Sandbox vs the beach

Sandbox titles have typically appealed to me more than on-rails experiences, in large part because experiencing something that happens due to multiple factors coming together is more exciting than seeing something scripted happen to you and everyone else playing the game. Lately however I’ve been questioning what makes a good sandbox game, vs a game that is just a bunch of pieces thrown into the mix that never really come together to give you something enjoyable or unique.

I’ll start with a recent major release, Crusader Kings 3. A sandbox simulator of medieval times, CK3 has a LOT of stuff going on. Marriage, alliances, culture and religion, technology advancement, warfare, vassals, etc etc. However the most basic cycle of CK3 is you go to war, you win and acquire territory, and you repeat. And because warfare isn’t especially exciting in CK3, and all of the other ‘stuff’ doesn’t directly factor into it, the core loop is both shallow and very repetitive. All of the other toys in that sandbox are interesting, at least the first time you see them, but they don’t perform great the 10th time around, and in a sandbox that is critically important. CK3 isn’t a bad game, and it certainly has its audience, but IMO it’s an example of a sandbox game where things aren’t tied together in one cohesive approach.

Jumping to a much smaller indie title that just debuted its demo recently, we have Going Medieval. The game is a low-graphics city/kingdom simulator set in, surprise, medieval times. You build your buildings square by square, your people collect resources, you research tech; if you have played a game like this, you know the deal. The issue I have here is I don’t see anything that Medieval does that other games don’t, or that it provides any reason to build and progress other than ‘because that’s the game’. What is the vision here? Why make/play this game over Stonehearth, Forest Village, Banished, Dawn of Man, or any number of other similar titles?

Finally there was Songs of Syx, a pixel art colony sim. At least here the ambition is to take a game like Rimworld and expand it from running a city into running a really big city…? It was hard getting past the graphics, because they are just terrible. It’s not just the style either, but the fact that it was really hard to understand wtf was going on beyond “this guy is moving in this direction”. But beyond the graphics, this is another title that within the first hour you are left questioning why you are playing. And I think that answer is still ‘build to build stuff’, and the early building isn’t anything new or interesting. If you have played a game like this, you have done these exact same steps before, and seen the results.

The last two titles mentioned, and maybe to some extend even CK3, suffer from the fact that they aren’t ‘done’, but in Early Access, Beta, Alpha, whatever the devs want to call not being done (CK3 is released, but in a year from now will most likely have a lot of DLC that fleshes out the game, perhaps so far as changing even the core loop of just playing to expand/conquer). That model of releasing early is fine if what you have is already worth playing. If your unique hook or blend of design is there, and the edges are rough, go ahead and release early. But if all you have is the bland vanilla gameplay loop, what are you expecting players to get excited about?

Posted in Rant | 5 Comments

Good new blog to read covering the games I like

Quick programing note here: The author of “Gamer of Passion” contacted me about his site, and asked me to check it out. I have done so, and while the site is new, it already has some impressive articles up. The breakdown of Battle Brother perks is excellent and VERY detailed, and the articles about Kenshi are equally good.

A site to keep an eye on, and best of luck on the new ender Gamer!

Posted in Blogroll | Leave a comment

Passing on Baldur’s Gate 3 EA

Today Baldur’s Gate 3 is available for purchase on Steam, entering Early Access for $60. The poors are already crying about the price, but poors will poor, so not surprising. That’s not why I’m passing on it though.

I’m passing because I don’t see a game like BG being something I replay many times, and with BG3 EA being only the first section of the game, it means either playing that and then starting over at full release, or having a very delayed overall experience. Plus I’m sure there will be plenty of bugs and patches.

Make no mistake, BG3 is a game I am dying to play eventually, because I have a lot of faith in Larian Studios coming off how great Divinity 2 was, and I’m also a big fan of the previous BG games.

Note: I’m in a similar spot with Cyberpunk 2077, another RPG coming soon. That one won’t be in EA at release, but it’s almost a guarantee that it will be buggy and the patches will come early and often. As I have a graphics card upgrade coming soon as card prices dip a little, I might as well wait on that one as well and play it when both it and I am ready.

Posted in beta, Random, Steam Stuff | 2 Comments

The Necromunda AI can’t play the game, early Crusader King 3 thoughts

Point blank the Necromunda AI can’t play some of the maps/objectives in the game. It gets confused, sits in a corner, and basically just doesn’t fight back. This pretty much ruins the game, as facing the AI is the only way to reliably progress a gang. Also PvP right now isn’t working great either as crashes happen often and there is no way to rejoin a game in progress. Hopefully some patches fix things, because when it does work Necro is a lot of fun, but right now too much DOESN’T work to bother investing time in.

Which brings me to Crusader Kings 3, a game that doesn’t feel buggy or released too early. CK3 plays great, but is one of the more love/hate types of games out IMO. You either really dig the deep simulation, or hate the fact that nothing ‘happens’ and all you do is mostly watch (this isn’t true, but I 100% get why some feel this way about this type of game). I’m only a bit into my second game, the first really just being used to stumble through and learn the basics, but I’m enjoying it a lot so far.

I played a good bit of CK2, but the third is easier to get into AND also easier to play. Things are generally more where you would expect them in the UI, and because the game doesn’t have 100 pieces of DLC (yet), its not bloated.

Posted in Random, Rant

Necromunda Underhive Wars – First impressions

TLDR: It’s Mordheim with the Necromunda IP, plus more stuff. That is a very good thing.

I’ve only completed the first 9 campaign missions (out of 15), and played a couple missions using a custom gang vs the AI, so this is very much a first impression rather than a review. I have yet to see the territory system or how a gang evolves over time, or really gotten into item management and ganger advancement.

What I have experienced a good deal by now however is the combat system, and it really is a joy. The verticality of the maps is initially overwhelming but soon becomes a major source of enjoyment; positioning shooters on a high support beam, forcing melee engagements inside tight spaces, moving around the map quickly via zip lines and grappling hooks. It’s all very in character of what Necromunda should be, and in game form is executed very well. Things like hit percentage due to cover, or the skills you have, or the weapon you are using; it all melds together into a nice strategic mix.

Graphically the game is also on-point to what I would expect for Necromunda; dark, atmospheric, and with all of the Warhammer 40k flavor you would expect. I have seen people report some crashing issues, but I have yet to have one myself, and so far the game has run great.

I have also yet to try out multiplayer, but considering how much time I put into that with Mordheim, I’m expecting great things. Fully review coming after a bit more time with the game, but so far very happy with it.

Posted in Random

Battle Brothers: The little things add up

While browsing the Battle Brothers reddit, I saw someone comment that the way spearwall is implemented in BB is the best they have experienced in a game. Its a bold statement, but one I agree with.

Here is how spearwall works in BB: When equipped with a spear, you gain the ability to use spearwall, which when used plays a small animation of the spear being braced by the unit. If an enemy tries to enter a hex next to that unit, you attempt to push them back with a spear attack. If successful, they take damage and are pushed back. If they still have action points left, they can attempt to engage again, and once again the spearwall attack is attempted. If the attack misses, the unit enters the zone of control like normal.

There are a few things that make this especially impactful. For one, so long as enemies keep moving into the spearwall, you continue to attempt to hit them. This can lead to a significant output of attacks when its not even your turn, especially when overwhelmed like you often are. The second reason this ability is great is because it can often secure a flank, or create a funnel into your heavy hitting units.

Of course your spearwall can fail, and that can equally create problems when you expected units to be pushed back, but the attack misses and suddenly that flank is overwhelmed and you have to react.

It’s not overly complex or flashy, but it just works and each part makes sense. Spearwall does what you would expect it to do, and it feels great when your plan to control the battlefield works out in part because of that one ability.

Spearwall aside, a lot of other details in BB just work. Wolves are individually weak units, but are fast, usually numerous, and rely on overwhelming you. Battles against them often go one of two ways; either you dominate them because you cull their pack quickly, or they overwhelm someone and tear them down, potentially leading to a chain reaction of losses. Usually most fights against them are fine, but there is always that chance of it going horribly wrong very quickly.

The flip side of this is fighting the undead; they are statistically weak and slow, but can come back to life (especially if aided by a necromancer), and don’t have stamina, meaning regardless of how long the battle goes, they keep fighting normally. A battle against the undead always starts out well, because you are fresh and undamaged, and they are individually weak. But the longer the battle drags on, the more fatigued and injured your units become, while the undead remaining are unchanged. They can be killed, but they can’t be fatigued or injured. Difficult fights against the undead are long slogs of bashing them down again and again, until finally, your exhausted and battered brothers can claim victory.

I could go on, from the orcs that try to brute strength smash you, to the sneaky goblins that rely on poison, to how satisfying it feels when you use a two-handed mace to literally smash an enemies head in. Battle Brothers nails the feel of so many things, and doing it all with its limited graphics in-game rather than flashy cut-scenes or one-off set piece scenarios.

Posted in Random

Monthly update I guess?

Previous post was in July huh, yikes. I have been gaming, just not writing about it, so lets me put some words down now and fix that.

The Battle Brothers expansion, Blazing Deserts, is out. Surprise, its awesome, and I was very happy to see it was on the Steam top seller list on release day. The devs deserve it with how long the game has been supported. Crazy to think at one point they considered the game ‘done’, before enough fans convinced them to release more DLC.

The expansion itself is a basic ‘more stuff’ expansion; more starting setups, more enemies and events, another end-game crisis, new equipment, backgrounds, and locations. They hit the desert theme perfectly, and I’m enjoying fighting the new enemies. Right now I think my favorite change is to the battle maps, as instead of generic maps for everything, now you fight on a map that reflects what you are doing (graveyards, bandit camps, fortress ruins, etc). The new scenery and obstacles don’t overpower the map or make for gimmick fights, but do change things up and visually are a real treat.

I played a bit of Far Cry 5, as it went on a deep sale on Steam. It’s a Far Cry game, so if you liked previous versions you should enjoy this one. The map is huge and beautiful, the story a bit too close to real in the age of the Trump Cult, and gameplay wise its just brainless enough to be relaxing. I’m sure I’ll get back and finish the main story at some point, but it’s on pause for now.

I also tried Minion Masters, a PC clone of Clash Royale. It plays as expected, but its not sticking with me as it lacks any real sense of progression (cards don’t have levels like in CR, so once you have a good deck, you feel ‘done’). Not a bad game by any means, just not good enough to get a lot of my time with so many other options.

What is getting a decent chunk of my time, aside from Battle Brothers, is League of Legends and Mighty Party. LoL is that perfect “play one game a day” title, and I’ve also been watching a lot of their eSport matches as I find them incredibly entertaining and the production value is top-notch. Mighty Party I just enjoy the progression grind and the core combat gameplay, plus its the perfect game to have running in the background as you work from home.

I’m also still playing the occasional online game of Lords of Waterdeep or Carcassonne with friends. Both are just fun boardgames to play on the PC while chatting on discord.

I tried Crowfall again as it went into beta, but I still find the core gameplay to be very subpar, especially the floaty combat. It has its audience, but I don’t think I’ll be in it unless something major happens with its core feel.

Coming up we have Crusader Kings 3, which I want to go into blind and just see what happens, and Necromunda, which I am really hoping is a great game to play with friends in 1v1 and 2v2 matches.

Posted in beta, Clash Royale, Combat Systems, Crowfall, Inquisition Clan, League of Legends, Mighty Party, Random | 6 Comments

Moving from MMOs to Mobile

It’s funny how my gaming has flipped. Back when I started this blog, my main games were always MMOs, and I’d play other games to fill the gaps. At some point a big gap filler became mobile games, but initially those were random titles I’d grab for free or pay a few bucks, and generally play for a few hours. Day to day I was still playing MMOs, following MMO news, and blogging about MMOs.

Time and life goes on, and today the most consistent games I have are all mobile. I’ve been playing Clash of Clans and Clash Royale now longer than any MMO not called EVE, and of late Mighty Party sees more actual gaming time than anything else on PC week to week. I barely follow MMO news anymore, and the few blogs I still read I do so because I like the author more so than because I need to ‘keep up’ with what is happening in the MMO scene. Obviously here this blog is way down on posts, especially those focused on MMO gameplay and design.

Not that any of that is bad of course. I’m still very happily gaming, just with different titles on different platforms. Of late I have been playing two boardgame adaptations on PC, Carcassonne and Lords of Waterdeep. Both are 100% accurate recreations of their physical counterparts, and both work very well for multiplayer. Waterdeep in particular is just a fantastic game to play over and over, as it changes so much game to game.

Besides those titles, I’m looking forward to the upcoming Battle Brothers expansions in mid August, which will give me a single player game to consume myself with for a while. After that, Necromunda should be close to release, which I’m hoping will be a great solo and multiplayer game to enjoy. The only other title on my radar right now is Mount and Blade: Bannerlord coming out of Early Access, which will be the trigger for me to play another round of that.

Posted in Clash of Clans, Clash Royale, EVE Online, iPhone, League of Legends, Mighty Party, Random, Steam Stuff, World of Warcraft | 4 Comments

Anno 1800 review

Anno 1800 wasn’t on my radar as it’s not available on Steam, but thanks to a Humble email and a sale, here we are. The game at it’s core is a city builder similar to Sim City or Cities: Skylines, and that core is really solid and fun. On top of that, Anno has a number of fun systems to give you both more to do and more purpose to what you are building.

The city building gameplay is what you would expect. You play residential buildings which house your people, and you build production chain buildings to make them happy. Residential buildings start at the farmer tier, and you can only upgrade that building to the worker tier once the farmers have the items that make them happy (access to a market, basic clothing, and fish to eat). Workers also have needs, as do artisans, engineers, and finally investors. Each tier has more needs, and those items have longer production chains. Things start simple early on, and scale up to get fairly complex. Its what you would expect from a city builder, and it works here.

Visually what is really cool is that as you control which residential buildings upgrade, you control which parts of your city look more and more advanced, and which parts retain that early farmer/worker look. Anno is a great looking game overall, and design decisions like this further help that.

The setting puts you on a map with a bunch of islands, and each island has a different selection of natural resource. As your people need more and more things, you will eventually run into a resource your starting island does not have. This means starting a new city on a different island, which means you build back up from the farmer tier, but with the benefit of having the technology unlocked and the ability to send resources between your cities via ships.

Speaking of ships, in addition to carrying resources between your cities, they can also trade items for money with other factions, visit ports to buy special items, and go on expeditions. The first expedition is to discover the New World, which once successful opens a completely new map with more islands, unique resources, and a different set of people and buildings. Ships can then sail between the Old and New world to trade and ferry goods. As you can tell, Anno goes from building one city up to managing a range of settlements, progressing each one up as you need to feed your starter city and its ever-increasing need for products.

There is also combat between ships and port defenses, a creative system of buildings like the town hall or workers guild that hold items that can buff certain buildings, diplomacy and trade between other factions, and more. If you enjoy city builders, this is one of the better I have played in years; highly recommended.

Posted in Random, Review | 1 Comment

Mighty Party Raid Overhaul Proposal

Raids would last 6 days (one day break between event changes and to collect rewards), with each round lasting 48 hours, for a total of 3 rounds each raid event.

Initial matchmaking would group 10 players based on total hero might of their 72 strongest heroes, plus double the might value of a player’s strongest pet. Players would create 9 lineups (9 x 8 heroes = 72 total) to be used during raids from their available heroes. Lineups can be changed at any time, but changes would only reflect in the next 48 hour period.

Players would then have one battle against the other 9 players in their group, selecting one of their 9 lineups. A lineup can only be used once, and the AI would select which lineup you face of the other player. The AI will also only select each lineup once. Auto-battle is disabled for these battles.

Scoring is based on the win/loss record of each player, tiebreaker going to the player with the lower total might value. The top 3 players move up, the middle 4 stay in that tier, and the bottom 3 move down. As each raid event has 3 48 hour periods, this would result in 5 brackets total, and the rewards should scale accordingly both for which tier you are in, and your place in that tier each round. The lowest place in a higher tier should give more rewards than the highest spot in a lower tier.

If the game is unable to fill a match with 10 players, it can start with fewer, adjusting the number of attacks accordingly. Matchmaking after each round should attempt to still match players according to total raid might, but picking only from players in that tier.

Nice-to-have: The ability to watch other players in your group attack in real-time, and/or the ability to rewatch matches.

Posted in Combat Systems, Mighty Party