The Steam Grand Prix

It’s that time of year again! Wallets shall weep and Gabe Newell shall rejoice at their weeping! Or some such thing. Whatever the case, the Steam Summer Sale kicked off this past week, and with it a new theme/game. This time around the theme is “Grand Prix” and instead of playing an actual game, you’ll instead play regular games to complete quests in order to affect your team’s positioning in the race. Each day a winner is crowned, and by the end we’re supposed to have a chance to earn games off of our wish lists. How likely that actually happens is yet to be determined, but out of the four days that passed, my team (Team Corgi) came in first place three times. We’re currently in first place again today, so if this keeps up I imagine I’d have a better chance to win something, but I’m still not holding my breath. Overall I don’t usually care too much about the events going on in the client, it’s all about the deals. This year my wish list is a little thin, and while much of it was on sale, I really scrutinized those items on my list again and ended up removing some of them altogether. When all was said and done though, I can’t resist a good deal, so I took the opportunity to grab a couple of games on the cheap. I had the opportunity to play both games for a while over my days off and have some thoughts to share about them. First up, Void Bastards:

I discovered this title via the Steam discovery queue and the first thing that caught my attention was its art direction. It borrows heavily from science fiction comic books, and looks great in its hand-drawn style. The main menu actually shows off the above art complete with a hallmark comic book cover, and much of the game’s style derives from this. Sound effects will also come with floating word bubbles, the cut scenes between missions play out in animated frames for you to follow along with. The aesthetics are amazing and that’s just the beginning!

The story goes that you are a prisoner on a space barge that has been floating along in space for some time. The prisoners on board are your fodder — you can die as many times as you like because the lives ready to be defrosted and then controlled by you are limitless. The corporation that owns the prison ship (and by extension, you) literally defrosts you, attached a little sentient robot to your body, and sends you on your way to do things. As far as the gameplay goes, this is a rogue-lite so you can expect a degree of procedural generation and to die a lot before getting anywhere. There is a global progression though, so as you gain key items and store them on the S.T.E.V., or unlock/build new gear the next inmate to be revived will have access to them. I can name quite a few games that have had similar concepts and where each little detail was borrowed from, to the point that this feels like the ultimate version of the rogue-lite game.

The gameplay loop contains elements from games like Rogue Legacy, FTL: Faster than Light, Sword of the Stars: The Pit, and probably others. From the star map, you’ll jump from location to location with an ultimate goal usually being a key item needed to progress the storyline. This feels much like FTL in that you need to always be on the look out for fuel and food in order to survive. When you arrive at a new location (typically a derelict ship, but other nodes exist) you can choose to jump to the next location immediately or to dock. Each ship will have some sort of item you’ll want to look for on it outside of wanting to grab up all of the fuel, food and ammo possible. These key items can usually be combined via the workbench into gear, but sometimes are quest related. While on the ship, you’ll switch into FPS mode and run around shooting goons and looting stuff. The set pieces aren’t all that random (I swear I’ve seen a few of the same layouts already) but when it comes down to it, this is just a vehicle for progression and nothing more. If you die, you’ll be greeted with a death comic strip, and then a new prisoner is defrosted and provided with a care package of goods to get started again. Currently I’m still trying to get some of the story items needed, but I have already unlocked several weapons and upgrades. Despite being the same sort of thing you would expect from this genre, it’s really well done and I am happy with the purchase.

The other game I picked up is also an FPS title, but not a rogue-like this time around. Amid Evil has been on my radar for quite some time. Apparently it was in early access for a while, and only saw its 1.0 released just this month so it was a good time to buy it especially with the discount. When I first heard about the game my immediate comparison was to old school shooters like Heretic and Hexen, and for good reason. This game uses a weird combination of old 3D graphics with some newer lighting effects to where it looks retro but still looks modern in some ways. It’s hard to describe, so here are some pictures to make my point:

So it looks kind of like that new ray tracing mod for Quake that came out recently, where it’s an old game engine that was spruced up with some graphic effects. I like the old school feel and there really hasn’t been a modernized version of this style of game, where it’s an FPS but you are using melee and magic rather than guns. For the Hexen fans out there, you’ll truly enjoy this. It’s fast, you can get swarmed, there are puzzles — it’s a blast from the past.

That’s all I ended up getting in the sale and I don’t see myself buying anything else. Other games I want to play are on the horizon but probably won’t see many discounts until the holiday season. What did you grab in the sale?

The War Report: Mail Day Part Deux

I’m not sure if this will become a regular part of this column, but I once made a post about a “Mail Day” of mine and explained the rationale behind that. It’s been a while since I made an order of singles, I only bought packs of the last set, War of the Spark. Since Modern Horizons’ release, I took a deeper look at the set and found that there weren’t actually that many cards I really wanted. It also turns out that Modern Horzions is priced more like a Masters set, so box and pack prices are a bit prohibitive and there are only a couple of money cards that would justify one of those purchases. As such, I tallied up how much it would cost me to pick up nearly every card in the set that was desirable to me, and it turned out to only be about $40 so I pulled the trigger. The cards arrived earlier this week, and now on my days off I was finally able to slot them into the decks I chose them for. I figured at this point I can show you the cards I picked up and where they are going (and why).

Estrid:

My Estrid build is centered around the Stax archetype, so I picked up some cards that were related. Gwafa Hazid is the only non-Modern Horizons card that I picked up, his most recent reprint being in last year’s Battlebond. He can easily lock down pesky creatures, and that’s perfect for this control-style brew. Squirrel Nest was already a card I had in my list (this deck is still under construction), and it’s a potential win-con in itself. Hall of Heliod’s Generosity is a great little recursion tool for my enchantments (and this is an enchantment heavy deck). Lastly, Unsettled Mariner is another nice control piece, making this deck that much more annoying to play against. Looking forward to getting the finishing touches for this one.

Yuriko:

Another one of my decks that is still under construction, ninjas as a tribe received some great support with Modern Horizons. Here are a selection of ninjas that I felt were great for the deck, replacing some of the non-ninja creatures and making the tribe feel whole. It’s still not a 100% ninjas only deck, but cards that have Changeling like the Outcast above still count as ninjas, and I’ve still got the important enchantments in the deck that will allow non-ninjas to still be ninjas. Speaking of enchantments, I added two more to the deck. Cunning Evasion is new and it’s great for ninjas, allowing those that get blocked to bounce back to your hand (allowing you to use ninjitsu again if they have the keyword) so they won’t die. Future Sight is a reprint, but with the top-deck-matters nature of this commander, I thought it was fitting to help utilize Yuriko’s ability. Another deck I can’t wait to finish up.

Tawnos:

Tawnos is actually in a playable state right now, it’s just not as good as it can get. I still need a handful of somewhat pricey cards in order to make it go off, but this spicy tech will add to it. One of those enchantments that allows you to pick from two modes, this can help beef up a token army rather quickly, or is a win-con in itself. I really like the Phyrexian option, particularly if you already have a bunch of artifacts in the graveyard, you can potentially wipe out the last opponents within a couple of turns.

Edgar Markov:

My Edgar Markov deck has never really performed the way I want it to. Each new set for the past couple of years since his release has come with some cool new vampire toys, so it has seen a number of changes and yet still feels like it doesn’t work that well. This addition will further help me to lower the curve. I need to playtest it some more, along with making adjustments because it’s supposed to be an amazing deck and never really feels that way.

Varina:

On the contrary, I love my zombie deck, and it’s seen sweeping changes since I first created it. Starting with the Dimir commander Gisa & Geralf, it later became a Scarab God deck, and I’ve finally settled on Varina. I feel it’s the most competitive version it’s ever been, and these couple of additions should help. I already have several aristocrats style cards in the deck, and Undead Augur is another that will help me drain life from my opponents, just for sacrificing my own zombie tokens and whatnot. Cycling through this deck should happen rather quickly. Endling is a new version of the shapeshifter cards that have been around for a while — a creature that has several abilities and you can choose which to use as needed. It can be a threat on its own due to evasion and the ability to pump it up.

Krenko:

Krenko has been in a good spot for a long time. I recently added the newest version of Krenko from War of the Spark to the deck, and now we have another new legendary goblin to add to the mix — Pashalik Mons. He’s got some text that allows him to ping targets every time a goblin dies, and is a sac outlet himself. It’s a bit expensive to pay four mana and sacrifice a goblin to create two goblins, but with the right set up it can go infinite. In conjunction with the two Krenkos, this can go off quickly.

Shu-Yun:

This was the best sword added to the game with this set. Since Shu-Yun is my Voltron commander, it was a no-brainer to pick this up. Proliferate actually doesn’t do much in this deck, but since it provides counters itself that’s not terrible. The protection from white and blue is what’s really nice, and I already have most of the swords in the deck so why not?

Jodah:

People are saying that this version of Sisay is actually better than Tazri at doing what Tazri does. I’m not really interested in that style of deck though, so instead I’m going to put her where she makes the most sense — Jodah. She’s cheap to cast, so an early drop, and I’m already rushing to get to WUBRG anyway, so her ability will be usable quickly. She can tutor up most of the 18 or so legendaries I have in the deck including the Eldrazi Titans. She is also a late game threat herself given enough legendary creatures on the board.

Karador:

I haven’t really even begun to work on my Karador build, but I picked up an extra copy of Altar of Dementia and it turns out I had it on this list (and already in another deck). It’s a great card when you can use it effectively.

Not Yet Placed:

Otherwise I picked up the new Talisman cycle, a few Tribute Mages to spread around, Pondering Mage, Llanowar Tribe and Astral Drift. I’m not sure where I’m going to put these cards but I know they will get used, the rocks especially. Tribute Mage works well in Inalla or an Artifact deck where I need an extra tutor. The Tribe will go in either a mono-green or Elf heavy deck eventually. Pondering Mage is going into Inalla as well, because otherwise it’s not very good, but getting the effect twice for 6 mana is decent. Astral Drift is a card that interests me, and I think I may build a cycling deck at some point so it’s there for when I do.

Overall the set was pretty good, and there are a couple other cards I would like but I’m going to wait until they come down in price. Core Set 2020 comes out soon as well so I’ll probably do the same thing with it and pick up whatever is decent that I can use.

Quick Thoughts: CTR Remake

We first heard about the Crash Team Racing remake back at E3 last year. Having already played a bit of the Crash Bandicoot Trilogy remake, I had a feeling this would be just as good, and knowing that this was my favorite game to feature Crash I went ahead and preordered it a few days before its release. When it became playable, I checked it out for a bit and was not disappointed, though I had to head to bed for work so I didn’t get a proper session in until the next couple of days. Since, I’ve completed the first zone, a few of the side events along with parts of the second zone. This game is what I remember it being from my early adulthood — it’s a great kart racer, and it still has a nice difficulty curve that keeps it from being something you’ll finish in a day or two. If you’re a completionist, there are trophies for completing both the “new” Nitro-Fueled version of the game, along with the original version. The differences between the two are that you can’t customize your character and you can’t change characters in the original, and the new campaign mode introduces a bunch of new characters. A “Pit Stop” feature works like a shop but is completely micro-transaction free, all currency is earned by playing the game. Many of the skins, carts and characters are also unlockable by playing, so it’s a win-win.

The campaign has a small zone that you can explore and the races are found on little teleportation pads. You’ll have to complete all of the races in a zone to open up the boss, and after completing the boss you’ll get access to new zones. Our goal is to complete four boss battles to have enough keys to unlock N. Oxide, who is the final boss (and rather difficult from what I remember). Normal Trophy races are just that, you’ll vie against 8 computer controlled racers and you’ll want to finish first in order to earn the trophy. The AI is pretty good even on medium difficulty (there’s also a trophy for beating the game on hard), they’ll wait for you to line up before they use powerups, and they’ll piss you off when they always manage to hit you right before the finish line when you’re in first place. If you can race fast enough though, you’ll get far enough ahead to avoid most retribution.

Bosses are unlocked once the zone is cleared, and they amount to a slightly more difficult race, because they have special moves and tend to be pretty fast. Once they’re bested, you’ll move onto new zones and this play pattern repeats until you complete the campaign. There is more, though.

After a boss is completed, Relic Races and CTR Challenges appear. These will take place on the same levels you’ve just completed, but they require different win conditions. Relic Races are essentially time trials, but there are crates scattered about the levels that stop the clock for 1, 2 or 3 seconds. You’ll likely need them in order to complete the race in the given time, so try to grab as many as possible! For CTR Challenges, you’ll race against AI again, but there are a C, T and R hidden around the level and you’ll have to collect those before the race is over. I’m not sure that you have to finish in first place too, but I did just to be safe. After racing a bunch, you’ll want to visit the pit stop where you can unlock new cosmetics for your kart, unlock those characters and also get skins for them, along with accessories and paint jobs.

I spent what I had earned on unlocking a sweet shark that shoots laser beams out of his helmet. Turns out he’s a better fit for my playstyle than the default characters as well.  One thing that is present with this title as opposed to the original is online play, where you can have races with friends (or strangers) along with playing sweet battle mini games. These can also be played locally, split-screen, and with AI bots if desired. There’s really a ton to do here and I really only wanted the new campaign, so it was well worth the $40 spent! I highly recommend this one if you like kart racers, Crash Bandicoot, and especially if you played the original — you’ll love it.

TWR: Core Set 2020 Spoilers

We just finished up with one spoiler season with Modern Horizons which released just a couple of weeks ago, and basically as that released, Core Set 2020 spoiler season began. You can see the full set here.

Core Sets have been a thing since the game began, but for whatever reason they were discontinued for a couple of years before returning last year. They’re sort of a tradition for the game, and I’m glad they came back — but they tend to be sort of ho-hum sets. They’re a great starting point for new players. Some cards are reprints, and many of them are designed for Standard/Limited, so EDH players like myself don’t have too much to look forward to. However, there are usually some EDH playables and there are always new legendaries included. Last year we got new versions of the Elder Dragons and you’ll probably recall my brew around Arcades the Strategist (wall tribal). This year there are a few cards I’m excited about, and then there are some others I’ll highlight as well.

Leyline Cycle:

I thought we might get some new Leylines this time around, but it turns out that these are all reprints. Honestly the only two that are very good are Leyline of Anticipation which is basically an enchantment version of Veldaken Orrey, and Leyline of the Void, which is Rest In Peace in Black. Both should be a bit cheaper to buy as singles due to the reprint, so if you need these cards I’d slam down the cash now before they climb in price again.

Temple Cycle:

Beyond the Temple lands being reprinted in Core 2020, the lifegain taplands are also included. I only included these because I feel that they are pretty good for taplands, particularly if you have extra uses for scry.

New Legendaries:

There are several new legendary creatures and from discussions with friends, the ones we’re all the most interested in are Kykar, Omnath, Kethis and Yarok. I’ve already brewed a deck around Kykar which I’ll be sharing soon enough, while one of my friends was into Omnath and the other into Yarok. I think they’re all good in their own ways but I’m not building more than one. As far as the others go, I like the new Kaalia to add into the 99 of old Kaalia, I think the mono legendaries have uses too but nothing too exciting for me.

EDH Playables:

There are some interesting cards here. A new vampire lord. A zombie dinosaur that also fills your graveyard. A new counterspell, a couple of planeswalkres that look neat. The Ceratops looks baller for dinosaur tribal. I like the Colossus Hammer, it’s easy to cheat equip costs, and my Shu-Yun voltron build will definitely use it. He can give himself double strike for two mana, so with this hammer equipped you can literally eliminate an opponent in one swing, for very little cost. The symmetrical tutor for one mana is pretty good too — it’s a great political tool (I’ll let you tutor a card if you do this) or you can easily force that card you let them tutor into a graveyard or exile with many other cards in the game. All in all, there’s some good stuff here, it’s just not overly exciting. Perhaps I’m just burnt on spoilers for the moment because we just got done with Modern Horizons. Whatever the case I’m liking the design choices coming down the pipe over the past couple of years and I’m excited to see what comes next. An announcement about the fall set is expected within the month of July, so we’ll know what we’re looking forward to soon enough.

Early Impressions: Dauntless

A couple of weeks ago, Dauntless was ported to PS4. I remember hearing chatter about the title when it was coming out on PC, and comparisons were made to Monster Hunter World. Given my history with MHW, I didn’t think this was a game that would appeal to me. However, when games end up being free to play I’ll usually give them a spin to see what they’re all about. As such, I have some early impressions from my first couple of sessions with the game.

I can see why comparisons were made between Dauntless and Monster Hunter World, mainly because you play a hunter and you’ll team up with other hunters to go on hunts to kill big bad creatures. Another similarity is that though you don’t have a class per se, you do have different attacks and abilities if depending on the weapons you decide to use. It seems that you can craft them pretty easily and you can change up between them pretty seamlessly, so certain weapon styles are likely to work better on different creatures. That’s about all I really see, but I suppose that’s sort of a lot as it is. In a way this feels like a more westernized version of a Monster Hunter game. It looks more like Fortnite than Final Fantasy, if that makes sense. I’m not sure if that’s a good or a bad thing, but it doesn’t feel as foreign to me.

The story follows that your hunters are just trying to clear up these floating isles to get resources and protect humanity, or something like that. Honestly I don’t really think the story matters here. Hell, even this map doesn’t matter, as it doesn’t show you where you’re going, just what you’re going to fight. You start off in a small town with vendors and quest givers. Think of it like the Tower in Destiny. Quests tend to involve going on hunts, and in that sense the town is basically a lobby, and you queue up to co-op these hunts with other players. Hunts are instanced. There isn’t much in the way of open world. That feels different (and kind of worse) than MHW, but at the same time I didn’t really like having to chase monsters all over the damn place so it’s kind of okay.

Combat is pretty straight forward. It’s pretty much a button masher, with some other button presses mixed in for special abilities. The creatures follow basic patterns of attacking and being staggered. They take a while to kill, but with four people beating on them it hasn’t been too challenging. I’m sure there’s more to the game beyond this, but as it stands so far this is all that I’ve experienced. Further customization comes from adding perk points to your gear, crafting new gear, and apparently there is a store where you can buy skins and whatnot if you feel like throwing some cash at it (I don’t see enough here to warrant that just yet).

It is pretty when you’re out in the field. I found the town to be a bit laggy when many players are nearby, but otherwise it seems fine. The instanced hunts feel smooth and responsive. The variety of weapons feels pretty good, and you get to use some new tricks pretty quickly after starting. What I’m most curious about is if there ends up being open world bits, more involved quests, or perhaps other modes like PvP. I assume something more has to come because if this is the totality of the game I’d get bored with it pretty fast. Anyone play more of this than I have? Does it stay pretty much the same, or does it start to add more layers and depth as the game progresses?