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.