Back 4 Blood

A unique Co-op First Person Shooter with Roguelite Deck Building for progression, with modernized Left 4 Dead-esque gameplay, and Counter-Strike-esque Item Shop by Turtle Rock Studios (TRS). 

Author Note: I’ve played a lot of zombie shooters, including World War Z, Call of Duty Zombies, Zombie Army 4, State of Decay 2, and of course Left 4 Dead 1 and 2. As you might guess, I kinda like the genre.

If you’ve never played a zombie shooter before, the general gameplay loop is something like the following: you and several of your friends are dropped into the start of the level. You’re given guns, a few medkits, and “Good Luck!” and tossed out into the apocalypse. You start in some form of safe area, and your goal is to get to another safe area. Along the way, you’ll be attacked by wave after wave of zombies who want to get their hands on your delicious face meat. Different entries in the genre handle things like when waves of zombies spawn, special super zombies, ammo, and importance of individual performance vs teamwork differently. Groundwork set, so lets talk about Back 4 Blood.

Back 4 Blood is the most polarizing zombie shooter I’ve played. I can attest that you will either love it or hate it. At launch it had a lot of problems with bugs and difficulty scaling; however the current patch fixed most issues. As such, I will be judging the game in its current form as of the Dec. 17th update.

Technically, Back 4 Blood offers two different game modes. There are co-op campaigns through 4 different acts, as well as a PVP mode called Swarm Mode. I think Swarm Mode is an awful experience. If you’re looking for PVP look elsewhere. This game ain’t it. The rest of this paragraph is going to be a short list of why it sucks, but then we’re gonna just ignore it for the rest of the article.  Swarm mode suffers from too much downtime between rounds, small map size, and frequent disconnects from either side due to just not being fun.

The PvE experience however is great. It offers high replayability with enormous build diversity and almost infinite skill ceiling in that you can always learn a new thing or two every time you play.

The game offers three difficulties: Recruit, Veteran, and Nightmare. Compared to other games’ difficulties these are comparable to Normal, Hard, and Insane. Nightmare is substantially harder than Veteran. The general progression path for all players is that you complete all missions through Recruit, then grind Veteran until you have enough progression unlocked to handle Nightmare difficulty. The main differences between the modes are the typical numeric difficulty scaling. Enemies hit harder, have more health, and more of them. The only big difference between them though is corruption card system.  

Corruption cards add modifiers to change up attack patterns or defenses of the zombies. This can include the zombies getting armored plating to negate bullets, having no weak points, or auras to buff allies around them. This adds a lot of variety to the missions. You can go through the same mission, but have a vastly different experience based on what the AI director through against you with this Corruption card system. It could be common zombies explode on headshot for acid damage, which would incentivize more area of effect weapons like Molotov’s or barbed wire to slow them. Of couse, the AI isn’t the only one who gets neat cards. Back 4 Bloods biggest twist on the genre is its Deck System. 

To build a deck, a player selects up to 15 cards to put into one, names it, then selects it and a character at the start of a level when joining a game. Order of cards matters in your deck. Your first card you will always have, but the order you pick from then on is somewhat flexible. For example on the first mission of act 1, you start with your first card but then you get a choice from one of your cards in order of 2 through 6.


This allows you to build the deck in such a way where you can put cards in to counter certain corruption card modifiers on your current run. For example, there are quite a few corruption cards that reduce line of sight via fog, toxic gas, or lack of lights; you can counter this with the card “Marked for Death” which allows you to highlight a red outline of special ridden while multiplying the damage your team does to them by 10%. No one player however can cover all contingencies; but a team can. There are lots of different strategies to deck-building because you can try to create a jack of all trades that can react well to everything, or you can go hyper specialized. The Deck System is complex because most games don’t offer this level of choice in customizing your character in a co-op shooter. You can make hyper specialized character roles, like melee, healer, reviver, sniper, loot find builds, grenadier, etc. or a hybrid between them. Each of the characters has a unique card (see above) which generally provides a unique buff to them as well as a buff to the team such as move speed or extra lives, etc. All characters are viable and usually have unique roles they best excel at. Depending on the campaign you start with a different amount of cards(see below), but you always gain 1 card per level from your deck.

I’m uncertain what is “optimal” but I can confirm that most cards are viable in some build up to veteran difficulty.  Once you get to nightmare difficulty I’d say it is reduced to around 20% of the cards.

You get more cards for your deck by unlocking supply lines with supply points. You get supply points from completing missions. The top supply line is mostly damage cards, middle supply line is mostly support cards, while the bottom supply line is melee/utility/copper find cards. All supply lines are mixed with cosmetics to unlock as you play.

That is not necessarily to say that you can’t win without cards, just that it’s significantly easier with using the “best” cards. Still, all the cards in the world are nothing in comparison to having a good coordinated squad. I recommend joining a discord group because this game truly shines with a four man squad on voice comms. I’ve beat nightmare using exclusively in-game matchmaking on nightmare but prepare for lots of failed runs if you choose to do so.

For solo queue meta, the best decks I run with use the same 2 or so damage cards (Glass Cannon 25%damage/ Hyper Focused for 50% Weakspot Damage),  2 or 3 mobility (Run Like Hell for 12% move speed is auto include for all builds) cards and the rest goes to your role. The only role that deviates from this rule is melee, they will be a little weak early game but they are the kingpin to a group. Without melee to handle the common ridden you won’t have ammo to kill the specials or bosses. Pure economy builds based on copper gain or loot find are too slow to come online to be viable as Nightmare runs are reduced from checkpoint to checkpoint and rarely completing a full act in one sitting.

Here below are the decks I’ve used for my nightmare runs. Even though you lay out the cards you pick up 1-15, you don’t have to choose that way, for some runs you’ll react to what the corruption card is for that mission and prioritize getting different cards first. Generally speaking though I will prioritize 2 damage cards always, if the team is doing poorly I’ll get cards that aid the team such as Needs of the Many for extra lives, otherwise I’ll focus immediately on more selfish cards. 

 In the most recent December update they added a new type of one-use-per-level card called “Burn” Cards which apply a buff for one mission in any act campaign you are playing in. They cost on average 50 supply points, which is steep for beginning players. If you are a new player just ignore the burn card supply line and focus on unlocking all the other cards first. This feature is good because it allows you to take out some randomness in the game, for example if you are a LMG build, you can use a burn card to guarantee a LMG for your character at the start of your mission.

I was iffy on burn cards and this following statement is speculation; I am concerned at how easy it would be for TRS to turn Burn Cards into microtransactions where you buy supply points with real cash, so you can apply those buffs every mission for a campaign. The same could be said of regular cards as well. If such a thing happens though I feel like most players would drop this game. TRS are definitely treading a fine line with the introduction of burn cards. In its current state however it is an amazing addition to the game. Here below are some of the burn cards. 

Core Game Flaws in summary: 

  1. Supply Point Acquisition is ergo the rate at which you unlock stuff is too slow, also no points gained from losses is unnecessarily punishing.   
  2. Not being able to see allied players’ decks to strategize accordingly.
  3. New Player experience is mediocre for 6 hours at least which is intolerable for any game. For any casual player that is at least a week before the game gets “good”.  
  4. Swarm PVP sounds good conceptually as contests to who can hold out longest, but all the downtime between rounds and in practice feels awful to play with random Battle Royale Circle of gas closing in. Left 4 Dead definitely had the formula right with PVP through the regular campaign.  
  5. For Back 4 Blood the ratio between common zombies and mutants is around 75:25 where most zombie shooters are closer to 95:5 so the game feels more special hunting than massive hordes of zombies like most other games in the genre. 
  6. Lots of bosses with Big Health bars appear in the different missions, more than half the time the proper thing to do is just ignore them and run. The UI does a disservice in that all gamers have been trained for generations to see a big HP bar and kill it, not run. It’s a tough call though and I understand it’s useful for a player to know at a glance how close a boss is to being dead. 
  7. Map objectives are sometimes unclear, lots of levels have parts to them where they spawn endless hordes of zombies until you reach some area. An objective indicator stating such would be nice. 
  8. Back 4 Blood failed the silhouette test which is how easily can one spot the difference between the mutant ridden variants based on shape outline alone. In Left 4 Dead you can tell at a glance between Boomer, Smoker, Hunter, but in Back 4 Blood that only applies between the first level special mutant ridden. You can tell the difference between  “Tall Boys”, “Stingers”, and  “Reekers” however most of the variants of each are subtly different which in the heat of battle are harder to distinguish. For example the visual difference between a tall boy and bruiser is that a bruiser is spikier on the arm, but a bruiser has substantially more HP. Generally speaking when you play enough you learn anyways but I feel more could have been done to differentiate between them all to uphold the silhouette test more clearly. 

Core Game Pros in summary: 

  1. Corruption System/Deck Card Roguelite system feels amazing
    1. Makes every run feel different and promotes experimentation with different strategies accordingly.
    2. Enables players to feel powerful towards the end of runs in ways no other in the genre successfully captures. 
    3. Allows players to finetune decks to cater to a specific playstyle that they enjoy rather than forcing each player to play only one way. There probably is an “optimal” deck for each campaign section and each role but most cards are competitively viable for a given role and feel impactful. 
  2. Highly replayable level design is great in that it’s still linear so you don’t get lost but complex enough where there are a lot of little things to learn even when you’ve played the level twenty times.
  3.  Cosmetics are all unlockable via in-game progression, and not with microtransactions aside from launch edition bundles of 4 skins. This will probably change, but on the whole is a sight for sore eyes in a world where everything is like 10 dollars a skin in the rest of the world in AAA gaming. 
  4. Monthly Patching keeps things fresh and exciting. The november update killed this game with heavy nerfs and ridiculous special spawn rate bugs, but they redeemed most of the problems with the december update with burn card system, and buffs to cards, while nerfing speedrun strategies. When speedrunning was exclusively the only way to play the game, it was just not fun and warranted nerfs. It’s still viable in coordinated group play but no longer required.  
  5. The corruption system that randomly buffs them throughout your campaign playthrough is a nice touch to keep you on your toes to change how you proceed through a level. This helps a ton with replayability, as you might gravitate to more bullet stumble type weapons to stagger armored ridden, or you could go for lighter faster firing weapons when they are all fast packing acid or fire heads.
  6. The item shop between missions in an act feels amazing. You are constantly torn between pooling enough coins together to buy a team upgrade for long term power, or biting the bullet and buying up max equipment like frag grenades to shred bosses, or other items. Adding economy as a facet of the game is a huge win for enabling a pause to strategize with the team, as well as extreme flexibility to different strategies for any level. While other games have economy mechanics, none are quite like this for the zombie shooter genre. 

At the end of the day I think if you like roguelites, and Left 4 Dead you will love Back 4 Blood. However, Back 4 Blood surprisingly isn’t a zombie shooter, like that’s the story flavor but gameplay wise it’s truly too different from everyone else. World War Z, Zombie Army 4, Call of Duty Zombies, Left 4 Dead are all games which nail the aesthetic of there are millions of these guys and you need to mow them down and get to that next safe room as soon as possible.

Back 4 Blood and State of Decay 2 play more into a slow proactive playstyle with few bursts of action and a focus on efficient resource use. The spice in Back 4 Blood is experimenting constantly with different card builds seeing what works and doesn’t work for you. Tailoring decks specific to each act ultimately. The power curve where you start weak, but over time become a god at your role is addicting in a way no other in the genre captures.

It’s possible you’re not sold on the game, which is understandable. I personally recommend playing Back 4 Blood on something like Xbox Game Pass first just to try it because the game is very polarizing. Some people love it, some people hate it, but no one comes out of it with a neutral opinion. 


An incredibly interesting deckbuilder that takes the 4th wall and uses it as cardstock.

Let me save you a lot of time. Go play Inscryption. Here’s the game’s homepage. It is very good. That’s not to say I don’t have problems with it. I actually have one very large problem, but I’ll get to that later. Once you’ve played the game, obviously.

It’s okay, I’ll wait.


You finish it yet?

>NO, I haven’t bought it or started it.

>NO, but I started Inscryption .

>YES, I finished Inscryption

Your move.


Orna is an interesting augmented reality game, with an focus on the “Game” bit.

Orna is an augmented reality game in the general vein of Pokemon Go. Where Pokemon Go is heavy on the augmented reality and sometimes forgets to be a game, Orna remembers that AR games are supposed to actually be… well, games. In general, it functions as a semi-procedural RPG. There are monsters to fight, dungeons to explore, quest givers, inns, and shops.

You can filter what shows up on your map by what you’re looking for, including only showing enemies, or only showing larger bosses.

Like Pokemon Go, you have a sphere around you that dictates what you can interact with, and if you want your character to move, you need to move around in real life. The game world is overlaid on top of a world map, and you tap nearby things to interact with them.

Perhaps the biggest difference between Orna and most other augmented reality games I’ve seen is that Orna is focused on being a game. While combat starts out as a fairly simple affair, leveling up gives you the ability to unlock and switch between additional classes. The higher tier classes give access to additional skills, abilities, and skill slots, letting you bring more moves into battle.

For example, earlier in the game I had a thief who turned into a magic wielding wizard. I would buff myself up to be able to dodge attacks, then just stab people a bunch. After a while, I found that not having access to elemental abilities was making it harder to defeat certain enemies. So I switched over being more of caster.

Before I stopped playing, I’d rebuilt again into using physical damage, but casting low-mana cost spells to apply elemental damage of various types to my attacks, while trying to lock the enemy down with sleep and other status effects. This only worked because I’d unlocked a high enough tier class to bring in about 8 spells to battle, and ran a pet that had a chance to heal me each round, so I could just focus on damage and status effects. So there was quite a lot of build variety available to me.

You start out with just two skill slots, but you get more as you unlock higher tier classes.

The end result of all of this is a reasonably in depth system that, oddly enough, illustrates something to me that I hadn’t thought about too much before. Why do so many Augmented Reality games lack in-depth mechanics? The answer, I realized, is because outside of all this combat, you are at least in theory supposed to be playing this game while wandering around outside. In games with in-depth combat mechanics, combat actually requires attention and planning. Trying to play Orna and not walk into people/traffic/road signs is actually pretty tricky.

Instead, I often found myself pausing my walk in order to finish combat encounters or larger boss fights. Orna includes an auto-attack system to get through fights while not paying attention, but using it tended to result in me getting my ass handed to me. A level of attention and focus was necessary to actually win.

Most of the game’s secondary systems also run into a similar problem. There are dungeons, which are a longer gauntlet of battles, and you can’t pause or anything between. There’s the arena, where you face off against other players’ builds controlled by the AI. Both of these can be a bit tricky, and require you to actually be careful with your moves.

On the flip side, there are some systems that encourage moving around, at least a little bit. You get quests through daily random quests, from quest givers, or from other sources. Some quests just ask you to “explore” and walk a certain distance. In addition, there’s a territory capturing system that gives you bonuses for a time period for beating the mini-boss controlling an area.

No, the blue currency isn’t premium, it’s Orns, used to create various buildings and unlock new classes. But you can’t buy it with real money.

You can also construct various different types of shops and buildings to provide additional passive income, and other boosts and benefits. Some of these buildings can be seen and used by other players, while some can’t. But if you want you can choose to make the public ones private. In theory, this would let you wander around and discover other players’ structures, but in practice, I mostly just built everything in one place, and never left that area.

There are a bunch of other systems, including upgrading items, socketing gems into items, fishing, and various multiplayer raids, but I haven’t played around with them enough to really know what to say.

Look, this photo of my gear is just here to pad out the article.

And that’s a general overview of Orna. An interesting augmented reality game without excessive microtransaction bullshit, but which is sometimes a bit hard to play because of how many mechanics and systems work. Or at least, difficult to play while not getting hit by a truck.

If Orna sounds cool, or you want to play something that requires you to walk around a bit and isn’t Pokémon Go, you can find Orna on the Apple App Store and Google Play store if you just search the name. If you’re not sure, there’s more info on the game’s webpage here.

Deltarune – Chapter 1 & 2

So, Deltarune. I think it’s very good.

Deltarune is a turn-based RPG. It’s made by Toby Fox, the creator of the darlingest of indie darlings, Undertale. There are a large number of similarities between the two games, including rad as hell music, incredibly weird yet cohesive stories, and bullet hell gameplay mechanics for dodging enemy attacks.

They’re also both games that at least to my mind are much richer if you go into them with no spoilers. As such, if you enjoyed Undertale or games like Earthbound, I would encourage you to grab your gaming machine of choice, and download Chapter 1 & 2 right now. They’re free, and they’re available for PC, Switch, and PS4.

Now, it’s possible that this isn’t enough information for you. You want to know more about what you’re actually getting into. So this next section of the article is for those of you who are either on the fence, or not as interested. Perhaps you played Undertale and it never grabbed you. Perhaps you’ve had your fill of weird internet humor. Perhaps you’re tired of listening to Megalovania. Whatever the reason, I’d still suggest you check out Deltarune.

Deltarune is still just as weird as its famed predecessor, and the music is in my opinion just as good. However, Deltarune’s combat and ACTION system are vastly improved over those of Undertale.

One of Undertale’s primary selling points was that you didn’t have to kill anyone. You could play the game as traditional turn-based RPG with grinding, attacks, and murder. But you could also play through the game by choosing to talk and interact with enemies, and then SPARING them, ending combat without defeating them.

How the story unfolds if you choose to spare enemies is one of the most unique parts of the game. Unfortunately, choosing to spare “trash mobs” quickly becomes tedious after the first time you fight that type of enemy. Combat encounters in Undertale are fairly simple. Combat starts, and on your turn as a pacifist, you select various options in the interaction bar to try to butter up or calm down your opponent. Whenever they attack you, you play a bullet hell dodging mini-game to avoid being hit. While this is fine for bosses, it quickly becomes a boring for the other fights. Every type of normal enemy has the same sequence each time to “beat” the encounter.

But this writeup is about Deltarune, not Undertale. Deltarune still allows you to be a pacifist, but without making the encounters boring. There are a few new mechanics that solve this problem, as well as some general ways that combat encounters have been made more meaningful than they were in Undertale.

The first new mechanic is a system called TP. When enemies attack you in both Undertale and Deltarune, you play a short bullet hell sequence. This sequence varies wildly based on the enemy, but the general rule is: don’t get hit. Deltarune adds the TP gauge to these sequences. It’s used for various special actions and magic attacks including healing, and it fills by being just barely close enough to not take damage from attacks.

The second new mechanic is that pacifist actions also occasionally have their own mini-games associated with them. They’re nowhere near as elaborate as the bullet hell sequences mentioned above, but they’re more fun than simply choosing options on a menu like in Undertale.

And finally, you now have multiple party members to use. Some of the more interesting encounters in the game play with how pacifist options work differently for each party member. And this makes sense because some of your party members are… shall we say… “Less Inclined to Non-Violence” than others.

(Looking at you Susie.)

Deltarune keeps the parts of Undertale that were already loved by pretty much everyone (including the strange story, bizarre art and animation, and music that goes so much harder than it needs to), but just makes them more fun to experience.

I highly recommend you play Deltarune, or at least what’s out so far. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.

Author Note: Images are from the IGDB because I was too lazy to take screenshots while I was playing.

Square Enix’s Letter From The Chairman – A Spicy Hot Take

Stop being concerned about the Square Enix letter, please.

I’m not sure how to start this brief writeup, but that’s okay. Anyway, now that we have a starting sentence, have you read the investor letter from Square Enix’s president? Here’s a link to the actual letter.

This letter has a lot of people hot and bothered, because it has terms in it like “NFT” and “Blockchain.” A large number of people are acting like he announced that the Square Enix servers will be powered by harvesting life energy from the Earth and that he’s renaming the company Shinra.

This interpretation is incredibly stupid for a variety of reasons, but it makes me think that people, perhaps understandably, don’t quite know how to read this sort of letter.

Brief diatribe. I think NFTs in their current implementation are fairly stupid. The idea of exchangeable digital property? Kind of neat. Everything about how they currently work, including the lack of oversight/controls, massive wastes of power, use for money laundering, and general pointlessness? Miserable, awful, needs to die in a fire.

Anyway, we’re talking about this specific type of letter. See, the purpose of a letter to investors is more or less to just buoy investor confidence. It’s not directed at consumers. If you do not care about SQENIX’s stock price, there is no reason to care about the content of this letter. Buy their games, products, and services based on what they actually release, at release. As a result, these letters tend to be filled with the appropriate buzzwords and terminology to signal to investors that the company leadership has their finger on the pulse of the industry.

As an example of this, I want to bring up the 2017 letter from the Chairman. In this letter, you’ll see extensive reference to virtual reality, augmented/alternate reality, and the key importance of smartphones. Why are they talking about Augmented Reality even though they haven’t ever made a augmented reality game? Simple. Because Pokémon Go came out in 2016 and made a godscrillion dollars while being a worldwide fucking phenomenon for several months.

So, with that as the context, let’s go back and dissect the actual letter with the framing, and the offending paragraphs that have people so annoyed.

Paragraphs 1 & 2 are primarily fluff about the concept of the “Metaverse.” They end with the following line.

As this abstract concept begins to take concrete shape in the form of product and service offerings, I am hoping that it will bring about changes that have a more substantial impact on our business as well.

Yosuke Matsuda, 2022 Letter from the Chairman

No promises. No commitment or statement of investment. Just 2 paragraphs of fluff that if these concepts transition into actual products and services instead of a pipe dream, they may impact the gaming and entertainment industry.

Paragraph 3 is the spicy one that actually talks about NFT’s.

 However, we do observe examples here and there of overheated trading in NFT-based digital goods with somewhat speculative overtones, regardless of the observed value of the content provided

Yosuke Matsuda, 2022 Letter from the Chairman

In case anyone is wondering how you say “Right now the value of any of this is massively fucking inflated, and the things being sold are pretty much worthless” in this sort of letter, here you go.

Paragraphs 4 & 5 touch on AI technology and cloud services. Of these, only paragraph 4 includes any actual statement of action, noting that the company has established SQUARE ENIX AI & ARTS Alchemy Co., Ltd. with a stated goal of R&D on AI.

5, 6 & 7 are all about token economies/crypto. They’re the second set of paragraphs that have people annoyed, and so I’m going to break them down a little bit here. I don’t actually agree with some of the concepts espoused here, but I’m gonna put my thoughts at the end.

Paragraph 5 is mostly a definition of the concept of “Play to Earn”, Blockchain-based games, and their theoretical differences from standard game development.

Paragraph 6 is, interestingly enough, the most consumer focused paragraph of the whole thing. I think this paragraph is attempting to make the case that there is value in the technical space that has been opened by Crypto. I think this paragraph is trying to win over people like myself who don’t like Crypto.

Paragraph 7 is the densest section of the letter, and has multiple concepts. Again, I encourage you to read the letter yourself, first from your own perspective, and then from the perspective of someone who is financially invested in Square Enix. I will likely not cover all aspects of it.

Loosely, I would summarize it as follows:

  1. People play games for multiple reasons, which in some cases include modding, creative expression, and gold farming. Traditionally, gaming structures do not have built-in methods for rewarding those types of players.
  2. The technology around Blockchain-based design, and social acceptance is currently mature enough to support creating games that do reward those types of players.
  3. Square Enix will continue to observe these changes, and will move to expand their portfolio of entertainment products to include what they define here as “Decentralized Games” if they think they can make money off it, which could include systems that financially reward those types of players.

8 is a generic wrap-up, and acknowledges the worldwide pandemic. Nothing too special here.

So, that’s the letter. It contains some overviews and definitions of some trendy topics in the video game sphere of business. It has a single concrete statement of action about AI for something they already did in march of 2020.

PS: I really do not agree with the definition of Decentralized Gaming presented in this letter. If the fundamental technology stack that is needed to actually run and play a video game from a technical standpoint is not actually freely available and modifiable, you have not created a decentralized game. You have simply created a game that uses Blockchain/a decentralized database as a repository for user game objects. But hey, that’s just my opinion. It remains to be seen if it ages like wine, or like my high school quote about how “The iPad will be a failure because it doesn’t support Flash”.

That’s a real thing I said.