State of the Game: Filler

I remember when I first started this column and it was initially created as a way for me to cram a bunch of small details into a larger post and get something published. At the time I wasn’t blogging as regularly as I would have liked, and part of that was due to playing many games at once and not feeling like I had enough to say about each on individually. As such, this became a weekly series that would be devoted to those Playstation Plus freebies and other games that I was playing that didn’t have much lasting appeal but I still wanted to throw down some thoughts. Or, I’d discuss progress from larger games I was playing, or throw in news about games I regularly played that had new patches or things of that nature. In the following years this turned into less of a weekly post and just a catch all for when I didn’t have much else to say. Lately it’s been even more sporadic, to the point where sometimes I think there’s no point in keeping it going, but I still need a catch all post format and this has worked so I’m going to continue to use it. It’s been about three months since the last SotG post, and this edition I have updates on games I’ve been playing in recent weeks that I’ve touched on in the past.

Apex Legends:

I wrote some fond thoughts about Apex Legends when it released, but you’ll probably note that I haven’t talked about it since. Part of this was due to the fact that I was getting a case of Battle Royale fatigue — since the genre started to take off in popularity, everyone was throwing their hat into the ring and I tried many iterations of the concept. Some I enjoyed more than others, and Apex Legends is definitely one of the better versions of this style. The other reason I haven’t talked about it is because I stopped playing for a while. A few of my friends play along with my son and I primarily played with them but the slow pace of content updates made the game stale after a while. Even the introduction of seasons and a battle pass system wasn’t exciting to me, and my stats prove that I didn’t play a single game during that first season. We did see the release of a couple of guns and the new character Octane during that time, but earning the in-game currency to unlock new champions is painfully slow, and they run you about $10 to unlock individually. I’d gladly plop down $30-40 if you’d give me all of the characters unlocked along with all future releases but I don’t really want to spend the money otherwise.

Nonetheless, season two launched recently and another new character, Wattson, was introduced. The arena was also changed up, with the large creatures that were off in the distance are now on the island, and some structures have been destroyed. Otherwise not much has changed, and yet I’ve been having fun playing it. One motivator is the battle pass, despite the fact that I haven’t paid for it. Everyone can participate for free, and new daily and weekly quests give you points towards your battle pass level. You’ll get free rewards just for playing, and though they aren’t amazing it’s better than nothing (or just the apex packs like before). If you want to drop the cash, the battle pass will get you a ton of extra value in the form or cosmetics ranging from character skins to different music and loading screens. We’ve seen all of this sort of monetization before, but it actually seems worth it in some ways. Unfortunately just unlocking the battle pass doesn’t do a whole lot for you, unless you’ve leveled up enough to get a large chunk of the rewards. I don’t see myself maxing out to get all of the super cool loot, so I’m still on the fence about spending the money. We’ll see where I am towards the end of the season to see if it’s justifiable. I can’t speak to other platforms, but the game still seems very much alive and well on the Playstation.

Clash Royale:

Clash Royale is still my go-to mobile game and I don’t see that changing. It’s been over two years, and I can’t say I’ve been playing anything that long anymore. I maxed out my ladder deck a while ago, and most of the cards have at least one star level as well. The new battle pass system, Pass Royale is going strong, and I’ve unlocked 10 levels, but you can essentially grind them out as you play. I like the fact that they streamlined quests as well, where you are not limited to a particular game mode to complete them. For instance, before there were quests that said “play 30 buildings in 1v1 battles” and you would only get updates while playing the ladder — not in 2v2, challenges or clan wars. Now that same quest reads “play 30 buildings” without the limitation, and it’s a nice way to clear quests faster. I’ve been working on leveling up my cards that weren’t a part of my ladder deck, and so far each deck I play has almost all of its cards at level 12 or maximum. I have a queue of cards that are ready to upgrade, a couple of them to maximum level but gold income is slow going. I should have a 2nd max level deck within a couple of months. I’ve been as high as Master 2 since the rework to matchmaking, and have been at that sort of level for the past couple of seasons. The guild has been floating at high gold/low legendary, but we can’t seem to keep afloat in the higher tier. Our core group was promoted to Elder recently and we seem to be the ones gaining ground, but some of the stragglers have kept us from staying in the top league. I’m sure that will continue to be the norm for a while but as the core gets stronger we just might be able to keep it going.

Sonic Heroes:

My 2nd favorite mobile game and one I’ve been playing for nearly a year, this game has a ton of progression that is slow going as well. Currently my account is level 63 (I have no idea what the maximum is), and my main team of heroes are all level 60, with Sonic being level 63 (they are capped at your account level). They are also all at 2 blue stars, which means I put a shit ton of cards into their progression. My focus as of late is farming skill upgrades (they all have their three skills at level 8) and trying to upgrade them further. The reagents needed to upgrade their levels are getting ridiculous, hence why Sonic is the only one above level 60. They also introduced some guild related progression, in that we have events that happen regularly where your individual progress helps the guild as well, so at the end of the event you’ll get your own solo rewards along with guild rewards. There are also boss battles that anyone in the guild can initiate, but they are timed events so you might not get to participate if you don’t notice or aren’t online when it happens. We have yet to down a boss, but you still get rewards if you participate. It seems okay but I can think of a few improvements to the system.

Void Bastards and Amid Evil:

I wrote about Void Bastards and Amid Evil recently after I picked them up during the Steam Sale. Since, I’ve put a few hours into each title and I’m still very pleased with the purchases. I’ve cleared the first world in Amid Evil and made some progress in the second. There really isn’t much to report there, it’s a straight forward game but it’s still a cool retro styled game that I highly recommend. I’ve got even more positive things to say about Void Bastards, it’s quickly become one of my favorite Rogue-lites of all time. The game play loop is similar each time but there is just enough variety for it to not get boring. I have opened up a bunch of different items and equipment that have made runs last much longer, and I’ve learned the general strategy of getting through the nebulas quickly. You don’t have to dock at every port, you can skip things and only loot ships when you need food or fuel (or a key item you’ve been looking for). You do need some of the upgrades to items and things before you can really get to this point though. Once here, you can get to the next story related items you need quite fast, and from there it’s on to the next thing. Currently trying to get together the pieces for the HR Computer, this coming after completing the ID Badge. It’s been a blast on both accounts.

Horizon Chase Turbo:

The other free game this month besides the one I already wrote about, Horizon Chase Turbo is a strange game that melds retro with modern aesthetics. I can’t quite place what game it reminds me most of… probably something on the NES or Sega Genesis, but whatever the case it feels like games I’ve played in the past, but boy does it run a hell of a lot faster than those games did. It’s 2D sprite graphics but they run fast and it’s hard to keep up with the twisting tracks coming ahead — particularly when there are hills and valleys. It is however quite a bit of fun! I’ve enjoyed clearing the first few areas of the game and testing out the other game modes. I’d recommend trying it if you need a game to jump in and play for a few minutes here and there, the races don’t last too long and they are enjoyable.

Crash Team Racing:

Speaking of racing games, I’ve also been putting my way through the CTR Remake. I’ve cleared the first couple of worlds along with some of the side events and have also toyed with playing online a bit. Like many games of this era, CTR has added a big content patch that brings a battle pass like system to the game. There are daily and weekly tasks that are earned just by playing the game in any of its modes, but playing online seems to get you more points faster. Leveling up your pass level brings rewards like skins and whatnot, but again there is no RMT here — everything that was added can be earned just by playing the game, and it doesn’t appear that they are planning on any further monetization. They even added several new tracks, something that didn’t happen with the original and something that gives me hope that this game will be playable for much longer than the original. New tracks keep things fresh and tasks keep you feeling like there’s always something to do. This is the model I like to see and wish more companies went this route instead of bleeding their customers.

That’s all I have for this round-up… Hope everyone else is having as much fun as I am!

Thoughts on DOTA Underlords

In another story where Valve went ahead and took the idea made by modders and made it their own, DOTA Underlords is the result of the success of another company making a mod for DOTA 2 (made by Valve, but in turn being originally created by a modder of Warcraft III) and its success being measurable by the company. A new genre of sorts is emerging, these games are being called “Auto Battlers.” What’s being pointed to as the original is called DOTA Auto Chess and was developed by Drodo Studio and was actually only just released at the beginning of this year. Turns out this ended up being fairly popular, by May they had 8 million unique players. The Wikipedia describes the genre as featuring “elements derived from chess, along with those from DOTA 2,” but the devs said they mainly referenced Mahjong for inspiration (which I was unaware is traditionally a multiplayer game). Since their popularity boom (they also created a standalone variant called Auto Chess), several mobile versions of the game have cropped up (I actually tried one recently and didn’t really care for it) and now it’s come full circle where Valve themselves had developed a new version. Currently in Beta on Steam, I decided to check it out to see what they hype was about.

I’m not really up to speed on the lore of DOTA, so I don’t really know anything about these characters or their abilities which probably puts me at some sort of disadvantage, but at this time I’ve only played against AI and can honestly say it’s not really the sort of game I’d normally play. Strange to say because I absolutely love Chess, but I wouldn’t compare this to Chess in any way, shape or form so there’s that.

Apparently there will be seasons so there will be a ladder and competition and all that. I’m not overly interested in trying to climb this ladder though, mainly due to some of my first impressions with the game. I understand this is a beta, but when the game crashes your entire PC when it’s been running for under two minutes is not a good look. I eventually got things set up and got into a game which started me off with a tutorial that explained things mechanically, but the knowledge of the different races and characters and how they interact is not inherent and I didn’t really get what worked better than other stuff. I generally just went for the more rare characters to run and made sure that I opened up the maximum number of heroes I could run at a time as fast as I could.

The game play is simple enough. There is a small grid (think game board) that you share with your opponent. You’ll get some currency to buy characters to dispatch into battle. Each has different stats, is a particular race/class, and has different abilities. They are arranged by rarity and the more rare characters cost more to buy. You have a bench where you can store them and swap them out between matches in order to have a better fight. You’ll place these units on your side of the board where you prefer, and then you’ll start the round. That’s where the game play stops, at this point you’ll watch your forces fight the enemy army and then a winner is declared. You’ll get currency and experience between matches, and you’ll level up as you go. Your level determines how many characters you can play per round, so you’ll want to level quickly to get an advantage. Otherwise it feels like a bunch of luck.

Getting through a single game seems to take an excessive amount of time. It’s not like playing a round of DOTA where you’ll expect to play for 30-45 minutes but you’re constantly doing things so the time just flies by. No, in this case you’ll click a few times and then watch the action unfold. Then you’ll click a few more times and repeat. You spend much more time watching things happen than actually controlling things, and that’s boring to me. I guess it’s not much different than the mobile titles with automatic battles, and honestly most of those haven’t held my attention either, so I guess your mileage may vary.

I ended up playing through a whole first game, which took over an hour, just to “win” and have the game lock up when it should have been providing me with rewards and salutations. Again, I know it’s a Beta but it’s not a good look. This might appeal to you, but at this current juncture this doesn’t appeal to me. I’d rather micro manage one character than watch a crew fight automatically.

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?

E3 2019: Most Anticipated

The 2019 Electronic Entertainment Expo has wound down to a close and just like years prior, I thought I should give some commentary based on what we saw. This is the first year in a while that I didn’t actually watch the live streams, so I don’t have any commentary on the show itself, the presenters, any of that. Instead, I have a list of games that interest me the most, and some commentary along with a video for those curious to learn more. This has become an annual affair, and as such I thought I should probably collate all of the past years’ posts in one place so we can see how things line up.

E3 2014

E3 2015 (Podcast Episode)

E3 2015 (Written Post)

E3 2016 (Podcast Episode)

E3 2016 (Written Post)

E3 2017

E3 2018

Looking back through these lists, there are a couple of things I can glean. First, this is the only year from this selection that doesn’t have Sony present at the conference. They have started doing their own thing for the last few years at a later juncture in the year, but this is the first time I can remember them not being at the show. It also appears that I have played/own all of the games on these lists outside of the ones that haven’t released yet. Some of those games are coming down the pipeline sooner than later, finally. I suspect Sony is saving their big PS5 announcements for their own conference, as rumor already has it that we’ll see the console’s release in 2020. Now I just have to decide if I should grab a PS4 Pro this holiday season when the deals come around, or just say fuck it and wait for the new machine. Whatever the case, despite Sony’s absence there were still quite a few games and bigger updates that were worth taking a look at, so let’s dive into the list!

CD Projekt Red has a pretty decent reputation due to the success of their The Witcher series. I hadn’t played it, but grabbed the GOTY edition of the third entry in the series — I couldn’t get over the wonky combat mechanics and uninstalled it. Initially hearing about Cyberpunk 2077, I assumed it would be a similar type of game in a different setting, and so I didn’t have any excitement for the title. However, after seeing some gameplay footage and seeing that it’s an FPS in a cool setting, I became more interested. Seeing Keanu Reeves’ involvement doesn’t really sway me one way or the other, but I like most of his movies so that’s a plus I guess? Whatever the case it looks like it’s going to be a fun game so it makes the list.

I mentioned this title in prior E3 posts, as we were teased with information about it in years past. It’s finally coming out next month, and it looks to hold true to the standard the recent Wolfenstein games have set. I loved both The New Order and The New Colossus and to a lesser extent The Old Blood. Adding co-op is cool but I’ll likely play through it solo. Still, I’m ready and will be picking this one up day one if I can help it.

My girlfriend actually bought me a copy of Fallout 76 for my birthday last year. I played it for just a couple of short sessions before putting it down. One of my chief complaints would be the lack of a cohesive story and NPCs. It felt like a typical sandbox game with very little direction and I was disappointed after being hyped for the game since it was announced at last year’s E3. Apparently there have been a succession of good and bad patches/changes in the time since, and like No Man’s Sky before it, this is a game that is likely better after a year or more of development compared to the release product. Apparently they are changing up the story and adding NPCs, along with adding a Battle Royale mode (yawn). I’m hopeful that it can eventually be called a “good” game, but whatever the case we always have The Elder Scrolls VI (which was missing from this year’s show) to look forward to.

This is probably the game I’m looking forward to the most. The DOOM reboot was fantastic and made me fall in love with the series all over again. This being the sequel to that reboot, I think we’re in for a treat. I can already tell that it’s more of the same but the graphics and animations look kicked up a notch and I already know I’ll be paying $60 for this on day one.

Star Wars games tend to be pretty awful. Apparently Knights of the Old Republic was good but I never played it. Battlefront was fun for a minute, but it’s not story driven and thereby you don’t really care. I didn’t care for the MMO despite being a Bioware fan. This game looks pretty good, all things considered. I’m cautiously optimistic. We’ll see when it releases what the kids are saying about it.

I’ve talked about this one before, and holy hell does it meet and/or exceed my expectations! Finally being able to see combat and more of what this game will look like, I’m sold. Final Fantasy VII was my first game in the series, and as such has a special place in my heart. The only confusing part is that apparently it’s being released episodically, so I’m hoping that they split up the game into thirds, and just use the original break points between discs (the Playstation version had 3 discs). Anything more than that might ruin the experience, but it looks pretty sweet at this point.

The only game I probably won’t ever play unless they port it to PC, but still a game I remember with a mixture of fondness and hate. The original Battletoads on NES was a painfully difficult game that was a childhood rite of passage. This game doesn’t look like it will be remotely as difficult, but still hits me in the nostalgia feels. As of now I believe it’s only slated to release on Xbox, hence why I’ll probably not end up playing it.

Another title I talked about before, I enjoyed playing the original and think this one looks familiar but intriguing nonetheless.

Panzer Dragoon was one of my favorite games on my Sega Saturn, which was the system I backed during those console wars in the 90’s. Sony was the new kid on the block but they ended up causing the demise of the Saturn, and as a result a bunch of unique and cool games never saw the widespread fame they deserved. This one being remade is interesting because it was such an unusual title. I might get a Switch someday, but I’d hope this gets ported elsewhere.

Borderlands 3 is another hotly anticipated game for me. It’s been a long time since Borderlands 2, and The Pre-Sequel didn’t hold my attention in the same way the original two did. There isn’t much to say here, as it’s not really anything new but it’s a great looter shooter and something I co-op through with friends, so I’m in!

Strangely enough, a new DLC for Borderlands 2 was announced as well, and this time we’ll be getting a story bridge between 2 and 3. Coincidentally (or maybe not?) the PS4 version of the game, The Handsome Collection was just given away for free via Playstation Plus, so we should all be able to try out this new DLC before the new game drops.

A new game by From Software? Typically that’s an automatic win. Demons’ Souls, Dark Souls and Bloodborne were all excellent games, and though I’ve heard mixed reviews with Sekiro, I can’t imagine it’s bad, just misunderstood. The only difference here is apparently George R R Martin has something to do with the story telling, so perhaps it will be something completely different. I imagine Souls gameplay will still be present, and I look forward to hearing more.

So there you have it. These are the games that I’m looking forward to most from this year’s conference. What are you looking forward to most?

I Am Forsaken

It’s been a minute since I reported on my Destiny 2 progress, and well, there hasn’t been much. It’s actually been almost a month since I completed Expansion II: Warmind and almost immediately I dove into Forsaken. I had a good session, and then I got sick, and didn’t play much of anything for a couple of weeks. Then I went ahead and got distracted by a new release, World War Z and I just finally got back to playing Destiny 2 again last night. Anyhow, Forsaken picks up where we left off, and now Cayde wants you to meet up with him for some mission in the Tangled Shore. First though, we’re treated to a video of Cayde presumably being killed by a mysterious figure (pictured above) and then it flashes back to you going to meet him. Foreshadowing is tricky, especially if he isn’t actually dead, but I guess I’ll find out soon enough.

Flashing back to the current time frame, we meet up with Cayde and wade through some enemies before being more formally introduced to this new villain who leads some rather potent looking Fallen Generals. It appears that eliminating them will be the first hurdle before getting revenge for Cayde, though at this point it’s still unclear if he’s actually dead.

After a couple of missions in this new quest chain, we’re given a new class quest that is supposed to allow us to unlock some new powers. We’re supposed to follow a signal to IO, wherein the planet is “speaking” to us and leading us on a new journey. We’ll see pulsations like this a few times while on this moon, culminating with a fight with the Taken to unlock a new portion to our skill tree for all three sub-classes. However, you only get one seed at this time with which to unlock said branches, but I assume there will be ways to get more seeds later.

I’m still the most partial to the Gunslinger sub-class, so I went ahead and opened the “Way of a Thousand Cuts” which allows you to throw a volley of explosive knives in front of you. Not as long range as our normal golden gun routine, but seems like it kills groups much more effectively. There are additional tiers to this new branch, but you have to earn experience with the ability before those unlock.

Eventually we meet Spider, who is a fence of sorts in the Tangled Shore. He’s not a very trusting guy though, so before giving us the information that we’re looking for, he sends me out to do a bunch of bounties for him. I managed to completed both the class quest and these bounties last night, and am now set to go on the offensive, with the new mission given to me sending us to go at attack those generals head on. It’s not a lot of progress, but it is progress nonetheless. Hoping to get some more time in over my days off and I’ll report back once I have something more substantial.