MMORPG Tycoon 2

Lots of bone, not enough meat. Yet.

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

Look at this. It’s incredible.

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

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

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

Ah, Kyle Land 2021.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Closer.

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

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

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

Even closer.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wide Ocean Big Jacket

I think Wide Ocean Big Jacket is very good. It might be great.

I’d like to open this writeup on Wide Ocean Big Jacket with a long series of paragraphs discussing the definition of games, what it means to be a game, and just general thoughts on interactive media.

I’m not going to do that because it would be a tremendous waste of time, and take away from actually talking about the Wide Ocean Big Jacket.

I think Wide Ocean Big Jacket is very good. It might be great.

Wide Ocean Big Jacket is not something I would have played if I wasn’t trying to force myself to step outside of my comfort zone. If you’ve read my other reviews, it’s pretty easy to figure out that I prize interesting mechanical gameplay over just about everything else.

That’s not really what Wide Ocean Big Jacket is about. The game itself has more in common with a visual novel than any other genre. As far as I can tell, there aren’t any major branching decisions, and the whole experience is fairly linear.

The thing is, the game absolutely nails almost every aspect of the writing and the setting. I would rank it up there with Night In The Woods in terms of being accurate to what human beings are actually like, and also nailing what going camping is actually like. There are very few games with writing this good.

I don’t want to say too much about the plot. Generally speaking, it feels like a slice of life style thing. It’s about going camping in the woods and relationships. And that’s all you really need to know.

Wide Ocean Big Jacket is $8 on itch.io. It’s not a long game by any means, but I don’t think that’s a valuable tool to measure it by. It was also part of the itch.io Racial Justice Bundle, so if you own that, you can download it and play it now. And I think you should.

Oh, and if you’re on the fence, there’s a demo! It’s an entirely separate set of extra chapters of the game. You’ll have to scroll down a bit on the page to find it.

Hunt: Showdown

The little Battle Royale that wasn’t

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chess Evolved Online

Did you ever look at Chess and think “Wow, I really wish Chess was more complicated, and that you could power up your units?” Well boy do I have the game for you.

I think Chess Evolved Online (or CEO as I’ll abbreviate it) is neat. If you like Chess, it’s worth checking out. If you don’t like Chess, you can save yourself the time of reading this article by closing your web browser and doing something else. Okay, lede dealt with. Time for a diatribe.

I write this blog about games at least in part because I consider myself pretty good at them, though in retrospect, “Experienced” might be a better word. I play a lot of games. There are many things that I’m not very experienced with, and so I don’t really comment on them, such as international relations, and agricultural policy. I still have opinions on them, but I don’t think they’re valuable to share.

I mention all of this because CEO has reminded me of something I forgot: I really, really suck at Chess. Or at least I really suck at it relative to people who play Chess at any level of actual competition or play.

I bring this up because after playing 12 hours of CEO, I couldn’t tell you if the game is balanced, or fair, or a good Chess equivalent or what. I could probably play 100 more hours, and I still wouldn’t have a good idea.

So instead of talking too much about that aspect of the game, I’m just gonna quickly list a few of the mechanical innovations CEO makes vs an ordinary Chess game, talk about the game’s meta progression structure and my thoughts on that, and then wrap up with a link to the game. I’m not gonna talk about balance or fairness, or whatnot, because I don’t think I’ll get any of it right. I’m also going to assume anyone reading this knows how Chess is played, and if you don’t, allow me to link you to the Wikipedia page on the game.

I did not win this.

So, new mechanics. Unlike in Chess, CEO has a different set of win/loss conditions: Morale. Each of your pieces has a value associated with it, which as far as I can tell, generally scales to its power/utility. The queen is worth 21 points, a bishop is worth 12, a rook is worth like 13. You get the idea. When your piece gets taken, you lose that much morale. If your morale hits zero, you lose.

Your king, on the other hand, is special. When your king gets taken, you lose an immediate 25 morale, and then an additional 3 morale per turn. The fairly obvious result of this is that while losing your king will eventually lead to a loss, unlike in standard Chess, it’s not an immediate loss. This has some interesting implications, like being able to trade kings, and also ending up in situations where you have to decide if sacrificing your king might be worth it.

The other special factor controlling the game is “move decay.” After turn 50, each player loses 1 morale at the start of their turn. This effectively puts a cap on how long games can go, and also means that in a game of attrition, whichever player can take a take an early advantage is likely to win. As far as I can tell, there are no draws in CEO.

There’s one last big mechanic in CEO: time. I’m not familiar with professional/semi-pro Chess, but a few quick google searches make it look like the game is limited is to about 90 minutes for your first 40 moves or so.

As you might guess, CEO doesn’t really go in for that. Instead CEO has two formats: CEO Blitz and CEO Standard. Standard gives you 30 seconds a move, after which you have a pool of 4:00 minutes. Blitz gives the same 30 seconds but with a pool of 2:00.

The result of all of these changes, at least to me, is the game feels far faster paced and bloodier than standard Chess. At the same time, the fact that losing your king isn’t a loss means that games can turn into brawls far faster than standard Chess.

So, those are the general changes to the game’s structure. Now let’s talk about the army building. Yes, CEO has army building.

There are a few factors that go into army building. The game has two types of pieces: champions and minions. In general terms, you can only place minions in the front row, and only place champions in the back row. Minions are weaker than champions, and usually (but not always) have a promote ability. This is where another interesting change comes into play: pawns always promote to bishops. This opens up some interesting space for weaker minions with stronger promotions.

Pieces also have a supply cost, and your army has to be under your supply limit. You increase said limit by reaching a higher rank. I don’t love this too much, but I’ll talk about why later.

Everything else about the game feels like a fairly unique attempt to fix some of the problems that Chess has. But how you obtain and upgrade pieces for your army feels fairly standard. Because, of course, pieces can be upgraded.

The game has two currencies, gold and gems. You earn gold by playing games, and you earn more by winning. You get gems by either exchanging gold for gems, completing various objectives, or opening random boxes.

Or spending real money.

And this is why I say it feels standard: The game loop becomes a pattern of grinding for currency to either buy units straight up at a in-game shop, or buy random booster boxes of units in the hopes of getting something you want. At the same time, you use duplicate units to upgrade your existing units.

Tell me this doesn’t look like a mobile game UI.

And this is where the game started to annoy me. Perhaps it’s because I’m not great at Chess, but all of a sudden the game starting feeling like a mobile game. I was no longer logging on to build unique armies or try interesting strategies. I was logging in to open daily boxes, playing ranked for currency to try to grind more boxes, and just generally playing the game solely to get more units. Instead of trying to build unique armies and innovate, I played the standard Chess army because I was more familiar with it, and I cared more about winning than experimenting.

Now, if I was better at Chess, this might not be true. Perhaps if I was a stronger player, I would find it easier to win, and as such be more interested in some of the other systems that make up the game. As it was, though, I ended up feeling like I wasn’t playing for fun, or to use the game’s unique systems, but to just grind to get more pieces. And this is where I stopped playing.

In summary, CEO’s actual gameplay containes a bunch of massive changes to the core structure of Chess, to try to make it more exciting and interesting, while also speeding up the pace of the game. But the meta-progression structure that exists around the gameplay feels like a standard mobile game, and it feels bad. If you end up matched against AI or players with higher ranking than yourself, in addition to likely being better at the game than you, they also have a larger supply pool to pay for their army. Even if you’re both playing identical armies, if they’ve upgraded their pieces, they have access to options and moves you don’t.

And that doesn’t feel great. And while I suspect that the actual mechanics of things like supply/value on units are probably balanced, it still feels bad to get decimated by someone with a unit you just don’t have.

Ed Note: The poster child for this particular experience is the ninja, a unit that feels like a knight on steroids, with the ability to take pieces in all directions that are adjacent, while also having a unblockable jump.

This just feels like bullshit.

Chess Evolved Online is free on Steam, with in-app purchases to buy additional rubies, which in turn get spent on buying units/random booster boxes of units. The game makes a bunch of really interesting mechanical changes to the base game of Chess, but it makes them parallel to a meta-progression structure that, for me, made the game feel like a grind. I still think it’s interesting enough that folks should check it out, but I feel like without a strong interest or background in Chess, you might end up having a similar experience to me.

Legion TD 2

The gameplay is really interesting, even if everything else is a bit lackluster.

I like Legion TD 2. As of writing, I’ve played about 84 hours of it, and I haven’t quite burned myself out yet.

Ed Note: In the time between starting writing this article, and finishing this article, that number has moved up to 120.

Legion TD 2 is a sequel to Legion TD in the same way that Dota 2 is a sequel to DotA, which is to say that it isn’t. If that last sentence didn’t make any sense to you, I can put it a different way: “Legion TD 2 is a remake of Legion TD in a new engine, as a standalone game, with better graphics and support.” So if you’ve ever played the Warcraft 3 mod that was its predecessor you already know the structure of the game.

If you haven’t, here’s a quick crash course in the general flow and structure of the game.

Legion TD 2 is a competitive unit placement/builder. It’s not really a typical tower defense, at least in the standard way of thinking about things. Instead, you spend gold to place and upgrade units onto a grid, before each wave. At the start of each wave, your placed units turn into actual units, and go to fight the incoming wave of units. Units have a damage type, an armor type, and the game has a somewhat Pokemon style matchup for what beats what. So in order to do well, you need to know in advance what wave you’ll be facing.

If all your units get killed, the remaining enemy attackers go and fight any units that your teammates might have had remaining after clearing their own set of waves, and then go and attack your king. If your king runs out of health, the game is over and your lose. If your opponents’ king runs out of health, you win.

There are two big things I haven’t mentioned yet that provide a lot of the meat of the game. First off, the units you can build in any given match are semi-random for that given match. So unlike most other tower defense games you can’t just make a perfect build and roll with it; you have to be able to look at your choices, and make judgements about what you’ll need, and when you’ll need them.

The second is a mechanic called sending.

Sending is when you spend a resource to add additional units to an enemy wave that is attacking one of your opponents. The resource in question is called mythium, and you get it over time based on the number of workers you have. Workers cost gold, the same resource you use to buy and upgrade units, which means money spent on getting workers is money that isn’t spent on upgrading your actual defensive line. Sending also gives you permanent gold income based on the units you sent to attack, so holding all your mythium just to blow it at once can actually end up costing you money.

There are a few other mechanics I won’t go into too much right now, but this is the general gameplay a match of Legion TD 2. The game is about keeping a balance between investment and long term economy. On waves when your units are having a bad matchup, you might need to commit more to building up your forces, and on waves where you’re strong, you choose to sink money into workers instead.

At the same time, you’ll be trying to read your opponents’ builds, and make guesses about when they’ll be weak, or when they’ll decide to apply pressure. If I have any gripes with game, it would be that once you fall behind, it can feel very difficult to fight your way back in. There just aren’t any comeback mechanics. “Leaking,” or allowing waves of attackers to get your king, means you’ll have less gold to work with for future waves. As a result you can end up in a situation where if you overspend on building units, you can’t scale in the long term, but if you don’t build enough units, you just die.

Legion TD 2 appeals to me in the same way that a game like Dota does. Like Dota, in Legion TD 2 you play the game in short matches, and over a match, you feel the fun power curve of playing a longer RPG or tower defense game. It feels fun to finish and build up some of the bigger towers, and to watch them wreck incoming waves, at least for a bit. At the same time, there isn’t really any out-of-match progression. Each match you restart at nothing, and go through the whole process again. The main power progression lies in learning about mechanics and edge cases, trying different strategies, and just generally improving bit by bit.

Legion TD 2 is surprisingly relaxed for a fairly competitive game. You can’t exactly play it and do something else at the same time, but as far as games go, it doesn’t require require massive amounts of micro or clicky clicky. Instead, it just requires focus, and a bit of patience. It’s far more mellow than something like Underlords or TFT.

At this point I’ve played a lot of Legion TD 2, and while I really like it, it’s not going to be to everyone’s tastes. It’s highly competitive, and while the toxicity isn’t as bad as what I’ve seen in other online games, it is present. Everything that isn’t the gameplay is fairly underwhelming, with art and music that feels very “generic fantasy.” But the mind games and push-and-pull resource management are unique—if what you’ve read interests you, and you have $20 to spare, I’d encourage you to check it out.

Click to go to the Steam Page!

Eximius: Seize the Frontline

Today, I am the fifth dentist.

I like Eximius, and generally speaking, I’ve enjoyed playing it. I think at $30, the price feels high, and I’d have a much easier time recommending it if it was like $10, or had some sorta bulk pack for multiple copies, because it is most definitely a game that is way better with friends. On the other hand, given what it took to get the game finished, I kind of get why they’re charging $30 for it.

My summary for this game is, “Today, I am the fifth dentist.” In my group of friends that I roped into playing the game I am the lone dissenter, the only one who enjoyed the game.

Like, the only person.

I’ve attached a video of about an hour of gameplay from a Twitch stream. I was gonna grab screencaps and stuff from the stream, but the quality at 720p felt too low. If you’re on the fence about the game, you’ll most likely get a better opinion of watching me play for a bit than from screencaps. Unfortunately, I also forgot to unmute my mic while streaming, and didn’t mute my friend, so you’ll get to listen to his lovely voice performing half a conversation.

Whoops.

My friends disliked this game enough that, at first, this article was gonna be about why you shouldn’t buy Eximius. But this is my article, and until one of my friends offers to write their own, telling you why you why they regret buying the game based off my stupid opinions, this article will remain the sole source of Gametrodon truth.

Okay, so let’s start by talking about Eximius actually is, for starters: Eximius is a combo RTS/FPS, played between two teams. There are five players to a team, with one player taking the role of the commander, with the ability to build structures, command AI troops, and get a top-down view of the battlefield, like a classic RTS. The remaining 4 are officers, with the ability to run about, shoot people, and generally cause all kinds of chaos. These other four can also have AI troops of various types assigned to them, and can give said troops fairly limited commands. (Gripe #1: I really wish you could actually order your troops to either stand in specific places or leave them somewhere to call them in later.)

You can assign general infantry troops to your officers, but you have to control special troops yourself. There are two factions in the game, AXE, and GSF, which stand for something I can’t remember, but all you really need to know is that the GSF are your typical generic future military dudes, with access to mortar and machine gun squads, infantry and engineers, and a few fairly typical vehicles. (Gripe #2: Vehicles can’t be manually controlled or ridden in by players, and have a tendency to get stuck between various things, due to questionable AI parking. On one notable occasion, I saw a tank sort of leap across the map after clipping into terrain.)

AXE, on the other hand, are more of your “future tech” faction, complete with outfits that make them look like something from Warframe, with smooth Exo-skeletons, and crisp weapons. They also get Ironguards, which for all intents and purposes you can just read as “T-1000 Terminator Units,” massive hulking exo-suits equipped with miniguns, that can just mulch 90% of unencamped infantry they come across. They have a selection of vehicles as well.

Let’s talk about one more thing before we get into why I like the game, and why my friends do not: the general structure of a game of Eximius.

There are two ways to win a game of Eximius. The first is to destroy the enemy base. This is easier said than done, because even if you’re crushing your opponent, their base is surrounded by 7-8 very high powered cannon encampments.

The second is to run your enemy out of supply points. More than likely, this is how you’ll actually win. Both teams start with a predefined amount of these points, and you take points from the enemy team by killing their units while they control less Victory Zones than you do. Different types of units are worth different amounts of supply.

In addition to the Victory Zones, there are also Resource Zones, which give either money, ammo, or power. Money is your base resource used for buying most units, with power used for buildings and other higher tier stuff. Ammo is used for activated abilities, like airstrikes, repair drones, and troop drops.

The end result of all of this is that you spend a lot of the game either holding points, trying to hold points, or pushing in to hold points. What I heard from other folks was that the game felt like Battlefield in that respect, except again, minus a lot of the polish you get on something like Battlefield. It’s not always the most thrilling thing in the universe.

And I don’t disagree with them. The hitmarkers that show up when you get shot are really subtle, and not necessarily enough to figure out where you’re being shot from. There’s also no difference between being shot with shields (HP that regenerates over time and out of combat) vs unshielded. There’s also no tracer rounds on most weapons, meaning that if an opponent is hiding in a bush, you can die before figuring out where they are.

They also had issues with some of the games economy system and power division, with the commander role feeling far more impactful to then the officers. And I can’t really disagree with that either. Officers really only have the ability to run around, capture points, and shoot stuff. You can’t use extra money you get to do things like call in buildings or extra ammo, so it’s fairly easy to get to a point where you are effectively just burning cash as an officer because you can’t have more than your cap.

And on the subject of the commanding/commanders UI. It’s not great. I would mark it as passable. I suspect my friends would go with awful. It disregards a lot of standard conventions for RTS controls (No shift queuing actions,), the action bar isn’t standardized across units, (infantry has an attack move, but vehicles don’t) and it can just be a pain to use. (You can’t assign officers to control groups for example.)

So the end result if you feel the same way they do is that it’s a game where you spend a lot of time either trying to hold a given location, getting into unclear gunfights, and being shot or blown up by encamped morters half a mile away when you round a corner.

On the other hand, I actually like trying to figure out how to break defenses, hold points, and stall for time. The fact that you can have gunfights with “winners” where neither person ends up dying is interesting to me. The mechanics of death, having to buy up your loadouts each time you revive, along with being able to use AI troops as cannon fodder/distractions is neat.

The big differentiator for me is that every conflict in a round has costs associated with it. While the moment-to-moment gameplay might feel similar to other shooters, the gunfights themselves feel more meaningful in the bigger picture.

Sneaking into a back line to capture Resource Points and harass the enemy’s economy, or trying to hold a point while fairly outnumbered until resources arrive are things you can do in other games, but in Eximius they have meaningful impacts on the rest of the war taking place, instead of being separate skirmishes. Where and when you choose to take fights is just as meaningful, if not more meaningful, than winning them. It’s not another shooter where if your K/D is greater than 1, you are a credit to team.

And that’s why I like it. There are a lot of elements in the game that could be improved, but they haven’t stopped me from enjoying the gunfights, trying to be sneaky, or desperately rushing in to try to salvage a win. The game does a really good job of creating organic set pieces and exciting clutch moments, and the fact that you’re playing against other humans makes it that much more fun. When you get to the end of round, it’s possible to look back and figure out what you needed to do differently, or what you could have tried instead.

Eximius is an ambitious indie game, when all is said and done, and more importantly, I find it fun. I might not be in the majority here, and there are definitely a lot of areas that the game could either use some improvement, or some hardening. But even in its current somewhat janky state, I enjoy playing, and I’m likely to continue playing it. I do wish I had more people to play it with, but y’know. Taste is subjective.

Shovel Knight – Treasure Trove

Shovel Knight isn’t a frosted brick.

Ed Note: This writeup is based on finishing the Plague Knight and Shovel Knight campaigns, but not King of Cards, Showdown Mode, or Specter of Torment.

Shovel Knight is great.

The sentence above pretty much sums up my opinions on Shovel Knight, and part of me is really tempted to just leave it at that. The other part of me thinks that a little more explanation is needed. The problem with said extra explanation is that I’ve been having a really hard time trying to put my finger on why Shovel Knight is so good.

Yes, Queen Knight. Normally it would be King Knight. The game has gender swap options which I turned on for this save file, along with custom pronouns that aren’t linked to the selected body type. I don’t think I have anything valuable to say on this feature, as I’m the most cis straight white wonderbread looking motherfucker you’ll ever meet, but it’s cool to see that it’s there.

Okay, so while I stall for time on that, let’s talk briefly about what Shovel Knight actually is: it’s a platformer styled like the platformers of yore. The game itself has a structure similar to Mega Man, where you’re given a set of levels to pick from, and need to clear them all to continue to the next set of levels.

There are some optional mini side levels, and also some enemies that show up and roam on the map, kinda like Hammer Bros from Super Mario. The levels themselves are all pretty varied, with each one having a general theme, and about 3 or so different mechanics regarding the platforming itself. At the end of each level, you’ll fight a boss: an enemy knight and member of the Order of No Quarter. Levels also have hidden treasure, relics, and other good stuff in them.

These GIFs are way more laggy than the game is. Shovel Knight actually runs silkily smooth, and I never experienced any slowdown while playing. At least the GIFs give a good look at the style and palette of the game, I guess. Honestly not sure if I should keep them.

This is just for the Shovel Knight and Plague Knight campaigns, by the way. It looks like the Specter Knight campaign is like a separate sort of thing? And King of Cards has an entire extra board game that you can play? This game has a lot of stuff in it…

Oh, right, I’m still supposed to be writing a review. Well, through the magic of “writing,” in the time between the block of text above, and this one, I went back and played a bunch more to try to put my finger on why the game is so much much fun, and I think a lot of it comes down to movement.

See, everything about Shovel Knight is pretty great. The music is banging, the art feels incredibly fitting and clean, the story is simple but really good, but to me, a lot of those elements are just window dressing. That doesn’t mean they’re not important, but they’re the frosting on top. Even if you frost a brick, it’s still a brick.

But Shovel Knight isn’t a brick because the art, music, and story are all built on top of a solid core of movement, and equally importantly, levels and areas that utilize that movement effectively. Bouncing from enemy to enemy, digging up piles of treasure, and dodging and reflecting projectiles all feels fun and responsive. And the levels are all laid out in ways to give you both tricky platforming challenges, and satisfying instances of pulling them off.

Okay, so unrelated: if this game had come out in like the 2000’s, would tons of folks have Knightsonas on their Deviant Art pages, instead of “X The Hedgehog” sonic recolors? It’s interesting to think about. Like, the game provides built in sprites, recolors, etc, for each of the characters in the game. And the gender swaps mean that you could make just about any Knightsona you’d want.

And this is the cake under Shovel Knight’s frosting. It’s not particularly flashy or obvious, but it’s the base of everything else in the game. It’s what makes the boss fights fun and enjoyable instead of slogs, it’s what makes the platforming fun instead of frustrating, and it’s what makes it so that when you fail, you want to go again.

And, dear reader, let me let you in on a little secret: I called Shovel Knight a bit of a throwback up above, but I’m not sure that’s entirely honest, and that’s to Shovel Knight’s credit. While the game mimics the style of older games, it doesn’t copy their mistakes. There is no traditional game over, and while dying makes you lose money, you can always try to get it back. You can reset levels if things go too incredibly wrong and you end up strapped for cash. The game’s hidden items are purchasable with the gold you find if you’re unable to actually discover them in the level they’re located in, albeit at a slightly higher price.

This, I think, is the best thing I can say about Shovel Knight. It embodies the heart and feeling of those older games, without committing their sins. It mimics their style, without aping it, or being a cheap copy. And it manages to stand out and be joyful to play in a genre with countless competitors.

To just play through the base game won’t take you very long, but it has a lot of potential for speed running, mastery, and secret hunting. Personally, if you think you might like the game I’d suggest buying the Treasure Trove edition, which has all the campaigns and such in it. If you want to try it cheaper, you can buy the base game for $15.

Shovel Knight is six years old at this point, making me perhaps the last person to write a review of it. But I hope I’m not the last person to play it, because it deserves a lot more than that.

P.S. Okay, still thinking about the idea of Knightsonas. I kinda love the idea of an alternate universe where instead of people wearing fursuits, we have an entire subculture of folks who dress up in a pixel art style heavy plate mail and helms, with ridiculous weapons.

Atomicrops

A solid top-down roguelite, sharing more in common with something Binding of Issac than, say, Stardew Valley.

I like Atomicrops. I have played quite a bit of it, done quite a few cleared runs, a bit of achievement hunting, and I’ll probably keep playing it even after I write this review for a bit. Like the synopsis says, it’s a really solid roguelite. There are a few areas of the game’s design I disagree with, but they feel more like choices, not flaws, and if you like games like Binding of Issac, or presumably, Enter the Gungeon (Okay, I haven’t actually played much Enter the Gungeon, but that’s what it reminded me of), I feel like you’ll enjoy Atomicrops.

Cool, so now that I’ve put the lede first, let’s actually talk a bit about the game.

I’ve tried and failed to write this article about Atomicrops several times now, all with the intention of having it out and ready this Wednesday Thursday Friday. Given that I started it writing it about a week, you would think this would have been easy. And it would have been, except for a tiny problem called “I thought Atomicrops was going to be high paced twitchy version of something like Stardew Valley, and not a roguelite.” Second disclosure: I’ve never played Stardew Valley or Harvest Moon. Slime Rancher is probably the closest I’ve ever come to a traditional chill farming game.

So yeah, I went in expecting an entirely different genre of game. In both you can acquire farm animals, grow plants, and get married, but what that means in terms of actual mechanics is incredibly different, as are your goals. In something like Slime Rancher, you’re free to play at your own pace. Even if you lose all your health, there really isn’t a game over in any traditional sense.

Dating consists of giving a character roses, a secondary currency you earn from… harvesting roses. Also, all the pairings are gender irrelevant, which is neat. Also, Atomicrops is the first game I’ve ever seen where polyamory is an actual item/upgrade.

In Atomicrops, if you lose all your health, you die, and you’ll have to start fresh. There is a secondary currency used for small, permanent upgrades called cornucopias, but most of said upgrades are pretty minimal.

Here’s a brief overview of the anatomy of an Atomicrops run. The goal of an Atomicrops run is to simply survive all 4 seasons, and then to beat the final boss in the nuclear winter season. Each season consists of three days. Days have a day/night cycle. During the day, crops you’ve planted are invincible, and cannot be harmed. At night, they can be eaten/attacked by various enemy types, and waves of enemies will spawn in to try to attack them. On the night of the last day of a season, you’ll have to fight a boss.

What you’ll notice, though, is that I haven’t described anything that would require you to actually engage in agriculture. With one fairly big exception, “winning” doesn’t technically require you to farm crops for Cashews, the game’s currency. You could, in theory, just spend every day doing nothing to run out the day timer, fight through the waves at night, and rinse repeat your way to victory. This would theoretically mostly work.

So why go into the trouble of growing serpentine roses, potatoes with more eyes than most monsters from the Cthulhu mythos, and excessively overexuberant peas? Well, growing and harvesting crops gets you Cashews and score, but it also feeds into your end of season meter. And secondly, it lets you buy and upgrade weapons.

Based on how much you harvest during a season, you’ll get various items and boosts. Just surviving might not be enough to keep a run going. It’s also how you get the outside-of-run progression currency, cornucopias.

Let’s talk about the weapons in the game for a second, because one of my big gripes relates to them. Almost all the weapons are cool, powerful and fun. They have single path of upgrades that give them more damage, and also boost their utility. (For example, the flamethrower can water crops after getting enough upgrades.)

They also have a chance to break after you complete a day, requiring you to get a brand new one. And when I say chance, I’m talking about a something like a 98% chance by default on most characters. There is a character that can bring it down to a 48% chance, which is still pretty high. (This decreases as you unlock post-run carryover upgrades. Regardless, break chance is never a happy number.)

So here’s why I consider it a gripe, and not necessarily a flaw: having powerful weapons to take on the end of round bosses isn’t strictly speaking necessary, but it does make them much easier to fight. Trying to take on giant mechs, UFO’s, and a spider the size of a house with a literal peashooter is incredibly difficult. So you’re motivated to save up a pile of cashews to buy and upgrade a weapon prior to a day in which you’ll fight a boss, which means you’ll need to farm, which means you’ll need seeds, which means you need to explore, but harder areas have tougher enemies, so you’ll need a better weapon for that, too….

You get the point. Weapons breaking is a core part of the loop of the game, forcing you to go fight for seeds, upgrades, and farm animals, along with one-use powerups (pigeon scrolls). You do this by leaving the central area near your farm, and clearing out camps of marked enemies. Once you clear a camp, you get a reward.

Once you gun down all the bunnies, you get to pick an upgrade from the locked boxes.

The point is, though, if you could just upgrade a single weapon, and keep it through a whole run, the system would fall apart pretty quickly, and kill a lot of the pressure that the game generates.

Outside of that, I really don’t have any big gripes about Atomicrops. The game also does one thing really well, though kind of subtlety. So I wanna call that out, and talk about it a bit.

Atomicrops handles item effect stacking and resolution really well. A variety of the passive pickups you get have effects like “When X occurs, Y occurs,” and the game handles it super gracefully. As an example, there is an item that causes weeds to do a blast of damage to nearby enemies when cut down. There’s also an item that causes killing enemies to cut nearby weeds. If you end up getting these together, shooting and killing a nearby enemy can turn into a wonderful chain reaction of exploding weeds and shredded enemy packs.

From what I’ve seen, this works for almost every item combo that you would expect it to in the game. Farm animals can trigger items that would proc based off their respective text, and so on. And it’s what makes Atomicrops such a good roguelite. You’re given a limited amount of items to choose between during your run, and spotting and knowing about various synergies can make or break a run. Some items can seem lackluster at first, such as the ability to harvest weeds for small amounts of cashews, but combined with rapid weedcutting, tractors, or chickens, can turn out to be incredibly useful.

Atomicrops is an incredibly solid run and gun roguelite. It’s not perfect. There’s a fairly limited number of bosses, and the game’s controls can be frustrating at times. But the fantastic way that synergies are handled, the number of builds that can be created, and how weapons that are just fun to use (even if they break way too easy) make it sort of sleeper hit for me. It’s not the game I was expecting, but it’s honestly probably more fun than what I thought I was getting into.

(Oh, and the art for each of the irradiated fruits and veggies is also great. Weird without being Binding of Issac levels of discomforting.)

Atomicrops is $15 on Steam or the Epic Games store, and a bunch of other consoles I won’t list here. This review is based on the PC version. Friendly reminder that even if you do loath Fortnite and the stupid dances it has made the youth partake in, EGS gives a higher percentage to developers than Steam.

Stone Story RPG

Stone Story RPG is great, with some really neat mechanics, but it ends a too abruptly.

Disclaimer: Photos of this game are from the Steam Page, as I was having some issues getting photos in game without spoilers. I highly, highly doubt this will bother anyone, but just putting it out there.

Overall, I like Stone Story RPG. I had fun with it. It does a bunch of really neat stuff I haven’t seen a game do before. At the same time, though, after around 40 hours in game and 10-15 hours played, I think I’m done with it for the moment. So let’s talk about why I like it, why I’m done with it for the moment, and what it would take for me to come back.

Stone Story RPG is kinda hard to pinpoint genre-wise, but I’d say it shares the most in common with idle games. However, I think calling it an idle game would be inaccurate. While you can get to the point where you run the game in the background or even play with the game closed, it doesn’t really utilize what I’d consider to be two of the big mechanics of idle games: restarting the game to go faster, and logarithmic scaling of difficultly clicky numbers. Fundamentally, the game mostly feels like it respects your time. There are a few instances where it doesn’t, but they’re super minor, and we’ll get to them later.

Stone Story has two main sections to playing the game. One is effectively the hub menu, where you craft items, select areas to visit, and do… other stuff. More on that in a bit. Then there are the locations you visit, and these are the actual meat of the game. Once you enter a location, your little dude proceeds forward, fighting enemies until they either get to the end of the area, or die. When you first play a location, your goal will be fairly straightforward: get to the end, kill the boss, and collect one of the titular stones that Stone Story is named for.

I want to talk about those stones now, and as such, from this point on, this review is going to tread into spoiler territory. You have been warned. If you want to experience what Stone Story RPG has to offer on your own, now would be the ideal time to turn back, buy the game, and play yourself.

Go! Be free!~

So lets talk about the Stones. I’m giving them a capital S to emphasize their importance, and also to differentiate them from stones which you just pick up off the ground. There are quite a few of them, and they do far more then the average McGuffin, with each one generally either unlocking an additional system to use, or having some sort of property when held as an active item, or both.

So why are we talking about the Stones under spoilers? Well, some of them fundamentally change how you play the game, along with one other item that you craft. These are the Utility Belt, the Orobourous Stone, and the Mind Stone.

The Utility Belt isn’t a Stone, but once you craft it, you’ll unlock the primary meat of the moment to moment gameplay of running levels. Prior to crafting the pouch, you can only bring in a single set of items, a left hand and right hand slot. Once you unlock the pouch, you can bring in up to 10, binding them to the 1-10 keys, and switching between them whenever you please. This becomes necessary very quickly, as taking advantage of elemental matchups on your weapons is required at higher difficulties, and each item in the game serves a different purpose. Wands can do splash damage to clear packs. Hammers shred armor. Shields give you what amounts to slowly regenerating HP, and crossbows let you shred threats before they get close. And that’s before discussing the other aspects of crafting.

Later, you’ll get the Ouroboros Stone. This Stone makes it so that when you complete a level you’ve beaten before, the level loops around again. You’ll keep your current HP, but everything else will be reset, meaning that if you can create a build that can clear a level without taking damage, you can just loop and farm them to your heart’s content. Now it probably sounds like this would work badly with the above system where you have to actively monitor and switch items all the time. And it will. For a little bit.

And then you’ll get the Mind Stone, at which point the entire game cracks wide open. You see, the Mind Stone unlocks a scripting language.

No, really. Here’s the documentation and here’s the tutorial.

Ed Note: You can just skip these next few paragraphs if you know how to program or know the difference between high and low level programing languages. The writer got a bit too enthusiastic with this section, and I simply don’t have the heart to cut the entire bit. TLDR: high level does NOT mean complex. They actually tend to be simpler a lot of a time. So don’t be scared off by the idea of writing code.

If you’re not familiar with programming or terms used to describe programing languages, either because you’re a luddite who fears the future and lives under a rock, or your a strong independent person who thinks that maybe the precious gift of life should be spent on something other then sitting in a chair, moving their fingers, and staring at a glowing rectangle then:

1. Why are you on this blog?

2. Here’s a brief summary of what is meant by high vs low level. It’s a bit counterintuitive.

Generally speaking, low level programing languages refer to languages that operate closer to the machine. These languages require you to do things like be very specific with defining logical types, allocating memory, and other stuff.

High level languages tend to hide all of that, and just require you to understand general logical operations.

Ed Note: We now return you to your regularly scheduled writing about video games.

This is where the game really starts to open up. With Stonescript via the Mind Stone, you now have the ability to write switching macros, activate potions and items, and just generally speaking automate the game to play itself, and to do so with a level of skill that a human player cannot.

This is where I think a large majority of my time spent “playing” Stone Story RPG was actually spent: in running the game in the background to farm areas and zones, while planning out how to automate and script the other zones of the game in a text editor. It’s also where a large number of the game’s systems finally come together: the crafting, grinding, and planning. Tweaking levels until you get your clear script working exactly as you want is very satisfying. Many of the bosses also have gimmicks or cheesy strats that can be discovered, and are easy to exploit when you control things manually, but can be much harder to script around.

And this is where I just ran out of things to do. The game has a story that I was surprisingly curious about by the end, as it’s primarily told in snippets of lore on descriptions of various boss monsters you fight. But the story “ends” right at a point that feels like it would be about to really kick into higher gear. For a world made purely of ASCII, I’m incredibly curious to learn more about it, but when I learned there wasn’t much else to do but farm and craft items, I lost interest. It’s not that the systems are bad, but by the time I had seen all of them, I was more curious about seeing new content, and subversions of various mechanics to try to program around, than I was about farming harder versions of the same areas.

Now, the game is still being updated, and the developer did say on Discord they’re planning a story expansion at some point in the future. But until then, I think I’m done with Stone Story RPG. I’ve beaten what it has to offer, and I’m more curious about the world the game takes place in than I am in a pattern of farming, optimizing, and farming again.

Stone Story RPG is available on Steam. It’s like $20. I liked it. Perhaps you will too.

P.S. If you do, here’s a link to my script that I wrote for the game, designed to farm a few of the first few levels. Sharing is caring after all.

Amazing Cultivation Simulator

I’ve really been struggling with how to review Amazing Cultivation Simulator. I usually open these reviews with a “I Liked It” or “I didn’t like it.” But while Amazing Cultivation Simulator is firmly in the “I liked it” group, every time I try to get screenshots or play more to refresh my memory, I boot the game, look at the menu screen, and then close it again. Not inherently because I didn’t enjoy it, but because it feels like too much effort.

Okay, so enough yammering. Amazing Cultivation Simulator starts out as a settlement management game. In this sense, it’s not unlike something like Dwarf Fortress, RimWorld, or Odd Realm. Unlike Dwarf Fortress and Odd Realm, you can only build on the X/Y Axis, so everything you make will be at most one story tall. This won’t be a big issue in the early game, but it can be become a problem for some reasons later on.

I’m not even showing the menu for making structures and its UI in this screenshot.

The thing that makes Amazing Cultivation Simulator different than any of those management sims is that while it has the typical, “Get food, get water, how did that guy break his leg trying to cook dinner?” sorts of problems and moments, the game is… well, it’s a cultivation simulator. This is a game where you will repeatedly burn down your kitchen and give people permanent disfiguring burns because your kitchen has bad Feng Shui. It’s a game where you will make someone’s dick fall off because you had them learn the wrong magic technique. For those of you who haven’t heard the term before (like me before playing this game), let’s talk about what “Cultivation” is, briefly.

No really. I’m not joking about the dick thing.

“Cultivation” is a term used to describe a type of novels and stories, generally referred to as “Wuxia” stories. I think of “Wuxia” as a setting kind of like “high fantasy” is a setting. If I say something is high fantasy, there are some assumptions you can make about it. Elves will live a long time, and live in forests. Orcs will be violent and brutish. Humans will be a mix in between. In short, Cultivation is a set of story elements/general world building tropes that are consistent between a lot of the stories written in this genre.

An example of the trading menu. There are quite a few different items, and I have no idea how to even get like half of them. For anyone wondering what a “Fortuitous Treasure” rod is, here’s a hint: it’s related to that magic art that makes your dick fall off if you have one.

The rules for Cultivation worlds are completely different from traditional western high fantasy. As part of writing this review, I asked a friend to recommend a web novel that followed general Cultivation themes, and read 50+ chapters of it. I’m gonna be honest, I didn’t love it (sorry buddy). But it was incrediblely useful for understanding the sort of world Amazing Cultivation Simulator is trying to simulate. So let’s talk about these general rules.

  1. People in the world have the ability to train, practice, and meditate to get what effectively amounts to magic powers. These powers are varied, but generally function kind of like spells in the 5E Player’s Handbook. They often require Qi (mana) to use, have specific names and effects, etc.
  2. Different schools of Cultivation have sects that form around the people practicing and studying them. Sects have power structures with practitioners who are strong at the top, and weak at the bottom. The sects also tend to give different abilities / access to different magic spells.
  3. Cultivating and gathering Qi requires sitting really still for a while, so that you can have more mana.
  4. Dragonball Z levels of power scaling. Low tier cultivators get the shit kicked out of them by magic animals that just happen to have magic powers. Mid tier cultivators can paralyze your entire body with like 2 punches. High tier cultivators can just obliterate cities.
  5. Powering up to higher tiers requires you to either have a breakthrough or pass a tribulation. A breakthrough happens when you successfully surpass your own limits, but you will fail a lot while trying to do it. A tribulation is something like literally being repeatedly attacked by lightning clouds or whatever, while you try to survive.
  6. There are also magic artifacts. They range from “neat,” to “secret pocket dimension” levels of bullshit. There are also magic pills and drugs. You need these to get to higher ranks of power, and they follow the same levels of bullshit, except they’re even harder to make. You make these pills and artifacts out of dead monsters, and really old plants.

Okay, so now that we have that all out of the way, let’s get down to talking about video games again.

If we try to assess Amazing Cultivation Simulator in the light of the Cultivation genre, how does it do? My answer would be, “Pretty well.” The game has pill crafting, artifact crafting, ascension to divinity, formations of power structures. There are multiple schools of Cultivation, each with their own unique abilities and quirks.

I want to stress that the game is constructed like a simulator, not like a casual sim game. It shares more in common with Dwarf Fortress than it does with the Sims, in terms of asking you to both learn a billion things, and a cheerful willingness to punch you in the mouth if you don’t.

For example, lets take a look at a what amounts to the stat screen for a single character.

Well that’s not too ba-
Oh.
Oh dear.
Last one.
Psych. Also for reference, that small stats drop down on the side? It scrolls.

Oh, this isn’t even considering the skill menu, for actually selecting passive and active skills for your dudes. Cause that shit looks like this:

There are like 20 of these skill trees, and some can’t even be used together. There is an entirely separate school of Cultivation called Body Cultivation that uses an entirely different interface with options to select individual bones that you want to modify.

Okay, so I played the game for 65 hours. Why am I putting so much into stressing this stuff? Well, because game is incredibly system-dense. And while I suspect this usually wouldn’t be a problem for many of my readers, there’s a situation where your ability to learn things in game breaks down.

And that would be the localization and translation.

Sometimes the translations work well. Sometimes they do not.

This is probably my biggest issue with Amazing Cultivation Simulator that I consider to be an actual problem (as opposed to a “I don’t like how things work” sort of complaint. Don’t worry, we’ll get to those later).

The game has an incredibly dense set of systems for almost everything, from the materials you make your house out of, to the items you craft, to crafting legendary artifacts and drawing talismans.

Did I mistakenly turn my incredibly valuable demon hide into an umbrella? Yes. But is it a great umbrella? Also yes.

But the combination of translations that don’t always hit the mark, genre-specific vocabulary, and systems that just aren’t really localized (looking at you, combat formations) means that the game can become very frustrating to play at points. I suspect that some of this would be mitigated if I was already familiar with the rules of the genre, but I’m not. I had to talk to a friend familiar with the genre, read a sixty-five-ish page guide, and read the aforementioned webnovel to even understand some of what was going on.

I don’t want to be overly down on the game. I think it’s successful at a lot of what it’s trying to be. And compared to many other entries in this genre it does great; I never lost characters to incredibly stupid pathing, and there were no game-breaking bugs that shredded my save file. There’s a lot going for it. But the fact that past a given point you basically have to join a Discord server (or at least follow a guide) takes away some of the joy of discovery for me. Now, to be fair, I could just die and make a new save file, and perhaps that’s how you’re supposed to play the game. Losing is fun, after all. But it feels bad to lose 40 hours of progress because one of the folks in your sect turned into a giant snake after being struck with lightning bolts.

Again, this is a thing that happens.

Okay, so now with all of this done, I want to spend some time complaining about a few specific systems, before I praise the game a bit more, and hopefully wrap up this incredibly fucking long review. It’s a bit rambling, so if you want, you can stop reading here.

No really, you can stop.

Oh, you’re still here? Okay, so let’s get into it.

I’m not sure the concept of Cultivation lends itself well to a video game in certain aspects, specifically in the type of story that it tries to map to games.

Typically speaking, I think a lot of European stories go a certain way. Smarter people then I have written more things about this, but the point I want to quickly make is that generally speaking, in many games, stories, etc, ANYONE, at least in theory, with enough grit and determination can aspire to reach incredible heights.

Cultivation worlds though, do not follow this rule. And Amazing Cultivation Simulator especially does not follow this rule. If you are not a “heaven blessed talent” or just incredibly lucky person, you will not make it very far. Without having what amounts to way higher than average stats, you simply do not have the potential to become a god. You may not reach Golden Core. You may not have the ability to even cultivate enough power to beat up magic animals.

This leads to a situation where you can stagnate and fail if one of two things happen. First of all, if you don’t go out of your way to roll starting characters with insane stats, or if you just get unlucky, and never have anyone with the potential to be godlike show up. While there are ways to increase base stats, they’re all locked behind various tiers of cultivation which you may not be able to reach, so the whole thing becomes a catch-22.

And this would be fine; it would turn into a game of building a stable sect, and then just running the numbers until you get one of these folks, if it wasn’t for one more thing: the reputation system.

See, you’re not the only group cultivating in this world. There are at least half a dozen other schools, a whole world map with side quests, and whole system for visiting other sects.

Last screenshot of UI, I promise.

Aside from all these incredible features however, there is also a bit of a snag in the reputation system. There is a value called reputation, and the higher your reputation, the tougher the enemies you’ll be attacked by in random events will be. The game is fairly clear about this.

What it’s not clear about is what actions will raise your reputation. Reputation has good/evil/neutral alignment, but all that really matters is score. Are you generous and helpful? Prepare to get attacked by murderous cultivators. Do you turn the souls of visitors to your cult sect into magic gems made out of human emotions, and then reanimate their corpses to sweep the floor? Prepare to get attacked by folks who think that maybe human lives are more important then making a really cool new hat.

The combination of these two systems, reputation and general cultivation, means that if you want to avoid being curbstomped, you are going to have to spend a lot of time waiting around, not attracting any attention, and hoping somebody with godly potential shows up asking to join.

Okay, so that finishes my gripe. Just for the record, let’s summarize what I think of the game very quickly, one last time.

Amazing Cultivation Simulator works as a simulator, or a sort of colony management game. The key difference is it’s management of a group of individuals in a world that has some very weird genre-specific rules. Most of the systems are fairly in-depth and interesting, but the game itself feels hamstrung by questionable localization, and tutorials that don’t always teach enough.

There are a few things I just straight up don’t like about the game, like reputation, and how cultivation works, but those are more system design choices then flaws, if I had to judge. It would be like complaining about how Dwarfs in Dwarf Fortress have to drink to stay happy. It’s deliberate decision about made about how to enforce the rules of the simulated world, even if it isn’t one I like.

I think if you’re big into Wuxia novels, or mildly obtuse colony management sims, this is a game worth checking out. And I feel like I got my money’s worth out the game. It’s just so dense that I’m not sure I’ll return to it unless I have a lot of free time. (And maybe the game gets a few localization patches.)