Nine Things I Learned from TA Playlist in 2017

By Mark Delaney,
When we set out to bring the TA community one of 2017's new site events, we envisioned it as unlike any and all others we've hosted before. Unlike the majority of events that are competitive or focused on milestones, TA Playlist is meant to play more like a club. Each month we've decided on a game together and played it over the course of those four and a half weeks all while discussing it, debating it, and putting the proverbial bow on it with a podcast hosted by myself and a few friends from the features team on TA staff.

Along the way, I found each game taught me something. Maybe you can say the same. If so, let us know in the comments what you learned about the first nine games of TA Playlist — or maybe, like I often did, you learned something about yourself instead. Here's what the event taught me since its inception last April.

April - Alan Wake

It's hard to say goodbye, but sometimes it's for the best

wake oped

I wrote about this at length earlier this year, but if you missed it and only want the sparknotes, Alan Wake is an all-time favorite of mine. Like most people who would say they feel that way about the game, I've spent seven years clamoring for a sequel that seems less and less likely. I was never comfortable saying goodbye to the series, always holding out hope Remedy would some day return to finish the story they started.

At this point it seems like that dream is dead, and yet I'm okay with it. I can finally tell myself the truth about Alan Wake: one game and its XBLA mini-sequel is likely all we'll ever get. Like Stephen King says when Alan quotes him in the opening moments, the unanswered mystery is what stays with us the longest. Wake has plenty of threads left unresolved, and thanks to TA Playlist, I'm finally ready to ponder them peacefully without stressing over their likelihood of ever truly getting resolved.

May - Darksiders

Sometimes you know what you don't like

Darksiders: Warmastered Edition screenshot

Surely you must have games you haven't touched not because you lack the time or money but rather because you lack the interest. For me, Darksiders epitomizes such a game more than anything else we played for TA Playlist in 2017. A glance at the artwork, reading over the synopsis, or even its genre classification each told me that Darksiders was very likely not going to be for me. Still, it won the May Playlist vote and I'm not one for self-fulfilling prophecy, so I gave it a fair chance.

As it turned out, I couldn't have been more right. Darksiders was a slog. Oozing with machismo and brimstone, thinking it's way edgier than it ever was, the game never spoke to me once. As just our second Playlist game in the history of the event, I was already having doubts about how I'd manage to push through future months as unfit for me as Darksiders. Thankfully there have been no other such games to date. Sometimes, without even playing something, you just know it's not for you. I confirmed my suspicions with TA Playlist this past May.

June - Sunset Overdrive

Story isn't everything

SO

If you've heard me on the TA Playlist Podcast, or really if you know me at all, you know I operate quite like a broken record regarding my favorite part of games: story, story, story. Rarely do I find lasting impact from games that don't sell me on their worlds, characters, and conflicts. A rare exception, however, is Sunset Overdrive, which we played for June's Playlist game. Returning to Sunset City was like riding a bike. I could still recall how to grind the rails, time my insane jumps, and line up the perfect shots while I air dashed to my next objective.

June wasn't my first time with the game, so I knew it was special when I was totally engaged with it again despite the fact that story isn't its strength. Sure, it has plenty of memorable characters, so that counts for something, but as I type this I can't really tell you what happens in the story despite now having played it twice, and yet, I don't mind either. That's rare for me. Insomniac created something really special with this game, and maybe now I can reassign all thatAlan Wake sequel energy toward a Sunset Overdrive 2.

July - Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor

I'm a sucker for tragedy

03/11/14 - DLC Wretched Graug

One thing video game writers love to do is kill the families of playable characters. One thing I apparently love to do is get swept up in the emotions of it every time without fail. From The Last of Us to Assassin's Creed II to many others, games quite often separate a hero from his or her loved ones — and often times even in the opening moments. Maybe it's because I have a lovely fiancee and son of my own, but this somewhat lazy tactic gets me every time. Shadow of Mordor is no different, as I was reminded in July. Within minutes, our hero had lost his wife and son, murdered in cold blood. His quest to join and avenge them is a great driving force for the game.

Eventually the plot seems to get lost along with the emotional resonance, but for the first few hours, I truly felt sorry for Talion. It's a familiar note, so you'd think it may lose its effect on me — after all, TV, books, and movies all do this frequently too — but I have to admit I still find it effective. Is it a cheap shortcut to bonding player and protagonist? What do you think?

August - Life is Strange

An A for effort can be good enough

17/03/15 - Screen 1

As you may have heard on August's podcast, I don't adore Life is Strange like many do. I think its story is filled with plot holes and its characters are often stereotypical to a point that really drags down the storyline. Having said that, whenever I bring up the game I don't just bash it unceasingly, because at its core I'm very thankful Life is Strange exists. Its focus on youth in crisis, like bullies, suicide, cliques, and sexual identity, could've descended into "afterschool special" very quickly, but I don't generally see those areas to be where the game falters. Rather, the fact that a game like Life is Strange can exist and even succeed speaks volumes to the way the medium is changing. I think it's great that games like this have a place, and I'm thrilled anyone tried to fill that space.

August's Playlist game is far from perfect, but Dontnod showed with each episode that they tried to remain attentive of the story's themes, and for that I thank them. Life is Strange month with the TA community was a highlight of the year, as it merited the most sizeable story discussion of any game in this inaugural year for the event. It seems I'm not alone in finding Dontnod's efforts to be commendable, even if they don't always stick the landing.

September - Dark Souls

Sometimes you don't know what you like

Character Creation 16

Like May, September's Playlist game brought me apprehension that I would be stepping into a game world in which I never wanted to find myself. It took me a few hours, but I soon found out I was wrong. Though I couldn't get over the hump of a particular boss battle, consider me a reformed believer in the Dark Souls franchise. I avoided the entire series, including its predecessor and PS4 sibling title, because the learning through repeated failures design never sounded like it appealed to me. To be honest, that's maybe still true, but that's why I had fun with Dark Souls. I took my time, followed the site walkthrough, and measured every step, parry, and dodge. The tension created through the game's natural flow is unique and wholly deserving of the praise I disbelieved for years.

When I look at Dark Souls, there's definitely something that turns me away. For that reason among others, I avoided the series since its inception, thinking I knew what was best for myself. As I learned with TA Playlist this past fall, I don't always have my own gaming preferences figured out. You can bet I won't scoff the next time a game in this series appears in our monthly poll.

October - Alien Isolation

More horror adaptations are welcome

6/10 screen 8

Replaying Alien after it won our Halloween-themed Playlist poll, along with reviewing Friday the 13th earlier this year, showed me quite clearly that I want more adaptations of known horror commodities. It's something I wrote about at length earlier this year, but it deserves reiterating. The right idea with the right gameplay loop could really be a hit. It seems the Dead By Daylight devs sense that too, as they've implemented several famous faces in their game since it released. Alien Isolation works because it feels like it belongs in its established story universe while doing well to stand alone as a worthwhile entry for fans and non-fans alike. Other properties could similarly make their way to games and really give horror fans something special.

I say all this as a huge proponent of the horror genre. There just aren't enough horror games ever. They're inherently riskier projects as instead of empowering players like most games, they leave us feeling vulnerable. Alien gave me that sense again all during October, even as I'd played it a few times before. Horror is a unique and sadly underutilized genre. If studios are afraid to develop for the horror audience, maybe starting with a familiar scary face is the boost they need. As Alien showed me, it could be a great place to start.

November - The Turing Test

The robots are coming (SPOILERS)

The Turing Test 6

Okay, this one isn't exactly something I learned from Playlist, but I'm hoping it's something with which some of you learned to concern yourselves. I've had a healthy obsession with futurism, particularly as it pertains to artificial intelligence, for years now. By the accounts of all experts in this field, the next few decades may prove revolutionary for advancements in AI. Many predict scary days ahead, while others see the dawn of super AI as an ushering in of quantum leaps in human evolution. Wherever you land on the spectrum, please do give it the time of day. Part of why I love The Turing Test so much, part of why I was thrilled to play it as a community for November, is because it exists as an introductory thinkpiece for people who maybe weren't yet giving the time of day to AI research.

In the game, the AI, TOM, isn't malevolent when he sets out to eliminate the remaining crew members on Europa. He's just following orders, orders he was given when he was instilled with machine learning abilities. The unspoken preface to Turing's story is that TOM is built as humans believed they intended. Only now some humans may want more nuance from TOM, but they won't get it due to something called the value-alignment problem, which describes when AI are inadvertently imbued with the wrong values in pursuit of the very specific right ones. It's the perfect "be careful what you wish for" storyline come true, and it's a major concern of AI researchers the world over. Read up on it, and check out some extracurricular material in the podcast notes of November's episode.

December - Assassin's Creed Origins

I'm officially too old for this

Assassin's Creed Origins DLC

Two years ago I discussed how adulthood meant I had less time to chase icons on sprawling open worlds. I was beginning to feel like massive games like Assassin's Creed often had the opposite of intended effect when they gave me huge maps with literally hundreds of things to do. I wasn't interested so much anymore. December's playthrough of Origins is really feeling like the final nail in the coffin of sandboxes for me, though with a few exceptions.

Despite it looking pretty, revamping a lot of what plagued the series, and giving players the setting they've been dying for, I can't help but find Origins to be rather forgettable. Its best attributes are mechanics it takes from better games, and everything else feels like more of the same Ubisoft open world problems. After 50 hours with the game I couldn't point to many standout moments, instead I had the lasting impression I had just marked items off a massive checklist for three weeks. Games have to be more than this, and surely for some even this game and those like it are more than that. For me though, playing Origins just showed me how little patience I have for games that are a mile long and an inch deep. I think the year off for the series was impactful in good ways, and I hope the Assassin's Creed team takes a few more off before coming back again. With few exceptions, namely Rockstar's work and Far Cry (believe it or not), I don't think I actually enjoy open worlds anymore.



That concludes my personal lessons learned from 2017, our first year of TA Playlist. In 2018, we'll be back of course and if you see this in time you could even vote on the first game of the year. If you haven't yet participated in TA Playlist and would like to know where to start, below you can find a few useful links. We thank our close-knit and ever growing community of Playlisters and we hope you'll join us in the new year for a full slate of 12 new winners. Every game is a journey, and the beauty of TA Playlist means you never have to venture on a journey alone. See you in the forums!

TA Playlist links

Mark Delaney
Written by Mark Delaney
Mark is a Boston native now living in Portland, Oregon. He has written for GameSkinny, Gamesradar and the Official Xbox Magazine. He runs the family-oriented gaming site Game Together.
Posts on this article have been added to a thread in the Editorials and Features Forum.
  • Posted on 17 December 17 at 10:51Permalink
    I like how this brought the community together with mostly positive results. While I did only comment during the August event, I regularly checked in on the conversations each month. Looking forward to another successful year of TA Playlist!

    Happy Holidays everyone as well toast
    Someday we will foresee obstacles, through the blizzard...
  • Posted on 17 December 17 at 11:22Permalink
    Looking forward to be part of this in the coming year.
    [URL=https://www.trueachievements.com/gamer/Smallville2106][IMG]https://www.trueachievements.com/gamercards/Smallville2106.png[/IMG][/URL]
  • Posted on 17 December 17 at 11:33Permalink
    Alien Isolation is a great game, I played it on the PS4 and the speaker on the PS4 controller made the experience more immersive.
    Jolly cooperation!
  • Removed Gamer

    Removed Gamer

    Posted on 17 December 17 at 11:32Permalink
    The only thing I agree with you there is Alan Wake; I don't want any more, sometimes it's best to just leave perfection as it is.

    Darksiders however I found every single thing about it utterly satisfying and the gameplay, much to my surprise was thoroughly enjoyable. I normally do not like any type of hack 'n' slash, but with Darksiders they just did everything right.

    The TA playlist is a great concept; no fuss, no heavy competition, just gamers getting together and doing we do best. Hoping for Hitman next month- it would be perfect for me. smile
  • Cylon 118Cylon 118341,005
    Posted on 17 December 17 at 11:33Permalink
    I really have loved every game this month in different ways including Mays Darksiders of which I think the second one is a vast improvement and hope its in the list somewhere down the line but my favourite game this year was probably Mordor or Wake as both of these where first time plays for me that where experiences that I would not have had I think if not for the playlist.

    My October was the second time through Alien and I'm so glad as I picked up all the achievements I missed the first time round and really got into the terror as I was going for no deaths so even though I was on an easier difficulty than my first playthrough it was by far more tense and took me way longer!

    Speaking of long games our current Assassins game took me nearly 80 hours to finish and although I did have fun especially with the changed combat I have to agree that at points it really felt like a checklist slog so much so that I was watching other things on youtube while finishing off the map.

    The combat though was a fun if not watered down version of Dark Souls a game that won and left me thinking yay I enjoy this but can I really get all the achievements. As it turns out I could and think of the 100% complete cheevo on that game as one of my proudest. Didn't stop there either as the same month I went of to finish the second one as well. Not 100% yet but just beating the far longer and for me harder sequel felt great and I really want to do the third at some point.

    Didn't really get any invaders during my games but got my multiplayer fix during overdrive month and really liked finishing that game off with people from the community. It took us a while to get the DLC survivals finished but I think for the most part we had a blast doing it and I hope some more games in 2018 have some coop in them.

    As for puzzles ive always been a big fan and Turing test although a little easy made up for it with a thought provoking story but falls into second place for making me think about deep sci fi themes to Life is Strange as its use and the consequences of time travel spoke to me much more than its teenage problems!

    This playlist has really got me back into console gaming something I think I was beginning to grow out of as I no longer had a tonne of friends who I could play and discuss games with and that was taking the fun out of them for me but this playlist ticks all the boxes and I cant wait for 12 more is 2018 that are as good as the ones we have had this year. (Come on Alice I want you to win!)
  • Posted on 17 December 17 at 12:37Permalink
    A really excellent and insightful article - I certainly didn't agree with everything said but its still inherently interesting to read other people's thoughts on any subject even when they are at odds with your own. I have very much enjoyed TA Playlist and find the games fall into 3 categories:
    i) Games that I have played where I want to know whether other people agree with my thoughts
    ii) Games that I would like to play but lack either time or money where I want to know whether I need to find the time and/or money to play them
    iii) Games that I have no interest in playing at all where I want to know what I'm missing.
    Overall, the series has been excellent and I look forward to its continuation next year!
  • Arron114Arron114811,545
    Posted on 17 December 17 at 12:40Permalink
    Excellent Sunday read.

    Thank you.
  • Posted on 17 December 17 at 12:43Permalink
    I couldn't agree with you more about being so uninterested in Darksiders, kind of wish I didn't even start it, even if it was free...

    I purchased Sunset Overdrive when it first came out and honestly thanks to the playlist I was able to complete the last achievement in the DLC, but just like your Alan Wake comment, I'd rather them just kill off the series and leave me with the good memories than ruin it with a shitty sequel.

    I played Life is Strange after the TA playlist for it ended and loved it, as I feel a lot of younger people can relate to it one way or another.

    The Turing Test is the closest to Portal I think we will ever come for a while, although I wish I waited for it to be GWG before purchasing it but no regrets.

    And I cannot wait to play Origins after Christmas.
  • Posted on 17 December 17 at 13:01Permalink
    The Turing Test is a very boring version of portal. I really dislike this game
    Hollywood Tony Yeah
  • Posted on 17 December 17 at 15:05Permalink
    I’m a big fan of the playlist I’ve enjoyed every month. Every month is different and it’s fun seeing someone else’s perspective. Even in the month of Dark Souls, a game I truly regret ever putting on my tag, there was a lot of good discussion so in a glass half full kind of way it was still worth it. Highly encourage everyone to check it out.
  • SubtleEel4SubtleEel4107,800
    Posted on 17 December 17 at 15:35Permalink
    I really appreciate the thoughts on Assassin's Creed Origins, that's pretty much how I've felt playing any of them.
  • EinigkeitEinigkeit96,870
    Posted on 17 December 17 at 16:26Permalink
    Glad to see I'm not the only one who is tired of open-world games. A lot of times, making a game open-world seems to be a design choice in order to add length to a game; if it's open-world, you can add tons of pointless little icons to the map that many people (myself included) feel compelled to clear. I haven't played Origins yet, but from what I've seen from watching a friend play for a while, it doesn't seem like it will scratch any itch that I have currently, which is a shame, since I used to be a big fan of AC (pre-AC3).

    That said, some games do deserve the open-world treatment, but I think it needs to be one of the core gameplay elements, not something that's added later. The last three Elder Scrolls games are great examples of this, and Breath of the Wild might just be the best open-world game that I've ever played.
  • Posted on 17 December 17 at 17:29, Edited on 17 December 17 at 17:29 by KennyannydennyPermalink
    Great read! Seems our opinions differ quite a bit but still a great article smile I loved Darksiders, really found both of them enjoyable games with good storylines and settings.

    I did not enjoy Life is Strange at all. I really don't get what the fuss is about, it just feels like another one of the many Telltale Games (and yes I know LiS is not Telltale), but with more freely walking around parts.

    Can't say anything about Alan Wake as I was never drawn into that game. Neither about Sunset Overdrive as I haven't played it yet. Although trailers etc didn't appeal to me. I do loved Shadow of War very much. I love sandbox games, including the complete AC series, and play a lot of them.

    I am sure I won't Dark Souls or Alien Isolation, as I don't like horror games and I'm not looking forward to getting frustrated by Dark Souls.
  • LuckyKantLuckyKant445,032
    Posted on 17 December 17 at 18:15Permalink
    I have played Darksiders and it was great. Can't wait for III.

    Shadow of Mordor is a great game and the sequel is even better. Some great story moments in War.

    Dark Souls was played ages ago and I actually hate the game, the characters, the world, everything.

    The only game I actually played during playlist was LiS and that was awful for me. Technically played SoM by getting one achievement as well.

    As long as Hitman does not win next month, I think I will be playing the playlist game.
    This post may be sarcastic.
  • Iceman2pnt0Iceman2pnt0204,992
    Posted on 17 December 17 at 18:21Permalink
    The playlist has been a great idea. I'm glad to see a fellow fan of Alan Wake. Never give up hope for a sequel! We need more games that have that great sense of atmosphere.

    And speaking of atmosphere...Alien Isolation...wow. I played about 4 hours of the story, took a small break, and then recently got a high end gaming headset. The sound design in that game is legendary, and playing it with a headset elevates it to an experience. I can only imagine a future sequel with 2nd or 3rd generation VR tech shock.
    Finally gaming on the One.
  • Posted on 17 December 17 at 18:32Permalink
    Excited for the upcoming year’s Playlist games, going to be participating in as many as I can (trying to stay Xbox 360 exclusive). I try to have a wide variety in genre, be open-minded and thoroughly enjoy playing new games I’ve never touched before.
  • Posted on 17 December 17 at 18:44Permalink
    Einigkeit said:
    Glad to see I'm not the only one who is tired of open-world games. A lot of times, making a game open-world seems to be a design choice in order to add length to a game; if it's open-world, you can add tons of pointless little icons to the map that many people (myself included) feel compelled to clear. I haven't played Origins yet, but from what I've seen from watching a friend play for a while, it doesn't seem like it will scratch any itch that I have currently, which is a shame, since I used to be a big fan of AC (pre-AC3).

    That said, some games do deserve the open-world treatment, but I think it needs to be one of the core gameplay elements, not something that's added later. The last three Elder Scrolls games are great examples of this, and Breath of the Wild might just be the best open-world game that I've ever played.
    I personally think that making a game open world has the intent of adding a level of immersion for the user. Its effectiveness, however, is up to the developer.
  • erod550erod550989,854
    Posted on 17 December 17 at 19:30, Edited on 17 December 17 at 19:31 by erod550Permalink
    I don’t think we could be any more different. The two games you hated the most, Darksiders and AC Origins, are the two games I enjoyed the most of all the TA Playlist games. I even went and completed the remaster of Darksiders on Xbox One after the playlist month was over.

    Also story is something I couldn’t care less about. I care much more about gameplay and will often skip cutscenes because I just don’t care. So yea, complete opposites, heh. But that’s why TA Playlist is good. There’s a good variety and something to appeal to everyone, even gamers with very different tastes.

    I guess I should have included Sunset Overdrive as a game that I absolutely loved, but I loved it when it first came out and had already fully completed it before it came up as a TA Playlist game.
  • LuckyKantLuckyKant445,032
    Posted on 17 December 17 at 19:32Permalink
    erod550 said:
    I don’t think we could be any more different. The two games you hated the most, Darksiders and AC Origins, are the two games I enjoyed the most of all the TA Playlist games. I even went and completed the remaster of Darksiders on Xbox One after the playlist month was over.

    Also story is something I couldn’t care less about. I care much more about gameplay and will often skip cutscenes because I just don’t care. So yea, complete opposites, heh. But that’s why TA Playlist is good. There’s a good variety and something to appeal to everyone, even gamers with very different tastes.

    I guess I should have included Sunset Overdrive as a game that I absolutely loved, but I loved it when it first came out and had already fully completed it before it came up as a TA Playlist game.
    You skip cutscenes? Judas!
    This post may be sarcastic.
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