Inscryption

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

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

It’s okay, I’ll wait.

……………..

You finish it yet?

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

>NO, but I started Inscryption .

>YES, I finished Inscryption

Your move.

Orna

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Deltarune – Chapter 1 & 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Looking at you Susie.)

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

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

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

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

Stop being concerned about the Square Enix letter, please.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yosuke Matsuda, 2022 Letter from the Chairman

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

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

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

Yosuke Matsuda, 2022 Letter from the Chairman

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

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

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

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

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

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

Loosely, I would summarize it as follows:

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

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

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

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

That’s a real thing I said.

Princess and Conquest

I bought this because I was kind of horny, and frankly, the money could have been better spent.

Princess and Conquest is “unique.” That’s not the same thing as good. I cannot come up with a single simple way to describe it, so I’m choosing to go with Pornographic Action RPG with Political Simulation elements. From what I’ve played so far, I would not recommend it.

I don’t really consider this blog to be “Family Friendly,” but I also don’t currently provide a way to easily opt out of seeing 18+ content. For that reason, I’m not going to provide any in-depth level of analysis of the game’s sexual content. That’s not to say I won’t talk about it, but there should be nothing in this blog post that will make anyone upset or hot and bothered.

General Concept

So, what is Princess and Conquest? Well, at the base, it’s an open-ish world RPG. After a brief tutorial that explains a few of the general mechanics, you’re tossed out into a large open world map. From here, you can whatever you want, as long as whatever you want consists of wandering around, exploring areas, having casual sex, and taking quests to complete for Swirlies, the game’s currency and XP. Combat is done in a sort of real time action RPG thing, where you can switch between members of your current party on the fly. Each member has their own equipment, stats, and abilities. Some have access to magic and projectile attacks, while others don’t.

This isn’t a static open world. There’s a day/night cycle, and time is constantly passing, during which the various kingdoms will declare war on each other, send armies at each other, and generally cause the world to slip into absolute chaos. You can choose to intervene in these fights for one side or another, in order to push the balance of power a given direction. Doing this also gains you affinity with the Princesses you aid, allowing you to convince them to stop trying to murder their neighbors and whatnot.

If you’re reading all of this, and thinking “Okay, that actually sounds kind of neat, and I’m horny and want to play this” pause that thought for a moment. Because Princess and Conquest is, as far as I can tell, made in RPG Maker.

I do not know why anyone would ever choose to make a game with real time combat and open world mechanics in RPG Maker. In another post on this site, I wrote about No Delivery, and noted how the game was impressive for utilizing the engine in interesting ways, and taking advantage of some of its quirks for neat effects.

Princess and Conquest does not do that. Instead, it takes an engine that was primarily built for single player traditional semi-linear turn based RPG’s and uses it for a game that relies primarily on simulation and real time action combat. While it’s impressive that they were able to get it to do this at all, a large number of the mechanics just feel terrible.

The worst one by far is combat. Switching between characters on the fly is incredibly floaty and feels laggy. The hitboxes for the player weapons can feel absolutely miserable, compounded by the fact that many enemies can deal damage on contact. One of the bosses can’t be damaged, even with projectile weapons, unless it is faced directly head on; otherwise projectiles just phase through. Another boss is be able to land hits while in its theoretically “Vulnerable” phase, in addition to not actually taking damage when attacked. In another instance, because of how projectiles were handled, I attacked, missed, and then couldn’t use the projectile again because it was still traveling and hadn’t been cleaned up.

I’m not sure where this part of the article will go, but I’m just gonna write it anyways. I also want to apologize for the relatively lower level of quality in this portion of the article. Sex, and by extension, porn, is complicated topic for a variety of reasons. Frankly, I don’t have desire to do a deep dive analysis and criticism of a $12 Steam game’s portrayal of fantasy sex. Just like I don’t feel like reviewing random videos on Pornhub. If that was what I wanted to do, this blog would have a different name, and likely a higher readership.

Sexual Content High Level View

For a brief bit of context: I’m a straight man. I’ve done some stuff. I would not consider myself particularly “Vanilla.” I’ve seen a fair amount of weird porn, and weird porn art. I’ve had sexual relations with both genders. Okay, context and perspective set? Good. Back to the game.

My primary issue with Princess and Conquest is that it doesn’t offer adequate ability to opt in or opt of the sex/sexual activities. In the time I’ve played so far, I’ve seen content and situations that I suspect would make some players highly uncomfortable. However, there is only one form of controllable interaction, and it’s not broad enough to cover what the game offers.

My secondary issue has to do with the nature of sex in Princess and Conquest. While I consider the above topic to be more of a general statement regarding sexual content, this next one is more of a personal opinion. Sex within Princess and Conquest is almost universally encouraged, as is getting characters that the player has sex with pregnant, through two mechanical benefits. First, having sex has a chance to get an egg which grants more party members, potentially a party member of a hard to find “race” or with better stats. Second, having sex with an NPC will increase the affinity the player has with the Princess character of the same race as the NPC. One of the player goals is to try to avoid massive chaos and breakdown, and affinity points are used to convince people to stop waging war. Since affinity points can otherwise be difficult to get without pissing someone else off, in order to prevent a world war you kinda have to fuck everyone you come across who is interested.

Okay, so enough of that. Again, please don’t take this as some form of full analysis of the game’s sexual content, or my views of sex. The above are merely my two major problems with how the game handles its pornographic content and mechanics.

Okay, so, back to the rest of the game. I have a bunch of smaller problems outside of sex and combat. Here’s a short list:
1. The game is buggy. Most of the time, these bugs don’t do too much. Sometimes, as I discovered to my incredible annoyance, they crash the game. And because of how the save system works, have fun going back to your last save.
Author Note: I actually went back and played some more of the game to get screenshots/see if I was being overly harsh. Then the game crashed.
2. Obtuse systems. The game wants to have a level of political strategy and simulation, but good luck understanding how population growth, eloping, or any other system works without the Wiki, because the game will not tell you. Or Tea Parties! Because I read the wiki, and I still don’t understand how Tea Parties work, or are supposed to work.
3. Frustrating map design. This wouldn’t be as bad if it wasn’t somewhat accentuated by the game engine, but the map design. Dear God, the map design. I want to make something clear. If you have game with a zone-based map, and you leave or enter zones by pressing in a given direction, DO NOT FUCKING MAKE IT SO THAT YOUR MAPS SPAWN THE PLAYER IN A LOCATION WHERE IF THEY PRESS THE BUTTON THEY USED TO LEAVE THE AREA A SECOND TIME, IT BRINGS THEM BACK INTO THE ZONE THEY JUST FUCKING LEFT.
4. Quest system weirdness. I do not like that I cannot have more than one active quest from the adventurers guild at once. I do not like that quest descriptions can be weirdly vague about what you need to do to complete them. And I absolutely hate the quests where the descriptions don’t actually give information about what you need to do to progress the quest.

So that’s Princess and Conquest. A unique concept and set of game mechanics using a game engine absolutely not intended for them, with not great, but functional results. For what it counts for, the writing and porn (from my mildly kinky straight male perspective) is decent, but does not mesh comfortably with the game’s mechanics. Currently, I do not recommend the game, and short of them rebuilding the entire thing in a game engine that can gracefully handle their design decisions, I likely will not ever recommend the game.

Content on these links is NSFW. If for some reason, you still want to play the game after all of this, you can find it on itch.io here or on Steam here. You’ll have to sign in though, as again, this is an adult only game.

Operation: Tango

A very solid digital set of puzzle rooms with a vibrant 80’s spy movie/secret agent theme.

Author Note: Images in this article are from the Operation: Tango Press kit. It turns out getting nice images off a two player game on an ultra wide monitor is kind of a pain. I’d say they accurately reflect the look of the game.

Operation: Tango is a really cool asymmetric co-op puzzle game, where you play as one of two secret agents. And when I say “Co-Op,” I mean Co-Op. There is no single player option here. Good news is that you only need to own one copy of the game to play it with someone else on Steam, since they can just download the demo, and play the full game through that.

In Operation Tango, you and your friend take the role of two spies. One player is the Hacker, and one player is the Agent. The world has a “Futurist 80’s spy” vibe which is generally executed exceedingly well with bright colors, flashy outfits and locales, and clean UI for the puzzles.

Working together with your partner in anti-crime, you’ll need to make your way through a series of missions, each with a varied set of objectives and goals. While the game does require coordination and timing to be successful, not all puzzles are on timers, and even those that are tend to be generous, giving an illusion of intensity while offering far more time than might otherwise be obvious.

Because of its whole thing, most of the puzzles in Operation Tango that I saw don’t really fall into any single consistent pattern that can be used to describe them, outside of the idea of relying on asymmetric information. So I’m just going to go through a few that I remember and liked, to give a general sense of the vibe.

One mission has one player effectively playing an infinite runner while the other player feeds them information and call outs, while moving obstacles out of their way, healing them, and managing the rest of the interface. Others involve disabling security drones and cameras so that the other player can get by. There are a few re-used elements, such as lock picking, but those tend to amp up in difficulty as you progress.

My one big criticism would be that the game does suffer from a bit of a breakdown near the end. The last mission in the game is by far the weakest one in my opinion, and feels like the designers took 2 half finished missions and smashed them together to make a single level. To quote the person I played with, the finale felt like a worse version of Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes, and there’s a section in the previous level that is more or less just Spaceteam. With that said, the rest of the game is much stronger, and much more fun.

The game also doesn’t necessarily lend itself well to replayability once you’ve done a level as both roles. While the game does its best to randomize various elements of any given puzzle, once you understand the rules in play for a given puzzle, they’re mostly solved. Looking around to search for clues or ideas was the most enjoyable part of the game, and when you know what you’re looking for, it’s a lot less of a “Secret Agent” infiltrating a building, and more “Puzzle Speedrunning.”

Still though, Operation: Tango was one of my favorite demos from PAX East for a reason, and the full game feels like it delivers on the promise of the demo. Because of what the game offers, and because of the fact that only one person has to buy the game, I feel comfortable recommending it. If this article hasn’t persuaded you, I suggest you grab a friend, pull down the demo, and see what you think.

Good luck out there agent.

Halo: Infinite – Multiplayer

The actual gameplay is great. Everything else feels half-baked.

When actually playing the Halo: Infinite multiplayer, it’s fantastic and an incredibly enjoyable experience. Everything that isn’t actually playing the game, though, kind of sucks.

Halo: Infinite is the 6th mainline entry in the Halo series. Or something like that. I guess we also have Halo: Reach, and Halo: MCC? But Halo: MCC is a remake, sorta, and Halo 5 should never have been released. So with a bit of creative math, we can pretend that Halo: Infinite is the 6th game. Whatever, I’ll probably edit this bit out later, so it doesn’t matter. The point is, Halo has been around a long time.

If you’ve somehow never heard of or played Halo, this next bit is for you. For everyone else, please skip ahead.

Halo Crash Course

Halo is a first person shooter, developed originally by Bungie, but the series is owned by Microsoft at this point. Currently the series is developed by 343 Industries. It has both multiplayer and single player components. For the purpose of today’s review, we’re just looking at the multiplayer portion. As far as first person shooters go, there are three main things that differentiate Halo from other FPS games: the health system, the guns/gunplay itself, and the generally higher time to kill. All three of these are somewhat present, so we’ll cover their presence and implementation in Halo:Infinite. We’ll cover them quickly here.

  1. Health System – Players in Infinite have two types of “Health:” these are Health and Shields. While a player has shields, all damage dealt is equivalent, regardless of where the shot lands. Bodyshot vs headshot makes no difference while a player still has shields, but the second the shields go down, headshots are meaningful again. Both health and shields start to regenerate after several seconds out of combat.
  2. Guns/Gunplay – All guns are not made equal. When a player spawns in, they either get an assault rifle and pistol in unranked modes, or the DMR in ranked modes, and 2 grenades. There are no loadouts or secondary options in Infinite. Instead, there are weapons spawns scattered around the map. The length of time it takes for a weapon to respawn ranges from fairly short, to a sizable portion of time for the game’s Power Weapons. Power Weapons have fairly low amounts of ammo, in exchange for being incredibly destructive and often being able to one-shot other players. They include the classic rocket launcher, and the sniper rifle, along with new additions such as the skewer, and cindershot. You can only carry two weapons at once.
  3. Time to Kill – Generally speaking, it takes far longer to shoot someone to death in Halo then it does in other similar games. Unlike games like Valorant or Call of Duty, where getting the drop means you just win the fight, engagements in Halo tend to be more prolonged events where you actually get a chance to respond.

Okay, so these are the main things that differentiate Halo in terms of gameplay feel from other entries in the FPS genre. Crash course complete. So now let’s actually talk about Infinite.

The Good Stuff About Halo Infinite

Price – The Halo: Infinite multiplayer is free.
Not having to pay any money for something is almost always good. Of course, it also means that the game is going to try to get it back from you somehow, but at time of writing their are no in-game advantages that can be gained by spending money.
Guns – They’re good, and they feel good.
It’s that simple. With the exception of the shotgun (which feels bad), and the plasma pistol (which has always been garbage), everything here feels good to use. The assault rifle isn’t trash for once. The pistol is solid as a secondary, and the new weapons like the Hydra have some cool alternate fire modes. The skewer is a rocket propelled crossbow. The cindershot fires big blasts of plasma. The ravager needs its shots charged, but has some really cool area denial options.
Maps – They’re all fairly solid, and feel good. They do get re-used a decent amount, but they all feel good to play on, regardless of game mode. There’s no map that feels unbalanced or completely broken.

The Bad Stuff About Halo Infinite

Maps – Not enough of them.
Wait, maps was just up above in the “Good Stuff Category.” Why is it here? Easy. There are currently only 10 of them. Three 12v12 maps, and seven 4v4 maps.

A friend said that Halo 2 shipped with like 20 or so. So why is this shipping with 10?

Performance – Long loading times are too god damn long.
Exactly what it says on the tin. It takes me just about 2 minutes to go from clicking the “Play Button” to the point where I can actually move around and fight someone. I have no idea why these load times are so long, and this is on a 1080, but it’s still annoying.

Playlists – There are only 3 of them.
Probably the biggest issue on this list, honestly. Right now, the only playlists that you can choose from are 4v4, 12v12, and ranked. And that’s it. No team slayer, no CTF. The only thing you choose is how many people are in a given match you queue into. Look, I don’t want to play Total Control. It’s a shit game mode. Let me opt out of it. Let me make custom playlists. Let fiesta be an actual normal game type instead of a special mode.

Cosmetics/Microtransactions – Price is high, grind is too.
This is the thing that’s gotten the most media attention and player frustration. Frankly, I think it’s the lowest priority item on this list. Yes, 15 dollars for a skin is stupid. Yes, 20 games per level in the battlepass was dumb. But these are all additional little flexes/addons. They aren’t where I would be focusing my efforts if I wanted to make Infinite more enjoyable right now.

Conclusion: I’m not quite sure yet.
Halo: Infinite being free is nice, but I found myself asking “How much would I pay for this right now?” and the answer is “Not fucking $60.” What currently exists really feels like a networking test, or a bit half-baked at the moment. Right now my advice would be something like this:

If you like Halo, download and play Infinite until you stop having fun with it, and maybe come back in a few months to see if the content and performance issues have been fixed. If you don’t like Halo, but want to play a Halo game/FPS, buy the Master Chief Collection instead. Yes, MCC is $40 for the full package, or $10 per game if you want to buy them bit by bit, but they’ve got the full single player campaigns, forge, and all the other good stuff that makes Halo… well, Halo.

Bloodborne

Note: The images in this article are from the press kit for Bloodborne, and the game’s concept art. Capturing screenshots from Bloodborne is annoying, and I’m not sure that a bunch more images would do too much for this writeup.

I like Bloodborne. I think it’s very much worth playing. With that said, writing about Bloodborne is hard because there is so much that I could write about. Almost every aspect, from the technology, to the multiplayer, to the art, to the story, to the lore, to just the design and mechanics could have more than its own article.

This article will not be digging into any of those topics to the level they might deserve. My end goal for anything I write for Gametrodon is to convince you, the reader, that a game has something interesting about it that makes it worth playing and engaging with.

In the case of Bloodborne, the game is 6 years old, and exclusive to the last console generation on PS4. I don’t think it really needs someone to advocate that it’s a unique experience, or a good game. The world already knows that it’s both those things. So instead, I’m going to advocate playing the game for folks who might have thought about playing it, but were put off by the game’s somewhat notorious pedigree and difficulty curve. It’s an article directed at… well… me. Me from 70 hours of Bloodborne ago.

First, a little bit of history for those who might not be familiar with Bloodborne, or why the game has the reputation it does. Bloodborne is made by From Software. If you look them up on Wikipedia, you will see the following quote.

FromSoftware, Inc. is a Japanese video game development company founded in November 1986 and a subsidiary of Kadokawa Corporation. The company is best known for their Armored Core and Souls series, including the related games Bloodborne, Sekiro, and the upcoming Elden Ring, known for their high levels of difficulty.

Wikipedia

“Known for their high levels of difficulty” is the key phrase here. FromSoftware’s Dark Souls series is responsible for naming an entire genre, the “Soulslike” game, in the same way that we get phrases like “Metroidvania.” The “You Died” screen is infamous.

At least in my case, this reputation meant that I had almost no interest in any of their games, despite the fact that they are almost universally praised on every level. This is because I think I misinterpreted “Hard” as “Unfair.”

It is not very difficult to make a game that is very hard to beat. Two examples I can think of would be Kaizo mods/levels for Super Mario Games, and the “I Want To Be The Guy” series. In the case of Kaizo, the difficulty often comes from requiring both near perfect inputs and an absolutely massive chain of them, all while having an almost perfect knowledge of its game. On the other hand, “I Want To Be The Guy” simply puts the player into situations where without knowledge about what is going to happen, the player simply cannot succeed, such as platforms that move when you try to jump on top of them.

Bloodborne’s difficulty doesn’t come from anything like that. Bloodborne doesn’t rely on cheap shots or perfect mechanics to make things difficult. Instead, the difficulty comes punishing you heavily for mistakes or misplays. But almost every time I died, much like with Spelunky 2, I understood why I died. Bloodborne wants you win. It’s just not going to give it to you for free.

Here’s an example: in an area that feels about mid-way through the game, there’s a large rolling log trap that if it hits you, will pretty much just instantly kill you. While this might seem like bullshit, there’re a few important elements about the area that make me view it as incredibly smart game design instead. The first element is that the trap is located incredibly close to one of the game’s respawn points (lanterns), and after only two enemies, making it incredibly easy to get back to your corpse after the trap kills you. The second is that when you look at the area, you’ll see that the trap is actually only triggered when you run across a large button directly in the middle of the road.

This means that after you spot the trap, it’s very easy to avoid it, travel deeper into the marsh, and then get killed by a second trap that’s almost identical.

So why is this first trap important? Well, because to my mind, it’s actually very generous. While deaths in Bloodborne can be punishing, this one isn’t. The purpose of the log trap near the respawn point isn’t to unfairly kill the player, it’s to introduce the concept of the trap to the player, to show the player what it looks like, what happens when they trigger it, and to warn the player that this is an element that might still be encountered farther on. In essence, it’s actually functioning as a tutorial.

The same is true of many of the enemies. Some of the enemies that can combo you to death are first encountered in areas that are either actively detrimental to the enemy, or very near respawn points. And for almost all enemies in the game, choosing to run away and simply not fight them is an entirely valid option.

Bloodborne is not unfair. It asks you to think, and to actively work to defeat it, but it’s rooting for you the whole time. If the pedigree and rumors have made you skip it, or some of the other games made by FromSoftware, I urge you to reconsider. Bloodborne is incredibly satisfying, and worth playing, and if you persevere, you can and will beat it.

And the sun will rise.

Author Note: A brief story for those that aren’t convinced. After beating Bloodborne, I found myself wondering if I’d actually gotten better at the game, or if the game’s small incremental stat buffs, weapon improvements, and other systems had made it so that I eventually made progress without improving. So I made a brand new character with the lowest stats, didn’t take any of the free weapons offered, and replayed the first portion of the game.

A section that took me about 8 hours initially only took me 2 hours with the new character. Two bosses that initially took me over 10-15 tries each took only 3 tries each with this incredibly weak character, and I was using a garbage weapon that I found on the ground and I’d never used prior to this run.

Bloodborne – The Other Post

There is another post about Bloodborne up on the site. That post’s goal is to convince people that they should play Bloodborne, because it’s a very good game. It sticks to definite observations, attempts to be fairly factual, and generally has a concrete set of themes and thoughts. It is also readable by people who don’t spend a lot of time thinking about games.

This is not that post. This is where I am going to put everything else that I thought about while playing Bloodborne. Consider this post to be a bunch of random thoughts, paragraphs and posts that didn’t fit into the first one. As such, it contains spoilers, non-sequiturs, and has no consistent tone.

Part 1. Bloodborne isn’t as hard as it wants you to think it is, and that’s to its credit.

When I wrote about Shovel Knight a while back, it stood out to me because while it attempts to stylistically copy certain things about old, tough as nails games, it didn’t quite go 100% in on it. Instead, it sanded off some of the edges and pointy bits, and made a game that gave you the sense you were beating something incredibly hard, while at the same time pulling quite a few punches.

Bloodborne gives me the same general vibe/sense. Yes, there are one hit death traps, but they tend to either have a straightforward tell, and/or the first time you encounter them they’re next to respawn points. Yes, you have to run back to the boss each time you die, but almost every area is laid out in a way that there is a conflict free route to the boss that is opened up as you explore the level around them. Enemies can be brutal, but are often introduced in 1 on 1 situations in small areas where you can observe and fight them. There’s no Kaizo or I Want To Be The Guy style gutpunches.

Part 2. Lore is interesting, incomplete, but not unsatisfying.

I like the lore and world of Bloodborne. I heard a story somewhere that I’m going to go try to verify later, about how Miyazaki bases some of the feeling of his games on experiences he had as a child, where he would read stories or watch movies in languages he didn’t understand. As a result, there would be parts of the story that he simply missed or couldn’t follow, because from his standpoint, they weren’t present.

To me, this feels like writing a story by writing the whole thing, and then tearing it up it up to be put back together. But before we put it back together, Miyazaki went through and pulled out and burnt a few choice pieces of information, so that info is missing when we start to pull things together. It’s not that the information was never there, it’s just that we don’t have it. And he’s careful to not remove too much, or to remove things that make everything break down or fall apart.

Part 3. Bloodborne does justice to the concept of Cthulhu mythos.

Something that I find a bit annoying is how much many modern interpretations of cosmic horror forget about the “Cosmic” bit. Yes, a slobbering blob of eyeballs rolling over each other making a wailing noise and oozing foul ichor is a nasty mental (or literal) image. But it’s not really where the interesting part of the horror comes from.

They say that humanity is but insects beneath elder gods, but many Cthulhu-inspired works don’t consider what that means.

When you kill a mosquito, or an ant, or a bug, you don’t have any real malice toward it (or at least any malice you have dissipates after it becomes a squashed paste). You might remember that it’s a thing you’ve done, but you don’t remember any given instance. It’s not that insects are meaningless, it’s that you literally do not care a good 98% of the time. When you do care, the caring is at most momentary. Insects are the white noise of reality, something so inconsequential that their existence often just doesn’t even register to you.

And that’s the impression I get from many of the elder god style beings in and their role in the story from Bloodborne. They can be terrible and horrific to look at, but they’re not terrible or horrific because they harbor some level of hatred toward you. They’re terrible because they have a sort of obscene majesty to them, and you are just inconsequential to them. They are impressive, and inspire revulsion, but they do so while being grand and terrifying and uncaring.

And the overall story reflects this as well. The city of Yarnham is not special, and the events of the game and the game’s world are not a unique occurrence. This has all happened before, and there’s no reason to suspect it won’t happen again. The movers and shakers of this world and of the tale are not cosmic evils, but men and women who thought they knew better than others, and who chased their own goals to madness. Human beings are responsible for the plague, the hunt, and the death and terror brought by all of this. Humans, not monsters, discovered things they did not understand, and then made the choice use them anyway.

Part 4. I played 60 hours of the game without realizing you could sprint and jump.

I don’t have anything more to add to this one. But yeah, it’s a thing that happened. And I still beat the game anyway. #JustGameJournalistThings

Part 5. I have mixed thoughts on limited use consumable items and weapon durability.

Pretty much everything in Bloodborne outside of weapons and clothes is limited use. This means your health potions, your bullets, etc., flame paper, shock paper, molotovs. Oh, and your weapons can break down, and deal less damage.

I think this is mostly a good thing, because it means that finding stuff is useful, except for when it comes to boss fights. With that said, it does definitely lead to hoarding problems on occasion.

Part 6. For some reason I attempted to write a sparknotes version of the background lore of the world of Bloodborne. It’s below:

Everything after this constitutes massive spoilers. You have been warned. It’s also incredibly skimmed down.

A very long time ago, there was an ancient city populated by a species known as the Pthumerians. At some point in their history, they either made contact or discovered the existence of the Great Old Ones. These are the elder gods of the story. They are immense beings of incredible power and unfathomable goals and vision. They are not inherently indestructible or immortal.

Anyway, after this contact and research began, something happened and ended up more or less wiping out the Pthumerians, leaving their civilization a ruined shell of its former self. They only continued living in the endless catacombs that become Bloodborne’s procedurally generated Chalice Dungeons.

Some time passes.

A group of scholars end up discovering these catacombs and being to explore them. They are led by a man named Wilhelm. Wilhelm and those working with him end up following basically the same path as Pthumerians before them. They want to study the Great Ones, and to some extent understand them. This leads to the founding of Byrgenwerth academy.

At some point, the individuals at Byrgenwerth discover an unknown substance in the underground catacombs. This substance is the “Blood.” While it’s unclear how exactly the blood is obtained, there are implications that it may be harvested from a great one. The blood has miraculous properties, including the ability to heal wounds and injuries that are completely untreatable by any other means.

And like any other miracle, it leads to disagreements. Wilhelm is of the opinion that the blood is dangerous and should not be used. A subfaction of the Byrgenwerth scholars, led by a man named Laurence, think that the blood can be used to bring about the understanding they’re seeking. While the disagreement hasn’t lead to violence (yet), Laurence and those that agree with him leave Byrgenwerth, and find a group called the Healing Church.

The timing of the next set of events is a little unclear, as is how long it takes for them to occur. More on that in a moment. But here are the big things that happen.

  1. The Healing Church becomes incredibly influential and powerful. They have extensive influence over the city of Yharnam.
  2. Two new organizations come forward from within the Healing Church. These are the School of Mensis, and the Choir. Just like with Byrgenwerth, these groups have the goal of understanding the Great Ones. They disagree on methodology and tactics. The Choir and School of Mensis do not trust each other. To outsiders however, all three organizations are still allied, and presumably working together.
  3. Word of the Healing Church and their ability to cure any disease and ailment spreads across the entire world.
  4. The Healing Church declares Byrgenwerth off limits, and forbidden ground.

And then things start to go wrong.

While Blood can heal injuries and sickness, it also has side effects. Overuse leads to a state described as “Blood drunk,” and potential dependency. In addition, blood is transformative. Unfortunately, it’s transformative in a “Turn you into frenzied monster” sort of transformation.

Upon realizing that their miracle cure occasionally leads to cases of were-wolfitis, the Healing Church decides to stop using it and give up their influence and power to protect the citizens of Yharn-

Just kidding. Of course they don’t.

Instead they set up the Hunters, individuals whose job it is to deal with the monsters that are starting to show up. The Hunter organization starts off as a sort of secret police force trying to keep everything on the down low. It’s not obvious to me how long they succeed at this for, or if they’re open secret by the time the next really bad thing happens.

Because things are about to get worse.

In an area of the city called Old Yharnam (it’s not clear to me if this is because it’s an older part of the city, or because of… well, the bit that happens next) there’s a massive outbreak of some form of infection. It’s not clear if the infection is caused by the Healing Church, or one of its subgroups, or someone just had a snack at an open air meat market, but the end result is that the area turns into a disaster zone. Whether it’s the infection, or the Church’s attempts to cure the infection with Blood, basically everyone living Old Yharnam either gets infected or turned into a monster.

Seeing the entire situation spiraling out of control, the Healing Church puts Old Yharnam under lockdown. When even this isn’t enough to deal with the problem, they go one step further, and use the Hunter organization to burn Old Yharnam to the ground and to kill every single person and monster living there.

And while the Healing Church is authorizing flambé massacres, none of the other groups are really helping. The Hunter organization starts to fall apart for a variety of reasons, including members going into blood-induced murder frenzies, individuals deserting after having to barbecue citizens, and just everything generally going to shit. The School of Mensis is still real focused on that whole Eldritch Truth/Being thing, and they’ve started used the chaos to kidnap people to experiment on. The Choir are far more ethical, and so they’re not experimenting on victims of kidnapping.

No, they’re experimenting on all the children they have at their orphanage.

At some point, Laurence gets infected, and turns into a monster. And it turns out that all monsters are not created equal, because Lawrence turns into a fucking two-story tall wendigo-esque abomination. Fortunately, by this point, the Church has reformed the Hunter organization into their own group known as the Church Hunters, led by a man named Ludwig.

Either Ludwig or one of the Church Hunters manages to kill Laurence. But by this point it’s a bit late. The School of Mensis and Choir are outright hostile to each other, spying on each other, and killing members of the other groups. The Church Hunters do not have the manpower to suppress the outbreaks and monsters are showing up across the city. The Healing Church is now led by Vicar Amelia, and it’s unclear what she’s actually trying to accomplish. Unaffiliated Hunters are either hunkering down with their families, trying to take out other Hunters who have gone crazy, or just trying to minimize the carnage. The citizens of Yharnam, having had enough of this have armed themselves with whatever they can get their hands on, and formed armed mobs, patrolling the city and killing anyone who seems infected, even as they themselves show increased signs of infection.

And somewhere around this time is when “you,” the player character shows up.

Part 7.

Bloodborne is played from an over the shoulder view of your character. You have health, and stamina. Stamina regenerates over time when not being used, while health does not, but can be restored with Blood Vials. When you get hit by an enemy, while you immediately lose health, a portion of the bar stays lit up. Damaging an enemy while this portion is still lit up will recover a portion of that health. This mechanic is called Rallying. Your character can have up to two weapons equipped at once, a primary and a secondary. Primary weapons can be trick weapons, which have the ability to switch form. They have light and heavy attacks based on their form, and you can also dodge and roll. Dodging, rolling, and attacks consume Stamina. Secondary weapons tend to be ranged weapons of some type, mostly guns. While secondary weapons usually only have a single attack, when used correctly, they can interrupt an enemy’s attack, and knock them down. This is called a Parry. Enemies in the knocked down state can be Visceral Attacked. This is a short attack that does a large amount of damage, and restores health to the player equal to whatever portion of their health bar is still lit up, while also pushing enemies near the attacked enemy back. Once you commit to an attack, or part of attack combo, you cannot stop or interrupt the combo.

Tanto Cuore

A deckbuilder that will have you collecting anime maids, and also judging looks from anyone who sees you playing.

I like Tanto Cuore and I’m not afraid to say it. Many of the mechanics feel like a upgrade over Dominion, and while it doesn’t have some of the variety of Ascension, it does avoid the randomness. If you haven’t played either of those games, that’s okay. I’ll talk more about the mechanics in a bit. But first, a brief diatribe.

Something I thought about while preparing to write this article was the fact that I have different standards for when I feel like I can write about a game based on format. For board games, a single full play session is usually enough for me to feel like I can offer an opinion. On the flip side, I’ve recently played like 40 hours of Bloodborne, but because I haven’t beaten the game, I don’t feel like I can offer thoughts yet.

It’s an interesting dichotomy, and it would be relevant to the rest of this article, because while I’m playing the digital edition of Tanto Cuore, the game itself is a board game. So even though I haven’t beaten all the single player levels, or even a majority of them, I’ve played several more rounds then I might have if it was a standard board game. At the same time, I would usually feel a bit weird reviewing a game with only five hours played.

The key phrase here is “would usually.” Because 98% of the human population is going to decide that they don’t want to play Tanto Cuore after the next sentence:

Tanto Cuore is a deckbuilder in which all of your cards are anime maids.

Have we scared off the normies with this photo? Good.

Cool, so yeah, now that no one else is going to read the rest of this article, let’s get going, starting with a short definition of the deckbuilder genre.

If you haven’t played a deckbuilder before, they generally work something like this: each player starts with a simple deck of cards. On your turn, you play those cards to take actions, and generate resources to buy more cards from some form of central supply to add to your deck. Cards you buy or play go into your discard pile, and when you run out of cards to draw from your deck, you shuffle your discard pile and it becomes your deck again. Unlike a traditional collectible card game like Yu-Gi-Oh or Magic: The Gathering, with deckbuilders you create your deck each time you play the game. You start from scratch with the same deck of simple cards each time you play.

The goal of Tanto Cuore is to have the most victory points at the end of the game, because of course it is. Now that we’ve talked about the most boring part of the game, let’s move onto the maids cards.

Tanto Cuore has four types of cards. There are love cards, general maids, private maids, and events. Of those four, private maids and events are the simplest to explain, so we’ll start with them.

Private maids don’t go into your deck. Instead, they go into a scoring zone. When you buy a private maid, it enters your scoring zone, and until you buy another private maid, or something else special happens, you can use its ability. They also tend to be worth victory points at the end of the game. While the abilities can appear small at first, they tend to be mechanically impactful.

Events also don’t go into your deck. In fact, they don’t go anywhere related to you at all. When you buy an event, you play it onto another player, or one of that player’s maids in their private quarter. Events tend to either disable abilities, or be worth negative victory points.

Of the remaining two card types, the simplest cards are Love cards. Love is the currency you use to hire maids, and love cards can be played without spending any resources. In any other game, these would be called “Gold” or “Money.” But yeah, here it’s Love.

Which brings us to the last card type: the maids themselves. The maids are the most complex and as such covering them all in detail isn’t possible. Instead, I’m going to give a general overview of the sort of things they do and how they get used.

There are three resources that you have on your turn. They are Love, Hires, and Servings. Love is used to pay the cost to get maids. However, in addition for each maid you get, you also need to spend a Hire. The last resource, Servings, actually has two uses. You can spend Servings to play maid cards, but you can also use them to send specific maids to your scoring zone. Doing this removes the maid from your deck, but allows it to potentially also score bonus end game victory points.

It’s this mechanic that I think really makes Tanto Cuore stand out to me as a different from other deckbuilders in a meaningful way. Almost all deckbuilders have some form of victory point card that sits around and does nothing, or cards that are useful in the early game, but clog your engine in the late game. In Tanto Cuore, many of those cards are actually your primary method of scoring. Colette Framboise is the best example of this. You can spend two Servings to remove her from your deck, which scores you points. And since your deck starts with only 10 cards, removing her can vastly increase deck efficiency.

So, now that we’ve finally finished talking about Tanto Cuore’s mechanics, let’s talk a bit more about the digital version of the game, since it’s probably the easiest version of the game for you to currently get your hands on (and forcefully gift to your friends in order into guilt them into playing with you).

Overall, I think it does a fairly good job as a digital port of a physical game. While some things do feel a bit barebones, none of those are the actual game itself. There’s also an extensive singleplayer mode/tutorial with a variety of levels that seems to unlock foil versions of the cards as you clear the levels will completing various objectives. The video and audio sliders actually work really well, and the game has ultra-wide monitor support for some reason. Protip: After launching the game, go in and just… slide that slider for voices all the way off. Thank me later.

I do have one gripe with the digital version of the game though: as far as I can tell, there’s no way to see a list of all the cards in the game. See, at the start of each game, you pick several different maids to be placed into the central buy row. The rest of the cards aren’t used for that game. But this means it’s entirely possible to start a game and see a few cards you haven’t ever seen before. It’s not a massive annoyance, but I really wish there was an in-game card browser, or like… a PDF.

So yeah, that’s Tanto Cuore. A really cool deckbuilder about collecting maids that none of your friends will play with you, either because you had no friends before getting the game, or you won’t have any after trying to get them to play it. Remember kids, Settlers of Catan and every other Euro-game that promotes colonialism and hyper capitalism is a-ok, but god forbid you have skimpily dressed anime women. That’s simply a bridge too far.

Tanto Cuore is $10 on Steam, $42 on Amazon on the physical copy, and apparently like $1800 for the Japanese edition? Yeah, I don’t know either. It’s good though, and worth playing (although probably not for $1800).