Eternal Return

I was going to write about Bloodborne this week, but I don’t want to write about Bloodborne until I finish it. And because Bloodborne is (surprise!) really fucking hard, I haven’t finished it.

So instead, we’re writing about Eternal Return, a F2P BR SURVIVAL MOBA from Korea, and presumably the apex of trying to cash in on every single gaming trend from the last ten years. At least they’re not trying to sell me NFTs. And it’s actually pretty good! From a gameplay standpoint, I mean. Everything else is… present. Y’know. It’s there.

Games start with you picking a character and starting weapon. You can swap out your weapon, but I haven’t found myself in a situation that calls for that.
In any case, once you’ve locked in your character, build, and starting zone, a countdown ticks down and the game starts.

Eternal Return’s map is static, with the same zones and layout each time you play.

Given that describing the game’s genres is a good 4 acronyms, let’s just go through them and take note of what mechanics from each genre are present. Starting with the MOBA/ARTS, or whatever other acronym you want to use for the Defense of the Legends genre.

Eternal Return is played in a top down isometric perspective. You move by clicking where you want your character to go, and the camera remains more or less locked on your character, though you can temporarily move it to look around with the mini-map. You have health and mana (which they call SP), equipment, and an inventory.

Yes, equipment and inventory. Unlike most MOBA’s, and like most survival games, these are two separate things. For your equipment, you have a set of slots that allow you to equip one of each item type (Weapon, Armband, Legs, Head, Accessory, I don’t remember the last one). You can carry more items, but they don’t actually give you stat buffs while they are in your inventory. You also mostly won’t be using your inventory for gear, you’ll be using it for… crafting materials.

Yeah, so following the survival genre, you spend a lot of time rummaging for things. Look for necklaces in cardboard boxes. Look for cardboard boxes in trash cans (No, you can’t pick up the cardboard box that the necklace was in, that’s different). Combine them to craft a shank, or just a jean jacket with spikes. Combine a rock with a glass bottle to create… broken glass. Craft broken glass with glue to create…. a glass plate.

No really. Look.

Was there seriously no better way to get a piece of unbroken glass?

The crafting is (mostly) less tedious then it might sound. Once you select your build, the map will tell you what items in your current zone are needed for it, and what you’ve already picked up. Since each zone has a separate set of items, and the game also has an autoloot function, this makes it fairly easy to figure out what you want to grab at any given point in time.

So, we’ve covered the MOBA, and the Survival game, which leaves us with the Battle Royale bit. Yes, there’s an another entire genre here. The only way to win in Eternal Return is either be the last person, or the last team standing. While this is pretty standard, and has the normal amounts of mental math of, “Do I fight or flee here?”, there’s one big tweak to the formula.

Most Battle Royale games have some sort of shrinking map that slowly closes in, and deals damage if you stay outside of the safe zone. Eternal Return has its own twist on the formula. Remember those zones I mentioned up above? As the game progresses, sets of zones get marked off to close. A two minute timer ticks down, and once that timer hits zero, the zone is closed off.

But not quite. See, you can still enter those zones. You don’t take damage, or lose life. Instead, you have a timer that ticks down each second you’re in the zone.

And if this timer hits zero, your head just fucking explodes and you die.

Now, you’re probably thinking “Wait, that just seems like a minor twist” on the whole “Collapse the play area to force the players into conflict” mechanic. And you would be right, if it wasn’t for how the end game works. Eventually the whole map becomes a death zone. At this point, whoever has the most time left in their bank can win without killing anyone as long as they can outlast their opponents.

The other interesting thing about it is how it opens up movement and routing. In most Battle Royales, leaving the safe zone is certain death, but in Eternal Return, if you find yourself losing a fight, running into a death zone can be a valid tactic. Even if the player fighting you is stronger, they’ll have to spend time to actually continue the chase, putting themselves at a disadvantage in the late game, which they may not want to do.

Okay, so that’s enough nice things about Eternal Return. Lets talk about all the annoying bullshit, and frustrating things about the game.

Starting with the minor stuff, the moment to moment gameplay of fights feels heavily inspired by the sort of twitch/micro movement of League of Legends. While this is neat if you like League, if you’re a Dota player like me, if you don’t play those games, I imagine it can feel a bit frantic and annoying. This is entirely taste based, which is why it’s the most minor.

Next up, the characters you play as. They are incredibly dull and boring. They feel like a series of characters pulled from random first draft webtoons. Their background has the flavor of a one-shot tabletop RPG character, with none of the interesting bits or quirks. I can’t tell if this is the result of garbage localization, but it feels like it might be.

I want to be clear: Leon’s background is possibly the best written of anyone’s in the game, if only because the idea of someone taking the “Are you winning son?” meme of a father walking in on their child crossdressing and making that into the lore for a character is at least a little funny.

Finally, all of the out-of-game UIs and menus suck. Why can’t I do anything while in queue? Why does queueing for a solo match require me to create a 1 player party? Why does trying to create a build suck so much, and why do builds only allow single item paths?

Oh, and on the subject of crafting: there consumable items you can craft (food and traps), but you can’t add these items to your build. You have to add them to your build queue in game after you’ve finished other items. I’m sure pros memorize what secondary items they’ll need and how to craft them. But maybe I should just be allowed to have secondary crafting targets added.

These are all minor gripes though. They won’t stop me from playing the game. The next two problems are bigger and straight up frustrating.

If you queue for a game, have the queue find a game, and then decline the game, you get a shadow ban from matchmaking. To be clear, the game doesn’t tell you that you’re shadow banned. But this has happened to both me and a friend, and the next time we tried to queue, we sat in queue for over 40 minutes without finding a match. We eventually then gave up because we had better things to do with our days. So if you… oh, I don’t know, queue for solos, have a friend hop on, then decline the queue, then queue for duos, you won’t be able to play because now you’re shadowed banned.

The biggest problem that I have with Eternal Return, though, is how hard it is understand why you lost, and to learn from your losses. Fights are small, twitchy, and complex affairs, and tend to be over in under a minute maximum. And when you die, you get kicked out to the menu. You can’t spectate your killer, or watch them to see if they win. Did you die because you overcommitted? Because you missed skill shots? Because they had food to heal, even though you both had large amounts of damage? Did you just get outplayed? Because it’s just a bad matchup? I don’t know, and there’s no way to find out by playing the game.

To my mind, this is the single biggest flaw of Eternal Return. Almost every other Battle Royale offers death spectate. Most MOBA’s have replays. Eternal Return has nothing. Just a single look at the scoreboard, and good luck, go play another game!

So yeah, that’s Eternal Return. Apparently it’s a big hit in Korea? It’s free to start, so if the mechanics sound interesting, I’d say check it out. You can download it for free on Steam here.

Author’s Note: Also, there are a few systems in the game I didn’t cover, like CCTV’s, and various EXP and weapon types, but I’m not sure they add enough mechanically to be likely convince someone to play the game.

Author Note: If I hear one more person refer to the art style of game as “anime” I will cut a motherfucker. The game is Korean, from Korea, made by a Korean studio. The art style is closer to something like Tower of God, or another Webtoon style thing. Just because none of the women in the game have heard of pants, and all the men have sparkle eyes doesn’t fucking make it anime.

Editor’s Note: Okay but, like, it’s definitely anime. Are you telling me that the guy on the left isn’t straight out of Naruto?



Tanto Cuore

A deckbuilder that will have you collecting anime maids, and also judging looks from anyone who sees you playing.

I like Tanto Cuore and I’m not afraid to say it. Many of the mechanics feel like a upgrade over Dominion, and while it doesn’t have some of the variety of Ascension, it does avoid the randomness. If you haven’t played either of those games, that’s okay. I’ll talk more about the mechanics in a bit. But first, a brief diatribe.

Something I thought about while preparing to write this article was the fact that I have different standards for when I feel like I can write about a game based on format. For board games, a single full play session is usually enough for me to feel like I can offer an opinion. On the flip side, I’ve recently played like 40 hours of Bloodborne, but because I haven’t beaten the game, I don’t feel like I can offer thoughts yet.

It’s an interesting dichotomy, and it would be relevant to the rest of this article, because while I’m playing the digital edition of Tanto Cuore, the game itself is a board game. So even though I haven’t beaten all the single player levels, or even a majority of them, I’ve played several more rounds then I might have if it was a standard board game. At the same time, I would usually feel a bit weird reviewing a game with only five hours played.

The key phrase here is “would usually.” Because 98% of the human population is going to decide that they don’t want to play Tanto Cuore after the next sentence:

Tanto Cuore is a deckbuilder in which all of your cards are anime maids.

Have we scared off the normies with this photo? Good.

Cool, so yeah, now that no one else is going to read the rest of this article, let’s get going, starting with a short definition of the deckbuilder genre.

If you haven’t played a deckbuilder before, they generally work something like this: each player starts with a simple deck of cards. On your turn, you play those cards to take actions, and generate resources to buy more cards from some form of central supply to add to your deck. Cards you buy or play go into your discard pile, and when you run out of cards to draw from your deck, you shuffle your discard pile and it becomes your deck again. Unlike a traditional collectible card game like Yu-Gi-Oh or Magic: The Gathering, with deckbuilders you create your deck each time you play the game. You start from scratch with the same deck of simple cards each time you play.

The goal of Tanto Cuore is to have the most victory points at the end of the game, because of course it is. Now that we’ve talked about the most boring part of the game, let’s move onto the maids cards.

Tanto Cuore has four types of cards. There are love cards, general maids, private maids, and events. Of those four, private maids and events are the simplest to explain, so we’ll start with them.

Private maids don’t go into your deck. Instead, they go into a scoring zone. When you buy a private maid, it enters your scoring zone, and until you buy another private maid, or something else special happens, you can use its ability. They also tend to be worth victory points at the end of the game. While the abilities can appear small at first, they tend to be mechanically impactful.

Events also don’t go into your deck. In fact, they don’t go anywhere related to you at all. When you buy an event, you play it onto another player, or one of that player’s maids in their private quarter. Events tend to either disable abilities, or be worth negative victory points.

Of the remaining two card types, the simplest cards are Love cards. Love is the currency you use to hire maids, and love cards can be played without spending any resources. In any other game, these would be called “Gold” or “Money.” But yeah, here it’s Love.

Which brings us to the last card type: the maids themselves. The maids are the most complex and as such covering them all in detail isn’t possible. Instead, I’m going to give a general overview of the sort of things they do and how they get used.

There are three resources that you have on your turn. They are Love, Hires, and Servings. Love is used to pay the cost to get maids. However, in addition for each maid you get, you also need to spend a Hire. The last resource, Servings, actually has two uses. You can spend Servings to play maid cards, but you can also use them to send specific maids to your scoring zone. Doing this removes the maid from your deck, but allows it to potentially also score bonus end game victory points.

It’s this mechanic that I think really makes Tanto Cuore stand out to me as a different from other deckbuilders in a meaningful way. Almost all deckbuilders have some form of victory point card that sits around and does nothing, or cards that are useful in the early game, but clog your engine in the late game. In Tanto Cuore, many of those cards are actually your primary method of scoring. Colette Framboise is the best example of this. You can spend two Servings to remove her from your deck, which scores you points. And since your deck starts with only 10 cards, removing her can vastly increase deck efficiency.

So, now that we’ve finally finished talking about Tanto Cuore’s mechanics, let’s talk a bit more about the digital version of the game, since it’s probably the easiest version of the game for you to currently get your hands on (and forcefully gift to your friends in order into guilt them into playing with you).

Overall, I think it does a fairly good job as a digital port of a physical game. While some things do feel a bit barebones, none of those are the actual game itself. There’s also an extensive singleplayer mode/tutorial with a variety of levels that seems to unlock foil versions of the cards as you clear the levels will completing various objectives. The video and audio sliders actually work really well, and the game has ultra-wide monitor support for some reason. Protip: After launching the game, go in and just… slide that slider for voices all the way off. Thank me later.

I do have one gripe with the digital version of the game though: as far as I can tell, there’s no way to see a list of all the cards in the game. See, at the start of each game, you pick several different maids to be placed into the central buy row. The rest of the cards aren’t used for that game. But this means it’s entirely possible to start a game and see a few cards you haven’t ever seen before. It’s not a massive annoyance, but I really wish there was an in-game card browser, or like… a PDF.

So yeah, that’s Tanto Cuore. A really cool deckbuilder about collecting maids that none of your friends will play with you, either because you had no friends before getting the game, or you won’t have any after trying to get them to play it. Remember kids, Settlers of Catan and every other Euro-game that promotes colonialism and hyper capitalism is a-ok, but god forbid you have skimpily dressed anime women. That’s simply a bridge too far.

Tanto Cuore is $10 on Steam, $42 on Amazon on the physical copy, and apparently like $1800 for the Japanese edition? Yeah, I don’t know either. It’s good though, and worth playing (although probably not for $1800).

Fishards

Become a Fish Wizard. Fight. Kill. Collect silly hats.

Ed Note: We requested and received a few free keys of Fishards after watching the trailer, and being interested. This review is based on the experience with those pre-release game keys. Images are from the Steam Page.

When I saw the trailer for Fishards, I thought it looked neat, and convinced 3 other friends to play it with me. Of that group, I’m the only person who was kinda “Eh” on Fishards, with everyone else generally liking the game, even if they had some criticism. But they’re not writing this article, so lets talk about what I thought about it, and what the game generally is first.

In Fishards, you are a Fish Wizard. By combing the 5 elements, fire, water, earth, slime, and goo, you will cast spells, and defeat your enemies. Each combination of elements produces a specific spell.

While its tempting to compare Fishards to Magikca, I think this is a fairly inaccurate comparison. After going back and playing some Magicka for this writeup, while both games have a concept of “Combine elements for spells”, they both do it very differently. In Magicka, the elements you combine have various properties and rules. While there are specific spells that require you to enter a given combo of elements, just randomly pressing buttons will give you something. For example, if you combine lightning and beam, you get a beam that does lightning damage.

That’s not the case in Fishards. In Fishards, any two elements correlate to a specific spell, with it’s own specific cooldown. It reminds me a lot of playing the character Invoker in Dota 2. Because each spell instance has it’s own cooldown, you can’t really spam the same thing over and over again. There are a few exceptions to this rule, with the fireball and goo-spread spells that let you cast them multiple times. But a vast majority of them cannot be multicast, so you’re forced to switch up spells fairly rapidly.

Another way it’s unlike Magikca is that Fishards is technically stable and runs fairly well. While this is to it’s credit, I also never really found myself super engrossed in the game. If this article sounds kind of…. “Eh” on Fishards, that’s because it is. I don’t really feel strongly about Fishards. It’s neat, but right now, I didn’t really have a huge amount of fun with it.

Here’s the thing though: That’s just my thoughts. Of the group of folks I played with, other folks had some more positive thoughts. One friend generally liked the combo system, even if they thought the spells and other factors needed some tuning. The other two had issues seeing the cursor, but after the Dev’s were told about this, there was a patch that resolved this issue fairly quickly.

You can get Fishards here on Steam for $7. And y’know, that’s probably the right price for it. If the idea of a weird indie top down arena brawler interests you, I’d encourage you to give it a look, and see if you think you’d have fun with it.

Arknights

A mobile tower defense game where you run a PMC of anime furies. No wait, it’s cool, please come back.

Arknights is a mobile tower defense game. It commits some of the sins of mobile games in general, such as a gacha system for acquiring your “towers,” and an upgrade system that requires you to loot an entire RadioShack worth of gear to do anything. That said, it does enough unique and interesting things as a tower defense that I want to write about it, and I recommend it.

There’s a funny story about how this article wasn’t actually going to be an article about Arknights. It was going to be a list of some of some phone games that I’ve been playing. Part way through writing that list, I realized that I had written two paragraphs on Arknights, and nothing for the others. Then, when I tried to write about those other games, I realized that my reasons for playing them were, in no particular order:

  1. To collect fox girls.
  2. Because I’m desperately starved for anything pinball related.
  3. Sunk cost fallacy.

Arknights was the only one that I was actually playing because it was fun.

That’s not to say the game itself is perfect, by any means. As I mentioned above, I have problems with it. First, you have to roll what amounts to a slot machine in order to permanently unlock your units. Second, powering and leveling said units requires a shit ton of time. And the third, the game’s general story and lore is on par with Dota: Dragons Blood (which is to say, a mess).

But it does a bunch of other stuff right. For one, I really its “Stamina” system. Like many mobile games, Arknights has a Stamina system where you have to spend Stamina to enter and play a given stage. Unlike most mobile games I’ve played, if you wipe on stage, or choose to quit, it refunds a portion of that stamina. While this would be fine by itself, the bigger portion of this is the “Plan” system.

Plans are a parallel resource that refills to 30 at the start of each day. Plans can be used to enter a stage without spending any stamina, but you won’t get rewards for beating the stage, nor will beating it actually count as clearing the stage. In essence, they function as free “test” runs. If you haven’t played many games with a stamina system, their purpose might not be apparent. Plans allow you to constantly make attempts on content you’re stuck on, but without any risk of “wasting” your precious Stamina until you’re sure you can beat the level.

I really like this because it makes it into much more of game. You’re encouraged and enabled to try multiple strategies and ideas against levels you can’t clear. Instead of being punished for failure, you can practice and end up feeling 100% sure you’ll clear a level. You can safely try cheese and other weirdness to pass a level with no risk other than your time.

Actual Arknights levels tend to be structured similarly to normal tower defense levels. There are entry points where enemies spawn, and will follow a path to get to an exit point. If an enemy makes it all the way there, you lose a life. Run out of lives, and you fail the level.

That’s where a lot of the common genre tropes go out the window. You can’t just put down as many towers as you can afford. Instead, you can only have up to a given number of your operators on the field at any one time. Most operators can also only either be placed on ranged or melee tiles, based on their type. Once you place an operator down, you can’t move or reorient them without retreating them, waiting out their redeploy period, and then paying an increased cost to place them down again.

Almost all operators have a skill or talent of some kind. These range from stat buffs, to summoning a shadow clone copy of themselves, or just nuking the area around them.

And you will want to move them. The cost to deploy an operator is different from character to character, so you’ll often want to start by putting some of your cheaper units that generate additional deployment points into play, only to remove them later to free up space in your unit cap. And even if an operator is knocked out, after waiting out their redeployment, you can use them again on the same map. Did an enemy get past your defenses? You might find yourself having to toss someone down to block them from getting to the exit. Figuring out when to retreat unit, and when to play them is a big part of managing enemy aggro. Because of this system, Arknights is the only single player tower defense game I’ve ever played where I’ve straight up put units into play knowing they’ll die just to stall for time.

The enemies are also a bit more unique. While many of the starter enemies are standard, the game pretty quickly introduces some really neat types. Here are a few in no particular order:
Sentinels – A weak flag waving enemy who isn’t that big of a problem… except the second you shoot him, he goes into alert, buffing the rest of the units on the maps. Perhaps more interestingly, they tend to travel in routes where they ignore going toward the exit, and instead go on a grand tour of the rest of the map.
Grudgebearer – Grudgebearers start in Standby mode, which means unlike most enemies in tower defense games, they won’t attack. Even once they start moving, they won’t hit you. Unless you hit them or one of the aforementioned Sentinels, at which point Grudgebearers turn into giant tanky balls of pain. Figuring out how to aggro them in manageable ways before they all wake up is a neat challenge.
Maintenance Drones – Just because something shows up in the enemy list doesn’t mean it’s actually a threat to you. Take these very helpful little fellows. Of course, just because they’re helpful doesn’t stop your units from opening fire, which will be a problem, because you really want these guys to activate sanity restoring beacons. Why? Well…
The Entire Sea Terror Family – Have you ever wondered what what trying to fight the deep ones would look like in a tower defense? Well, worry no more, because now you can! And by “Can,” I mean you can watch your units go insane, and get stunned from trying to deal with any of the enemies from this archetype. Hooray!

There are civilians you’ll have to try to stop from getting butchered, leader enemies that will blast half your operators with a grenade launcher, and then cheerfully pull out a shiv when they get into melee range, and cloaked little shits who don’t care if you block them. They’ll just wander on past your entire defensive line if you can’t damage them down quick enough.

And that’s just a little taste of the enemies. There’s an equally large set of interesting map mechanics and setups. My personal favorite are maps where you can set up your units to just straight up shove the enemy into pits or off rooftops. But there are also maps with air vents that can boost or weaken stats based on if you’re facing into the wind or away from it, maps that let you maze like a more traditional tower defense with massive bricks, and even maps where your units are constantly being fired on by ballistas.

I will finish this Under-Tide furniture set someday.

There are some other subsystems, including an upgradable base, daily challenges, and some semi-survival raid-like sort of things, but they’re all additional modes and features, so I’m not going to talk about them here.

So yeah, that’s Arknights. A neat mobile tower defense game with a bunch of cool mechanics and enemies, and some less cool decisions around getting new operators. But overall, some really nice twists on the format.

Ed Note: Rate up is a lie.

A Buncha Steam Demos

Usually this would be good, bad, and ugly, but today we have weird, weirder, and still pretty weird.

Last week was the Steam Next Fest, a great chance to check out a whole bunch of demos of new games! Of course, I did not do that until yesterday when it turned out the entire event was over.

So instead of information about games promoted via Steam Next Fest, I went, downloaded a bunch of demos in the first three pages, and played them. So here we go.

Cthulhu Pub

Time Played: 45 Minutes

Genre: Simulation/Tower Defense

Thoughts – In theory, Cthulhu Pub is a game about building a restaurant for Elder Gods, and keeping it from being assaulted by things that want to destroy it. Of all the games on this list, I would say this one is in the roughest shape. I had to restart quite a few times before I figured out how to just… start the game without running out of money before finishing the tutorial. There are mechanics that aren’t explained, and it’s just generally kind of buggy and starts to slow down when you get a fair amount of monsters on the screen. But, it was weirdly compelling enough for me to keep trying until I figured stuff out, so it’s got that going for it.

Magical Girl D

Time Played: 12 Minutes

Genre: Pornographic/Erotic RPG

Thoughts – Magical Girl D is an RPG where you play as a magical girl with a dick. The demo had three visual novel style sex scenes, and the PC had one non-basic special attack. I feel like those two sentences really capture everything you need to know about this game demo to decide if you want to play it.

横戈

Time Played: 13 Minutes

Genre: RTS/Base Builder?

Thoughts – This might be a good time to mention I can’t speak Chinese, because this entire demo was in what I assume was Chinese. It could be something else. It’s some sort of RTS, but again, the whole “I can’t speak Chinese” thing meant I didn’t get through the tutorial.” But, I mean, it seemed kind of cool.

Fishards

Time Played: ~2 Hours

Genre: Top Down Arena Brawler

Thoughts – Fishards is a neat little arena brawler, and I’ll most likely write more about it than just this little blurb. You are a fish wizard, and you try to kill other fish wizards in multiplayer battles. I’d say it feels like it has the most in common with Magicka, as you summon spells by combining various elements. Unlike Magicka, it actually runs on my computer.

Legends of Mathmatica²: Under the Shadow of Certainty

Time Played: 13 Minutes

Genre: RPG

Thoughts – I didn’t play a huge amount of this demo. The combat itself is much better than the other RPG on the list. The combat is a sort of real time charge bar system. Each character in your demo party has multiple meaningful attacks. I got to the first mini-dungeon, then went to do something else. With that said, the writing was… present. It was there. I did not really care for it.

Treasure Tile

Time Played: 9 Minutes

Genre: Grid Based Diablo?….

Thoughts – I didn’t play a huge amount of this one. Treasure Tile feels like someone took an old roguelike, removed the permadeath portion, and strapped in Diablo/ARPG mechanics instead. While the game has some beautiful graphics, the combat itself just felt kind of off to me, and aiming skills felt difficult.

As always, thanks for reading, and if any of these seem interesting, I encourage you to play the demos yourself. Also, if anyone can tell me what that RTS game is called or how it works, that would also be cool.

Crowfall

More like Crowfail.

I’ve been trying to figure out what to write about Crowfall for the last few days. Let’s start with my opinion on the game: Crowfall is too fucking expensive to be worth playing. And when I say expensive, I mean both in terms of money and time.

If you want, you can close this article now, because the rest of it is going to be an extensive exercise in dead horse beating. If you’re still here, please grab your stick and join me.

I’d tolerate the mediocre graphics if the gameplay had any redeeming features. It doesn’t.

I want to start by talking about the easiest part of Crowfall to quantify: the simple monetary cost. Crowfall is $40, and it also has a monthly VIP system that costs about $15 a month. This puts it about on par in terms of pure cost with its competitors. Final Fantasy 14 is $60 for the full game with 4 expansions, and a required monthly subscription of about $15. World of Warcraft is $40, and also $15 a month plus the incalculable cost of knowing you’re supporting Activision-Blizzard, making it cost effectively infinite money. New World is $40 and the knowledge that you’re adding Jeff Bezos’s draconic horde of wealth.

So yeah, Crowfall is currently priced up there with a game that had more players on launch day than Crowfall has had estimated players total. And before you ask why I don’t have a better source for numbers, it’s because the devs turned that part of the API off.

This is a problem, because on a scale of “Virtual Disneyland” to “Digital Version of Detroit,” Crowfall is the latter. It wants to be a hardcore PVP game, with fights for territory, resources, and areas going on constantly. It has castles and landmarks that you can build up and guilds to join. As soon as you’re out of the pure tutorial world, when you die you drop 50% of your gold.

In the normal world, when you die, you drop half your inventory.

I have a bunch of small problems with Crowfall, but I have small problems with almost every game, so I’m going to talk about the big problem I have with Crowfall: the game expects you to do everything with other people. And not just a few other people, a lot of other people.

Let me give an example: One of Crowfall’s big ideas is that you are a “Crow,” a semi-immortal soul repeatedly brought back to life by the gods in order to fight for them. In terms of in-game mechanics, this means that to level up past a given point, you need to get and fuse with a new body.

Getting these bodies requires that you start by digging up body parts. In order to do this and get anything that’s not garbage, you’ll need the grave digger discipline. I believe it counts as an exploration discipline (more on that later). However, in addition to that discipline, which is a socketable rune, you’ll actually want an upgraded version of the grave digger, which you get by… farming random rune drops from digging up corpses. This requires you to have an intermediate shovel at a minimum, which means you’ll need to craft yourself a shovel, then upgrade it, which means you’ll need to mine and quarry stone, because those two are different. Once you have your upgraded rune that you got from RNG and upgrading (and you’ll need to socket Runecraft to actually upgrade it, I believe) you can actually start grinding again. Now, when you’ve finished grinding, you’ll have the body parts. You can’t use them yet, of course, you need to remake them. This means combining them with some other body parts, and also Ambrosia, which you’ll need an alchemist to make. Now that you’ve got all your body parts collected, you can finally combine them into a new vessel.

Hooray! Did I mention that doing this requires that you collect the right type of each body part for the right race of character that you want to create?

So why are we doing all of this? Well, because without doing it, you can’t actually play in a Shadows World, which is to say the big boy world. Up until then, you’ll play in what is basically a tutorial world. That’s right, this multi-step process just to create a character is more or less before you can actually start playing the full game.

Remember how I said we’d come back to that bit about minor disciplines? Well, you can only actually have two equipped at once, and you can only change them out in a temple. Long story short, there’s no reasonable way to do all of what I described above as a single person, or even a pair. You’ll need a guild or another group to work with. Without one, you’ll most likely have to stay in the beginner world, where drop rates are lower, and buildings seem to reset daily.

Now, it’s entirely possible you read all of this, and go “Wow, that seems like the game for me!” And maybe it is. Maybe you’re all excited about PvP, farming for random items for hours, and ganking other players.

One tiny problem: remember how I mentioned the devs hiding the player count up above? Well, that might be because the servers are incredibly fucking dead. In my time spent during the trial, I feel like I saw less than 30 players total outside of the spawn area.

Yeah, the game is not highly populated.

I have some other problems as well. The auto-attacks put all of your other abilities on cooldown, making combat super frustrating. The number of enemy types in PVE are really low. There’s no form of inventory sorting, meaning that your inventory more or less ends up looking like Minecraft. Speaking of mining, your auto attack and your harvesting abilities are bound to same key, so if you don’t click on that boulder correctly, you’re now in combat until that cooldown wears off in a few seconds. Oh, and if you try to put items of a type you already have into your bank, but don’t have an empty bank slot, you can’t. Even though you already have those items in your bank.

So yeah. Crowfall is an attempt at a sandbox, heavy player interaction MMO, but because there’s nobody playing it, and it takes forever to do anything. It’s filled with small annoyances, and systems that don’t feel fun (I’m looking at you, obscenely fast gear decay). Some of its ideas are decent, but on those bones sits nothing of interest.

All this to say: I don’t recommend.

Disgaea 6 – Spoiler Full Edition

It’s been over a month since D6 came out in North America. We had a spoiler-free writeup on the series earlier, and I’m gonna write this post assuming that you already read that one. Is that entirely fair? No, it’s not, but otherwise I’d be retreading a lot of already-visited ground.

Just in case you still choose not to read it, here’s the five second version. D6 has a new art style, performance problems, and gives you meaningful access to the unique mechanics essential to the game faster than its predecessors. Good?

Few more things to get out of the way before we get into this:

  1. I cleared all content except Raksha Ba’al, the last endgame secret boss.
  2. I played without any DLC except the free Hololive DLC.
  3. My save file has about 300 or so hours on it. I’d say that translates to about 80-100 hours of gameplay, maybe a bit more. The reason those numbers don’t add up is because I spent a lot of time auto-grinding.

ART

Disgaea 6 has a very different look than its predecessors. Instead of using 2D sprites like the previous games, D6 uses 3D models. I don’t like them as much as the old sprites. In addition, the super over-the-top skills feel a bit more toned down than usual in terms of visual flashiness. I didn’t see anything that was super memorable, and many of the skill animations feel shorter, as compared to things like D5’s Super Olympia which crushes an entire solar system as part of the attack.

STORY

If I’m rushing through these elements, it’s mostly because I want to just address them and get them out of the way. Compared to the other games, I’d say D6 has a stronger finish and conclusion than 5, albeit with somewhat weaker middle. The characters are solid. There are some fairly funny moments, and a few more brutal ones. All in all, it’s fine. It does follow the same pattern as D5: many characters get a power up at various points in the story arc that correspond to their growth as a character, making that growth feel a bit forced, but it’s an overall improvement.

GAMEPLAY

And here we are: the big one. The chonky boy. The factor that the rest of this post is going to be devoted to: D6’s gameplay loop. So how is it?

Well… it’s a bit different than other entries in the series, actually. Let me explain what I mean.

Disgaea has a reputation for being a grindy game, but despite that fact, grinding usually isn’t necessary to beat the “Main Game” and see the credits roll. It’s more or less required to beat endgame content, but even then, grinding in Disgaea tends to be a bit different than traditional grinding. Instead of the classic “Walk around, find encounter, spam attacks, rinse repeat,” Disgaea tends to take more of a puzzle route. End game grinding in Disgaea is less about how much you grind and more about making your grind as efficiently as possible.

Let’s take D4 as an example. D4 has a set of end game maps that culminate in a map that is incredibly simple. It’s just a large square of enemies, arranged in a specific pattern. And it’s possible, with the right set of skills, abilities, and setup, to hit and clear this entire map in one hit, and hit the level cap after a single fight in this map. This isn’t an oversight. The map is designed in such a way to be beaten like this, and cleared incredibly quickly.

D6 is different. Unlike other games in the series, you will have to grind to beat the main story, because the level cap has been extended twice, all the way up to something like 9,999,999,999, along with the stat cap. The leveling process itself is much faster, and but there are still a few points where if you’re playing each map once, you won’t be high enough level to clear the next one.

And this is where some of the game’s new systems, Demonic Intelligence (D.I. for short), auto-play, and auto-repeat come into play. DI is effectively a visual programming language. Each unit can store up to five of these, and have a single one active. When you toggle on the auto-play feature, the game will have your units execute commands based off their active DI. If you toggle on auto-repeat, when you clear the map, you’ll just start it over again. Which means this is the point where D6 switches from being a tactics game, to being an incremental game.

DI is a really cool idea. I really would like to say I love it. Unfortunately, I can’t because in its current incarnation, it has some massive flaws. Disgaea 6 doesn’t have any form of documentation/information about exactly how DI works. When I say documentation, I mean explaining how the various functions work. For example, it would be great if the game explained that “The Target an Enemy Function will target the closest enemy starting by checking clockwise…” but it doesn’t. And while normally this wouldn’t be too bad, it brings me to the second point. There’s no real way to debug or step by step execute DI Instead, you can either have it turned on or off. There are also several commands that are effectively useless such as option that lets you target a specific square on a grid, without any way to figure out how gridding for maps works.

The end result is a system that is very hard to get it to dowhat you want. Instead, I found myself just sort of brute-forcing it. I would run DI setups that I thought would fail, and they would end up working. More often than not, though, the DI setups I thought would work instead failed. Instead of using DI as a solution to automate grinding to high levels, I tended to make simple patterns, and just have units leveled up high enough that I could face roll through content.

And generally speaking, this would be mostly fine if it wasn’t for another new system: Karma.

Karma functions as a replacement for the Chara World systems from previous games. These are areas that you would use to permanently boost your characters’ growth and stats.

In D6, instead of having an item world equivalent like D4, or a Mario Party board game like D5, each time you reincarnate a character, you get a certain amount of Karma. You’re then given a menu where you can spend this Karma on a variety of things, including extra evilities, stat boosts, and…. max level and stat caps.

And here’s the problem: because of the ridiculous scaling in D6, scaling your stats with Karma feels like the most effective way to boost scaling. But because the level cap is so high, it takes several hours of grinding with DI to have your party hit the level cap. Or you can do this bullshit and have a single member of your party hit max level in about 5 minutes, but there’s no way to use DI to farm it.

Regardless of how you choose to do it, once you do, you hit one final wall: The amount of Karma you get per reincarnation is “relatively” small. And because this is Disgaea, let me give some exact numbers. Each reincarnation from max level gives about 120,000,000 Karma. Each stat point past 2,000 costs 5,000,000 Karma to buy. Stats cap at 4,000. There are like 6 stats. I was gonna say “I’ll let you do the math”, but that’s a cop out, so instead, here it is.

Getting a single character to max stats would require you to run this 3-5 minute setup about 500 times. So, assuming maximum generosity, just about 25 hours, if each loop took 3 minutes. There is no way to speed it up or make it faster.

I wouldn’t say this is the defining factor of D6 for me, but it does highlight what feels like the weirdness of the game. It’s a game based around massive numbers, but makes getting to them a chore. It adds autogrinding and looping, but it does so in a way that makes the system hard to utilize, and debug, and means that you end up skipping more content than you play. And even when you use those systems, in the hyper late game, they’re less efficient than actually playing the game by such a massive amount that you may as well just ignore them.

While it might seem like I don’t like D6 given how much time I just spent tearing parts of the game apart, those things only came to annoy me because I spent so much time playing the game. I do want to call out D6 for what it does well: making an attempt at innovating with some of its mechanics and systems, and trying to make them more core to the main game.

The attempt at switching to 3D, and the new combat animations aren’t great, but hopefully that’s the result of unfamiliarity with new tools and systems. DI is a very interesting system, but it’s heavily busted because of the lack of ability to debug and step through behavior. The frame rate is garbage for no reason, so hopefully that gets fixed.

As an entry in the Disgaea franchise, D6 simply wasn’t as fun from a purely tactical gameplay standpoint as D5. The lack of exciting combat mechanics like Overloads, somewhat reduced skills, and lower character class pool didn’t feel as interesting.

So here’s my verdict:

If you already like the Disgaea series for the story and humor, D6 is worth playing through for those.

If you already liked the series for munchkining tactics and extensive vidya bullshit, and don’t give a shit about the story, D6 is probably not going to be your cup of tea.

And if you’ve never played a Disgaea game before, well, it depends. D6 is in many ways a good introduction to the series, with some of the simplified systems, and auto-grinding. But those same elements also make the meta-flow of progression less interesting, so if you want to see what the franchise’s mechanics are all about, I’d suggest D5 instead.

Kyle’s Good Stuff Gamepass List

A list of Good Stuff you can get on Microsofts Gamepass Service.

Ah, Gamepass. If you haven’t heard of it, Gamepass is Microsoft’s “Netflix for games” service. After some jackass gave me shit for pre-ordering Back 4 Blood, saying that it would come out on Gamepass, and I could play the whole thing for like $10 instead of $80, I decided to see if there was anything else on the service I’d care about. And there is! In fact, my opinion is if you play more than 3 AAA games per year, it probably makes sense to subscribe Gamepass for a few months of the year.

So anyway, that’s what today’s thing is. A list of the good games on Gamepass that I’ve been playing recently, what each game is, what I think of it, and why you should play it. Some of these you’ve probably heard of, and some you probably haven’t. But anyway, let’s get into the list.

Ikenfell is a turn-based tactical RPG with quick time event-style minigames for attacking and blocking. (Think the Super Mario RPG sorta stuff.) Plotwise, the hook is that you go to a magic forest that has a wizard school in it to try to find your missing sister who was attending said wizard school.

Storywise, I thought it was amazing. The music was almost all really good. There was one boss battle where the music sort of took me out of the moment, but that was it.

With that said, the game is a little grindy. Unless you like the grind, I suggest turning on the game’s accessibility options or cheat mode to farm EXP, and then turning them back off for the boss fights, where the combat is the most interesting. The puzzles are also pretty good.

I love Psychonauts 2. It’s the best platformer of the year in my opinion. Psychonauts 2 is a puzzle platformer that requires a lot of outside the box thinking and trickery.

While it frontloads a lot of mechanics, I got used to them pretty quickly. The side quests feel amazing even when they’re just fetch quests. The Art style was mildly off-putting, but I got used to it after a bit. The story is also really good, and better then the first game in my opinion. While a lot of the gameplay returns from the first game, there are a few new abilities, including a time stop. There are also lots of new minigames. Finally, the pacing of new enemies is much better than its predecessor: there’s a new enemy each area, and a fairly good variety of foes.

If you do decide to pick up Psychonauts 2, I highly suggest you get the “Deal Double Damage, Take Double Damage” ability as soon as you can, because without it enemies can feel a bit tanky. Like trying to break a brick with a pool noodle.

Clustertruck is a fast paced 3d platformer. Unlike what the splash image might imply, you do not spend it smashing trucks into each other. Instead, you play a high-speed highway version of the floor is lava, except the only part of the floor you can stand on is trucks being launched at incredible speeds.

While I think Clustertruck has the best movement of anything in this list, I really don’t like how the abilities you use get unlocked. You have a trick meter that you fill by doing tricks and stuff. Except by the time I got to the final level, I had unlocked maybe half.

On that subject, I did not like the final level. It breaks a bunch of the conventions that the rest of the game set up, and not in a fun way.

Ed Note: We already have a full writeup on Hades that you can read here. As I don’t feel like retyping out 90% of that review, I’m just going to put two or three choice quotes from that article below, and call it good enough. Frankly, I think all the game of the year awards from…. everyone really do a good enough job.

“I have no criticisms.”

“The only roguelite that has ever made me want to keep playing just because of the strength of the story.”

“The characters and their relationships offer unique takes on the characters that you may already be familiar with, but will still be presented in a new light.”

So yeah, everyone loves it, and everyone but me has played it.

Sunset Overdrive is a action adventure game, with both third person shooter elements, and little bit of Tony Hawk movement. Its tone feels a bit like Borderlands.

This game came out in 2014, and it does sorta show. Character creation was limited, and all the characters look ugly IMO. But that’s the aesthetic. Graphics quality is fine for its time. The guns feel good, there’s a huge map to explore, and the characters are memorable and odd. There was one annoying child I wanted to run over a with bus, but after a bit, I didn’t want to run him over as much. So. Character development.

I do have two problems with it, but I have only played 5 hours so far, so perhaps these get alleviated? Anyway, here they are.

  1. It can be hard to find where resources you need for an upgrade are. There’s no radar or anything.
  2. I really don’t like the holdout missions where you have to protect some payload from zombies. In every other game with this sort of mission, you want to hold a position and mow them down. Since Sunset Overdrive instead wants to constantly be moving around to keep up your combo meter, the end result is the two systems clashing, and these missions feeling kind of junky to play.

So yeah, if any of these strike your fancy, you may want to check out Gamepass for PC.

Note: These were all played through Gamepass for PC. The editor to too lazy to check if they’re on all Gamepass for Xbox, because he doesn’t own one.

Pokémon Super Mystery Dungeon

Super Mystery Dungeon came out 5 years ago, but I’m playing it now, so… yeah.

Ed Note: the full name for any of the games in the Pokémon Mystery Dungeon series tends to be Pokémon Mystery Dungeon : <Title of the Rest of the Game>. Because these titles end up being 7 words long, I’ve shortened them down to just <Title of the Rest of the Game> for this writeup.

I really like the Pokémon Mystery Dungeon series. This shouldn’t be confused with the Mystery Dungeon Mainline series, or any of the spinoffs. In fact, I recently tried to play one of the mainline series, which led me back to playing Pokémon Super Mystery Dungeon instead, because Shiren the Wanderer: The Tower of Fortune and the Dice of Fate kicked my ass.

So what exactly makes up the Mystery Dungeon series, why do I like the spinoff Pok é mon games better, and am I filthy casual for jumping off the mainline series?

First off, let’s briefly talk about the Mystery Dungeon Series as a whole. It’s the name for a whole bunch of games published by Chunsoft. And because I’ve only played one game in the series that isn’t a spinoff, I’m gonna just link the Wikipedia article here. Generally speaking, though, it’s one of the few games that can be described as roguelike without annoying that magical group of people who are overly twitchy about the roguelike label being misapplied. That is to say, it’s a turn-based dungeon crawler on a grid.

So, second question. Why do I like the Pokémon spinoff games better? While this article is specifically talking about Pokémon Super Mystery Dungeon, I’ve played and really enjoyed Blue Rescue Team and Explorers of Time. Gates to Infinity was mediocre. But it didn’t turn me off the series enough to avoid Super Mystery Dungeon when it came out. To answer why I like the spinoff games better than the mainline ones, I’m going to compare the games to what I’ve seen so far of Shiren, and list the things the Pokémon games do differently. Here’re a few of the reasons:

Wiping in a dungeon in the spinoff games doesn’t reset your level. While you do lose all your items and money, you don’t go back to level 1. This means that you can grind your way through bullshit, and a wipe doesn’t feel like a complete loss of progress.

Speaking of which, escape scrolls/escape orbs (items that let you escape the dungeon with all of your stuff if everything looks like it’s about to go to shit) actually drop in the Pokemon games, while they apparently only show up if you get rescued in a dungeon in the mainline series.

Oh, and revival seeds exist, so that when an enemy you haven’t seen before TPK’s your squad, you can actually keep playing, instead of just getting dunked on.

The fact that the game has Pokémon as the characters is a benefit, but perhaps even more importantly for me, as the games go on, you get the ability to play as almost any of them, which gives a massive pool of playable characters.

Outside of all these mechanics though, one thing I’ve always liked about Pokémon in general is the sense of exploration. There’s always been something neat and magical for me about the idea of venturing around somewhere and discovering something fantastic. And while I don’t get that feeling from the current mainline Pokémon games, it’s still present in the Mystery Dungeon spinoffs.

So now that we know why I like the Pokémon spinoffs the best, let’s talk about why I like Super Mystery Dungeon the most of the spinoffs.

While the general gameplay is the same, there are a few big changes to how teambuilding works for the post game. For starters, you recruit new team members by completing missions and adding them to your connection sphere. This is nice compared to the older games which instead required you to defeat an enemy, and then win a hidden role to recruit them. In addition to that, you then had to either complete or escape the dungeon with said team member.

Next up, treasure! Super Mystery Dungeon has treasure chests, like the games before it, but also has gold bars, a secondary currency that you keep regardless of whether you wipe or not in a dungeon. They’re just fun to get, and unlike other items, they don’t actually show up on the mini-map. Instead, they show as little sparkles that you have to walk over, and when you do, you’ll get gold bars or another useful item.

If I have a complaint about Super Mystery Dungeon, it would be that prior to the postgame, the game felt a bit slow. To be fair, I was playing it about 3 years ago. But I remember being frustrated by how slowly I learned new moves and leveled up.

So that’s the Mystery Dungeon set of games. If the idea of a cool little Pokemon dungeon crawler with a massive amount of content and postgame appeals to you, break out that 3DS, grab yourself a copy off eBay, and dive in.