Super Auto Pets

Super Auto Pets is pretty neat. Overall I like it, and I recommend it. It’s available on mobile and PC, but unlike most mobile games doesn’t have the sort of monetization that makes you feel like you’ve given your phone an STI by downloading it, and just offers expansion packs instead.

No really, this is the extent of all microtransactions in the game.

So now that I’ve said that I like it, what type of game is it? There’s a whole discussion you could have about its genre, but most people would call it an Auto-Battler. Because I’m a contrarian, I’d call it an Auto-Chess. Regardless of your preferred genre name, the goal is to construct a team out of units, each with their own stats and synergies, and last long enough to beat out each opposing team you play against.

Most other Auto-Something games I’ve played have had a fairly high learning curve. This is because they tended to be mods, or based off mods for games like Dota.

Enter Super Auto Pets.

Super Auto Pets keeps the general structure of the Auto-Chess genre, but replaces the complicated units with much more understandable versions. You still spend gold to buy units, you still combine units to power them up, and you can still re-roll the buy row, but instead of dozens of potential stats, Super Auto Pets units have just attack, health, and an ability.

So let’s talk about the flow of a game of Super Auto Pets, and then the two different game modes that are available.

At the start of a game, you’ll be given 10 gold, and a market of three pets from which you can buy. Each pet in the market costs three gold, and you can spend one gold to reroll the available pets. There are also food items, which give a variety of buffs. They can range from temporary stats for the next round, permanent stats, or an equipable item.

You have five slots for pets, and you can rearrange them however you wish for free. You won’t have a full five pets until after the first round or so, but after a little bit, your screen will look something like this.

When you finish, and hit the end round button, you’ll go to combat. And this is where the “Auto” part comes into play. Going from right to left, your pets will fight against another player’s team of pets. Making simultaneous attacks, combat is pretty simple. Each pet loses health equal to the attacker’s attack stat, and when they run out of health, they faint, and the next rightmost pet moves up to take their place. Whoever runs out of pets first loses, and if you both run out at the same time, the game ends in a draw.

Losing a single round won’t lose you the game. Instead, after each loss you lose a number of lives that increases as rounds pass. This is one of the interesting differences between Super Auto Pets and other Auto-Chess games I’ve seen. Most other entries instead have you lose a scaling number of lives or HP based on how many opposing units remain when you get knocked out.

I am very used to seeing this screen at this point.

The amount of lives you lose isn’t the only thing that changes as rounds pass. The pool of available units and food for purchase changes as well. Higher tier units tend to have stronger stat lines, and in many cases, stronger abilities.

So why wouldn’t you just always purchase them instead? There’s two reasons. First off is that while their base stat lines might be higher, they may not fit well into your overall strategy. The second is that base stats doesn’t always translate into actual stats.

Like with other Auto-Battlers, Super Auto-Pets allows you to level up your units by fusing additional copies into them. This increases their base stats, but vitally also often buffs their abilities.

Abilities are one of the biggest parts of the game I haven’t really talked about yet. Almost all pets have an ability, and they do a lot of different things, for different triggers. Some like the grasshopper create extra units in combat when the pet unit faints. Others might give a stat buff to another unit, such as the ant. Others function outside of battle, like the giraffe, which buffs other units permanently at the end of each round. As a side note, another interesting thing is that many of these abilities work in both battles, and the buy menu.

As an example: The horse’s “Friend Summoned” ability triggers both when you buy units between rounds, and when units are brought into play during a battle.

There are a few more things I want to talk about with Super Auto Pets before I wrap this up. The first is how the game avoids becoming stale. When you first install the game, it may take a little while to learn the default pool of pets and food, but past a certain point there becomes a fairly clear path to victory, and winning becomes more of a matter of “Can I complete my engines/strategies before my opponents complete theirs?” To deal with this, the game has the aforementioned expansion packs, and also a weekly pack that changes out the units and food items available, effectively creating a new meta to be solved each week.

The closest parallel is probably how something like Dominion works. You have a larger pool of total cards, but in a given game, only a subset of that pool is in play. As a result, the skill shifts from memorizing meta strategies to being able to read a pool and spot synergies.

The second is the game modes. Super Auto Pets has a standard Auto-Something mode, where you play against live players with 60 second buy rounds, but it also has a mode called Arena. In Arena, there’s no timer, and no hard pool of players. Instead of being the last player standing, your goal is to get 10 wins. You have as much time as you want to think and buy. When you choose to end a round, you’ll be matched against another player’s team from same level and round as you’re currently in, and play against them.

Arena mode is probably the biggest thing that sets Super Auto Pets apart from other Auto-Somethings, because it lets you play the game at your own pace, while skipping having to wait for matchmaking.

I don’t have anything else to say about the game. Truth be told, I like Super Auto Pets, but I don’t “like” like Super Auto Pets. I think it’s an accessible and friendly entry to the genre. The only in-app purchases are expansion packs, and they total about $15.

If this sounds interesting, you can grab it for free off the relevant app store for your phone, or for PC on Steam. Or just play it through a browser over on itch.io.

Elden Ring

The first thing George RR Martin finished writing in the last 10 years.

Elden Ring came out on February 25th. As I write this, it’s currently June 19th. I purchased the game upon its release. Since then, it’s been 119 days. For a large portion of time, this article has been sitting in my drafts post, with just the following text.

“I have not beaten Elden Ring.”

As of today though, I can finally update that text. Instead, it can now read:

“I have beaten Elden Ring.”

So now what?

There are three separate tacts I feel I could take with reviewing Elden Ring. I’m going to try to stuff them all into this article, but I’m going to start with the most straightforward one. Having finished the game do I recommend it? Do I like Elden Ring? Is it fun? To which my answers are “It depends, yes (but not as much as Bloodborne), and sometimes.” Let’s expand those answers a bit, but first, let’s talk about what Elden Ring is mechanically.

Mechanics

Much like its predecessors, Elden Ring is an over the shoulder action game. You could also just call it a Soulslike, the genre From Software effectively invented. It shares many other traits with other From Software games. These range from how bosses are handled, to a large portion of older games’ equipment systems, to the most infamous: the fact that when you die, you drop all your unspent currency/experience, and get one chance to run back and pick it up. And if you fail, you kiss all your experience goodbye.

There are a massive number of differences as well, though. Unlike previous games, Elden Ring is open world, and when I say open world, I really mean it. There were three separate occasions in my playthrough where I thought I’d seen the entire world, only to then walk directly into a brand new zone. And because it’s so big, you get a horse (best value; Torrent legit looks more like a yak) to traverse the world. There’s also a brand new crafting system, which I never touched, and the ability to summon spirits, which I used a lot.

To my mind, the biggest ramification of how open the world is, is that there isn’t strictly speaking a single path to the end of the game. There are some required bosses, but the early game is open enough that it only requires you to beat two out of a fairly large set of bosses. Anyway, now that we’ve covered the game’s general mechanics at least slightly, let’s go back to those three questions I answered above.

Answer Ye These Questions Three

First off, do I recommend Elden Ring? Here’s why my recommendation is an “It depends.” Elden Ring is a Soulslike, and it’s a From Software game. This means the game is hard, not by being unfair, but by just being very punishing for mistakes. I talked about this sort of design in my Bloodborne writeup, if you want to read about this design philosophy in more detail.

Elden Ring could almost be taken as a synthesis of the games From Software has made. So if you enjoy those games, it’s an easy recommendation. At the same time, it’s a very unique experience. I’d argue that if you’ve never played a Soulslike, Elden Ring is currently the pinnacle of the genre, making it a good entry point.

With that said, if you’ve played them before, and didn’t like them, or simply don’t like action oriented combat games, Elden Ring is likely a bad fit. The ability to beat Elden Ring isn’t something reserved for only the most elite gamers, but it is a game that demands far more patience and tolerance then any other AAA title I can think of. There’s a reason the “Easy Mode” mod has 40,000 downloads.

Next, question two: do I like Elden Ring? Yes, I generally like Elden Ring, but, I still don’t like it as much as Bloodborne. The reasons for this can be grouped into a few big reasons: (A) weapons, (B) combat, and (C) “I just don’t like open world games.”

A. Weapons. I simply like Bloodborne’s weapons more, specifically their trick modes. The ability to spend resources on a single weapon, but to swap between modes based on the enemy you’ve encountered was something I enjoyed quite a lot. Elden Ring has a much greater number of weapons available, but none ever actually really clicked with me the way Bloodborne’s Threaded Cane did. In addition, although I found a lot more weapons, I simply didn’t have the stats for many of them, and thus ignored them.

B. Combat. In Bloodborne, when you get hit by an attack, if you can strike an enemy back fast enough, you can recover a portion of your health. This lends the game a very aggressive tone, encouraging offensive play. In Elden Ring, you do not. This simple difference sets an incredibly different tone, and frankly, I like fighting more than I like waiting. This brings us to the other thing I liked better about Bloodborne combat: parries.

In Bloodborne, your secondary weapon is almost always a gun. Guns are not really ranged weapons. Instead they’re used to perform parries/counters, and you almost always have access to them. Elden Ring doesn’t have guns, and while it does have parries, Parry is a single special attack option available only on shields, and using a shield means giving up two handed weapons, and also many other combat options. Look, I just liked my shotgun okay?

C. I just don’t like open world games. This one is pretty self explanatory. I just don’t. Elden Ring is an open world game, and it uses a lot of the common open world tropes, including various repeating objectives and structures, having to collect maps for new areas, and in the latter half of the game, a fair amount of re-used bosses. Also a crafting system.

I do not enjoy getting lost. I do not enjoy crafting shit. And I really don’t enjoy trying to find a specific reagent. Yes, I could use a wiki, but I didn’t for reasons we’ll cover later. I mentioned this in my earlier Elden Ring writeup, but it also made it feel much harder to figure out if I was just bad at a fight, or if my character’s stats weren’t high enough. Is skill too low, or is number too low?

Next, question 3, the most important question: Is Elden Ring fun? I had fun with Elden Ring. I was also frustrated, annoyed, bewildered, and pissed off. Those two sets of emotions aren’t necessarily exclusive. Elden Ring, and Soulslikes in general, are satisfying because of how obnoxious they can be, and how good it feels to finally dunk an enemy that’s been wiping the floor with you for several hours.

(We’re about to get into spoiler territory, so if for some reason you want to avoid spoilers, now would be the time to leave.)

With that said though, I would say I had less “Fun” in the second half of the game, and closer to the end. The environments are far more sparse, and bosses are heavily reused. In addition, the final section of the game is effectively a boss rush, where you have to face FIVE bosses with no other zones or content between them. Of these five bosses, I’d argue the first and third bosses you encounter are more impressive and interesting than four and five, which gives the game a weird tone.

Also, while I don’t want to be too direct, the “Final” boss of Elden Ring is one of the worst fights I’ve ever seen in a From Software game. This is for several reasons and I’ll cover them quickly. First off, the final boss is large, which would normally be fine, except they’re so big that getting close enough to attack them requires that you’re also so close that you can’t see the tells for their attacks. Second, they only have one lock-on point, directly in their chest. This makes it hard to stay focused on them, and hard to see their tells, which come from the head and arms. Finally, despite being an absolute chonky lad, they spend most of the fight just running around the arena, and getting close enough to them to hit them is the primary challenge. It’s incredibly annoying.

There are quite a few awesome bosses in the game, but the final boss is not one of them.

So now that we’ve answered the big important questions, let’s move on to the other thing I wanted to talk about, and perhaps the biggest issue coloring my experience with Elden Ring.

I’m pretty sure I played the game wrong.

I Played Elden Ring Wrong

That sounds pretty weird, doesn’t it? After all, arguing that someone is “playing it wrong” is usually used to perpetuate elitism. It smacks of explaining why someone you don’t like, usually because of gender, skin color, or both, isn’t a “Real Gamer.” So using it to describe yourself is weird.

So why do I think I played it wrong? Funnily enough, it actually has nothing to do with in-game behavior or mechanics.

My playthrough of Elden Ring was completed with as few spoilers as I could feasibly make it, and completely solo. I never once looked at a guide, wiki, or any form of information or tutorial. I also played in offline mode and never used an online summon. The extent of my exposure to information from outside the game was one or two offhanded comments from my friends (“Mimic tear is good”) and a few small memes that I encountered accidentally.

I did this for my pride. From Software games are hard, and I wanted to be able to say to know that “I beat Elden Ring without having to look anything up, by myself.” That’s literally the entire reason.

And in retrospect, it was a pretty stupid decision.

Everything about how Elden Ring works feels like it’s designed to be “experienced” as a game in some form of multiplayer. Not in-game multiplayer, but exchange of information multiplayer. You find something cool about how various mechanics work, and share it with your friend. They tell you how a certain symbol on the map always indicates it’s an area where you get resources to upgrade your weapons. It’s a virtuous cycle of phased discovery within a group.

The game is built of a million small riddles and puzzles, but once you solve them, you can share them with someone else. This is true of many From Software games, but Elden Ring being open world takes this to a whole new level. There’s just so much stuff, and a massive amount of it is easy to miss.

I kind of regret doing everything completely on my own, and I think I would have had more fun if I played more earlier, and chatted with friends about stuff, rather than the grinding slog I took to do it all myself.

There’s probably a lesson there, but let’s pretend this was a one-off thing, and wrap this article up. There are a few other issues I have with the game, including the crashes and boss re-use, but I already wrote about those a few weeks ago, and I’m not sure it’s worth re-hashing.

In Conclusion

Elden Ring is an advancement of the Soulslike genre, and synthesizes many of the mechanics and environments from previous From Software games. Even so, there are several weak portions of the game. While it deserves the acclaim and praise it gets, I wouldn’t call it perfect by any means. If this article has inspired you, and you’ve now decided you want to become Elden Lord, it’s available for the current gen consoles, and also PC.

But you’re gonna have to beat me for it.

Golf With Your Friends

Golf with your Friends is a fun multiplayer title, but a wonky physics engine and over reliance on gimmicks saps the enjoyment in many places.

Golf With Your Friends is a minigolf game developed by Blacklight Interactive, and published by Team 17. You might know Team 17 for things like Worms or The Escapists. Or maybe for that moment earlier this year when they tried to make NFTs. PCGamer has a fairly good writeup on that whole fiasco here.

Back to Golf With Your Friends. It’s a minigolf game that supports up to 12 player multiplayer. There are a dozen or so courses of 18 holes to play through in the base game, and an entire Steam workshop of other courses of varying quality.

As a minigolf game, it’s… pretty good! Decent. Passable. B-. The big issue I have with it is that the physics engine is incredibly wonky. There’ll be portions of the game where everything seems reasonable and consistent. Then it’ll break completely with no rhyme or reason.

Here’s an example. One course has a set of moving platforms that move up and down. For one set of friends, they were able to hit their ball onto these platforms. The ball would stop moving and they’d be able to hit off the platform. For me, every time I hit a ball onto it, the ball bounced, never stopped moving, then clipped through the bottom of the platform and went out of bounds. Originally I thought this was the result of lag, or some client side weirdness. Then it happened multiple times in the level editor in single-player.

And the more I played of the game, the more of these weird moments cropped up. Ramps that behaved inconsistently. Vacuum pipes that didn’t vacuum up the ball. Finishing an entire round without some sort of bug or weirdness is a rarity on par with the Ark of the Covenant.

I found Golf With Your Friends best as a multiplayer game. Multiplayer serves a duel purpose of making golf bearable and as an excuse for the bugs. There are people out there who can find joy in mechanical repetition and mastery of a task, and we call those people athletes and speedrunners. I find joy in waiting for my friends to line up for a perfect shot, then knocking their ball into the water by smashing into it with my own. Also crowing about absolutely nailing a hole in one that was complete luck.

Your friend group might not interact like a group of self-cannibalizing jackals, though. In that case, you can turn collisions off. Golf With Your Friends has a variety of game options, including hole type, ball type, collisions, max stroke and time limits, jumping, collisions, and powerups. While this variety of settings is good for custom levels, and tweaking gameplay to suit your friend group, not all of the options feel like they were actually tested.

For example, you can play with a cube, instead of a ball. For a large number of courses, it is straight up impossible to actually get this piece of trash into the hole. And even the more subtle tweaks, such as making things extra bouncy, can have unintended consequences. On one course, having a ball that was larger meant that a launcher gimmick would fail every time. This would have been less annoying if it wasn’t the only way to the hole.

Now let’s talk about gimmicks. Most courses in the game have some form of trick or gimmick. Some of these are fine, like the small number of moving objects in the forest course. Some are obnoxious, or confusing, like the magic platforms in the ancient course. And some are pointlessly stupid, such as the non-stop explosions in the worms course. They’re not enough to make it unplayable, but they do make it pointlessly difficult. And these obstacles also tend to be buggy.

There’s one more thing I want to talk about before I wrap this article up, and that’s the game’s built-in level editor. It allows you to make and publish your own courses to the Steam Workshop.

It is also one of the most garbage pieces of software I’ve ever had the misfortune of using. Hotkeys are an absolute nightmare, Y is up and Z is sideways. The resize tools work differently for each object. You can’t group move objects. You can’t group copy objects. The level editor has a “Play Mode” which can be used to test courses, but remember all those game mode options I mentioned above? You can’t actually turn any of them on while testing, so you’re stuck playing vanilla golf.

Despite all of those issues, I actually did make a course I called “Pain Mountain,” and if you’re curious, you can play it here. It’s not the only Pain Mountain on the Steam Workshop though, so a rebrand may be necessary. The Pain Mountain tourism board is looking into it.

And that’s Golf With Your Friends. A reasonable minigolf game, but with a large number of bugs and weird behaviors, a usable but aggravating level editor, and multiplayer that’s fun, but not consistent. It’s not very polished, but it is fun. It’s also several years old, and is no longer the only multiplayer minigolf game out there. If you want to play, you can buy it on Steam here, but I’d suggest waiting for a sale so you can pick up a few copies to play with your friends.

Dungeon Defenders: Going Rogue

Dungeon Defenders going rogue is undercooked and unfinished, don’t buy it.

Let me save you some time and money. Don’t buy Dungeon Defenders: Going Rogue. If you want to close this article now, or perhaps just read about a better Roguelike, or a better Tower Defense game, that’s fine.

I’m writing the rest of this article because posting a writeup that’s just one paragraph long is rude. Also, spite, because I spent $15 on this junk.

Dungeon Defenders: Going Rogue wants to be a combo tower defense game and roguelike. It’s also technically an entry in the Dungeon Defenders series. (More on the franchise’s weird history later.) If you’ve never played a Dungeon Defenders game, they were 3D tower defense games with action combat, and fairly heavy leveling/progression systems.

Dungeon Defenders: Going Rogue, is not quite that. Here’s how the traditional loop of a Dungeon Defenders game worked: you’d pick a map to run, and a difficulty for that map. A map consists of a series of waves of enemies to fight, and potentially some form of boss at the end. Killing enemies drops mana, and you use mana to build and upgrade towers. Enemies can also drop loot, items you can equip, and whatnot. If you get to the end of the map, you unlock more maps and challenges, and if you fail, you keep the loot you had so far, but you have to start over.

All this is combined with having a permanent character, from one of the game’s classes, who you level up and such, also with mana.

Dungeon Defenders: Going Rogue tries to take that formula, and turn it into a roguelike, but it just doesn’t do that very well.

Let’s quickly get mechanics out of the way. Like standard Dungeon Defenders, you have a hero, and you have the same sort of abilities. These abilities vary from class to class, but generally have a pattern. Each class has a basic attack, a secondary attack, a nuke, an activatable overcharge, and two tower slots. Unlike towers in normal Dungeon Defenders, these towers have time to live, and die once the the timer empties. But the cooldown to place a tower is far higher than the time a tower actually stays alive, so in practice, you can only ever have two towers up for a short amount of time. In an ostensible tower defense game, this is a bit strange.

The biggest issue I have with Going Rogue is that as a roguelike, it’s incredibly boring. A good roguelike offers a high skill ceiling for mechanical mastery (Dead Cells, Enter the Gungeon, Nuclear Throne), informational mastery (Slay the Spire, Inscryption), or preferably a combination of both (Binding of Issac, Spelunky). If your game is going to be based around playing effectively the same thing over and over, playing needs to feel rewarding, and runs need to feel different. A weaker player should have good runs where they can feel like they’re succeeding even if they don’t know everything, and a strong player should be able to salvage even bad runs.

But even if you disagree with my definition of what makes a roguelike good, I think you’ll agree that being boring is exceptionally bad in a roguelike. Every run cannot just feel the same. And that’s the issue with Going Rogue.

The way the game handles abilities and power growth is underwhelming. After you clear a level, you open a treasure chest, and the chest has a few random items in it. One of these are the game’s runes, which seem to be intended to function as value pickups. Ultimately, I find them mostly worthless, because there’s virtually never a reason to not pick them up, and they give uninteresting stat buffs, such as 5% health, or 10% movement speed. They’re numerically boring stat sticks. And most of the time you don’t even get to choose which ones you’re getting.

At end of 3 waves, when you clear a map, you get a slightly bigger chest with a special rune drop that lets you choose between 3 different runes. The problem is that the very generic runes mentioned before are still in the pool, and it’s entirely possible to roll the same one twice as one of your choices.

The weapons, trinkets, and towers suffer from a similar but slightly different issue. As a run progresses, better towers/weapons/trinkets drop from the end of level chest. And because they’re almost always net better, there’s virtually never a situation where you’d choose to keep your current item, even if it has interesting stats, over an item with more damage. Get a cool tower early on? Too bad, by the time you’re in the 3rd zone, it’ll have 1/5th of the DPS of any random trash that pops out from your end of level chest.

The end result is a system where you can’t construct a build. You can only pick up bigger numbers, and hope they’re big enough.

Perhaps this could all be ignored if combat felt good, but it doesn’t. It’s a weightless affair, where you swipe at enemies until their health bar empties, and they fall over and die. Particle effects and animations are unimpressive, and feel like greybox assets. There’s not an ounce of mechanical mastery required, and the fact that abilities have virtually no synergy does the game no favors either.

But that’s all subjective. Maybe I have bad taste. But regardless of my taste, the game is buggy. In five hours of playing, here are a few highlights of what I encountered:

Random disconnection from multiplayer for no reason, killing the run.

Items dropping with a description of “ITEM TEXT GOES HERE”, no stats, and a sell value of 9999.

Items all dropping with the exact same stats, instead of having random rolls.

So that’s Dungeon Defenders: Going Rogue. A unpolished, unfinished mess. A brawler with poor combat, a tower defense game with no towers, and a roguelike with no power progression. If you took your money, and set it on fire, you’d get more value. This is because while the money would be gone, at least you wouldn’t have wasted any time playing the game.

Ed Note. So, Dungeon Defenders as a series has a bit of weird history. There was Dungeon Defenders, then a shit ton of DLC, then Dungeon Defenders 2, and presumably even more DLC. At some point, the company making it sorta shut down, then someone else bought the rights/reformed the company? I’m not 100% clear. In any case, the folks who bought the rights again wanted to make a new Dungeon Defenders game. They didn’t have any money though, so they made Dungeon Defenders Awakened. It was mediocre. Then they made Dungeon Defenders Eternity which… no longer exists. And now they’ve made Dungeon Defenders: Going Rogue, which isn’t worth playing.

Ed Note 2: If for some reason you want to see actual gameplay, why not watch me play it with a friend here?

Satisfactory – Take #2

A while back, I wrote a post on Satisfactory. However, I don’t think it was particularly satisfactory, haha, I’m so clever, wordplay. Okay, that’s out of my system. Anyway. I’m not super happy with how it came out. So I’m gonna give this a second shot, because Satisfactory deserves a more focused review.

What type of game is Satisfactory?

One of the things I’m the most unhappy with in the last article I did on this game is how I actually described Satisfactory, because I really didn’t. I think at least part of this is because Satisfactory doesn’t quite fit into any video game genres particularly well. While you could call a Automation game, or maybe a sim, it’s not really a sim of anything, and most of the elements in the game aren’t particularly… sim-esque. (For who does think Satisfactory is a Sim, please go run 3000 MW through 3 inches of cabling, over several miles, and let me know how well that experience matches up with doing the same in Satisfactory.)

Instead, I think Satisfactory might be closer to a genre of board game, the engine builder. Engine builders as a genre are mostly about building sets of systems to take actions and produce resources, all of which ultimately get turned into victory points. Most board games with this system have some sort of win-lose condition, but this isn’t present in Satisfactory.

But Satisfactory does have a lot of what I’d consider to be the hallmarks of engine builders. There are a variety of resources, and you turn them into other resources. As you progress, you get access to both new types of equipment, and more powerful/faster versions of the equipment you already had. This access is gated by having your current setup produce certain thresholds of resources.

Why is it good?

Regardless of what genre you want to put the game in, Satisfactory can be really good. The animations and models are incredibly polished*, the gameplay is smooth and satisfying*, watching conveyer belts spin up is enjoyable*, and I really like the semi-parallel tech trees.

*If you’re wondering what that asterisk is for: Don’t worry, we’ll get to that in a bit.

Lets talk about those tech trees for a moment, because unlocking them serves as both a combination of progression and tutorial. We’re mostly going to focus on the Tier progression tree here. There are several other systems in place that also unlock building items and craftable items, but they’re mostly sidegrades/semi-optional. Except for the ladder. I have no idea why the ladder is in the coupon machine.

Here’s how tier progression works. There are 8 tiers of research, and within those tiers, there are research goals. Once you unlock a tier, you usually unlock a few new structure types, the ability to see what unlocking the next tier will require, and the list of research goals.

As an example: I can work on unlocking improved logistics, or a jetpack, but neither of those will progress me to Tier 7-8.

At any given point in time, making progress on a tech tree is your general goal, usually requiring you to craft somewhere between 50-1000 of various different parts.

But the main gameplay of Satisfactory is building. And everything around the building is mostly designed to make it easy. For example, if you disassemble a structure, you get all the resources it took to build back.

It’s also fairly easy to switch between what you’re building, and you can look almost everything up in the in-game Codex. That’s right. No longer do you have to have a fandom Wikipedia page that consists of 95% advertisements and 5% the recipe for wood logs.

At the same time, the buildings themselves are fairly flexible in how they can be placed. You can run conveyer belts through each other, and also across things that you maybe shouldn’t be able to.

Look, the highest praise I can give Satisfactory is that each time I try to think of nice things to say about, I go boot the game up, play for 6+ hours straight, then go do something else because I’ve completely lost my train of thought. There’s a constant feeling of success and progress, even if you mess things up a bit.

Okay, nice things over. Lets talk about the somewhat… unpolished parts of Satisfactory.

The elephant in the room.

If I had been forced to guess how long Satisfactory had been out, prior to actually knowing the numbers, I would have gone somewhere between half a years, to maybe just sneaking up on two years. There are two reasons for this, the first being the combat, and the second being the multiplayer performance, and bugs. Let’s talk about the combat first.

If the combat in your game makes me LONG for Minecraft’s combat system, you’ve done something horribly wrong. Satisfactory has a combat system, but I’m honestly not sure why. From what I can tell, there are three or so types of enemies, all of which have larger more “Dangerous” versions of themselves. The dangerous is in quotes because every single enemy in the game can be dealt with in loosely the same way: Kite it behind something, and then hit it until it dies. Assuming you’ve unlocked one of the games two ranged weapons, you have the alternate option of “Stand far away and shoot it until it dies”. Lets actually talk about those weapons for a moment, because they’re awful. The entire weaponry array of Satisfactory consists of the pokey stick, the pokey stick that does more damage, a modified nail gun (which is the only one that comes anywhere close to fun to use) and the worlds most unsatisfying rifle.

Special shoutout to the rifle here as being the most joyless gun, both across real life and games that I have ever encountered. It both eats through ammo, which is a massive pain in the ass to make, has a laughably small clip size of 10 shots, and has absolutely no feedback/tracers/anything to make it clear if you’re actually hitting your target, or if shots are flying freely though the wind, and for all of that effort, it doesn’t seem to even kill things very well.

I can’t tell what the goal is here to be honest. If combat is supposed to be anemic to make us focus on building and other mechanics, why does every single resource node past a certain point have several of the higher tier enemies, who despite being dumb as bricks, also hit like a stack of them, and will force you to salty runback to where you dropped all of your stuff. If the combat and unlocks related to it are supposed to be meaningful, why do they all suck so much? It’s clear the devs already understand how to create gated zones with things like the hazmat suit and gas mask. That sort of thing is much more similar to the sort of game Satisfactory feels like it is, with the unlocks of various tools and equipment and options to make building more efficient and easier.

The thing is though, as much as I loathe the combat, it is vestigial. An annoyance when it shows up and rears it’s ugly head, but it can be ignored a good 95% of the time. The next big problem I have with the game can’t be.

Satisfactory, much like Minecraft, isn’t a game I would ever really play single player. This is because both games are about making things, and the purpose of making things, at least for me, is to show them to other people, and to see the things other people make. It also massively cuts down the labor needed, because while you’re working on optimizing iron production, your friend can be setting up a full oil refinery. I personally find exploring the world tedious, but some of the folks I was playing with enjoy it. Where there are required tasks that one person might enjoy, others like them.

All of which would be cool if multiplayer wasn’t quite as shit as it is.

“Bugginess/Stability” is kind of a weird metric. For me, the impact a bug has on my experience comes down to pretty much two factors (1) How often does the bug occur? and (2) What happens when it does? Something like Skyrim has a lot of bugs, but from what I’ve seen, they’re usually more immersion breaking then they are save file shredding. In my playthrough of Elden Ring, bugs themselves are fairly rare, but when they do occur, the game fucking crashes, and in a game where closing the game without saving is death, and death means losing all your experience points/currency if you aren’t able to get to where you dropped it, this is substantially more aggravating. I had one friend whose entire save file was corrupted and effectively died outside the door to the final boss, after 63 hours. A patch fixed that issue, and he was able to complete the game, but that’s the sort of thing that leads to an uninstall.

There are two bugs I’d like to talk about with Satisfactory multiplayer. The first is incredibly specific and straightforward: When you log into a multiplayer game, if you’re not the host, or if you’re playing on a Dedicated Server, there’s a pretty good chance you will show up with exactly nothing in your inventory. As a result, you’ll have to spend a fair amount of time running around and trying to resupply/reequip potentially each time you log in. Disconnecting and reconnecting won’t solve it, and there’s no easy fix. When I looked up this bug, I found bug reports and discussions to it that date back several years ago.

The second set of bugs are a set of bugs I’m just going to refer to as “Desync” bugs.

While I’m not a game developer, I do have a technical background, and enough knowledge to make a guess as to what I think is likely occurring to cause these bugs, and why I’m specifically calling them desync bugs. First, a brief and somewhat inaccurate crash course in one way multiplayer games work. You have a server. The server is the sole source of truth for information about the games state. Then you have clients. Clients send information about what the player is doing to the server, and the server sends world state information back to the player. Because moving things, even across the internet can only go so fast, many game clients use various tricks to make things look instantaneous, or have the game client attempt to predict what will happen in order to give a smoother experience. When the client and server can’t talk to each other fast enough, for any number of reasons, you get latency, AKA lag, AKA the server is delayed in processing client inputs and sending the client information. I’m pretty sure these bugs aren’t lag, because they happened to me almost non-stop even while running the game on the same machine I was running my dedicated server one.

Instead, there’s a second type of problem that can occur. Usually, the game server tries to send only information that the client actually needs. If the system is well designed, this will be information that is relevant to the player. If the system is not well designed, it might not do that quite as fast, or it might not refresh certain information at the rate that might be desirable. For example, loading in that the player has walked directly into a cloud of poison gas.

And because the server is the sole source of truth, the client can send instructions that directs the player into situations where they take damage on the server, before the client receives that information. To the player, it seems like they died to nothing, because the state that the server was in did not match the state of their client. This is desync.

And it is fucking everywhere in Satisfactory. Sometimes its just annoying, such as with how every single conveyer belt in the game displays what it’s moving inaccurately, and how trying to grab things off them is a complete crapshoot.

And sometimes it will just fucking kill you, because you walked into the aforementioned poison gas. Or alien bees. Or radiation. Or a pack of angry spiders. You can see where I’m going with this.

Bugs are not inherently a reason to rip on a game. They can be a reason to avoid the game until it patches, like I’d currently suggest with Elden Ring, they can be a amusing nuisance like with Skyrim. But in the case Satisfactory multiplayer, they are a massive pain in the ass that actively interferes with the games gameplay loops and feel, and many of these issues have remained unfixed for years at this point. One friend who I had played with was shocked at how little had changed since the last time he’d played the game, about 3 years ago.

Early Access isn’t an excuse to ignore multiplayer performance, and frankly, there’s zero evidence that server performance will ever be fixed. They’ve had 5 years to do it, and they haven’t. I don’t see why I should believe they’ll do it in the next 5.

TLDR/Wrap-up

As a single player game, it’s an incredibly satisfying engine building/factory construction game of optimization and improvement, with a vestigial combat system, and some unimplemented features. As a multiplayer game, it’s all that, but with some exceedingly aggravating bugs that offset much of the games polish and design, in exchange for being able to untouched wilderness into a something resembling if MC Escher was tapped to design an Amazon warehouse with your friends, and the fun you’ll have is directly proportional to how long you can all go as a group before one of you snaps and quits to go back to a game that doesn’t wipe your inventory every time you try to log in. If this interests you, it’s out for PC on both Steam and the Epic Store at $30 a pop.