You spin me right round, Forza, right round!
Racing fans all over the world rejoice. The official “only game series worth playing on Xbox” has just dropped its newest iteration, Forza Horizon 4. This is the relaxed, more open world format of the game that can be custom tailored to your play style, from arcade racer to hardcore simulator. I haven’t reviewed the game yet but I am confident it is the best racing game ever made. But we’ll have to wait for the review on that.
We are here to talk about loot boxes. They are a sticking point in the gaming industry that has recently left gamers with a bad taste in their mouths. It’s easy to say EA was the straw that broke the camel’s back with their disastrous issues brought up by Dice’s Star Wars Battlefront II. It made national headlines to the point where non-gaming outlets were covering the issue. It inspired several developers to actively patch out the aspect in their games. It even got a country to outlaw it.
Now, Microsoft has been walking on thin ice in regards to this for quite some time. The more recent games in the Forza franchise featured an alternative currency you can buy with real money. This alternative currency could be used to buy cars. But they took a step too far with Forza Motorsport 7, in which you could earn “prize crates”. These prize crates were filled with cars, in-game currency, and challenge cards. The challenge cards were interesting, in that they just offered you a bonus bounty if you complete certain conditions during a race. For example, placing in 5th or better, or making 3 perfect turns would net you some more coin.
But the Forza Horizon Wheelspin is present in all four titles in the series. The only difference is you can’t really purchase spins, outside of using perk tokens in later titles. But, still, it is basically a slot machine that has different prizes you can win. The fourth installment expanded on the items you can win. On top of cars and money, they added cosmetics for your avatar, car horns, and emotes. Yes, emotes. However, something else changed with this version. That alternative currency is gone, completely removed from the game. You can’t buy cars with real money anymore, and you certainly can’t buy the wheel spins or the new SUPER wheelspins. You win one item for wheelspins and three items for super wheelspins. The only microtransaction outside of expansion packs is the treasure map, which reveals all of the secrets on your map for just $3.
So what makes a loot box a loot box? Overwatch may not have been the first, but it did codify the concept of loot boxes. The list of items you can win from crates are icons, skins, emotes, sprays, voice lines, victory poses, highlight intros, and loot. So, cosmetics and some currency. But you can pay to get a whole bunch of these, and you get 4 items per box. And one “rare” item is guaranteed in every box, with rare being the second tier of swag, sporting blue. After that, you have purple for epic loot and orange for legendary loot. MANY games that feature “loot” in general, box or no box, use this color-coded system and verbiage for their items. In Forza Horizon 4, that most certainly is the case, the names and colors are the same.
You only win one loot box from leveling up in Overwatch, with some exceptions for certain events and standards. In Horizon 4, the game practically throws wheelspins at you. Level up? Wheelspin. Do a couple stunts? Wheelspin. Buy a house? Wheelspin. Paint a car? Wheelspin. Take some photos? Wheelspin. Buy a few cars? Wheelspin. Get a couple perk points? Wheelspin. I could stop here but I’m going to keep going anyway. Win a few races? Wheelspin. Lose a few races? Wheelspin. Complete a championship? Wheelspin. Drive around doing absolutely nothing? Wheelspin. Participate in a live event? Wheelspin! EXIST? WHEELSPIN! DON’T EXIST? WHEELSPIN!
I swear I could not go more than 15 minutes without getting at least one or two wheelspins. That may be because I bought the ‘Ultimate Edition’ of the game and got some generous boosts to start, but even afterward, I just kept getting more and more. It actually got annoying and broke up the pace of the game. Thankfully, you don’t have to sit through a whole wheelspin animation, which is only about 5-7 seconds, not much at all. But even then you can skip that animation, get your prize, and be on your merry way.
So, what’s different about the Horizon 4 wheelspin again? Let’s review. You cannot purchase them with real money. The alternate currency system is not present. You get them all the time. Basic wheelspins will always get you either a car or more money. Super wheelspins will get you 3 of anything else. You do not get unfair advantages in multiplayer for wheelspins. You don’t get cards that change the conditions of earning more. Every spin is a winner (unless you get 10,000CR, that’s pretty lame).
It feels a lot more like the game is using these prizes to encourage you for playing the game. You can and will play the game regardless of the wheel spins. Yet as you play, the game is constantly rewarding you pretty much just for playing it. You may feel appreciated by the game as you continue to get gift after gift after gift. You may feel far more appreciated than you ever felt possible with this inclusion. Despite the “slot machine” appearance, it feels a lot more like you are just being given some free things, instead of gambling. Because of these reasons, I assert that the Horizon Wheelspin is neither a loot box nor a form of gambling. On top of that, I appreciate Microsoft’s nerve to decide not to include alternative currency this time around. I hope this game along with others continues with that mindset for the foreseeable future.