Genshin Impact

Free to play, more expensive then a trip to Vegas if you actually want to buy anything in game.

I’ve been wanting to write about Genshin Impact, but I’ve had a hard time doing so over the last week. This is because Genshin Impact might be the highest quality free-to-play game ever made, but discussing the game without talking about the monetization model would be crazy. It’s like discussing a tiger, without mentioning the teeth or claws, and just discussing its fluffy-wuffy tail. Let’s start with that fluffy tail though.

Genshin Impact is a free to play RPG for everything except your Nintendo Switch. It has cross-play for pretty much everything, and cross-progression for everything that isn’t a PS4. You can actually close the game on your PC, then open it on your phone, and just… keep playing. The same game. From where you left it on your PC. You can do cross-play between phone, PC and PS4. It’s incredible.

And when I say RPG, I mean RPG. You’re presented with a massive world to wander around, search for treasure and do quests in. There are world bosses, and hidden secrets, and all the good stuff. Mechanically, the game borrows a massive amount from Breath of the Wild. You can just climb up mountains and hills and walls, and you also get a glider fairly early on which lets you drift around.

The combat system is also pretty neat. You build a party of 4 characters, and as long as you aren’t in a Domain (Dungeon) or combat, you can swap characters out as you wish. Each character has a weapon type, basic attack, ability, and ultimate ability, all on separate cooldowns. Each character also has an element, and elements interact in various ways. For example, if you launch an Anemo (wind) character’s ability into an area with fire on it, it will Swirl, and create a fire tornado. Put ice onto a character affected by water, or vice versa, and that character will freeze. There are about seven of these elements, and in addition, things like walking through puddles will make both you and enemies wet.

There is a day night cycle as well.

These abilities can be used outside of combat to light torches, trigger pressure plates, and do other puzzly stuff. You can even use ice attacks to freeze and then cross lakes and oceans. Theres an entire quest line that requires you to take advantage of this to get to a hidden island that doesn’t even show up on the map.

Moments like this are Genshin Impact at its best. When you’re just running around, fighting monsters, climbing terrain, and discovering things, you might even forget you’re playing a free to play game, and if I had any gripes with the game as it is, it would most likely be that the climbing behavior can occasionally be a bit funky. You can climb all over every mountain, and every hill in the game, and there is treasure everywhere. Every mountain top has hidden collectibles, there are puzzles in every cave.

Okay, so now lets talk about the bad part.

If the moment to moment gameplay of Genshin Impact is Breath of the Wild, the meat of the game’s advancement system is classic mobile gacha. If you’ve ever played Puzzles and Dragons, Azur Lane, Fate Grand Order, or Dragalia Lost, you’ve seen this sort of thing before. You have Resin (Energy) which recharges over time and is used to collect treasure from world bosses and dungeons. These include advancement materials that are used to increase the max level of your characters and weapons, books that are used to upgrade their talents, and artifacts that can slotted in to give set bonuses, and extra stats.

You can spend in game currency to refill your energy, and honestly, as frustrated as some people are by Resin, I don’t take too much issue with it.

What I do take issue with is the drop rates and costs of the Wish system, the system by which you get new characters, and most of the higher rarity weapons. I refuse to call these micro-transactions, because there is nothing fucking micro about them.

ONE roll of the Wish system is 160 Primogems/Genesis Crystals. A SINGLE ROLL.

These are the prices, and after you buy the first time bonus, they change to this.

$Primogems / # of Rolls
0.9960 / .33
4.99330 / 1.83
14.991090 / 6.06
29.992240 / 12.44
49.993880 / 21.56
99.998080 / 44.89

So if you’re looking at this, and thinking, “This seems a bit expensive,” then yeah. It fucking is. But here comes the kicker: the drop rates are AWFUL.

The Wish system in Genshin has multiple different tables you can choose to roll against, usually called banners. For the featured character in a banner, the drop rate is 0.6%, or 3/500. The drop rate for an weapon OR character of the highest rarity is 1.6% total, or 2/125.

Ed Note: I think fractions do a better job illustrating how low this is, which is why I’ve included them here.

Keep in mind, a single roll costs $2.20 at its cheapest, if you buy the $100 currency pack. This gets you just over 44 rolls.

There’s also a pity system in place in which if you haven’t gotten a weapon/character of max rarity after 90 rolls, you will be given one. I want to point out that the real money cost of 90 rolls is just under $200. At this point, if you’re rolling on a featured banner, you will have a 50% chance to get the featured character. If you don’t, you’ll be guaranteed to get them at the next pity roll. Which means at this point, you’ll have to have spent over $400.

TLDR: If you want a FEATURED character in Genshin Impact, they can end up costing you $400 for a single copy of the character. In addition, the game has system by which characters are powered up for each duplicate you get of them. So getting a character to their max potential requires you to get receive them 6 times.

So yeah. That’s the state of Genshin Impact as of today, an incredible free to play game that is unmatched by anything on the market, with what I’m going to call “Macro-Transactions” that can easily total the same price of a new PS5 to get a single character. Play it. Enjoy the story, the anime bullshit, and the voice acting. Explore the incredible world, scouring every nook and cranny for treasure, and climbing every mountain.

But please don’t spend money on it.

Dead By Daylight

I’ve played a shit ton of Dead by Daylight over the last few weeks, and I really like it. If you’re familiar with the game, but haven’t really given it a chance because of the horror theme, I’d encourage you to check it out.

So what is Dead by Daylight? Well, it’s a 4v1 asymmetric hunt. If you don’t know the genre, that’s fine, because I can’t come up with one either. Maybe I’ll come up with a better descriptor by the time I finish writing this article. Maybe not. The point is, it’s one of very few games I’ve chosen to play instead of Dota 2. It’s sorta perpetually competitive, and also a game I’d like to get better at.

Before we dive into the game itself, I do wanna get my two main gripes with it out of the way. First of all, the game has a shit ton of DLC. Buying the base game at $20 gives you five out of the twenty one playable killer characters, and six or so of the twenty-three survivors. I’m mostly just going to look at killers for the sake of simplicity here, but of the remaining sixteen killers currently in the game, seven are permanently pay walled, as they are licensed characters from other horror franchises. The others can theoretically be unlocked by grinding. At about 90 hours played, I think I’ve earned enough currency to unlock… 2 other killers. So yeah. The time to unlock ratio ain’t great. Also, on their own, killers and survivors are $5 each, and you can buy packs of specific ones for $7.

Editors Note: I’m pretty sure I counted right for the killers here, but I may have miscounted the survivors. Point is, there’s a lot of DLC if you actually want to play all the characters.

Second main gripe would be this: The game can be buggy as all hell. When I mentioned bugs in my last review for OddRealm, I mentioned them because while they were rare, they were game breaking. In Dead By Daylight, the reverse is kinda true. I’ve seen only one bug that actually ruins games (a piece of level geometry that you can clip into, and get stuck in). With that said, 7/10 times, your pre-made animations will clip the camera into a wall. You will hook survivors onto empty air. Mostly stuff like this.

So now that those two things are out of the way, lets talk about the actual gameplay. Like I mentioned, it’s a 4v1 hunt. One player plays the killer, and four players play survivors. (You do get to pick which role you want to queue for before starting a game.)

The games take place in semi-randomly generated maps, with each side having a different set of goals. Survivors have to repair five generators, and then open an escape door in order to get out. They do this by interacting with the generators, and completing quick time events to continue the repairs. Killers need to (surprise, surprise) kill the survivors, which they do by inflicting damage until the survivors are downed, and then hanging the survivors on giant meat hooks so a spider god can try to eat them. Survivors can still save their friends from hooks, but it’s always possible the killer is nearby.

While this sounds simple, it’s made markedly more complex by the variety of game mechanics, perks, items and other factors in play, as well as the fact that regardless of which role you choose to play, you will be facing off against other humans. If you trick someone, it’s because you outsmarted them, not because the game let you.

Here’s just one example of a mechanic in the game that’s quite interesting, and it’s also why I wouldn’t consider the game to be a horror game: The Terror Radius. You know how in horror movies, the tense music plays as the murderer gets closer to our unsuspecting victim? Well, Dead By Daylight has something similar. You can actually hear the killer approaching, which means while they mostly can’t sneak up on you. Of course, they do have perks and options to lessen, or even temporarily hide their radius, so you’ll still have to pay attention.

And there are a bunch of mechanics like this. Killers have a first person point of view, but survivors have third person, and can use it to see around corners and over walls. At the same time, Killers move faster then Survivors, so without careful play, Killers will always win chases.

I could go on, and just list out mechanics, but I’m not sure it would sell anyone on the game, or it would help explain why the game is so compelling. What I will say is that Dead By Daylight has one of the best ratios of money/time spent in game of anything I’ve played this year.




Quantum League

A mind bending shooter that’s best played with a friend. Really neat unique time mechanics, but not a massive player base.

I first saw Quantum League about 2 years ago at PAX East, and even though I didn’t play it then, I was interested in the premise. So what is the premise? Simple.

Quantum League is a 1v1 or 2v2 shooter played in rounds, where each round is a 15 second time loop that repeats three times. I enjoy the game, but it can be a little draining after a while, since there are only those two games modes, and you’ll only ever play against humans. For explaining the mechanics, I’m going to talk about the 1v1 mode only.

When a round starts, you have your dude, you have a pistol, and you have five other weapons. The weapons are pretty straightforward, you have a sub machine gun, a sniper rifle, a shotgun, a grenade launcher, and the only funky one, a kinda beam-stick flamethrower. All of them behave pretty much as you would expect from any FPS. In the first round, it’ll just be you and your opponent, and depending on the game mode, your goal will be to either shoot ’em, or be the only person standing on a given capture point at the end of the round, which (big surprise) will most likely involve shooting them. The round will end after 15 seconds, even if you kill them early on.

Loop two is where things get interesting, and where Quantum League really shines as its own game. Like I said above, the game is played in loops, and in round two, you’ll have the same starting locations, weapons, everything else, with the game’s one big mechanic in play: there will now a be copy of you, replaying all your actions from loop one in addition to your normal controlled self. Your opponent gets one, too. They will replay all actions you took in round 1, exactly as you performed them, and they can still be interacted with. In Quantum League, when you die, instead of waiting to respawn or taking other actions, you instead just continue playing, but as a ghost. Your ghost version can’t interact with anything, damage anything, or score. But it can still shoot, move and otherwise do whatever it wants, because there is a very real chance that at some point in a future loop, you might kill the killer before they kill you, and as such, your clone will suddenly remain alive instead, meaning that its actions are now a resource you can use.

Loop three is the same as loop two, except with clones from round one and two, and one big difference: rounds are only scored at the end of loop three.

This time mechanic is the thing that turns Quantum League on its head, and is what makes the game completely different from almost any shooter out there. The key to winning in Quantum League isn’t pure twitch reflexes, or more accurate aim, but to plan your actions, recognize what your opponent will do in response, and then move to anticipate their future actions.

Here’s an example: Iin any given loop one of Quantum League, my preferred weapon is the sub machine gun. The SMG is a medium range weapon, losing at long range to the sniper, short range to the shotgun and beam rifle, and lacks the inherent area denial and angle capacity of the grenade launcher. So why pick it? For me, the SMG is the most effective continual area denial tool in the game. My plan is to move up behind cover, fire a few shots down various angles that I suspect my opponent may try to use in future rounds, punishing them with chip damage if they do, before finally actually moving to try to take out my opponent and win the round. In short, I’m not even shooting at my opponent, I’m shooting at where I think they’ll be in the future.

And this is just a small fraction of the sorta neat stuff you can get up to. There are also respawn globes and a few other mechanics that make the game even mind melting then it starts out as.

The only two big gripes I have with Quantum League are the hyper competitive nature of the game, which makes playing it for a long period of time fairly draining, and the lack of other game modes.

If Quantum League sounds like your sort of game, you can get it on Steam and it looks like a Switch version comes out soon as well, but I haven’t played it. I really suggest find a friend who also interested, because that way you can do 2v2 matches, and 1v1 matches if no one else is playing at that point in time. The game’s player base is still pretty small.

A Short Hike

Be a bird, climb a mountain, fly around and stuff.

A short hike is a fun, simple collect-a-thon in which you try to climb to the top of a mountain. It has a very Animal Crossing aesthetic, and the actual gameplay often reminds me of Breath of the Wild. It takes maybe 3-5 hours tops to “Finish” the game, and it probably has some repeatability, but more for exploring the island, and less for mechanical challenges.

Also, I almost didn’t play it, even after downloading it, because I’m an inverse elitist, and kinda assumed it was a Firewatch-esque game novel.

Whoops.

A Short Hike is well named. You’re quickly introduced to the main character, her aunt who she’s staying with on a small island with a mountain in the middle, and okay, now you’re playing the game. There is a given reason for having to climb the mountain, but it’s not really that important in any way.

The game is played from a top down isometric perspective, like Animal Crossing, and a decent amount of time spent trying to get to the top of the mountain is going to to be spent looking for various items, golden feathers, and other interesting things. The general structure of gameplay is, “Follow a trail, hit a roadblock, find a way around the roadblock, or start exploring,” or at least I think that’s what the structure is supposed to be. My gameplay structure was more, “Follow the trail, find something interesting, get distracted by it, search around, find some treasure, chat with some folks, and then remember that technically, I’m supposed to be climbing a mountain.”

I have one big gripe with the game, and it’s that the flight controls are a bit cumbersome. Looking at the game afterward, I suspect it’s because the game might be intended to be played with a controller, instead of mouse and keyboard, but it can make some of the bits near the end a little tricky.

Lemme explain what I specifically mean. A Short Hike has a locked camera, and said camera seems to shift when you enter certain spaces/move through a given zone. This isn’t a problem while walking, but when you’re flying/jumping, if you pass through one of those barriers, the game has a habit of re-orienting your bird, and all of sudden, your inputs make the character fly in a different direction then intended. This can also be tricky if you’re trying to land on top of things far below you. It’s my only real issue with the game, and I suspect it might just go away if you use a controller.

Overall, I had a lot of fun with A Short Hike. It’s a few hours long, and it’s $8, which seems about fair to me. You can buy it on Itch.io and on Steam, and it was part of the Racial Justice Mega Bundle on itch, so if you bought that bundle a bit back, you already own it! And you should play it!

With 2020 continuing to be the winner of year it is, it was nice to just fly around a chill island and have a good time. Take care of yourself, and stay safe.

Sky Rogue

Blast through the air in a minimalistic flight game/dog fight game.

I like to beat games before I write about them. I have not beaten Sky Rogue, but I’m gonna write about it anyway. This is because I don’t think I’m going to beat it anytime soon.

Sky Rogue is a minimalist flight sim and dog fighter, where you select from a set of colorful planes, load them out with enough weaponry to wipe out a small country, and then proceed to blow up repeatedly when you fail to accurately estimate the distance between you and the ground. Or you and the hanger you’re trying to bomb. Or you and the two enemy drones with chainguns. Or a surface to air missile turret.

Your experience may vary.

What I’ve learned primarily from Sky Rogue is that I am very bad at flight sims, even those of the most simplified kind, and even if I can usually finish a run of a roguelike, Sky Rogue demands a level of execution that I currently don’t have. If I beat it at some point in the next week, I’ll update this article.

So, what’s the loop then? As the name would suggest, Sky Rogue is a roguelike. The roguelike element is primarily present in the set of unlockable planes and weapons. While unlocking equipment is permanent between runs, the upgrades you purchase with cash for your planes and gear are not. There are two main resources:

  • Tech, which persists between runs and functions as a sort of exp for unlocking more equipment/planes.
  • Cash, which is lost and death and is used to upgrade gear during a run.

As far as roguelike elements go, it’s pretty minimal. Missions and environments are randomly generated, and upgrades are lost on death, but you don’t really have to scavenge for parts or weapons. Destroying enemy structures and planes during a mission grants cash, which can be spent on upgrading the planes or equipment of your choice. Most of the upgrades I’ve seen so far have been primarily numerical, i.e., extra capacity, damage, or targeting range. This meant I usually just upgraded whatever gear I was using, instead of being forced to adapt my run based on pickups.

In addition, you can fully heal and re-arm at any point during a level by returning to base (as long as you haven’t completed the mission), so there’s not as much resource conservation as there might be in something like Dead Cells or Slay the Spire.

So we have a roguelike with permanent unlocks and weapon configuration, free health refills, and a wide selection of gear. In theory this would be easy, which brings us to actual gameplay: flying your plane around, and in my case, into things.

One of the things I was hoping to find in the itch.io racial justice bundle was exposure to a bunch of games and mechanics that I wouldn’t otherwise engage with. I’ll be honest, I mostly expected to find narrative games, dating sims, that sorta stuff. Instead, I’ve gotten my ass repeatedly handed to me on each of my runs of Sky Rogue. I’ve gotten about half way through what I think consists of a full run, and I’ve gotten to the first big “Boss” once. It wrecked me.

If I had to give any advice to anyone else tempted to play the game as the result of this review, it would be the following:

  1. Turn off arcade mode. While it might feel better at first, it ultimately prevents you from flipping yourself over, and doing other tricky flight things.
  2. This game is probably better with a flight stick. I wouldn’t know. I don’t own one.
  3. Spam the flares.

Sky Rogue is $20 on itch.io, and Steam. The team does have a little blurb noting that if you buy it on itch.io, they get more of the money, and you can still get a Steam key if you buy it there.

As 2020 continues to be some sort of Twilight Zone or Tales From The Crypt anthology of garbage, stay safe, wear a mask, and take care of each other. I’ll update this article if I ever beat Sky Rogue.