play WvW? That doesn’t make too much sense to me.

I’m also concerned by the size of the maps – they are absolutely huge. I play on Seafarer’s Rest – a sever at the top end of the European rankings. As far as servers go, we’re not the busiest, but we fill WvW better than the majority of servers. In the time I’ve played on the new borderlands maps over the past two days we were rattling around and hardly ever saw the enemies. That’s not good for WvW! I worry that lower tiered servers will struggle to put a serious forces into even one of the new borderlands, which will end up skewing the rankings further towards the more populated servers instead of the more skilful servers.

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That aside, I do quite like the design of the new borderlands. They look different from anything else I’ve seen in GW2, but on the whole I like it. I just wished they were smaller, and with less PvE clutter!

My favourite WvW map is the Edge of the Mists. It’s not very popular with most hardcore wvw’ers, but I like the variety of it. As the Edge of the Mists is the only map where players are drawn from a jumble of all the servers, it’s almost always guaranteed to have people in it and there’ll almost always be a different experience when you play. Let’s face it, hardcore WvW can sometimes be incredibly dull, and I find EOTM far less so personally.

EOTM has been hit with a major nerf in this update. The experience and loot drops have been reduced massively, which to be fair they were disproportionately higher than the other WvW maps. My main problem with this, though, is that EOTM was also usually quite busy with people levelling characters up, so I’m worried that this nerf will drive EOTM player numbers right down. Ultimately though, I really just wished that rather than hammering the EOTM players with a reward nerf, they’d just upped the rewards for the other WvW maps.

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Arena Net have a strong tendency to nerf to balance gameplay – and they’ve done it both with dungeons and the EOTM with this update. I understand the technical need, but I really think as far as gameplay goes it would have been better to bump the rewards up elsewhere rather than punishing a certain group of players.

All in all, I’m a bit disappointed so far by the changes made by the update to the free to play game.

Most of all, I’ve been surprised to see that next to none of the players I used to play with have come back. None of the three guilds I was a member of have any active members other than me any more (and one was once a pretty active one of 40/50 people). My friends list remains a sea of greyed out names. That’s sad, but it’s also a way that the expansion hasn’t been successful. So far, old players who have been leaving in their droves previously haven’t been enticed back by any of these changes. It’s still very early days to judge that, but so far it’s a little concerning.

Digital Salad – lifeasadigitalsalad.wordpress.com

Salad Saturday Screenshot [29]

I’ve always loved my Saturday Screenshot feature, and I’m bringing it back with a favourite screenshot from my recent gaming.

This is a screenshot from Mount & Blade: Napoleonic Wars. One of the most popular servers these days is the role-play server – which has a very strict set of rules. You have one life per round, and two armies of real players fight each other to the death. You have to follow your officer (unless they get killed, as they often do!) and you can’t kill surrenderers.

Needless to say, the role-play server requires a heck of a lot of admins to keep 200 unruly players in check. When it works, it can work wonderfully. Other times, I just skip on by and head to my absolute favourite server – the bot server, where you hold out against bot hordes with other players.

Anyway; this screenshot is from one of the best battles I’ve been part of on the role-play server. I played as standard French line infantry and followed my officer (like the well behaved player I am!) and he led us across a bridge over a river dividing the battlefield in half. Immediately over the bridge was the wooden hut you can see on the left of the screenshot.

There were roughly 20-30 of us hunkered down in there. However, the entire bulk of our Austrian opponents had spotted us and were coming right at us. Majorly out numbered and well within range of their artillery, it looked futile.

Needless to say, we managed to hold out bravely despite the odds – and this screenshot is just as we’ve emerged from our hut having broken their attack. Just a handful of Austrians remain to chase down. Definitely one of my best gaming moments!

Digital Salad – lifeasadigitalsalad.wordpress.com

TMGR [8]: Napoleon Total War

I wanted to return to one of my favourite features – the 20min game review. I give myself just 20mins with a game and review it based purely on the experience I had. Lets face it, we don’t all have hours to sink in to games, so how does a game feel when you only have a handful of minutes to dedicate to it?

Let’s find out how Napoleon: Total War fares!

I all of the Total War games apart from the most recent outing – Atilla. As much as that might make me look like a big series fan, I wouldn’t say so. I mean, I was definitely pretty into them as a teenager, but they never really fully charmed me even then. I’ve never had more than one loaded on my PC at once, and I’ve never put all that many hours into them. Napoleon is the main exception, which I used to play multiplayer with a friend which was great fun.

I could never work out why I didn’t get on with Total War games as much as I should have done on paper, but I think this 20mins has really helped me work that out a bit more.

So here’s my after action report of how the 20mins went.

I set myself up as a small force of French, under attack from a much larger force of British on a map based on the Spanish peninsular war. We had good artillery and other than a unit of elite Old Guard, just a handful of standard line infantry regiments.

2015-07-12_00003I dug in and waited for the British to come. Their cavalry came first, already shaken by my artillery, they took one volley of musket fire from my lines and ran – they never actually finished their charge. My men were confident and warmed up – and they’d need to be for the horde of British line infantry coming for them. Just then the British artillery started firing as well.

My artillery were crucial, cutting huge lines through their clumped up infantry as they slowly advanced in the high of the Spanish midday sun (they were exhausted before they even reached my lines).

I used my one unit of weak cavalry to sneak around the British lines and take out their artillery – giving my infantry some breathing space to ready for the infantry assault.

When the British finally arrived to face my lines they were broken and didn’t take all that much fighting until they completely routed. A regrouped cavalry charge took out my Old Guard, but the line did a fantastic job of facing them off.

The 20mins finished just as I was charging down their last unit – some plucky riflemen who’d stayed far back from the fight.

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As fantastic as the battle was, I felt like 20mins just didn’t give it justice. I’ve managed so much in 20mins of other games, but on Total War I couldn’t even finish one custom battle.

When Mount & Blade: Napoleonic Wars can give me a similar kick to Total War, I know which one comes off the best every time when I’m sitting choosing which game to play. Not that Napoleon: Total War is a bad game in the slightest, it’s just very greedy on time!

Time for the score.

I had really great fun in the custom battle I (nearly) finished. Although it showed me why I always got on a bit uneasily with the Total War series – how greedy on time they are – I still had a great 20mins. For that reason I’m going to give it 4 out of 5.
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Digital Salad – lifeasadigitalsalad.wordpress.com

Returning to Guild Wars 2

I’d been tempted to load up GW2 ever since I got my new pc back in January. The game had lost its charm for me a while back, and nothing that had happened since had really been any draw for me. I was envisioning a quick load in to remind myself of my beloved characters and see them in fancy graphics. Turns out, it didn’t quite go that way.

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It’d been pretty much 2 years since I’d last loaded in to GW2. What should’ve been an age away, where I was some sort of retro throwback totally out of the loop hasn’t really been the case. I’m actually grateful for that, but I can see why it’s driven older players away in their droves.

I think GW2 is an MMO that survives on quite high player turn over, and the recent switch to Free To Play fits with that. People sign up, want their characters to look cool so spend some real money and then it doesn’t really matter if they drop it because you’ve made your money. The visuals remain stunning, and plenty enough to keep new players coming for now.

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How’ve I been finding GW2 to play though?

Well, I’m taking it easy. Back in the days where I played it pretty non-stop for a little over a year from release, I racked up well over 1000 hours. That’s an immense amount of time to put into it, but it didn’t feel like it at the time. I had a lot of spare free time and a lot of good real life and online friends who I shared the experience of GW2 with (heck, I even made some really great new online friends through GW2 as well!)

GW2 is a totally different experience for me now. No-one I know plays anymore. In fact, of the dozens of friends on my friends list from back then, only one still plays and I only faintly knew him as he was a well known player across our server. So, it’s more of a solitary experience now.

I also really, really, really don’t have the same kind of spare free time I had back in the early days of GW2.

All of this means that I’ve been approaching GW2 in a totally different way. I’ve been playing in hour chunks roughly every day, so a little and often approach, and making sure to do whatever I fancy doing.

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At the moment I’m mainly focusing on levelling up my re-rolled necromancer. My little evil asura, called Obitex, is fast levelling up thanks to the vastly increased drops of ‘Tomes of Knowledge’ (essentially a free level up). It also doesn’t seem as much of a grind if I pop on and get a level once a night.

I’m really enjoying playing some Edge of the Mists World vs World. Often it’s just a glorified champion train (which is great for levelling up) but just when you get settled into the swing of it there’ll be one server that decides to make a stand to spice things up. So far, I’m enjoying the pace of it and I’m hoping to finally get round to saving up enough money to buy a commander tag so I can lead groups of my own in World vs World.

Digital Salad – lifeasadigitalsalad.wordpress.com

TMGR [6 + 1]: GTA Online

This 20min review is more of an add-on to last week’s, hence the 6+1! I played this 20mins straight after I played the 20mins of GTA V’s single player. Baring in mind how much I didn’t enjoy that 20mins, that’s probably affected how I felt about this 20mins in comparison.

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I spawned into the same world as before, but after a much longer 4 minute loading time (not as bad as feared but certainly way too long!).

The first noticeable difference was, I was me, DigitalSalad in his biker jacket with his bright pink guns. I was playing as my guy, with the personality I gave him and it felt so much better than the single player straight off for that reason. I’ve definitely been spoiled by the level of personalisation out there in games these days. I completely understand why GTA V’s single player restricts it in the name of the narrative, but GTA Online’s customisation options felt like a genuine relief in comparison. 

First thing, I checked what the daily was. ‘Steal a vehicle from the military base’ popped up – one of my favourite things to do whether it’s a daily task or not. Cue a few minutes drive to the military base in my armoured car, a jump over the fence and I was away in a stolen fighter jet – part 1 of 3 for the daily done. Someone else was around in their own stolen fighter jet from the base as well, so we had a quick dogfight that ended up with both of us dead – good fun with another player which I’d begun to lose hope with all the hackers about.

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Part 2 of the daily I chose to do was a ‘Flight School’ mission. I chose to do one where your engine cuts out in a jet plane and you have to land safely on a runway without power. Quick and easy – I always love trying to land planes in extreme conditions on GTA. The flying is one of my favourite activities, alongside the off-road driving.

All of that stuff done and I still had a big chunk of time left! I filled this up with a mad rampage (what can I say!).

A little flavour of my mad rampages
A little flavour of my mad rampages

All in all, GTA Online felt so much better than the single player experience I’d had in the 20 minutes beforehand. I actually had a good experience with the other players as well for a change. That said, I really need to learn that I can play Online solo. It seems to me like that’d be a good option as my go-to play style for GTA V. I much prefer playing Online – but I can do that without other players irritating me or hacking the game!

As always, it’s time for the score.

Compared to the single player experience of GTA V, Online was miles better. It also helped that I had a particularly good experience in this 20mins of Online compared to a pretty rubbish experience of regular offline. If GTA Online could always be guaranteed to be as fun as it was in this case, in such a concise and time effective way despite the huge load in time, I wouldn’t hesitate to load it up again for many more 20min sessions. The trouble is, in reality I know it isn’t always that way. The rules are the rules though, and my rating is based purely on the 20mins of play that I had.

For this 20mins I’m going to give GTA Online a very well deserved 4.5/5. GTA remains a great game even this long down the line, and still has some great moments. I was lucky enough to have one of them in my Online 20mins.

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Digital Salad – lifeasadigitalsalad.wordpress.com