Mini Metro review

If there is an award for cleanest design to achieve it’s goal, Mini Metro wins it. When you first load the game up, you are taken directly into the first map. No intro screen, no main menu, no tutorial section; just right into the game (with tooltips to help you along). And it works, because Mini Metro is exactly what you would expect it to be; you connect stations and transport people (well, symbols, more on that in a bit).

Things start nice and slow, three stations, low population. As the game progresses, more and more stations pop up in random locations, and you are given more trains, train lines, tunnels, and other bonuses to build your network. You lose when any one station overflows with people.

Each station in the game has a symbol, and the train raiders in the game are also symbols. A square ‘person’ wants to go to a square station. The odd/unrealistic part is that any square station will do, but once you know this, you can more fully begin to build successful setups (I was initially expecting people to want to go to one specific station, so my early designs failed horribly). The other negative is you can unrealistically min/max things without issue; you can for example pull an empty train from one line and place it directly on a station that is busy, have it deliver what it needs, and pull it off again. Same goes for train lines; delete or edit them as much as you want, instantly, with no cost/penalty.

That said I’ve been able to ignore those faults and still very much enjoy the game as a fun puzzler. It’s very easy to pick up for a couple tries in say 30 minutes time. There are currently plenty of different maps, and the replay-ability is very high per-map due to the random nature of it all. For its usually discounted price of $5, its a worthwhile pickup.

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Foundations mini-review

Mini review of Foundations as the game is still in Early Access (aren’t they all), and also because its a medieval city builder with all of the basics you would expect from such a game.

Foundations has two things going for it that stand out, one more so than the other. The big standout is that cities tend to grow more naturally than in other sims, because while you can directly place production buildings, homes are built somewhat randomly in a residential area you paint on the map. As citizens walk to where they need to go, a road forms, and future citizens will walk on that road rather then a more direct path. This in turn leads you to build around said road. It works, and makes cities look and feel more natural.

The other feature is the ability to build monuments and larger buildings, like a keep, church, or lords manor, piece by piece. This not only gives you flexibility in how they look, but the bigger you make them, the more they benefit you. A bigger church can hold more people, while a larger lords manor lets you hire a tax collector, have a larger treasury, and gives you more prestige.

The biggest pain-point with the game right now is the UI; its horrible. Luckily the next big update is a UI overhaul, hopefully coming in Jan or Feb. Other than that the game runs well and I didn’t encounter any bugs. It’s not ultra-deep right now, but if you are looking for a city builder, both for now and for the future, Foundations has promise.

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The Long Dark review

I finally purchased The Long Dark after it had been sitting on my wishlist for a few years. Before playing it, my view of it was that it was a stylized survival game that may or may not be interesting to me, hence why it sat so long without being purchased.

Having now played it, I was both correct AND wrong in terms of what The Long Dark is, and my enjoyment level of it. The first time I loaded it up I played the story-focused episode mode, but about 30 minutes into it I wasn’t enjoying it so stopped that and went into the more sandbox survival mode. About an hour into survival I wasn’t enjoying that either, but playing that mode did make me more curious about the story so I went back to episode mode. I ended up finishing all 3 available episodes (parts 4 and 5 are coming in 2021 I believe), which took about 25 hours. I have now been playing the survival mode for another 20ish hours.

The Long Dark is as pure a survival game as I have played. The need to stay hydrated, fed, and rested are not just requirements, they are basically the ONLY requirements, and the entire goal of the survival mode is to see how long you can go until you run out of food/water/health and die. It’s because of this that I initially didn’t see the point of playing survival; since the first few days on the lower difficulty level were very easy, and it felt like I was just wandering around to wander and collect more stuff that I didn’t seem to need. And since you are the only human alive in survival, the feeling of loneliness kicks in fast (which is the point in some ways, of course).

The more story/mission focused episodes serve as a very nice tutorial for both the gameplay aspects and the world setting, while still mostly revolving around the core gameplay loop of staying alive and exploring to gather things that help you stay alive. The story itself is interesting, more-so IMO than most video-game stories. You aren’t reading a books-worth of text here or anything, but who you meet and the overarching plot is really solid.

Once the episode content was complete, I had a solid understanding of how the mechanics worked, and wanted to go back into survival mode on a higher difficulty to apply that understanding. This also clicked, and I got into a good loop of exploring and surviving. Of finding better clothing to stay warm, and new/better tools to help in exploration. And slowly your character gets better at the basics, like starting a fire or having the stamina to go on without needing as much rest.

The Long Dark does some things exceptionally well. For starters, the weather in the game is the most impactful weather I have seen. Visually a blizzard or fog greatly reduces what you can see, while from a gameplay perspective harsh winds drop your warmth fast, and make walking into the wind much slower. Snow leaves your clothing wet and will eventually freeze. The night is colder than the day. Combine it all and a clear day to explore in feels like a bonus, while getting caught out in a blizzard at night is panic-inducing and brings a real sense of dread.

I like the art style a lot as well. There are some very rough textures at times, the animations can be a little stilted, and overall this isn’t the next Crysis by any means, but everything looks ‘right’ when you are out in the woods, surrounded by snow, trees, and the occasional animal. The game places you in the designed setting very well, and nothing ever really feels ‘off’ to break that immersion.

The Long Dark is a hard game to recommend because it is so unique. There is little combat (mostly shooting wolves and bears with one of three weapons), no building, limited character progression, and a pure and singular focus on survival. But it does what it sets out to do extremely well, and again for me personally it did click, and has become a really enjoyable game.

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Mixing the new with the old

Since the last post here, and its been a minute, I have been playing a solid mix of new and old titles. The new being Monster Train and Armello, while the old includes League of Legends, PUBG, and Rimworld. Mobile gaming continues to consist of three titles, Clash of Clans, Clash Royale, and Mighty Party.

I think this is the ‘new normal’ in gaming, where a player will have a few consistent titles to return to, while mixing in new offerings as interest arises. I think business models have adapted to this new reality as well; games that are designed for the long-haul like LoL or PUBG feature season passes or in-game shops, and for me at least both games have long since crosses the $100+ mark in terms of spending. At a dollars/hr rate, they are still both amazing values. My mobile spending is similar, and again I consider that money well-spent.

At the same time I don’t think playing a few titles for years has really impacted my interest in new releases. When something new pops up, like most recently Monster Train, that title will cut into the time I would normally play my core games, and as the new title fades, more time is returned to the core. A big reason this works is because both LoL and PUBG can be played in bursts if you so wish, and while playing more leads to higher ranks or better results, they are very easy to return to. That again is by design.

Posted in Clash of Clans, Clash Royale, League of Legends, Mighty Party, PUBG, Random | 7 Comments

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?

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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