For as long as gaming consoles and PCs have existed, there has been tension between hardcore users of either medium. The general argument centers around the idea that consoles are less powerful and malleable, with more expensive games and a need for physical media, but are easier to acquire, use and maintain; PCs run at higher levels and allow for modification, and there are numerous ways to get great deals on games, but parts are more expensive, performance is not guaranteed, and it can require a larger knowledge base to get games to even function properly.
I played a lot of PC games in my youth, from Commander Keen to Half-Life, and had several custom rigs I built with my dad over the years. Inevitably something would be released that the machine just couldn’t handle, and we would use that as a starting point for the next one; MechCommander, Homeworld, and F.E.A.R. all launched new computers, as I recall.
Then school, work, money, time and life happened, and the ease of using a console started to matter more; this was further reinforced as I began to game socially, and most of my friends had 360s. My PC became more of a work and media device, with gaming coming in small spurts as Steam sales offered little indie gems or great bargains on the occasional RTS bundle. These were things that didn’t exactly tax my system, at least not on the basic settings required to simply enjoy playing them, and provided me with fun during the summer dry spells for console games.
It was during this time that the tension between worlds became something more akin to an actual dispute, though it seemed rather one-sided. From what I can tell, console fanboys became more concerned with arguing amongst manufacturers, while the term “PC Master Race” came into use regarding the tendency of some users (and even developers) to look down their nose at console owners. I personally can’t recall ever coming down heavily on either side; both camps had their pros and cons, and the cons for PC gaming directly affected me more.
This year, however, my mind changed as it slowly became obvious that I needed a new desktop in general; my existing one had gotten me through grad school, but was pushing five years of use, and had the wear and tear of numerous location changes. In talking with my dad about building a new one, I decided to go ahead and shoot for a substantial gaming rig in the process; my point-of-reference consisted of the high-end recommendations for running Far Cry 3.
The end results are, in a word, phenomenal. The last two weeks have seen me giving a LOT of free time to optimizing various games, and features for games, and mods for games, etc. If I was friends with me, I’d be sick to death of hearing about my new rig, or seeing screenshots of me running this-or-that, or trying to get me to do something social. The start of the Steam summer sale has only intensified this reaction, but it has also given me more food for thought on the console / PC split.
I own Fallout 3, Fallout New Vegas, and Skyrim on my 360, including all of the dlc for the Fallouts. I put around 20-30 hours into Skyrim before it lost me; I’ve never played New Vegas, and in nearly five years I’ve put probably 100+ hours into FO3 with ever actually getting very far in the story. My biggest issues were undeniably console-centric: Long load times, ungainly controls, and frustrating UI chief among them.
I had always heard about how much better their PC counterparts ran, and so last night I took advantage of the sale to pick up the all-inclusive versions of each one on Steam. I followed that up with several hours of modding, and the end results are pretty fantastic; I genuinely feel like I’m playing entirely new experiences, and I can’t wait to put more time in with each one. This comes on top of recent play / mod sessions with STALKER: Shadow of Chernobyl and Torchlight II that yielded similar enjoyment.
I’ve also grabbed a few high-end Free 2 Play titles that have been on my radar for a while, like Hawken and Warframe. Though they are designed as multiplayer titles, most of my play sessions are just me jumping into matches and playing at my own pace. This works better than it would in something like League of Legends or World of Warcraft, because the matchmaking and game types don’t rely heavily on teamwork.
With that said, I am already starting to notice that my PC gaming trends will probably run more toward single player experiences; the reasons for this are varied, but the most noticeable one is that I’m simply lacking the core group of friends that has been established on my 360. Games where the main draw is co-op / team play with an established party don’t really hold much appeal without my brother, best friend and girlfriend on board. There are also hardware differentials, connection issues, keyboard / voice chat and a number of other things to get used to that Xbox live does for me.
For instance, last night one of the flash deals would have let me pick up ALL of Borderlands 2 for $30. It was really hard to resist – I’ve heard that the game looks phenomenal on PC, and has some cool mods – but in the end I just couldn’t justify a purchase like that on a game I have NEVER played without co-op. The same thing happened with Defiance, which several of my fellows have on the 360; it was $13 but doesn’t support cross-platform play, and the console version didn’t go down any in price, Steam sale or no. I did pick up Dark Souls, which I already had on 360, because mods allow you to essentially give the game true co-op, and my roommate really wants to play through it together. Also, it was $7, which is less than just the dlc price on 360.
So what I’ve basically just said is that there’s no reason not to play games like Skyrim exclusively on PC, right? Wrong. While it will certainly be my preferred method of play from here on, I spent at least six hours last night just downloading, installing, modding, tweaking, launching, crashing, re-tweaking, and generally fiddling with things. Even with longer load times and digging thru menus, the first six hours I spent with Fallout 3 on my 360 got me a fair amount further into the game. Hell, I spent one solid hour trying to get a mod suite to work without crashing before I said “Fuck it” and just uninstalled the whole thing.
What have I learned from all of this? That having an awesome rig that can run crazy graphics and mods is deeply satisfying, if you have the patience for it. It does not, however, supplant the ease of use that comes with consoles, especially in terms of multiplayer accessibility. Does fiddling with the command line for twenty minutes in order to make the texture on some rocks look slightly better constitute a “master race”? Probably not, but then neither does listening to prepubescent douchebags curse poorly in a Halo or Gears match. I’m excited about how these games look on my PC, sure, but the real joy comes from feeling like I can finally play these games and talk about them with people.
That’s my biggest gripe with any fan-generated turf wars, really, is that it just fosters this culture of dissent in the gaming community. I’m not saying that discussion of performance has no place in the dialogue; if a game runs like shit on this platform but is stable on another, I’d like to know. Just don’t tell me that I haven’t really played Far Cry 3 if I don’t have full the komodo dragon droppings texture pack enabled, because I guarantee you I took out more bases without being detected than you did. Remember: “Small people talk about other people’s set-up, average people talk about processors, great people talk about adding a “Total Recall” mod that includes the chick with three tits.”