Crowfall

More like Crowfail.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yeah, the game is not highly populated.

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

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

All this to say: I don’t recommend.

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.

MUCK

Muck isn’t great, but at least it’s free.

Muck is worth playing as an example of how compelling various roguelike elements and open-world survival games can be, even when done in a mediocre context. With that said, I think Risk of Rain 2 is a better 3D roguelike, and Minecraft is a better open-world crafting game. Maybe because Muck was made as a joke. Okay, let’s step back for a minute.

Despite the fact that we live in 2021, people apparently still write rude YouTube comments. I’m not sure why they do this. There are only two possible outcomes when you write a rude YouTube comment:

  1. No one sees your comment, no one cares, and you scream into the void.
  2. Someone sees your comment, and they feel bad for a moment.
  3. Someone sees your comment, and decides to dunk on you as hard as feasibly possible.

Muck is an example of #3.

I’m going to link the video here, all you really need to know is that Muck was made quickly, mostly to make a silly video, and now has been played a whole bunch.

I’ve only played about 5 hours of Muck, but I’m still going to write about it, because I’ll be damned if I don’t get something out of those five hours.

I don’t think Muck is bad, it’s more that it just isn’t very polished in any respect, which all things considered, kind of makes sense. To my mind, the game has more in common with roguelikes than crafting/open world survival games. I say this because in my experience, you don’t actually spend a lot of time building bases or structures like you might in say, Valheim.

Instead, you’ll toss up a few walls, build your crafting stations, and then desperately scramble around looking for food, supplies, and powerups before night falls, and enemies attack. If you’re playing multiplayer, there might be some division of labor on who exactly is trying to find what, but it’s basically a non-stop rush to get lumber to craft a workbench to craft a pick to mine rocks to make a furnace to smelt ore to…. you can probably see where I’m going with this. In any case, at some point, you’ll notice the sun has gone down, and you’re being mauled by goblins. Or wolf-shaped things. Or what appears to be a flying anemic dragon.

If you manage to kill them, they’ll drop some gold, which you can spend to open chests containing permanent buffs, similar to Risk of Rain. If I had any actual complaints, it would be that these buffs tend to be fairly dull, such as faster move speed, faster attack speed, more damage, etc. Nothing about them really lends itself toward being build-defining, or letting you choose a playstyle.

At some point you’ll either die, and restart this entire process (or just quit), or you’ll build up enough weapons and armor to start actually trying to beat the game. Unlike many other games in this genre, Muck actually does have an ending. You win by beating a few bosses, collecting some gems from them, repairing a boat with said gems plus a bunch of other supplies, and choosing to leave. Then there’s a final boss fight, which might just utterly shred you if you get unlucky.

You’ll notice I haven’t said much about combat in Muck, and that’s because it’s as barebones as it feasibly could be. You have swords, you hit people with them, and you move away from them when they do an attack to dodge their backswing. Some enemies shoot projectiles.

And that’s pretty much everything that makes up Muck. I don’t have too much to say on it. Its a free, incredibly barebones randomly generated survival game with roguelike elements. It doesn’t do anything incredible, but it’s also not trying or claiming to do anything incredible. There are worse ways to spend your time, and all the better ones cost money. If you’re really bored, and everyone in your friend group refuses to buy new games ever, consider grabbing Muck for free on Steam.

Disgaea 5 Complete

I like Disgaea 5. While I didn’t enjoy the story as much as Disgaea 4, there are a variety of improved mechanics, UI, and massive quality of life features that make it a massive upgrade over its predecessor.

Also, just for clarity here, I’m mostly going to be discussing my experience with the game pre-endgame. I’ve played about 40-45 hours, and while I plan on playing more, that may not happen for a little bit for secret reasons.

So, let’s start with the story, and some of the related mechanics. Across the Netherworlds, now rendered as planets, Demon Emperor Void Dark is trying to take over everything. You’re introduced to some of the main characters, Seraphina, and Killia, both who have a bone to pick with Void Dark. In Killia’s case, he’s a brooding loner. In Seraphina’s case, it’s an arranged marriage to Void Dark that she has no interest in. She’s decided the best way to deal with the problem is to kill Void Dark so she doesn’t have to marry him.

Adventure intensifies, and as the duo go on their merry way, we meet an increasing cast of other indivuals, including Red Magnus, Christo, Zeroken, and Usalia, who all also have their reasons for wanting to see Void Dark six feet under.

There’s not too much else to say. Our band of misfits proceeds from Netherworld to Netherworld, trying to push back Void Dark’s advance while not getting slaughtered. Each of them gets a mini-arc/story around their background and flaws, usually followed by a redemption or adjustment.

While I appreciate that these moments existed, most of them feel standard anime trope-esque. There are a few that are more interesting, but most end up feeling predictable. This annoyed me because 4 did (at least by my standards) a much better job of handling these sorts of changes. Here’s an entire mini-writeup on what I mean, but be warned, here there be story spoilers!

Oh, yeah, this whole thing was supposed to be about new game mechanics, wasn’t it?

Well, one of those new game mechanics is Revenge. Each character has a Revenge Bar that fills as they or their allies take damage. Once a character’s bar is filled, they enter Revenge Mode, where all of their attacks are critical hits, and all of their spells and specials have their costs reduced down to 1.

In addition, characters that are Overlords of a Netherworld, like our MC’s mentioned above, also get access to their Overload. Some bosses get them as well!

Overloads are one-time use per battle skills that have a variety of effects, many of which either play with tactic game tropes, or just utterly break them, and all of which are fun. While some are simple (Deal damage to everyone on the map, stat boost, heal all friendlies) there are also a few really neat ones. My personal favorite would have to be Zeroken’s “Superluminal Wolf” which creates 4 temporary copies of the character. And when I say copies, I mean full copies. Each copy can take any action the original can, up to and including casting all of his specials, throwing units, and lifting enemies. Another character has an ability that allows them to temporarily take full control of a few enemy units.

Overloads can turn fights that are going badly, and at the same time add an interesting element to some of the boss fights. You know your enemy has an Overload, and you have to try to manage their access to it. You can do this by chipping them slowly, trying to take them out in one hit, or just finding ways to avoid the Overload’s effect. Dealing with bosses’ Overloads is a fun and interesting change from how static boss fights were previously.

Pretty much every side system has also been improved, but going into detail on each them would be both a waste of time, and not something I’d be capable of doing. So instead, let’s take one system as an example: innocents.

If you haven’t played a Disgaea game before, it might be easiest to think of innocents as a sort of sub-item that can be socketed into other items. They have a type, and a value. The type determines their behavior, and the value determines the impact. For example, socketing a Gladiator gives the item it’s located in additional ATK, and the Dietician gives additional HP.

These are both fairly straightforward examples, but there are also innocents that give extra EXP, extra Mana, innocents that change the damage type of basic attacks, and innocents that give you chance to steal items from defeated enemies. There’s a lot of variety.

Acquiring innocents is a little more complex, though. One of Disgaea’s primary features is the Item World, a series of semi-random procedurally generated levels that exist inside an item. And inside items is where you get innocents. When you get an item, it will usually have a few innocents inside of it, but they’ll be in the hostile state. When you go into that item’s Item World levels, those innocents can show up as enemies, and if you defeat them, they go to the subdued state.

So how do Disgaea 4 and 5 handle innocents differently?

In Disgaea 4, innocents couldn’t be moved until after they were subdued. This meant that collecting an innocent you wanted required going into an item, clearing levels until it appeared, defeating it, and then repeating this process for each new copy of the innocent. Because of how innocents level up, getting an innocent to its level cap could be even more painful, requiring gathering lots of copies of a single innocent, and fusing them into each other.

In Disgaea 5, non-subdued innocents can be moved between items. So instead of going into 5-10 different items you might not be interested in leveling up to get a bunch of innocents you want, you can now move the innocents you’re farming into a single item, and do one run to gather them in a single fell swoop.

But these changes on their own wouldn’t solve the problem of needing to grind a silly amount of innocents. And that’s where the Innocent Farm comes in.

The Innocent Farm is a daycare center zone where you can leave innocents, and they passively gain levels as you do other things. In addition, if you leave two or more innocents in the Innocent Farm, they can breed, giving you even more innocents.

And these sorts of improvements are present across the rest of the game’s systems as well. Better capture mechanics and prisoner management. The Chara World is now its own unique Mario Party style world… thing, instead of being a sort of rip-off of the Item World.

Okay, so looking back at this whole writeup, I think I might have rambled enough. Here’s the five second version of my thoughts:

Disgaea 5 is a mechanical improvement over 4, both for its subsystems (and tweaks to make them more friendly), and also its improvements to the combat structure. While the story didn’t grab me the same way 4’s story did, it’s still solid. It just doesn’t surpass the usual JRPG tropes the same way some of it’s predecessors do. The end result is an incredibly solid game that I’d probably recommend over earlier games in the series, because as much as I like the story, this isn’t a series that I personally play for the writing.

Disgaea 5 Complete is available for Switch, PC, and Playstation 4. I played on PC with a controller, because, well, mouse and keyboard just doesn’t cut it for grid based tactics games.

Disgaea 4 Complete+

God I love this game.

Ed Note: Images for this writeup are from a combo of the Disgaea 4 Complete press kit, and my own save file.

Disgaea 4 is, somewhat strangely enough, the first Disgaea game I played. Specifically, Disgaea 4 Complete+ for the Switch. As far as I can tell, the “Complete” part just means that they opted to include all of the additional DLC and scenarios that were added to the game after its initial release in… 2011.

10 years ago.

Okay, so we might be a teensy bit late on this one.

One of the best things about Disgaea is the ability to customize your hub world and move all the NPC’s you actually care about next to each other.

In any case, like the other games, Disgaea 4 primarily takes place in the Netherworld. The main focus of the story is Valvatorez, a previously incredibly powerful vampire and also arguably total idiot, who never breaks promises he makes. One of these promises involved an agreement to not consume human blood ever. Pretty much all the other side characters are great as well, including Fenrich, Valvatorez’s second in command, who feels like an inverse version of the traitorous vizier trope, and Fuka, a elementary school child who dies, goes to hell, and then proceeds to determinator her way through the Netherworld by refusing to accept her death.

Valvatorez, the vampire who doesn’t drink blood, and Fenrich, his loyal servant who would really like it if maybe he would again.

These games can be kinda weird.

The general arc of the game is Valvatorez’s staging of a coup against the current President of Hell, in an attempt to fix the problems the Netherworld is having, including lack of energy, an inability to handle the influx of guilty souls, and just general failure to… well, be hell.

Behold, the… grid that I don’t remember the name of.

Mechanically, this comes in with the Corrupternment and building placement map. As you advance through the game, you’ll unlock political titles, buildings, and other elements that give benefits to units placed within their area of effects on this grid. You can also pass bills and policies to boost yourself, your rate of EXP gain, unlock new units, make friends, and also just shake down senators for cash.

The general structure of the rest of the game is fairly straightforward, with both the Item World and Chara World in Disgaea 4 following a similar structure of being procedurally generated combat levels where you need to clear all enemies, with a few additional minor changes between them. The game also has Magichange, the ability to turn monster characters into weapons temporarily for your other characters to use (don’t worry, they get better), and monster fusion, which lets you fuse monsters into larger versions of themselves with better range and damage.

Is it really a Disgaea game if the stats aren’t measured in hundred thousands?

Overall, Disgaea 4 is currently my favorite of the games story-wise, if not mechanically. While the game’s art style and mechanics haven’t aged terribly, many of the UI elements and menus do feel a bit outdated at this point, and some of the connectivity features, like fights and pirate ship leaderboards, feel a bit dead. Despite all of this, though, the fights are still interesting, the grind is nice and grindy, and story and characters are still funny.

Okay, so maybe I’ve played a bit too much of this.

You can get Disgaea 4 Complete+ here for Switch, and here for PC if you’re interested.

Disgaea Franchise Week – Kickoff

Here we go dood!

This post inaugurates what I’m calling Disgaea week. Some of you may be wondering why we’re doing this. Is it blatant pandering? Is it because America NIS approved my press credentials? Is it because I love Disgaea and really want them to send me a review copy of Disgaea 6?

The answer has two parts. 1. How dare you question my journalistic integrity, and 2. Yes.

Yes to all of the above.

On the flip side, it also gives a good opportunity to talk about some of the things that are similar between the games, without having to rehash them each time I write about the series.

So lets talk about Disgaea. If I had to summarize the game series in one sentence, I would say: “Disgaea is a tactics game about unleashing your inner mechanics munchkin.” Of course, this ignore the great art, the really solid writing, and skips over all the actual mechanics. But I only had one sentence, so we’ll get to that in a bit.

If you’re not familiar with the series, the Disgaea games don’t necessarily have any continuity between them. Instead, it’s a franchise more in the form of something like Final Fantasy, where each game is a separate cast of characters and goals, but certain elements remain the same, such as the primary combat mechanics, character classes, and Prinnies. Prinnies are the souls of the damned, doomed to pay for their sins in the afterlife by being sewn into a penguin shaped costume and used as the servants/cannon fodder/meat shields/target practice dummies for everyone else in the netherworld.

I’m expandable, dood!

The mechanics of the games often consist of a few fairly nested systems, but the general core gameplay is pretty simple. You’re given a gridded map, a deploy point to move units out onto the map from, and a bunch of enemies you need to defeat to clear the map. The complexity of these maps ranges based on the game, and how you’re expected to beat the map. Some maps are effectively puzzles, requiring moving boxes/blocks around, or destroying various patterns. Some are just standard “Brawl your way across” fights. And some are a combination of the two, or exist to teach you to understand specific mechanics.

Of course, this is just for the standard levels included throughout the campaign. You can also go to the “item world,” which is a series of randomly generated challenge floors. Clearing each floor levels up the item that you’re currently inside, and you can also collect “Innocents” which are people that can be moved between your items, and equipped to your items. So, you can level up your items that you equip to your characters and also equip characters to your items that you equip and where are you going please come back.

And it’s this sort of systemic and mechanical orgy that defines what a Disgaea game is for me. Disgaea games are games where you can level up everything, and once you hit the level cap, you can reincarnate and do it again. They’re games that let you graft and move skills and Evilities (think passive Pokemon-style abilities) from character to character. They’re games where your skills gain experience separate from your character, where you can tweak every inch, and relevel a character over and over until the number on their stat bar is larger than the GDP of the entire planet.

Oh, and you can also go to the chara world, which is different depending on the game, but lets you adjust additional bonuses, and okay, I promise, I’ll stop talking about the systems for now.

Outside of this smorgasbord of interesting interactions, the other biggest thing I’d say the games have going for them are that they’re actually well-written and have voice acting that doesn’t make me cut the cables going to my headphones.

Most of the characters involved, especially the protagonists, are deeply flawed individuals in a variety of interesting ways. My personal favorite would have to be Valvatorez, the main character of Disgaea 4, who is a powerless vampire who could instantly become extremely powerful if he wished, except for the fact that he absolutely refuses to break his promises.

In either case, the key take away from this article is as follows:

  1. I really like Disgaea
  2. Disgaea is a tactics game about being a complete munchkin.
  3. NIS America please send me a review copy of Disgaea 6.
  4. This entire week is going to be me pandering to try to get that to happen.

So buckle up mother fuckers, because this entire week is about to a roller coaster ride of exploding penguins, exceedingly strange mechanics, vampires that don’t suck blood, and the other weirdness that makes up the Netherworld(s)!

Lets go Dood!

MMORPG Tycoon 2

Lots of bone, not enough meat. Yet.

Okay, so let’s get the core of my opinion out of the way: MMORPG Tycoon 2 as it currently stands can be pretty fun, but it feels more like a creative playground than a simulator/tycoon style game. If you’re like me, and you are seeking simulation/tycoon games for the system interactions, I’d say wait on this game for the moment. If you’re not like me, and you just want a really cool imaginative playground of game, you still might want to wait, because I can’t tell if its going to stay that way, or turn into the heavy sim I was looking for.

Look at this. It’s incredible.

It does have the single greatest video game cursor ever though.

Okay, let’s talk about the game’s systems, before we get into why I don’t want to currently recommend it.

MMORPG Tycoon 2 is, as the name suggests, a tycoon game about making a MMO. You start with a blank world map of zones, and it’s your job to make it into a world that your little fake players will want to actually exist in. And also to not go bankrupt while doing it.

Ah, Kyle Land 2021.

This means installing the sorts of thing that every MMO needs, from quest-givers, to shops for equipment and taverns to log out in, to putting in zones that spawn monsters so that your players can grind to their hearts’ content. You’ll also have to put down paths, and set up bandwidth networks which power everything.

In addition to the world building, there’s also a massive amount of customization available. You have the ability to customize the looks of the player characters and NPC’s in the game, with what struck me as an impressive modular system for building simple character models. Buildings and other objects also have robust tweaking and modeling controls.

The in-game classes, NPC’s, and monsters also all share a pretty robust customization system that allows you to tweak their abilities, stats, and also make changes to their character models.

People with good taste and thoughtful design ideas can probably use the modeling system to make interesting and neat monsters and characters. I used it to make a 6 story tall hobo-plague doctor with floating arms that just runs around and beats people up.

Okay, so if the game has all of these features, why do I currently not want to recommend it? Well, while many of these systems exist, they don’t yet interact with each other in particularly interesting ways.

For example, take the bandwidth system. It’s completely decoupled from every other part of the game. You just put down bandwidth everywhere you have objects, and if they don’t have enough juice, you add more. There’s no real need to manage spikes based on player behavior, or other activity.

The same thing feels true of the classes and the monster balance. While you have have the ability to make changes to them, as far as I can tell, it doesn’t really influence the fake players’ decisions. While fake players have the ability to request buffs and nerfs, they don’t do much else.

Closer.

Finally, the weakest system in the game by far in my opinion is the versioning. This is effectively leveling up your MMO, and I dislike it for two reasons.

Reason #1. You don’t level up by getting subscribers/money, or by building out more content for your players. You level up just by placing objects down. If you look at some of the screen shots below, you can see that there are areas where I just smashed down a massive amount of objects because I needed to get my level ups. And also…

Reason #2. The benefits of leveling up are almost entirely numerical, i.e., +5 to loot or something. There are a few that give you more interesting and fun powers (Flight paths, PVP), but most are just… more numbers.

Even closer.

And these are the bones with no meat. The level up system is lackluster, but if the numeric benefits were replaced, or added to with a tech tree, all of a sudden they could become far more interesting. If player classes influenced player behavior more, there would be more impetus to balance them and tweak them. And if quest rewards changed a player’s likelihood to complete them, you could use quest rewards to influence player pathing and decisions.

Of course, these are all just the changes I would make, because I’m curious about what the game would look like as a “simulator” as opposed to a Sims-style creative expression toy, with some light simulation elements. And that’s where I run into my main problem with recommending the game in its current state.

Perhaps a bit too close. Yes, the crocodile is a player class.

I can see the game’s design going in one of two different directions, and it’s unclear to me which of the two it will take.

The first design direction that the developers might choose would be the route of a simulator, something with more in common with maybe Cultivation Simulator, or a pure RollerCoaster Tycoon sort of thing, with systems that govern fake player behavior, happiness, willingness to spend, interaction with in-game systems, etc.

The second possible design direction would be for the game to take a tone of something like Animal Crossing or the Sims. This version of the game would have less focus on the simulation aspects, but with more attention paid to your ability to customize and edit your MMO to be exactly the way you want it, much like building up a village in Animal Crossing or the joy of playing with Legos.

Thing is, I’m not sure that it can go both directions at once.

You don’t get anything out of making custom quests, quest names, or NPC’s other then the satisfaction of making something to annoy your friends with. Or crafting a believable mechanical world, but who does that?

The game currently contains more of the features related to the “playing with Legos” situation. Which is fine. But I suspect that the person who wants to craft a beautiful creation of a MMO doesn’t want their fake players to quit en-masse because they died too much to an angry herd of sheep. They don’t want to have to carefully build exact flight paths, and try to understand fake player behavior, or have to deal with managing the underlying data grid. They don’t want to find themselves in a situation where they need to slap together a higher level zone just to make sure they don’t lose subscribers who hit the previous level cap. They don’t want to be punished for building a dingy back alley in their city, just because they used spooky looking buildings in what the game thinks should be a “happy zone.”

The closest comparison I can draw to this is trying to get a highly rated island in New Horizons. Getting a high rating requires that you make a bunch of changes and follow a bunch of rules that may not mesh with the specific look and feel you’re aiming for on your island. And tying in mechanical progression to making those changes feels bad.

On the flip side, I don’t think the person who just wants play with the simulation/ant farm aspect of the system wants to be forced to put down individual cacti to make the desert area more “Deserty” so that players don’t quit over a lack of immersion.

Running won’t save you Inbae. Bob is coming.

And this is why I’m hesitant to recommend the game right now; there’s a lot of potential, but it’s unclear to me what direction this game will go in, so it makes it hard to know who to recommend it to. Will it remain a lite sim where the primary joy is something akin to Animal Crossing, that of building out and creating your own cool space? Or will it become something more mechanically heavy, but less focused on customization?

With that said, the game has a bunch of potential, and I encourage anyone who finds the premise interesting to add it to their Wishlist and keep an eye on it. It’s $25 on Steam, and as far as I can tell, that’s the only place to get it right now.

Didn’t Make the Cut

Some more things I was not impressed by or didn’t like much.

At one point, these posts were gonna be weekly or something. In any case, it’s time for another “Didn’t Make the Cut” AKA “Here’s all the things I either didn’t enjoy, or didn’t think were interesting.” So with minor further ado, let’s get into it shall we?

Ado: Social Justice Warriors and Kids were in the itch.io Racial Justice Bundle, so if those two seem neat, you can check them out there.

Social Justice Warriors

In Social Justice Warriors, you play as someone arguing with other people online. Each time you finally defeat someone, you move on to arguing with a new person. Regardless of how many trolls you defeat, nothing actually changes, and you just waste your time.

It’s almost as if there’s some sort of message in the gameplay or something, but I don’t have anything else to say on this one. Also the combat is pretty boring. Next!

Kids

Kids describes itself as an interactive animation. If you want to buy it, it’s $3. Had I bought it for $3, I would regret not using that to buy a cinnamon roll instead. I guess a lot of other people find that it speaks to them, though? I dunno. I just don’t get it. Unlike….

Void Bastards

I do get Void Bastards, and what I get is that I don’t like it very much. Void Bastards is in theory a procedurally generated rogue-lite shooter, with a comic book graphic aesthetic. I would say that the “Shooter” part of that description is debatable, given that you never seem to have any fucking bullets. I’ve played 5 hours, and I have no desire to play anymore. The game’s mechanics just did not feel good, to the extent that they made everything else about the game more annoying.

Side Note: Void Bastards wins some sort of prize for single worst rogue-lite mechanic I’ve seen: Space Whales. You just die, because you clicked on the wrong node on the map? Why? Why would you ever add this?

That’s all for the moment. Planning to do some writeups on a bunch of Switch games in the future, including the somewhat difficultly named new “New Pokemon Snap,” so we’ll see how that goes.

Wheels of Aurelia

An interesting attempt at combing visual novels and other mechanics, but I didn’t like it.

I have mixed feelings on Wheels of Aurelia. On the one hand, I don’t like the game enough to play more of it. On the other hand, I keep thinking about it. It was going to get a section in “Didn’t Make the Cut,” except I think I have more to say about it than any of the other games that didn’t make the cut, so it gets its own article.

So what is it? Wheels of Aurelia describes itself as a racing game set in Italy in the 1980’s. I’d describe it as a visual novel with a light driving element set in Italy in the 1980’s.

Potayto, potahto.

For those of you with busy lives, here’s the five second summary: I think it’s very interesting, but I did not like it very much.

There are some really strong parts to Wheels of Aurelia, but these parts (usually the writing and the setting) feel somewhat disconnected.

The big one is the setting of 1980’s Italy. One thing the game has made abundantly clear to me is that I don’t know shit about 1980’s Italy. And while the game does link to some sections of text from Wikipedia, this wasn’t enough for me to understand a lot of what was being referred to in the writing. Which brings us to the second problem.

The writing shifts tone rapidly to the extent that it feels almost non-sequitur, with the result being that parts of the story just don’t make any sense whatsoever because of this tonal shift. For example, characters that have barely been named suddenly become relevant.

The main character goes from losing their car in a race to a molesty creep (and being understandably fucking pissed), to buying a 3 wheeled tractor cheerfully from a farmer, to chasing fascists for some reason. The end result was that I had a harder and harder time following the plot as it went on.

However, this doesn’t characterize the entire game. There’s a well-written and interesting dialogue with a hitchhiker about a football club. And sub-sections of the game are fine. It’s how they connect that sucks. At first, I thought this might be related to the game’s localization or translation, but the game’s credits don’t actually list an English translation. So I’m honestly not sure what happened with the writing. Sub-sections of it are fine, the but the overall arc feels janky.

In either case, enough ragging on. Let’s talk about what the game does have going for it:

  1. A solid soundtrack. I actually kind of want to re-listen to a few of these. (Wait until 1:00 minute in for it to go crazy.)
  2. Strong art design. Both the characters and environments are well done. They’re fairly minimal, but I’d consider that to be a good thing.
  3. A solid attempt at combining standard game mechanics with a visual novel. I wouldn’t say it succeeds 100%, but it’s interesting, and trying to drive while also deciding how to respond to prompts is neat.

And yeah, that’s about it. Wheels of Aurelia is $10 on Steam, Epic or itch.io. And it’s also in the itch.io racial justice bundle, so if you purchased that, you already own it.

It wasn’t for me, but maybe it will be for you?

Hunt: Showdown

The little Battle Royale that wasn’t

Ed Note: The screenshots in this article are from the Hunt: Showdown press kit. Getting good screenshots of the game is kind of tricky, because any time you’d want to get a screenshot of something cool, it’s usually trying to kill you. With that said, in my opinion, the game doesn’t look as good as its marketing material, but I also don’t care because the gameplay is what sells it.

Today, I’m gonna be talking about Hunt: Showdown, also known as “That Other Game Crytek Made” and “Wait, Crytek Makes More Than Engines?” I like Hunt: Showdown. A week ago Steam said I’d played about 70 hours, and I’ve played another 15 or so since then, so I feel fairly confident in that recommendation.

If I was forced to stuff Hunt: Showdown into a neat little box to characterize it, it would probably go in the “Battle Royale” box, with Fortnite/Warzone/PUBG. You can play with a squad of up to three folks, you want to shoot people, and you start on a massive single map. I don’t think this is entirely fair and accurate, though, because while the general intention of Hunt is similar to those other games (forcing interesting FPS based fights on a massive open map against other players), the way it goes about making this occur is pretty different.

For starters, there is no “looting phase” or “drop phase.” Instead, you create a loadout of items and weapons prior to starting a hunt, and once the hunt begins, you just spawn with your team on a random edge of the map. While you can pick up additional ammo and supplies from caravans around the map, and also other dead players, you don’t get to choose what you get from these, and so you mostly just have to make do with what you brought with you. Generally speaking, you’ll bring things like bolt action rifles, six-shooters, shotguns, and sticks of dynamite.

Also, unlike most Battle Royales, your goal isn’t to wipe out all other players on the map. You can leave more or less whenever you want by getting to an exit point, and waiting out the escape timer. And if you want to save your character (we’ll get into why you might want this in a bit) escaping like this can be the smartest choice.

Behold, the zombies. Stupid, slow, and not a problem until one that you miss stabs you with a meat cleaver.

Instead, the goal of a round of Hunt is to escape with a bounty token, an item that you get from either killing an AI boss monster, or prying it from the from cold dead hands of someone else who did. You locate the boss by picking up clues. Each time you pick up a clue, a section of the minimap gets closed off, letting you know the boss isn’t in that zone. After 3, you’re given the boss’s location.

And this is where things get interesting, because you’ll note I said “Boss.” See, Hunt’s map is fully populated with AI enemies, fairly basic trash mobs. And while these enemies are dumb as bricks, if you’re not careful, or a little too gung-ho, they can easily get you into trouble. Not because they do massive amounts of damage (they don’t) or can kill you quickly (most of them can’t), but because they force you to spend time or ammunition dealing with them.

It’s a spider made out of people! And yes, it looks just as horrifying close up as you might expect.

Okay, so I’m bored of writing about the general mechanics. This is enough to explain the general tension and what makes Hunt: Showdown interesting. In brief, all of the game’s systems are built to force you into fights, and the lower player count means that you only need to win 1-2 of these fights in order to “win” a match. The boss objectives mean that despite starting at different locations, players are funneled together, while the game’s sound design and AI means that if you find yourself using non-silenced weapons against monsters, enemy players can quickly locate you. The bounty mechanic puts a target on your head once you’re trying to escape, but it also gives you dark sight, a very minimalist wallhack sort of thing that lets you spot folks trying to ambush you, and make those end game engagements more even.

The one big thing I haven’t talked about yet is how loadouts and perks work, and while I don’t have too much to say, here’s the five second version:

Your “Hunters” have a level from 1-50, and whenever they successfully extract from a hunt, they get some more experience based on how they did (mob kills, boss kills, bounties, player kills). Each time they level up, they get a skill point that can be used to unlock passive perks, things like walking quieter, taking less damage from falling, that sort of jazz. If your team wipes in a mission, your Hunter is permanently dead, and there’s no way to bring them back, and you lose all the gear they had on them.

Gear is somewhat similar. Various actions during a match will pay out Hunt Dollars, which you use to buy gear. Different types of gear are unlocked as you level up your bloodline, and when you buy hunters they come with some of their own gear.

While you always have access to a pool of Hunters that includes at least one free Hunter to recruit, this free Hunter has random weapons and equipment, and no perks.

And this is one of the reasons you might choose to extract early: saving your gear and Hunter, and living to fight another day. It might not be worth much, but it can take 2-3 successful matches to get a Hunter to the cap, and losing them feels bad.

The end result is a game with some interesting character building systems outside of the actual gameplay, and solid FPS mechanics with a set of much older weapons. For me, the game feels like it’s built in a way to encourage and cause interesting gunfights, as opposed to being shot in the head by someone hiding twelve miles away in a cornfield, or simply losing because you couldn’t find a gun when you dropped.

This doesn’t mean Hunt is flawless. The loading times are incredibly frustrating and long. There are no death cams, just death views, which make it difficult to learn from your deaths, or if the person who killed you was hacking, which it can feel like even if they weren’t. For me, though, these downsides are annoying, but not enough to make the tense gunfights less fun, and the game itself less enjoyable.

Hunt: Showdown is $40 on Steam, and it’s also on PS4/XboxOne, but it looks like there’s no crossplay between consoles and PC. So if you do want to play it with friends, make sure everyone gets it on the same platform.