Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Street Fighter 5 - Hopes and Concerns

Street Fighter 5 is hitting shelves today and I’m not ashamed to admit that it’s the game I’m most personally hyped for in 2016. Given my obvious bias, any review I write should be met with scepticism so I’ll leave it up to the other resources out there to help inform purchasing decisions. In short, I feel that the Street Fighter 5 launch is more like a late beta stages early access and players who primarily play offline (not competitively online) should probably wait a few months for the fully fleshed out story mode. Instead of unpacking that last sentence into a review, I think it would be more useful to outline my hopes and concerns for Street Fighter 5 both now and in the future. 

A new challenger 
With Street Fighter 5, Capcom is taking a different approach to previous entries. Instead of supporting the game with costume DLC and only adding new characters through re-releases, both characters and costumes will be routinely added through scheduled content updates. The main difference here is that players will only need to buy the base game once and will be able to play throughout the lifespan of the game without the need to shell out again for ‘Super’ and ‘Ultra’ versions later. If you don’t care for new costumes and aren’t obsessed with owning every character, the potential investment for gaming time is phenomenal. If you have to have some of the future DLC – maybe your favourite character is released – you will have the option to get it for free by paying with an in-game currency that accrues slowly over time as you play matches. On paper, it seems like a good way to prevent the community from being split with every major release but… 

not that butt
Insert coin 
..too much DLC can be intimidating to new players. Many new players give up on MOBAs because the massive time investment needed to learn the characters as well as the perceived cost to obtain them. Each new character brings a learning curve that encompasses not only how they play but also understanding how existing characters interact with them. Still, character glut isn’t a new problem for fighting games - more pressing than the quantity of DLC is the pricing of it. Price points can be a huge bone of contention and can create a toxic consumer/producer relationship. Don’t get me wrong, I think I will prefer the DLC schedule with a steady drip of new content over the alternative of sporadic content avalanches but Capcom will need to ensure that pricing will be fair for players who pick up Street Fighter 5 in the future. Ideally, Capcom will bundle older DLC into heavily discounted packs so players who didn’t start on launch day won’t feel like the majority of the game content is locked behind an expensive pay wall. 

One point made in several of the early reviews I’ve read is that gains for the free currency option are too slow with estimates pegging it at about 2000 matches to earn enough for a new character. This is probably a bit high but I also feel Capcom will be reinvesting the money they make from DLC purchases back into the game (after taking a bit for profit of course). I’m comfortable paying a small amount every month to get every new character and using my free currency for cosmetic unlocks if it means the game will continue to be actively patched, balanced, and otherwise improved. That said, DLC pricing is still unconfirmed and my opinion could change dramatically depending on whether we are looking at $3.99 or $8.99 for each character and whether these prices are fixed forever or discounted after some time has passed. 

Mechanics wise, I really like how Street Fighter 5 is addressing the problems of its predecessors. Obtuse tactics like option selects and crouch techs are being pulled out for a more instantly accessible game. In many respects, the round to round combat is closer to Street Fighter 2 than Street Fighter 4 with a stronger emphasis on positioning and anticipation over flashy combos and frame trapping shenanigans. Further, inputs are easier with wider margins on links and more quarter-circle movements for special moves. I find it to be a fairly clear cut case of addition by subtraction and am strongly in favour of the return to fundamentals. I hope that, as new characters are introduced, the philosophy of simplicity stays. It’s no accident that the gameplay is a perfect starting point for players who have only dabbled in fighting games but have been turned off by the high knowledge and execution caps. Capcom wants to attract as many players as possible not only for that sweet DLC money but also to help grow the game as a proper e-sport. More players in the fighting game community can only be seen as a good thing and I’m hotly anticipating the first major tournament where some previously unknown player takes down a big name like Infiltration or Justin Wong. 

Capcom seems dedicated to making Street Fighter 5 the definitive fighting game e-sport. The plan for yearly balance updates (likely after the Capcom cup) and regular content updates should ensure that the meta doesn’t stagnate and, hopefully, should mean that major tournaments are filled with surprise picks and inventive play. The flip side is that we could also end up with tournaments filled with low-level play or cheesy tactics as new characters don’t have enough time to be properly tested in the wild. I’ve no doubt that Capcom will dedicate the resources to ensure the scene has every chance to grow and, if they spot problems with the DLC schedule impacting the quality of tournaments, they should intervene in some way. Many independent tournaments will probably just outright ban new DLC characters until they’ve had a balance pass and I wouldn’t mind Capcom officially adopting this for their sponsored tournaments. 

Capcom is anticipating that Street Fighter 5 will be the only entry in the series for the next three to five years and have stated that they intend to regularly balance and patch the game during that time. The existing fighting game community seems happy enough to embrace Street Fighter 5 but whether Capcom is able to grow this community hinges on the handling of DLC pricing and a commitment to design philosophies that are accessible to new players. I doubt that Street Fighter 5 will be enough to convert those who detest fighting games but it’s never been a better time to dive-kick in if you’ve been on the fence.