I spent months seeing ads for Minecraft Dungeons and assuming it was a fancy Minecraft mod. As it turns out it’s a completely different game. It uses Minecraft textures, sounds, creatures, and trappings (like the currency is emeralds), but its actually an Action RPG.
If you’re new the genre, ARPG is just a fancy name for a Diablo clone. It’s a 3rd person top down dungeon crawler where you collect loot and level up your character. As a big fan of Diablo II and a big fan of Minecraft, you might expect that this would be my kind of game… and you’d mostly be right.
I mostly enjoyed Minecraft Dungeons. While I didn’t play much endgame content or go to the much harder difficulties, I did clear the full story, and some of the postgame, and had a good time with it.
However, I have three fundamental problems with the game
Lack of twangy guitar music.
Map readability and collision.
While issue one pretty much speaks for itself, issue two is a bit more nuanced. Why does it matter that Minecraft Crayons has consumable arrows? To explain that, let’s talk about how the game handles skills.
Minecraft Funyons has an interesting “class” system. I put class in quotes because there are no set classes; how your character approaches the game depends entirely on what kind of gear you wear and enchantments you apply. If you want to be a rogue, you equip armor that makes you deal more physical damage. To be a tank, you equip armor that reduces the damage you take. If you want to be a caster, you equip armor that reduces the cooldowns on your artifacts (effectively your abilities), and then equip artifacts that deal damage. And if you want to be an archer, you equip armor that gives you extra ranged damage and extra arrows.
The problem is that the arrow economy is such that even with bonus arrow armor, enchantments, and artifacts, you STILL run out of arrows at some point each run. With at most 10 de facto classes, it’s a strange design choice to make one of them effectively unplayable.
My third issue was map readability. While the Minecraft style maps are very pretty, because all the elements are visually similar, I often found it hard to quickly figure out which terrain was walkable and which blocked me. And that’s a big problem when trying to make a split second decision with a million mobs following me. Hit a wall, and you’re dead.
Being pinned against terrain by a wave of enemies wouldn’t be terrible if the standard roll ability let you roll through the enemies, but it doesn’t, unlike almost every game I’ve ever played with a dodge. It also doesn’t actually dodge hits. All it does is give you a quick burst of speed followed by being slowed. Looking back, I found this design decision this most frustrating part of the game.
And there are a few other things that don’t quite make sense to me. The enchantment system seems to be built to encourage you to try out new sub builds frequently. But this never really worked. There are only two ways to get your enchantment points/levels back to try out a new item or build.
Option 1 is to salvage the original item, getting rid of it. If you do this and then don’t like your new build, you’re shit out of luck. Option 2 is go give your items to the Blacksmith, which gives you back your enchantment points, and then upgrades the item after your clear 3 levels. But again, if you don’t like your build, you’re still shit out of luck, abeit only for 3 runs. Why there isn’t just a “refund enchantment points” button is beyond me.
The game is also a bit buggy. While none of these are “Eat your savefile” or “Crash your machine” levels of bugs, they’re still annoying. For example, I fought a miniboss at the start of a level, and then spent the entire level listening to the dramatic boss music. Almost every chest you open spews some consumable items out of the level, entirely wasting them. Another time I rolled in the middle of combat and got stuck in a hole in the map.
Overall, I did have fun with it, even if it was somewhat simple. It honestly felt like the game was initially designed as a roguelike, but at some point they changed it to a perpetual gear chase. The addition of the Tower, a game mode that is quite literally a roguelike adds to that theory.
Minecraft Dungeons is available on pretty much every platform, and also has cross-play between all of them. So if you’re looking for a solid, but simple ARPG you can play with other folks, grab a copy, and sit back. Just be prepared to deal with some annoyances along the way. And if you’re still on the fence, you can read more about it here.
Ed Note: The post-game content is actually surprisingly extensive, and decent. I played it even if Max didn’t. It functions similar to PoE’s mapping system, in that the zones themselves are remixes of previously cleared areas with increased mob variety and specialties. It also has it’s own special gear chase with gilded items and whatnot. TLDR: Postgame good!
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.
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 yearsago.
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.
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.
I mentioned in another post-PAX writeup how I’m hesitant to recommend boomer shooters based off demos. This is because boomer shooters almost always demo well, even if the final product is subpar.
Well, this week, we’re talking about another genre that almost always demos/plays well at a convention: The party game!
Combine the excitement of being at a con with anything competitive, and a large number of people to play with, and just about everything can be fun for a bit. So here are the party games I saw at PAX East.
From what I played, Orbitals felt like a Smash Bros style 2d party brawler. The game had two mechanical twists though. The first is that the whole thing takes place in a gravity free area. You have to move from area to area Super Mario Galaxy style. The second is that after each round, you get points to spend to upgrade your character.
When I played, I found the gameplay a bit floaty. I couldn’t tell if that was just because it was my first time playing. The gameplay seems interesting, and Orbitals is on my watch list because of that. If you want to find out more about the game, click here.
Match Point by Jolly Crouton is effectively multiplayer super Pong. It supports up to 4 players. Unlike Pong, you have a few other abilities then just bumping into the ball. By pressing certain triggers, you can magnetize yourself to pull the ball in, or do harder shots. Also, the goal requires you to hit it twice in semi-quick succession to score.
After reading my notes, I have written down that I thought it was “Fine” and “Not really my thing”. Also “Good Party Game???”. I think those notes are pretty accurate. It’s well made, but it’s still mostly Pong. I think it might be fun with the right crowd. But if it seems like your thing, you can learn more about it here.
Which brings us to our last entrant…
Squish is fairly straight forward. It’s a survival versus game for up to 4 players. You play as a small blob skeleton, and try to be the last one standing while blocks constantly fall down onto the field. You can push this around, but if you get crushed by one, you die. Get killed, and you’re given one last chance to control a falling block. Take out another player with that block and you’re back into the game.
Squish feels like a extended release of a Mario Party minigame if I’m being honest. I don’t dislike it, but it wasn’t amazing. The full game does promise more modes, which might change things up a bit. If you want to find out more, you can click here. It actually has a scheduled release date of May 31st, so pretty soon!
And those were all the party games I played at PAX East. Like I mentioned before, it’s a genre that does well at conventions, and always makes me pause for a bit. My personal favorite was Orbitals, for both having the most potential and being the most interesting.
In either case, join us next week as I attempt to keep writing these summaries because I played a ton of stuff! Not sure what the theme will be then, but I’ll figure it out.
A look at the board games I played at PAX East, 2022.
While PAX East doesn’t focus on board games in the same way as Gen Con, or PAX Unplugged, they’re still there! Despite having a smaller presence, PAX East’s tabletop sections stays open late into the evening. So let’s go over the fun board games I played at PAX East.
Disclaimer: This list is no particular order, but I have listed bigger/released games closer to the bottom of the list. I played Dominion. It was fun. But it’s been out for 10 years, it doesn’t need top billing.
So let’s get right into it. Drum roll please!
First up, we have Space Lion! It’s an asymmetric bluffing/placement game. At the show, I only played the demo which used a single army. The full game is supposed to include four armies, if I remember correctly? The general gist is that you have a hand of cards, which are your units. Each round, you and your opponents place cards face down at various locations, and after placement is finished, you flip them up. Whoever has the highest unit value wins that battle, and the goal is to destroy the opponent’s base. While this sounds simple, I’ve completely skipped unit abilities, exhausting units, and the fact that each army is supposed to play differently.
Unfortunately, the game isn’t actually out yet. There was a Gamefound campaign running, but it was canceled. Still, if you’re interested in the game, there’s hope! The creators announced they were taking the lessons they learned from the first campaign and planning to try another at some point. If that all sounds interesting, you can sign up for their mailing list here. I hope it succeeds, as it was one of my favorite games from the show.
Another unpublished game is Small Time Crooks. I found this one in the Unpub hall. If you’re not familiar with Unpub, it’s a small area where you can play test board games in various states of development. The games can vary quite highly in their levels of completeness. You’ll find folks looking for publishers sitting next to a first prototype of a hand made deck of cards.
Small Time Crooks though! It’s a hyper-lite GM-less RPG? The mechanics are pretty straight forward. You have a character, and you have a randomly generated target to rob. The target consists of a series of random rooms. Each room contains a skill check, which you make via dice rolls.
I’m honestly not sure how well it would work with multiple players, but the demo was neat. I think it’s worth keeping an eye on. And if you want to do that, here’s the link to their website. My notes say that they’re planning a Kickstarter at some point in 2022? Weirdly enough I could never find who is actually making the game.
Update: You can also find them here, on Twitter! Thanks to the Unpub hall for pointing this out for me.
Leaving the indie and unpub space, let’s head over to a game that had its own massive booth.
Calling Dice Throne an incredibly polished “Push-Your-Luck” dice brawler is underselling it a bit, but it feels fairly accurate. I only played a single 1v1 game, but it worked like this: each player picks out a character to play. The character determines the starting health, energy, hand size, and most importantly, your attacks. Each attack consists of a matched pattern of dice rolls. On your turn, you have three sets of rolls. After each roll, you can choose which dice you want to reroll, and which to keep. The end result is that you’re generally trying to roll specific patterns to inflict damage, while using your own abilities to keep yourself alive. You can also use your hand of cards to modify dice rolls, and upgrade your abilities.
It’s very polished, and the two characters I saw seemed pretty different. I didn’t rush over to buy a copy afterwards, but I’d play it again. Also, the game box is massive, and I’m not sure I have space for it. Like, much bigger than other board games.
Of games I played though, the last one is one I owned: Dominion.
A deckbuilder like Tanto Cuore, Dominion is over 10 years old and is the OG of OG deckbuilders. There’s not much I can say that hasn’t already been written about, but let me summarize it anyway. Each player starts with a deck of cards, and a shared market. The market consists of 10 of 21 non-starter cards, and also a few more. Your goal is to spend the currency you get from you hand to buy cards from the market and add them to your deck, and improve your deck’s efficiency, so you can buy victory point cards. But as victory point cards only give VP at the end of the game, you want to avoid buying them until you have to.
Overall, it’s a very solid game, and playing it with someone who hadn’t played before gave me a solid appreciation for how well it’s held up all these years later. It also gave me a sense of nostalgia for a time 10 years ago. Y’know, back when you could just go places, the world wasn’t falling apart, and my parents weren’t divorced!
How time flies.
In any case, that’s what I played at PAX. This was only a microscopic sample of what was available, but as I tend to focus on video games while at East, it’s all I have to write about today.
Oh, and I also played lot of MTG, but that might just end up being its own post.
Four cool things from the show floor that you can experience from the comfort of your own home.
So, you couldn’t make it to PAX. Perhaps you had other things to that week. Perhaps you had entirely reasonable concerns about the perpetual global endemic. Perhaps you were less than enthusiastic about the fact that ticket prices doubled since last time. Or perhaps you did make it to PAX but were working a booth the entire time.
Not to worry! I’ve compiled a list of four games that I played at PAX, really liked, and all have demos that you can go download from Steam. So lets jump in, shall we? Starting with…
I like Power Chord. It’s a turn based roguelike, in which you control a literal band (musicians), on their quest to… look I wasn’t paying much attention to the story. I’m assuming you’re trying to kill the devil or something. The gameplay itself is very much like Slay the Spire, in that you have a deck of cards, and each turn you have energy that you expand to play them, and try to kill your opponents. Unlike Slay the Spire, your deck is contributed to by the members of your band. If that sounds interesting, you can click here to go grab a demo for the game on Steam, and here if want to just learn more about it. Unfortunately, it doesn’t have a release date just yet.
Perhaps turn based strategic gameplay sounds too relaxing though. In that case, next up we have…
Turbo Overkill is an entry in the boomer shooter genre, i.e., things like Doom, Wrath: Aeon of Ruin, and Ion Maiden. These games are shooters that went “What if shooting things was fun, you had more than two weapons, and our entire graphics budget for polygons was stolen?” I will note that as a general rule of thumb, I’m little skeptical of boomer shooters at the moment. This is not because I dislike the genre, but because they always demo really well, even when I end up not liking the game as much (looking at you Desync.) Regardless of my whining, the demo was a lot of fun, and you can grab it here. Turbo Overkill is currently available in Early Access, and the devs have said that it’s 30% content complete. If you want more info about the game then you can check out their twitter feed here, because I couldn’t actually find another website.
Perhaps you want something softer and lighter, or perhaps you think crushing AI is for losers. In either case, may I offer..
Swapette Showdown is a head to head match-3 puzzler. Blocks rise from the floor, you swap them into rows of at least 3 to clear them, and send trash lines to your opponent. You also have special abilities based on the character you select. Something like Puyo-Puyo is probably the closest equivalent? Look, instead of reading my poor description, why don’t you just download the demo here? And then, if you decide you like it, or have questions, or can’t quite get said demo to run right on your ultrawide even though you played it on a TV at the show, you can click here to join their Discord and try to troubleshoot.
But perhaps you hate anything with anime eyes. Perhaps you think indie games should never go past two dimensions. Perhaps you should just humor me because I’m running out of convenient segues. In that case, try…
Dwerve is technically a tower defense game. You construct towers, and use them to defend. The reason I wrote “technically” is because it has a lot of non-standard tower defense mechanics. There is no end point to be defended. Instead when you get into combat, enemies will go right for your delicious face meat. Towers refund their cost when they get destroyed, and you’ll be expected to rebuild them. And finally, the game isn’t structured as a series of levels; it’s a world that you actually travel through more akin to something like Nobody Saves the World. It’s a really interesting blend, and you can play the demo here. The full steam page is here, the game’s site is here, and I’m kind of out of things to say about it. Oh, except that it does have a release date for the end of next month (31st of May) so if you do end up liking the demo, you won’t won’t have to wait long for more.
Anyway, with that final entry on the list, that concludes all I’m writing about for the moment. Not all I have to write about, because I have a second window up of things I saw/played, and I still have 21 more games I want to write about. I need to find a way to break that list down into convenient bite size categories.
I think the way you’re supposed to end these sorts of lists is to encourage people to fight with you on social media as a roundabout cover for getting more interaction, so yeah. So, hit us up on Twitter if you disagree with our list? Not really sure how that’s possible, but I’m sure someone will find a way.