A Buncha Steam Demos

Usually this would be good, bad, and ugly, but today we have weird, weirder, and still pretty weird.

Last week was the Steam Next Fest, a great chance to check out a whole bunch of demos of new games! Of course, I did not do that until yesterday when it turned out the entire event was over.

So instead of information about games promoted via Steam Next Fest, I went, downloaded a bunch of demos in the first three pages, and played them. So here we go.

Cthulhu Pub

Time Played: 45 Minutes

Genre: Simulation/Tower Defense

Thoughts – In theory, Cthulhu Pub is a game about building a restaurant for Elder Gods, and keeping it from being assaulted by things that want to destroy it. Of all the games on this list, I would say this one is in the roughest shape. I had to restart quite a few times before I figured out how to just… start the game without running out of money before finishing the tutorial. There are mechanics that aren’t explained, and it’s just generally kind of buggy and starts to slow down when you get a fair amount of monsters on the screen. But, it was weirdly compelling enough for me to keep trying until I figured stuff out, so it’s got that going for it.

Magical Girl D

Time Played: 12 Minutes

Genre: Pornographic/Erotic RPG

Thoughts – Magical Girl D is an RPG where you play as a magical girl with a dick. The demo had three visual novel style sex scenes, and the PC had one non-basic special attack. I feel like those two sentences really capture everything you need to know about this game demo to decide if you want to play it.

横戈

Time Played: 13 Minutes

Genre: RTS/Base Builder?

Thoughts – This might be a good time to mention I can’t speak Chinese, because this entire demo was in what I assume was Chinese. It could be something else. It’s some sort of RTS, but again, the whole “I can’t speak Chinese” thing meant I didn’t get through the tutorial.” But, I mean, it seemed kind of cool.

Fishards

Time Played: ~2 Hours

Genre: Top Down Arena Brawler

Thoughts – Fishards is a neat little arena brawler, and I’ll most likely write more about it than just this little blurb. You are a fish wizard, and you try to kill other fish wizards in multiplayer battles. I’d say it feels like it has the most in common with Magicka, as you summon spells by combining various elements. Unlike Magicka, it actually runs on my computer.

Legends of Mathmatica²: Under the Shadow of Certainty

Time Played: 13 Minutes

Genre: RPG

Thoughts – I didn’t play a huge amount of this demo. The combat itself is much better than the other RPG on the list. The combat is a sort of real time charge bar system. Each character in your demo party has multiple meaningful attacks. I got to the first mini-dungeon, then went to do something else. With that said, the writing was… present. It was there. I did not really care for it.

Treasure Tile

Time Played: 9 Minutes

Genre: Grid Based Diablo?….

Thoughts – I didn’t play a huge amount of this one. Treasure Tile feels like someone took an old roguelike, removed the permadeath portion, and strapped in Diablo/ARPG mechanics instead. While the game has some beautiful graphics, the combat itself just felt kind of off to me, and aiming skills felt difficult.

As always, thanks for reading, and if any of these seem interesting, I encourage you to play the demos yourself. Also, if anyone can tell me what that RTS game is called or how it works, that would also be cool.

Crowfall

More like Crowfail.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yeah, the game is not highly populated.

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

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

All this to say: I don’t recommend.

Disgaea 6 – Spoiler Full Edition

It’s been over a month since D6 came out in North America. We had a spoiler-free writeup on the series earlier, and I’m gonna write this post assuming that you already read that one. Is that entirely fair? No, it’s not, but otherwise I’d be retreading a lot of already-visited ground.

Just in case you still choose not to read it, here’s the five second version. D6 has a new art style, performance problems, and gives you meaningful access to the unique mechanics essential to the game faster than its predecessors. Good?

Few more things to get out of the way before we get into this:

  1. I cleared all content except Raksha Ba’al, the last endgame secret boss.
  2. I played without any DLC except the free Hololive DLC.
  3. My save file has about 300 or so hours on it. I’d say that translates to about 80-100 hours of gameplay, maybe a bit more. The reason those numbers don’t add up is because I spent a lot of time auto-grinding.

ART

Disgaea 6 has a very different look than its predecessors. Instead of using 2D sprites like the previous games, D6 uses 3D models. I don’t like them as much as the old sprites. In addition, the super over-the-top skills feel a bit more toned down than usual in terms of visual flashiness. I didn’t see anything that was super memorable, and many of the skill animations feel shorter, as compared to things like D5’s Super Olympia which crushes an entire solar system as part of the attack.

STORY

If I’m rushing through these elements, it’s mostly because I want to just address them and get them out of the way. Compared to the other games, I’d say D6 has a stronger finish and conclusion than 5, albeit with somewhat weaker middle. The characters are solid. There are some fairly funny moments, and a few more brutal ones. All in all, it’s fine. It does follow the same pattern as D5: many characters get a power up at various points in the story arc that correspond to their growth as a character, making that growth feel a bit forced, but it’s an overall improvement.

GAMEPLAY

And here we are: the big one. The chonky boy. The factor that the rest of this post is going to be devoted to: D6’s gameplay loop. So how is it?

Well… it’s a bit different than other entries in the series, actually. Let me explain what I mean.

Disgaea has a reputation for being a grindy game, but despite that fact, grinding usually isn’t necessary to beat the “Main Game” and see the credits roll. It’s more or less required to beat endgame content, but even then, grinding in Disgaea tends to be a bit different than traditional grinding. Instead of the classic “Walk around, find encounter, spam attacks, rinse repeat,” Disgaea tends to take more of a puzzle route. End game grinding in Disgaea is less about how much you grind and more about making your grind as efficiently as possible.

Let’s take D4 as an example. D4 has a set of end game maps that culminate in a map that is incredibly simple. It’s just a large square of enemies, arranged in a specific pattern. And it’s possible, with the right set of skills, abilities, and setup, to hit and clear this entire map in one hit, and hit the level cap after a single fight in this map. This isn’t an oversight. The map is designed in such a way to be beaten like this, and cleared incredibly quickly.

D6 is different. Unlike other games in the series, you will have to grind to beat the main story, because the level cap has been extended twice, all the way up to something like 9,999,999,999, along with the stat cap. The leveling process itself is much faster, and but there are still a few points where if you’re playing each map once, you won’t be high enough level to clear the next one.

And this is where some of the game’s new systems, Demonic Intelligence (D.I. for short), auto-play, and auto-repeat come into play. DI is effectively a visual programming language. Each unit can store up to five of these, and have a single one active. When you toggle on the auto-play feature, the game will have your units execute commands based off their active DI. If you toggle on auto-repeat, when you clear the map, you’ll just start it over again. Which means this is the point where D6 switches from being a tactics game, to being an incremental game.

DI is a really cool idea. I really would like to say I love it. Unfortunately, I can’t because in its current incarnation, it has some massive flaws. Disgaea 6 doesn’t have any form of documentation/information about exactly how DI works. When I say documentation, I mean explaining how the various functions work. For example, it would be great if the game explained that “The Target an Enemy Function will target the closest enemy starting by checking clockwise…” but it doesn’t. And while normally this wouldn’t be too bad, it brings me to the second point. There’s no real way to debug or step by step execute DI Instead, you can either have it turned on or off. There are also several commands that are effectively useless such as option that lets you target a specific square on a grid, without any way to figure out how gridding for maps works.

The end result is a system that is very hard to get it to dowhat you want. Instead, I found myself just sort of brute-forcing it. I would run DI setups that I thought would fail, and they would end up working. More often than not, though, the DI setups I thought would work instead failed. Instead of using DI as a solution to automate grinding to high levels, I tended to make simple patterns, and just have units leveled up high enough that I could face roll through content.

And generally speaking, this would be mostly fine if it wasn’t for another new system: Karma.

Karma functions as a replacement for the Chara World systems from previous games. These are areas that you would use to permanently boost your characters’ growth and stats.

In D6, instead of having an item world equivalent like D4, or a Mario Party board game like D5, each time you reincarnate a character, you get a certain amount of Karma. You’re then given a menu where you can spend this Karma on a variety of things, including extra evilities, stat boosts, and…. max level and stat caps.

And here’s the problem: because of the ridiculous scaling in D6, scaling your stats with Karma feels like the most effective way to boost scaling. But because the level cap is so high, it takes several hours of grinding with DI to have your party hit the level cap. Or you can do this bullshit and have a single member of your party hit max level in about 5 minutes, but there’s no way to use DI to farm it.

Regardless of how you choose to do it, once you do, you hit one final wall: The amount of Karma you get per reincarnation is “relatively” small. And because this is Disgaea, let me give some exact numbers. Each reincarnation from max level gives about 120,000,000 Karma. Each stat point past 2,000 costs 5,000,000 Karma to buy. Stats cap at 4,000. There are like 6 stats. I was gonna say “I’ll let you do the math”, but that’s a cop out, so instead, here it is.

Getting a single character to max stats would require you to run this 3-5 minute setup about 500 times. So, assuming maximum generosity, just about 25 hours, if each loop took 3 minutes. There is no way to speed it up or make it faster.

I wouldn’t say this is the defining factor of D6 for me, but it does highlight what feels like the weirdness of the game. It’s a game based around massive numbers, but makes getting to them a chore. It adds autogrinding and looping, but it does so in a way that makes the system hard to utilize, and debug, and means that you end up skipping more content than you play. And even when you use those systems, in the hyper late game, they’re less efficient than actually playing the game by such a massive amount that you may as well just ignore them.

While it might seem like I don’t like D6 given how much time I just spent tearing parts of the game apart, those things only came to annoy me because I spent so much time playing the game. I do want to call out D6 for what it does well: making an attempt at innovating with some of its mechanics and systems, and trying to make them more core to the main game.

The attempt at switching to 3D, and the new combat animations aren’t great, but hopefully that’s the result of unfamiliarity with new tools and systems. DI is a very interesting system, but it’s heavily busted because of the lack of ability to debug and step through behavior. The frame rate is garbage for no reason, so hopefully that gets fixed.

As an entry in the Disgaea franchise, D6 simply wasn’t as fun from a purely tactical gameplay standpoint as D5. The lack of exciting combat mechanics like Overloads, somewhat reduced skills, and lower character class pool didn’t feel as interesting.

So here’s my verdict:

If you already like the Disgaea series for the story and humor, D6 is worth playing through for those.

If you already liked the series for munchkining tactics and extensive vidya bullshit, and don’t give a shit about the story, D6 is probably not going to be your cup of tea.

And if you’ve never played a Disgaea game before, well, it depends. D6 is in many ways a good introduction to the series, with some of the simplified systems, and auto-grinding. But those same elements also make the meta-flow of progression less interesting, so if you want to see what the franchise’s mechanics are all about, I’d suggest D5 instead.

Kyle’s Good Stuff Gamepass List

A list of Good Stuff you can get on Microsofts Gamepass Service.

Ah, Gamepass. If you haven’t heard of it, Gamepass is Microsoft’s “Netflix for games” service. After some jackass gave me shit for pre-ordering Back 4 Blood, saying that it would come out on Gamepass, and I could play the whole thing for like $10 instead of $80, I decided to see if there was anything else on the service I’d care about. And there is! In fact, my opinion is if you play more than 3 AAA games per year, it probably makes sense to subscribe Gamepass for a few months of the year.

So anyway, that’s what today’s thing is. A list of the good games on Gamepass that I’ve been playing recently, what each game is, what I think of it, and why you should play it. Some of these you’ve probably heard of, and some you probably haven’t. But anyway, let’s get into the list.

Ikenfell is a turn-based tactical RPG with quick time event-style minigames for attacking and blocking. (Think the Super Mario RPG sorta stuff.) Plotwise, the hook is that you go to a magic forest that has a wizard school in it to try to find your missing sister who was attending said wizard school.

Storywise, I thought it was amazing. The music was almost all really good. There was one boss battle where the music sort of took me out of the moment, but that was it.

With that said, the game is a little grindy. Unless you like the grind, I suggest turning on the game’s accessibility options or cheat mode to farm EXP, and then turning them back off for the boss fights, where the combat is the most interesting. The puzzles are also pretty good.

I love Psychonauts 2. It’s the best platformer of the year in my opinion. Psychonauts 2 is a puzzle platformer that requires a lot of outside the box thinking and trickery.

While it frontloads a lot of mechanics, I got used to them pretty quickly. The side quests feel amazing even when they’re just fetch quests. The Art style was mildly off-putting, but I got used to it after a bit. The story is also really good, and better then the first game in my opinion. While a lot of the gameplay returns from the first game, there are a few new abilities, including a time stop. There are also lots of new minigames. Finally, the pacing of new enemies is much better than its predecessor: there’s a new enemy each area, and a fairly good variety of foes.

If you do decide to pick up Psychonauts 2, I highly suggest you get the “Deal Double Damage, Take Double Damage” ability as soon as you can, because without it enemies can feel a bit tanky. Like trying to break a brick with a pool noodle.

Clustertruck is a fast paced 3d platformer. Unlike what the splash image might imply, you do not spend it smashing trucks into each other. Instead, you play a high-speed highway version of the floor is lava, except the only part of the floor you can stand on is trucks being launched at incredible speeds.

While I think Clustertruck has the best movement of anything in this list, I really don’t like how the abilities you use get unlocked. You have a trick meter that you fill by doing tricks and stuff. Except by the time I got to the final level, I had unlocked maybe half.

On that subject, I did not like the final level. It breaks a bunch of the conventions that the rest of the game set up, and not in a fun way.

Ed Note: We already have a full writeup on Hades that you can read here. As I don’t feel like retyping out 90% of that review, I’m just going to put two or three choice quotes from that article below, and call it good enough. Frankly, I think all the game of the year awards from…. everyone really do a good enough job.

“I have no criticisms.”

“The only roguelite that has ever made me want to keep playing just because of the strength of the story.”

“The characters and their relationships offer unique takes on the characters that you may already be familiar with, but will still be presented in a new light.”

So yeah, everyone loves it, and everyone but me has played it.

Sunset Overdrive is a action adventure game, with both third person shooter elements, and little bit of Tony Hawk movement. Its tone feels a bit like Borderlands.

This game came out in 2014, and it does sorta show. Character creation was limited, and all the characters look ugly IMO. But that’s the aesthetic. Graphics quality is fine for its time. The guns feel good, there’s a huge map to explore, and the characters are memorable and odd. There was one annoying child I wanted to run over a with bus, but after a bit, I didn’t want to run him over as much. So. Character development.

I do have two problems with it, but I have only played 5 hours so far, so perhaps these get alleviated? Anyway, here they are.

  1. It can be hard to find where resources you need for an upgrade are. There’s no radar or anything.
  2. I really don’t like the holdout missions where you have to protect some payload from zombies. In every other game with this sort of mission, you want to hold a position and mow them down. Since Sunset Overdrive instead wants to constantly be moving around to keep up your combo meter, the end result is the two systems clashing, and these missions feeling kind of junky to play.

So yeah, if any of these strike your fancy, you may want to check out Gamepass for PC.

Note: These were all played through Gamepass for PC. The editor to too lazy to check if they’re on all Gamepass for Xbox, because he doesn’t own one.

Pokémon Super Mystery Dungeon

Super Mystery Dungeon came out 5 years ago, but I’m playing it now, so… yeah.

Ed Note: the full name for any of the games in the Pokémon Mystery Dungeon series tends to be Pokémon Mystery Dungeon : <Title of the Rest of the Game>. Because these titles end up being 7 words long, I’ve shortened them down to just <Title of the Rest of the Game> for this writeup.

I really like the Pokémon Mystery Dungeon series. This shouldn’t be confused with the Mystery Dungeon Mainline series, or any of the spinoffs. In fact, I recently tried to play one of the mainline series, which led me back to playing Pokémon Super Mystery Dungeon instead, because Shiren the Wanderer: The Tower of Fortune and the Dice of Fate kicked my ass.

So what exactly makes up the Mystery Dungeon series, why do I like the spinoff Pok é mon games better, and am I filthy casual for jumping off the mainline series?

First off, let’s briefly talk about the Mystery Dungeon Series as a whole. It’s the name for a whole bunch of games published by Chunsoft. And because I’ve only played one game in the series that isn’t a spinoff, I’m gonna just link the Wikipedia article here. Generally speaking, though, it’s one of the few games that can be described as roguelike without annoying that magical group of people who are overly twitchy about the roguelike label being misapplied. That is to say, it’s a turn-based dungeon crawler on a grid.

So, second question. Why do I like the Pokémon spinoff games better? While this article is specifically talking about Pokémon Super Mystery Dungeon, I’ve played and really enjoyed Blue Rescue Team and Explorers of Time. Gates to Infinity was mediocre. But it didn’t turn me off the series enough to avoid Super Mystery Dungeon when it came out. To answer why I like the spinoff games better than the mainline ones, I’m going to compare the games to what I’ve seen so far of Shiren, and list the things the Pokémon games do differently. Here’re a few of the reasons:

Wiping in a dungeon in the spinoff games doesn’t reset your level. While you do lose all your items and money, you don’t go back to level 1. This means that you can grind your way through bullshit, and a wipe doesn’t feel like a complete loss of progress.

Speaking of which, escape scrolls/escape orbs (items that let you escape the dungeon with all of your stuff if everything looks like it’s about to go to shit) actually drop in the Pokemon games, while they apparently only show up if you get rescued in a dungeon in the mainline series.

Oh, and revival seeds exist, so that when an enemy you haven’t seen before TPK’s your squad, you can actually keep playing, instead of just getting dunked on.

The fact that the game has Pokémon as the characters is a benefit, but perhaps even more importantly for me, as the games go on, you get the ability to play as almost any of them, which gives a massive pool of playable characters.

Outside of all these mechanics though, one thing I’ve always liked about Pokémon in general is the sense of exploration. There’s always been something neat and magical for me about the idea of venturing around somewhere and discovering something fantastic. And while I don’t get that feeling from the current mainline Pokémon games, it’s still present in the Mystery Dungeon spinoffs.

So now that we know why I like the Pokémon spinoffs the best, let’s talk about why I like Super Mystery Dungeon the most of the spinoffs.

While the general gameplay is the same, there are a few big changes to how teambuilding works for the post game. For starters, you recruit new team members by completing missions and adding them to your connection sphere. This is nice compared to the older games which instead required you to defeat an enemy, and then win a hidden role to recruit them. In addition to that, you then had to either complete or escape the dungeon with said team member.

Next up, treasure! Super Mystery Dungeon has treasure chests, like the games before it, but also has gold bars, a secondary currency that you keep regardless of whether you wipe or not in a dungeon. They’re just fun to get, and unlike other items, they don’t actually show up on the mini-map. Instead, they show as little sparkles that you have to walk over, and when you do, you’ll get gold bars or another useful item.

If I have a complaint about Super Mystery Dungeon, it would be that prior to the postgame, the game felt a bit slow. To be fair, I was playing it about 3 years ago. But I remember being frustrated by how slowly I learned new moves and leveled up.

So that’s the Mystery Dungeon set of games. If the idea of a cool little Pokemon dungeon crawler with a massive amount of content and postgame appeals to you, break out that 3DS, grab yourself a copy off eBay, and dive in.

Storybook Brawl

Storybook Brawl is a very solid auto-battler, even though I don’t like how it’s monetized at the moment.

I like Storybook Brawl. There are a few things about it that I find a little annoying, but otherwise I think it’s pretty fun. Oh right, I’m supposed to explain what Storybrook Brawl is: it’s a card-drafting auto battler.

For anyone who read that and went “Okay, cool” you can skip the next few paragraphs. For the other 98% of the population who can’t understand an entire game from 2 jargony phrases, let me explain what “Card Drafting” and “Auto Battling” is, and how they’re used in Storybook Brawl.

“Card Drafting” first. At the start of the game, and after each combat, you’re given some gold to buy with, and a row of several units to buy. If you don’t like any of the units available, you can also spend gold to reroll your shop’s selection. While this does leave you with less gold, since gold doesn’t carry over between rounds, you generally want to spend it all.

As the game goes on, your hero will level up and this center pool will include more powerful units. Generally speaking, you only get one experience point per round, but there a few spells that can accelerate leveling up and being able to buy better units.

Oh, we haven’t talked about spells have we? Unless a spell says otherwise, you can cast one spell per round. They have a variety of effects, from random damage on enemy units, to permanent buffs to your own units. Just like units, you get access to more expensive and powerful spells as your hero levels up.

You’ll have about 60 seconds or so to do all of your drafting. At the start of the game 60 seconds tends to be a lot of time to make your drafting decisions. But by the end of the game, where there are more decisions and choices piling up, you usually need all your time.

After that 60 seconds passes, we get to what an “Auto Battler” is. At this point, whatever lineup you’ve managed to create gets matched up against another player’s lineup, and going from top left to bottom right, your units take turns attacking each other. Whoever runs out of units first is the loser, and takes damage equal to… the opposing player’s current level plus the levels of their units that remain on the board. If your thought is “Huh, that equation doesn’t seem super intuitive,” I’d agree. When you run out of health, you lose, and games continue until only one player is left.

Okay, so I’m running out of energy to write this article, and we still haven’t actually talked about any of the unit cards themselves, or treasure, or tripling, or keywords. So I’m gonna burn through them, and then see if my editor tells me that I haven’t covered the mechanics enough.

First up, units! The game has quite a few. I’m going to talk about just one keyword that units can have as it’s my favorite example of something interesting the game does: Slay. Slay is a triggerable keyword that occurs whenever the unit attacks and kills another unit. The important bit here is “Attacks.” If a unit with slay is attacked, and kills the other unit on the defense, that doesn’t trigger the keyword. Using slay effectively means either gambling that your unit will get the first attack, or buffing it high enough to be able to take a hit, and smash back.

Next up: Tripling. When you draft three copies of a unit, those three copies combine into a higher level version of that unit with better stats, and if that unit has an ability, a stronger version of that ability. This is where another neat part of the game comes into play. When the units combine, any buffs that they had as single units also merge onto the upgraded unit. This means that a unit that was decently statted with a few buffs can suddenly become an absolute powerhouse.

The other big thing that happens when you triple a unit is that you get a treasure. You can have up to three treasures at any given point in time. If you’d get a 4th one, you have to choose between throwing out one of your current ones, or skipping the new one.

There’s one more bit mechanic, so let’s talk about heroes. Choosing a hero is the first thing that happens each round, but I’ve saved it for last because it’s also one of my few big gripes with the game.

At the very start of the game, you’re offered a choice of 4 heroes, of which two will automatically be unlocked, and 2 might be unlocked. How big an impact your chosen hero will have on the game can vary quite heavily. Some, like my personal favorite, Morgan Le Fae have almost no impact on your drafting selections, while others can change the cards you want to draft massively. Peter Pan is biggest offender of the second category.

The issue I have with this system is two-fold. First off, I don’t really like that my strategy for a round can end up feeling defined by hero selection. And secondly, I really don’t like how this ties in with the monetization. Remember when I mentioned that you’ll be given a choice of 4 heroes, but can only pick from two of the four guaranteed? That’s because the last 2 are only selectable if you’ve either spent real money to unlock them, or the in-game currency of dust. So while the game isn’t directly “P2W”, it does end up feeling “Pay for More Options.”

I don’t hate this enough to stop playing but it doesn’t feel good.

And that’s Storybook Brawl! Except I didn’t talk about how the various archetypes work together with each other really smoothly. Or how the Good/Evil keyword is really interesting as a sort of Boolean typing on a given unit that can be on any unit, but can only be in one of the states at once. Or how the prince/princess meta is absolute cancer at the moment and King Arthur needs to be nerfed again.

Winning in Storybook Brawl ends up being a combination of unit placement, drafting ability, and yes, some luck. But it feels less random than other auto battlers I’ve played because there’s more synergy between various archetypes of units present.

The end result is that Storybook Brawl is a very solid auto battler, even though I don’t quite like how it’s monetized at the moment. If any of what I’ve described above sounds interesting, I encourage you to download it here on Steam, and give it a shot.

MUCK

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

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

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

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

Muck is an example of #3.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Back 4 Blood Beta

My friends review the Back 4 Blood beta so I don’t have to!

Back 4 Blood can’t seem to decide if it’s a spiritual sequel to Left 4 Dead or not. On the one hand, the marketing, dev team, aesthetics, all scream Left 4 Dead. On the other hand, the subreddit for the game keeps saying that it’s unfair to compare to the two, c’mon guys.

If you haven’t played Left 4 Dead, here’s a brief overview of the structure of the game. You play as a group of 4 survivors, you start in a safehouse, and try to make it to the next safehouse while shooting, beating and running from the undead. I think the shortest way to describe it would be “Co-Op Horde Shooter”. In addition to the normal zombies, there are special infected who have a few special abilities, you have the ability to res your friends when they get downed, and you have to manage ammo.

B4B adds a few systems, including a stamina system shared by melee and sprinting, and a card system that seems sort of like a rouge-like. Oh, and attachments for your guns. Cool. Overview done, lets get to the reviewing.

I think the Back 4 Blood beta is garbage. The thing is, I haven’t really even played the game, and I don’t like the genre, so I figured I’d ask my other friends I played with for their feedback. So let’s see what these other folks thought, shall we?

Stop comparing it to Left 4 Dead guys, that’s not a fair comparison! It’s just marketed the same, and by the people who made Left 4 Dead.

Person 1 – Likes the genre. 100+ hours between the various Killing Floor games. Unknown amount of time in Left 4 Dead.

“It’s not worth $60 and the things that are missing are fundamental. The net-code sucks, there’s a crazy amount of rubber banding, all the time. Bot AI sucks. This game requires you to have 4 people that contribute at least to a minimum amount, and the AI is so garbage, it simply can’t pick up the slack.

Matchmaking sucks, it takes forever, and matches you into games that are literally just ending, or about to run out of continues. Lobbies closing also seem bad, cause when you run out of continues, the game just kicks you out. Reload animations are kind of jerky.

A lot of the weapons feel like they need more balance. I do like that the hitboxes for the head are massive, like twice as large as the head and I like the new systems they’ve added. The card system is neat, I really like the stamina and melee system. The problem is, though, even if the new systems are cool, the fundamentals to making the game fun just aren’t there. I’d pay no more than $20 for it in its current state.”

Person 2

“I love it, but the bots need to be infinitely better. Matchmaking just kind of sucks right now,but I’m sure it will be fine eventually. Netcode feels awful, you rubberband like shit. I know some people complain about gunplay, but I think that’s pretty good. You should be able to remove attachments from guns. Difficulty scaling needs tuning. Feels like there needs to be 4 difficulties instead of three. AI director is kind of shit. I like the card system, and the ways to build into classes. Telling specials apart is hard.”

Update: This individual is still pre-ordering the game.

Person 3 –

“The two minutes of gameplay that I got to see between two hours of disconnecting, uninstalling the game, and then trying to launch the game on anything but the lowest settings was okay I guess.”

So, there you have it. The Gametrodon survey. I had more fun shooting my friends with guns in the rifle range than I did in any of the missions I played. So yeah. Right now, I absolutely won’t be buying Back 4 Blood based on the beta. It was just kind of trash, and since it comes out in three months, I really don’t expect it to get that much better.

Weekly Wrap-Up

3 Interesting games I haven’t played enough to do full writeups on, because I’ve been playing too much Hunt: Showdown and Minecraft.

Ah, Saturday. Well, technically Sunday at the time of writing this. July has passed us by, it’s now officially August, and I really need to make sure I pay my rent at some point tomorrow.

But enough about all of that. I don’t actually have a full new writeup this week, as I’ve mostly been playing old stuff, and I’m not sure anyone would benefit from me writing about Minecraft, Hunt: Showdown a second time, or even Dota 2. So instead, here are a few things that might be neat to check out. I may do longer reviews of them in the future, but for now, short reviews will have to do.

Shiren the Wanderer: The Tower of Fortune and the Dice of Fate

The Shiren the Wander series was the progenitor of the mystery dungeon games, and arguably my favorite set of non-mainline Pokémon games to ever exist: the Mystery Dungeon series. So visiting the actual sources for those games is interesting. Shiren is far more brutal than what I’m used to, even though I have a decent understanding of the mechanics. The game can feel like a roguelike at times. In either case, I haven’t beaten it yet, so all I can say so far is that it’s neat and very hard.

Skul: The Hero Slayer

I have mixed feelings on this one. So far, Skul reminds me of both Dead Cells, and Hollow Knight, but it hasn’t really clicked for me. It feels like a sidescroller roguelite, but the combat isn’t as clean as Dead Cells, and the story feels overplayed for what it is. On the other hand, I’ve only played for an hour and half so far, so make of that what you will.

Barotrauma

Last, but not least, we have Barotrauma. As best as I can summarize, Barotrauma feels like a combo of Minecraft and Overcooked. You and others attempt to pilot a submarine through the underground oceans of Europa, while not being murdered by fish, enemy subs, other enemy monsters, having your equipment breakdown, or overheating your nuclear reactor. It’s Overcooked in that it’s a frantic dance of chaos and resource management, and it’s Minecraft in that after playing 2 and half hours, I haven’t beaten a single mission, and still barely understand how to start up the reactor. It’s got both single and multiplayer, but I’m not too interested in the single player parts, and the folks who convinced me to buy it haven’t finished the tutorials yet, so I’ve yet to see how incredibly poorly we work together to play it.

Luck Be A Landlord

I wish it was as easy to write about this game as it was to play 20 hours of it.

I like Luck Be A Landlord. Fin.

I’m pretty sure this isn’t good enough to qualify as an article, but I’ve been trying to write about Luck Be A Landlord for quite a while and failing completely.

This might be because there is only one aspect of being a game that Luck Be A Landlord does well, but it’s also the only thing about games that actually matters to me: the gameplay. Luck Be A Landlord is an incredibly unique take on a deckbuilder, where instead of building a deck, you assemble a slot machine.

And this leaves me in a bind, because I can’t faff around about other things in the game that I like, such as music, animation, art, and story for several paragraphs like I normally would. All of those elements are pretty mediocre, but it doesn’t matter, because Luck Be A Landlord is mental crack.

The general gameplay loop is pretty simple: you have a slot machine, and a certain number of spins. At the end of those spins, you have to pay up a certain amount of cash. After each spin, you choose from one of three symbols to add to your pool, meaning it can now show up on future spins. Each time you have to pay rent, your rent goes up, and you have to pay more rent the next time.

And this probably doesn’t sound super enthralling, but I think it’s worth pointing out that a summary of Bejeweled’s mechanics would be something like “You have a grid of jewels, and you swap them, this removes them, so you can match more jewels.”

Let’s use this run as an example of why Luck Be A Landlord is so interesting to me.

At first glance, this probably looks like a fairly boring setup. I’m only using 3 different symbols. So why is it satisfying at all?

Well, the effort to get to this point was fairly massive. The symbols in question that I’m using are the Amethyst, the Dame, and a wildcard.

The Amethyst is part the Gem family of symbols. These symbols include Diamonds, Pearls, Emeralds, Sapphires, and a few others. The primary thing that’s unique about them is that they’re a family of symbols, much like the Fruit family, that are far easier to get by having symbols interact on the board, than by drafting them.

The Amethyst’s gimmick is that it’s the only symbol in this family that scales, and it does it in a fairly unique way. Each time another symbol would increase the value of an Amethyst prior to the end of a round, its score permanently increases.

The second symbol, the Dame, is from what I tend to think of as the humanoid family. The Dame buffs up any Gem family symbol she’s next to, meaning that when next to an Amethyst, she makes it worth more both in the current round you’re scoring, and in addition triggers the Amethyst’s unique ability, making it worth more permanently.

At the same time, the Dame also destroys and scores points for Martinis, making them an effective symbol to use in combination with Bartenders and Dwarves, as part of an alcohol removal engine.

I’m rambling a little bit here, so I’m just gonna try to get to my thesis: Luck Be A Landlord does a really good job of balancing moment to moment tension, and longer term play. Choices that might get you through your current rent cycle might not be ideal for you build, but choices that could be better for your build might mean you’ll never complete it in the first place. Most symbols have at least 1-2 meaningful interactions with other symbols, or symbol families.

The end result is a game where it’s just a lot of fun to try to build different types of engines, from Cultist based builds, which rely on having a bunch of the same symbol on the board, and then transition into eldritch horrors, to pearl harvesting builds, to pirates cracking open treasure. Watching a build come together is incredibly satisfying, and having one fall apart is frustrating, but not frustrating enough to keep you from doing just one more run.

Luck Be A Landlord is a video game. You can buy it on Steam. It is $10, and it is in early access. Oh, and there is a free demo, if after all of this you’re still on fence.