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.

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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. 

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.

What is… Deep Rock Galactic?

Rock and Stone, Brother!

Deep Rock Galactic is a cooperative PvE first-person shooter. You and your friends are a team of space dwarves, mining ore among the stars. The core game is about you and your team of up to four other players trying to complete whatever dig you’ve signed up for this time. While the game does have procedurally generated maps and a variety of mission objects, the thing that sets it apart is how it handles its classes.

Deep Rock Galactic breaks away from the Holy Trinity of Heals, DPS, and Tank. Instead, any player can play any role when needed. The added spice is that each class also excels uniquely via pure utility by environment interaction.

The game’s four classes are the Engineer, Scout, Gunner, and Driller. Each of the four classes can do great damage, great support, and some form of escape or defensive mitigation for the team. For example, the Engineer has a platform gun that can create platforms in the environment. You can use these platforms to build choke points to funnel glyphids (the game’s bug enemies), or as a safe pad to land on in an emergency escape, or to make a bridge across great divides.

The Scout’s specialty is to provide vision to the team via his flare gun. Without his flare gun you could get surrounded by unseen glyphids in the dark at a moment’s notice. He is the most mobile role of the squad, best for filling in any gaps of defenses or daring rescues. Gunner has the highest sustained firepower, and also the best defensive ability in the game: the bubble shield which blocks projectiles as well as regenerates allied shields. Driller’s specialty is obliterating wide hordes of small glyphids through bombs or fire, or freezing boss enemies, making them stunned and vulnerable for the team to destroy. Driller’s drill gauntlets allows him to make tunnels straight to evac, or shape the terrain to his advantage as well.

There are also general character perks that you can earn that apply to all classes. These upgrades are generally straight increases to damage, survivability or cool new ability that’s always good. When choosing between upgrades of the same tier they are mainly trade offs or side-grades. Deciding which upgrades you want allows you to tailor your dwarf to play your way—which is really fun. If you are a min-maxer, you can look up guides for best upgrade paths to unlock first, but I’d recommend against it. Overall, experimenting with all of the upgrades and discovering what works for you is the most fun for getting longevity from Deep Rock Galactic. It’s a slow burn of a journey and not about getting max power ASAP.   

The game can be played in single player mode but I wouldn’t recommend it. Thankfully, the game enjoys a large player base where you can always find a lobby for whatever mission you want to do.

That said, I found the end game raid missions difficult to do with just random players. These missions are called “Deep Dives” and give out unique loot that can change your class by modifying what your guns do. Some modifications just swap the elemental damage type of the weapon, but others fundamentally alter your gadgets to do something entirely weird and new. For example, one piece of loot makes it so when you shoot your shotgun at the ground, you jump higher. This is just one of tons of possible changes you can apply to your gear, although the limit is one per gear piece so you can’t stack a bunch of modifications on one gun.

Deep Rock Galactic has limitless stuff to unlock, and I imagine it’d take hundreds of hours to unlock all the talents, gear, and cosmetics the game has to offer. The available missions are rather diverse, but you’ll probably find some you like more than others. The game has consistent updates, and is currently in the process of adding a 3rd weapon choice for all classes, as well as doing balance revisions to all current weapons and talents, with an estimated patch release in quarter 3 2021 (sometime between July and end of September).

If this sort of thing sounds exciting to you, here are some my tips for starting off:

  1. Feel free to mix up team compositions. For the most balanced gameplay, 1 of each class seems best, but for some mission types you may feel like more than one of a class might suit it better.
  2. Nothing wrong with taking it slow. When starting out I’d recommend a hazard level 2 or 3 mission at most (hazard levels are just difficulty level: 1 is easy, 2 is normal and so on). Then when you feel like you can handle it, increase hazard levels for better rewards. I’ve played about 90 hours since the launch and promoted each class about once. Personally I wouldn’t recommend trying hazard 5 or higher till you’ve promoted a class… but hey, you do you.
  3. Take advantage of those credits! Deep Rock Galactic has a deep character progression system where the credits and materials you earn from missions can buy tons of upgrades to specialize your class a lot.

I think it’s a gem of a game, and if you had to pitch it to a friend in like 10 seconds, I’d say, “It’s like a co-op shooter like Left 4 Dead, fused with looter-shooter talent leveling and survival game terrain manipulation like Minecraft, but you are an awesome high tech space dwarf squad, killing the zerg Glypids.”

4.5/5 Etrodons is my overall rating. And when you do play the game, remember to hit “V” to ROCK AND STONE, BROTHER!

Riddled Corpses EX – A Review

Nothing amazing, but a fun shmup with good co-op.

Riddled Corpses Ex is a twin-stick bullet hell game. You wouldn’t know that from looking at the cover, but there’s nothing lewd within the actual gameplay aside from the title screen. This may or may not be a disappointment for you. If you hate anime and its assorted tropes with extreme prejudice, then pass on this game, but I’d say you are missing out.

Yeah, it’s just a shoot-em up. Yeah, I know, the cover doesn’t make me think that either.

In a nutshell Riddled Corpses Ex is a 10 hour long fun, but grindy up to 2 player roguelike bullet hell. There are six gunners to unlock, with different bullet patterns, and a few different mechanics. While it’s a alright solo, if there was something that was going to make it a must buy, it would be the co-op. 

Overall, the game can be broken down into its four main features: sub-par story, great couch co-op, fun gameplay loop, and decent stage design.

So let’s just go through them shall we?

The Story: It Exists. That’s really the best thing you can say about it.

Story-wise, the game is rather corny and predictable in an endearing way. Nothing earth-shattering, nor deep and complex in this game; there are zombies and all you know is that you must kill them. 

My view for most games is that story is the least important factor in enjoying a game. That isn’t to say it can’t be a differentiating factor. Everybody knows Undertale, Earthbound, and Cave Story precisely for their respective narratives that brought a unique fresh take into their genres. But this isn’t any of those. It’s just sorta there.

Couch Co-op – You can also just play with yourself. (Wait a minute.)

Couch co-op is truly where this game shines. and sets it apart from other bullet hell games as you can call out when to use power ups, from dynamite to deal massive damage to all enemies on screen, to time-slow to dodge mobs/projectiles, to a turret for wave clear over time. Saving each other feels clutch and overall provides a more hectic and rewarding experience due to higher clear speed as the game doesn’t seem to implement multiplayer hp scaling so conversely if you want a harder experience just play solo.

Core Gameplay – 3 Modes. Story, Survival, and Arcade.

The core gameplay loop is simple: shoot, loot and get as far as you can. You’ll start by picking one of the three modes.

Story mode allows persistent progress per stage. (So once you beat stage 1 you can start at stage 2 and so on.) Story mode and Arcade mode both include the cut scenes, but you might find it easier to see the whole thing in Story mode.

Survival mode is a non-stop, wave after wave onslaught of monsters. Even if you don’t love the idea of the pure holdout theme, you might end up playing it anyway. I found it was more efficient for grinding gold than playing through the first two stages over and over.

If you want the true roguelike experience, try out Arcade mode. Here, you’ll always start with your character at level one. You’ll scale faster by collecting power ups and leveling up. There’s also an item shop between stages, but you can only buy consumable power ups like the time stop, or dynamite. Also, in true rouge like fashion, you’ll keep none of the gold or levels earned when you finally do die in Arcade.

Regardless of your skill at the genre, you’ll most likely be able to see the whole game with Story mode. Even if you find yourself unable to push through on Arcade, and you can always grind the first two modes if you need to power, which you might find yourself doing because…

Stage Design – New and interesting mechanics are routinely introduced, but a punishing difficulty spike in the end game feels real bad.

As for stage design, the game progresses at an even pace throughout, layering new mechanics on top of each stage, right up until about stage 3. This is where I ran into one of my bigger issues with the game, as everything suddenly felt way faster, and far more lethal.

The first three stages feel like they’re designed to teach you the general gameplay, but the stages after straight up smack you in mouth right out of the gate. I spent about 70% of my time just grinding gold for upgrades to force my way through stage 4.

To be fair the old adage of “Git Gud” is probably true here but the damage check is real. Creative and complex, but it felt like a bummer, especially if you don’t realize that the first few stages are mostly just tutorials.

Overall – It’s solid, but maybe not worth 10$. If you can pick it up on a sale like I did for $5, you’ll get a few hours out of it, and the co-op and other modes should offer some repeatability.